Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 13th August 2018

A GROUP of locals are knitting hundreds, if not thousands, of poppies in preparation for a display in church on Remembrance Sunday which this year has additional poignancy as it coincides with the centenary of the First World War coming to an end.

But for many, what ought to be a day of reflection will simply be business as usual. While the Government wants individual communities to mark the centenary, they have been less positive about whether shops should shut for the day.

Practically every city, town and village suffered losses in the war that was supposed to be over in months, yet which lasted for four bloody years until the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 when the Armistice between the Allies of World War I and the German Empire was signed and hostilities finally ceased. A hundred years. A long time. To recent generations it’s hard to relate to the ceremonies that take place at war memorials every November, certainly in terms of a war that is disappearing into the mists of time.

The Queen is due to lead commemorations and 10,000 people will march past the Cenotaph in London as part of a People’s Procession. Church bells erupted across the land in an outpouring of relief that the war had come to a close and on 11th November they will ring again, remembering the sacrifice of 800,000 soldiers, 1,400 of them ringers.

The recent passing of veterans who served in the Second World War further separates this generation from our wartime history — “The Few becoming fewer” in the words of Air Vice Marshal David Murray, of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund.

Battle of Britain veteran Geoffrey Wellum reminded us of the bravery, selfless service and humility that defined a generation of men and women who served during the Second World War, while Mary Ellis had remarkable tales to tell of her role as a volunteer pilot evading the Luftwaffe while delivering planes from factories to pilots at bases.

I was looking the other day at a local history book which had a photograph of dozens of newly signed-up men, about to set off on the train to join up with their fellow soldiers on their way to the Front.

Most of them wore nervous grins as they were seen off by anxious wives, girlfriends, mothers and fathers. It all seemed like a great adventure. They would soon be back. What little they knew of the horrors awaiting them. I wondered, how many of the men in that faded black and white photograph were killed or wounded, and how many suffered long afterwards from the terrible experiences they underwent.

Keswick historian Jeff Taylor recorded the names listed on the town’s war memorial — 108 of them. Plus another 53 from the 1939-45 conflict. Names that resonate with local families today, among them William Notman, killed by a shell in 1916 while waiting, with this battalion, to charge the German trenches.

In one of his fascinating books, Jeff reproduced the letter of condolence sent from France to William’s father, recording the death of “a good soldier and a general favourite with all who knew him”. T. R. Hayes, the chairman of the urban district council, wrote that “Keswick has answered its country’s call nobly in the Great War and no greater way than in the sacrifice of its sons.”

Sundays are a day of shopping and sport nowadays. But surely, for just this one day, we can do without Premiership football, our trip to the garden centre and our weekly shop at the supermarket. Ministers can’t make up their mind whether business should be halted for a few hours on Remembrance Day, but then again they seem paralysed on just about everything while the spectre of Brexit, deal or no deal, hangs over the country.

Towns and villages throughout Cumbria joined in that noble response. Jeff Taylor’s chapter on wartime is headed “Lest we forget”. If we can’t pause and reflect, even just for half a day on 11th November, then it’s a poor do.

WE’VE LOST DAD’S ARMY SPIRIT

I MUST have watched every episode of Dad’s Army at least 50 times. I never tire of the humour and the brilliant characterisations of Captain Mainwaring, Jonesy, Pike and the others. There’s been a great chance to see them all again as part of the 50th anniversary of the first screening of the programme. Warden Hodges was right when he mockingly said the German army would walk straight through this ill-equipped assortment of shopkeepers, bank clerks and spivs. But there was something touchingly, if foolishly, brave about Mainwaring’s challenge, “come on Adolf, we’re ready for anything you can throw at us”.

If there was to be, God forbid, another war like the Second World War, would our communities stand together like Dad’s Army? Probably not. The community spirit has largely been lost. There are still a few Corporal Joneses and Captain Mainwarings, but such characters are fast disappearing from public life.

Which brings me to the “war” on the home front. The war over Brexit. Councils are said to be worried about the prospect of civil unrest next March when we finally leave the EU. In Bristol, for example, the council is preparing for a “top line threat” from social unrest and disillusionment as neither Leavers nor Remainers feel their concerns are being met.

Are police cancelling leave in the event of a no-deal Brexit? Are fears of food shortages scaremongering or real? The food industry has called for a crisis meeting with ministers amid mounting fears of shortages if Britain leaves the European Union. The Government claims there is an excellent level of food security and no need to stockpile, but I have met people who reluctantly admit that they are taking in “a few extra tins, just in case”.

Life could just go on as normal after March, 2019.The Europeans need us more than we need them, say committed Leavers. I would feel more confident that our political masters were on top of things if they had not bunked off on their summer hols at this turning point in our history.

CAR WARS

THESE days we fight our wars over car parking spaces. Trite, I know. But nothing arouses the blood of an Englishman more than seeing someone nick his parking spot on a busy day at the supermarket.

It’s going to get worse once millions more become eligible for blue badge parking permits under the largest overhaul of the system for 40 years. The blue badge scheme was launched in 1970 and around 2.4 million disabled people have one, enabling them to park free of charge in pay and display bays. The Department for Transport says people with less obvious disabilities, such as autism and mental health problems, will be allowed to park closer to their destinations, in the same way those with physical disabilities can do now.

The National Autism Society says it will make a “massive difference” to the lives of 600,000 people for whom just leaving the house is a challenge. I must confess I’ve never even considered applying for a blue badge. Hobbling around is my badge of honour, I suppose. Even a summer spent suffering from gout in my big toe following a winter of discontent with my cartilage-absent knee has not changed that view.

There have always been suspicions about the dishonest use of blue badges. We’ve all seen someone roll up, park next to the door and leap out of their car in apparently robust health. Galling for someone who is on crutches or a wheelchair user who is denied their parking place by what’s essentially a fraud. It’s predicted the number of blue badges will rise to four million under the newly relaxed rules. A friend reports seeing a car sticker that said: “No, I don’t look disabled, but you don’t look pig ignorant”.

Looks like the first shots are already being loaded and fired in the latest version of car wars.

SORRY MR KEATS

THE next big thing for the tourist industry, once the summer holidays are over, is preparing for the influx of visitors wanting to view the autumn colours in all their splendour. Could be a problem there. The Forestry Commission warns that the hot weather prefaces not reds and yellows, but a distinctly drab display as trees without water can’t build up the sugar in their leaves which creates the foliage.

Instead of the blazing colours of autumn, it’s going to be a brown and crispy disappointment. Mists, but without mellow fruitfulness.