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My latest at the Torygraph: The Last Post - and Reveille (Allingham, Patch & Kołakowski) - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
My latest at the Torygraph: The Last Post - and Reveille (Allingham, Patch & Kołakowski)

Here: http://my.telegraph.co.uk/gmwwemyss/blog/2009/07/25/the_last_post__and_the_reveille

Here: http://tinyurl.com/l9vadh

Or as follows:



The Last Post – and the Reveille


In 1896, WG Grace captained England to victory in the Ashes and Harry Vardon won the Open, at Muirfield, for the first of his six Open championships.  Victoria, Queen and Empress, reigned – and upon occasion ruled – over the greatest empire the world has known, or shall know.  HM the Queen-Empress was in this as in all else unique: the idea of votes for women, much less political power for them, was only just a cloud upon the horizon.  The prospect that a young woman in her twenties might be returned to parliament, the notion that a woman could ever be prime minister, was unimaginable.  So also was the concept of a Labour Party.


Clapton, beside the River Lea, was a quiet and fiercely respectable, if poor, district of Hackney.  Clapham, south the River, was yet a green and pleasant part of Surrey, outwith London, and only just – with the turn of the century imminent – falling from upper-middle-class favour to become a mere suburb remarkable for its being unremarkable.


Two days after the first vehicle produced by Henry Ford was finished in America, Henry Allingham was born, in Clapton; he would remove to Clapham in 1907, at the high noon of the Edwardian years, when C-B was PM and Britain’s supremacy as the world’s ‘sweet, just, boyish masters’ at its apogee.


In 1898, Victoria RI was now the longest-reigning monarch in the history of these isles, and her empire, that God had made mighty, He had made mightier yet, a land of hope and glory, mother of the free.  This was the year of Joshua Slocum’s solo circumnavigation, and there was no zone upon the terrestrial globe that he touched where there were not those who owned the Queen-Empress’s sway.  In this year also, the Habsburg empress was assassinated, Spain and the Americans were at war, and China was convulsed: everywhere outside the charmed circle of Empire were there wars and rumours of war.  Immensely venerable and insuperably great, Britain and her Empire stood, and the world walked wide of the Widow of Windsor, in the year of Gladstone’s death.  (The Australians who won the Ashes were her subjects as much as the England side who lost the series; and Harry Vardon was Open champion again.)  It was into this world that Harry Patch was born, in the shadow of Prior Park, beneath the eaves of Holy Trinity, on soil the Romans once farmed: at Combe Down, outside Bath.


This was the ordered world that birthed the generation of the Great War, the Kaiser’s War, a world war no one then imagined might not be the last.  They went eagerly to war, most of them, ardently as to a great adventure, and found in their burning ardour that they had gone to the flames of sacrifice, lambs to a fiery altar.  The experience of trench warfare, of aerial combat, of naval action in the age of the dreadnought, was not wholly unique: it had been adumbrated in the Peninsula and at Waterloo, at Trafalgar, in the Americans’s civil war, and it would be echoed through strange filters in Burma and recapitulated at Anzio.  What was unique was the spiritual dimension.  Wellington’s troops were inured to scenes of peace quite as vicious and as violent as anything at Bussaco or Badajoz; Nelson’s ratings regarded those who wept at Nelson’s death as ‘soft toads’ indeed; and Grant’s thrawn Yankees and Lee’s hardscrabble cavaliers were hardened even in civilian life, so near to the frontier days were they.  The difference between the bewildered survivors of the Somme and their sons who faced the Wehrmacht in Hitler’s War, was the difference between innocents asking, in agony, ‘What new hell is this?’ and men swearing and damning another day in a too-familiar damnation.


The two Henrys: Henry William Allingham and Henry John Patch: survived a catastrophe.  The First World War yet stands a raw scar upon the century now past, sundering the old certainties from the strains of the new.  The Great War fell upon their ordered world as a blow, and a stroke itself unimaginably fell, precisely because of the comparative innocence of those who lived in their world.  Britain of all nations, the British of all peoples, having been so long secure and prosperous whilst dealing out to Lesser Breeds Without the Law condign correction and lordly dominion, was the least prepared nation and were the least prepared people in the world for the sudden shock of 1914.  Even the poorest and most desperate of Britons, who had not managed to escape to some other portion of the map that was painted so very red, had been sheltered when viewed against their allies, their rivals, their enemies, and their subject peoples.


And so, in after years, in West End plays and popular novels, in poetry and in art, in government and the press, the reverberation of that crashing horror yet resounded.  Geoffrey Dawson’s Times pronounced what Chamberlain and Baldwin and thousands of those who – unlike them – had served at the Front believed, beliefs that the post-War culture reinforced, that there was nothing, nothing, worse than war.  And it was not despite, but because of, those ancestral voices prophesying peace, that war came again, in 1939: just soon enough that a lad conceived in 1918 by a father home from the war to end all wars, could don uniform again to fight for King and Country against a still more vile and vicious foe, in a struggle unimaginably greater and more grievous.


Henry Allingham and Harry Patch had earned the right to speak of peace, bought and paid for their views in blood and suffering.  By far the great majority of those who plead their views in aid have not, and by far the great majority of those who now espouse a pacifism approaching appeasement are patently using the love of peace as a plaster façade for their own abject cowardice.  In 1914, SMSS Goeben and Breslau were loose in the Med., steaming for Constantinople, pursued all too hesitantly by the Royal Navy.  The new US envoy to the Sublime Porte, the elder Henry Morgenthau, watched the chase from a passenger liner also making for Constantinople.  On deck with him from time to time was his granddaughter, who would later note that hesitancy in war is rarely a wise course.  That granddaughter, of course, was Barbara Tuchman. 


For Harry Patch and Henry Allingham are not the only notable deaths of the week now past.  On 17 July, 2009, Leszek Kołakowski died.  He was a man whose life illuminated the wisdom of Mill’s words, that


War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice; a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice, – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.


Born in 1927, in Poland, in the year of Lindbergh’s crossing – the American Bobby Jones won the Open for the second time in succession, and Australia’s inter-War dominance of the Ashes was only temporarily interrupted by Hobbs, Sutcliffe, and company – Kołakowski was to be of the generation that knew intimately the sufferings of subjugation to the two great, grim totalitarianisms, National Socialism and Communism.  The Nazis attempted to keep him from learning; the Soviet masters of Poland – we must never forget that they had joined their Nazi allies in its subjugation, and kept it as a prize after coming top when the Reich betrayed them and forced them into the Allied ranks – sought to keep him from thinking and teaching.  His journey, intellectual and physical, took him from Marxism and the grey, oppressed Poland of the Soviet empire, to the free West, to America and ultimately to Oxford, to All Souls and the green and pleasant land of freedom – and to faith, the faith of reason and wisdom (for faith and reason are not opponents, but sisters dwelling in amity).


That there was a free West for Kołakowski to flee to and make his home in, and to warn and teach and improve, is the legacy of Harry Patch and Henry Allingham, of CS Choules, and of all their fellows who shall never grow old, who defended the permanent things in two World Wars.  That these things were incalculably worth defending at any cost is the testimony of Leszek Kołakowski and all dissidents and political prisoners of totalitarianism.  It is meet and right that we see the three of them together, as individuals and as representatives of these struggles, as symbols of what is right and fit and worth upholding even at the price of death in war; it is meet and right that we see the three of them together.


At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them. We will remember them.


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2 comments or Leave a comment
tekalynn From: tekalynn Date: July 26th, 2009 12:15 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you.
fpb From: fpb Date: July 26th, 2009 08:40 am (UTC) (Link)
"When an old man dies, a library burns." (West African saying)
2 comments or Leave a comment