First World War, health care and others

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How the Army taught trainee officers to fight the wrong war

How the Army taught trainee officers to fight the wrong war

Sir: I think Jon Wenzel (letter, 28 August) overestimates the quality of training given to the Army during the First World War.

When my uncle was commissioned he attended the 11th officer course at the Tynemouth School of Instruction from 5 January to 17 February 1916 and his excellent course notes show his course was surprisingly defective in many respects. For instance, gas is not mentioned in his notes. Neither is the machine-gun in either the organisation of the army or the company, or the organisation of defensive positions. When dealing with ammunition supplies, the notes do however mention 3,500 rounds being kept with a machine-gun and 8,000 more with the regimental reserve.

The notes explain that there are defensive pivots between a mile and three miles apart and that they are joined by fire trenches whose "sole objective is to keep men alive long enough to attack the enemy with the bayonet, when they have come close enough in their attack. It is thus unnecessary to provide for flank fire for fire trenches". I was surprised to learn that "outposts are usually cavalry or cyclists, with infantry acting in conjunction". Barbed wire is not mentioned at all, though the creation of obstacles is referred to under the "general principles of field defences".

About the last lecture he had was on the attack. It talks about preliminary skirmishes and the four stages of an attack but "fire and movement" is not mentioned anywhere. There was also a lecture on the co-operation between artillery and infantry, which details how to attack with the support of artillery. It again does not mention barbed wire or "fire and movement", or for that matter the use of artillery to clear barbed wire or any other type of obstacles. It does however mention the use of field artillery in an anti-aircraft mode.

Generally it appears to have been a reasonable training to fight the Boer War but totally useless for the war being fought at the time.

Congleton, Cheshire

Lib Dem plans for funding health care

Sir: It is good for political parties to have debates on policy. It is a sign of the political maturity of the Liberal Democrats that The Orange Book has been published, containing articles from a number of able people in the party. Much of The Orange Book contains existing Liberal Democrat policy.

However, the proposals on the funding of the NHS made by David Laws (Opinion, 3 September) are flawed. That is why they have not been adopted by the official policy process of the party. There was a substantial debate on NHS funding in 2001-2. Social insurance found very little support.

That was partly because advocates of social insurance oversimplify the insurance systems that operate in other countries. While praising social insurance in other countries, David Laws has not pointed out that in France, patients have to pay for primary care directly, with only 70 per cent of the cost being reimbursed. In Germany, patients pay a range of charges for the first 14 days they spend in hospital. These charges will inevitably fall more heavily on the poor.

However, the biggest problem with Mr Laws' proposals is that they assume that the reason for shorter waiting lists in other countries is the existence of a social insurance system. This does not follow at all.

European health services have been better funded over decades (so they have the higher capacity that allows meaningful choice), and decisions are made at a more local level than in the UK. That is particularly the case in Denmark, which does not have a social insurance system, but which has the highest public satisfaction levels relating to healthcare in the EU.

There is still clearly much to be done over time to redress the balance of decades of underfunding of the NHS, although Liberal Democrats believe that investment is now at about the right level for the next few years. The challenge now is to make public services more locally responsive.

Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire
The writer was Liberal Democrat Director of Policy, 1999-2004

Middle East victims

Sir: Before the media scramble yet again demonises the Palestinian people as terrorists, we should stop and evaluate the truth of the situation. In the time between the Ashdod bomb (in March) and Tuesday's bombings, Israel have killed 436 Palestinians, and injured a further 2309, according to figures quoted by the Middle East Policy Council and Palestine Red Crescent.

I make no excuse whatsoever for Tuesday's actions ("Violence returns to Israel as Hamas suicide bombers kill at least 16", 1 September). However, I can understand the desperation that drives people to these acts. In addition to lethal punitive actions, the Israelis have demolished hundreds of acres of olive groves and crops, shelled and bulldozed hundreds of Palestinian homes, blockaded towns and villages and destroyed civil structures while demanding an end to resistance. It is not surprising that this Israeli activity has provoked hostility in an occupied and oppressed people.

Doncaster, South Yorkshire

Sir: Lyn Julius (letter, 25 August) states that "most of the compliant monarchies" set up by Great Britain in the Middle East were overthrown. While the Iraqi and Egyptian royal families were overthrown, the Saudi and Jordanian royal families are still in power.

Very few Arab states have ever faced towards the Soviet Union - Egypt under Nasser (before coming back into the American sphere under Sadat) and Syria. Furthermore, the West is largely responsible for the polarisation of politics that has sent the region spiralling into anarchy.

While we are not directly responsible for the violence of the Islamic regime in Iran, for example, we must recognise it as an extreme response to the equally extreme government of the Shah. The removal of the moderate Mossadeq government and its replacement with the Shah (through a plot jointly organised by the CIA and MI6) destroyed any chance of moderate government and set up the competition of extremisms that is currently afflicting the region.

Epsom, Surrey

British road rage

Sir: I really cannot let David Williams get away with his categorisation of foreign drivers ("One Europe for all drivers", 31 August). The one part of my continental driving trips that I have come to dread is the return to the UK, where it is the UK drivers who exhibit impatience, speeding and bad temper.

It is a depressing welcome home after many kilometres of relaxing driving on good quality, quiet roads. It is telling that the only incidence of road rage I have ever encountered on the Continent turned out to be a British driver.


Sir: Drivers who object to speed cameras could press for speed limits to be raised or abolished (letters, 30 August). Their gripe, however is not with speed limits but that they have been caught and cannot ignore the law with impunity. If they object to the Government and the taxpayer benefiting from the fines collected they could either argue for custodial sentences, or they could observe speed limits.

We should not be apologetic about speed cameras. They provide an efficient, inexpensive system for catching those breaking the law. More, not fewer, are needed. Residents should be able to purchase one for their street and, as long as speed limits are clearly shown, there should be no need to identify where they are used.

Fareham, Hampshire

Sir: If the purpose of speed cameras is to reduce driver speed, and thus accidents, at known "blackspots", this worthwhile end would be supported by placing the relevant speed limit sign on each camera and camera-warning sign. Much of the disgruntlement about these cameras is generated by drivers who feel they have been "unfairly" caught: a reminder of the relevant speed limit should dispel this illusion, and confirm in the public mind that these devices are for road safety purposes.

Bodmin, Cornwall

Red-tinted spectacles

Sir: The vacuous responses (letters, 28 August) to Johann Hari's excellent piece on the myths of Che Guevara ("Leave the left's tyrants in their graves", 27 August) seem to support his case more than the writers realise. They take refuge in the old "well, they were murderers so we had to be murderers" too, mixed with a spice of Trotskyist blindness.

Yes, the US was brutal at some stages in the Cold War and its interventions in Chile and Nicaragua were unforgivable, but what it did was far less brutal than, say, the Cultural Revolution or the killing fields, or the tanks in Hungary in 1956, or Czechoslovakia in 1968. We all remember the thunderous silence from the TUC as the tanks rolled in Poland to crush Solidarity.

The point remains that those of us on the left did romanticise at best, blithely ignore at worst, the barbarities carried out by anyone opposed to the US. In retrospect this is shameful, and Johann Hari is quite right to remind us of this and insist we drop these red-tinted glasses.


Unwanted batteries

Sir: Recycling batteries is certainly a dead loss in this country (letter, 30 August). When I lived in Sheffield, I wrote to the Safeway supermarket several years ago and asked why, when they sold so many batteries, there was no provision for recycling in their otherwise quite comprehensive facility. The reply was that, as no such provision existed in this country, none could be provided at the store.

Yet in many shops, pharmacies and at hospital doorways in Belgium, Austria and Germany, I have seen drums for the collection of all kinds of small appliance batteries. I quite enjoyed rolling my hearing-aid batteries down the sloping top of the receptacle in St Luc's hospital, Brussels, and this was 10 years ago! "Wake up England!", as my grandmother would say.


Becoming Welsh

Sir: I very much enjoyed Miles Kington's witty "Two dozen of the finest Albanian proverbs" (1 September). One of them took the form of the question: "Has anyone ever applied to become Welsh?" The answer to that is "Yes".

Sixteen years ago I moved to Wales, having promised the then Bishop of Bangor that I would learn the Welsh language. I am now a member of the Gorsedd of Bards with the Bardic name Ioan ap Meurig. I think in Welsh; I dream in Welsh. I am very proud indeed of my family roots in England, in Manchester and in Chesterfield, but the best thing I ever did was to "apply to become Welsh".

May I pay a warm tribute to those who teach Welsh to adult learners? Day by day they give to so many in Wales the opportunity to make the same exciting journey.

Llangeler, Carmarthenshire

Too many sins  

Sir: Whilst agreeing with practically everything that Janet Street-Porter says in her article "Spare me from the eighth deadly sin" (2 September) I do not see why she has to invent an eighth sin. It seems that it is all covered by one of the original seven, namely Avarice. The Oxford Dictionary defines this as "inordinate desire of getting and hoarding wealth". I would be inclined to call it Greed.

London NW11

Pedestrians' London

Sir: I would like to make clear my position on suggestions to revamp central London streets ("West End of London could be continental promenade", 31 August). I have no plans to plant trees down the middle of Oxford Street and pave over the rest of it, nor for a pedestrianised corridor from Regent's Park to Piccadilly, nor for a grand avenue from Tottenhan Court Road to Trafalgar Square. There are no proposals for public squares in Jan Gehl's report, which outlines ways in which public spaces can be improved, including improving facilities for pedestrians.

Mayor of London
City Hall

Spanish practice

Sir: David Oliver may be right that Spanish should replace French as the first foreign language to be taught in schools because of its growing world-wide relevance (letter, 3 September). But to suggest that to learn to speak correct Spanish with a modicum of eloquence is easier than French is surely wrong. My definitive French reference grammar from university days runs to 332 pages. My equivalent Spanish reference grammar has 520 pages - and each one is twice as big!

Wallasey, Wirral

Irish Lions

Sir: In my experience the only time the British Isles (letters, 28 August, 2 September) is relevant is when the Lions rugby team is touring. When the Lions are winning the team is referred to in most British media as the British Lions and when losing they are called the British and Irish Lions. But the Irish don't mind, really.

London W14