|My only picture of Farage from school.|
I know Farage didn't sing any Hitler Youth songs because we didn't know any. Yes, ‘we’. I was there; Channel 4 News wasn't and nor, for that matter, was Chloe Deakin (the teacher whose letter about Farage was the basis of the stories).
The letter itself was kept by Bob Jope, a teacher I knew well and admired very much, and who was the epitome of what right-wing commentators would describe as a "trendy leftie". His motives in keeping and later publicising the letter will be obvious, but he didn't hear the cadets singing in Sussex because he wouldn't have been seen dead in the CCF. He was still a good teacher though, and one who inspired creative thinking – a much-needed counter-balance to the school's more usual obsessions with Latin and rugby.
Deakin was never a friend of the CCF (and I'm more sympathetic to her view now than I was then), so it's no surprise that her hearsay report to the headmaster, David Emms, was exaggerated. By the time the story appeared in the newspapers this month, it was a report of a report of a letter reporting a report: in other words, the fourth round of Chinese whispers spread over 30 years.
|Bob Jope in November 1981, singing in a school band|
The songs we sang were often racist and sexist, but none were Nazi songs. Nobody could sing in German, and anyway, where would you learn the Horst Wessel song in 1981? Look it up on YouTube? They sold some pretty questionable records in Our Price in Croydon (REO Speedwagon anyone?), but I don't remember seeing Lieder aus der Hitler-Jugend in the bargain racks.
I'm ashamed of the songs we did sing, and I'm disappointed the teachers didn't stop us, but maybe they were consciously not rising to the bait. After all, the point wasn’t to express an opinion; it was to sing something to shock our elders, in the loutish ways adolescent boys often do. It wouldn't have been shocking if we hadn't known that the sentiments were repellent. That's probably why the Red Flag also got the occasional outing (only occasional: we didn't really know the words), because a Communist song was considered just as likely to raise the hackles of the authorities at a public school. Another song celebrated homosexuality in a boys' school where no one would ever admit to being gay. We were almost daring ourselves to shock ourselves as well as the teachers.
Nobody ever expressed these views in normal conversation; after all, we had black, Asian, South Asian and Jewish friends. There were a few racist songs in the canon, but when marching we were more likely to sing something like Yellow Bird - a cheerful song about animal cruelty that provided the title of Kevin Powers' recent novel about the Iraq war, with a rhythm much better suited to marching than Ivor Biggun's Winker's Song.
As an old school friend of mine commented on Facebook this week, "I don't recall him being particularly strident or offensive and I was almost the only Jew in (Dulwich) Village."
The songs we sang are irrelevant because they tell you nothing about our political beliefs now. They don't even tell you about our political beliefs then.
Why am I bringing up actions I'm ashamed of to defend a politician I don't support? Something to do with facts being sacred, I suppose.