Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Writing - War and stories

It is sad that someone who was born within ten years of the end of World War II and spent his life fighting against the development of nuclear weapons, was ridiculed when he came to a political place of influence. Such was the lot of Jeremy Corbyn when elected by the ordinary members of the Labour Party. This struck me today because it is 100 years since the Battle of Jutland during the First World War.

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Battle of Jutland

Being three or four years older than Mr Corbyn I experienced some of what he may have experienced growing up soon after the war. A phrase that stuck in my mind was 'the war to end all wars' which was used to describe the first great war 1914 - 1918, and yet 21 years later we were at it again. Jutland was an example of why such a phrase was generated. 6000 British and 2500 German sailors lost their lives. Some of the British sailors were merely 16 years of age. Today they wouldn't be allowed out of the house in the dark unchaperoned. 
Jeremy, and the rest of our generation, were subject to the films and stories of the Second World War and so by the time musicians headed to Woodstock there wasn't just a peace movement but a very active ban the bomb movement.

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Of course Jeremy has been true to his feelings these forty or fifty years since. What I find sad is the lack of imagination shown by those who criticise the man for wanting to stop funding Trident missile submarines. The argument is that they are deterrent but in reality there aren't enough to deter any large country intending a nuclear holocaust and they just make us an American outpost and so a target. There is an argument that those decision makers need to revisit the newsreels of Nikita Kruschev removing his shoe and banging it on the table at the United Nations following the Bay of Pigs and blockade of Russian ships. Also the civil defence advice films on how to survive a nuclear attack and films such as On the Beach.

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This film was an attempt show life after a nuclear holocaust with all its attendant after effects. It was stark and depressing. On top of that there were umpteen war movies depicting the events of World War II, ranging from specific battles and single events to major assaults such as the D-Day landings. The film makers were doing what all money makers do in recreating stories that were uppermost in the public consciousness, in that they were attempting to make more money. However, what they were also doing, probably subconsciously, was reinforcing in the minds of the more sensitive audiences the fact that war is bad. Just watch the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan and you will never agree to allow people to go to war ever again. 

On the other hand traumatic events such as wars, are a source of inspiration. There have been people who have developed successful careers in painting, writing stories and poetry, among many other aspects of art. 

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John Cornwell VC

One such inspiring story was that of sixteen year old John Cornwell who earned a Victoria Cross for his bravery.

On 31 May 1916, Chester was scouting ahead of the 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron at the Battle of Jutland when the ship turned to investigate gunfire in the distance. At 17:30 hours, the Chester soon came under intense fire from four Kaiserliche Marine cruisers each her own size which had suddenly emerged from the haze and increasing funnel smoke of the battlefield. The shielded 5.5-inch gun mounting where Cornwell was serving as a sight-setter was affected by at least four nearby hits. The Chester's gun mountings were open-backed shields and did not reach down to the deck. Splinters were thus able to pass under them or enter the open back when shells exploded nearby or behind. All the gun's crew were killed or mortally injured except Cornwell, who, although severely wounded, managed to stand up again and remain at his post for more than 15 minutes, After the action, ship medics arrived on deck to find Cornwell the sole survivor at his gun, shards of steel penetrating his chest, looking at the gun sights and still waiting for orders. He died on 2nd June 1916.

No one knows what the human body and mind are capable of until put under extreme duress - war creates such occasions.

God Bless