It may be me. Perhaps I am getting older and the policemen younger, but wars seem to be lasting a lot longer these days.
A century ago this month, the armies of many nations across Europe marched off to war all expecting to be home by Christmas. Four years later, what was left of them, crawled, limped and stumbled back home.
Of course, it had been the war “to end all wars” but unbeknown to most people the treaties and settlements made at the end of that conflict laid the seeds for the next World War and most of the ailments of the Middle East that we see today.
So now the jets are in the air again over Iraq, this time to hold back the advance of a bunch of maroarding savages that are rampaging across a country, itself an invention of the First World War; rushing into a political vacuum created by one of the longest and most idiotic conflicts this century. A conflict started by buffoonery and arrogance, based on lies, misinformation and vested interests much like the first Great War.
There have been about 48 significant wars fought in the last century that have dragged on too long; there was the Vietnam war at 9 years, the Israeli – Palestinian conflict 63 years, the Afghan Civil war at 13 years and lest not forget the Cold War that lasted 45 long desolate years. We won’t even mention the war on drugs or Terrorism.
If you have to have wars, and many people believe that you do, then can’t we make them quick ones? It is possible. It’s been done before. I don’t mean the Six Day war between Israel and Egypt, Syria & Jordan.
No! It was the Anglo- Zanzibar War, a fight between the British and the Sultanate of Zanzibar that broke out on the morning of the 27th August 1896. Zanzibar is a small island nation off the East coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean and strategically of importance to the British Empire..
The immediate cause of the war was the death of the pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini on 25 August 1896 and the subsequent succession of Sultan Khalid bin Barghash. The British authorities preferred Hamud bin Muhammed, who was
more favorable to British interests, as sultan. In accordance with a treaty singed 10 years earlier, (I hope you are keeping up with this) a condition for accession to the sultanate was that the contender obtain the permission of the British consul, something that Khalid had failed to do.
The British delivered an ultimatum to the Sultan’s Palace – stand aside in favour of Hamud bin Muhammed or face the consequences. The ultimatum expired at 09.00 that morning, and it was clear that a state of war existed; Khalid bin Barghash had hunkered down in his Palace with his Palace Guard and several hundred servants and slaves armed with a couple of machine guns and a canon, two Dow boats and a Royal Yacht.
At 09.04 the British began their assault on the Palace, they fired from two navy vessels in the harbour and immediately disabled the Sultan’s guns, and sunk the Royal Yacht, then the British land forces did the rest. At 09.40 the shortest war in history was over, the Sultan Barghash was granted safe passage to German East Africa, and by lunchtime the Sultan Hamud bin Muhammed was installed in the ruins of the Palace.
As far as I can research, our two countries have been friends ever since. That is my preferred kind of war. There was no “unfinished business” afterwards, no historical fault lines left in the sand that would, in the late 20th century, come back to haunt us. Goodness knows, we are dealing with enough of those fault lines recently and probably will be for years to come. So it is comforting that know that one bit of that unfinished business was finally taken care of this week.
There’s nothing more British than the sound of “Leather on Willow” as cricket is being played in the month of August on the village green.
It is Sunday August 3rd 1914. The Lee Cricket Club are playing the local Manor House Team from nearby Missendon. But just as it looked like the game was to reach it’s conclusion, typically for an English summers’ day, the clouds appeared from nowhere and rain stopped play. Manor House Captain Ivor Stewart-Liberty, son of Sir Arthur Liberty, founder of Liberty’s of London and opposing Captain, fast bowler Albert Phillips, swore that they would finish the match at the next opportunity.
The following day Britain declared war on Germany and all concerns about unfinished cricket matches were quickly extinguished.
Neither man returned from the war. Along with 30 other people from that small English village they perished in the trenches..
Then as now, cricket had its superstars and the David Beckham of the early 20th century was W.C.Grace, considered the greatest cricketer of all time. He availed himself to the War Office to help in the urgent recruitment drive for volunteers to replace the fallen in the trenches.
He appealed to the cricketers of the nation and they joined up in droves, many never to return. He wrote in the Sportsman newspaper “The time has arrived when the county cricket season should be closed,” he wrote. “It is not fitting at a time like this that able-bodied men should be playing day after day, and pleasure seekers look on. There are so many who are young and able, and still hanging back.
I should like to see all first-class cricketers of suitable age set a good example, and come to the aid of their country without delay in its hour of need.”
The unfinished business was concluded last week when the two crickets teams, Manor House and Lee Cricket Club played out the unfinished game from 100 years ago. I wont bother you with the score, as it is completely unfathomable to me what the numbers mean.
Again under the threat of rain stopping play in the impending wake of the remnants of Hurricane Bertha that hit our shores, a truncated game was played. Liz Stewart-Liberty, who married Ivor’s son Arthur and is the Club’s life president, read a couple of poems at lunch. Teenage club members read out the names of those lost to the village and a one minute’s silence was held followed by the last post.
If only all the unfinished business from a century ago could be so easily dispatched what a better world this would be.