A tragic hero, forgotten in his own time but now remembered in ours.

Whilst out with his metal detector on the muddy foreshore of Thameside, amateur historian and enthusiast Tobias Neto stumbled on a very small but very special piece of history in December 2016.   It was a medal, a VC or Victoria Cross, the highest medal for valour possible in the United Kingdom and old Commonwealth nations.

The metal for the medals was originally sourced from captured Russian cannon at the Seige of Sebastapol and since they first came into active use in 1856, only 1358 have been awarded for ” Only most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy”.

Obviously, such medals are treasured by those honoured with them and by their families as well as being hugely expensive when they occasionally come up for auction.   To find one just buried in a riverbank is obviously a most unexpected turn of events.

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With the help of the Museum of London, Mr Neto discovered that the medal he found was one of 16 awarded for gallantry to British forces at the Battle of Inkerman on Nov 5, 1854 when 13,000 troops defeated around 68,000 Russians in battle.

The story that has now emerged from his chance discovery is one of both tragedy and heroism, culminating in the shooting of a young work colleague by a decorated veteran of the Crimean war who then turned the gun on himself.

With the whereabouts of only two of the Inkerman VCs unaccounted for, the one found by Mr Neto in all likelihood belonged to a private called John Byrne – a man who appears to have been so tormented by what he had witnessed in battle he suffered a catastrophic breakdown.

Byrne, from County Kilkenny in Ireland, was awarded the VC for returning to the front line to rescue a wounded comrade under heavy fire during the battle.  But following his return from the Crimea, his life appears to have spiralled out of control, as a result of suffering what would now be diagnosed as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

John Byrne's grave in Newport
John Byrne’s grave in Newport

While working as part of an Ordnance Survey team, Byrne became convinced his medal had been taunted by his young work colleague John Watts.

In a fit of rage, the former soldier pulled out a revolver and shot the terrified 18-year-old, wounding him on the arm. Hours later, surrounded by a large crowd and several police officers, Byrne turned his gun on himself and pulled the trigger, taking his own life rather than give himself up.

The inquest into Byrne’s death, following his suicide inside the Crown Inn, in Newport, in July 1879, heard that he had probably imagined the insult.

Watts denied making the insult and told the Coroner he had simply advised Byrne to put out his pipe while on parade, as the men had previously been instructed by their commanding officer.

The Battle of Inkerman in The Crimea War

The Battle of Inkerman in The Crimea War

But Byrne clearly interpreted this as a terrible insult and his landlady, Eliza Morgan, told the inquest how, on returning to her lodging house, he slammed the table in fury, saying: “I served my Queen and country for 21 years and I’ll never be insulted by a curr puppy.”

She said Byrne then stormed out, declaring that Watts “isn’t fit to black my boots”.

A few hours later Byrne – having shot Watts – found himself holed up at the Crown Inn, where he told the landlord, Salter Davy, that he had shot the youth “by accident”.

Mr Davy tried to persuade Byrne to give himself up, but – confronted by a local Sergeant – the soldier, his back to the fireplace, took his gun, put the barrel into his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Byrne’s troubled state of mind may explain how the VC in which he took so much pride came to end up in the Thames mud.

A Lieutenant Barklie gave evidence that Byrne had arrived in Bristol the previous October in a state of destitution and looking for work, having spent time in a lunatic asylum in the Straits Settlements – in what is now Malaysia and Singapore – before returning to Britain.

It appears that, by the time Byrne arrived in the south-west, he may have lost or even sold his prized medal.

A report of the inquest, carried by the Monmouthshire Merlin and South Wales Advertiser of July 18, 1879, states: “When Byrne came to Bristol for his pension Lieut Barklie asked him if he knew why he had not had his cross, and he seemed rather embarrassed so the question was not pressed.”

John Byrne VC, mentioned in dispatches.

John Byrne VC, mentioned in dispatches.

Given how few VCs have been awarded over the years this was by all measures an incredible discovery.Kate Sumnall, Finds Liaison Officer, Museum of London

Mr Neto, who lives near the Thames at Putney, is convinced that Byrne threw the medal in the Thames “in a fit of regret and despair”.

Byrne was buried beneath a simple gravestone in the Saint Woolos Cemetery, in Newport – his story forgotten until now.

Kate Sumnall, the finds liaison officer at the Museum of London, suggests the lost medal could also have belonged to a Scottish soldier called John McDermond – the other recipient of a VC from Inkerman which has not been accounted for.

During the battle, McDermond saved the life of Colonel Haly, of the 17th Foot Regiment, who was lying wounded on the ground surrounded by the enemy.

With no thought for his own safety, 22-year-old Private McDermond rushed to the rescue and killed the Russian who had wounded the colonel.

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John McDermond in battle

A few weeks earlier, he had been wounded in the left hand by grapeshot during the Battle of Alma on Sept 20, 1854.

McDermond spent a total of 15 years in the British Army, serving in Malta, Turkey and Gibraltar, as well as the Crimea, before being invalided out of the army at the age of 33 as a result of injury.

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John McDermond VC photographed in 1858. His Victoria Cross clearly visible

Records held by the Royal Chelsea Hospital show he was registered as a Chelsea pensioner in July 1862.

Some accounts have him buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave in Woodside Cemetery, Paisley – a hero unrecognised in his homeland.

Ms Sumnall said: “Given how few VCs have been awarded over the years, this was by all measures an incredible discovery. We may never establish with certainty to whom it belonged, but the stories that lie behind this medal are truly fascinating.”

Her Majesty Queen Victoria distributing the Crimean Medals to the distinguished recipients. The engraving from the Museum Of London.

Her Majesty Queen Victoria distributing the Crimean Medals to the distinguished recipients. The engraving from the Museum Of London.

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Posted in Heritage, history, Life, London | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Queuing by the numbers

There are few things more British than queuing or Standing In Line as it is called in some places.  It’s often said that we will stand behind a queue of one and I’ve seen that quite a few times.

It’s one of those characteristics like a stiff upper lip, a pot of tea, talking about the weather and Fairplay.  Whilst to some it may look like a fairly simple and civilised habit, recent surveys indicate that it is actually a little more complicated than first imagined.

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Women applying for just two part-time vacancies at Boydell Toys in Oxford Street (formerly Alpha Toys).  Photo by Bolton Evening News, August 19 1982.

It’s all about the power of six, professors say.  People will generally be more than happy to queue for 6 minutes before becoming dissatisfied. They are also unlikely to join a line of more than six people, researchers at the University College London found.

Interestingly, when it comes to the likelihood of people leaving the queue, it seems this will hardly ever happen if the number of people behind them has grown to six people or more. And in keeping with the theme, the report also revealed that a six-inch radius is the minimum amount of personal space that needs to be afforded to a person in a queue, to avoid increasing stress or anxiety.

 

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A queue for an event at The Royal Albert Hall

 

The study found that the optimal amount of time a customer is willing to wait in line is 5 minutes 54 seconds. This is the amount of time a customer considers “reasonable” before the wait begins to have a detrimental impact on their satisfaction level, it said.  After five minutes the customer’s satisfaction has gone from 95pc to 85pc. After five minutes 54 seconds, the satisfaction begins to drops at a much quicker rate, decreasing to around 55pc by 8 minutes.

The report also includes a list of queuing “no-nos” which no one should ever do in a queue in Britain. At number one, queue skipping is the ultimate faux pas as it goes against the British social system of linear queuing and the nationally recognised “first come, first served” principle.  According to Prof Furnham, the very public nature of queuing and as such, queue skipping, sparks a huge sense of injustice amongst all members of the queue.   “The British believe that inequalities between people should be minimised, and everyone should have the autonomy to pursue goals with equal opportunity.”

 

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Waiting in a queue for a taxi

 

Engaging in conversation whilst queuing also made the list of social practices that are viewed as completely unacceptable by British people. However perhaps the most confusing to visitors from abroad is number three on the list: accepting a person’s offer to go ahead of them in the queue. In British queueing culture, not only will acceptance be perceived as impoliteness, it will also lose the individual the respect of the remaining queuers, it said.

The study was based on a review of academic literature on different types of everyday queuing including at banks, ATMs, and buying food at the supermarket.  Obviously for other items, we are happy to queue for as long as it takes.  I remember myself  one time queuing for 7.5 hours.

 

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Waiting in a queue for the bus. Not everyone will get on but look how orderly it all is.

 

 

 

“In a time when Britain is changing rapidly, and the ways in which we queue are shifting, the psychology behind British queuing is more important than ever – it is one of the keys to unlocking British culture.”

 

I found the following bit of text on a BBC America site about a reporter in London who was tasked on reporting on a Royal Wedding which seems to be a good indicator of the differences between us and everyone else when it comes to queuing!

“My job was to take photographs of the banners and the crowds and all of the accompanying frenzy. I found myself standing with three groups of people, and as is the way of these things, we all got chatting. The first group were two college students from Texas, who’d been vacationing in Europe. Then there was the South African man and his Yorkshire wife, and a gran and her young grandson, both British. The South African man took great pleasure in complaining loudly about people who he felt had pushed in front of him, so that everyone in earshot knew he was fed up, but not fed up enough to complain directly to the people in question. The girls from Texas laughed, and said they were well used to this kind of behavior, as that’s how people back home would react too. The British gran offered round sandwiches and tutted sympathetically. I looked at my shoes. That’s the British reserve”.

 

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Commuters in London. Reading a paper is allowed but just because you’re standing next to people for ages, doesn’t mean we want to talk.

It’s unclear when the art of queuing began but it undoubtedly has its origins in the old-fashioned virtues of chivalry, good manners and a dollop of WW2 rationing.   Queuing is so key to our society, the most famous political poster of the 20th century even features a queue.

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It might be a bit odd to others to see people voluntarily queuing but it must surely beat the alternative or pushing and jostling to get the front unfairly.  Now how about a nice cuppa tea?

 

Posted in Cool Britannia, Culture, Funny & Humour, Life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

From the Palace to the Jungle

You don’t have to have been to London to know what The Household Cavalry look like.  With their bright red uniforms, highly polish breastplates and distinctive tasseled helmets.   Their traditions date back to 1680 and are the personal mounted escort of The Queen and to a degree, the public face of the Army to the world.

You might have seen them around Whitehall or on television in Horseguards Parade where I took this photo.

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Unlike many other guards who ‘protect’ buildings and officials in cities around the world, the soldiers in London are all fighting soldiers.  Their time on public display hopefully on one of their easier duty rotas compared to fighting in Afghanistan for instance.

They aren’t there for tourists, tourists just happen to love them and London no doubt makes lots of money from them but they are there for one reason and that is to protect The Queen and be ready to do their duty

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I don’t know about you but I haven’t been in many tropical jungles.  Perhaps one just about cuts it, in Aswan at the very southern tip of Egypt.  Whilst I was wondering around, I could see the odd goat, tropical fruit and keeping my eye out for more deadly jungle animals…. I do deserts well but not jungles.

However looking at the photo above, what do you see?   A pretty serene view at first glance in the jungles of Brunel in SE. Asia.   What if I say there are actually 12 members of the Household Cavalry in full view.  How many can you spot?

Brunel might seem an unusual place to have a large military base but there are few places better to master jungle warfare.

There cannot be many environments in the world where it is considered a physical achievement for an infantry soldier to cover five kilometres of ground in a day.

But with dense vegetation, deep rivers, humidity levels of up to 90% and enough harmful insects to put even the most battle-hardened fighter on high alert, Brunei’s wilderness is one such place.

Here, the Jungle Warfare Instructors’ Course uses the unforgiving climate of South East Asia to teach Service personnel how to live in tropical conditions with only their wits and the contents of their soaking wet Bergens for support.

“Covering five kilometers per day out here means you are making good headway, whereas you could jog that distance in just 20 minutes back home,” explained Maj Pete Houlton-Hart (RGR), the officer commanding Training Team Brunei.

“The terrain is difficult and you can’t see for more than ten metres ahead of you.

“It’s sweaty, uncomfortable and easy to become disorientated.

“Just the effect of being in the jungle can be enough to lose your sense of direction – and that’s before you fight a simulated enemy.”

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So next time when a tourist thinks it’s being clever to shout or mock them at their posts, maybe they should remember that the soldier could likely kill them without them even knowing they were there.

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Thankfully, all my tourists are always on their best behaviour!

Posted in Life, London, Travel, Ye Olde England Tours | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

10 of the most oppressed minorities around the world

Whilst much of the world is pre-occupied with protesting against Donald Trump, as worthy as that may be,  I’d like to illustrate what real oppression looks like around the world with just some of the longest standing and most severe cases of ongoing injustice around the world.

10. Jewish and Christian people in some Muslim countries

With all the news about the Arab-Israeli conflict and the hate mongering speech against Israel and Jews by officials from Iran and other countries, you may not realise that Jews live in many of those countries. Many Jews lived in Iran until the 1979 Islamic revolution convinced most of them to get while the getting was good.  Of course, historically Jews have been discriminated against pretty severely at times, such as in Spain with the Inquisition and in Germany during the Holocaust. Russia and the Ukraine have historically conducted pogroms against Jews, and other supposedly liberal countries have had many cases of discrimination as well (such as the KKK in the US).  Traditionally Jewish people often found sanctuary in Muslim lands from Christian Europe.

Similarly Christian minorities are frequently intimidated and murdered in many nations.   They suffer from discriminatory practices and even badly invoked blasphemy laws.  Churches can be burnt to the ground with little official protection or justice.  In other places new churches cannot be built and the penalty for becoming Christian is punishable by death.

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9. Albinos in Sub-Saharan Africa

Albinos among the Sub-Saharan black populations of Africa are commonly perceived as objects of fear and loathing. Witchcraft performed as part of native religions often results in the murder of human albinos, and to a large extent people afflicted with the disorder are shunned. Suffering from vision problems and sensitivity to the sun in Africa, albinos have it hard enough without the extreme discrimination from their fellow humans.

8. Native Americans in the USA

Whilst the big offences against Native Americans happened long ago and are in no way the blame or responsibility of those alive today, an underlying dismissive attitude towards them is still present in practice if not in law.  Still largely in reservation lands with few natural resources, their views are often ignored if they should clash with progress or corporate interests as is the case with the ongoing pipeline dispute at Standing Rock.

There remains a great detail of insensitivity given to their cultures which can easily be seen in the names of popular American sports teams, the Cleveland Indians (with their Chief Wahoo), Washington Redskins, and Atlanta Braves.   Change the ethnic group to another minority then it is hard to see it being allowed even if it was culturally acceptable 120 years ago.  I could give some examples but it would be clearly racist to do so.

7. LGBT around the world

There are 77 countries in the world where homosexuality being illegal, some places such as Russia have even gone backwards in recent years with regards to the rights of their citizens.

A painting protesting against the position of the LGBT community in Russia depicting Presidents Medvedev and Putin as lovers.

A painting protesting against the position of the LGBT community in Russia depicting Presidents Medvedev and Putin as lovers.

 

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6. People with disabilities

Luckily in most western countries, legal protection is now strengthening to protect this group of people. Nevertheless wherever there are stairs and no lifts or ramps, narrow doorways, high door sills, bathrooms not adapted for handicapped use, street curbs and other monumental obstacles for the mobility of people suffering from limitations there is tremendous disadvantage for them.

Although most people do not say so, handicapped and disabled people frequenty don’t get a job they are qualified for and can ably accomplish because of perceptions that they are less capable or will be a “problem” somewhere down the road in the workplace. Even physical appearance outside the norm (such as burn victims, cancer victims, and other disfigured people) results in discrimination in many aspects of how these people are treated by others. The mobility part of this problem is changing, but the rest is changing ever so slowly if at all.  Let’s not even talk about those with invisible mental health issues such as depression.

5.  Indians and Pakistanis in Africa

Enterprising people from the Indian sub-continent have emigrated to Africa and worked hard to open businesses, becoming a shopkeeper class in many areas. Local native Africans frequently have resented the success of these immigrants and have sometimes reacted violently toward them, venting their envy and resentment. This backlash against newcomers perceived as making money off the poorer natives is manifested around the world.  From Indians, Pakistanis, Koreans, Lebanese, all suffer for the entrepreneurial spirit rather than welcomed for helping improve the wider community.

4.  Muslims in China

Muslim populations in China occasionally make it to the international news when the Chinese government harshly cracks down on them for protesting or advocating change. With 1 to 2% of the Chinese population being Muslim (perhaps 20 to 40 million people) 10 of the 55 Chinese minorities are Islamic. Most of the Chinese Muslim population is well integrated with the rest of the country, but it is the Uyghur people of the far western part of the country that have earned the enmity of the government by advocating for their own separate country. This population of around 8 and a half million people feels oppressed and yearns for independence.

A third of China shouldn't really by Chinese at all and since its conquest in the mid-20th century has been flooded with ethnic Han Chinese.

A third of China shouldn’t really by Chinese at all and since its conquest in the mid-20th century has been flooded with ethnic Han Chinese.

  • Uighurs are ethnically Turkic Muslims
  • They make up about 45% of the region’s population; 40% are Han Chinese
  • China re-established control in 1949 after crushing short-lived state of East Turkestan
  • Since then, there has been large-scale immigration of Han Chinese
  • Uighurs fear erosion of traditional culture

Uighurs are frequently executed or imprisoned, some for simply daring to express their own culture (similar to in Tibet).  Is China not big enough all ready?  If the majority of people anyway want independence is this not their right?

3. Kurds in Turkey and historically Syria and Iraq

Kurdish people understandably wonder how many other ethnic groups have won their own country in recent years.  In Turkey and Iraq the Kurds have been treated like captive people and insurrections are put down harshly. Left wondering what hit them when George H. W. Bush encouraged them to revolt from Iraq in 1991 and the US failed to supply the expected assistance, the Kurds were once again beaten back into submission. Apparently pressure from Turkey, a US Nato ally, keeps the US from orchestrating a Kurdish state on the Iraq-Turkey border.   Yet Kurds have time and again proven to be worthy of their own culture and country. If Kurdish has been banned in Turkey, who can blame them for that?   Even in the last year, Kurdish fighters have proven to be both the best and continually most moderate forces against ISIS.  Their self-governing territory in northern Iraq has become comparatively prosperous and peaceful compared to their Arab neighbours.  It is to be hoped one day soon they gain their own homeland but to do that they will have to overcome several hostile local governments.

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2. Palestinians in Israel

Like the Jews in Muslim countries, Palestinians in Israel do not have 100% of the rights and privileges of Jewish citizens. Israelis seem to think Palestinians have a homeland, and that it should be Jordan, but Jordanians think differently. Most other Arab countries do not welcome Palestinians.  The argument that they easily go elsewhere is disingenuous and would be like telling any European to go in another European country or that millions of Americans shouldn’t complain about going to live in Mexico or Venezuela.

The video below is the famous footage of the murder of the terrified little boy Muhammad Al-Durrah.  Unusually, the IDF immediately admitted the crime but following a worldwide outrage backtracked…. the wall behind the boy was demolished a day or two later.  If only it were an isolated incident.   One way or the other, the situation needs to be resolved, not just for Palestinians but also Israelis too and not least us in the rest of the world who see it as a legitimate ongoing grievance that plays in to the hands of Islamic radicals.

 

  1. Women and girls in much of Africa, the Middle-East and Asia

The largest group of people listed here, female humans are not even a real minority as they outnumber men around the world. Still, in Muslim countries more than others they are discriminated against by law and by public sentiment. Not allowed to drive cars, initiate a divorce, make contracts, go to certain places, and forced to obey dress codes in some countries, women are second-class citizens in parts of the Muslim World.

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Only a handful of countries even have laws to protect equality in the workplace for women.

In China with a law limiting families to one child, female babies are sometimes killed, and in modern countries female fetuses are often aborted. A common practice in countries ruled by Islamic laws is “female circumcision” or the removal of the clitoris of young girls, so that as women they are denied even pleasure from sexual activity. In Pakistan sentiment is so strong against girls being taught to read that Malala Yousafza was severely attacked on her school bus. Even in the United States where women are by law “equal” there is controversy today over the statistic that women employees earn only 77% as much as a man doing the same work, and getting a law passed mandating equal pay for equal work seems improbable.

Just last week that kind-hearted Putin in Russia changed the law so that domestic violence in Russia against women is legal and some Russian media even said that women should take pride in their resulting bruises.

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Posted in Life, News, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Think Donald Trump is bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Whilst I couldn’t say that I would ever have voted Trump in a million years, I also wouldn’t have voted Hilary in a million years either.  The last few weeks have seen protests across the USA and around much of the world and I really understand why however….

As much as I don’t like Trump, I just don’t get why people are so outraged about him and yet not against many other leaders who aren’t just horrible people but have done truly horrible things too.

President Putin of Russia, a homophobe, racist, murdering dictator, war-monger, committer of war crimes in Ukraine, massacres and the deaths of 10’s/100,000’s in Chechnya.

Russian War Crimes in Chechnya were numerous... here a half-hearted attempt at a mass-grave

Russian War Crimes in Chechnya were numerous… here a half-hearted attempt at a mass-grave

President Erdogan of Turkey, dictator, suppressor of hard-won 20th-century rights determined to take his country back to the 19th century. Racist and murderous towards Kurds and minorities and eliminating political opponents legally speaking if not physically speaking as in Russia.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia, waging war in Yemen, from a family that has exported Wahhabi extremism around the world and supported terror in multiple countries. An actual oppressor of women, from a regime that has executed thousands. There is no tourist visa to Saudi Arabia nor have they known for their open borders to refugees.  They aren’t racist or anti-Islam, they are just very bad but extremely rich people who oversee a religious cult and won’t do anything that jeopardises that, even if it means helping their neighbours.

Saudi Discrimination against Women

Saudi Discrimination against Women

President Xi of China, a country that wants to lead the world but isn’t making any progress on taking on responsibilities of an important role.  Never mind Tibet and threatening their neighbouring countries.  Extreme censorship, political prisoners, exiles ane executions.  The crimes of the Chinese state could make a great blog in themselves but of course, no-one in China would ever see it.  The state is so terrified of dissent that they even hired in pro-Xi supporters last year in London when the locals and Chinese dissenters protested on the street. The persecution of minority groups is awful and when I last checked, there were 46 crimes punishable by death in China.   That is 46 more than the 28 countries of the European Union combined.   I’m not even sure I can think of 46 crimes, perhaps that could be justified as having a capital punishment maybe… Murder, Terrorism, any act that causes death such as drunk driving but 46 of them?   No doubt drawing a fake mustache on the Portrait of President Xi is likely to be one of them.

Vicktor Orban the Prime Minister of  Hungary, a fascist who is totally fine with the ethics of Europe so long as he can claim the money from the EU but as soon as he is asked to share some of the burden of refugees, the wire fences went up, armed patrols appeared and foreigners began to be intimidated and beaten up.  Orban has publicly advocated taking Hungary down an illiberal path along the lines of Russia and China, despite being one of the early protesters against the Soviet Union influence in Hungary in the 1980s and studying British Liberal philosophy at Oxford.

Never mind the fate of the Palestinians who are once again being forgotten about. How long does it take to stop an occupation? Just because one-side is a friend of the USA in particular, does that mean they have carte-blanche to do what they like?   If the Palestinians have been conquered or invaded then new borders or a system of government should have been decided immediately.  It took a few days to resolve WW1 and WW2, no-one can say there are legitimate reasons for several million people to live their entire lives in a giant prison.  It is always up the the strong to start negotiations and continue with them despite provocations… the white in South Africa, the British in Northern Ireland, the Israelis in Israel-West Bank.

The list is very long indeed and there is no need to even mention criminals such as Assad in Syria, Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Sudan, Equitorial Guinea and North Korea.

I’m sure much is due to America being the leader of a supposed free world but that doesn’t make Trumps actual actions and history any worse (or in most cases anywhere near as bad on a practical level) than people who have actual blood on their hands.  One the one hand Donald Trump, blithering idiot and wholly inscrutable, on the other President Assad who only is responsible for the deaths of up to 500,000 people.  It would be like protesting in the 1930 and 40’s against anyone but Hitler.

Even Obama increased the illegal use of drones to kill suspects without trial and due process, something which for decades was very illegal (murder) and now just a fact of life.  99% of these victims were Muslims.  The fact is, he presided over the very same system as Trump, he was just clever enough and cultured enough not to make brash statements or back-pedal on social equalities but he made several big policy changes that were questionably related to corporate interests.  Even in his last days allowing giant food manufacturers to further tamper with foodstuffs.

To equate Donald Trump with any of those listed above is laughable.  No-one can seriously think otherwise, especially as he is only putting into practice the policies he was elected on.  The time to protest was before the election, to actually change the system to one not dominated by vested interests and money.  The people of Uzbekistan have never had an election, it’s not like 48% of them asked to suffer… none of them did. Do the Anti-Trump protesters even know who the Uighurs are for example?

I’m all for protesting, I really don’t think we protest enough.  Living in Britain, lots of people make fun of the French for continually being on strike about something or other and I know other nations do too but generally those in the West don’t and if they do they only protest for their own narrow self-interests.  The Black Lives Matter protests were generally attracting different crowds than the Anti-Trump protests for example.

 

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Black Lives Matter but not enough for that many White people to march about?

 

I find it very hypocritical that there are no protests or media attention on these things. By all means protest against Trump but it all seems a bit like the disdain many white people have for ‘Black Lives Matter’ if you don’t stand up for people suffering everywhere and not just because you/we/friends are directly impacted by Trump or because the media have had their noses put out of joint.  To a degree, it is all narrow self-interests just as he is pleasing those with their own self-interests.  People should stand up against tyranny and suffering, especially when it is not their own suffering… that is when protesting has the most merit.  Standing up for those who can’t protect themselves.   When a million people march in New York or London against any of the dictators above, then I might

To a degree, it is all narrow self-interests just as he is pleasing those with their own self-interests.  People should stand up against tyranny and suffering, especially when it is not their own suffering… that is when protesting has the most merit.  Standing up for those who can’t protect themselves.   When a million people march in New York or London against any of the dictators above, then I might think take their new found protestations as being more worthy.

In the meantime, seeing as the mainstream media isn’t interested in highlighting them, my next blog post will highlight some of the most persecuted peoples and minority groups in the world who are suffering terribly but seemingly aren’t worth getting upset about.

Posted in history, News, Opinion, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

So, we’re going on YouTube!

Sooooo, I’ve spent the last day or so creating two YouTube channels as it seems to be the way the world is going.   Unlike some channels, hopefully I can put up some videos of interest and perhaps even a little merit.

It doesn’t mean I’m stopping blogging, far from it but it is just another tool in the social media toolbox and as I’m out and about so much, I occasionally come across things that would make neat videos but wouldn’t necessarily be what I’d blog about.

In fact in some quarters it is almost expected to be on these things.  I’m a big believer in substance over style.  So many people seem to go in for the opposite and it only serves to get others rich rather than achieve a practical purpose.   Expensive cars that still get stuck in traffic, flashy websites that look really nice but offer little worthy content, people with huge designer kitchens yet can’t cook to save their lives.

However, I do seem to be reaching some sort of tipping point in several areas.  My tours company is kind of booming and getting busier year on year.  Sometimes, some people would rather look at a quick video rather than text and for that reason I’ve created a Ye Olde England Tours YouTube channel.  Not only can I put tours related videos on here but when I am out and about, I can shoot some video shorts on lesser known places that might be of interest generally speaking but which I’d feel bad about swamping my blog with.

So here it is, I hope that you like the little trailer I created yesterday morning.  If you’re vaguely interested in seeing what I do in the real-world and perhaps learning something new even if you can never visit the UK then do subscribe and tell your friends to also!

Then there is the other side of my professional life, my writing.  Though it is growing much more slowly than tours… doesn’t that seem to be the case for everyone except the occasional lucky and or talented new author, it’s hard not to notice my book sales are gaining traction.  Some days I see double-digit sales, when I started most months weren’t that successful.

Whilst I can’t ever imagine creating an author’s website beyond the few pages dedicated to my books you can access from the top menu of this blog, I have various book promo videos so why not have a dedicated YouTube channel for those too and as such I have created a Stephen Liddell Author Channel trailer which you can see below and which when people ask what do I do, I can quickly refer them to my books… I’m not sure magazine articles have the same cachet though they are often harder to get published in their own way.   Visit YouTube again to see the videos in action.

I do have some more books in the works, one hopefully for this spring and even the offer of another publishing contract when I get the time to put pen to paper on a particular subject.

Thank-you for indulging me with this post and your continued support and readership!

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I Am The Army – The Incredible Story of William Brydon

There are many great and understated quotes from British history.   “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” is known around the world.  Which child in the UK at least doesn’t smile at the supposed last words of King George and the famous “Bugger Bognor”.   There is Captain Lawrence Oates with his amazing act of self-sacrifice on the Scott Expedition to Antartica who left his friends in the tent with the “I am going outside and I may be some time”.

There are a wealth of understated military quotes too that I’ve always liked not least the exchange in the midst of battle between Lord Uxbridge “By God Sir, I’ve lost my leg”   and the Duke of Wellington “By God Sir, so you have”.

Few though can quite surpass the incredible understated words uttered by the Assistant Surgeon, William Brydon, during the First Anglo-Afghan War in what turned out to be the greatest British military humiliation of the 19th Century.

It was January 13, 1842, and the 30-year-old Scot was all that remained of the British force that had invaded Afghanistan three years earlier.

The Army of the Indus, comprising 20,000 soldiers and twice that number of camp followers, had set off in the spring of 1839 to fight in the First Afghan War – resulting from growing British unease at the growth of Russian influence in the region.

It was feared that Dost Mohammad Khan, Amir of Afghanistan, might ally himself with the Tsar – so Lord Auckland, the British  Governor-General in Calcutta, decided to replace him with a previous ruler who had been deposed, Shah Shuja.

In fact, unknown to Auckland, relations between Dost Mohammad and  the Russians had already broken down before the invasion began.

But it went ahead and by August the British had occupied Kabul. Shah Shuja was reinstated and Dost Mohammad was sent into exile in India.

But thereafter the British, like everyone who has invaded Afghanistan from Alexander the Great to the US, soon discovered it is easier to take than to hold, and were soon caught  up in what became the British Empire’s greatest military  disaster of the 19th century.

The story of how an entire British Army was slaughtered is told in a new book by Scots writer and historian William Dalrymple, who faced dangers himself when he went to Afghanistan to retrace the route of the retreat.

For two years following the invasion, the British had kept Shah Shuja in power in Kabul – but outside the city there was growing unrest.

In late 1841, it turned into an open revolt led by Akbar Khan, a son of Dost Mohammad.

Meanwhile, the senior British commanders in Kabul had lapsed into a deadly complacency.

Major-General William Elphinstone, a Lowland Scot, had been appointed Commander-in-Chief but he had not seen active  service since Waterloo and was suffering from severe gout.

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Sir Alexander Burnes (top) was cut to pieces by a mob while Dost Mohammad Khan (bottom) ruled Afghanistan and incredibly died of natural causes something unheard of there.

His chief political adviser was Sir William Hay Macnaghten, an Ulster Scot and former judge who had been instrumental in persuading the East India Company to back Shah Shuja.

His deputy, Sir Alexander Burnes of Montrose, a distant relative of the poet Robert Burns, advised backing Dost Mohammad – but had been ignored.

In November 1841, a mob attacked Burnes’s house and, as he attempted to flee, he was cut to pieces. Yet Elphinstone failed to respond decisively to this atrocity and this apparent sign of weakness encouraged a rebellion.

Macnaghten tried to save the situation by negotiating with the rebel Akbar Khan, but at a pre-arranged meeting on December 23, he was seized by Khan who put a pistol in his mouth and shot him dead.

At this, the elderly and ineffective Elphinstone sank into despair and agreed to  surrender Kabul in return for safe passage to Jalalabad for his men.

Akbar Khan seemed to agree and, on the morning of January 6, 1842, the Retreat from Kabul began, with 4,500 British and native troops and 12,000 camp followers setting out for Jalalabad, 90 miles away.

But almost from the start it became clear that Akbar Khan had no intention of keeping his word. By day, as the British trudged through deep snow in sub-zero temperatures, thousands of Afghan tribesmen on the high slopes poured a murderous fire into the retreating army.  By night, an equally terrible enemy attacked the survivors. Most were frostbitten in their sleep, and many never woke up.

By the sixth day of the retreat, there were only a few hundred left as they reached the Jagdalak Pass.

There, on the night of January 12, they found their way barred by a 6ft prickly holly-oak barrier and came under heavy attack.

Of the depleted force that had made it so far, only about 80 men made it over the barrier alive – including Brydon.

 

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Map of the ‘escape’ of the British Army from Military History Monthly

 

He would recall: ‘The confusion was terrible. I  was pulled off  my horse and knocked down by a blow on the head from an Afghan knife, which must have killed me had I not placed a portion of Blackwood’s Magazine in my forage cap. As it was, a piece of bone was cut from my skull.

‘Seeing a second blow coming, I met it with the edge of my sword and I suppose cut off some of my assailant’s  fingers. He bolted one way and I the other, minus my cap. Those who had been with me, I never saw again. I rejoined our troops and scrambled over the barricade.’

 A dying cavalryman told the badly wounded Brydon to take his pony and he rode off into the darkness alone, looking for other survivors. Most of them were from the 44th Foot – about 20 officers and 45 privates.  By dawn, as they stood on top of the hill at Gandamak, they were surrounded.Massively outnumbered, they made their last stand. One by one, they were slaughtered, barring 15 cavalrymen who managed to reach Fattehabad – where they were ambushed and killed, 15 miles from their destination of Jalalabad, to which they had been promised safe passage.
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The Last Stand at Gandamak

Only Brydon made it beyond this point. He wrote: ‘I proceeded alone. Then I saw about 20 men picking up large stones. With difficulty, I put my pony into a gallop and, taking the bridle in my mouth, cut right and left with my sword as I went through them.They could not reach me with their knives and I was only hit by one or two stones. A little further on, I was met by a similar party. One had a gun, which he fired at me and broke my sword, leaving only six inches on the handle.’

Miraculously, Brydon again managed to get clear, only to find ‘the shot had hit the poor pony and he could now hardly carry me.  Then I saw five horsemen in red and, supposing they were some of our irregular cavalry, I made towards them.  But they were Afghans. I tried to get away but my pony could hardly move.

‘One of them came after me and made a cut at me, guarding against which the bit of my sword fell from the hilt.

‘He passed me but turned and rode at me again. This time, just as he was striking, I threw the handle of the sword at his head, in swerving to avoid which he only cut me over the back of the left hand.  Feeling it disabled, I stretched down the right to pick up the  bridle. I suppose he thought it was for a pistol, for he turned and made off as quick as he could.

‘I felt for the pistol in my pocket, but it was gone. I was unarmed and on a poor animal I feared could not carry me to Jalalabad.

‘I became nervous and frightened of shadows. I really think I would have fallen from my saddle but for the peak of it.’

 

As the British forces retreated and were massacred only Dr William Brydon, illustrated in this picture, survived

The iconic ‘Remnants of an Army’ by Elizabeth ButlerIt was a sharp-eyed young officer on the walls of Jalalabad who saw him first, slowly riding a bedraggled and exhausted pony across the barren plain at the foot of the high mountain passes of Afghanistan.

 

When a rescue party reached him, they found a shadow of a man, his head sliced open, his tattered uniform heavily bloodstained.

He seemed more dead than alive but, when asked ‘Where is the Army?’, Assistant Surgeon William Brydon managed to reply: ‘I am the Army.’

In time he recovered from his injuries and would recall: ‘On examination, I had a sword wound on my left knee, besides my head and left hand, and a ball had gone through my trousers, grazing the skin.  The poor pony, directly it was put into a  stable, lay down and never rose again.’

Brydon would go on to see service in the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852.

 

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Assistant Surgeon William Brydon, the only man of 16,500 to escape from Kabul.   Photo taken in 1864 courtesy of National Army Museum

 

In 1857, he was a regimental doctor at Lucknow where, along with his wife and children, he survived the famous siege, albeit being badly wounded in the thigh.

The following year, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath and would live for another 15 years in peacetime, eventually dying at home near Nigg, Ross-shire, in 1873.

Meanwhile, within months of the massacre on the road to Jalalabad, Britain had sent an Army of Retribution into Afghanistan and inflicted a crushing defeat on Akbar Khan.

Shah Shuja was assassinated but the British were determined to teach the Afghans a lesson and in September 1842 retook Kabul and razed the city – before withdrawing to India.

Dost Mohammad, released by the British, returned to Kabul and ruled there until his death in 1863. It was said that he was the first ruler of Afghanistan to die of natural causes in a thousand years.

There were several similarities between the disastrous First Afghan War and the recent 21st century war in Afghanistan.  President Hamid Karzai, another ruler with no real power base outside Kabul, comes from the same tribe as Shah Shuja, while the descendants of the tribesmen who destroyed a British army make up the footsoldiers of the Taliban.

If you’d like to know more about the lead up to these events which are part of what was more broadly labelled The Great Game between Russia and Great Britain then I recommend the reading of Return Of A King by William Dalrymple.

 

Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, by William Dalrymple, retells the Afghan story and serves as a warning for today's military missions

Whereas for a unique look at the recent war in Afghanistan through the eyes of the men who fought there then check out my book review of Diary Rooms – Being Human On The Front Line In Afghanistan by Derek Eland.

To get an easy insight into something like what Afghanistan was like back at the times of the Retreat From Kabul then the classic movie The Man Who Would Be King is worth a watch.

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