Friday, 4 June 2010


Twice kicked out of The Black Watch (RHR) as an "undesirable" and a lifelong anarchist, it was fairly clear if the Army had to choose between me and the Wehrmacht I would have come a close second. I loved every moment of my army life; even the bits in durance vile. Alas, my love was not returned. So why my brief membership of the Black Johns should remain the apogee of my life and "Johnny the One" the only saint I would light a candle for is beyond rational explanation.

My most treasured possession is a diced glengarry, picked up on the beach in Dunkirk, given to me by the sailor who found it, so I looked forward to the raft of programmes celebrating that defeat; though I have never understood why it is celebrated. The French do not celebrate Agincourt,Crecy or Waterloo.. Indeed with some justice they see Dunkirk as a betrayal. The TV coverage is a second betrayal

The 51st Highland Division fought on in France after the main part of the BEF had been evacuated from Dunkirk on 4th June. On Churchill's orders they defended the seaside town of St.Valery-en-Caux. It was a useless gesture made to dupe the French into believing the BEF wasn't running for home. The Highlanders were mostly TA part-time soldiers and not fully trained. Some only had five rounds of ammuntion and had hardly eaten for three weeks.

Neverthless an attack on the town was repulsed in the late afternoon, although it was later surrounded. Final plans were made for the evacuation, beaches allotted and orders given but these did not reach the 2nd Seaforths cut off in Le Tot.
To their dismay the 51st were placed under French Command On the morning of June 12 the French flew a white flag from a church 150 yards from the HD HQ, The Divisonal Commander Victor Fortune was furious and ordered an officer to climb the steeple and take it down. Told the surrender had been ordered by his superior the French commander he said the HD would fight on.. When the order came from the British High Command to carry out the evacuation it was too late. The Division arrived in the harbour to find there were no ships waiting to take them off. The Navy had withdrawn on the 11th and after coming under air attack pulled further out to sea. A combination of fog obscuring the coast, the loss of several boats and the fact that the enemy occupied the cliffs overlooking the town made evacuation impossible.
Various local demands for surrender, specifically to 2nd Seaforths and Ist Gordons, were robustly rebuffed. Preparations were made for a last resistance. Meanwhile the French capitulated at 0800hrs on the morning of 12th June. In St Valery another fierce battle developed and the 2nd and 4th Seaforth Highlanders, 4th Cameron Highlanders, 1st and 5th Gordon Highlanders and the 4th Black Watch fought determinedly until completely surrounded, out of ammunition and supplies.. General Fortune considered all the options; a counter attack, further resistance, retaking the town. Against this, there was no possibility of support, the men were exhausted and virtually out of ammunition, with no artillery ammunition at all.There was no opportunity for evacuation. Shortly before 1000hrs on 12th June General Fortune took the most difficult of decisions - to surrender. In view of their bravery Rommel allowed his men to march into captivity carrying arms. Some 10,000 were taken prisoner. At the end of the war, after five years of starvation and forced labour, they were forced to march from Stalag XX-A at Turig 450 miles to another camp on the Luneburg Heath. As a final indignity they were straffed on the way by the American air force. In the war the HD had 19,.524 casualties. St Valéry-en-Caux is a Battle Honour.

Under the circumstances it was odd that St Valery was hardly mentioned in any of the TV prorammes. It was left to a very fine historian Saul David on R4 to interview HD survivors who have still not forgiven Churchill..
They might take comfort from the fact that Churchill, the Mandelson of his day whose contribution to winning the war was inventing Spin, has not escaped censure. The historian Noble Frankland put it on record that the PM thought air support on a battlefield would add complication without advantage, that the Germans would not be able to break the French on the Western Front, that the Japanese would be too cautious to enter the war and, if they did, Singapore would be invulnerable. He thought neither submarines nor aircraft would pose a serious threat. He sent the battleships " Prince of Wales" and the" Repulse" to Singapore without air cover, where both ships were sunk.The Repulse was comanded by the officer who from the beaches had organised Dunkirk. Churchill thought kites a better defence than Radar. At the end of the war when we were broke and exhausted he ordered the Chiefs of Staff to make a battle plan for invading Russia. Despite his pretension as a historian, he ignored the fate suffered by Napoleon and Hitler when they tried to capture Moscow.
Churchill's "battle honours" included St Valery, the bombing of Dresden, the failed invasions of Norway and Crete. In an earlier war he masterminded the Gallipoli disaster.Earlier, having persuaded the Cabinet to rebuff the offer of alliance with the Ottoman Empire, he drove them into arms of the Kaiser by hijacking two ships they were having built in British yards.
Some chicken. Some brass neck.


On my birthday last month I mused that I only have19 years to wait for my letter from Her Gracious. I wasn't looking forward to the celebrations. The older one gets, the less exciting the prospect of celebration, because you realise the next one could be a wake. I suppose the wisest thing to do is to celebrate past birthdays. This gloomy thought came as a result of leafing through an old diary and finding this entry for my 66th birthday:

"I was 66 today, more of a Bingo Call than a birthday. The house is filled with friends, neighbours and those of the Welsh glitterati who are both neighbours and friends, all enjoying themselves at a champagne lunch. Kyffin Williams who paints in Welsh,Aled Jones, Tom Firbank who wrote "I Bought a Mountain", June and Ronnie Knox Mawer who between them wrote everything else, and Rosie Swale who lives her adventure books before she writes them. And my landlord the Marquess of Anglesey.

"All birthday? Not on your life. The dog is a hundred today and my wife has launched her newest prize- seeking missile, "The Terrible Tale of Tiggy Two". I said, couldn't you put a PS on the invitations, just mentioning your elderly husband is clickety click? Presents graciously received?

"Not a chance. 'You had one last year,' she said. I have one every year but I am not surprised she hasn't noticed. Too busy counting the prize money.

"Jealousy, of course. Doesn't like it that Kyffin and I were both born on Ascension Day, so we are entitled to
two birthdays every year, just like the Queen. In our case, Ascension Day and the day of our birth. Though I wish to place it on record I didn't have a party on either of them.

"Did have a lovely dinner, mark you, at which I was allowed to have my favourite things. So we had white Bordeaux
with the whitebait, Burgundy with the steak and kidney pie, Muscat de Rivesaltes with the trifle and Warres Warrior port with the Stilton.

"Next time maybe she will let me join her party. It would be a lot cheaper."


Not all diary memories are happy ones. I also read in that diary that fifty years ago, out of unhappiness and sheer boredom, I took an aspirin butty. Rushed to the City Hospital in Chester where a Chinese nurse saved my life in ways too disgusting too enumerate.When I woke up, the first thing I saw was her anxious face peering down at me. I thought it must be heaven because they have Chinese restaurants. Wondered if you could get ducks' feet in abalone sauce? On earth, as aficionados will tell you, the dish is only obtainable by Chinese nationals.

The point was, that at butty tasting time, I was a rapidly failing newspaperman with a mountain of debt and a broken marriage. The only thing I had going for me was a drink problem. Since then I have had careers as a broadcaster, TV presenter, author, reluctant after dinner speaker, and occasional columnist, restaurant,book and theatre critic. Also I have met a wife I adore, despite her terrible penchant for winning literary prizes.

Happily the drink problem is alive and well and living at weekends and birthdays (oh that that was still true.. Ed).
At least I do not have the drinker's knighthood which the doctors had tipped as their nap selection. You know the one? Arise Sir Hossis?

Better on the whole to be than not to have been.


One is reminded of hippos dancing, watching parliament extricate itself from the folly of its aptly named members.
Danny Alexander was scarcely in his new seat in the Treasury before the Telegraph disclosed he too had quickly picked up the principles of creative accounting.In his case senior accountants likened his buying a South London flat to Hazel Blears, the former Labour minister. Miss Blears was forced to repay money to HM Revenue and Customs after selling a property designated as her second home for parliamentary purposes, without paying CGT.
There is no suggestion that Alexander has broken any tax laws. He bought the flat in south London in 1999. It is not known how much he paid for the property. Around the time he bought it, flats in the same row of terrace houses were sold for between £144,000 and £235,000, meaning he is likely to have made tens of thousands of pounds of profit. An admirable qualification for a Treasury official. Especially one who according to his expenses as revealed in the Telegraph spent years in perpetual first class motion between Westminster and his highland home

Mr Laws,too, is a man universally acknowledged to be a financial expert, chairman of a bank at 22 and a millionaire to boot. He insists, nonetheless, he did not realise it was unwise to pay a fortune out of the public purse to his companion.. His purpose, he says, was to hide the fact that they were lovers..The relationship was known and accepted by most of their parliamentary colleagues.. Fellow Westminster cottagers have made no secret of their perfectly legal proclivities. Homosexuality is so popular I am surprised it isn't compulsory,so I do not understand why he had to resign.. It was within the rules that he should pay rent for shared accomodation. The rules merely say that such money should not be paid to a relative or partner. Surely to become a partner within the meaning of the Act you should go through that unofficial marriage ceremony which is so popular wih his fellow parliamentarians. The damage to the housing market would be catastrophic if you couldn't buy anything from a person in parliament with whom you have had sex.
Something that does bother me. The same coalition contains Clarke and Cable, two giants of the Treasury, so why was Laws' successor a man with no financial background? It suggests that Alexander was there as a seat warmer whilst prim politics is placated.
The country is broke and the luckless Laws and Alexander have already demonstrated the financial dexterity needed ability to rescue us.
They have paid back the money, done nothing illegal .LET THE GET ON WITH THE JOB.



Oscar said...

I do so love your weekly writtings.
Well done, you and a couple of others are still missed from the Daily Post.

James said...

Do you think Mr Balmer was capable of inventing more sinister stories about witnesses in the Cameo case and the Cranborne Road murder cases being attacked, when there were no hospital records of these and no attributable source?

James said...

So Balmer was your chum? He led the investigation, as you say, in the Cameo case. You then say, witness statements nore the sign of police coaching. So, ipso-facto your "Chum" must have been doing the coaching! I frankly don't believe you met Dickson & Northam at the Coffee stall. Is this another of your stories that you and your friends used to invent in the Press Club? If you did meet them, you are as ammoral as those evil two. Instead of hawking them around newspaper offices, you should have reported them to the police for the hellish perjury they committed against two innocent men. Or did you know that your "chum" Balmer had put them up to it in the first place?