Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Real Callousness

The newspapers have been full of the Prime Ministers alleged callousness and indifference in recent days as a result of ‘Spelling-gate’. My initial instinct, that this was a politically motivated attempt to humiliate the Prime Minister, is proving well founded.

On this Armistice Day allow me to tell you a story of real callousness from another age, to put all of this in perspective.

My Great Uncle, Robert Ballard, was a member of the Royal Field Artillery, a regiment equipped with smaller field artillery guns that were generally situated closer to the front lines. As a family we know little about him, other than that he was a beloved older brother of my own grandfather, who eventually called his own longed-for son after him. His role in the Great War was, according to my own mother, “something to do with horses”, presumably tending to the poor animals which pulled the guns into position.

As you have probably guessed by now, he was killed the outskirts of Arras on the Western Front on July 17th 1917. In an act of real callousness, the War Office informed his mother, my own Great Grandmother, of his death via telegram. Nothing unusual in that, except that it was accompanied by an invoice for the blanket in which he was buried. In those days, you not only had to be prepared to sacrifice your own children for the nation, you also had to pay for the privilege of having them buried. To my Great Grandmother’s eternal credit, to the day she died she refused to pay.

Robert Ballard currently lies in Point Du Jour Military Cemetery near Arras. It is a small cemetery named after a particularly strong German redoubt in the near vicinity. The cemetery became internationally famous about 10 years ago when the ‘Grimsby Chums”, members of a Pals Regiment (anybody interested in the sheer idiocy and pointless waste of the Great War should read up on Pals Regiments), were discovered nearby linked arm-in-arm. They were subsequently re-buried in Point Du Jour.

Times have fortunately changed but individuals and organisations are still capable of extraordinary callous behaviour and thoughtlessness. I supect the Sun’s behavior in recent days has offended the British public in such a way. The Sun’s website story is now the recipient of nearly 200 comments from its readers, 90% of which are supportive of the Prime Minister. This will not have gone unnoticed in Wapping.

The talk on the Sun's website is of a callousness perpetrated by a national newspaper which chose to publicly try and humiliate a man on the basis of his disability. The Prime Minister is, if you didn’t know, practically blind.

Apparently, the political editor of the Sun, well aware of the Prime Minister’s failing eyesight, tried to dissuade senior staff on the paper on Sunday night from treating the story as they did. He was ignored.

I suspect we will now see the Sun quietly pull away from this one and try to make amends as it did with its other great cock-ups - remember “Bonkers Bruno” and “Hillsborough – The Truth?” Get ready for a gushing ‘Sarah and the boys” story coming your way in the next few weeks.


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