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7 January 2014

On a current affairs programme recently an ex-soldier who’d suffered severe injuries in the line of duty was complaining that he hadn’t been given reasonable compensation and that he felt abandoned by the Government. He was about to lose his home to debts through no fault of his own and was unable to understand why his Government had turned its back on him. I laughed. No, it isn’t funny, it just illustrates that old saying, that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

A century ago Kipling was writing poems that said exactly what this man is saying. There’s Tommy, which contains the lines, “it’s Tommy this and Tommy that, and “Chuck im out, the brute.” But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country”, when the guns begin to shoot.” And that sums it up. If a soldier dies in the line of duty at a time when we have sufficient attention to give, he receives all kinds of accolades. If he’s injured, he’d better shut up, creep away, and suffer in silence because the Government doesn’t want to know in case assisting him opens the floodgates to other demands. Kipling sympathised with soldiers, many of whom had been friends and he wrote not only, Tommy, but also, The Widow at Windsor. It may have been that poem which put paid to one possibility in his career. Many have wondered why he was never made Poet Laureate. There have been claims that the post was offered and turned down. However the story I heard from my grandmother as a child was that Queen Victoria was mortally offended by the poem and when Kipling’s name was suggested for the job, she emphatically refused to even consider it. (Considering the poem I’m not surprised, Kipling didn’t pull his punches.)

I’m sorry for a soldier who did his best, suffered crippling injuries, and is now unable to understand why a Government that required this of him won’t assist him financially when he is on the point of losing his home because he is unable to work. But sadly and sourly, he doesn’t have that on his own, there’s very many years of historical precedent. And our Government, as can be seen, doesn’t plan to alter the situation any time soon.

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