Greg Stokes

This is my dad, Douglas Harold Stokes. The photograph was taken in Burma, most likely Chittagong at the tail end of 1943, where he was serving during the Second World War. He fought as part of the famous Battle of the Admin Box. Japanese forces had my dad and his troop surrounded but they managed to fight them off and were the first people to win a battle of jungle warfare against the Japanese.

Before and after the war he worked at the Dudley Co-op in the butcher’s department. My mom, Avery, also worked at the Co-op and they got together when they went on a works day out to Bourton-on-the-Water.  He was a very outgoing person, quite bubbly and liked having people round the house.

My dad died on the 15th April 1986. This date is significant because the night before the Americans had bombed Libya where 68 people died and there was a lot of anger in the Arab world after the attack. At the time my parents were on holiday in Marrakesh and had gone to the souk that day. They were with another couple and a guy approached them and said, “Are you Americans?” My parents’ friend said, “No we’re British,” and then the guy pulled out a knife and started stabbing him. My dad ran over to pull him off and in the process received two stab wounds, one which was fatal.

If the murder itself wasn’t bad enough, further difficulties ensued. Dad had not left a will. As a consequence, the travel insurance claim became part of his estate which couldn’t be wound up until it was settled. The Moroccan death certificate did not provide for cause of death and the loss adjusters, while accepting he was dead, would not accept he had been murdered and would not settle the claim, leaving the family in limbo. The incumbent Thatcher government were not interested in supporting the family of a British subject murdered abroad. After several months of intense badgering of the Moroccans, the Foreign Office and Thatcher herself, the impasse was finally broken by a strange piece of medico-legal language used by the French and employed by Morocco. One document extricated from Morocco referred to the death as ‘morte accidentelle’, the literal translation of which is accidental death. In French law this was the correct term as it simply means, to them, a death that was not of natural causes.

I put it to the Foreign Office that Thatcher and her government were wilfully colluding with the Moroccans by referring to the murder of a British subject as an accidental death. They must have agreed that it doesn’t play out well in the English language as murder is clearly no accident. For very rapidly an attestation arrived, signed by Morocco’s Attorney General, stating that my father’s death was caused by being stabbed by a bladed weapon. This satisfied the loss adjusters and Dad’s affairs were rapidly wound up. Given the violent and tragic nature of his death, the shenanigans of the government and the insurers was something we could have well done without. I had been writing for many years by then so it was inevitable that I would write about this episode. In 1993 A Witness For Peace was published which began with Dad’s life story and ended with the struggle with the insurers. This photograph was on the cover of that book.

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