Saturday, December 11, 2004

Churchill On The Frontier - Mamund Valley III

Our hero has got to the head of the notorious Mamund Valley - and discovered why it's notorious.

The Buffs had now arrived, and it was obstinately decided to retake the spur down which we had been driven in order to recover prestige and the body of the Adjutant. This took us till five o'clock. Meanwhile the other company of the 35th Sikhs which had ascended the mountain on our right, had suffered even worse experiences. They eventually regained the plain bearing with them perhaps a dozen wounded, and leaving several officers and about fifteen soldiers to be devoured by the wolves. The shadows of evening had already fallen upon the valley, and all the detachments so improvidently dispersed in the morning, turned their steps towards the camp, gradually enveloped by a thunderstorm and by the night, and closely followed by savage and exulting foes. I marched home with the Buffs and the much-mauled 35th Sikhs. It was dark when we entered the entrenchments which now surrounded the camp.

All the other parties had already got home after unsatisfactory, though not serious, fighting. But where was the General ? And where was his staff ? And where was the mule battery ? The perimeter of the camp was strongly guarded, and we got ourselves some food amid the usual drizzle of sniping. Two hours passed. Where was the General? We now knew that he had with him besides the battery, half a company of sappers and miners, and in all about ten white officers.

Suddenly, from the valley there resounded the boom of a gun, calculated to be about three miles away. It was followed at short intervals by perhaps twenty more reports, then silence. What could be happening ? Against what targets was the General firing his artillery in the blackness of night ? Evidently he must be fighting at the very closest quarters. They must be all mixed up together; or were these guns firing signals for help ? Ought we to set out to his relief ? Volunteers were not lacking. The senior officers consulted together. As so often happens when things go wrong formalities were discarded, and I found myself taking part in the discussion. It was decided that no troops could leave the camp in the night. To send a rescue force to blunder on foot amid the innumerable pitfalls and obstacles of the valley in pitch darkness would be to cause further disaster, and also to weaken the camp fatally if it were to be attacked, as well it might be. The General and the battery must fight it out wherever they were till daylight. Again the guns in the valley fired. So they had not been scuppered yet. I saw for the first time the anxieties, stresses and perplexities of war. It was not apparently all a gay adventure. We were already in jeopardy; and anything might happen. It was decided that the squadron of Bengal Lancers, supported by a column of infantry, should set out to relieve the General with the first light of dawn. It was now past midnight and I slept soundly, booted and spurred, for a few hours.

The open pan of the valley had no terrors for us in daylight. We found the General and his battery bunched up in a mud village. He had had a rough time. He was wounded in the head, but not seriously. Overtaken by the darkness, he bad thrown his force into some of the houses and improvised a sort of fort. The Mamunds had arrived in the village at the same time, and all night long a fierce struggle had raged from house to house and in the alleys of this mud labyrinth. The assailants knew every inch of the ground perfectly. They were fighting in their own kitchens and parlours. The defenders simply hung on where they could in almost total darkness, without the slightest knowledge of the ground or buildings. The tribesmen broke through the walls, or clambered on or through the roofs, firing and stabbing with their long knives. It was a fight in a rabbit warren. Men grappled with each other; shot each other in error; cannon were fired as you might fire a pistol at an enemy two or three yards away. Four of the ten British officers were wounded. A third of the sappers and gunners were casualties, and nearly all the mules were dead or streaming with blood. The haggard faces of the surviving officers added the final touch to this grim morning scene. However, it was all over now. So we proceeded to shoot the wounded mules and have breakfast.

When we all got back to camp, our General communicated by heliograph through a distant mountain top with Sir Bindon Blood at Nawagai. Sir Bindon and our leading brigade had themselves been heavily attacked the night before. They had lost hundreds of animals and twenty or thirty men, but otherwise were none the worse. Sir Bindon sent orders that we were to stay in the Mamund Valley and lay it waste with fire and sword in vengeance. This accordingly we did, but with great precautions. We proceeded systematically, village by village, and we destroyed the houses, filled up the wells, blew down the towers, cut down the great shady trees, burned the crops and broke the reservoirs in punitive devastation. So long as the villages were in the plain, this was quite easy. The tribesmen sat on the mountains and sullenly watched the destruction of their homes and means of livelihood. When, however, we had to attack the villages on the sides of the mountains they resisted fiercely, and we lost for every village two or three British officers and fifteen or twenty native soldiers. Whether it was worth it, I cannot tell. At any rate, at the end of a fortnight the valley was a desert, and honour was satisfied.

It's obvious from the last paragraph that Churchill was at the least agnostic about this punitive expedition, but that didn't stop Goebbels using it (in 1941) as evidence of Churchill's ruthlessness.

Churchill doesn't mention the award of three Victoria Crosses for bravery during the General's 'rough time'. The map (from my paperback edition of 'My Early Life') shows the battle as taking place between the villages of Haxrago and Ka Lozagi, whereas the citations call the village 'Bilot', which I can't find on the map. Nonetheless it looks as if this was the battle where James Smith of the Buffs and Lieutenants James Colvin and Thomas Colclough Watson of the Royal Engineers distinguished themselves.

The attack on Bindon Blood's Nawagai camp is illustrated at the Sikh Cybermuseum site, a more strategic overview of the Malakand Campaign, noting that the pacification of the Mamund Valley cost 282 men out of 1200, is available here.

Last of all and totally off topic, the obituary of a Pathan whose bravery was in our cause - the late Jemadar Ali Haidar VC, who won his medal in this battle.

Links to previous episodes:
Churchill On The Frontier - Introduction
Sir Bindon Blood
Mamund Valley I
Mamund Valley II

Friday, December 10, 2004

Damage Plan

Another musician for this site. Or this one.

Never heard them, but predecessors Pantera were quite good.

Could have been worse though - Great White might have been the support.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

To Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor

Read your Times piece today on prisons and imprisonment.

"The traditional four justifications for depriving people of liberty — retribution, incapacitation, deterrence and reform — are all vital". Fair enough.

"A violent criminal is not, on the whole, one who turns to crime because he is poor and needs to care for his family: a person who cares that much about his family has too much empathy for others to be a violent criminal." Well, up to a point. Few violent criminals are poor, but many successful, wealthy and violent criminals care deeply about their families. Ever heard of the Mafia ? And some sections of the travelling community manage to combine strong family values with an attraction to other people's property. I still remember the itinerant tinker community who terrorised (literally - the local children had to have a police escort as they waited for the school bus) a village a couple of miles away for several months. Come Easter Sunday, the whole site was at Mass - the men, down to small boys, in sober jackets and ties, the girls immaculate in white, wads of notes in the collection tray.

After that I start to get uneasy.

The figures are eloquent. In 2004, the prison population of England and Wales stood at 75,544 — almost double the 1991 figure. It is likely to rise over the next decade to around 100,000 as magistrates and judges hand out tougher sentences in response to more prescriptive sentencing guidelines. Britain already has one of the highest ratios of prisoners to the general population in Western Europe.

This is the standard Guardian set of 'eloquent' figures. The really eloquent figure, Cardinal, is the one you don't quote. It's the crime rate. The reason so many Brits are inside is that so many Brits are criminals. And as for the rise being due to 'more prescriptive sentencing guidelines', had we stayed with the sentencing guidelines of the nineteen-fifties, when 30,000 people were in jail and the crime rate was 10% of its current level, we'd now have a prison population of 300,000. If the propensity to imprison has increased recently under the Howard/Straw/Blunkett regimes, it's after decades in which punishment became lighter and lighter.

Think about youth crime in the 1950s and youth crime now. Despite tales of Teds slashing cinema seats and Pinky getting nasty at Brighton Races, most people would accept that the level of youth crime is far higher now than it was then. They'd be amazed to hear that more young people were in prison then than now.

You don't give your view on 'appropriate punishments' directly, but I'm worried when you talk about the killers of John Monckton, the Catholic financier stabbed with his wife at his Chelsea home.

"I know that when they reach prison, they will enter a system from which they are more likely to emerge as hardened criminals than changed citizens."

Are you saying, Cardinal, that you're worried in case people who stab a man to death, and nearly kill his wife, leaving their nine year old daughter to call an ambulance to a dying father and a critically injured mother - that you're worried in case prison makes them 'hardened criminals' ? What do you consider them to be now - soft ones ?

"The Judaeo-Christian tradition insists that the primary aim of any penal system is to reform and restore."

Did it ? A desirable outcome, perhaps, but the primary aim ? And how does that fit with 1500 years of the Judaeo-Christian death penalty ? Not much time to reform and restore there, unless (as did happen) repentance and the sacraments were accepted at the last. Didn't stop the sentence though.

But it's this sentence that really turns the stomach.

"The men and women currently in British prisons are extraordinarily disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals."

I can think of a much more disadvantaged and vulnerable group - the people who have to live with these people when they're outside, and who constitute the main pool of victims - the poor and elderly who may be just as disadvantaged as the criminals but who don't commit crime. Who speaks for them ?

Will you, Cardinal, speak for the many thousands, probably more than the prison population, who are imprisoned each night on estates all over Britain, afraid to go out on the streets and afraid of being burgled if they leave the home ? What's that ? I can't hear you.

Will you speak for those who are driven to suicide by criminals ?

Will you speak for the victims of crime ? I can't hear you. Oh, wait a minute - "the bishops are alarmed at the way some media treat the claims of those who have suffered or fear crime as limitless, and demand an ever more punitive or retributive penal system. Equally alarming is the way that some politicians pander to the popular indignation, competing to appear ever more “tough on crime”. "

We've seen that the 'ever more punitive' system translates into a system which has been fractionally more punitive for a few years, after forty years becoming less punitive. And what is so 'alarming' about politicians who respond to the concerns of their constituents ? Isn't that exactly what they should do ?

If only you, Cardinal, would take a leaf from the book of the great Scots Archbishop Mario Conti.

"It is not only serious violence on an international scale which mars our society, but also the raw sewage of anti-social behaviour at home which provides so unpleasant an odour.

"I have become aware in my own ministry as Archbishop of Glasgow of the deadening grip of anti-social behaviour on many communities in my own archdiocese.

"How often I have heard priests lament to me that their people do not respond to events and services being held in the evening because of the fear of leaving the security of their homes in the hours of darkness."

Extraordinary - he cares more about his parishioners than the criminals ! Whereas our shepherd seems less worried about the dead and injured in his flock than by the possibility of a distemper outbreak among the wolves.

Here are some of the people you consider to be 'extremely disadvantaged and vulnerable'.

Johnny Doran

Elroy Simmonds

And some of the people who don't get a mention. There are many more.

Olga Turner

Doris Sharp

Finally a tale of a good Catholic family. The Erskines were poor but honest people who lived on a Stratford council estate - not in East London, but Warwickshire. The kids were well brought up and attended St Benedict's School in nearby Alcester, before Anthony began working as a trainee manager at Woolworths.

Unfortunately the Collins family lived next door - violent underclass types who didn't like the sort of kids who did their homework and then got jobs. They made the Erskines life a misery, taunting Anthony's mother about her Maltese origin and abusing his slightly-built father. When one day Anthony intervened as Damien Collins and his friend Mark Hemmings were insulting his father on his own doorstep, Hemmings knocked Anthony down and Collins kicked him to death in front of his parent.

Anthony Erskine's twin brother Ian committed suicide on the anniversary of his brother's murder. What remains of the family has moved away from Stratford.

Collins and Hemmings were given a tariff of 10 years in 1996. They'll be out in something over thirteen months. Amazingly they tried to get the sentence reduced. In the Lord Chief Justice's words "The parents of the deceased make it clear that they feel extremely angry about the possibility of release of their son's murderers. They oppose any reduction in the tariff."

The Erskines' sentence goes on - good people destroyed. What is the Bishop's Conference doing for them, Cardinal - these victims with their 'limitless claims' and their two dead sons ?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

"Custody has its place"

One of my hobby-horses is the Scottish experiment, where the liberal left are following Mrs Thatcher in using the country as a test-bed for future UK legislation, albeit cushioned by vast wodges of English subsidy. In many (but not all - the Scots are pretty ethnically homogenous) ways Scotland is England's future. The campaign for higher NHS spending (Scots are the most unhealthy people in the UK and have the highest per capita NHS spend), ever more exciting sex and drug education initiatives, the battle against 'sectarianism' (attending Mass in assorted rural Scots churches over the years I've never got the impression it's a problem outside of Ibrox and Parkhead) as a substitute for the English elite's obsession with racism, the corruption and nepotism of the Central Belt Labour fiefdoms, the campaign against parental rights (couched in the language of 'child protection') - all these are more advanced north of the Tweed.

Stand by for the new improved criminal justice policy - not so much 'let the burglars out', which Mr Blunkett has already pioneered, as 'don't imprison them in the first place'. It appears the Scots are about to place all their hope in schemes which failed in England - anything rather than build more prisons.

Fraser Nelson makes some points which should be obvious but which bear repeating.

Scotland does imprison a greater share of its population than almost any other country in Europe - 0.11 per cent of Scots are currently behind bars - ranking fourth, behind England.

Surely proof that our judges are a bit too quick to send ’em down? Here lies the crucial distinction. Depressingly, Scotland’s prison population is so high because its crime rate is so high.

Scotland’s sheriffs and judges are already ranked among the most lenient in Europe. Scotland’s convictions, as a share of crime, are almost a third those of Ireland - which, itself, is hardly known as the prison cell of the continent. If Spain’s judges were in charge of Scotland’s courtrooms, our prison population would have doubled.

Beware Of The Boar

The Forest of Dean has dangers enough for the unwary stranger, without these.

That Racist Education System - Part 98

In Southwark, Liberal Democrat councillor Bob Skelly resigned as the executive member for education after a member of "Southwark's education and youth scrutiny sub-committee" asked him what he personally was doing to address the needs of 'Caribbean' boys in Southwark. Apparently "Cllr Skelly appeared to resent questions put to him."

He replied: "Every evening I go out in a big van and kidnap some Caribbean boys. I berate them about their lack of commitment to education and give them a booster lesson in English."

Mr Skelly had previously taught in Southwark schools for 31 years without being detected as the hideous racist he so obviously is.

Meanwhile a further illustration of the institutional racism of our education system was the lack of ethnic minority representation in the BBC's Hard Spell final.

I loved the Calcutta Telegraph's coverage of the event. Have a look at her mother's occupation, and enjoy the classic quote.

"Gayathri comes from a normal Indian family with pushy parents. "

Churchill On The Frontier - Mamund Valley II

September 1897 - our hero is feeling isolated at the head of the Mamund Valley ...

At last we reached the few mud houses of the village. Like all the others, it was deserted. It stood at the head of the spur, and was linked to the mass of the mountains by a broad neck. I lay down with an officer and eight Sikhs on the side of the village towards the mountain, while the remainder of the company rummaged about the mud houses or sat down and rested behind them. A quarter of an hour passed and nothing happened. Then the Captain of the company arrived. " We are going to withdraw," he said to the subaltern. You stay here and cover our retirement till we take up a fresh position on that knoll below the village." He added, "The Buffs don't seem to be coming up, and the Colonel thinks we are rather in the air here." It struck me this was a sound observation. We waited another ten minutes. Meanwhile I presumed, for I could not see them, the main body of the company was retiring from the village towards the lower knoll.

Suddenly the mountain-side sprang to life. Swords flashed from behind rocks, bright flags waved here and there. A dozen widely-scattered white smoke-puffs broke from the rugged face in front of us. Loud explosions resounded close at hand. From high up on the crag, one thousand, two thousand, three thousand feet above us, white or blue figures appeared, dropping down the mountain-side from ledge to ledge like monkeys down the branches of a tall tree. A shrill crying arose from many points. Yi! Yi! Yi! Bang! Bang! Bang! The whole hillside began to be spotted with smoke and tiny figures descended every moment nearer towards us. Our eight Sikhs opened an independent fire, which soon became more rapid. The hostile figures continued to flow down the mountain-side, and scores began to gather in rocks about a hundred yards away from us. The targets were too tempting to be resisted. I borrowed the Martini of the Sikh by whom I lay. He was quite content to hand me cartridges. I began to shoot carefully at the men gathering in the rocks. A lot of bullets whistled about us. But we lay very flat, and no harm was done. This lasted perhaps five minutes in continuous crescendo. We had certainly found the adventure for which we had been looking. Then an English voice close behind. It was the Battalion Adjutant. “Come on back now. There is no time to lose. We can cover you from the knoll."

The Sikh whose rifle I had borrowed had put eight or ten cartridges on the ground beside me. It was a standing rule to let no ammunition fall into the hands of the tribesmen. The Sikh seemed rather excited, so I handed him the cartridges one after the other to put in his pouch. This was a lucky inspiration. The rest of our party got up and turned to retreat. There was a ragged volley from the rocks; shouts, exclamations, and a scream. I thought for a moment that five or six of our men had lain down again. So they had - two killed and three wounded. One man was shot through the breast and pouring with blood; another lay on his back kicking and twisting. The British officer was spinning round just behind me, his face a mass of blood, his right eye cut out. Yes, it was certainly an adventure.

It is a point of honour on the Indian frontier not to leave wounded men behind. Death by inches and hideous mutilation are the invariable measure meted out to all who fall in battle into the hands of the Pathan tribesmen. Back came the Adjutant, with another British officer of subaltern rank, a Sikh sergeant-major, and two or three soldiers. We all laid hands on the wounded and began to carry and drag them away down the hill. We got through the few houses, ten or twelve men carrying four, and emerged upon a bare strip of ground. Here stood the Captain commanding the company with half a dozen men. Beyond and below, one hundred and fifty yards away, was the knoll on which a supporting party should have been posted. No sign of them ! Perhaps it was the knoll lower down. We hustled the wounded along, regardless of their protests. We had no rearguard of any kind. All were carrying the wounded. I was therefore sure that worse was close at our heels.

We were not half-way across the open space when twenty or thirty furious figures appeared among the houses, firing frantically or waving their swords. I could only follow by fragments what happened after that. One of the two Sikhs helping to carry my wounded man was shot through the calf. He shouted with pain; his turban fell off; and his long black hair streamed over his shoulders - a tragic golliwog. Two more men came from below and seized hold of our man. The new subaltern and I got the golliwog by the collar and dragged him along the ground. Luckily it was all down hill. Apparently we hurt him so much on the sharp rocks that be asked to be let go alone. He hopped and crawled and staggered and stumbled, but made a good pace. Thus he escaped. I looked round to my left. The Adjutant had been shot. Four of his soldiers were carrying him. He was a heavy man, and they all clutched at him. Out from the edge of the houses rushed half a dozen Pathan swordsman. The bearers of the poor Adjutant let him fall and fled at their approach. The leading tribesman rushed upon the prostrate figure and slashed it three or four times with his sword.

I forgot everything else at this moment except a desire to kill this man. I wore my long cavalry sword well sharpened. After all, I had won the Public Schools fencing medal. I resolved on personal combat a l'arme blanche. The savage saw me coming. I was not more than twenty yards away. He picked up a big stone and hurled it at me with his left hand, and then awaited me, brandishing his sword. There were others waiting not far behind him. I changed my mind about the cold steel. I pulled out my revolver, took, as I thought, most careful aim, and fired. No result. I fired again. No result. I fired again. Whether I hit him or not I cannot tell. At any rate, he ran back two or three yards and plumped down behind a rock. The fusillade was continuous. I looked around. I was all alone with the enemy. Not a friend was to be seen. I ran as fast as I could. There were bullets everywhere. I got to the first knoll. Hurrah, there were the Sikhs holding the lower one ! They made vehement gestures, and in a few moments I was among them.

There was still about three-quarters of a mile of the spur to traverse before the plain was reached, and on each side of us other spurs ran downwards. Along these rushed our pursuers, striving to cut us off and firing into both our flanks. I don't know how long we took to get to the bottom. But it was all done quite slowly and steadfastly. We carried two wounded officers and about six wounded Sikhs with us. That took about twenty men. We left one officer and a dozen men dead and wounded to be cut to pieces on the spur.

During this business I armed myself with the Martini and ammunition of a dead man, and fired as carefully as possible thirty or forty shots at tribesmen on the left-hand ridge at distances from eighty to a hundred and twenty yards. The difficulty about these occasions is that one is so out of breath and quivering with exertion, if not with excitement. However, I am sure I never fired without taking aim. We fetched up at the bottom of the spur little better than a mob, but still with our wounded. There was the company reserve and the Lieutenant-Colonel commanding the battalion and a few orderlies. The wounded were set down, and all the survivors of the whole company were drawn up two deep, shoulder to shoulder, while the tribesmen, who must have now numbered two or three hundred, gathered in a wide and spreading half-moon around our flanks. I saw that the white officers were doing everything in their power to keep the Sikhs in close order. Although this formation presented a tremendous target, anything was better than being scattered. The tribesmen were all bunched together in clumps, and they too seemed frenzied with excitement.

The Colonel said to me, "The Buffs are not more than half a mile away. Go and tell them to hurry or we shall all be wiped out." I had half turned to go on this errand, when a happy thought struck me. I saw in imagination the company overwhelmed and wiped out, and myself, an Orderly Officer to the Divisional General, arriving the sole survivor, breathless, at top speed, with tidings of disaster and appeals for help. "I must have that order in writing, sir," I said. The Colonel looked surprised, fumbled in his tunic, produced his pocket-book and began to write. But meanwhile the Captain had made his commands heard above the din and confusion. He had forced the company to cease their wild and ragged fusillade. I heard an order: "Volley firing. Ready. Present." Crash! At least a dozen tribesmen fell. Another volley, and they wavered. A third, and they began to withdraw up the hillside. The bugler began to sound the "Charge." Everyone shouted. The crisis was over, and here, Praise be to God, were the leading files of the Buffs. Then we rejoiced and ate our lunch. But as it turned out, we had a long way to go before night.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Two Under Age Girls

A man faces up to five years in jail for watching a fourteen year old girl pose naked on a webcam.

A lawyer commented: "Until now, it always was assumed that an alleged abuser had to be in the same place as his victim to commit the offence of lewd and libidinous practice.

"The internet appears to have changed all that."

South of the border, five out of a dozen men who videoed each other having sex with a fifteen year old girl walked free after being cleared of rape.

I'm sure there must be some consistency between these two cases - does anyone know what it is ?

The second case raises a couple of issues aside from the victim's age. The judge, Michael Hucker, called the defendants' conduct "wholly disgraceful". Yet if we ignore the victim's age, in a post-Christian world what right has the judge to pass judgement upon the acquitted mens sexual predelictions ? If sex is divorced from procreation, from marriage, from controlling rules laid down in books written thousands of years ago, who is to say that ringing round your friends inviting them over for 'dessert' is not reasonable ? Anyway, maybe it's a cultural thing - some think one thing, some another. Hasn't the judge ever seen thirteen people in love before ?

I'm not ignoring the hurt of the victim - and that's the second point.

The treatment of the alleged victim by the prosecution in the rape trial was very similar to the treatment of the chief prosecution witness, also a young girl, in the Damilola Taylor murder trial. The defence found evidence of previous lies, of fantasising, of irresponsible behaviour - of enough, in short, to discredit her as a reliable witness. My point being this - that on the streets of Peckham, Brockley, New Cross and the other cultural disaster zones of Britain, the chances of witnesses to, or victims of, serious crime impressing a judge is always going to be small. The alleged victim is unlikely to be a regular churchgoer, the school's star history student, or Girl Guide studying for her Duke Of Edinburgh award. Those who hang out with young criminals, or who are accustomed to being picked up from youth clubs for sex in a car with a relative stranger, may not come over well in the witness box, and may well have their own 'previous' which won't reflect well on their character.

This is bad for justice - but it's the way we live now.

Monday, December 06, 2004


Every couple of years comes a time when Windows 98 starts to creak. The hard disk is nearly full, the desktop has about 100 items on it, performance is achingly slow. The only thing to do at such a time is to completely reinstall Win98, reorganise the disks and delete as much as you can. This takes a few evenings minimum, putting the software back. Couple this with a visit to Yorkshire for a funeral, then a child's birthday celebrations - end result minimal blogging. I now just have to set up the broadband box which arrived today before normal service will be resumed. And there's a lot to blog about.