Friday 18 August 2017

Lessons of war must not be lost

Thankfully, we've moved on from when buying German or Japanese cars was frowned upon

RESPECT: Former President Mary McAleese with Queen Elizabeth at Islandbridge in 2011. Photo: Damien Eagers
RESPECT: Former President Mary McAleese with Queen Elizabeth at Islandbridge in 2011. Photo: Damien Eagers
Campbell Spray

Campbell Spray

THERE I was, feeling very safe driving a big German SUV around the M50 towards our regular walk in the Dublin Mountains when some random thoughts turned this column into something different.

For some, I suppose, wars will never be over. While they must be dissected, bickered over, it is more important that the lessons are not lost. For the injured, in both body and mind, the bereaved and the bitter, there are other imperatives. This being 100 years since the First World War, or the Great War or the War to End Wars, started, such thoughts are especially poignant, when one considers the huge loss of life on all sides.

I was joking in the office last Thursday that my father – a Royal Marine in heart and mind if not body, from the day he joined up in 1926 until he died 76 years later – would probably be turning in his grave if he was watching Angela Merkel addressing the British Houses of Commons and Lords. But then perhaps not – he told me of his refusal to shoot a terrified young German paratrooper who fell into his trench when he was an officer during the Battle for Crete.

The week had started with a visit to the wonderful War Memorial Gardens designed by Lutyens at Dublin's Islandbridge. This was more meaningful in some ways as both my grandfathers died during the Forties, before I was born, from wounds they had received in France during that War to End Wars. One from the effects of gas, the other from shrapnel in his brain. I drove up to Islandbridge to take our dog Sam for a walk in the same BMW X5 I was testing last weekend in the Dublin Mountains. And as contributing editor Geraldine Herbert said in our motoring supplement last Sunday, it is the "most complete 4x4 on the market ... a compelling combination of economy, performance and dynamic handling".

I remember that at one time buying German cars was considered not really patriotic in the Britain where I spent much of my childhood, while Japanese cars were a definite no-no. "Remember Singapore, the River Kwai and that monstrous railway," I was told. I am named after an Australian uncle who died as a Black Watch officer with the Chindits in the Burmese jungle after being tortured by some sons of Nippon. It was difficult to live up to his earlier brilliant career and the Military Cross-winning heroics and, until I went on my first visit to Japan as a guest of Toyota in 1988, I didn't really understand just how different their customs are.

But we have all moved on. I have owned German and Japanese cars and had good times and made great friendships in both countries. Yet has the world learnt anything? As the Crimea hots up and Syria, Serbia and Rwanda are just three examples of horror on a mass scale, one wonders. It doesn't take long to turn ploughshares into swords, or cars into tanks.

Sunday Independent

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