Dad was never articulate about his experience to the extent I wanted him to be. So after his death I followed his war in the writings of war correspondents, in the regimental battle diary, in the evidence, letters and film clips of his comrades. One such was the war correspondent Alan Moorehead, who was in Brussels at the same time as the old man.
In 'Eclipse', Moorehead describes a visit to Brussels zoo, whose cages then housed collaborators, and prostitutes who had served German clients and the like. They were bruised, a bit bloodied, and crouched in hopeless resignation, pressed back against the bars in the animal cages. "What will happen to them?" asked Moorehead of one of the 'resistance' guards. "They will be given a fair trail" he replied "And then they will be shot."
Moorehead wrote eloquently and with great passion about why we were outraged about the Nazis. Why we fought. Why we won. Or rather, about why my father and your father did so. Yet at that moment, he must have have found it hard to refrain from commenting that Brussels had been freed from one tyranny only to inherit another. Was the conqueror with his executions any less culpable than the conquered with theirs? To those who were judicially murdered, whether by the Germans or the Belgian 'resistance' I don't suppose the national origin of the bullet rounds that tore through their frail bodies mattered much.
You will have gathered by now that I am opposed to capital punishment. Yes, irrevocably opposed. Jeremy Clarkson once quipped that the only truly civilised nations were those that had nuclear weapons but didn't have capital punishment - and on that score only the UK and France qualified. Curiously, I wouldn't argue with that.
My dad, and hundreds of thousands of Englishmen like him, put their lives on the line so that I and you wouldn't be subject to the whim of a sociopath who would push us up against a wall, or beside a ditch, and casually end our lives with our bodies torn by gunfire.
Guthrum reports that judicial murder has made its way back onto Europe's agenda. In a footnote to a footnote, that judicial murder in the case of war, or riot, or civil disorder, was back within Europe's purview. It appears that the Lisbon
I don't know whether my old man ever visited Brussels zoo back then, after liberation; either with the cages filled with the condemned, or after, emptied of the newly dead. I don't know that any MEP now visiting Brussels zoo can envision the huddled, terrified Belgians who briefly filled the cages now once again filled with sealions and monkeys. Or their dreadful deaths. But those 'resistance' executioners that Moorehead records as so casually condemning their victims went on, of course, to be pioneers of the EU; lauded and honoured, the cordite and blood still in their nostrils as they founded the European Iron and Steel Federation, EFTA and the EC. And now their sons demand the right to do the same.
But not in my name. And not in my country. Not as long as I have breath left in my body and a keyboard within reach. Never.