Foe; or Friend?

I watched Sunday evening what should have been an interesting documentary on the story behind the raid on the Moehne and Eder dams in 1943 . I wrote ‘should’ because it was of course ruined by the narrator, the ‘sopping wet’ Martin Shaw of ‘Judge Deed’ fame. A typical wringing-wet liberal of the soft-left kind, he gave the impression that, during his retailing of the story of the Dambusters, his sympathies were all with the bloody Germans.

The documentary began with the technical details of the raid, of how the plans to destroy the dams were actually thought of in 1936, of the fact that the actual bomb details were classified until 1973, so the film version was completely different. That sort of detail was interesting, and the documentary itself was well-made, with Martin Shaw in a light aircraft retracing the training flights over the Derwentwater reservoir was both facinating and enlightening.

Not so the time of the film where the crew were filming the scenes of the results of the bombing. The Eder dam was breached, and the water onslaught completely devastated part of a town some four miles downstream. An elderly German woman, a survivor of the attack, was interviewed, and told how she and her family had survived by running uphill, away from the water; but described how another woman and her four children died in the flood, along with a man who went back for them. But Shaw was shaking his head and waffling on about how the Germans who died were not the ones who were directing the war, they were not Nazis, they were the same people as now were our allies.

What utter bullshit! The German nation embraced Hitler and his Nazi philosophy because it placed them in the winners seat; winners in the march towards a prosperity, winners in the race to persecute the Jews, winners in the Nazi philosophy of ‘Lebensraum’ with land grabs in Alsace, in Czechoslovakia and in the Ruhr. The Germans cheered their Nazi leaders to the rooftops, and they were behind them all the way. Through Poland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Holland and France, the Panzers and the Blitzkrieg of the Luftwaffe marched, drove, flew and killed. They were only stopped at the Channel by the luck which gave Britain the chance at Dunkirk to rescue her stricken armies. After that, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, the terror bombing and the deaths of thousands of British civilians. I didn’t hear Martin Shaw commenting much on the suitability of the Germans as ‘partners in peace’ in those dangerous days!

Most of the dead were forced labourers from Poland and Russia, so Martin Shaw was distressed at that as well. I don’t think he would have been a conscientious objector, but all that death disturbed our man of high moral standards. If the war could have been carried out without all that death, blood and genocide, I think Mr. Shaw would have been happier!

Memorial; or Mawkish?

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenour of their way.

Thomas Gray. Elegy in a country churchyard

I have written of many things, of actions, of political promise and deceit, of the lunacy of modern life, of the wonder of a tiny premature Grandson, of love, of honour; but not many times of death. Death is the one mystery which is still, even in this secular Society in which we live, given honour, remembrance, wonder and gratitude. The death of a lover, or a family member who was loved, is still the one cause in which all these four Nations of ours unite. While I spurn and deride the false silences demanded by European Union apparatchiks for those such as the Tsunami dead, I accept the tributes given at the Cenotaph by Royalty and the marching Veterans as honest, as well as the similar memorial services the length and breadth of this nation. You will probably note that I dismiss almost without exception the presence of politicians of whatever hue who attend these mournful remembrances; as there are very, very, very few politicians who live up to either their promises or their published expectations.

There is a small North-Eastern town in England which I used to call home, despite working far away so long ago. In that town there sits a small Catholic church, with cemetery adjacent. Within the confines of that Cemetery lie the mortal remains of my beloved sister, who died at the age of sixteen from leukaemia. Her death shattered my Dad, who never completely recovered from her loss, and my Mum wasn’t much better in her grief. There is just a green sward where she lies; no stone, no winged angel, no border resplendent with flowers; because her face is before me as I write these lines. We three remaining brothers need no chiselled granite to remind us of our sister, and so it is.

But perhaps we three are in the minority, as many do need a permanent reminder, a true memorial, to the child, the mother, father, brother, to those who have gone before. And there is nothing; I repeat nothing, mawkish, overly-sentimental or over-the-top in holding to the memory of one who has died by erecting any memorial, stonework or statue in a cemetery which the family wishes to do so.

So when I heard the placid tones of Dr. Richard Pratt (by name and nature, if ever) decrying the intent and actions of a family who have placed a stone image of their dead son’s dog on his Cumbrian grave, I decided to write these few lines to place my own point of view. I accept that most people, in these days where probably the only times they enter a church or churchyard is for either a wedding or a funeral, a memorial is fitting if it reflects their memories of the one who died. They are just not interested in the Churchyard Regulations, which were of course written and approved by a group of Churchmen, approved and deemed fitting to their idea of what is acceptable within the confines of a Churchyard.

The friends and relatives who mourn the loss are just not interested in the views of a Church who, for so long now, has usually ignored the views and needs of the laity. Who decides what is acceptable in a memorial? Are the views of a group of old men who have probably forgotten what an honest emotion is all about to take precedence over a family who remembers their son in the only way they know, which was together with his beloved dog?