The Indian sailors recruited by Britain’s merchant navy died in their thousands during two world wars. Most of them weren’t even commemorated at all
Sometimes the public remember the dead – the “glorious dead”, as the war memorials describe them – and sometimes we forget them completely. Sometimes, in fact, we never knew who they were in the first place. The whole business is so arbitrary, depending not only on questions of where, when and how people died, but also on the question of what rank or race they were. To die in the service of Britain or the British empire doesn’t necessarily guarantee a public display of gratitude. A good way to understand this is to take a short walk from three stations on London’s Docklands Light Railway, as I did this week on a damp, oppressive afternoon that turned the city grey.
I began at the line’s end in Woolwich, where Lee Rigby, a 25-year-old soldier with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was stabbed and hacked to death on 22 May. Woolwich is an old military town that once had a famous arsenal and a royal dockyard and still has a barracks, and it never lets
The British government’s claim that it is strengthening the rule of law is undermined by its treatment of Afghan civilians in custody
While working in Kabul on another legal case involving British troops, our interpreter introduced us to a man we shall call Ali. Ali, an illiterate farmer in his mid-50s, explained in a tired and shaking voice that since March 2012 his teenage son had been detained in a British military facility without charge or access to a lawyer. Ali described the agonising first two months when his son was held incommunicado – he had no idea where his son was and feared for his life. It was only when the International Committee of the Red Cross managed to get a message to him that he discovered his son was in British custody.
Ali is now able to speak to his son for an hour over the internet every fortnight but he has not been permitted to visit him in person. Ali’s son has not been told why he is being detained or what is going to happen to him. Neither Ali nor his wife have been able to sleep properly since their son was
The lessons of the first world war are not a settled question in modern Britain, nor is how to commemorate it
Last autumn David Cameron went to London’s Imperial War Museum and announced plans for “a truly national commemoration” of the centenary of the first world war. There would be, he revealed, four years of events and activity, all at a total cost of more than £50m, starting with the centenary of the outbreak of war in August 2014 and continuing until the centenary of the Armistice in November 2018.
The speech was strikingly personal. Cameron talked about his own family experience of war. He said how Robert Graves’s war memoir, Goodbye to All That, was “my favourite book”. And he spoke of the great impression – “one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen” – made on him by a visit to the Turkish memorial at Gallipoli. That memorial’s inscription – which states “there is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us, where they lie, side by side, in this country of ours” – managed to capture “so much of what this is all about”, the prime minister said.
What, though, is
Defence secretary Philip Hammond says safe route for accessing Afghan judicial system has now been secured
British forces in Afghanistan may begin handing over prisoners to the Afghan judicial system in the coming weeks, the defence minister has announced.
Philip Hammond said that around 90 prisoners had been held at Camp Bastion for up to a year because Britain was concerned that they might be mistreated in Afghan custody.
“I decided last November that we should suspend transfers because there was one particular Afghan facility that we were uncomfortable about and we were not able to get from the Afghans a cast-iron guarantee that they wouldn’t transfer detainees into that facility,” he told Channel 4 News on Wednesday.
“So we stopped transferring them while we sorted out an effective and safe route for accessing the Afghan judicial system, something which we have now secured and I expect to be able to go back to the court within the next few days and put our plans to the court for their approval.”
Hammond’s comments came after Mohammad Daud Yaar, the Afghan ambassador to the UK, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One on Wednesday that “the principle of national sovereignty” meant the detainees
British forces are detaining up to 85 Afghan nationals at Camp Bastion, in what may be deemed unlawful detention