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A Conversation with Neal Ascherson, former Royal Marine

It’s a year since I attended the Batang Kali trial in London and I am sitting in a kitchen in north London on a dull and rainy winter’s day talking to Neal Ascherson about Malaya. I had always admired Neal as an historian and journalist but until earlier this year had no idea that he did his national service with 42 Commando Royal Marines in Malaya. I discovered this fact when I read his obituary of the great historian Eric Hobsbawm in The Guardian. Neal had finished doing national service in 1953 and headed for Cambridge to study history. Here’s an extract from the obit: Eric inspected me. A specimen, indeed. “What’s that medal affair you’re wearing?” “It’s my national service campaign medal. For active service in the Malayan emergency.” Eric pulled back and took another look at me. Then he said, very sharply but without violence: “Malaya? You should be ashamed to be wearing that.” I don’t think I said anything at all. I remember noticing the students around us, round-eyed with shock. Then I left the room, stumbling back down the dusky stairs, and out into the huge court where it was beginning to rain. After a time […]
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