After Rob Gerrard’s memorial service at St. Vincents’ a few observations of this event and the people involved in this business made me think about the profession of battlefield guiding. There are currently three distinct groups of guides operating on the battlefields, namely the serious academics who endeavour to know every little bit of detail they can find and anesthetize their clients with an information deluge, then you have the operators who weave a spell-binding tale of urban legends, grandpa’s tales and something they have read in an Anglo-Zulu War Historical Society manual or an Adrian Greaves’ book and cook up a storm to old toppies and swooning young duchesses, and then you have the Veterans.
Guys (and girls) who have served time in the Armed Forces of Southwest-Africa, Namibia, South Africa and Rhodesia. There are quite a few of us. We are not the best battlefield guides in the world, and we do not work in the colours of fancy lodges or hotels, but we know that to make a battlefield your own, you take this story, and you become an ambassador of this tale. You pay homage to brothers in arms that have fallen beneath your feet, and you dip your hat in a silent, quick salute. You tell the story of the Fallen, of the Silent Parade that will never dismiss, and you make the smoke come alive and the people in front of you smell the fear, the storming surge of a victory’s exultation and you make them smell the blood and the shit of the Dead. And you make them hear it.
Then you are a good guide. When you can guide with a visceral clarity that will make your client never forget, you may be regarded as a good guide. We are not princes. We are Custodians, and we have a responsibility. Those of you who want to chase the glamour, should go work at Disneyland. You do not belong here.