I was in Amiens, northern France on Sunday night; gazing out of the window at a flat featureless land covered with lush grass and contented cows. It was not always thus – Amiens lies at the heart of the Somme battlefield.
Once, I would have been looking at 381 villages full of life; women bottling the produce of the orchards, men milking the fat cows, children playing – but they have gone. Not ‘gone’ because they have abandoned their villages for the fast city life – but gone because their villages were razed to dust, as were they – caught in the crossfire of an idealogical battle. 381 villages, their inhabitants, and 72,205 fine young men of whom nothing could be retrieved to be rebuilt, nursed back to health – or even identified. That is not the total count of the war dead – that is just the total of those for whom only a finger, once resting on a trigger, or a rotten foot could be found – insufficient for a dignified burial with a name plate. For the villagers, there was simply nothing left to return to – just muddy trenches and barbed wire.
Today, brave farmers have ploughed the land again, and returned it to useful life – last year, a 100 years after the conflict, 44 tons of munitions were dug up by farmers and safely disposed of by the civilians of the Somme’s Bomb Squad. Men have built homes for their families, women have repopulated schools; it is impossible not to feel slightly emotional as you take in the human effort expended rebuilding a useful life for the people of this area.
So close to the anniversary of the start of the Great War, the area was crawling with visitors – cars full of Dutch people, coaches from all over Europe with elderly men in their blazers and war medals – and a number of military units. The queue for the ladies room in the Service station was endless; A number of young girls in French army uniform – beautiful girls with stunning figures, even in fatigues – were selflessly standing aside to let the elderly matrons from the coaches go ahead in the queue. Listening to the conversation – ‘après-vous, Madame, non, non, après-vous’ – I learnt that they were on their way to Liberia to establish a field hospital; a surprise posting, they had expected to be at the memorial service in Amiens, hence this hastily arranged trip for them all to honour their fallen comrades two weeks early.
Outside, in the winter sunshine, we were assaulted by an army of sub-Saharan flies, blown north by the approaching hurricane ‘Gonzalo’ – ‘better get used to the flies’ they joked as they rushed off to join their male companions; all equally fit and agile, bright eyed and enthusiastic.
There was reason once, that we picked the brightest, fittest, most intelligent from our communities to fight hand to hand in togas and sandals – but that reason has long gone.
Now we scrape the top of our genetic barrel to carry diseased corpses out of African hovels, or drive land-rovers down mined middle-eastern dust tracks – or to jump and run over the top of muddy trenches into a hail of munitions. It requires bravery, of course, but the bravery comes from electing to serve your country, knowing that is what lies ahead – it doesn’t require any great skill or intelligence to die in a hail of bullets or from carrying an Ebola laden corpse. So why do we sacrifice the cream of our communities to die for their country?
We are told that ‘returning Jihadists’ represent a threat to our nation that we don’t know what to do with; that our prisons are full of paedophiles at great expense; that we must support financially an army of ‘unemployable’ young men because they have not managed to absorb even a rudimentary education – isn’t it time we scraped the bottom of the genetic barrel and established a ‘Dud’s Army’, and replaced social security and expensive prisons with a guaranteed place in the 1st Corpse Carrying Division of the Dud’s Army, or the 31st IED Fragmented Battalion?
Three square meals a day, all the gyms and sports facilities you can shake a stick at – and the chance to serve your country, make amends to society for your previously useless life, and maybe 72 Virgins in the after-life for those who believe in such things?
We are told that our present military is ‘socially diverse’ – but that only refers to their parent’s occupation, and their parents aren’t the ones splattered over an Afghani roadside. They are not genetically diverse! – they are the cream of our breeding ability; the ones who should be at home gaily fornicating with the prettiest girls and producing our next generation.
Let’s hear it for a Dud’s Army. We don’t need Roman gladiators any longer, just keep a few of the brightest to organise the rest, and demob the remainder home to a soft sofa and Sky TV all day…the next generation will be vastly improved and we will save a small fortune.