‘Wartime’ comparisons are becoming increasingly excessive

Building a hospital should not be compared to being at the Battle of the Somme.

Coronavirus crisis

by Colin Campbell                                                                                                                     Tuesday, April 7

AS the “wartime” rhetoric is ramped up surrounding the current situation some utterances are so over the top you’d think there were bombs, bayonets and bullets to be avoided all around.

 The most absurd, ludicrous and cringe-making came, disappointingly, from an army officer.

 “My grandfather was at the Somme. This is no different. I’m just at a different battle,” said Colonel Ashleigh Boreham, who helped to plan London’s new 4,000-bed hospital.

 What can you say to that? Other than – for God’s sake Colonel Boreham, think before you speak and try to get a grip.

 Credit to him and others involved for their work in setting up a new hospital in a relatively short time.

 But no, this was not akin to serving in the Battle of the Somme. It was not close to it. It was not within a million miles or 100 light years of it.

 No-one should underestimate the level of pressure on NHS staff and the suffering of the coronavirus victims. It is a very, very difficult time for many.

 But I – and I suspect many others – find the incessant “We are at war” assertions increasingly excessive, particularly when they are linked, as by Colonel Boreham, to historic events of the past.

 At the Somme soldiers waded through mud in trenches filled with rats, many with a plague of maggots eating away at their flesh. Shells fell all around and their life expectancy before they were ordered to advance towards German machine guns could be measured in hours, rather than weeks or days. There was blood and guts and there were shattered bodies everywhere. I don’t need to make an attempt to paint the picture. We’ve all seen the old film reels. How could anyone – a military man in particular – say the current situation “is no different”?

 What has rightly been termed “the Greatest Generation” three decades later defeated Hitler and the Nazis at the cost, in this country alone, of hundreds of thousands of lives,  living through times of hardship and suffering we’ve never known and we hope never will know.

 I had an uncle, Alastair, who served with the Scots Guards and fought in the war, and crossed the Rhine, and survived it all to become a policeman in Aberdeen and live to his late 80s. He followed the stereotype of “war veteran” – he never talked about what he’d seen, done and endured. But I’ve no doubt he saw and endured so much more than any of us are seeing and enduring right now.

 If people in authority want to insist we are “at war” to try and prevent idiots taking picnics in sunny parks, or to remind us all to maintain social distancing, well, they can repeat the mantra as often as they like.

 But don’t try and make serious comparison with the human carnage of what most people’s conception of a war really is. And do not compare building a London hospital to being in the Battle of the Somme.


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