Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Onward, Christian soldiers

I was going to avoid more comment on the slightly premature World War One centenary commemorations / historical punch up, until a tiny bit of history surfaced from the bit of our garden that's actually been dug over and tended (as opposed to the weed-choked no-man's land beyond the Western front of the hen house).

It was a corroded, circular piece of metal, featuring a clasp and the words "Dieu et mon droit." A quick image search, including the Royal motto, identified the thing as the remains of a British army belt buckle (in this case, missing one of its two clasps and the regimental badge that would have originally been surrounded by the motto).

The buckle might, or might not, be of Great War vintage, but there's nothing to rule out a 1914-18 date (as far as I can tell, belts of this generic design were part of the dress uniform of British and Empire / Commonwealth troops from Victorian times right through to World War II).

In a fight to the death, it's always reassuring to know that you've got the supreme being on side, so the slogan "God and my right" must have been a great comfort to the various Tommies, diggers, sepoys, kiwis, etc. who were being forcefully asked to risk life and limb for king and the mother country. The Kaiser's brave lads will have been equally delighted to look down at the words "Gott mit uns" ("God with us") decorating their belt buckles and know that the big guy upstairs was definitely rooting for the German Empire.

In those benighted days, God seems to have schlepped around like some kind of celestial Nick Clegg, making promises He couldn't keep (it would have been hard for even Cleggy to brazenly spin the final result as "punishing" England with victory) and cosying up to the brass hats on both sides, in return for a bit of status and respect. This sort of thing eventually tends to have a negative impact on a guy's popularity with the poor bloody infantry.

Of course, in our more enlightened, ecumenical, coalition-minded times, the Lord of Hosts is a reformed character, who's totally given up selling his negotiable support to the first slippery political chancer who wants to puff up his flagging popularity with a divinely-sanctioned jingo-fest.

If only...