Posted by Richard on  UTC 2024-01-28 01:01

We can say with some conviction that the British people who actually think about politics are not happy with 'Broken Britain'. The number of actual thinkers is not large: we should never overlook the fact that somewhere between a third and a half of the electorate can't be bothered, for whatever reason, to cast their votes at national elections. Nevertheless, we are told that a lot of people are feeling pretty depressed at the moment.

We mentioned recently, in the context of the Horizon outrage, that that awful scandal has simply taken its place among all the other jagged edges of Broken Britain. For the increasingly oppressed citizen the scandal can only be seen as just one more brick in the wall of the administrative state.

This state of fear is hardly surprising, since the government and its nudge units have spent the last decades doing their best to terrify the British people with one orchestrated fright after another: catastrophic climate change and NetZero, grasshopper butties, unpayable energy prices, COVID. Not to mention the daily news of deadly dog breeds and their daft owners, drugs, drugs and more drugs, babies, toddlers and children bestially mistreated and even murdered, unhindered riots and ever more unhindered criminality, crazed motorists, crazed cyclists and crazed… well, everybody.

Just as we were getting used to the new normal of scuttering about, trying at all times to avoid eye-contact, along comes a new Impending Doom: war.

Isn't this situation really strange? There was a time when governments did their best to spread calm among the populace. Just recall the meme of the wartime 'official notice' we see reproduced frequently today: 'KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON', which hints at a lost paradise, the Englishman with his sang-froid permanent – or 'permanent bloody cold'. The nose may have been runny, but the stiff upper lip stayed immobile.

Now, all of a sudden, the British public is being told that war is coming. Money will have to be found that can be squandered on the sort of military procurement that has served the country so well in the last half century. And of course, the golden youth must join the military and do their bit.

Most youngsters of fighting age understandably don't want to become soldiers and risk injury and death on someone else's say-so. We recall the case a few years ago when the Iranian Revolutionary Guard captured some hapless young British sailors. The captives were treated much better than expected – no beatings, no deprivations, no fake executions. Their main complaint after their release, I seem to remember, was that the Iranians refused to let them have their iPods.

So, since voluntary military service clearly isn't going to work, the awful C-word has been uttered: conscription.

But it's not 1914 or 1939, both times when a wave of patriotism and a sense of national unity and common purpose produced the men, the women and the resolve needed. World War I was marked by the 'Pals' battalions: men from the same locality who cheerfully and voluntarily went to war together. There were battalions of Pals from Leeds, Bradford, Barnsley, Sheffield and many other places. It started as an adventure, a break from the grinding monotony of mill and factory.

About his service in the Great War, Tolkien said somewhere (I forget where) something to the effect that he found his soldiering unpleasant because courage is easy when you lack imagination. One of the good things that can be said about our multimedial, social media age, is that you don't need to have much imagination any more. Today's youngsters who have looked have vicariously seen more than any of the innocents recruited or conscripted in the good old days.

Well, in our new millennium the political class wanted diversity – and they got it. Leaving the Gen-Zs and their complicated opinions aside for the moment, it will be interesting to see how many brothers in arms the authorities can scoop up from the aforementioned places in Fragmented Britain who are willing to fight for King and Country in the coming wars. We have certainly imported a lot of young men in recent years. Whether they will bear arms for their adopted country is yet to be seen.

Probably best to sue for peace as soon as things get moody, roll over and let someone else run the country.

Lest we forget:

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A group of 'Leeds Pals' photographed at their training camp in the Yorkshire Dales shortly after enlisting on the outbreak of the First World War. A local benefactor gave the pipes, but the uniforms did not arrive until November. Image: Imperial War Museum, Q111826.

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Albert Knowles, the young man smoking a pipe on the right of the group in the previous photo, being sworn in on enlisting with the 'Leeds Pals', later the 15th Battalion, The Prince of Wales' Own West Yorkshire Regiment, at Leeds Town Hall on the outbreak of the First World War. The group includes their Commanding Officer, Colonel Walter Stead and the Lady Mayoress.
Col. Stead was the driving force behind the creation and the recruitment of the Leeds Pals. He died in hospital, eighty-eight years old, in 1947. The Pals he recruited were not so lucky: of the 900 Leeds Pals who saw action at Ypres and the Somme, 750 (c. 80%) were killed. Image: Imperial War Museum, Q111825.

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The "Preston Pals". Volunteer recruits for a service battalion in civilian clothes, drawn up outside Preston Town Hall during the early months of the First World War. We note the cheerful deviant, one in a thousand, without any form of headcovering, and the one oddity who turned up in a boater and a bow tie. It takes all sorts to make an army. Image: Imperial War Museum, HU53725.

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A church parade before going into the trenches. The King's Regiment (Liverpool), the 1st Liverpool Pals, 17th Service Battalion, 89th Brigade. Carnoy Valley, 29 July 1916. Image: Imperial War Museum, Q4069.

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Two pals from the thousands of soldiers who didn't survive the slaughter of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The Leeds Pals alone suffered more than 528 casualties (248 dead) on that one day. We don't know his age, but it seems likely that Pte. Booth's modern counterpart would probably be thinking about what to do for his gap year.
Left: Corporal Benjamin Clifford Wadsworth Bland (b. 1892), son of Ernest and Annie Bland. In March 1915 he married Lillian Brownridge in Leeds. He was 24 when he died. His body or rather its smithereens were never found.
Right: Private George Herbert Booth 18/296. Unit: Machine Gun Section, 18th Battalion (Bradford Pals), West Yorkshire Regiment. Death: 1 July 1916, Somme, Western Front. Nothing more is known of him. Both commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, where the never found were listed. Images: Imperial War Museum Bland (HU113963) and Booth (HU114075).

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