Tag Archives: World War II

8 November: Say you have lost a friend.

To Irushka at the Coming of War by Frank Thompson

If you should hear my name among those killed,
Say you have lost a friend, half man, half boy,
Who, if the years had spared him might have built
Within him courage strength and harmony.
Uncouth and garrulous his tangled mind,
Seething with warm ideas of truth and light,
His help was worthless. Yet had fate been kind
He might have learned to steel himself and fight.
He thought he loved you. By what right could he
Claim such high praise, who only felt his frame
Riddled with burning lead, and failed to see
His own false pride behind the barrel’s flame?
Say you have lost a friend and then forget.
Stronger and truer ones are with you yet.

Frank Thompson went to war as a young man after his first year at university. He ended up with partisan fighters in Bulgaria, where he was captured by the Nazis and murdered together with his Bulgarian comrades. Irushka was Iris Murdoch, his beloved.

The poem is not about Irushka at all, but about himself, ‘Seething with warm ideas of truth and light’, enough to send him to war in the romantic spirit of Rupert Brooke. It hardly mattered that he would be killed, ‘his help was worthless’. No question in this poem of the rights or wrongs of Nations going to war, nor his duty or otherwise to go there and steel himself to fight against physical deprivation as well as the enemy.

War as romantic but empty of meaning, only false pride.

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23 August: On this day, 1942; without comment.

Archbishop Jules-Gérard Saliège

During the German Occupation, Monsignor Saliège, the Archbishop of Toulouse, worked to improve the Jews’ situation in the detention camps of southwestern France. When he learned about the first deportations from there to the Drancy transit camp, on Sunday August 23 1942 he ordered all priests in the archdiocese of Toulouse to proclaim without comment this message, drafted with the women setting up networks to protect Jews:  

Et clamor Jerusalem ascendit.*

“Women and children, fathers and mothers treated like cattle, members of a family separated from one another and dispatched to an unknown destination – it has been reserved for our own time to see such a sad spectacle. Why does the right of sanctuary no longer exist in our churches? Why are we defeated? . . . The Jews are real men and women. Foreigners are real men and women. They cannot be abused without limit. . . . They are part of the human species. They are our brothers, like so many others; no Christian can forget this fact.

“France, our beloved France, you hold in the conscience of your children the tradition of respect for the human person; chivalrous and generous France, I have no doubt that you are not responsible for these horrors.

“Lord have mercy upon us.

“Our Lady, pray for France”  

The document became a manifesto; hundreds of thousands of copies were circulated by the Resistance throughout France. Saliège’s protest turned French public opinion against the Vichy government and led to practical action. Saliège instructed the clergy and religious in his diocese to hide Jews, particularly children. The Ministry of the Interior threatened priests who read out Saliège’s message.  The authorities tried to undermine his authority with slanderous propaganda, but they did not dare to silence Archbishop Saliège.

* the cry of Jerusalem has gone up. Jeremiah 14:2.

On July 8, 1969, Yad Vashem recognised Archbishop Jules-Gérard Saliège as Righteous Among the Nations.

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27 July: Dutch priest who opposed Nazis becomes a saint.

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Brandsma in the 1920’s Wikipedia

Last November, the Dutch Carmelite priest, theologian, journalist, and author, Titus Brandsma who was killed “in hatred of the faith” in Dachau concentration camp in 1942, came a step closer to sainthood as Pope Francis recognised a miracle attributed to him. Then on 15 May this year he was declared a saint by Pope Francis. There is now a campaign to have him recognised as a patron saint of journalists.

Born in 1881, Fr Titus forcefully opposed and spoke out against the anti-Jewish laws the Nazis were passing in Germany before World War II. He was arrested when Germany invaded the Netherlands and told that he would be allowed to live a quiet life in a monastery if he would announce that Catholic newspapers should publish Nazi propaganda. Titus refused and was sent to Dachau concentration camp in June 1942. The regime of forced labour and starvation undermined his health, and he was eventually killed on July 26, 1942 when a nurse in the SS gave him a lethal injection as part of the biological experiments carried out on camp prisoners.

Pope Saint John Paul II declared Titus Blessed in 1985, saying that he “answered hate with love.”

Vatican News; Wiki image – 1920s

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10 November: A brave airman

Grave of Henry Allen Litherland, Berlin 1939-45 War Cemetery. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/18404090/henry-allen-litherland

It is a sobering reflection that opinion divides over whether the carpet bombing of German cities was morally right or even effective, but the young men of bomber command were people of great courage who knew they had every chance of not getting home alive. 55,573 lost their lives, including Henry Allen Litherland of Manchester. Casualties in Bomber Command were the highest of any branch of the British armed forces during the Second World War, and the life expectancy of bomber crews was appallingly short. Their wives and families were also painfully aware of the risks.

Henry Litherland worked at the John Rylands Library in Manchester city centre until he was called up to serve in the RAF in October 1941. He became a bomber pilot, and was decorated twice for bravery.

He was 22 when shot down near Berlin, where he is buried.

You can read more about Henry Litherland in John Hodgson’s account in the John Rylands Library Blog.

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18 June: Today this is my vocation V, Getting old with good Pope John

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Good Pope John XXIII

In March 1945, Archbishop Angelo Roncalli was sent from Istanbul to become the new Papal Nuncio or Ambassador to France, a country on its knees after years of occupation. A heavy and unexpected responsibility. A few years later, on the death of Pius XII, he would be elected as Pope John XXIII. This reflection is from his Spiritual Journal.

I must not disguise from myself the truth: I am definitely approaching old age. My mind resents this and almost rebels, for I still feel so young, eager, agile and alert.But one look in my mirror disillusions me. This is the season of maturity; I must do more and better, reflecting that perhaps the time still granted to me for living is brief, and that I am drawing near to the gates of eternity. This caused Hezekiah to turn to the wall and weep. (2 Kings 20:2) I do not weep.

No, I do not weep, and I do not even desire to live my life over again, so as to do better. I entrust to the Lord’s mercy whatever I have done, badly or less than well, and I look to the future, brief or long as it may be here below, because I want to make it holy and a source of holiness for others.

 John XXIII (1965), Journal of a Soul, London, Geoffrey Chapman, p264

‘Leave it in the hands of the Lord’ is a good motto at any age, so long as you have something to leave there. Maybe the older we get, the more aware we are of our shortcomings and the wilted state of our offerings. We lose the spontaneity of the toddler who gives mother a daisy flower, just picked with no stem but accompanied by a beatific smile. He knows she will accept his gift; the old man can see the imperfection in both gift and giver, yet he gives back to the one who gives all.

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12 December: Beautiful killers and the greatest love.

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September had turned warm again, it was a good day to enjoy a sandwich in sight of the sea near Rye Harbour, and watch the world go by.

There were fewer humans than the last time I was this way, which was in August, but there were plenty of birds, as always. What first caught my eye was a small group of sand martins, swooping and swirling, stirring themselves up for the long flight to Southern Africa. Not quite ready to go yet! Was it a family group, the parents imparting their final advice before taking off in earnest?

A cormorant passed by, purposefully facing the light westerly breeze. A different spectacle altogether: its flying looked like hard work, though we know the grace they acquire as soon as they are in their watery element.

It must have been the frequent sightings of fighter planes this Battle of Britain month that set me comparing the martins to Spitfires, all speed and aerobatics and the cormorant to a ponderous Wellington bomber: killing machines both. So are the martins and cormorant killers, but not of their own kind and no more than necessary to feed  themselves and their children.

We humans know better than that of course.

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Redemption? Half a mile away is an abandoned wooden hut, the former lifeboat station. It was from here that seventeen men sailed and rowed to their deaths early last century, setting out in a storm to rescue the crew of a stricken ship. They did not know that the men were safely on shore before they set out. Their monument says they were doing their duty.

It was rather the greatest love.

(Another day at the same place.)

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