Posts Tagged ‘HMS Clare’

I have been thinking a little, recently, about the unending fight against fascism. Against the authoritarians, the anti-democrats, the oligarchs, power elite, the swine.

HMS Clare, with my father on board, location unknown but leaving or entering port, I think.

HMS Clare, with my father on board, location unknown but leaving or entering port, I think.

This is partly because on an ongoing debate I enjoy with a number of close friends on the legitimate role for the State in our lives, but also, no doubt, because I am currently going to sleep at night listening to the audio book “Dominion” by C J Sanson, a provocative “what if” thriller set in a Britain that had sued for peace with Germany in 1940 and which is now, in the mid-1950s, sliding towards its own Jew-culling fascist nightmare. And also because my daughter has been seized by the Hunger Games Trilogy, which, it could surely be argued, is as effective an anti-fascist series of novels as one could want to read, and in targeting its relatively junior audience, a force for good. Discussion of the literary qualities of the novels can take place elsewhere.

(Incidentally, the Wellthisiswhatithink clan went to see the second movie – Catching Fire – and it was brilliantly done. We recommend seeing the first installment just to “get” the story and definitely the second to marvel at Jennifer Lawrence’s superb acting, supported by a great cast and some amazing cinematography.)

Anyhow, whatever the reason, the terrors of opposing an authoritarian regime – still so relevant to far too many of the world’s people – have been something we have been pondering. What would we have done, for example, if we were “ordinary people” watching the Nazi round up and exportation in appalling conditions of the Jews, if, while we were watching, we were threatened with going with them if we protested? What would we say or do today against active oppression in … Iran, Syria, Egypt … Zimbabwe … would we speak up for gays and other minorities in Russia, the Romany people in Europe … what would we do watching the excesses of the regime in North Korea? What do we do, indeed, to fight against the disgraceful demonisation of asylum seekers in our own back yard, contending, as we would be, with some 90% of the political establishment?

And then, by chance, I came across the photograph (above) of one of the ships my father served on during World War II, and found another (below) online.

I 14 - HMS Clare

I 14 – HMS Clare

The HMS Clare began life as the USS Abel P. Upshur but was decommissioned by the Yanks and transferred in the destroyer-land bases exchange to Great Britain, at Halifax, Nova Scotia, 9 September 1940. It was one of the “topsy-turveys” – one of the “Lend Lease” destroyers given to the British in 1940 to bolster the fight against Hitler – and so nicknamed because of their alarming propensity to turn turtle in heavy weather.

From 1940 to 1944, as HMS Clare, she escorted convoys in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. That was when my father served on her. In the early hours of 21 February 1941 she collided with the motor vessel Petertown and was out of action, undergoing repairs, until October 1941.

During 1942 and 1943 Clare took part in the Invasions of North Africa and Sicily. In May 1944 she became an aircraft target ship in the Western Approaches Command. In August 1945 she was reduced to reserve at Greenock, Scotland, and later berthed at Barrow, England, awaiting disposal. She was scrapped in 1945.

T S Yolland

T S Yolland

My father was apparently a cheerful, sometimes boisterous man.

He loved a pint, a cigarette, and a bet. A game of cards.

He was an utterly loyal husband and a doting father. In the middle of his life, when he should have been enjoying financial success and a measure of quiet satisfaction at having survived the Depression intact, married and started a family, he virtually vanished for six years, into the maw of World War II.

I still have his medals. They bear testament to the quiet service he offered … the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Mediterranean. Malta, India, North Africa,  and all points West and East. He wasn’t the chap manning the depth charges, the guns, or wrenching the wheel around against the storm’s violence on the bridge. “Two points to larb’d, Yolland! Aye Aye, Sir!”

No, he was a quartermaster. The most unglamorous job imaginable on a destroyer. He looked after the ship’s stores, doled them out, and made sure everyone got what they were due to keep them going, which wasn’t much.

Not that he couldn’t have done all the more Boy’s Own stuff, I am sure, but being in the wholesale fish trade he was used to totting up ledgers and keeping track of stores, and all the rest. When they found that out, the Navy assigned him as a quartermaster, and a quartermaster he stayed.

Whether or not his family thought much of his service is lost in the mists of time. His father, Captain D S Yolland, was a trawlerman who got the DSC (just one step down from a VC) for trawling up mines dropped by Zeppelins in Portsmouth Harbour in the First War. I don’t know if they were all that impressed by Dad’s service, but my Mum was, and I am.

He was, by all accounts, a kind, gentle man, and the strain on him of wallowing around in a metal tub waiting for a torpedo up his arse, day after day – month after month, year after year – told on him. He smoked incessantly to calm his nerves, and drank too much, and duly died very young, tragically young, of a heart attack, at just 46 years old, in 1959.

To my mind, he is as much a victim of the fight against Nazism as those who never came home. It took a special type of deep, abiding courage, and an astonishing sense of duty, for him and his shipmates to keep going back, after each leave, never knowing if they would see home again, or how horrible and lonely their death might be. When I questioned my mother about it, she went very quiet, and simply said “It just had to be done. We couldn’t let them win. It was wrong – Hitler, all of it – it was just wrong.”

“It was just wrong.” Quite so. There were millions like my father. Millions of civilians who endured impossible privation, millions of civilians killed, injured and bereaved, millions of children orphaned, and millions of service people mentally destroyed, hideously injured or snatched from their families forever.

Leaders. They get us into wars. But the little people fight them, and the little people are the ones who get us out of them. I wonder if we remember that enough? I suspect we don’t.

Mechanic Michael Allison faces 75 years in jail for recording police

Mechanic Michael Allison faces 75 years in jail for recording police - this is his story

This story has just been brought to my attention in a different arena, and it shocked me. I think it will shock you.

I fear that in all those countries who regularly laud themselves for being “free”,  there is an extremely worrying trend to erode the rights of the individual, and to boost the powers of the state.

When I was growing up, in the UK, my Mum used to say to me “the best thing about this country, Stephen, is that your Dad fought for the right for you to say whatever you like, and we have free speech here as a result”.

That simple thought – that so long as one was not being defamatory or merely insulting, one was permitted to speak one’s mind openly and fearlessly on any topic – has guided my life ever since.

And I have tried to imbue it in my daughter, in my turn.

HMS Clare, 1941

One of the destroyers my Dad shipped on, the somewhat wobbly HMS Clare, in 1941

Mum lost her husband aged 46, a kindly but broken man, worn out by six years fighting the Nazis on tin-pot, turn-turtle lend-lease destroyers. (Those on board these ships (a valuable gift from the Americans at the start of the war) were more worried that they were always about to capsize than they were going to get a torpedo up their collective arses.) She was no great intellectual, but when she contemplated his sacrifice, which must have hurt her so badly, she drew comfort from the fact that “We can say what we like here, because of what your Dad did”. I used to try and talk to her about his sacrifice, and hers, but she would always brush it off, with an embarrassed wave of the hand. “It was just what we had to do, Stephen. We had no choice.” And she would say no more.

This essential freedom, paid for with the blood of millions, is so much a component of my social and intellectual DNA that I fear my world would crumble if it was seriously challenged. I would, without a backward glance, head for the barricades to defend my right to say anything I damn well please, so long as it adheres to the basic rules of civilised democratic behaviour.

That’s why I have so much admiration for the stand taken by this man in Illinois. This story goes directly to just such simple, core democratic freedoms as the right to free speech. How can recording the actions of police in public be a felony offence, equivalent to rape or murder? Especially when the police are specifically permitted, by the same laws, to record citizens? It’s just so ridiculous it beggars belief. The story, still running, is covered in this 14 minute (or so) You Tube video. It’s a long time, 14 minutes, in our time-poor world, but I think everyone who values our freedom really should watch it.

 

Although I suspect, watching him being interviewed, that Michael might be one of those annoyingly vexatious people who invariably clog up public policymaking and government, I am nevertheless in awe of his personal courage. I hope someone makes a Hollywood movie of his fight, which I trust will ultimately be successful, as that would reach more people than a thousand speeches or learned academic papers. And I trust Illinois, and America as a whole, is thoroughly embarrassed by his plight. Because whether or not he is, essentially, the type of character that causes officialdom to roll its collective eyes at his nuisance factor, the fact is that our democracy needs such nuisances to stay healthy and meaningful.

Whether it is this man’s fight to oppose this ludicrous statute (that is on the books in 12 states in America), or the rendition of subsequently-proven-to-be-innocent citizens to third world countries for torture – or to Guantanamo Bay – or the more swingeing statutes of the Patriot Act or its equivalent in the UK, Australia and elsewhere, or, indeed, the now blanket CCTV coverage of our streets, I believe I see evidence for a creeping disregard for our personal liberty in the West that is gathering pace. And fast.

There are what appear to be serious, intelligent people in Illinois defending this law. Look at the prevarication of the public officials. Can you see shame on their faces? I can. But I also see a determination to protect their turf at all costs,  instead of responding, as they should have, with a cheery “Hell, yes, what were we thinking?” and an apology. I note, also, that the state legislature failed to overturn the law.

Look: I think that police in modern society do a difficult and thankless job, and in general they deserve our wholehearted respect. But if they are operating within the law, as they must, then they should have no fear whatsoever of being recorded, whether in audio or video.

I mean, what is the difference between what this man did and jurisdictions insisting that police interviews are now recorded? It makes good sense in a police station, to protect the interests and bona fides of both the accused and the police, but not on the streets? Huh? What’s with that?

On this, as so many other issues, like climate change and casual violence on the streets, we seem to be suffering from what biologist David Suzuki called “Boiling Frog” syndrome.

Drop a live frog in to a beaker of boiling water and it will struggle to get out. But put it in a beaker of cold water and raise the temperature in steady one degree increases, and it will not, just sitting there as it gets sicker and sicker from the rising heat, until it becomes unconscious, and eventually dies.

I think our beakers are being heated up, in oh-so-many ways, and we are just sitting still and taking it. And it scares me.

Aux barricades, mes camarades.