Wednesday, February 14, 2007

British Heroes: W. T. Stead

This will probably be a more controversial choice than my other British heroes, but Stead, for me, was the epitome of what investigative, campaigning journalists used to be about. His "Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon" campaign against child prostitution in London led directly to the government of the time raising the age of consent from 12 to 16.

Stead was a confirmed pacifist, but one who understood that peace comes from strength. His final campaign eventually forcing Britain to upgrade the RN in the face of increasingly powerful rivals.

Stead died aboard the Titanic where he was reported to have helped women and children to safety before retiring to the smoking room and awaiting his fate in a leather chair while reading a book.

He has been referred to as "the father of modern journalism" though I, personally, can see little connection between today's value free, morally bankrupt, post-modern relativist journalism and Stead's personal crusading.


Titus Aduxass said...

Hello O Ranting one, and greeting from the black north.
I couldn’t let this British Heroes opportunity go without mentioning this grand old chap Lt.Col John Pine-Coffin.
This is not a joke or spoof as I first thought but a for real, anti-mocassad, cherry blossomed, freshly pressed British officer and gentleman.

This is his obit taken from The DT last year. I wish we had more of the likes of Him (and his strange name)
Lt Col John Pine-Coffin

Last Updated: 12:01am BST 19/10/2006

Lieutenant-Colonel John Pine-Coffin, who has died aged 85, had a distinguished and adventurous career in the King's African Rifles and the Parachute Regiment.
John Trenchard Pine-Coffin was born in Kashmir on June 12 1921 and educated at Wellington. After Sandhurst, he was commissioned into the Devonshire Regiment and then served with the King's African Rifles (KAR) in East Africa.
His African-born sergeant was not best pleased when Pine-Coffin advised him not to wear medals that had been awarded to him by the Germans, but he quickly won the respect of his men without them. Pine-Coffin subsequently accompanied the KAR to Burma.
Stealth was often the key to survival during the Burma campaign. One night, while lying low in an attempt to conceal their presence from the Japanese, Pine-Coffin impressed on his African troops the need for complete silence. They had, however, acquired a taste for tea and one of them, in his search, perhaps, for a superior brew, had placed the billy can on a fire piled high with full ammunition boxes.
On another occasion, when a strong Japanese patrol was preparing to attack his unit, his soldiers threw down their arms and disappeared into the darkness.
Pine-Coffin and his brother officers had resigned themselves to their fate when the men reappeared from the jungle with rather sheepish faces and said: "We like you too much to see you killed." They collected their weapons, regrouped and helped to beat off the enemy assault.
After the Japanese surrender, Pine-Coffin went to Pakistan to look for his father, who had been a prisoner of the Japanese since the fall of Singapore. He scoured the hospitals treating soldiers from PoW camps but was unsuccessful. Eventually his father was repatriated to England.
Pine-Coffin then joined the Parachute Regiment and was posted to the Middle East where he saw action during the Suez crisis. Following a move to Cyprus, he was involved in counter-insurgency operations in the Troodos mountains.
When he came across a number of heavily bearded men hiding in a monastery, Pine-Coffin suspected that they were Eoka terrorists in disguise and asked his sergeant to give their beards a sharp tug. These all stayed firmly in place and he had to make a swift tactical withdrawal.
During his 28 years with the Parachute Regiment, Pine-Coffin served with all three battalions and in 1961 took command of 1st Parachute Battalion. His parachuting career was brought to a premature end when he landed in the dark on a tractor and broke several bones in his feet.
A series of staff appointments followed. In 1963 he was in Nassau when he was ordered to investigate a party of Cuban exiles that had infiltrated Andros Island, part of the Bahamas. His seaplane landed in thick mud and Pine-Coffin decided that his only chance of reaching dry land was to strip off.
On coming ashore, plastered in mud and wearing only a red beret and a pair of flippers, he was confronted by a party of armed Cubans. Mustering as much authority as he could in the circumstances, he informed the group that they were trespassing on British sovereign territory and were surrounded.
The following morning, when the Royal Marines arrived to rescue him they were astonished to find him and his radio operator in a clearing standing guard over the Cubans and a pile of surrendered weapons. He was appointed OBE.
Pine-Coffin attended the Joint Services Staff College and the Imperial Defence College before retiring from the Army in 1969. He built up a large farming enterprise in Devon and established a 3-star country hotel.
He was involved in many local charitable enterprises, including the British Red Cross and the RNLI. In 1974 he was appointed High Sheriff of Devon.
John Pine-Coffin married, in 1952, Susan Bennett, who survives him with their son and two daughters.

Stan said...

Cheers, Titus.

He sounds like a right character. The very sort that made Britain great and that NuLabour despise so much.

I'm certain his life story would make a much more interesting biography than Wayne Rooney's or David Cameron's too.