Tommy Atkins, Still Being Exploited 100 Years On

I am indebted to D P for drawing my attention to the Owain Glyndŵr Fields Initiative. If, like me, you were unaware of OG Fieldsthis project, then this extract from the website might help: “The Owain Glyndwr Fields Initiative was established to commemorate the 600th anniversary of Owain Glyndwr, Prince of Wales, through the protection of recreational open space in his name. The initiative, which was endorsed by the National Assembly for Wales, was launched when the first field was established in the shadow of Caerphilly Castle in 2001 and has since seen 20 sites around Wales dedicated to the statesman.”

These sites have a curious geographical spread: one in Caerffili, one in Powys, one in Conwy, two in Monmouthshire, five in Gwynedd, and no less than ten in Wrecsam! Some are where you’d expect to find the great man commemorated, such as Machynlleth and Pennal, but why is there nothing in Denbighshire, at Rhuthun or Glyndyfrdwy? Out of twenty-two Welsh local authorities only six have shown any interest at all.

There’s not a lot to argue with there, unusually patriotic for those clowns down Cardiff docks, even though they only “endorsed” the initiative (so whose idea was it?). But if you look more closely at the web page, and the menu tabs above, you’ll see that the Owain Glyndŵr Fields Initiative is just a Welsh manifestation of something much bigger called Fields in Trust. And when you read the blurb on the home page you realise there’s nothing new about this at all.

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For it says: “We were founded back in 1925 as the National Playing Fields AssociatiFiton by King George V. Our mission is the same now and (sic) as it was then: to ensure that everyone – young or old, able or disabled and wherever they live – should have access to free, local outdoor space for sport, play and recreation. These spaces are vital to building happy and healthy communities and sadly continue to be threatened by all kinds of development.

We are a national charity and operate throughout the UK to safeguard recreational spaces and campaign for better statutory protection for all kinds of outdoor sites.”

Now I’m sure that many of you will have heard of the National Playing Fields Association, and I can recall the King George V Playing Fields down on the Mumbles Road in Swansea (always referred to as ‘Ashleigh Road’), though these are hired out by the city council, and certainly aren’t free, as suggested in the Fit blurb just quoted. When I tried to find Fields in Trust on the Charity Commission website (using the charity number given, 306070) I landed with the National Playing Fields Association. Then I found, at the foot of the website, “Fields in Trust is the new operating name for the National Playing Fields Association”. So Fit is nothing more than a re-branding exercise. But what’s the point of that?

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Charities ForumThe answers start to come when you know that Fit is part of the Charities Forum, “Founded by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry” (with the duke president of Fit). So on one level, it’s an attempt to give the impression that the junior royals have something useful to do. Which then gives the BBC and certain newspapers the opportunity to remind us how hard these royals work, and what good work they do, and to make sure we know they do it all for nothing!

When you check out some of the other pages on the website then you realise that the re-branding also has a more political nature, to serve contemporary political purposes. For one of the other initiatives, Centenary Fields, is linked with the World War One celebration of Britishness and unity. (‘You listening, Salmond!’)

Centenary Fields

For with the Scottish referendum just seven weeks away it’s no surprise to learn that in Scotland Centenary Fields is linked with Poppy Scotland. There appears to be no direct Welsh equivalent of Poppy Scotland but there is Cymru’n Cofio / Wales Wales RemembersRemembers, which looks like a spin-off from the UK commemorations. I found the Cymru’n Cofio image on the Caeau Canmlwyddiant page under the ‘Cymru’ tab. I’m giving the page name in Welsh because the Welsh pages of the Fit website are remarkable for being in Welsh only, without English translations! I suppose the tab should have read ‘Cymraeg’ instead of ‘Cymru’. Which would then mean, presumably, that the information for Wales would be another example of ‘For Wales, see England’.

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I have no problem with remembering those men who fought and died in the Great War, it is only right that we do so. But let us also remember how unnecessary and avoidable that conflict was, and that the only victors were American capitalism and Russian communism. If we are to teach children about WWI then don’t confine it to the bravery and the stoically-endured suffering; tell them about the political folly and the military incompetence, the executions of ‘deserters’ and ‘cowards’, and all the other things that challenge the sanitised version. Because I worry that the version being pushed now is not a lot different to what Wilfred Owen warned us against in the final lines of Dulce Et Decorum Est:

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old lie; Dulce et Decorum est

Pro patria mori.

(The phrase comes from an ode by the Roman poet Horace, and means, roughly: ‘It is noble and fitting to die for one’s country’.) Though I suppose, in fairness, there is a big problem for a country like Britain, because you can’t really tell kids the truth about war knowing you’ll need some of them to unquestioningly fight in the next Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Iraq . . .

To finish where I started, I believe that every civilised society should have plenty of open spaces for its people, I grew up in a city blessed with wonderful parks and playing fields. But these open spaces shouldn’t be exploited to promote some silly idea that heirs to the throne have any real purpose beyond breeding and waiting their turn; nor should the innocent and wholesome role of parks and playing fields be traduced in the service of sanitised and politicised interpretation of war.

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