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Opinion: Don’t moan at Sainsbury’s Christmas TV advert – try our government instead

PUBLISHED: 09:55 17 November 2014 | UPDATED: 11:10 19 November 2014

Sainsbury's and The Royal British Legion partner to bring  First World War Christmas truce story to life

Sainsbury's and The Royal British Legion partner to bring First World War Christmas truce story to life

I like the new Christmas ad from Sainbury’s: there, I’ve said it.

Set in the bleak First World War trenches of 1914, the advertisement shows German and British soldiers singing Silent Night across no-man’s land and then tentatively walking towards each other after agreeing a temporary truce. It’s a beautiful piece of cinematography, anyone who says otherwise needs their eyes and heads checked.

Yes, I know it’s an attempt to wrest the pennies from my purse from one of the big high street supermarkets desperate to tempt me into its groaning aisles of tinsel, sprouts and mince pies and that the story is over-simplistic and that no one can definitively prove that the Christmas truce happened in the way it’s portrayed – but on the plus side, Peter Andre isn’t in it and nor are Ant and Dec.

More to the point, it’s in conjunction with the Royal British Legion, and without them, scores of our veterans would be stuffed.

There’s been endless moaning about the alleged cynicism of Sainsbury’s and its new campaign – it is, and I quote, “unsettling, uncomfortable, a touch nauseous”, “breathtakingly cynical” “a revolting piece of television” and “distasteful at best, exploitative at worst”.

My favourite criticism of all was as follows: “If this advertisement was truly by the history book, surely there’d be blood, lifeless bodies, rats and all the other horrific things that came with trench warfare?” You’d think advertising was some kind of new concept to these people: it’s enough to make a cat laugh.

I have had the incredible privilege of working with the Norwich and District Branch of the Normandy Veterans for the past five years: I attend the group’s monthly meetings, I went with them to Normandy this year for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, I’ll be having Christmas dinner with them in December, I consider lots of them to be my friends.

They are amazing people. Not just because of the incredible bravery they displayed in the very worst of circumstances, not just because they fought for our country and our freedom but because they are a huge amount of fun to be around: in Normandy, several of them drunk both myself and photographer Denise under the table and were still going strong as we crawled to bed, whimpering.

When you’re with them, you completely forget that you’re with men and women in their very late 80s and early 90s and when they’re together as a group, the years melt away and they’re the same young men that waited nervously on the landing crafts for the signal to move forward or the same young nurse that tended to injured soldiers, allies and enemies alike.

I was also lucky enough to spend part of my summer in Northern France on a battlefield tour with ten fine gentlemen (also all able to drink me under the table, bar one, but that’s a story for another day), several of whom were veterans of more recent conflicts, all of whom I stood with in the surviving trench systems at Beaumont Hamel as we realised just how close the German line had been to the allies. They would have been able to look each other in the eyes.

It’s an uncomfortable truth, but our veterans aren’t served well by the government that depended on them when we were at war. Many of the veterans need charities like the Royal British Legion in order to lead the dignified lives that we as a country owe them – and that’s disgusting.

A bigger argument, surely, isn’t whether or not Sainsbury’s is manipulating the public conscience into visiting its stores (isn’t that what every single retailer tries to do at this time of year?) or whether it’s reprehensible to have hijacked a tragedy for commercial gain, it’s the fact that we as a country don’t make the necessary arrangements to ensure our veterans live out the rest of their lives without worrying how they’ll pay the next heating bill.

John Lewis tugged at our heartstrings with Monty the Penguin and simultaneously reached a hand into our wallet as it wrenched at our pursestrings by putting Monty on sale for £95. At least the accompanying product to the Christmas in the trenches advertisement is only a £1 bar of chocolate, the proceeds of which will go to the RBL, which is there for our veterans when our government looks the other way.

Did those brave boys in the trenches make the ultimate sacrifice so we could decide whether or not to buy a bank-busting toy penguin or a bar of cynicism-flavoured chocolate 100 years down the line? It probably wasn’t the exact concept of freedom they had in mind as they fought, no. But would those same men be horrified that veterans who risked their lives to safeguard ours are still relying on charities to bail them out when everyone else turns their back on them? Definitely.


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