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Somme gives up the body of another Anzac


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#1 Markess

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 01:26 AM

Just came across the following story in the Sydney Morning Herald. Photos included at the link.

http://www.smh.com.a...0116-19smw.html

Somme gives up the body of another Anzac
January 17, 2011
It is at once extraordinarily unnerving, very moving and a great privilege to help retrieve the bones of a long-dead Australian soldier, who has lain beneath the mud of the Somme for the best past of a century.
That is what we experienced last Saturday after a friend, the battlefield guide Dominique Zanardi, phoned us in Belgium and urged us to come quickly to France. "I have found a soldier today and I think he is an Australian," said Zanardi. "You must come quickly."
We had spent the previous five days visiting countless cemeteries and battle sites on the Somme while researching a forthcoming book for Melbourne University Press.
In spring, when most tourists visit, the Somme is renowned for its tranquil beauty and serenity, with its vivid flourishes of red poppies in verdant fields beneath turquoise skies. But in winter, whipped by bitter winds, snow and icy rain, it is a grey, foreboding, malevolent place of low leaden clouds and knee-deep mud.
A few nights earlier, Zanardi had taken us on a tour of public works diggings on the battlefields, where he had unearthed what is known colloquially as the "iron harvest" - old bullets and shells, gun parts and hand grenades.
And so it is that we find ourselves standing in the bitter wind, the mud sucking at our boots, beside a one-metre deep newly excavated drainage ditch outside Mouquet Farm near Pozieres - the scene of a bitter three-week battle in August 1916 that claimed 11,000 Australian casualties - as Zanardi passes us the bones which we, in turn, place in a hessian sack.
It is a distressing scene that is not for the squeamish as Zanardi uncovers the soldier's boots, still holding the bones of his feet, and places them on the side of the ditch.
As we carefully carry the rest of the man's remains from the ditch to the bag containing his skull and his jawbone, his arms and his legs, one thought dominates: dignity and glory do not belong to the battlefield.
Our soldier has a birth name, to be sure. But like the many thousands of others who lost their lives in the terrible fighting on the Somme during World War I, the battlefield has claimed his identity.
And were it not for Dominique Zanardi, the soldier would probably have stayed anonymously beneath the sticky mud of the Somme for an eternity.
Now, perhaps, the experts from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission will be able to recover the soldier's identity courtesy of his watch or possibly by using dental records.
Zanardi found the soldier's partially exposed body in the drainage ditch late last Friday.
He recovered some of the bones immediately and the rest with us the next day.
Unable to contact anyone from the war graves commission at the weekend, Zanardi and the mayor of Pozieres, Bernard Delattre, were planning to remove the body from the site today to prevent it from being reinterred by the bulldozer on the site.
Mr Delattre, meanwhile, had tried unsuccessfully to inform the Australian embassy in Paris at the weekend that a WWI Digger had been found near his village.
Zanardi, who regularly searches excavations for roads and drains around the Somme for war relics, believes the body is definitely that of an Australian officer who died in the battle of Mouquet Farm.
While there was no identity disc on the body, the soldier's pistol holster is stamped "AUSTRALIA" and "WA".
Zanardi believes it is possible to conclusively identify the man as an Australian because of the unique buckle on his tunic. "It is a typically Australian buckle - no other soldiers from any country that fought here on the Somme had this buckle," said Zanardi, who has found the bodies of 15 WWI servicemen around the Somme during the past two decades.
"Also, the holster is stamped as being Australian and the metal stud on the holster is unique to Australian leather apparel and fittings used in WWI."
Had the body been that of a member of the Canadian or the British armies, brass buttons would have been found among the remnants of the uniform.
But none were found on this body, further indicating that he wore an Australian uniform that typically had biodegradable buttons.
"I would expect to find brass buttons if he was British or Canadian. In my experience the buttons on the Australian uniforms dissolve when they have been in the ground for many decades," Zanardi said.
While his name still eludes us, there are some things that we do know about the soldier.
The first is that he died terribly - probably, given the amount of shrapnel surrounding his body, as a result of shellfire.
The second is that he was heavily armed and up for a fight. The remains of a Lee-Enfield rifle and 150 rounds of ammunition, eight Mills bombs, a bayonet scabbard and a Webley service revolver were buried with him. Shell shrapnel or bullets had penetrated the leather cover of his watch and his holster.
Zanardi carefully dug from the mud the soldier's other possessions that included a few French francs and British pennies, his gas mask, canteen, webbing, a spoon, a pencil and his British-made toothbrush.
Judging by the size of his boots, he was not a particularly big man. His fob watch gave no obvious clues about his identity. According to maps of the trench system around Pozieres, the soldier died in the No Man's Land that stood between Mouquet Farm and an Allied redoubt that was secured with barbed wire.
Mouquet Farm stands on the gently rolling fields 1.7 kilometres behind Pozieres. It was a German stronghold on the Somme. Between August 8 and September 3, 1916, it was the target of nine fierce attacks from the three Australian divisions of the 1st Anzac Corps.
Although the Australians gained some ground during the three-week battle, they failed to take Mouquet Farm itself.
In just under seven weeks of fighting at Pozieres and at Mouquet Farm, three Australian divisions suffered 23,000 casualties, of whom 6800 men died of wounds.
Thousands of Diggers died in the area and the name Mouquet Farm connotes Australian military tragedy on par with Gallipoli, and Fromelles in nearby Flanders.
Australia's official WWI historian, Charles Bean, wrote of Pozieres and Mouquet Farm in July 1916 that "there is no undamaged surface here".
Tens of thousands of the dead, including scores of Australians, remain in unmarked graves across the fields of the Somme and Flanders. Farmers and excavation workers routinely plough bodies back into the earth rather than deal with the bureaucracy associated with reporting and investigating such discoveries.
Ten to 15 bodies of WWI servicemen from Canada, Germany, France, Australia, Britain and elsewhere in the Commonwealth are found on the Somme each year.
Slowly, slowly the Somme is now giving up the secrets of its dead. The Australian Digger who we helped, with heavy hearts, to recover on Saturday is the latest.
As we placed his bones carefully into the hessian bag beside his muddy grave, it was poignantly satisfying to know that he would next be at rest in a coffin and that he would, at last, be afforded some dignity almost a century after his death.
Hopefully now his identity will be returned.

#2 DavidB

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 02:13 AM

Markess,
Thanks for that. A few things I find strange is the mix of weapons found by his body. I was under the impression that officers did not carry SMLE, mills bombs as well as a revolver.
Were they not only armed with a revolver ? Conversely a digger did not carry a revolver, is it possible that the remains of two men are in that location.
I also wonder how many more will be found over the years to come.
Cheers

#3 Fedelmar

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 03:02 AM

From this report it would appear that the site has been compromised to some extent.

Bright Blessings
Sandra

#4 Lou Bougias

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 06:37 AM

This is a moral outrage.
For unqualified individuals to disturb the body and put the bones in a hessian bag is a disgrace.
The police should have immeadiately secured the site and waited for a proper retrieval team to arrive.




#5 seadog

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 07:08 AM

Could not contact either the CWGC or the Australian Embassy at the weekend, sounds like the situation here in the UK. The Police should have been informed immediately but that of course may have happened. It is a sad fact but this is how the found dead are generally excavated in France. To the best of my knowledge there does not exist any official body who will take charge of the exhumation using the best archeological methodology. It remains the responsibility of the finder to undertake such work and we should be grateful to the individuals involved for this. The CWGC in France apparently employ a person described as an “Exhumation Officer” whose task it is to oversee such recoveries but I personally have never read a report where this person has become involved. The whole question of the exhumation and removal of the dead is a complete mess particularly in France although I believe that more formal and official arrangements now operate in Belgium. If you think this is bad what about the 15 British soldiers discovered in Beaucamps-Ligny in 2009 who were also subjected to the same treatment.


Norman

#6 willy

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 08:50 AM

Could not contact either the CWGC or the Australian Embassy at the weekend, sounds like the situation here in the UK. The Police should have been informed immediately but that of course may have happened. It is a sad fact but this is how the found dead are generally excavated in France. To the best of my knowledge there does not exist any official body who will take charge of the exhumation using the best archeological methodology. It remains the responsibility of the finder to undertake such work and we should be grateful to the individuals involved for this. The CWGC in France apparently employ a person described as an “Exhumation Officer” whose task it is to oversee such recoveries but I personally have never read a report where this person has become involved. The whole question of the exhumation and removal of the dead is a complete mess particularly in France although I believe that more formal and official arrangements now operate in Belgium. If you think this is bad what about the SIX British soldiers discovered in Beaucamps-Ligny in 2009 who were also subjected to the same treatment.


Norman

It is appalling that there is no hard and fast rules, that are enforced in France concerning finds such as this, how many remains have been destroyed and lost forever, and how many more will suffer the same fate.
If in this case as apparently seems, were the remains not left in situ until contact could be made with those authorities that were unavailable?, i doubt if there was going to be much work carried out on digging the ditch over the weekend.

#7 seadog

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 09:13 AM

Willy, I agree with you entirely. The sad fact remains that if it were not for the efforts of local people as mentioned in the newspaper article then there would be no guarantee that such remains would even reach the stage when they can be buried with honour. There is in France no other system in place and initial exhumation of the fallen is completely reliant on the skills and dedication of the locals. Much discussion has taken place on the forum with regard to this situation and I frankly see no improvements forthcoming the foreseeable future. This is even more regrettable when you consider that the use of DNA testing has been so successful in the case of the Fromelles fallen, so much so in fact that I would suggest that where the remains allow it such samples should be taken and retained as a matter of course in case sometime in the future the possibility of identification arises.

May I reiterate that I believe that the whole method of recovery and attempted identification of the fallen in Belgium has been updated recently to a much better system. Any right-minded and concerned person will see that a more formal and accountable system of retrieving the remains of our (British/Commonwealth) dead is urgently needed in respect of France for that is the least that we can do to honour their sacrifices.

Norman

#8 willy

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 09:32 AM

Willy, I agree with you entirely. The sad fact remains that if it were not for the efforts of local people as mentioned in the newspaper article then there would be no guarantee that such remains would even reach the stage when they can be buried with honour. There is in France no other system in place and initial exhumation of the fallen is completely reliant on the skills and dedication of the locals. Much discussion has taken place on the forum with regard to this situation and I frankly see no improvements forthcoming the foreseeable future. This is even more regrettable when you consider that the use of DNA testing has been so successful in the case of the Fromelles fallen, so much so in fact that I would suggest that where the remains allow it such samples should be taken and retained as a matter of course in case sometime in the future the possibility of identification arises.

May I reiterate that I believe that the whole method of recovery and attempted identification of the fallen in Belgium has been updated recently to a much better system. Any right-minded and concerned person will see that a more formal and accountable system of retrieving the remains of our (British/Commonwealth) dead is urgently needed in respect of France for that is the least that we can do to honour their sacrifices.

Norman

Norman, the system in Belgium works to a certain extent, but could do with some tweaking, i understand your comments concerning the "local people", most are honourable and have sincere motives, however some are not so, robbing remains of any relics found on them, thus stripping their immediate chances of id, and in some cases re burying the remains so that their "work" goes unknown.

#9 Lou Bougias

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 09:32 AM

I personally do not believe that the Australian Embassy was "unavailable"on the weekened, or that the police could not secure the site until academics/professionals could be contacted and arrangements made.
I have just spoken to the relevant authorities in Canberra, and, as at 1800hrs on Monday 17/1/11(Melbourne Time) they, nor the CWG had officially been informed, nor do they know where the mortal remains of this soldier are!
It sickens me to think that this soldier is now in someone's hessian bag.

#10 ianw

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 09:46 AM

Quite agree with Norman that we should be very grateful for the efforts of the locals like Dominique but we should press for something better.

I worry that these ad hoc "against the bull-dozer" excavations may well miss vital small items that might ID the remains - but this is the reality of the recovery of our people's remains in some areas of the Western Front. And of course, I agree that DNA samples should be taken as a matter of course as future "insurance".

#11 seadog

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 09:53 AM

Lou, the situation indeed sickens us all but this is just the latest example of the way that the mortal remains of the fallen are dealt with in France. Whilst I agree with your comment with regard to the involvement of acedemics/professionsls in the exhumation in fact this does not apply and the removal of the remains including any artifacts will be undertaken by the locals. The methodology that they then use will most certainly have a bearing on the subsequent identification of otherwise of the fallen.

I realise that this scenario must come as quite a shock to those of you unfamiliar with the situation in France but unfortunately this is the case. For information I append a photo of the removal of the 15 British soldiers found in Beaucamps-Ligny as an example of the way things work in that country. By doing so I intend no disrespect whatsoever towards those people pictured for there is no alternative at this time.

Norman

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#12 (nzef)

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 09:54 AM

I am also outraged by this.

At present we only have the story to go on, so I am hoping that it is just another piece of sensationalist journalism and that the authorities have/were been involved.

Of course, it is just supposition at this point to even say that the body is Australian, although it's more than likely. Not being able to contact the Embassy is just plain bull**** (and I should know), but why not contact ANY of the Embassies. And of course, the Police should have been called who would have acted, I suspect, by sending a coroner.

I hope there is a good ending to this.

#13 Lou Bougias

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 10:06 AM

Below is the article from the Melbourne Newsapaper The Age.

http://www.theage.co...0116-19sk0.html
click on the photo's either on the page, or here,
http://www.theage.co...selectedImage=0

The fact that the pouch says Australia, and has W.A.(Western Australia), makes it almost certain that he was AIF.

Would any one of us want our ancestors treated like that?
As for the fact that an Australian journalist and his photographer just happened to be there, at the right time and place
(Paul Daley lives in Canberra) is very much a coincidence, or is it?
I would have thought that a very prominent Australian journalist would have known better, or perhaps he just wanted the scoop?

#14 seadog

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 10:07 AM

I am sorry to sound like a “doom merchant” but there will not be a good ending to this neither will any coroner be involved. The Police will attend to confirm that the remains are indeed from the age of WW1 and not the result of some crime. The remains etc will be removed by the locals and handed to the Police from whence they will be collected by in the case of British remains, the MOD who will hang on to them for ages and try to identify a name. When this is finished, and note that the Beaucamps-Ligny 15 were exhumed in November 2009 and are as yet still unburied, the MOD will hand the remains to the CWGC who will arrange for burial on their behalf. If you wonder where in all of this the CWGC “Exhumation Officer” comes in, well so do I.

Norman

#15 willy

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 10:15 AM

Firstly almost all the remains found are the result of work being carried out, for example building or land improvement or farming, god knows how many have been lost forever to the plough, now this work has to be carried out, in areas where remains are likely to be found such as battle sites, there must be put in place a framework for the care of any remains uncovered, however i know that developers would wish that there was no disruption to their schedules and profit so this without massive funding is almost impossible to regulate.
The responsibilty should rest with those carrying out such works to inform someone in authority, but alas there is little incentive other than that of respect for the fallen.
We can only live in hope that workers report such finds, but who to?, separated bone remains are quite common finds, when would these become significant enough to warrant reporting?, it is a mess but i see no way at the moment that the present situation will be improved.
In this case i do find it hard to believe that the apparent attempts to make contact with the authorities was not possible, or that the work could not be suspended for a day or so until such contact could be made, allowing for proper removal, but again by whom?

#16 (nzef)

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 10:21 AM

I believe in the UK (this, from watching Time Team) that if archaeological evidence is found on a site, the site owner is responsible for paying for an archaeological survey.

Is this the case in France?

If so, I can understand that land owners would be unwilling to contact anyone if evidence of a body is found. But then they would have to live with knowing that they are keeping someone from possibly being identified and correctly commemorated.

#17 Lou Bougias

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 10:25 AM

I just spoke to Paul Daley who is at Heathrow about to come home.
He assures me that both the embassy and CWG were closed and that the blldozer would have continued its work irrespective of the find.
As for the glorious dead, Paul believes that he is about to be handed to the French Police,(still in the hessian bag).
This is ridiculous....

#18 willy

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 10:30 AM

I believe in the UK (this, from watching Time Team) that if archaeological evidence is found on a site, the site owner is responsible for paying for an archaeological survey.

Is this the case in France?

If so, I can understand that land owners would be unwilling to contact anyone if evidence of a body is found. But then they would have to live with knowing that they are keeping someone from possibly being identified and correctly commemorated.

Regarding finds in France, i believe as has been previously posted here, the finder should report to the police, once satisfied they are not from a likely crime, they can be removed by any means and handed over, there is no law to state that a full archaeological survey and recovery has to be carried out. With expensive machinery and workers stopped from working, the chances are a blind eye may be turned in some cases and work continues!
I know most developers in the UK,just don't want to find any human remains, the delay in work is just to costly.

I just spoke to Paul Daley who is at Heathrow about to come home.
He assures me that both the embassy and CWG were closed and that the blldozer would have continued its work irrespective of the find.
As for the glorious dead, Paul believes that he is about to be handed to the French Police,(still in the hessian bag).
This is ridiculous....

What about the gendarmerie in Albert, was that closed too?

#19 Lou Bougias

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 10:36 AM

No idea what the excuse is.

#20 Blackblue

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 10:49 AM

'Hopefully now his identity will be returned'.

Good luck!

Surely journalists should know better. First port of call for this fool in these circumstances should have been the Australian consulate who would be well versed in such matters and have been able to provide him appropriate guidance.

Tim

#21 willy

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 10:52 AM

'Hopefully now his identity will be returned'.

Good luck!

Surely journalists should know better. First port of call for this fool in these circumstances should have been the Australian consulate who would be well versed in such matters and have been able to provide him appropriate guidance.

Tim

Apparently they were shut!, first port of call should have been the police.

#22 Piorun

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 11:14 AM

And were it not for Dominique Zanardi, the soldier would probably have stayed anonymously beneath the sticky mud of the Somme for an eternity.
Zanardi found the soldier's partially exposed body in the drainage ditch late last Friday.
He recovered some of the bones immediately and the rest with us the next day.
Unable to contact anyone from the war graves commission at the weekend, Zanardi and the mayor of Pozieres, Bernard Delattre, were planning to remove the body from the site today to prevent it from being reinterred by the bulldozer on the site.
Mr Delattre, meanwhile, had tried unsuccessfully to inform the Australian embassy in Paris at the weekend that a WWI Digger had been found near his village.

I feel you are all being far too harsh and quick to libel a pair of honest and caring men. A bulldozer had uncovered these remains and, from past experience, we know that it would very likely have ploughed them under again. M. Zanardi is, I believe, a Battlefield Guide and well-versed in the required procedures. Contacting the Mayor of the municipality would certainly constitute the "authorities" and it is hard to see what even the Mayor could do on private land in the face of a 'dozer driver determined to carry on his paid work. Zanardi and the Mayor effectively shielded the remains with their own presence and were at least able to recover what remains they could. Placing the remains on hessian sacking was perfectly respectful (what would you have, white linen?) and practical under the circumstances. What did you do with the last military casualty you handled? No, it's not the best battlefield archaeology - but it's better than the bulldozer would have done. I feel that it's also inappropriate to doubt the Mayor's word that he couldn't raise the Australian Embassy on the weekend. If you've ever tried to raise any embassy on the weekend, you'll know that it can be impossible - especially in these days of "leave a message after the tone". Please ease up Pals - and be careful about libelling good people. Antony

#23 Lou Bougias

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 11:19 AM

Unfortunately,
I didnt see any police in the photo's,
nor can I understand why the Mayor wasn't there, or a council reprensentatives.
Of the artifacts that were found, will any end up on the open market, and why havent the remains been given to the police as of 3 hours ago?

#24 ianw

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 11:20 AM

Antony - Quite so. Our friends from Pozieres did as good a job as they possibly could. I would be surprised to get a meaningful response out of an Embassy in Paris at the weekend.

#25 geraint

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Posted 17 January 2011 - 11:20 AM

There is a large culture difference here as well. The French as a Catholic nation (or at least heavily influenced by Roman Catholicism) would be far more emotionaly comfortable than us in the treatment of the dead. Ossaries are fairly common in France, at both parish church level and battlefield level. Cemeteries are cleared of larger bones periodically, and the skulls and longbones placed together in ossaries to enable reuse of the cemetery. The same happened on all French battlefields, where major bones are gathered and kept with out attempting to identify individual soldiers. They take 'dust to dust' as a practical statement, and do not venerate the physical remains of a mortal person. On the otherhand, the 'souviens' the 'memory' of a loved one is venerated as the family knows that the dead are in purgatory, awaiting ascention to heaven (probable for most) or descent to hell. Ascention to Christ's perpetual redemption being our aim in this vale of tears and horrors that we call life.

As a far more secular nation we tend to emphasise the physical loss of a person, and only have a very hazy idea of the spiritual outcome of death to the deceased's soul. (Most of us don't believe in a 'soul' and have no real idea, nor do we care, of what happens to it.) We venerate the actual location of death (roadside accident shrines, piles of flowers at a body's found location), and we venerate the physical remains of a deceased loved one - hair lock, personal items, and photos. Celebrity death veneration being a symptom of our extended family in this as well. As Christian influences disappear rapidly, our outlook on death is rapidly returning to forms of ancestry worship with an emphasis on preserving things for the deceased's use in the future. Just think how often we hear bereaved families stating that so and so's still here, still with us etc and rooms and personal effects become frozen in time in her memory etc
There is a danger that we Great War enthusiasts, become perhaps too engaged and focused on the 100 year old physical bits as ancester reverence. Just think how often we read comments on this GWF refering to the dead soldiery as if they were there, invisibly walking amongst us, appreciating our deeds today on their behalf. Read the 'Is this Respectfull' thread.

Just a few thoughts, and certainly not derogatory to neither side!