A very special guest has been flown back to RAF Lyneham. Sunday Mirror defence correspondent Rupert Hamer was repatriated together with Private Robert Hayes who was also killed Afghanistan. Robert Hayes was the first British soldier to be killed in Afghanistan this year and Rupert Hamer was the first British correspondent to be killed.
In the last ten years , 1000 correspondents of many nationalities have died in their quest to bring us news of always-present, never-ending violent conflicts from around the globe. Two correspondents or reporters are killed every week in order to bring us the once-shocking images and words which contribute the bulk of of our news diet. The images and words which have now well and truly desensitised us to war.
There are very few real shocks nowadays. We all suffer from “violence fatigue” and for instance, don’t even begin to think what a human body looks like after a bomb has blown-up under it. Yet, if someone tells you that a blown-up corpse looks like a barrel-full of finely chopped dog-meat, they are accused of being “disrespectful”. Hamer and correspondents like him have seen and heard things that they cannot write about, because self-censorship guides them. They have to report the acceptable face of conflict. No headless babies, no human entrails steaming in the sun or half a face grimacing below blood-matted hair. No thank you.
But what is in their minds is the real and total horror – and that is what gives their writing that blood-tempered “edge”. If you talk to any front-line war correspondent , he will tell you about the “frisson” of combat, the addictive nature of adrenalin and the pride in their extreme craft.
Hamer was one of the “embedded” war correspondents, that is to say, he was seconded to the Army (on this particular occasion it was the US Marines) and would go out on patrol to face the bullets because he believed that it was the front line which delivered the real unairbrushed story of the war. He wore camouflage gear, just like the Marines that he patrolled with. The only difference was that his weapon was a pad and pencil. He travelled with photographer Phil Coburn.
Hamer was killed whereas photographer Coburn lost a leg as well as suffering other serious injuries which (thankfully) at the moment, do not appear to be life-threatening.
The bomb blast in Helmand Province, also killed a US Marine and injured five others.
There is no point in quoting the fine words of the Prime Minister, Army Brass, Fleet Street Editors and surviving colleagues because it is a given that Hamer was a respected, professional, fearless and well-liked journalist.
Hamer was 39, and Private Hayes was 19. There was a 20-year age-gap but they were both too young and still full of much unrealised potential.
Make no mistake, in spite of the continuing attrition, a queue will already be forming. Aspiring war correspondents who wish to continue the glamorous tradition of Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell or Rupert Hamer are already packing their HBs and their Moleskine notebooks.
They are a crazy but special breed – they are the base-jumpers of journalism and their legacy will live on. In his own relatively anonymous way, Rupert Hamer was a great man. He did achieve his 15 minutes of fame, but sadly, one day too late.