L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

18 August 2007 Blog Home : August 2007 : Permalink

WF Deedes - RIP

The obituries and tributes are flooding in, and deservedly so. The BBC has a decent one pager, the Torygraph, with which he was associated for almost all of his 76 years as a journalist, is longer and the Torygraph website also has various other comment, tributes etc. Deservedly so. WF Deedes never retired and hence he worked longer than many people live, he inspired Evelyn Waugh (and arguably Private Eye) to write works of genius, he inspired Princess Di to campaign against land mines (and 10 years ago at 84 wrote some of the better stuff about her life and death), he won a medal fighting in the second world war to name just a few of his achievements.

I think, however, the best memorial can be his last published words, the ones that apeared two weeks ago in the Telegraph's Notebook column (I excerpt but this is truly a "read the whole thing":

It is time the world was shaken awake to the infamy of what is going on in Darfur. In terms of man's inhumanity to man, what has been going on there for four years is now comparable to the death camps for which Germany's Nazis were found guilty. That statement may provoke cries of outrage from some: surely the Holocaust stands alone?

Not to me it doesn't, and as a soldier I had to enter one of those camps and went to the trial of its commandant. I have also been to Darfur.

I can make comparisons. I can never get out of my mind the picture of families in Darfur striving to live under the shelter of thorn bushes, the children's fingers clutching wretched little cooking pots to keep the rain out.

Women and children were hunted like wild animals, raped, robbed and left for dead. What has been happening in Darfur is unspeakable; and much of the world has simply shrugged its shoulders. They are an unknown people in a far-off land. What business is it of ours? It is very much our business, because behind this ghastly inhumanity lies the iron will of Islam in Khartoum.

[...] They put the dead in Darfur at 200,000, the displaced at two million. I would place both figures higher than that. And neither figure, whatever it is, can convey the torment those people have suffered while the world stood idly by.

When details of the Holocaust came to light, many - and not all of them Germans - took shelter behind the assertion: "I did not know."

That offers us no escape route from the shame of Darfur. We've known, wrung our hands and done nothing. It's going to take some living down.

And then he lightens the mood:

I must have been about 15 when one August bank holiday afternoon, I was taken by an aunt who lived at Chawton in Hampshire to meet Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. My aunt was friendly with his much younger wife. As a pretty callow youth, I was bowled over by the powerful personality. Baden-Powell was the embodiment of leadership.

We forget that, long before he founded this great movement a century ago, he had won his spurs as a fine soldier. Gazetted to the 13th Hussars in India in 1876, he commanded the 5th Dragoon Guards in India. He held Mafeking in South Africa during its siege of 217 days and ended his military career as a lieutenant general. He retired in 1910 to devote himself to the Boy Scout movement.

Emphatically, he was one of those men who have left a footprint in the sands of time.

It occurs to me that the last sentence applies to its writer as well.

WF 'Bill' Deedes 1913 - 2007. Emphatically, he was one of those men who have left a footprint in the sands of time.