By Carol Weitz a member of one of the SY2E – Remain in the EU groups.
My father didn’t come home from the Navy until I was two. His elder brother was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross, and later awarded the OBE, the youngest, Harold became a family icon. I can remember ‘The War’ as a regular point of reference in the adults’ conversations throughout my childhood.
Grandfather was a self-made man, semi-orphaned, started with nothing. He travelled. He bought cotton in Egypt and machines in Germany, mills in Lancashire and built a concern. Son Harold worked in Düsseldorf and Brussels for a Manchester textile firm. He spoke fluent German and had good friends abroad.
Then one such friend, a doctor, ‘disappeared’. Harold sent home a copy of ‘Mein Kampf’. Then he returned and volunteered in the Duke of Lancaster’s own Yeomanry.
War broke out. Harold took a commission, joined the Infantry, First Battalion, The Loyal Regiment. All three brothers volunteered, Air Force, Navy, Army. The women volunteered on the home front as nurse, ambulance driver, continued teaching, researched in textiles to produce parachute silk and one was a W.R.E.N.
By 1943 Harold Kenneth Clapperton was lying in a war grave in North Africa, aged 23.
‘Never again’ we said. Bridges were built to bring war-torn Europe closer together. At school we were not taught about ‘The War’. A paperback with photos of heaps of rotting bodies of deportees to the death camps, the Fascists’ ultimate solution to rid their countries of unwanted ethnic elements and others, were passed around the locker area. At home no questions were asked and nothing explained. I was quietly programmed for peace.
It was to preserve peace regained that the European Union was conceived. The idea of a united Europe is at least 500 years old as an antidote to warring national states, in spite of their occasional creative flowering . Until today, war between countries within the EU had become unimaginable. Now there are dangerous signs that we have not learnt our lesson yet : Flag-waving rhetoric, distorted history, individuals seeking power, narcissists centre stage, poisonous, lying press, and the odd rumour of a puppeteer.
It’s always ‘somebody else’s fault’. People, made susceptible by hard times, injustice, and fear, follow their leader , shouting for a scapegoat.
We have a crisis now that we can’t run away from. Desperate people will continue to head for this landmass Europe and its little islands, including the British Isles. There is DAESH, both out there and among us, notably in England too, bent on destroying our whole culture. There are already violent border incidents in the very heart of Europe, and ugly, violent mobs on our streets.
What we need is cohesion and reinforced peace-building , concerted efforts to avoid conflict, mediation at home and abroad, both within the EU and in countries aspiring to membership. A gargantuan task, and the potential dangers are even greater than ‘last time’.
At 15 my Hamburg pen-friend pointed to gaping holes, neatly tidied bombsites.
In 1973 my Uncle George, Bomber Command , looked at his little niece, and wept: ‘How many babies like Hedda did I kill?!’ She has a German father.
I crossed the Channel at 21 seemingly in the name of peace. My parents set aside their pain and their lost years and encouraged me. They embraced the old enemy in friendship.
I have spent my life in four EU countries , taking up opportunities to move, study and work , teaching our language and literature, and have inadvertently been an example of our appetite for tea … and for tolerance, free spirit, and fair play. There have always been Britons with open hearts and minds like mine, enterprising like my grandfather, adventurous like my ancestors.
Who called me ‘traitor’?
Our parents lived, fought , and died to put an end to the destructive power of a few ‘charismatic ‘, deranged individuals with their pseudo science about ‘pure race’ and warped rendering of ‘history’ past and future.
Already ancient Rome recognized that the traitor is the one that ‘appeals to the baseness in the hearts of all men. He rots the souls of a nation.’ (Cicero).