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I was struck recently by the similarities between the British campaign in Helmand and the Allied Intervention against the Bolsheviks in Northern Russia 1918-1919. And look how the Intervention turned out. In both campaigns the British over-extended themselves by occupying villages for political rather than military reasons. The political reasons involved appeasing a corrupt local administration that was incompetent and unrepresentative of the local people. Sound familiar? The British also had to work with troops from other armies and their quality varied. Some were not worth their rations. Once again, sound familiar? The British were also involved in training locally raised troops who were expected to fight the Bolsheviks when the British left. Once again, the local troops were of variable quality and some murdered their British trainers. Ringing any bells? The local population in North Russia was at best indifferent and at worst openly hostile. Most wanted to see who was going to win before committing themselves to one side or the other. The local population also had an instinctive distrust of foreigners. Both sides waged a propaganda war for the hearts and minds of the villagers. The Intervention was not popular back in Britain and the reasoning behind it not properly explained. British troop numbers were too low for the tasks set and equipment was not always suitable for the harsh climate and living conditions. I wonder if anyone has dusted off the Lessons Learned file from the 1918-1919 Intervention. It doesn't look like it.

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Once, in a town far away, some nutbar set fire to a block of flats. A lot of innocent people lost their homes and all their worldly possessions in the fire. The nutbar was already on bail after being accused of an insanely violent crime. I think this illustrates a problem with the legal system. The people who gave the nutbar bail didn’t have to live next to the guy. Maybe it’s time folks in court system did have a tangible stake in the bail system. I  sat through enough court cases when I was a reporter not to mistaking the law for justice. So, here’s my idea. If a lawyer applies for bail for his client, then the lawyer should be told that if his client appears in court for an offence allegedly committed while on the bail, then lawyer will be joining his client in the cells. Does the lawyer still think the client should be bailed? Why should the nutbar’s neighbours be the only people placed in jeopardy by the decision to grant bail? I can’t decide what should happen to the lawyer in the longer run. Should the lawyer be held until the client is brought to trial? Or perhaps three months in custody might be enough. Or maybe the lawyer could receive the same sentence as is ultimately imposed on the client. For too many lawyers the criminal “justice” system is a game. A game to be won by hook or by crook. It’s time their court room antics had some real-life consequences. I remember a rape case in which is what put to the victim during cross-examination that she’d had consensual sex with three men  at a bus stop the night before the attack. No evidence was produced to back up this claim. Personally, I would have made sure the lawyer involved never appeared in court again.

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One of the questions I haven’t seen asked in connection with what would happen to the British military if Scotland gets independence is who will run the defence forces. Plenty of questions about the nuclear submarine base at Faslane and even would the Scottish infantry regiments get their old names back. But looking at the biographies of the officers appointed to the Royal Regiment of Scotland, I can’t help noticing how that about half of them are young Englishmen; often products of private schools. So, in an independent Scotland, where will the army officers come from? The British Army obviously doesn’t think there are enough Scots boys with brains to meet the requirements needed to be an officer in the RRoS. What if it’s right?
I think one guy from my high school became an officer in the old Queen’s Own Highlanders. I suspect if I’d gone to a private school such as Ampleforth in Yorkshire, a whole battalion’s worth of former classmates would have become officers. And certainly, when I had dealings with junior officers from the Highland regiments in my younger days, they all had English accents (though admittedly several of the Scottish private schools teach their pupils to speak with English accents).
A book I was reading recently suggested there was a degree of unease and distrust between the last Labour government and the Army. Scots were over-represented in senior government posts at the time, and sometimes that was for legitimate reasons. But perhaps the distrust and unease came from the fact that none of the Scottish Labour MPs had ever known anyone who was or became an officer in the British Army.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there are no Scottish officers in the British Army, and not all of those Scots selected went to private schools. What I am saying is that there might be a problem finding enough qualified men to run even a small defence force in an independent Scotland.

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I’ve just been reading a book about the Welsh Guards in Afghanistan in 2009. Unlike all-too-many of the Canadian books about the conflict, not all the men in this book were paragons of courage and professionalism. I liked that. And the book got me thinking about courage and bravery again. The book reminded me of some things I’d forgotten. It’s generally accepted wisdom that courage/bravery is something like a water well or a bank account. If too many withdrawals are made, it will run dry. There is a limit to how many times a person can go out there and face death. Some people’s reserve runs out sooner than is the case with others but no-one can go on for ever. It occurs to me that courage/bravery is also like a piece of elastic. It can stretch so far and then if it snaps, it’s all over. A piece of elastic kept at full tension will snap sooner than one that is allowed to contract once in a while. That’s why getting away from the action for a short while can be beneficial. The water well/bank account will not be completely replenished by the break but increases enough to delay the crisis of courage. With luck once back in harness, the crisis point is not reached before the danger has passed and no-one need know how close a person came to snapping. Gradually, over time, the reserve slowly trickles back to something near its original level. And the past is mis-remembered to create a more comfortable self-narrative. Sometimes the biggest lies we tell are the lies we tell ourselves to help make it through the working day.

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Enough of what I think. With all the recent discussion in relation to cuts to the Royal Regiment of Scotland about Golden Threads and Cap Badges, I thought you might be interested in what the Cameron Highlanders had to say about regimental spirit in 1835 :-

The Regiment should be considered as a great family, and every individual connected with it should feel and act accordingly; should ever be anxiously alive to its honour, reputation and welfare; endeavour, by every means in his power, to promote and uphold them; and not only act by the letter of the law, but likewise discharge all his duties, according to the full spirit of every order in existence.
Any one who may exhibit an indifference to that proper Espirit de Corps, which should be felt by every Officer and Soldier in relation to the Regiment in which he serves, cannot be considered as a desirable person to belong to the 79th Highlanders.


The above comes from the regiment’s Standing Orders and dates back to the time when the Camerons were doing garrison duty in Canada.
By the way, I noticed that several media organisations made knowing references to the Royal Regiment of Scotland battalions retaining their cap badges in the latest shake-up. This is not true; the RRoS has one badge for all its battalions, regular and Territorial Army. The various battalions lost their old badges when the regiment was formed in 2006.

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What a difference three hundred years or so makes. In the 1690s, about half the British troops fighting in Flanders were Scottish. Sixty years after that the British Government bent over backwards to keep the number of Scottish units to a minimum – while the size of the British army quadrupled, the number of Scots units didn’t even double. One battalion recruited in Scotland, the 85th Royal Volunteers in 1759, was officered almost entirely by Englishmen.
Now, in 2012, the English are complaining that well-recruited English infantry and armoured units are being axed while Scottish units are getting off Scot-free. Well, almost, the 5th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland is being reduced to just over 100 men and put ceremonial duties. That preserves the name Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders on the Army List. The remaining four regular battalions are being reduced in strength from around 500 men to 400. Some may take comfort from the fact that the Argylls were reduced to company strength in the late 1960s but restored to full strength in 1971. The restoration was not without its problems, some cynics would say the rest of Scottish Division dumped its worst officers on the revived Argylls in 1971 and the once proud regiment took more than a decade to recover, but if a future government sees sense when it comes to British defence policy, the rump of the regiment could be the foundation of a very useful infantry unit.
The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards had seemed likely candidates for disbandment or amalgamation but have somehow escaped the axe. Instead it fell on the Royal Tank Regiment, which will be merging its 1st and 2nd regiments, and the Queens Own Lancers and 9/12th Lancers which will also be amalgamated.
Three English and one Welsh infantry battalions are getting the chop. So it’s goodbye to the 2nd Royal Fusiliers, the 3rd Mercians, the once proud Staffordshire Regiment, and the 3rd Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment, descendents of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. The 2nd Royal Welsh is also being axed.
English politicians are already screaming that the Royal Regiment of Scotland got special treatment because Westminster doesn’t want to upset Scots in the run-up to the Independence Referendum in 2014. Once again, it depends which figures are to be believed. The reduction of the Argylls to company strength, tokenism some might argue, brings the number of Scottish infantry units axed since 1994 to three. Three out eight comes out at about a 37.5% cut in Scottish infantry units in less than 20 years. In 1947 there were 11 Scottish regular infantry regiments. Now we have 5¼.

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Americans can wear bravery and campaign medals they're not entitled to with impunity again. The US Supreme Court recently struck down the Stolen Valor Act which made it illegal to wear such medals in public. The court ruled that it was a freedom of speech issue and the Government should not be in the business of punishing false statements which did not result in material gain. So, an outside observer might conclude that the US version of Freedom of Speech includes the Freedom to Lie. Bogus war veterans are generally sad people. But many would say they do no harm. That's not quite true. It's not so long ago that many western countries hadn't been in a serious war for years. So, when they did send their young people into action in Iraq and Afghanistan, older veterans were asked how the new generation could deal with the stresses of combat. But if the “veteran” was bogus and taking his war stories from cheap paperbacks about the Vietnam War, then the advice given might do more harm than good. I heard of one supposed Vietnam war veteran living outside of the US who bought a box of Purple Hearts in a pawn shop in the States and then made a big deal of presenting them to young injured soldiers fresh from home the wars as if they were his treasured wound medals. How would the families of those soldiers feel if they knew where those medals really came from? I think anything which discourages this sort of dangerous nonsense is to be applauded.
This Thursday (July 5) is supposed to be decision day when it comes to how many battalions the Royal Regiment of Scotland is going to have. Speculation is that the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (5 SCOTS), as the junior battalion, is the most likely to get the chop. But some commentators are suggesting the Royal Highland Fusiliers (2 SCOTS) may be vulnerable because it has so many non-Brits in its ranks. The Highlanders (4 SCOTS) is said to have the worst recruitment record. But some are saying that for political reasons, all five battalions may be spared and a better-recruited English battalion will be sacrificed. I still say it's a mistake to axe any British battalions at the moment. And like old Humpty Dumpty, once broken up, an infantry battalion can't be put back together again.

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I'm betting that it is now beyond that the Royal Regiment of Scotland is about to lose one of its five battalions. I say this because the government's let it slip that two of the battalions, the 4th and 5th, are under threat due to their poor recruiting records. I used to be a government media relations advisor and I know the trick: hint at  some really bad news coming down the pipe and then announce something that isn't quite as bad. With two battalions apparently facing the chop, at the end of the day only one being axed will sound like good news. The 4th Battalion's recruiting record is supposedly worse than the 5th's, so it might be the one that vanishes. The 4th may be handicapped by having Aberdeen, the most prosperous city in Scotland, in its recruiting area: poverty has always been the British Army's best recruiting sergeant. It also recruits from the old Highland Regional Council area, which is sparsely populated. The Army has just announced large scale lay-offs. Many suspect that the criteria for redundancy may include being on the verge of qualifying for an enhanced pension. Some of the soldiers being forced out are within months of becoming entitled to higher pensions. Such shabby treatment, if the accusation is well-founded, hardly encourages anyone to take the Queen's Shilling. By the way, only two of the Royal Regiment of Scotland's battalions have retained their Second World War identities – the 3rd, the Black Watch, and the 5th, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The 1st Battalion, the Royal Scots Borderers, is the result of 2006 shotgun marriage between the Royal Scots and the King's Own Scottish Borderers; the 2nd, the Royal Highland Fusiliers, came out of the 1959 merger of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the Highland Light Infantry; and the poor 4th Battalion, the Highlanders, comes to us via the 1961 merger of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders and Seaforth Highlanders into the Queen's Own Highlanders and then the 1994 addition of the Gordon Highlanders to the mix. Some might argue that the 4th Battalion's supposed recruiting problems are linked to the so-called Golden Thread of regimental tradition being broken and re-knotted twice. Others might say that it has to work with the worst recruiting area. There reports that the modern-day members of the Royal Regiment of Scotland are getting impatient with the Golden Thread arguments and feel they are harming the espirit de corps of new “super-regiment”. And it is true that Scottish recruits have long been channelled to whichever regiment most needed them, rather than on whether they come from the regimental recruiting area. When I was young a lot of guys from the Royal Scots' area ended up in Hong Kong with the Queen's Own Highlanders.

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I was on an internet search engine checking which websites are linking to this one at the moment. I came across several sites that claim to monitor a site’s visitor traffic, search engine ranking, and all that other good stuff. Not a single one of them was anywhere close to accurate as regards this site. Big deal, you say. Well, it’s not a big deal at moment, but suppose to help cover the cost of registering and running this site I was prepared to carry some advertising. The first thing a potential advertiser would check would be how many visitors the site by got by going to one of these supposed monitoring sites. Now there’s even one monitoring operation claims this site gets one visitor a month. The interesting thing was that several of the sites offered to do an “audit” of the site for a couple of hundred pounds. I’m guessing that’s when they would discover the real visitor figures and number of incoming links, etc. So, basically, I have to give them a couple of hundred quid if I want them to tell the truth. Interesting. And while I'm being grumpy; what's this with making-up new words when we already have good existing ones. I read recently about a food being "healthful". What's wrong with "healthy". I once made up a word, but you won't find it in any dictionaries. I even got into print, in a column for the Shetland Times. I thought a word was needed for people who could work in both Imperial and Metric measurements. The word was bi-calibrate.

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I was online checking for stories about the possible disbandment of one of the battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland and the fate of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, who are also facing the chop in the next round of ill-advised defence cuts. Anyway, one of the arguments for axing one of the Highland battalions is poor recruiting numbers in Scotland. But some of the stories I found state that the regiment has actually been beating its recruitment targets in recent years by something like 10%. I don’t know who to believe. I know the British Government tells lies. It lied in the 1970s about estimated oil reserves in the North Sea. If the true figure had come out, the Scots might have decided independence was financially viable. A look at prosperous Norway demonstrates that. The Norwegians have invested their oil royalties well. The London Government has not. And on top of that it has sold-out the Scottish fishing industry and who knows what else to its European Union “partners”. Whatever the United Kingdom got in exchange for selling-out Scottish fishermen, I have a feeling that the benefits of the deal were felt far south of the border. Which brings me to another set of interesting figures. The English media, which often claims to be “national” trots out on a daily basis some figures which purport to show that English tax-payers heavily subsidise the Scots. But there are also figures that calculate things differently and show that tax-payers living outside of London and the Home Counties actually subsidise those living in the already prosperous South-East of England.  Once again, I don’t know who to believe. There are lies, damned lies and Government figures. What those figures state depends on what the Westminster government wants to do at the time they are released.
On a happier note, it’s been decided that the colours of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers should be laid up at the regimental museum in Berwick upon Tweed. This is not only a vote of confidence in the museum but also the successful campaign to bring the flags to Berwick is a clear demonstration that the Scots do care about their regiments. Let’s just hope the museum’s landlords at old barracks complex in Berwick, English Heritage, take note.

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I think it’s worth making the point again that destruction of one of the Royal Regiment of Scotland’s five regular battalions is a big mistake. The British Army is already too small for all the jobs it’s required to do. The RRoS may indeed have recruitment problems. But the answer isn’t to cut its numbers. The answer is to make the Army a decent career again. With wave after wave of redundancies in the past few years from the Army I’m not sure I’d be rushing to sign up. The Army doesn’t seem to be a good career choice these days – it’s down there at the bottom of the pile with deep coaling mining and print journalism.
The British Government has always had a bad record when it comes to supporting the Army. If it hadn’t been for the French in both World Wars, the tiny British Army would have overwhelmed by the first waves of Germans. We might not have time in the next war to equip and train a reasonably sized army before whoever the next Bad Guys turn out to be over-run us.
The rest of the British Army is wondering why the Scots are getting so uptight about the threat to the RRoS. “What’s so special about the Jocks,” many ask. “The English and Welsh infantry have been being amalgamated into super-sized regiments for the years and yet the Jocks have somehow survived. If the Scots really care, they should vote with their feet by joining up.” While at first sight these arguments have a lot of validity, they miss the fact that supplying good infantry is part of the Scottish national identity. Four out of 10 of the British Army infantry divisions which fought in NorthWest Europe in 1944 and 1945 were Scots. The Scots lost more men per head of population in the First World War than any of the other Home Countries and that was mainly because so many fought in the meat-grinder that is the infantry. But the Scots are not stupid, until the British Army is prepared to make infantryman a half-decent job choice, how can they be expected to join the RRoS?

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Reports are that the British Government has backtracked on stripping the battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland of their historic names. In a weak sop to national and regimental pride, when the new regiment was formed in 2006 four of the five battalions were allowed to retain their old names in addition to their new battalion numbers. The exception was Royal Scots Borderers (1st Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland), which had been formed by the merger of  The Royal Scots and King’s Own Scottish Borders. The British Army would rather the present battalions were simply referred to as 1 SCOTS or 2 SCOTS, and so forth, and their historic identities forgotten. But the battalions have clung to their old identities, such as the Royal Highland Fusiliers, the Black Watch or the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and also to their distinctive coloured Tam o’ Shanter hackles. A forthcoming shake-up of the Army was expected to see the historic names being axed. That’s now supposedly off the table but it still looks as though one of the five battalions will be getting the chop. There’s talk that whichever battalion is disbanded, and that seems likely to be either the Highlanders (4 SCOTS) or the Argylls (5 SCOTS), its historic identity should be perpetuated by one of the Scotland’s two Territorial Army battalions. In view of the two most likely candidates for the chop, this will mean a change of identity for 51 Highland (7 SCOTS). That name was chosen to honour the 51st Highland Division which served with distinction in both World Wars. It also neatly avoided giving precedence to any of the Highland regiments based in its recruiting area. The proposed name change will alter that. I wonder how, say,  the Dundee-based Territorials, with their strong historic links to the Black Watch, will feel about becoming Argylls. The regional and historic name links are actually more relevant to the part-timers than they are to the regulars, many of whom have from sometime been assigned to the Scottish battalions almost regardless of home town. That’s not to say that individual regimental pride and tradition are not important when it comes to morale and efficiency, but the most important thing is the quality of a battalion’s present-day senior officers. Some battalions have had better luck than others in recent years when it comes to keeping things on an even keel. I can’t help feeling that Scotland’s infantry would not be in such a state of disarray if some of the senior officers had been less politician, Whitehall Warrior, and more soldier.

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In 1927 the Scottish National War Memorial was opened at the highest point on Edinburgh Castle Rock. It honoured the approximately 150,000 Scottish dead from the First World War. Entry has always been free – and rightly so. That was no problem when entry to the whole castle complex was free but when an admission charge to castle was introduced things got a little trickier. Visitors to the memorial had to promise that they would not go to any other part of the complex. Until recently, that promise was good enough. Then some clown of a writer for a budget traveller guidebook revealed that it was possible to get into the whole castle complex for free by claiming to want to visit the war memorial. The pathetic people who took advantage of this changed everything. Now visitors to the Royal Mile area  who only wish to spend a few minutes at the memorial to remember their dead relatives are made to feel like suspected criminals. They are sent to the visitor centre at which they are required to sign a formal undertaking to go straight to the war memorial and return. Names, addresses and email addresses are requested. The visitor is required to wear a special tag around their neck which must be visible at all times. Their progress to and from the memorial is monitored by castle staff using walkie-talkies. The tag has to be returned to the visitor centre after the visit to the memorial and no doubt the time it has been checked-out for is noted. Now, I don’t blame the staff at the Castle for this sad state of affairs  - it would be harder to find a more helpful bunch of people at a major tourist attraction. Their trust was badly abused in past. No, the blame lies with the despicable smart-arses who decided to use the deaths of 150,000 Scots as a way of visiting a major tourist attraction for free. I’m just glad all those deaths were not in vain.

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The 1948  massacre at Batang Kali of around two dozen ethnic Chinese rubber plantation workers and tin miners by a Scots Guards patrol couldn’t have resurfaced in the media at a worse time for the regiment. The massacre in Malaya has been back in the headlines recently due to a High Court review in London of a British Government decision not to order an inquiry into the killings. Now there’s speculation that the Scots Guards may be disbanded in the next round of defence cuts because it allegedly has the worst recruiting figures in the Guards Division. I don’t think that is going to happen, but the Scots Guards wouldn’t have Batang Kali hanging over their heads now if they had been more honest about it in the past. When the BBC aired a documentary in 1992 about the massacre it was condemned by highly placed members and former members as a foul slur on the regiment. The News of the World accounts of the massacre in 1970 were also dismissed as nonsense. There’s been a cover-up and the Scots Guards may yet rue their part in it. Meanwhile, at the High Court in London in a bid to torpedo a proper inquiry into the massacre, British Government lawyers have been arguing that the real bad guy was the Sultan of Sengalor. They said that Batang Kali was in his territory and the Scots Guards were answerable to him. Obvious nonsense. Then they argued that the British Government was entitled to wash its hands of all responsibility because Malaya was granted independence in 1957. A close look at what is known about the massacre reveals a number of seedy second-and-third raters  in both the military and the colonial administration who ordered and then covered up a wicked and stupid act. Proceedings at the High Court suggest nothing much may have changed when it comes to the calibre of British public servants.

The threat to the Scots Guards is only one of several to Scottish units in the defence shake-up expected to be announced soon. It seems almost certain that one of the Royal Regiment of Scotland’s five battalions will be axed. The question is which one. The 5th Battalion, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, is the most junior but the 4th Battalion, the Highlanders, is saidto have  the worst recruiting record and the highest number of non-Britons in its ranks. One rumour has it that it will be the 5th Battalion and its soldiers will be transferred into the 3rd Battalion, the Black Watch. The historic names may also to be dropped altogether and the battalions will be known only by their numbers. The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards may also be on the chopping block as the Army reduces its main battle tank fleet. Not a good time to be a Scottish soldier.

 

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The Batang Kali Massacre is getting a lot of coverage in the media at the moment due to the  High Court  hearing in London at which relatives of those killed are challenging a British Government decision not to hold a public inquiry into the incident. I've said before that I think there should be a proper inquiry and the truth of what happened to 24 rubber plantation workers killed in Malaya by a Scots Guards patrol in 1948 should be established. What surprises me about the coverage I'm seeing is that many do not agree. Media website comments sections have people saying that it all happened more than 60 years ago and it doesn't matter any more. The arrogant bully-boy tactics employed by the British authorities to block  Malaysian attempts to hold their own inquiry a couple of years back are still souring relations between the two countries.  One clown suggested he should be compensated for the Highland Clearances. Others suggest it happened in a war and therefore the murder of civilians is justified. Perhaps these people are aware that British troops regularly massacre civilians in time of war. I'm certainly not aware of that. Others suggest that the lawyers representing the Malayans are only in it for the money. The hearing in London is not about compensation - though claims may follow. And the families say they have no interest in seeing the now-elderly surviving patrol members prosecuted. It's about ending a 63-year-old cover-up. In some ways the cover-up is worse than the massacre. The cover-up gives the massacre a seal of approval from Her Majesty's Government.

 

See Batang Kali Revisited

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Two things baffle me about the Massacre at Batang Kali in 1948 of 24 ethnic Chinese rubber plantation workers by a patrol from the Scots Guards. Why is what happened still a British state secret? And why are there still people out there that won’t believe it happened?

In the past I’ve made a big deal of the women and children being loaded into vehicles and suggested this was evidence that there was more to the massacre than just a rogue patrol at work. It now seems possible that the vehicles were there to ferry the occupants of the Batang Kali settlement to work – and not sent by the Army to collect the women and children. In fact, it’s maybe unlikely vehicles would be sent by the Army; because it’s been alleged that the original plan was to kill everyone at Batang Kali. A soldier who was there has stated that the patrol had been told by one of their officers that the villagers at Batang Kali were supplying the local ethic-Chinese Communist guerrillas with food and were to be made an example of. The operation at Batang Kali was odd in that it was not led by an officer. From the start there were official suspicions about the patrol’s claim that all 24 men were shot while trying to escape. Surely, escaping men would have tried to scatter and wouldn’t have been mown down in several nice neat groups, one colonial administrator asked the Guardsmen. Then the administrator spoiled it by saying, allegedly, “I hope you get away with it”.

There is evidence that the villagers were indeed helping the guerrillas. Many other villages, either voluntarily or through coercion, were also aiding the Communists. As far as we know the only massacre was at Batang Kali. Why doesn’t Her Majesty’s Government want us to know why that was? Is it waiting until the last member of the patrol dies? Or are we never going to be allowed to find out what the truth is?

 

See Batang Kali Revisited

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Well, it looks as though the word “twice” is biting the dust here in North America. Television advert after television advert insists that New such-and-such is “two times” as strong or effective, or whatever, than Old such-and-such or its nearest rival. I was always taught that one word is better than two and simple words were better than long ones. So, what’s happened to “twice”? I suspect that the smart folks who conduct consumer surveys and market research have cottoned onto the fact that an increasing number of Canadians don’t speak English as their first language. The country takes in something like 250,000 immigrants a year, who feed into a population of around 30 million. So, English-language advertising is being simplified to sell detergent and soap powder. If a good word must be killed off, then so be it.
As a writer, I look on the English language as a tool and I take an interest in it. It never ceases to amaze me that so much of what I consider good English usage used to set the teeth of language purists, some would say language fascists, on edge in the 1920s and 1930s. One of the beauties and strengths of the English language is that it is always evolving. But I seem to remember there was a time when people pushed against changes. Sometimes they won, sometimes they lost. But nowadays I seldom see a letter to the editor or a pundit pushing back against the ever-increasing torrent of poor English we’re being subjected to on a daily, nay hourly, basis in the media. I don’t know if it’s too late for British readers of this blog to come to the rescue of “twice” before it suffers the fate of such old favourites as “please” and “thank you”. But that’s another rant: along with…… oh, never mind.

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I decided to check into how many British and Canadian officers were executed during the First World War and compare that figure with the number of sergeants and warrant officers shot by firing squad. How many of you would be surprised to learn that there were two officers shot for desertion and while the figure for senior Non-Comissioned Officers was five? The number of officers and senior N.C.O.s serving would have been about equal. So, it would appear that working class soldiers were held to a higher standard than their officers. Or perhaps officers were more inclined to be sympathetic to fellow officers when it came to dealing with battle exhaustion. Or maybe men chosen for command by virtue of which school they went to rather than on the basis of merit  were indeed braver.

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I’ve been accused of jealousy. Some folk out there seem to think that my criticisms of some Canadian books about the war in Afghanistan have been motivated by jealousy. I simply pointed out that in my experience not all Canadian Forces personnel were paragons of courage, loyalty and honesty. And yet reading some of the Canadian books, a reader would think they were; without a single exception. The word for this sort of reporter/writer used to be “troopie-groupie”.  I want to make it clear that the vast vast majority of Canadian soldiers were indeed good people and I had no qualms about putting my life and physical well-being in their hands. But there were a couple I would steer clear of; and so would most of the soldiers if they could. All I was suggesting was that the books could have painted a little more of an accurate picture of what was happening in Afghanistan.
One book that I did give an excellent review to was “Friendly Fire” by Michael Friscolanti, about the deaths of four Canadian soldiers at the hands of an American fighter/bomber patrol in 2002 during a live-fire exercise in Afghanistan. Now, if any book should have excited my jealousy it was that one. It was suggested shortly after the incident I should write a book about it. The soldiers were from Edmonton and I’d interviewed one of them before he went out to Afghanistan. The bomb hit the ground almost exactly where I’d been standing a week before and where I would probably have been standing again if I’d gone out to watch the night-time live-fire exercise. But my real job as a newspaper reporter meant I couldn’t take on the book. As it turns out I probably had a lucky escape from a waste of time. Friscolanti was a reporter on big newspaper in Canada and one of the truths of book publishing is that it’s often not what’s written but who writes it. So, if there was ever a book that could be expected to arouse some jealousy in me, it would have been Friendly Fire. But I gave it an excellent review. So, there.

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There’s now speculation that two of the Royal Regiment of Scotland’s five regular battalions may be facing the axe in the next round of defence cuts. The reason given is the RRoS is being targeted is that it’s not filling its recruitment targets.
The plan to cut the number of infantry battalions from 36 to 25 is insanity. If the British Army is having recruitment problems, maybe it should be looking at why that is. Arguing that battalions have to axed because there are not enough men to fill their ranks is a sneaky underhand way to cut the defence budget. Scotland, where there are very few “real jobs” any more, should be a fertile source of quality recruits. The answer is not to cut the number of RRoS battalions or fill its ranks with the very last people who should be trusted with a gun by lowering recruitment standards. The answer is to make the Army a good job again.
I would hate to see a return to something I witnessed as a reporter in England, where little criminals could avoid a fine or jail by joining the local regiment. I lost count of the number of times a defence lawyer at the Magistrates Court would announce that his client would be unable to fulfil his dream of serving in Her Majesty’s Forces if he had a criminal record. The magistrate would then dutifully agree to postpone accepting a plea and announce that if the little darling was indeed in the Army when his case was next called, then the charges against him would be dropped.

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