Nobody is quite sure who first coined the phrase ‘a nation of shopkeepers’ or even if it referred to England or Great Britain. Often the phrase is attributed to Napoleon or the French revolutionary Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac. There is even some argument as to whether the above phrase was derogatory or a compliment to us Brits as successful traders and nation of merchants. I tend to feel that perhaps being known as a nation of shopkeepers isn’t so bad and perhaps others would do well to leave us alone to be just that.
I’ve written here before about my grandfather, who lied about his age to fight in the First World War. Being too old for the Second World War, he lied about his age again. I’ll not write again in too much detail, just to say that I’d always had trouble reconciling the image of a man that had fought as a front line soldier in two world wars with my kindly old grandad.
My uncle had a long and successful career as a Colonel in the British army. He’d served with a number of elite regiments stationed overseas for many years. Upon my uncle’s death, I received much criticism from my family for not attending his funeral. I knew it would be the funeral of a soldier and I didn’t want to remember him that way. To me my uncle was a kind, gentle, intelligent person who loved animals and would spend hours in his garden tending his beloved flowers.
My father served out his national service after the Second World War. He too was stationed overseas for years. One day, as an eight-year-old child, we were both staying at my grandmother’s house and I started rummaging around in some old cupboards and drawers. To my delight I found a black army stiletto knife. It had a black, very pointed double edge blade and a round black handle, tapered towards the tang, and the end was like a pig sticker but for humans.
My father, after leaving the army, had come home, thrown this knife into a drawer and forgotten about it. When he found me with it he blew a fuse. I could see in my father’s eyes that he hated this knife, I was told never to touch it again. Of course to an eight-year-old child this made it even more interesting. I dug that knife out at every opportunity when visiting my grandmother, until one day my father caught me with it again. He took the knife from me and that was the last I ever saw of it, let alone get to hear the story behind it.
At school, many of our teachers had fought in the war. Our form teacher, on occasion would roll up his sleeve and show us his bullet holes; after so many years they were still not a pretty sight. We had a favourite teacher though. He was a tall, well built, absolute gentleman, his hair and moustache had turned grey but he had obviously been very fit in his day. This teacher was the friendliest, most affable teacher we’d ever had – he wouldn’t hurt a fly. We didn’t play up in his class though, he was a man who commanded respect.
One day the school bully started his normal aggressive antics in this teacher’s class, but the way that he laughingly immobilised this child and marched him out of the room was something to behold. Our suspicions aroused, we asked this teacher where he learned to do this; he told us that during the war he’d been a commando although he didn’t like to admit it, the memory obviously still haunted him.
He told us how he never wanted to be in the army, he was happy at home, yet the army decided he was going to be a commando and taught him such skills as tripping a man up and kicking him in the head until he was dead. This man found such things abhorrent but as a schoolboy I’d already seen that haunted look in a man’s eyes before. As always though, I found these things hard to reconcile.
Many years later, a good friend of mine who had been an officer in the Parachute Regiment, himself a very level-headed gentleman, explained these things to me. He told me that the army wouldn’t train people it couldn’t trust with such skills. They had to be capable of such violence when required but also they had to be able to stop, and they were very good at weeding out the thugs.
This article isn’t about the army though, it’s about the gentlemen who to protect their country, way of life and families, had been forced into acts of barbaric violence almost beyond belief and completely against their nature. Yet they did these things without complaint before having to lock up their demons and return home to be schoolteachers, policemen, dustmen and, yes, shopkeepers.
I think that we Brits, by and large, are by our natures mostly kind and gentle people, but today large numbers of people turn up on our shores and take advantage of our kind nature. They rape our women and groom our children. Our kind nature is not limitless however, they risk seeing another side of us and probably soon.
Recently Jean Claude Juncker, nearly-ex president of the European Commission, called us fools for loving our country. Well, we do love our country Mr Juncker and if either you or your successor refuses to let us go our way in peace, perhaps you too will wish you’d let us be as a nation of shopkeepers.
We’ve opened our eyes to your evil regime; we do not want it and we will not change our minds.