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I read recently that the British administration in Malaya before the Second World War was reckoned to be one of the worst run in the British Empire. As many of the same people were almost certainly back in the driver's seat in 1948 when a Scots Guards platoon massacred 24 ethnic Chinese rubber plantation workers, I find it very easy to believe. The whole affair is laced with a feeling of second-rate seediness. The facts behind the killing remain a state secret. Until very recently pompous former Scots Guards officers were quoted as insisting there had been no massacre. The High Court in London, ruling that Her Majesty's Government could not be forced to hold a public inquiry into the killings, said there was plenty of evidence that the rubber plantation workers had been murdered in cold blood. The official British version to this day remains that the men were shot while trying to escape after being rounded up for questioning about Communist banditry in the Batang Kali area. Only a fool would ever have believed that none of the suspects would have only been wounded rather than killed in the supposed mass escape. There was one survivor, who claimed he escaped death after fainting. Some have suggested there may be another reason that he alone among the adult males was not executed. The unofficial British line has long been that a mistake was made and the blame has been put on the soldiers in the patrol, mainly National Servicemen. It was some of these squaddies who confessed in the 1970s to being present at the massacre. The regular soldiers present stuck to the official version. The sergeant in charge later became a Regimental Sergeant Major and when quizzed about the killings appears to have been very confident that he would not be held to account for the massacre. What did he know and what is the British Goverment to this day so afraid of us finding out? I suspect that it is more than just that so many of the civil servants and senior military officers serving in Malaya at the time were such a bunch of sad-sack second raters.  
See Batang Kali Revisited

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While the Highland Light Infantry was campaigning in 1900 to become a kilted regiment, serious questions were being asked as the suitability of the kilt for campaigning. Looking back, it is perhaps surprising that so many soldiers served on the Western Front during the First World War in kilts.  The British Government had been ambivalent about kilts almost from the day the Black Watch paraded in them as the first Highland unit in the British Army in 1740. The early Highland regiments frequently found themselves in trousers when they served outside of Europe. During the Peninsular War in Spain and Portugal in the early 1800s worn-out kilts were not replaced but made up into trews and when they wore out the Highland regiments were issued with standard grey trousers. The Black Watch went to Africa in 1873 in grey tweed jackets and trousers. Kilts were expensive items of uniform. But Whitehall was also aware that Victoria's kilted warriors had a certain mystique. It was decided the abolition of kilts for combat was a matter for the Scots, and the London Anglo-Scots, to sort out amongst themselves. Highland soldiers certainly showed they were willing to put up with a little discomfort if it meant retaining their kilts. But protracted frontline service during the Boer War of 1899-1902 brought the kilt question to the fore again. Soldiers from the Highland regiments had their legs torn to ribbons by thorns as they struggled through the South African bush chasing the Boers. Even worse, the backs of their legs were burned to a painful crisp if they had to lie out in the sun under fire for any length of time. Khaki aprons issued to hide their dark tartans, literary a dead giveaway for Boer marksmen, often ended up half way up a Highlander's back when he threw himself to the ground during a battle. One solution, suggested by one of the Times's correspondents, was for khaki kilts work over khaki stockings which could be pulled up to the thigh when required for protection from sun and/or thorns. Lieutenant Bertrand Lang of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders wore black women's stockings when he went into action in 1899, long before the Times's man contributed his tuppence ha'penny to the debate. The pleats on the kilts were traps for lice and when sodden wet the hems could cut deep into flesh if worn for prolonged periods. An attempt to introduce a standard khaki kilt in the early days of the First World War foundered on bitter opposition from the Highland regiments and at the start of the Second World War the War Office spent £150,000 on 40,000 new kilts. The 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were issued with pink bloomers to wear under their kilts as protection against mustard gas in 1939. But a civil servant, as far as I know never named, with a stroke of the pen cut through the Gordian knot that was a Kilt Question. When the British Expeditionary Force returned from France in 1940 trousers became the order of day for the Highland regiments and kilts were reserved for very special occasions. A few die-hard officers and some pipers became the only men on the battlefield in kilts. 

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The kilted Highland soldier is a Scottish icon. I was reading recently of how the Highland Light Infantry came to regret declining to abandon their tartan trews for kilts in the 1880s when they got the chance. I thought I would share the story. The re-organization of the British army into two battalion units in 1881 involved several shotgun marriages between many proud regiments. Amongst the proudest was the 71st Highland Light Infantry and they were very proud of being a Highland unit. Recruiting figures in Scotland did not justify the number of supposedly Scottish regiments in the British Army. And the number of true Highlanders in the Army did not justify the number of Highland regiments on the books. But the kilted Highland soldier was a central pillar of Scottish identity in the latter part of Queen Victoria's reign. The HLI held its own when it came to attracting recruits born in the Highlands and Islands and felt confident that wearing trews rather than kilts gave the regiment an added distinction and tone. The regiment had originally been kilted but in its early years arduous foreign service meant it was often issued with trousers. By 1808 it had adopted trews and when it was made an elite light infantry unit the following year the kilt was finally abandoned. By the time of the Battle of Waterloo it was wearing standard issue grey trousers but trews were restored around 1829.  Before 1881 there were four regiments wearing trews - The 72nd Duke of Albany's Own Highlanders, the 91st Argyllshire Highlanders, the 74th Highlanders and the 71st HLI. The 71st and 74th formed the new Highland Light Infantry while the 91st became the first battalion of the kilted Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The 72nd, also donned the kilt, as the 1st Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders. The new HLI accepted having its depot in the Scottish lowlands at Hamilton. After all, nearby Glasgow provided was the Army's largest single source of recruits born in the Highlands and Islands. Unease grew as the Lowland Scottish regiments, the Royal Scots, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the King's Own Scottish Borderers and the Cameronians/Scottish rifles all donned tartan trews. The HLI felt their Highlandness was being undermined. Then in 1899 General Hector MacDonald tried to kick the HLI out of the otherwise all-kilted Highland Brigade and bring in the old 75th Stirling Regiment which had become the 1st Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders in 1881. Despite it's supposed Scottish county connection, the 75th in 1881 was in reality an English regiment. Outrage in both Scotland and the Anglo-Scottish community in London brought the HLI back into the Highland Brigade fold. Too late the HLI had finally realised that kilts had come to equal Highland regiment in the public mind and trews, Lowland. There were calls to switch to kilts but in 1905 when the War Office divided the Scottish regiments into Highland, administered from Perth, and Lowland, run from Hamilton, The HLI were in the latter grouping.  When the 52nd Lowland Division was formed just before the First World War, the HLI provided battalions to it rather than the 51st Highland Division. The 9th HLI, the Glasgow Highlanders, were a kilted battalion serving in a Lowland Division. The HLI's campaign to return to its original kilted status finally bore fruit in 1947. But it went back into trews in 1959 when the HLI merged with the Royal Scots Fusiliers to form the Royal Highland Fusiliers. Oddly, the senior officers of both regiments were in favour of the RHF being kilted but were over-ruled by Whitehall. Finally in 2006, when the RHF became the 2nd Battalion of the newly formed Royal Regiment of Scotland the iconic kilts were restored.  

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The past is another country - they do things differently there. At least I think that's the quote, the opening line of a dreadful, twee, book I was forced to read at high school  called The Go-between. That quote is probably the only good thing about the book. It came to mind because of two books I was reading recently. One is about the Battle of Balaclava in 1854, when the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders inspired the phrase "Thin Red Line" as they saw off a Russian cavalry regiment. Times war correspondent William Russell actually described the Highlanders as "a thin red streak" in his original dispatch but later changed it to "thin red line". The book also covers the Battle of Alma when British general, and carpenter's son, Colin Campbell told the Highland Brigade (the Sutherlands, Black Watch and Camerons) that there would be no soldiers stopping to help the wounded on his watch - that was the bandsmen's job and any soldier who disobeyed would be publicly shamed back home. The other book I was reading was the Australian Army's "Lessons Learned" from the Vietnam War. It noted that all too often operations were brought to a shuddering halt after a "Free World" soldier was wounded and the scramble to organise a helicopter medi-vac began. What a difference 100 years or so makes. Oh, and can anyone name a senior British frontline general since 1914 whose father was a carpenter, coal miner or plumber?

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Every Remembrance Day English-speaking journalists across the planet wrack their minds to think of some fresh angle for their stories. In recent years the task has become easier because there is a new crop of dead and injured thanks to the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Every bright young thing journalist these days thinks they are the first to come up with a story idea about the unseen wounded - those suffering psychiatric trauma. Sadly, the stories produced are often superficial, patronizing, cliched and ill-informed. Not every soldier comes back from the wars with mental health issues. Some people cope better than others. Many journalists these days actually pressure soldiers to admit they have been traumatised and treat them as brutish freaks when they won't play ball. I'm sure some of the journalists, though not all, think they are helping in some way by giving soldiers the chance to talk about their true feelings. But sometimes the badgering can push someone over the edge and take them to places they would never have gone if they had been left alone. I can't help noticing that journalists who have actually been on the frontlines themselves seldom indulge in this sob-sister approach. Let's leave these matters to the professionals. But let's make sure that professional help is available for those who do actually need it. 

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What is it they used to say: lies, damned lies and statistics? I'm afraid I often take claims from the police that crime is down with a pinch of salt. One of the reasons for this is that the police forces which make this claim often appear to have little-to-no interest in tackling ordinary everyday crime. The police can't be everywhere, so when you phone in a crime in progress, say guys stealing tools from a building site, and are told "thanks, but we've no cars free at the moment" that maybe shouldn't be a surprise. Then the surprise comes in the shape of walking around the next corner and seeing two cops sitting in their car stuffing their faces with doughnuts. I guess what the guy in the police control room meant to say was "Sorry, it's doughnut time and that has to get priority over doing what we are paid for". If only that had been an isolated incident. Sadly, very far from it. So, when police claim that certain crimes are down, I wonder if they really mean is that reports of those crimes are down. Of course people are going to stop reporting crimes when they find out that they are wasting their time. So, we end up with a situation in which the worst police forces can actually be made to look like the most efficient.

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There's now a campaign afoot here in Canada to put the names of soldiers who kill themselves on war memorials. The argument is that they had all suffered psychological wounds as a result of their military service that led them to take their own lives. That seems to me rather a sweeping, not say patronizing, generalisation. The statistics suggest that some of them would probably have killed themselves no matter what their job had been. Suicide is the leading cause of death in England and Wales for males aged 20 to 34. Overall, men are three times as likely to kill themselves as women.  And what about the other victims of combat; the service personnel who take years to die from their injuries? Thanks to massive improvements in the medical treatment, hospital wards have many soldiers in them who 20 years ago would have died from their injuries. Governments keen to keep down the body count from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan put a lot of money into keeping these people breathing. But I wonder now that most of the NATO troops have been withdrawn whether the plugs will now be pulled. War memorials are never comprehensive lists of a community's fallen. Names are always missed out for one reason or another. There are undoubtedly soldiers and former soldiers who do kill themselves for reasons connected with their service. There are others, particularly younger blokes, who simply fail to make the transition from military life to the demands of adult life on civvie street. There is a difference between a dead soldier and a military victim of war. The subject is complex and separating the sheep from the goats is time consuming and, almost certainly, expensive. Perhaps the money would be better spent protecting and restoring mental health amongst service personnel.

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I was going to write about how lies are always found out. That notion was based on my time as a media advisor to the provincial cabinet in Saskatchewan. The basic rule of thumb was that lying was verbotten. The truth will always come out in the end and telling lies and attempted cover-ups only make things worse. Someone will always have a fit of conscience and blab. Or someone to protect their own hide will blow the whistle. Or, just once a while, someone will tell the truth because it's the right thing to do. I'd been reminded of my days in Saskatchewan when I found out that someone hadn't got the memo, or decided to ignore it, about the cover-up surrounding former SAS man Royal Farran's murder of a Jewish teenager in Palestine in 1947 and kept details of his confession to his boss on file. I bet there were some deep sighs of relief when that boss refused to appear in court and Farran's written confession was ruled inadmissible as evidence on a highly dubious legal technicality. But then I found out that the cover-up over who ordered the 1948 Batang Kali Massacre in Malaya is to continue. The United Kingdom's Supreme Court ruled that Her Majesty's Government cannot be forced to order a public inquiry into why a Scots Guards patrol murdered 24 ethnic Chinese rubber plantation workers. And that Government has lied from Day One and obstructed police investigations into the killings. So, what blame there is dumped on the squaddies and their sergeants. No sensible person can believe the 24 executions were carried out on the initiative of a sergeant. That the sergeant usually identified as being the prime mover at the scene of the massacre was eventually made a Regimental Sergeant Major raises a whole new raft of questions. All we can hope is that some civil servant filed the truth away in a file that now lies waiting for public inspection at the National Archives. Too much to hope; probably.

See Batang Kali Revisited

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So, the United Kingdom's Supreme Court believes that members of the Scots Guards did murder 24 ethnic Chinese rubber plantation workers in 1948 in Malaya. But the law as it stands does not demand a public inquiry, the judges announced with apparent regret. Crocodile tears? Certainly, there may well be a couple of people alive today breathing a bit easier. As things stand, the blame is focused on the squaddies who rounded up the male workers at the Batang Kali rubber plantation and them executed them in cold blood. The claim that they were all killed while trying to escape never really held water. No wounded? Unlikely. Then a couple of the squaddies  told a national newspaper in 1969 that there had indeed been a massacre at Batang Kali. Scotland Yard was called in but its detectives were ordered to shut down their inquiry by an incoming Tory government. Only the most gullible would believe that the Guardsmen were not acting under orders of some kind. Just what those orders were, why they were issued and who was involved in the cover-up of the massacre afterwards remain a state secret. That makes it easier for those who want to point the finger at all British people as being evil to do so. It is a price the British Government is prepared to pay. Why?

See Batang Kali Revisited

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Let loose the Dogs of War! Life is complicated and sometimes bad people do good things - like killing German Nazis and Italian Fascisti. Or just their German or Italian fellow-travellers. This was brought home to me recently when I discovered that the British Colonial Office had been sitting on details of a murder confession since 1947. SAS hero Roy Farran confessed to his boss in the Palestine Police, Bernard Fergusson, that he beat a teenage Jewish boy to death with a rock after catching him with some anti-British pamphlets. Fergusson made a statement to police about the confession but refused to testify at Farran's court-martial. A written confession found in Farran's room was ruled inadmissible after Farran's lawyer, William Fearnley-Whittingstall,  successfully argued it was part of defence briefing and had lawyer-client privilege. All copies of the confession are believed to have been destroyed. But none of Farran's protectors seems to have realised that a copy of Fergusson's statement had been sent to the Colonial Office. Then a couple of years ago the Colonial Office file was sent to the National Archives and came into the public domain. I suspect the cover-up was more to avoid giving Jewish terrorists a propaganda victory at a time when they were regularly murdering British troops than to protect Farran. He was obviously unstable and very dangerous. Not a nice man. The same goes for his SAS comrade Paddy Mayne. He was also very good at killing Germans. But away from the frontline his drunken antics included some very nasty violence. Nothing was ever proven but he was the prime suspect in a cowardly and vicious attack in the dark on a fellow officer in No. 11 (Scottish) Commando. Both Farran and Mayne had serious drinking problems. But to paraphrase George Orwell, we sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would harm us . But perhaps there have to be limits. Like all dogs, the Dogs of War have to be kept on a leash. They are, after all, acting in our name. Farran and Mayne were among many dangerous disturbed men we have made use of and only a fool would believe that they have no spiritual descendants who have stood guard over us within recent memory. Expediency is the moral coward’s excuse. Rotten apples really do eventually corrupt the whole barrel if not thrown out.  

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No-one would surely disagree with the slogan "Black Lives Matter": but apparently White Lives matter more. The wall-to-wall almost 24-hour blanket coverage of the recent terrorist attack in Paris which claimed around 130 lives and has probably wrecked an equal number demonstrates clearly who the English-speaking media cares about. And the lesson will not have been lost on the terrorists. Killing innocent people in Turkey or Beirut generates nothing like the same coverage as slaughtering people in Paris. Even two hundred or so Russian tourists on a plane flying out of Egypt are not quite as interesting.  What was it, 100 dead in the Turkish bomb attack? But 25% more dead in Paris generates entire news broadcasts dedicated to the European attack. Terror depends on publicity. If no-one knows about the murders, no-one will be sacred enough to give the terrorists what they want. Zero coverage or mention of the Paris attack would be stupid and irresponsible. But the level of coverage we got sends a clear message to the terror bosses. Rounding up a bunch of sad-sack losers, preferably with criminal connections who can supply the guns, and sending them to a high profile European city is definitely going to work better than killing non-whites somewhere else in the world. I know not all the victims in Paris were white, but most were. I just hope the BBC World Service's tweely-named Team Newshour realise how much their jolly to Paris is probably going to cost the people who pay their wages. Canada's state broadcaster wasn't much better. But I think the terrorists' money will be on more coverage for a European massacre than one in Toronto.

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Did you know that the British Government during the Second World War believed the United States might give the Falkland Islands to Argentina? I didn't until last week. The British were worried in 1942 that Japanese would attack the Falklands or even turn it into a submarine base. The Falklands were in a part the Atlantic that the Americans were supposed to keep safe. But the British worried that if they asked the Yanks to garrison the islands, Uncle Sam would give them to the Argentinians to advance their own interests in South America. So, Whitehall turned to the Canadians instead. After all, the Canadians had been in the war from the start and did not charge an arm and a leg for their help. Nor were they highly likely to give the islands to the Argies. But the Canadians politely declined to garrison the islands, perhaps disturbed by the entire loss of the two battalions they sent to Hong Kong to bolster the feeble British defences there. Canada did well out of the Second World War. The Americans did even better. The British bankrupted themselves and became a client state of the USA. But they did get to keep the Argentinians out of the Falklands for another 40 years. My guess is that they'll stay British until it's in the national interest of the United States to give them to Argentina. 

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I won't be able to make the meeting in Dunbar at the end of the month to discuss the fate of the recently discovered bodies of the 29 Scottish soldiers who were among approximately 1,600 who died in captivity at Durham Cathedral after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650. But this is my tuppence-worth. The bodies should be respectfully buried at Durham. The only other alternative would be at Dunbar itself and I think soldiers should be buried where they fell. I don't hold with repatriating the bodies. Like most Brits, I have relatives, ancestors even, buried in foreign soils across the world - from France to Hong Kong. I think that's more fitting than the local cemetery in Scotland with those who died from "natural" causes or accident. Of course, in none of the countries I have relatives buried in are their graves or, in two cases because their bodies were never identified the memorials bearing their names, likely to be vandalised or desecrated. I couldn't help feeling the Taliban were just being spiteful when they smashed the gravestones of 19th Century British soldiers, and civilians, buried in Kabul to pieces with sledgehammers a couple of years ago. And the Libyans thanked us for our air support during the overthrow of Col. Gaddafi by vandalising Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries. Much the same thing happened at Basra in Iraq. Closer to home, war graves and memorials in Northern Ireland have also been vandalised But somehow I don't think the people of Durham will show the same hatred of the Scots dead. There used to be a time when decent fighting men showed respect for their fallen enemies once the battle was over. Venting hatred on dead bodies is more the sort of thing sad-sack cowards do. By the way, I'm referring only to deliberate desecration, not the metal thievery from war memorials by the chronically stupid that is becoming more common in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Are these guys the great-grandchildren of deserters? Maybe that's a blog for another day. Oops, turns out I wrong and I should I remembered this, Commonwealth war graves have been vandalised in France. And someone had a go at some Australian war graves in England earlier this year. There would appear to be more scumbags  out there than I realised when I first started writing this.     

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People still ask me why I went to Canada. There were many reasons, some good, some bad, some now forgotten.  One of the reasons was Canadian newspaper boxes. In Canada people can walk up to a steel box on the street, shove in some change, open a door in the front, take out a newspaper and then close the door again. What a wondrous country. Can you imagine how long something like a newspaper box would last in Scotland? How long it would be before every newspaper in the box was strewn all over the street? Newspaper boxes have now started to disappear in Canada. But it's not because Canadians started throwing the contents all over the neighbourhood. It's because the internet means fewer newspapers are being printed and casual sales are no longer reckoned worth the trouble. Most newspapers don't print many more copies than names on the list of people who still get their paper home-delivered. In way that's a shame because the newspaper box said a lot about what it means to be Canadian.

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Maybe I'm just out of touch; but what's happened to novelty songs? Is humour just too much of a gamble for the modern recording industry? Or do the few people who still pay for music these days really only want to hear about serious stuff. I seem to remember as a kid there were a lot of funny songs on the radio. Hmm, to name just a few - My Brother by Terry Scott, Bernard Cribbens and Right Said Fred, Charlie Drake with My Boomerang Won't Come Back and Mr Custer, and from America Hello Mudda, Hello Fadder and Purple People Eater. Perhaps out there on the web there are lots of novelty songs. Or perhaps life in the early 21st Century is just incredibly po-faced thanks to its dominance by multi-national "entertainment" conglomerations.

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I may be the only person left on this planet who cares about standards on the BBC World Service. Certainly, considering a lot of the shoddy material it broadcasts, I doubt if anyone in BBC management listens to it. Sadly for me, first thing in the morning when comes to the wireless is either the World Service or an American call-in show for conspiracy theory cranks. Anyway, what I want to say is that I can see trouble ahead for The Conversation - "about women, by women, for everyone". Let's ignore for the moment how a programme that excludes input from 50% of the population can be so certain that it is for everyone. Obviously, someone in BBC management has decreed it is OK to deny people jobs because they are males. But has anyone at the BBC thought how job applications from men who believe they are women should be handled. While discriminating against men is apparently OK, I suspect the transgender rights activists will not take similar treatment lying down. Does the BBC have a policy in place to decree when a man can be considered a woman and therefore not excluded from the production team at The Conversation? By the way, I can't help but note that the venerable, and enjoyable, Woman's Hour does not boast that no man has ever darkened the door of its production office.

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I have to sympathise with a Dutch academic who found it difficult to discover first-hand accounts of the First World War from rank-and-file Scots on the internet. The way Britain was, and to a large extent still is, organised very few working class Scots find their words in print. And that sorry situation was, and is, even worse for those from other parts of the United Kingdom. We have a radio program here in Canada which interviews authors from around the world. Almost all the English writers on it seem to have attended private school. The recent Afghan and Iraq wars led a flood of accounts from rank-and-file soldiers but too many bear the heavy imprint of a tabloid journalist ghost-writing in "soldier-speak". But back to Scots rank-and-file memoirs of the First and Second World Wars. Even if a our Dutch friend had been able to find many examples, how useful would they have been? The most interesting surely have been written at the time; and that would mean letters home. The more distant in the past an event was, the more memory plays tricks to concoct a coherent, not to say sympathetic, narrative. But letters home may be just as misleading as memoirs or accounts written in later years. With letters the main concern was not to worry the folks back home. War zones are inherently dangerous places, there's a lot of heavy machinery around and little fingers are easily trapped if someone is careless in cocking their weapon.  That means seldom telling everything that's happening in a war zone. Even during the recent fighting in Afghanistan a lot of people were falsely assuring loved ones back home in emails and phone-calls that they never left the base. Once, when I was there, I claimed to be on a remote base in the Canadian Arctic with limited access to a phone to explain why I would be hard to reach. And once the whole thing is over, it does not take long after you get back home to realise that the only people who really understand what happened are the people who were there. It's often a real "you have to have been there" thing. Eventually you give up: it's easier. So, even if a working class Scot from either war did find a publisher, how much could they tell? Put it all in a book and loved ones will find out how much you misled them. And lot of what braver souls might have wanted to say in 1920 or 1950 just wouldn't have found a market, even in the unlikely event of them finding a publisher. And now, as the last of the Second World War veterans fade away the surge of books they are writing in retirement are based on time-adjusted memories. The truth may be out there, but it's very hard to find.  

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I have a theory. Actually I have a lot of theories. But I fear a lot of them would lead to this website being vandalised by web-fascists. But this one is relatively tame. It seems to me that these days there are far more kids around with allergies. Have people just become more aware of allergies? Or is this a symptom of the kind of parenting that means kids are never allowed to play unsupervised and an allergy is perhaps some kind of status symbol? Or are allergies more common than they used to be? I suspect it may be the third option. For a couple of generations now women and girls in the Developed World have lived on a diet of processed food packed with unnatural additives. Is it possible than some of these chemical food additives have resulted in kids being born more susceptible to allergies? Just a thought.

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The Germans during the Second World War noted that the Americans were far quicker to learn battlefield lessons than their British counter-parts. The same may still be true. But while the Americans' learning curve may be far steeper than the British one, the Americans tend to pay a very high price for it. The problem is what is known as American Exceptionalism. American kids are taught from an early age that they live in the greatest country in the world. No other country comes close. That's why the rest of the world is so keen to live there. And that's why Americans have nothing to learn from anyone else. Therefore it is pointless anyone else trying to share the benefit of their experience with the Americans. The First World War is a classic example of this. Both the British and French tried to prepare their newly arrived allies from across the Atlantic the realities of war on the Western Front. But the Americans had their own ideas. They were wrong and the Americans suffered casualties out of all proportion to what they managed to achieve. The Americans, sadly, insist on learning from their own experience. A more recent but thankfully less costly example of this trait was at a shipboard fire fighting course one of my friends took part in. The American participants ignored what their British instructors told them, they knew better. The result was that a couple of them were almost killed during what should have been a simple routine lesson and their instructors had to risk death or serious injury to rescue them from their own stupidity.

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Well, I've finally given up on running onto the rugby pitch at Murrayfield as a Scotland International. It's not that I'm way too old, or that I was never that good a player. I hope my ex-team mates won't take this badly but the Highland 4th XV was made up of has-beens and never-will-bees; I was one of the never-wills. No, the final nail in the coffin of my hopes of an international cap is that you don't have to be Scottish to play for Scotland any more. I think there have always been folk playing rugby for countries they had no real connection with; was not a Polish nobleman played for England before the Second World War? And even in my day I think there were some fellahs from the Antipodes turning out for Scotland on the strength of a Scottish great grandmother, or was it a granny? Anyway, nowadays which country a man plays rugby for has very little to do with any real connection with it. I guess it's part of the professionalisation and commercialisation of the game. The international fixtures attract big TV audiences and that means every country wants to field the best team possible. That seems to mean these days that the audience can't foisted off with a load of haddies selected simply because they were born in Old Scotia. But I don't really feel comfortable being represented by a bunch of Aussies and Kiwis who can't get a game in their own country and may be only temporary residents of Scotland. The only commonality we might share is drinking in the same pubs decades apart. Perhaps the time has come to drop the sham "national" teams and just have a worldwide super-league featuring teams with names like the Pumas, the Walleroos or the Warriors.

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