Will We Never Learn?

Just recently I’ve been working on the script of our audio book Private Rawson’s War, checking the printed words against the audio. This is because we will shortly be publishing transcripts of most of our titles as we are getting an increasing number of requests for them. As far as I can tell this is because some people just like reading scripts but some are using them as aids to improving their English by listening to the CD or MP3 download and following the script as they go. This means that the script needs to follow the audio exactly with any amendments or cuts made in the studio duly removed – hence the script work I am doing.

Tony Rawson in Iraq

Tony Rawson in Iraq

Anyway, back to the point. Private Rawson’s War is a collection of letters written home to his mother by a private soldier who served in Iraq, Persia (Iran), Syria, Lebanon and Palestine during the Second World War. His poor eyesight prevented him from fighting, so initially he was a fitter of army vehicles but by the end of the war he had become an instructor in the Army Education Corps. Tony Rawson only had a basic education but he had an enquiring mind. He used his free time to learn French and Arabic, to study the history of the areas in which he was stationed, to meet and talk with local people and to find out how they lived. In the light of events in the Middle East in the last 10 years or so, (to say nothing of yesterday’s news about an American soldier shooting 16 Afghan civilians) some of his comments really strike a chord.

“Persia, 17th October 1942. Dear Mother, you say I am very lucky in my choice of friends but I don’t think it is so much a matter of luck as the way in which you treat people. When I was in Iraq I used to treat the natives and anyone with whom I came in contact as I should like them to treat me and I found kindness was always returned with kindness.”

“Iraq, 21st March 1943. Taking the Iraqi people all round and taking into consideration the fact that we had to fight them and forcibly occupy their country, I find them remarkably friendly people and always willing to chat with you. The fellows who dislike them judge them by Western standards which cannot be done. It is necessary to mix with the people of this country with an open mind and learn about their Eastern ideas and methods of living before judging them.”

“Tripoli, Syria, 13th December 1943. I am slowly learning about the Moslem religion and I think it is every bit as good as Christianity. I was surprised to discover that in the Koran there is a description of judgement day and Satan is also mentioned in it but as Shaitan. I found in Iraq that a true Moslem, who tried to carry out his faith as Mohammed wrote it down in the Koran, was every bit as much a Christian in the broad sense of the word and much more than some folk I know who attend our Parish Church.”

And how about this one? Ironic or what?

“Damascus, Syria, 8th January 1945. Dear Mother, there is no need to worry about anything happening to me as everything is quite peaceful in Syria and I have many friends in Damascus.”

Tony Rawson (left) in Baghdad

Tony Rawson (left) in Baghdad

He could be a bit priggish at times, could Tony Rawson, but he was interested in people and had an open mind, something our present day politicians only pay lip service to. Although he came to love the Middle East and its people, after the war Tony returned to the family home in Watford. After the death of his mother in the mid 60s, he retrained as a teacher and taught for a while in Zambia. He died in Suffolk in 2005.

The letters used in this audio book – beautifully read by Paul Panting – were rescued by chance from the rubbish pile when Tony Rawson’s house was cleared after this death. To me they are priceless, telling as they do the story of 5 years in a man’s life, 5 years in which a young man conscripted into the army found unexpected opportunities to expand his mind and experience in a way that would probably never have happened in peace time.