Gove speaks on his belief in Brexit as European ceremony at Thiepval commemorates centenary of shared blood sacrifice

In a morning of painfully bizarre conflicting images, 10,000 members of the public from across the participant nations gathered at the Lutyens memorial to the 72,000 British dead in the World War II Battle of the Somme whose bodies were never found.

The purpose is to commemorate the centenary of the first day of that battle on 1st July 1916 – an Anglo-French offensive, a day in which the Tyneside Scots lost 2,500 men and the Ulster Volunteer Force [the 36th Division] lost 2,000; a day in which France and Britain together lost so many semi-trained, terrified young men who went bravely to what quickly became their certain death.

The Accrington Pals fought on the first day of Somme, with their 700 men taking 585 casualties of whom 235 were killed and 350 wounded in 30 minutes. The Accington Pals, the 11th battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment, was, like the Tyneside Scots and the Ulster Volunteer Force, another of the local ‘pals’ battalions recruited solely from the volunteers of specific localities capable of active service. The recruits volunteered to fight together and of course died together, leaving communities virtually bereft of all their males between babies and the elderly.

On that day, the British 4th Army took 57,470 casualties, of whom 19,240 men were killed. The French 6th Army took 1,590 casualties and the German 2nd Army lost 10,000–12,000 men.

There are now no British veterans still living of that conflict, one whose nature and cost still compels pause in the contemplation of war, particularly so for the British Commonwealth whose losses were so immense. While French casualties at the Somme were much fewer, this was because the French 2nd Army was already engaged with the German 5th Army at Verdun, one of the biggest and longest battles fought on the Western Front between France and Germany. Verdun was fought between 21st February and 18th December 1916 – embracing the full period of the Battle of the Somme.

These first world war battles were like nothing we know. The Somme ran from 1st July to 18th November 1916, with Allied casualties totalling 623,907, 146,431 of whom were immediate mortalities. German casualties were 465,000, with 164,055 immediate mortalities. The total casualties of both sides at Verdun are now estimated to have been just short of one million, with the French 2nd Army taking a little more than the German 5th Army.

As the ceremony began to remember that particular 1st July, back in London today, at the same time, Michael Gove, who has destroyed only his unsuspecting friends, began his self-serving address to validate his actions and to support his ambitious candidacy for the Leadership of the Conservative party – to become the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

The contrast was painful.

It was of course the contradiction of a one hundred year old blood bond in defence of democratic freedoms denied by an opportunist retreat from the complexities of such partnerships to a Britain hugging itself to itself.

It was also a contrast of the nobility of an ungraspable scale of  sacrifice in a common cause with small scale national pettiness and cheapskate snipes at the latest corpse Mr Gove has buried alive. Where Thiepval was about ‘they’, Gove was all ‘me’ and ‘I’.

Gove opened by remarking in defence of Brexit that Britain’s economy had come to ‘rest upon foreign foundations’. [This too flatters to deceive.  In or out of the EU, that will continue to be the case.]

In attempting to validate his own behaviours, Gove sniped continually, unnecessarily and gracelessly at Boris Johnson, mentioning quickly how he himself was not a man for ‘muddling through’, and later [it was a very long speech with so many false endings we lost count], my plan is ‘not to make do and mend’.

The tedium and narrowness of focus of this interminable speech was depressing and particularly so against the very different mood of the international commemoration across the channel.

When the Gove address finally came to an end, it was met by a very obviously pre-planned and prolonged – but flat – clapped acclaim.

All very hollow but somehow emblematic of what Britain has made of itself.


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Related Articles & Comments

  • There’s a Scottish term ‘A Wee Nyaff’ that (as an incomer) I would hesitantly suggest could be an appropriate title for the Hon member for Surrey Heath and Secretary of State for Justice (haha).
    Any native born Aberdonians amongst us might be able to recommend even more appropriate expressions.
    All I could find in the RGU Doric dictionary is a way he could well describe himself: ‘Fit I dinna ken is nae worth kennin’.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

    Robert Wakeham July 1, 2016 12:54 pm Reply
  • Thoroughly agree, Bob. A period of silence on Gove’s part would be very welcome. He may have revealed a bit too much of himself, even for his own side ( whatever that is ).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

    Arthur Blue July 1, 2016 2:25 pm Reply
  • The Somme was a disaster. It is true that by 1916 a war of attrition had become unavoidable, but that just underlines the need to spend the human capital very sparingly and carefully. The uncomfortable fact is that the Germans had prepared for this assault far more thoroughly than the British.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

    Arthur Blue July 1, 2016 2:35 pm Reply
    • An inability to plan ahead is our Achilles heel.
      An interesting – and obliquely relevant – comparison here if the difference between Ireland and the UK in initial membership of the EU.
      Ireland decided to go for it – and properly.
      But this was more than attitudinal.
      In the late 1950’s the Irish Government set up the Committee of Industrial Organisation [CIO], whose remit was pretty unprecedented in scale and focus: ‘To make a critical appraisal of the measures that may have to be taken to adapt Irish industry to conditions of more intensive competition in home and export markets, to undertake an examination of the difficulties which may be created for particular industries and to formulate positive measures of adjustment and adaptation”

      By May 1964, the CIO had completed reports on 22 out of the 24 industrial clusters it investigated. These were:
      Cotton, Linen and Rayon
      Leather Footwear
      Motor Vehicle Assembly
      Paper and Paperboard
      Wireless, Television and Communications
      Miscellaneous Clothing
      Mantles and Gowns
      Chocolate and Sugar Confectionery and Chocolate Crumb
      Iron and Steel Manufactures
      Hosiery and Knitwear
      Pottery, China and Earthenware
      Electrical Equipment and Apparatus
      Woollen and Worsted (not yet published)
      Women’s and Girls’ Readymade Clothing
      Paper Products
      Men’s and Boys’ Outerwear Clothing (not yet published)
      Furniture [not yet published]
      Leather [not yet published].
      The Irish Government of the day then ruthlessly withdrew the tariff barriers that had protected the industries that could not survive competition in a free market; and geared up the industries with potential to perform.
      The fate of the wholly artificial motor vehicle assembly industry was a case in point.
      The work and the criteria of the CIO reports were, of course, of their time but it was a serious and committed exercise that remains a personal touchstone for first class state thinking, planning and implementation.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

      newsroom July 1, 2016 3:31 pm Reply
    • That was inevitable because the line had been static so the Germans had time to dig in just as their successors did in France when they built the heavy defences on the French coast.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

      Lundavra July 1, 2016 7:04 pm Reply
      • If the line was static then the Allies also had time to dig in, and play a long game ( blockade of Germany ) Instead they decided to mount a mass assault on a well-prepared defence line, and furthermore continued with it long after its futility had been demonstrated. The belief in frontal assaults never dies, at least among the generals and politicians.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

        Arthur Blue July 2, 2016 10:48 am Reply
        • I wonder how many of the Army high command were products of Eton?

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

          Robert Wakeham July 2, 2016 10:58 am Reply
          • There used to be a wee poem entitled ” The General ”

            ” E’s a cheery ol’ bugger ”
            said Bill to Jack
            as they slogged up to Arras
            with rifle and pack.
            But he did for them both
            with his Plan of Attack

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

            Arthur Blue July 2, 2016 11:45 am
  • Gove in Oceanic Terms is a Stickleback!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

    A.Salmon July 1, 2016 4:20 pm Reply
  • Lord Charles says ” no Indi2″
    So that’s it then,back in the box.
    For him!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

    A.Salmon July 1, 2016 7:07 pm Reply
  • I have an ancestor who perished at the Somme, although not until August 1916; is it appropriate to combine petty political squabbling with memorial of those who died in battle?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

    db July 2, 2016 3:21 am Reply
    • Petty political squabbling is usually one of the factors in military or economic disaster. “Strong Leadership ” another. And unfortunately the one can lead to the other.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      Arthur Blue July 2, 2016 10:52 am Reply
  • After the Falklands war a service of rememberance was held in a church. After the service an officer noticed an old lady in the crowd outside in a state of distress. He went over to comfort her. She said that as a very young girl she had watched as the local pals battalion went in for a service, there was so many of them most had to stay outside and sing. After the war the pals battalion came back there were not enough to fill three pews

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    Plugit July 2, 2016 10:33 am Reply
  • It is right to remember the fallen. They are us.

    It is wrong to ignore the reasons and who sent them to their death. They are not us and never will be.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

    No Cheese Here July 2, 2016 10:45 am Reply

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