This post bears only a tenuous link, although I make it, to the usual subject matter of the No Thanks! blog but I have nowhere else to publish it. I hope regular readers expecting something else will understand.
Yesterday, two days after the UK general election, there was a demonstration in London against the new Conservative government. During the course of the event someone daubed the blood-red graffito you can see on this memorial to the women of World War II (click to enlarge if you must but the title of this post tells you what you need to know).
Idiots will be idiots and part of me was not surprised that one had daubed the memorial with, let’s be generous, a political slogan, albeit one that bears no relationship to its purpose.
What really hacked me off was a woman called Laurie Penny who tweeted
I don’t have a problem with this. The bravery of past generations does not oblige us to be cowed today.
She attracted a lot of unforgivable misogynistic abuse for this on Twitter, but didn’t help her own defence by invoking her grandmother’s wartime experience and her own depression (more on that word later). I tweeted that her comment was stupid and immature and I certainly don’t regret that.
So while she may have no problem with the defacing of the memorial I do. Here’s why.
The second world war wrecked my mother’s life. She married her fiancé Stan just after he joined the army in 1941. Four months later her own mother died. Less than a year later Stan was killed in North Africa. He’s commemorated on the El Alamein memorial although his body was never found. Another six months later her father died at the relatively early age of 57. He was a semi-invalid and had never really recovered from his own first world war service. In the midst of all this my mother was urged to become an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) warden, which she did although she was terrified of bombs. The online map of bombs that fell in the blitz around her home shows she had every reason to be:
During this period she took up smoking to ‘calm her nerves,’ a habit she was unable to shake for the rest of her life. Her second husband, my father, was posted in 1954 by his employer (NAAFI for any old soldiers reading this) to what was then West Germany. Although she came to enjoy her five years there, the initial trauma of having to live amongst the people who, as she saw it, killed her first husband, brought on the first of a number of bouts of depression that dogged her for years.
Ms Penny’s biography says, amongst other things, that she’s ‘a writer, a journalist, a public speaker, an activist, a feminist, … contributing editor of New Statesman magazine … and Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.’ When I looked at her web site I was brought up short by the fact that it includes a map of the very area of London my mother lived in. When I looked at the war memorial whose defacing she sees no problem with, I saw a poignant line of empty clothes, a simple statement of sacrifice and loss with no overtones of triumph or nationalism.
Anyhow, that’s Laurie Penny. We all do what we have to.
The tenuous link of all this to the daily business of the No Thanks! blog is the fact that my father, a North London boy who’d moved out to the green fields of Essex in the 1930s, also joined the army in World War II. In the mysterious way of the forces he was sent first for his basic training to Inverness and then posted to the 2nd Battalion of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers before fighting in Burma. I had the strange experience after his death of finding a letter from the mother of his then best pal, also from England. He had written to her after her son was killed in Burma and I eventually found his name in the Roll of Honour at the Scottish National War Memorial.
It’s a small world. Circles within circles and connections everywhere. A defaced war memorial commemorating the sacrifice of women, a young Englishman remembered in the Scottish National War Memorial, my own memories. No, I don’t like nationalism and I don’t like words that drive us apart, whether they’re uttered by separatists, fools who daub obscenities where they shouldn’t, or fools who find that acceptable.
When I’m next in London I will lay a flower at the war memorial.
Apologies for the title of this post. If you’ve made it this far you will understand.