Desperation in Gaza
Sir: I must respond to Rod Liddle’s opinion on Gaza (‘Why this deluded affection for the Palestinians?’, 19 May). I was in Shifa hospital for two quiet Fridays during the initial protests. Eighty-five per cent of bullet wounds were around the knee; the result of accurate sniper targeting. The first casualty I saw was a prepubertal boy with a bullet through the head; the first operation, a prepubertal boy with smashed bones and artery from a high velocity bullet that resulted in amputation. These were children. Their elder brothers have never left Gaza, and half are unemployed, living with contaminated water and with electricity for only six hours a day. Twenty per cent feel they would be better off dead (according to Pam Bailey’s project We Are Not Numbers), but suicide is not an option in Islam. Their parents were traders but most of these businesses are bust.
I have visited since 2016, but it is only recently that the desperation has broken through their ironic sense of humour and stoical endurance. A godsend for the Al Kassam brigades, Al Aksa Martyrs and Islamic Jihad.
John H.N. Wolfe FRCS
The purpose of railways
Sir: I cannot agree with Martin Vander Weyer’s suggestion (Any other business, 19 May) that Deutsche Bahn ought to be invited to pick up the ‘poisoned chalice’ of the East Coast Main Line as the likeliest answer to all of that blighted service’s chronic problems. Much as I know the German railway operator to be efficient and competent in its own country, its subsidiary, DB Regio, had a far from satisfactory track record in running the Tyne and Wear metro system in recent years. Appointed in 2010, its contract was not renewed in 2017, and our light rail system is now being directly operated by Nexus, the passenger transport executive of the North East Combined Authority of local councils.
The nationalisation of the railways in 1948 was a godsend to the private operators such as the LNER, all of which had struggled for decades to make any profit and had been kept afloat by government subsidies during the two world wars. No one expects the M1 motorway to be privatised and run at a profit — it just needs to be there. So why do some people imagine that railways exist to make money, rather than just move people and goods about, which is surely their true raison d’être?
Newcastle upon Tyne
Chugging back in time
Sir: With regard to Charles Moore’s references to the Kent and East Sussex Railway (Notes, 12 May), I used to travel on it with great enjoyment in the early 1950s on my way to visit relatives until it sadly closed for passengers in January 1954.
The train consisted of a diminutive ‘Terrier’ tank locomotive, one passenger carriage and often a string of goods wagons at the rear. At an intermediate station the carriage would be parked at the platform, while the locomotive shunted the wagons into sidings, and collected the empty ones.
There are many preserved railways all over the country which give pleasure to many thousands, and employment to many — and objections from landowners for compulsory purchase elsewhere have been overcome and compensation paid. I very much hope that this will be the case here, for the benefit of the many. As far as I am aware no buildings need to be demolished, nor many elaborate earthworks required.
I look forward to travelling on the reinstated line.
Midhurst, West Sussex
Sir: I was reminded while reading Lara Prendergast’s excellent piece on wedding lists (‘The House of Soho’, 19 May) of a story I heard while working in Dubai about a middle-class English couple who invited a hugely wealthy Arab sheikh they knew a little to their Home Counties nuptials. The embossed invitation came with details of a gift list that could be found online. The sheikh opened the list and spent some time frowning at it. Puzzled by a social convention with which he was not familiar, and unsure what was expected of him, he eventually shrugged and informed his secretary to buy everything on it. I have always thought this story illustrates perfectly both the absurdity of so much British custom and how kindly we are usually indulged by the rest of the planet.
Market Garden logistics
Sir: General Jackson’s review of Sir Antony Beevor’s Arnhem: The Battle of the Bridges, 1944 (Books, 19 May), was interesting not only because of his vast experience in matters of military strategy, but his knowledge of airborne forces, and their deployment, in particular. Many factors contributed to the failure of Market Garden, but for me the standout — speaking as a very much retired armoured regiment officer — was the 60-mile road link-up with boggy ground either side. Every experienced subaltern in the Royal Armoured Corps regards soft ground as dodgy, and often one could tell by the colour of the grass. Hence the catastrophically slow progress in an action reliant upon speed. Beevor is surely correct; the description of the Market Garden operation as ‘doomed’ is unquestionable.
Sir: I enjoyed Matt Ridley’s article about the eradication of rats on South Georgia, and his point about what is possible is well taken (‘The art of the impossible’, 19 May). Should The Spectator take a leaf out of Jeff Bezos’s book and tackle a few daft ideas? I dream, as did George Bernard Shaw, of the why-nots. Why not, for instance, a whole issue of The Spectator where no mention whatsoever is made of Brexit?
That when I waked, I cried to dream again. (Caliban)