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Jack Irvine column: Churchill heirs are sad bunch; LEADERS LACK OLD SPARKLE.

IT IS a depressing time for modern politicians. Our Prime Minister is depicted in the foreign press as a tight-fisted sponger who won't pay for his summer holidays.

Tory leader William Hague is seen, Peter Pan-like, as the boy who didn't grow up and is desperately searching for a personality, friends and policies in that order.

How he ever found a wife like the fragrant Ffion is beyond me.

Our homegrown excuses for legislators demonstrate the eunuch-like qualities of the Scottish Parliament as they squirm at the sight of seriously disturbed killers making a mockery of our 'world renowned' Scottish legal system.

We are also reminded that only 14 of our 129 MSPs have any business experience and are having to attend lectures on how real people live and work.

The well-worn phrase "get a life" springs to mind and was highlighted by the stories of two men who lived earlier this century.

The first was Winston Churchill and, for the benefit of the recent intake of underqualified misfits to Scotland's universities, I should perhaps explain that he was the Prime Minister during the Second World War.

However, he wasn't always an old man with a bowler hat, a large cigar and a glass of brandy.

A gold watch that has just come up for auction with an incredible story attached to it emphatically proves the point.

Apparently, the 24-year-old Churchill was working as a war correspondent in South Africa during the Boer war and shortly after his arrival, he was captured.

He escaped and after meeting Daniel Dewsnap from Oldham, who was working as a mining engineer, he took refuge down a coalmine.

The miners were under strict instructions to remain neutral but they fell under the spell of their young countryman and duly sheltered him as he planned his escape to Portuguese East Africa.

Churchill was not a man to be out of the action for long. He hid among bales of wool in a goods truck and finally, covered in coal-dust, he arrived in Lourenco Marques, now known as Maputo.

BEFORE returning to the front to take part in the Battle of Spion Kop and witness the relief of Ladysmith, Churchill telegraphed the owner of the mine: "Goods arrived safely".

Now the gold watch he gave to Daniel Dewsnap is coming up for auction at Spinks on October 20 and is expected to fetch pounds 10,000.

Whether William Hague's baseball cap will fetch a similar sum 100 years hence is debatable.

The other old-timer whose story caught my eye was Sergeant Keith "Tex" Banwell, who died last week aged 81.

I would need several pages to do this remarkable man justice but let me try to encapsulate an astonishing life in a few sentences, difficult task though that may be.

Tex started his military life in the Coldstream Guards and served in India and Palestine.

In Egypt, his new regiment, the Hampshires, teamed up with the French Foreign Legion and he became their physical training instructor. The French boys were tough - Tex was tougher.

HE then moved from 52 Middle East Commando to The Long Range Desert group and the SAS.

It all becomes a bit of a blur now as Tex was captured on a raid in Crete, escaped, took part in The Battle of Arnhem, was wounded and taken prisoner, escaped and joined the Dutch Resistance.

He was captured, tortured, put in front of a mock firing squad by the Gestapo, sent to Auschwitz and, after being liberated, parachuted out of aircraft more than 1000 times, "just for fun".

In 1984, Tex made his 1000th jump at Arnhem on the 40th anniversary of the battle and, in 1994, at the age of 77, made the anniversary jump again.

Did I mention that apart from being a boxer and a judo black belt, he also walked from John O'Groats to Land's End in full Army kit, wearing standard issue leather boots with no socks?

I have to say I feel a mixture of incredulity and humility when I read of the exploits and hardships faced by men like Churchill and Tex Banwell as they fought to make Britain a better place to live.

If Messrs Blair, Hague and Dewar had any sense of historical perspective, they too would share my feelings but don't hold your breath.
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Irvine, Jack
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 26, 1999
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