The Wall of Shame by Gus Hales

wall1On September the 1st 2014, this years list of service personnel, that have died on duty during the previous twelve months was unveiled at the National Arboretum. This year there will be seventeen new names carved into the Portland stone panels, apparently the least since 1948. If the current world situation and the associated Western belligerent and bellicose rhetoric is indicating anything, it’s the fact that the arboretum stone masons are set to be very busy people indeed.

However, these panels will make no mention of those other victims, those that will remain anonymous, those on the other end of the drone and intensive rocket and bombing attacks, those that simply disappeared and those we call the enemy. The wall will not include the names of those former servicemen who died by their own hand, whose lives had become to painful to bare, in addition the wall will not include the names of those former servicemen who have taken the slow suicide option of self destruction through the use of drugs, drink or freezing to death, homeless, on the streets of our towns and cities.

I have direct experience of this selective process of whose name does and doesn’t go on the wall. In 1975 my brother was serving in the Royal Navy’s Far East fleet on the nuclear submarine repair ship HMS Forth, operating in the South China sea. There was an ‘incident’ with a damaged submarine, he came back to the UK and was sent to the Royal Marsden hospital for a body scan, ten months later he was dead from an osteosarcoma of the spine, a cancer normally associated with exposure to radiation. I wrote to the National Arboretum with the intention of getting his name added to the wall. After some months delay, and letters to and from the school of Naval Medicine, I received a reply stating that my brothers death was not related to his service, but due to a childhood illness. Interesting to note that Lord Mountbatten’s name appears on the memorial even though he was not a serviceman at the time of his death, or that his death was related to service.  There are currently fifteen thousand plus names on the memorial wall and space for a further fifteen thousand, which beggars the question “What future wars do the mongers have on their agenda?”  

So this wall is a wall of shame, an epitaph to the folly of war and the duplicitous selective filtering of whose names appear and those that don’t, coupled with what Wilfred Owen called the old lie ‘Dulce et Decorum Est  Pro Patria Mori’ ( How sweet and right to die for one’s country). But we have been here before, as Siegfried Sassoon so aptly describes his revulsion in the poem “On Passing the New Menin Gate”

On Passing The New Menin Gate

Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
the unheroic dead who fed the guns?
Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate,-
Those doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones?

Crudely renewed, the Salient holds its own.
Paid are its dim defenders by this pomp;
Paid, with a pile of peace-complacent stone,
The armies who endured that sullen swamp.

Here was the world’s worst wound. And here with pride
‘Their name liveth for ever’, the Gateway claims.
Was ever an immolation so belied
as these intolerably nameless names?
Well might the Dead who struggled in the slime
Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime.
DEADA phrase that has always brought up a degree of revulsion in myself, is that ludicrous and asinine statement found on many war memorials “Our Glorious Dead”. My experience from the Falklands War gave me the direct knowledge that there is nothing glorious about being ripped apart by artillery fire or burning to death from phosphorous grenades and then being hastily buried in a water logged hole, only to be dug up some months later and reinterred with all the pomp of a military funeral. There is nothing glorious about consoling a grieving mother who gave birth and nurtured her only son for the first sixteen years of his life, then stands shocked and bemused as his coffin is slowly lowered into the ground. There is nothing glorious about seeing a father frantically running for help cradling his bomb victim injured child, desperate for medical attention as the child’s life ebbs away.
If Britain has been good at anything since the outbreak of World War1 it has been the construction of war cemeteries and the associated memorials. No doubt for anyone who has been to Northern France and the Flanders area of Belgium, they are very serene, beautifully kept, peaceful places, but I am always reminded of Le Ly’s soliloquy in Oliver Stones anti Vietnam war movie Heaven and Earth, as she returns home to the bombed out North Vietnamese village of her birth and walks through the grave yard. “IF WAR BRINGS ANYTHING, IT’S CEMETERIES AND THERE ARE NO ENEMIES IN CEMETERIES”.

Gus Hales is a veteran of the Falklands War and a member of Veterans For Peace UK


  1. Gus Hales says:

    Many thanks everyone for your thoughtful and insightful replies. War will only ever be stopped when young men realise there is nothing noble and glorious about it, then and only then will they refuse to give their power over to those only to willing to take it..
    However that is a difficult task, we can only do our best to raise consciousness and expose the lies through, education, solidarity and non violent resistance. It is not great to die for your country and as Johnny says you even get your name carved on a wall.
    Well said Andy Roch, The VFP logo if we have one, are the same words you use to Quote Harry Patch, “War is legalised murder”
    I had the fortune to attend his funeral in 2009, a remarkable man with a remarkable message, who waited ninety years to tell it as so aptly described in G K Chestertons poem the Donkey

    The tattered outlaw of the earth,
    Of ancient crooked will;
    Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
    I keep my secret still.

    Fools! For I also had my hour;
    One far fierce hour and sweet:
    There was a shout about my ears,
    And palms before my feet.

  2. andy roch says:

    Dear Gus,

    The evident truths you speak of represent the greatest danger to those who seek to make war, so you must continue to speak them to all who are obfuscated by the establishment propaganda machine.

    Like one of my hero’s the late Henry John ‘Harry’ Patch, who’s last resting place I was blessed to visit earlier this week, when meeting members of the public always spoke of the futility of war. To paraphrase him ‘war is nothing more than legalized murder’.

  3. Philip Reiss says:

    The message of Gus Hales won’t be reported on BBC or any media networks back here in the USA. Glorious Dead?
    Family members have to cling to the notion their loved one didn’t die in vain. Patriotic pap always obscures seeing things for what they really are. Thank goodness my Veterans For Peace brothers and sisters won’t be blinded by carefully orchestrated political posturing in the name of and in the guise of patriotism. Keep in mind without dissent the notion of freedom is chimerical. Lehigh Valley (PA) VFP Chp.152 supports all courageous UK Veterans For Peace!

  4. Mark Arthur says:

    Thank you Gus…your words and life are a blessing…May we meet again in peace, as before and always…onwards!

  5. Jon Caddick says:

    Those words are so true, it should be read out on the evening News in every country in the world each day – maybe then it would sink in – The true Cost of War, as some Arms Dealer lights up his next Swisher Cigar with a $100 note.

    This seduction of the Masses has been going on for Generations, the yearly reminder at Whitehall as to how Great it is to actually Die for your Country- you even get yer name carved on a Wall !

    The £50 million bill for the NATO summit in Cardiff, whilst at the Same time The Veterans Agency have abolished War pensions for a “one off payment” for Injured Servicemen and Women to keep the costs down.

    The reduction of intakes at the Veterans Mental Health welfare facility for in patient treatments for PTSD so the Government can use this facility to fast track Current Afghanistan Veterans for assessment to prevent any Law suits for failure of Duty of Care.
    I guess the rest of the Older Veterans Don,t Count any more as they are not in the headlines Today and are left to cope on their own.
    Brilliant Work Gus (Namaste)

  6. Patrick McCann says:

    Great work, folks! Much love from DC.

  7. stan levin says:

    Many thanx for this Gus …
    your brother …
    Stan Levin …. VFP San Diego chapter

  8. Vince says:

    Powerful words, Gus. Thank you.

Comments are closed.