8 May 2022

Victory in Europe?

 One of our best-loved Catholic novelists, Evelyn Waugh, once wrote about 1945 as "the drab and sour period of victory".

In his partially autobiographical World War Two trilogy, the final volume is entitled Unconditional Surrender.


Waugh himself (and his creation Guy Crouchback) at first saw that war as a Crusade; with Hitlerite Germany in alliance with Stalinist Russia, how could the battle against the pair of them be other than romantically heroic? We were up against the combined Modern World in all its horror.

In his 1946 Scott-King's Modern Europe, the experience of a dim, passed-over schoolmaster is: "[A]s the face of Europe coarsened  and the war, as it appeared in the common-room newspapers and the common-room wireless, cast its heoic and chivalrous disguise and became a sweaty tug-of-war between teams of indistinguishable louts ...".

Waugh was not a pacifist. Indeed, the degree of his personal courage under fire was sometimes regarded as inappropriate by colleagues who did not share it. After the War, his military duties obliged him to be complicit in the decidedly non-Catholic policies of Marshal Tito in Yugoslavia, as it persecuted Catholic clergy and mistreated Jews. His own profound disillusionment became the basis of his post-war fictional writing. 

When I was very small, I somehow got my hands on a romantic account of the Finnish war with the Soviet Union. Heroic, courageous Finns, ski-born, descended through the soundless snows upon the Russian aggressor. How could one not be moved by their exploits? How I hungered to read more about their successes ... about their inevitable and deserved triumph, elegant Davids against such a monstrous Goliath ...

It was quite a few years before I discovered what really happened.

When we found ourselves allied with Uncle Jo Stalin, we (I mean, this 'United Kingdom') ... yes ... we declared war on plucky little Finland.

I think one of Waugh's finest pieces of oblique and symbolist writing concerns the Sword of Stalingrad, a piece of metalwork given by George VI to Stalin to commemorate his military prowess, and exhibited like a sacred relic in Westminster Abbey before it made its journey Eastwards.

The heraldry on the scabbard was upside down. 


Richard said...

Mark Felton on Youtube has an interesting item on the sword of Stalingrad.

FrB. said...

Will give you a memento at each Mass this week. Hope all goes well on Wednesday.

Tom said...

Father, you conflate the World War II history of Russia and Finland. When Hitler and Stalin with their common alliance to invade and divide Poland other parts of Eastern Europe from North to South, Soviet Russia invaded Finland to take it back when it was part of the Russian Empire but was repulsed by Finland, which was part of the WW2 Allies of Britain and France only against Germany but not Russia. When Hitler broke his alliance (unexpectedly to Stalin) and invaded Russia, Finland declared war on Russia as an ally of Germany to take back parts of its country that Russia annexed from its earlier invasion. Finland (along with Germany) lost the war and had to accept a humiliating defeat although maintaining its independence without the parts that Russia had annexed after the earlier invasion as well as pledged to neutrality in the Cold War.

Evangeline said...

Fr. Hunwicke, you are in the hospital, and I am so sad about it. It is not fun to be in the hospital, and I hope you are in a fine hospital and receiving the best of care. Don't be in there too long, you are needed out here, so please don't think you can sneak out on us, no no, you must stick around and tough it out like the rest of us in this vale of frequent tears. :) I'm making jokes, but I am sad you are not feeling well, and you will be in my thoughts and prayers and I look forward to hearing you are feeling better. Please keep us posted. My entire rosary tomorrow will be for you.
God bless you!

Cus said...

What a difference it makes to read this knowing you are in hospital! Each day I wait so unpatiently the time I can read your new post. God bless you.

Seamus said...

While you Brits did in fact declare war on Finland (even after having cheered her on during the Winter War), at least Churchill had the grace to send a nice telegram to Marshall Mannerheim saying he felt bad about it (see https://winstonchurchill.hillsdale.edu/mannerheim-finland/).