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Boredom, bungles and dodging death: Charles Lander on the Western Front

A destroyed German trench on the Messines Ridge, 1917. More people died in the battlefields around Ypres than were killed by the atomic bomb. Photo: National Library of Scotland.

What was is like to fight in the First World War? It is a question no living person can answer, but we have inherited many stories from the dead.

My Great Grandfather, Charles Lander, kept a diary of his active service. It is a glimpse of the life of a fairly junior officer in a most extraordinary war. There are heroics and horrors – but he also chose to record some of the boredom, the bungles, the friends he made and lost, and perhaps most strikingly, vivid personal reflections on his own mistakes.

Initially rejected from the army because he was too skinny, Charles, a member of the Officers Training Corps at university, left Birmingham for the Army in 1914. He received a year of training before leaving for France in April 1916 where he was to fight in ‘Kitchener’s Army’, the masses of young men of largely ordinary professions who ‘answered the call’. He was proud, yes. But also nervous.

He is courting his fiancee Doris when he is given his orders. At home one weekend on leave he recalls feeling “very peaceful and very much in love” when “a telegram arrived giving us orders to proceed overseas. I must confess that rather a lump developed in my throat and all sorts of fears ran through my mind of what the future had in store for me; whether this was to be my last afternoon in the old house. Fortunately H. Allenby dropped in for tea and sentimentalities were forgotten. The morning came and I said goodbye.” Continue reading

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“I began to feel a little bit shaky”: Charles Lander in the Somme, 100 years ago

We_are_making_a_new_World_(1918)_(Art._IWM_ART_1146) 2

Paul Nash: ‘We Are Making a New World’ (IWM)

100 years ago today began the Battle of the Somme. Few episodes in human history are remembered with such a grand sense of supreme awfulness. But with this grandeur comes distance and incomprehension. As time passes the gulf widens: we need personal stories to bridge it.

My Great Grandfather, Charles Lander, fought in the Somme and recorded his memories in a diary which spanned the whole of the First World War.

A member of the Officer Training Corps when war was declared, Charles would spend 20 months in training before leaving for the Western Front as a junior officer in the British Army.

When he finally did arrive in France in the Spring of 1916 his diary entries are brimming with a sense of fascination and adventure. But as the days go by these stories are increasingly peppered with references to “the coming offensive”. Lengthly preparations are made. He writes, “we handed to the quartermaster letter for home: last letters, which he understood were only to be posted if we were killed.”

It’s 9.30pm on 4th July 1916, and after what must have been an agonising four days in waiting, Charles was given his first order to enter battle. Continue reading

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What Scotland Looks Like Now

After the Referendum: A Gazetteer for Scottish NGOs

For Scottish civil society two weeks ago was day zero of our political calendar. Two weeks later the impact of the referendum campaign and the result is becoming clearer. The result has set the platform for political campaigning in Scotland for years to come. We need to understand what’s happening and be prepared for what’s coming.

With this in mind this is a brief summary of events and analysis, designed to give a big picture of where we stand and where we’re going.

Seven key issues

There are a number of key issues which for the next while will be the top things to consider in Scottish politics:

#1. New loud civil society voices whose direction of travel is no longer clear. Many influential new groups which sprung up during the referendum are continuing, including:

  • Common Weal have had around 1,000 people offer help after the vote, according to one staff member. They are building support for “a network of venues across Scotland; cafe bars where the movement can meet, discuss and organise”; a new social media engine called “CommonSpace” to allow people to “get easy access to the best writing and thinking”; and a “Common Weal Policy Unit to do research, policy development and analysis” (presumably taking this role away from the Jimmy Reid Foundation) which may include a paid lobbyist at the Scottish Parliament. Their “National Council for Scotland” project, which was about gathering varied voices for a Scottish constitution and was supported by various key Yes voices, appears to have been shelved.
  • The Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) has had huge post-vote support including over 7,000 people expressing interest in their November conference (see Civil society events planned so far), and are set to continue in some form. They still count key activists from the Scottish Green Party, Scottish Socialist Party and International Socialist Group in their leadership. Perhaps related to this they have not agreed to become a new political party, despite murmurings.
  • National Collective, the artists for Yes group, will be continuing “the Yes campaign’s legacy of a politically engaged and educated electorate, regardless of the result.” Full details will come shortly and they’ve been having lots of busy meetings.
  • So Say Scotland, a deliberative democracy project which held events asking people to discuss their priorities for a better Scotland, is continuing. They had previously said that “regardless of the results of the referendum this September, So Say Scotland will continue to build its networks across the country [to make] Scotland a global hub for democratic innovation.”
  • Bella Caledonia, a blog website led by Mike Small, as with Common Weal are planning to expand their blog into a full media website with a full-time editor and “six editorial posts in the following areas: international, community, arts, innovation, social justice and ecology”. They are also planning to create “regular Video News Coverage”, “Citizens Journalism Training”, and a print magazine “Closer”.
  • 45+ is a very loose grouping of Yes voters keen to continue the#3. Forthcoming elections. campaign for independence immediately. They lack support from other major groups but are likely to continue their street campaign and will be putting pressure on the SNP to offer another referendum. The name of the group, among other things, has met criticism (e.g. Rich Shore). Some of their events are collected here.

#2. Huge upsurge in “Yes” party membership.

  • The SNP have had a huge upsurge in membership. With 75,000 members they are now the third largest political party in the UK, far surpassing the Liberal Democrats, and have members of more than 1% of the Scottish population.
  • Scottish Greens have gained 4,000 members in the last two weeks bringing their total membership to over 6,000. Individual branches in Glasgow and Edinburgh now have more members than the entire party had going in to 2014 and they are now the clearly the fourth party in Scotland by membership.
  • Conservatives, UKIP and Labour have made no claims about increased membership. The Lib Dems reported minor increases in membership earlier in the year UK-wide. It’s fair to assume not much has changed for the “no” parties, else they’d be telling us if it had.
  • There is a considerable amount of chatter about the dire state of support for Labour in Scotland, centred around suspicion that Labour voters who voted Yes have been put off by the negative aspects of the Better Together campaign and will fund it hard to vote for Labour in the future. Here’s a hypothesis (Adam Ramsay) and a rebuttal (Mark Ballard) about their prospects for Westminster elections in 2015.

#3. Forthcoming elections. The full impact of these membership and activist upsurges on parliamentary politics will not be clear until the next Scottish Parliament elections (in 2016), where proportional representation will give us a decent idea of how these new members are getting votes. Westminster elections in Spring 2015 are hard to read. Since the formation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 the SNP, Greens and socialists have not used Westminster as a major point of mobilisation. The introduction of new Yes and left wing activists, battle hardened from the referendum campaign, to a Westminster election could be very significant. And then of course there’s the possibility of an EU referendum, promised to us by the Conservatives (and UKIP), who may have some chance of forming a majority in Westminster next year.

#4. The SNP leadership. The First Minister, Alex Salmond, has resigned, and Nicola Sturgeon seems likely to take his place. There will be internal elections including for deputy leader, and there will be much discussion of changes in direction. Stewart Hosie MP and Keith Brown MSP (backed by, amongst others, Humza Yousaf MSP) have announced their candidacy for Deputy Leader. It’s worth noting that if elected Sturgeon would not only be the first woman First Minister, she would make the Lib Dems the only Parliamentary party in Scotland without a woman leader.

#5. The Smith Commission is tasked with triangulating Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem policy on constitutional reform to recommend new powers for the Scottish Parliament before the 2015 UK elections. In the referendum campaign these policies were outlined as including new powers to vary tax and benefit rates and to borrow and today it was suggested that these powers will be fully available by 2017. Civil Society has been invited to contribute to the Smith Commission by the end of October, and groups including NIDOS and Stop Climate Chaos Scotland have suggested they will input. There is considering public scepticism about the process fuelled by UK Government proposals to link the reforms with “English Votes for English Laws” in Westminster (there are a number of constitutional problems this would raise) and things have already gotten messy with Gordon Brown accusing David Cameron of trying to hijack the process. This debate could spurn more serious discussion about federalism in the UK and the creation of a new English Parliament – a “constitutional chain reaction”, as Eve Hepburn puts it – watch this space. The Electoral Reform Society’s “Democracy Max” project may provide some useful ideas.

#6. Iraq War III. David Cameron has admitted he held off a vote about re-invading Iraq until after the referendum vote for fear of jeopardising the result. The bombers have been sent in and we’re told they’re likely to be there for the long haul. This is likely to be a recurring issue for campaigners and could be a major point of mobilisation (see Civil society events planned so far).

#7. Austerity… and another referendum. It seems likely that there will be another referendum on independence within the next decade. A generation has now taken independence seriously, even if they didn’t vote for it, and many will view the events of the years to come through the following lens: “I wonder how things might have been different if we’d gone for yes?” Promises of further cuts by all three big Westminster parties are likely to bolster SNP support and drive the idea that “Scottish politics is different”. As Gerry Hassan says “The British state has bought itself some precious time. If it does not use it wisely, this debate will be back in a decade and Scotland will produce a second referendum rather different from the first.”

If we take the likelihood of another referendum seriously NGOs should start thinking, albeit quietly, about how we want to position ourselves in such a vote. More cautious organisations may reflect on the gains made by the likes of the Scottish Refugee Council and CND who, although didn’t get their preferred outcome, won a lot of public support from their engagement in the debate.

So that’s the political landscape. With all this going on we will have to fight hard to get airtime for TTIP, fracking, UN climate talks, and other thorny Thorn House issues.

Further reading

Some interesting thoughts on related topics from the last two weeks.

Civil society events planned so far

  • Sat 4 Oct, Glasgow
    Stop the War March, Stop the War Coalition
  • Sun 5 Oct, Edinburgh
    Global Justice / Open Space, Edinburgh (World Development Movement, NIDOS, Jubilee Scotland, People & Planet)
  • Tue 7 Oct, Edinburgh
    Post Referendum: A New Scottish Democracy?
  • 30 Sep – 20 Oct, Edinburgh
    Edinburgh World Justice Festival
  • 11-12 Oct, Edinburgh
    Scottish Green Party Conference,. Greens annual meeting in Edinburgh. Conference booking for fringe meetings now open. Branch meetings also happening. “The Scottish Green party reported a parallel surge in membership, with 3,000 supporters joining since Friday.” (Guardian)
  • 23 Oct, Edinburgh
    NIDOS AGM and Annual Conference, “The Path Ahead”, Festival Theatre.
  • 13-15 Nov, Perth
    SNP Conference 13-15 November, Perth. “More than 18,000 people joined the party since Thursday, lifting its overall membership to a record level of 43,644.” (Guardian)
  • 20 Nov, Glasgow
    Third Sector Summit,. SCVO.
  • 22 Nov, Glasgow
    Radical Independence third annual conference,. Venue tbc due to level of interest. Over 7,000 people planning to attend on facebook! Also meeting regularly in local branches.
  • 23 Nov, Edinburgh
    Activist Skills Share with the World Development Movement, People & Planet, Friends of the Earth Scotland, Jubilee Scotland and friends.
  • Lots of local meetings for post-Yes/”We are the 45” groups (see here)

Ric Lander
askriclander@gmail.com
www.riclander.wordpress.com

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7 Pillars of Awesome Events

Following a series of well received workshops on event planning for community groups (People & Planet Scotland Gathering, 2011; Strathclyde Sustainable Futures, 2012; Edinburgh Do, 2013) I’ve written up my golden rules for activist event planning for download.

If you know someone who’s involved in community organising they should find it easy to use and useful for many purposes.

You can read it now on my website:

The document is also available as a printable PDF handout.

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Transition Edinburgh University: Three Years of Action

The Transition Edinburgh University group came to an end after funding for the initiative’s staff ended in 2011.

I had the privilege of being one of those staff.  Many folk involved went on to do great things working for the University’s new Sustainability Office.  I left the university to work on other projects, but remain very proud of what we did at Edinburgh and as the TEU website is now offline, I wanted to link to some records of the project here for posterity.

To find our about what happened during Transition Edinburgh University’s three busy years (2009-11), have a look at the attached reports and look at the photo archive here:

Many of the voluntary projects supported by Transition Edinburgh University continued to flourish, including:

Transition’s work on campus sustainability, including energy saving, waste and transport, has gone from strength to strength in the new University Sustainability Office.

You can read more about their work and will also find helpful contacts for everything university and green.  You can also visit them on Facebook.  There’s still loads going on!

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