38 years perspective

Dad died 38 years ago today and I have been wondering what he would think of the world today. He would appreciate many of the technological advances that make farm admin, planning and management more efficient but I believe that the industrialisation of farming would have saddened him. He was a real countryman, in touch with the rhythms of nature and responsive to her needs – he was a proper husband to the land, not a rapist. Our insatiable demand for cheap food has led to denuded soils, poisoned and homeless wildlife, the brutalisation of our farm animals and almost universal separation between producer and consumer.

Our disconnection from the land has had disastrous consequences for us as well as the land and its flora and fauna. We get our water bottled, we take any means of transport that keeps us separate from the ground, we like our food adulterated out of all recognition from the original plants that grew or animals that lived, we want strawberries at Christmas, we don’t trust the air to dry our clothes, preferring the tumble dryer instead. We don’t trust ourselves – our body’s innate intelligence – its cries for nutrition, water and sleep go unheeded and we don’t trust it to heal our wounds, cure our sickness and prevent infection from invading us. Mistrust breeds fear and fear breeds contempt.

At local level our lost relationship with nature manifests as a disregard for our own health and for the health of our local environment. At a global level we are on the edge of catastrophe. If we stop meddling with nature, exploiting it, trying to control it; if we enter into a healthy relationship with it we might just save ourselves. I’m sick of the brutalist agenda and hope for the ascendancy of kindness.

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

1950s Hong Kong

I’ve just been to the Regimental HQ for 19RA, who Dad commanded from 1955-1957, to look at the Regimental Diary for his time in command. It makes fascinating reading, as the regiment was in Korea during 1955, keeping the peace – or at least a truce – after the Korean war. At the beginning of 1956 the regiment moved to Hong Kong and Dad was busy training troops all round the Island, Kowloon and the New Territories. I wonder how he felt, revisiting the sites that had been battlefield during the Second World War? These days we would be concerned about PTSD but I have no record of his response to finding himself back at the site of the deaths of many of his colleagues.

At the end of 1957 Dad was leaving command of the regiment and they threw a party for him that is delightfully recorded in the Regimental Diary:

leaving party 1957

5 November 1957: Lt Colonel and Mrs JH Monro were dined out of the regiment at a Ladies Guest Night. The Colonel’s car was met outside of camp by two motorcycles who escorted his car into camp where he was invited to inspect a special quarter-guard composed of representatives from all sub-units of the regiment. During dinner Major W Hamilton RA delivered a speech on behalf of the hosts to which Colonel Monro replied.

After dinner Colonel Monro was towed, sitting on a trailers artillery, hooked into a gun, by the officers to the Warrant Officers and Sergeants Mess. His journey was accompanied by the noise of the horn of every vehicle in camp, the procession being led by the band of the 1st Battalion the East Lancashire Regiment and illuminated by the lights of the regiment’s vehicles. The band played the regimental quick march “The British Grenadiers”.

After Colonel and Mrs Monro had been entertained by RSM Shepherd and the members of the Sergeants Mess, the colonel was returned safely to the Officers Mess. Again the conveyance was the trailers artillery and gun, propelled this time by the motive power of members of the Warrant Officers and Sergeants Mess. The evening continued with an informal dance held in the Officers Mess, the music being delivered by the dance band section of the band of the 1st Bn East Lancashire Regiment. This made a very fitting end to a very memorable occasion.

Many thanks to Col Peter Beaumont, CO XIXRA, for his kindness in giving me access to this snippet of Dad’s military history.