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Serial Saturday: Down South in the Service of the Queen - Chapter the Eighth

David Flin

A house of larks and owls
I notice it isn't explained in the tale about the significance of Onion Soup.

Apparently, when a Viking warrior received a stomach wound, his comrades would feed him onion soup. If they could later smell onion in the stomach area, they knew that the stomach or intestine had been punctured, and the wound was a fatal one, with death only a matter of time. No onion smell meant no puncture of the digestive system, and the wounded warrior stood the usual chances of recovering from a serious wound.

Having discussed this with me when I came round from surgery, Alison made sure that my first meal was onion soup. It became a bit of a family joke.


Big Ol' Soviet Deltic
Published by SLP
The first time I read this, I had assumed that Our Hero was a literary device. Not necessarily fictional, but perhaps an imagined member of the troop, pieced together from several actual marines. Now, I know that the name Andrew has an awful lot of significance for you, and am thinking more deeply. Obviously, you knew and served with people who lost their lives in active service. It's easy for a reader to understand that in the abstract, but the reality can be hard to imagine. The fact that our narrator was one such person, and a real one too, helps to make the ending far more poignant. I'm not going to pretend to know what it's like: it would be insulting and patronising to even try. The reminder that families are torn apart - even in the "cheapest" and "easiest" of wars - helps close that vast gulf slightly, even if it can never bridge the gap completely.

David Flin

A house of larks and owls
Obviously, you knew and served with people who lost their lives in active service. It's easy for a reader to understand that in the abstract, but the reality can be hard to imagine.
That's part of the deal; you go into harm's way when required. The flip side is, of course, that one expects that going into harm's way is necessary for good and valid reasons, and not because of some pointless activity that is just so that a politician can say that something is being done when there is no intention of doing anything.

Individuals may agree or disagree with the reasons for putting people into harm's way. Disagreement is fine. One can, for example, debate the rights and wrongs of events like the Falklands, or Gulf War 1, or Sierre Leone, or similar. The guys going into harm's way know that they're doing what they signed up to do, and that there is a perceived value to it. They'll complain about it, but they'll complain about everything, so that's no big surprise.

Where it starts to get to be problematic is when it is clear no-one actually has a clue what they're going in to harm's way to do. Take Afghanistan. It was very quickly apparent that nothing was going to change. Local allies would be given equipment, which promptly got sold on to other parties, and in due course, was used against the soldiers wondering what the point of it all was. Infrastructure, such as wells, would be dug to make villagers' lives better, only two days later, the villagers would have filled in the wells because that gave the local women too much time to gossip.

But I guess what really annoys is when one reads tosh about how easy a certain campaign (and the Falklands is a good example) was, and how "only" a couple of hundred of British boys died. It's only a small number, and it's very easy for people to forget that even a small number can have family consequences.