UK war deaths pass 300. Newspapers otherwise engaged.
The front pages displayed on the weekend news-stands suffered from no shortage of ‘Strictly Come X-Factor, Get Me Out of Here’ non-stories.
Rather fewer front pages were given over, however, to the reporting of the deaths of two Royal Marines, Robert McKibben and Neil Dunstan (the former a Mayo-man) after their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Until Saturday, they were the latest UK troops to die in that ongoing conflict. That day, another, Gurkha soldier Yubraj Rai, died after his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device (IED).
The most recent deaths brought the British death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan to over 300.
While the UK press seems to have more time for ‘reality’ TV trivia than the lives and deaths of these men, at least the BBC did itself proud as the national broadcaster with The Fallen, shown on Saturday night and still available on iPlayer.
The film names every British serviceman and woman to have died in Iraq and Afghanistan and features interviews with the families and loved ones of many of those killed.
This was a powerful and pain-filled three hours of family and friends talking, telling stories and living their grief before the camera of film-maker Morgan Matthews.
We only caught the second half, but my wife and I sat transfixed, moved and angered by this magnificent piece of television. More than once, tears silently ran down my wife's face as a mother, father, partner or sibling described the loss of a loved one in two wars that few (including the soldiers interviewed) seemed to really understand.
The gaps left in these people’s lives were palpable. The memories, the left-behind medals and the flags that once draped their loved ones’ coffins, would never fill the void. Lives went on but theirs were altered forever.
The film-maker has explained that he set out to redress the indifference with which these deaths are now treated by the media.
As one journalist – who had reported from the frontline in Afghanistan and witnessed one of the bloody deaths – explained in the programme, the newspapers and their readers are tired of this story now. They’ve printed and read the reports of soldiers dying in Afghanistan and Iraq lots of times already. Nobody is that interested any more.
The Fallen is one of the most important pieces of television I have seen in quite a while. Whether for, against or indifferent to these wars, this programme is worth watching for the way in which it makes real the lives and deaths of those killed doing the fighting "in our names", as well the lives of those they’ve left behind.
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