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I give you my word… 5 September 2013

Posted by Dr Moose in Life, Ponderings, Recommendations.
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…is probably a phrase you haven’t heard in a long time, if at all. In fact, I’m not sure I have ever used it, or heard it used except in older fiction or an historical context. Yet one of the favourite books of my childhood was Pat Reid’s “The Colditz Story”, telling tales of officer Prisoners of War, incarcerated in the depths of the German Reich and their attempts to escape captivity, as well as giving fascinating insights into daily life.

It was there that I came across the use of the world parole in a context other than the release of an offender from jail, the idea that someone, as an ‘officer and a gentleman’ promised to behave in a certain way (such as a refraining from attempting to escape) in return for a certain temporary privelege (such as a visit to the cinema). One classic case was allowing the ace fighter pilot Douglas Bader, who had flown to great effect despite having prosthetic legs, the opportunity for parole walks in the German countryside so long as he didn’t try to escape.

Thus I was interested to read a story on the BBC news website about Capt Robert Campbell, a Prisoner of War during World War 1, who was allowed to return to England to visit his dying mother, on condition that he returned to captivity.  What intrigued, or even disturbed me, was the need for an expert to explain how he would have felt it a duty to honour his word. I suspect to many these days (and I would include schoolchildren and many soon-to-arrive University students) it seems a quaint, noble, honourable, hopelessly impractical and antiquated idea. ‘Who in their right mind would say such a thing and do it?’ I can almost hear tham say. Well, quite a lot of people actually, in that foreign country that is the past.

But what about now, and what about us? I’m sure that many people today would like to be able to trust what others promise. I know I would. The drawback, of course, is that we have to play our part too… and that in these enlightened days, so sceptical of old concepts, experience tells us that that really is going a step too far! Or is it?

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