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Rodney's Ramblings: Insights From Past Battlefields - Part VI

"I believe that the Commonwealth could still have a valuable contribution to make to world events and opinions, speaking with a greater united voice that its various members, but only if it can be run in a collaborative, democratic manner.'' writes Rodney Gascoyne.

British history, perhaps like all other Nations’, needs to be rewritten in the clear light of fuller facts known to us now. More immediate impressions are written by the victors soon after the events, and their views are still coloured by enthusiasm and nationalistic fervour. The history I was taught at school, in England, in the 50s, and sometimes since, has now been proven to be hugely selective. The main theme introduced was that exploits in WWI and WWII were attributed to British forces and only slight reference to Commonwealth and other contributions, unless, perhaps, when there were failures.

It is even being repeated today to some extent, as I witnessed on a recent visit, where plans were revealed for a celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic. It would seem that the only part of those events to be highlighted are the details on the receiving end, together with threats from the German submarine menace. No mention that I saw of the other, essential, participants, who were the source of all that arrived and shared equally in the dangers, loss and death in getting the supplies to where they were needed.

In earlier articles in this series I have referred to a few examples of known facts versus previous interpretations and conglomerations. I even have a British written book, published by Bison Books in 1984, giving casualty figures for WWI, for the five main, Allies members, including Great Britain, plus a few minor ones with the smallest being Montenegro, with their own figures.

It was only when I moved to Canada in 1980, did I discover that Juno beach, one of three British beaches, under the ultimate highest command of the British 2nd Army (General Dempsey), then 1st British Corps, General Crocker, was almost totally manned by the Canadian Corp. Thus two British beaches, but almost certainly large contingents of unnamed Commonwealth and other troops, plus one Canadian beach.

Throughout that book, were references to main events where the British were attributed and it is hard to find entries, even in the index, to integrated or separate Commonwealth and other troops, included as ‘British’. Those ‘others’ deserve better.

I was also interested in the news that the Queen, for the first time in decades, will not attend this year’s meeting of Commonwealth leaders, as she reduces her future long range travel plans. She is often attributed as the glue, and maybe only force holding the Commonwealth together, in the light of lack of UK interest in the institution, exemplified by Maggie Thatcher’s distaste unless it would support, unquestioning, her ideas. When all others wanted to protest apartheid and propose sanctions, she emulated Admiral Nelson, by turning a ‘deaf ear’. Nothing happened.

I believe that the Commonwealth could still have a valuable contribution to make to world events and opinions, speaking with a greater united voice that its various members, but only if it can be run in a collaborative, democratic manner. To a smaller degree, it might also prove to be the only non-UK continued interest, by the lesser numbers who still link to the monarchy, in any future association to the Crown, after HM.

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