03 June 2007

5 June 1940


J B Priestley read his first "Postcript" after the 9 o'clock news.

"I wonder how many of you feel as I do about this great Battle and evacuation of Dunkirk. The news of it came as a series of surprises and shocks, followed by equally astonishing new waves of hope. It was all, from beginning to end, unexpected. And yet now that it's over, and we can look back on it, doesn't it seem to you to have an inevitable air about it - as if we had turned a page in the history of Britain and seen a chapter headed "Dunkirk" - and perhaps seen too a picture of the troops on the beach waiting to embark?
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What strikes me about it is how typically English it is. Nothing, I feel, could be more English both in its beginning and its end, its folly and its grandeur. We have gone sadly wrong like this before, and here and now we must resolve never, never to do it again. What began as a miserable blunder, a catalogue of misfortunes ended as an epic of gallantry.
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We have a queer habit - and you can see it running through our history - of conjuring up such transformations. And to my mind what was most characteristically English about it was the part played not by the warships but by the little pleasure-steamers. We've known them and laughed at them, these fussy little steamers, all our lives. These 'Brighton Belles' and 'Brighton Queens' left that innocent foolish world of theirs to sail into the inferno, to defy bombs, shells, magnetic mines, torpedoes, machine-gun fire - to rescue our soldiers.
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But now - look - this little steamer, like all her brave and battered sisters, is immortal. She'll go sailing proudly down the years in the epic of Dunkirk. And our great grand-children, when they learn how we began this War by snatching glory out of defeat, and then swept on to victory, may also learn how the little holiday steamers made an excursion to hell and came back glorious."

Well, JB's children were alive then, so his grandchildren would probably have been born in the 50s or 60s, which means that his great grandchildren would be in school now. I can't see their children learning about Dunkirk somehow.

I tried a thesis out on Moretben once: that my generation, those of us born between about 1945 and 1960, is as affected by the Second World War as was our parents', mainly because of the effect on our parents. We were taught: to eat everything up; not to complain about not having things; to think that things could be much worse; to face up to adversity; to thank God for and enjoy small mercies; not to waste things. All amid an expectation that we would be called up to fight in a new World War, we imbibed the values that had carried our parents through the Second.

Perhaps it's one reason for our drifting: we weren't called on, as our parents were, to make the sacrifices that they made, and therefore find it difficult to insist on imposing on our children the values and customs that our parents felt justified in imposing on us. The mess that happened in the 70s and 80s is therefore our fault: we didn't stand up to the awful changes we knew were wrong, instead bending like grass in the wind, and allowing the Enemy to secure a foothold. We lost our nerve.

J B Priestley knew, on 5 June 1940, that the war would be won, and girded himself to play his part; he knew what war was: he had been in the trenches twenty five years earlier. Sixty-seven years later, what should we do?

3 comments:

Fr Ray Blake said...

"... those of us born between about 1945 and 1960, is as affected by the Second World War as was our parents', mainly because of the effect on our parents."

I had dinner with a lady sociologist who suggested that there was a crisis in manhood as a result of absent fathers in the War. She also added that she considered many men who returned from the war were suffering from "post traumatic stress", and this gave rise to feminism and the feminisation of the Church in the 1960s.
I don't know if I agree or disagree, but it is an interesting little theory.

John said...

I'm not vehement about this but I think that the decline of the 70's and 80's came about because of affluence. It is true that we (I'm one of them) who grew up during the War, were used to doing without, making do etc.. That said, we had a happier childhood than most children now. Why? Because we were FREE. Our parents did not have to worry all the time where we were. Children were not molested. We roamed all over the place and we were safe because all the nastiness of today's society were not there. We would go off for the whole day and just turn up at home in the late afternoon, dirty, happy and safe in the love of our parents.
Now Society is about affluence and the aquisition of money. It is everywhere and everyone has to keep up even though they have far more than we ever had. This makes folks more grasping, nastier, jealous of others, pushing their children to do likewise, denying their children their childhood.
Oh! I don't know. There are so many things wrong in the world now that are all factors in this steep decline in all that is good in people.

JARay

John said...

How strange!
I have just read an article on The Telegraph saying the sort of things that I said above!
To read it click on:-
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml;jsessionid=R10KNRLYGVL1LQFIQMFSFF4AVCBQ0IV0?xml=/opinion/2007/06/06/do0604.xml

JARay