Paul Arnott: Time to make good this latest historic mistake
PUBLISHED: 12:00 21 November 2020
In his latest column, district council leader Paul Arnott writes about his adoptive father’s experience during World War Two
So, the poppies have been taken off until next year, and it is to be hoped that by then we’ll be able to gather in full for remembrance commemorations across East Devon.
This year has been all the more poignant for the pared down, social-distanced gatherings at war memorials across our district.
No scout troops in the supporting role, or complete turn outs of parish councillors. Just a minimal contingent and a wreath.
As it happens, I was born on November 11, and so even as a child the solemnity of the day made a deep impression.
My adoptive father spoke little of his Second World War, at least not until the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994.
Then, for the first time, he revealed that as a 26-year-old corporal he had been into Belsen and seen unutterable horrors.
These days, it is to be hoped, there might be some counselling for young people who had encountered such things.
He, however, zipped it all away tightly, and even 50 years on he didn’t wish to say more than to trace his route across Europe, terminating in that horrific place.
Yet here was the paradox. My father remained in Germany for a while after the war had ended, and learned good enough German to help me with my O-level more than 30 years later.
He loved nothing more than a Rhine cruise and, in particular, he took great pleasure in Germany’s economic recovery in the 1950s and 1960s. He liked Germans, despite all he had seen. He was big on forgiveness and rehabilitation.
Politically, he was a Conservative but only because – in a direct parallel with Jeremy Corbyn’s recent leadership of the Labour party – he held it as a certainty that any group of people led by Michael Foot or Tony Benn would crash and burn in flames of infinite virtue but no use whatsoever to the real lives of working people.
His own awful experience of war made him a devout adherent to the ‘never again’ point of view.
At a time when it was Labour opposing Europe, he voted for the UK to become fully-fledged members in the referendum of 1975 in which two-thirds of voters wished to bind more closely into an EU.
He wasn’t nearly as concerned about the economy as wedging the UK, France and Germany in a vice so tight that they could never start a world war again.
He did not live to vote in the 2016 referendum, but I have no doubt he would have shaken his head sadly that one man – later Prime Minister – would write two newspaper articles advocating both Leave and Remain.
He was no reactionary, but he might also have thought that if Messrs Johnson and Gove had had to serve their country - and the cause of peace - as he had, it might have shaken a lot of nonsense out of them.
Of our own local MPs - who know full well what is coming at the end of this year by way of ‘Taking back control’ – he’d have been the type of man to go to one of their meetings. If they’d come clean about what a travesty Brexit has been, he’d have shaken their hands, and maybe voted for them. Let’s see.
But this year I was unable to take part in a remembrance service on the Sunday, so on Wednesday, November 11, I was one of millions who at 11am stopped, stood, bowed our heads, and gave a thought to those who have suffered death in conflicts and war.
President-elect Biden will soon be reaching out to European leaders, while Britain will be, just as Barack Obama predicted, ‘at the back of the line’.
Time for all those who led our country into this mess to honour the memory of those who went before and make good this latest historic mistake.
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