|Earl Grey 1764–1845|
© Lord Howick
The campaign was fought on both sides with dirty tricks, lies and some of the most unpleasant rhetoric and scaremongering I have ever heard. Claims and counterclaims about EU funding, EU rules, an EU army, EU migrants flew around like swarms of angry bees. Amid the cries of joy, horror, sadness, despair, disbelief, excitement and any other sentiment you like to attribute to the sentence, a few thoughtful voices have been heard. I thought I might take time to reflect on one of those for my piece this month, rather than writing about 'the true cost of war' as I had planned. That will wait until next month when it might turn out to be rather topical if negotiations go badly...
Anthony Beevor is one of those rare historians who writes history that is both thoroughly readable and wholly to be trusted. He is a researcher par excellence and has an overview of history that is, in my opinion, almost unparalleled. He suggested that looking at history would be an interesting exercise in contemplating what Britain thinks it can achieve while standing alone. How will the country (or should it be countries because England and Wales voted out and Scotland and Northern Ireland vote to remain) defend itself in the future. He wrote:
'Ever since the late 17th Century, we have relied on continental coalitions to oppose the over-mighty oppressor threatening the peace of Europe. Britain alone was never strong enough in manpower to confront a major power alone on land.'
|Howick Hall was used as a convalescent hospital for Other Ranks from 1941-1945. |
Over 11 different nationalities were treated there including Finnish, Greek, Polish,
Czech, Dutch and Commonwealth soldiers, sailors and airmen.
Canada had already sent thousands of troops to our shores in December 1939. They were joined by more divisions over the course of the war including the Canadian Royal Air Force. We had over three million American GIs in 1944 in the build up to D-Day, not to speak of Australian and New Zealanders who helped to defend these shores both on land and in the air. Far from standing alone, we were very much 'in it together'. Churchill knew that he could not win the war without Allies. He once said: 'There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them.' That appears to be a risk for our future at the moment.
Anthony Beevor wrote in his article in the Mail on Sunday: 'No British politician will ever again dare to say that we are punching above our weight.' He concluded: 'We will be the most hated country just when we need to win friends.'
On this occasion I sincerely hope that he is wrong and that we will win back friends so that we have allies in the future but from this perspective and at this moment in time, it looks like we have precious few of either.