Corporal Tomas Stringer is a Welshman (hence the spelling of his Christian name). A paratrooper, he’s serving in Afghanistan, and he has one arm in plaster because he’d broken his wrist jumping from a truck when a roadside bomb went off. Back in Britain to recuperate, he was helping organize the funeral of a friend killed in action. He’s made a reservation at the Metro Hotel in Woking, a quiet and somewhat suburban town in Surrey, where incidentally in the nineteenth century the first mosque in Britain was built. Corporal Stringer arrived at the Metro in civilian clothes, but when he checked in the reception desk turned him away because company policy did not allow Armed Forces personnel to stay at the hotel. It was already late and Stringer therefore spent the night in his car. The hotel is owned by American Amusements Limited, a company based in Woking but, it seems, under British management.
Obituaries in the newspapers still reveal almost every day what sort of men fought in the last world war. Here is Ian Fraser, awarded the Victoria Cross for piloting a two-man submarine and attaching a limpet bomb under a Japanese cruiser, to sink it. Here is Lieutenant Colonel Mike Tomkin, wounded at the battle of El Alamein but nevertheless continuing in action and destroying six German tanks. Here is Colonel Charlie McHardy of the Seaforth Highlanders, first decorated in the field in Tunisia, and then severely wounded after D-Day. Before today, would any hotel in Britain ever have had a policy of refusing a room to such men? It’s inconceivable. The treatment meted out to Corporal Stringer – and the failure of the media to raise the roof about it – reveals a very profound shift in public attitudes, and it is an ominous portent for the future that in the heart of England people can be so contemptuously dismissive of those defending them. I wish I had some explanation for it.