It was when, as a lad, I arrived home after a day out exploring with the dog, both bone-tired, exhausted and panting, that I learnt my dad's first maxim. Gently holding my hand from the breadbox he pointed at the dogs empty waterbowl "Always see to your men and animals first" he said quietly. That, and his second - "Never point a gun at anyone unless you intend to kill them" - have stayed with me for life. And if you only learn two maxims, those two aren't so bad.
An old soldier of few words he was of a generation that had seen the alternatives to the way we did things and didn't like them. The Italian army, for instance, had three scales of rations for officers, NCOs and enlisted men. He mentioned it contemptuously. But he was no 'snowflake' - he knew fellow Brits of all classes, backgrounds and callings sober and drunk, in battle and at rest, scared and beserk, filthy and freezing and slick in parade order and was under no illusion that romanticised and varnished his fellow soldiers. But from Normandy to Korea, Palestine to Cyprus there was no-one in the world he would rather have standing in the line with him than fellow British men.
I just know he would have been disgusted and revolted by the hauteur, disdain and ridicule heaped today on ordinary British people by a new metropolitan left-liberal elite. Laughing at someone's spelling, ridiculing their opinion or disparaging their taste from a position of wealth, power and privilege was something he and his generation had fought a war to eradicate - their prize a social victory at home. Yes, he was a Labour voter until Barbara Castle as Defence Minister criticised his battalion's use of force in Cyprus for political brownie points. After that we were Conservative and took the Daily Express.
There is no comparison, but in my own way I've had a taste of it. Thirty years in construction and about a third of it spent on site have also allowed me the privilege of close contact with all manner of men from many nations. Sites are one of the few environments in which you never have to make your own tea, but if you do make a mug yourself, and one for the labourer who sweeps and housekeeps, and find the time to have a fag and a chat, then those little things pay dividends. You just need to remember the real truth that everyone is interesting, everyone is worthwhile and everyone is worth listening to. As I watch new young construction professionals on site disdaining the manual and craft as anonymous nobodies to be ignored as they bury their heads in their 3G devices I think that teaching those lessons to the new snowflake generation may be the most useful thing we can ever do.