My dad died in 1966. I was a year old so never had the chance to know the man. He enlisted in 1939 at the age of 18 like so many others in Scotland and joined the Royal Artillery. Family anecdotes had recalled he was a parachutist too and it wasn’t until I was in my teens that I realised operating big guns and jumping out of aeroplanes were strange bedfellows, unless you’re Chuck Norris or Arnold Schwarzenegger, so I dismissed it as hero worship from my siblings. It took till last year to get around to requesting his war records which threw up some surprises.
He did indeed serve with the RA, at one point in Basra, that city so identified with modern warfare and the British army but he also volunteered for and served with the Raiding Support Regiment, a short lived special forces group whose contemporaries were the SAS and the Long Range Desert Group. The RSR operated in the Mediterranean and Yugoslavia, dropping behind enemy lines and offering heavy gun support to local partisans, including Tito.
He was parachute trained in Palestine.
He was wounded twice in action.
He was docked a weeks pay for some undisclosed misdemeanour. Boys will be boys.
As a kid I was immensely proud that my dad had been a soldier and fought against Hitler. I loved looking at his campaign medals kept in the drawer in my mums bedroom. I loved war movies and still do, British preferably because they do ‘War Is Hell’ better than anyone.
Better Together and the UK governments assertion that we have a shared history, almost always in relation to war, can be a powerful and persuasive argument but the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the subsequent commemoration service at Glasgow cathedral demonstrated that times and people change, history doesn’t.
All of the countries competing had been former colonies or dominions of Britain; this island forms an integral part of their own story, a story which often reflects the casual brutality of the British Empire.
They were the British Empire and their contribution in both world wars is often ignored or understated. Over a million Indian soldiers volunteered to fight in the Great War – 140,000 of them fought on the Western front alongside Scots, English and Welsh troops – a fact which shames me to say I didn’t know.
Indian, Australian, Gurkhas and Kiwis fought side by side at Gallipoli; I thought it was just Mel Gibson.
In total over 9 million men from commonwealth countries fought alongside British soldiers in the first world war, three and a half million in the second. Their history and experience is interwoven with that of our countrymen, the hardship, death and deprivation the same.
So it angers me when it is suggested that Scottish independence dishonours the memory of British war casualties while ignoring the contribution of these countries, most of whom gained sovereignty after the Second World War. Did Indian independence dishonour the dead? Or Australian? Or Jamaican?
No. It is only we Scots who should feel ashamed.
To suggest the we should carry a burden of guilt, that somehow history will be erased by independence is crass and reprehensible. The past is immutable and we share it not just with other nations in the UK but with the commonwealth, with France, Belgium, Holland and every other country who worked together in times of conflict.
My dad survived the war, many of his comrades of every nationality didn’t. He had a shared history and experience with men of the commonwealth, men who fought the same battles. It didn’t stop those men from claiming their sovereignty and it shouldn’t stop us.
The dead should be remembered but war should never be celebrated. Mentioning Gallipoli brought to mind this song; it still moves me and hope you feel the same