Protempore – Issue 88


Posted by in August's Magazine

What do you think about flags? How do you feel when you see a multitude of Union flags waving in the salty breeze? I’m pretty sure that lately, millions of people in the UK felt immensely proud, and felt their collective chests swelling as Team GB plundered a boat full of medals at the Olympic Games and young, fit athletes draped the red, white and blue around their shoulders.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Here he goes; he’s going to go off on some nationalist rant about the Union flag being a butcher’s apron drenched in the blood of millions of innocents blah, blah, blah. Well not quite. You see I love sport and no one was cheering more loudly than me when Mo Farah, Chris Hoy, Jessica Ennis and all the other British athletes stormed through to the medals, which they richly deserved for all the hard work and dedication they have put in over the years. I was also screaming myself hoarse, urging Usain Bolt to win, especially in the 100 metres relay against the Americans. In fact, I was cheering everybody against the Americans.

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My personal favourites of all the medals which Britain accumulated were the golds won by the 24 year old English boxers Luke Campbell from Hull and 29 year Nicola Adams from Leeds. Not only did they display immense skill and courage to win their medals but in every interview and television appearance afterwards they were humble, grateful to family and friends for all their support and couldn’t believe that they were actually on the front page of newspapers.

The Olympics was supposed to be about inspiring a generation and if any youngster follows in the footsteps of those two, not only in terms of sporting prowess, but also in how to conduct yourself in life, then that ideal will have been achieved. What, you are no doubt wondering, has this got to do with flags?

Well as you would expect, while I had one eye on the sport, I also had another eye on what was going on beyond the Olympic park. Suddenly and miraculously, it was as if the recession hadn’t happened. Britain was basking in glorious sunshine which reflected the national mood and all over the country people were draping themselves in Union flags, wearing Team GB tracksuits and breaking out the red, white and blue bunting.

David Cameron and Boris Johnson were never off the television and radio extolling London as the epicentre of the ‘feel-good factor’ while various members of the royal family were shown attending all kinds of events in casual clothes and having fun. You simply couldn’t move for Union flags – the symbolic motif for the inspiration of the next generation to thrive in a country which values youth, dedication and the pursuit of happiness. But there were a couple of Union flags missing from the celebrations. Flags that didn’t blow in the breeze but rather emerged from the back of an aeroplane draped over the coffins of another two of our dedicated young men who had been killed in Afghanistan.

On the 9th of August, Andrew Chesterman was shot dead during an ambush by insurgents after a roadside bomb hit one of the vehicles in his convoy. He was 26. On the 10th of August, father of four, Matthew Smith was shot while trying to build a checkpoint. He was also 26. Their deaths were reported, but, because of the Olympics, were relegated to nothing more than asides in the news and no footage of their bodies being repatriated was shown. Since then, another young man has been killed. On the 17th August, Jamie Shadrake was killed by insurgents while on sentry duty. He was 20. His death brings the total number of British servicemen and women killed in Afghanistan to 425.

Just like the Olympic athletes, these men and women were dedicated and hard working, and in every account given of their lives were proud of what they were doing. I’m sure that they also thought that in some small way they were inspirational; displaying courage, skill and tenacity in an unforgiving landscape with danger around every corner. But then inspiring a generation to follow in your footsteps really depends on how you like your flags doesn’t it? Being hoisted high above a podium in celebration or being draped over a coffin in mourning.

As I write this, the 2012 Paralympics are less than a week away. Once again, we will, no doubt, be in tears and complete awe, as thousands of young men and women display boundless courage and skill in order to achieve their ultimate goals.

And once again, the Union flag will be ubiquitous. Just a thought to keep in mind when it’s blowing in the breeze to celebrate a British medal winner; a number of Team GB athletes are former service personnel who have lost limbs fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Inspiring. Isn’t it?

Ilustration: Bernie Reid

– Protempore

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