hope and glory

Years ago, when I was about ten, I briefly had a particularly terrible teacher. He was a hateful, poisonous old man, loathed by all his pupils for his spite and malice. I’m not sure how he ended up teaching, and to this day I really don’t understand how he held onto his job.

For a short while, though, I saw another side to him.

When the Falklands War began, he put a big map of the islands up at the bottom of the school stairs. Every morning he’d carefully move little coloured pins across it, updating us all on the latest positions of the British and Argentinian Forces.

There was an entirely uncomplicated, entirely boyish glee to him as he did this. A child myself, I saw the ten year old in him. I imagined him back in the ’40s, his life still rich with love and promise, following the Allied troops as they fought for Europe, marking out their progress on a map with his little pins.

He’d have been old enough to understand the scope and importance of their achievement, but still too young to really take in how much pain and loss that victory contained. Perhaps his war had been some sort of ‘Hope and Glory’ experience:

And so when another war came towards the end of his life, he was full of joy. For a moment, he could be a child again. I still loathed him, but I was happy for him too – glad and even touched that, even just for a moment, he could find a way past the fog of bitterness that normally enveloped him.

I’m reminded of him now, when I see Michael Howard rattling sabres at Spain:


There’s that same nostalgia there; at once a yearning for and a re-experiencing of a simpler, happier time. And there’s that same joy at the thought of a Great British war, that same absolute blindness to any of its darker aspects.

But what’s forgivable – even touching – in an ageing primary school teacher is appalling in a senior British politican. Brexit as currently managed is government by fantasy and nostalgia. All adult considerations are put aside, replaced with a short-sighted, childish glee that – if allowed to reign unchecked – could cost us all so much, for so little.

I think even my bitter old teacher would have seen that. He taught us history; and the one thing he was always very clear about was that we didn’t fight the Second World War against Europe. We fought for it and as a part of it:

So, to my surprise, I almost find myself wishing that he was here now, so he could teach the Michael Howards of this world exactly what it means to walk away from, to so casually dream of shattering, that peaceful union we’re all a part of; that union that past generations fought so hard, and gave so much, to create.

2 thoughts on “hope and glory

  1. My grandfather fought in the trenches of the First World War (invalided out at Ypres with half his calf shot away). My father drove a tank across the Western Desert in the Second World War and survived. (I’d say he survived to tell the tale, but he rarely spoke about it.) All the First World War veterans have gone and there aren’t many of the Second World War ones left. My generation is the first one not to have been called up for National Service, though we do have the first-hand stories of our parents and grandparents as reminders that war is neither fun nor glorious. Pretty soon my generation will be gone, too and then those who have no experience of widespread war will be free to start a European one again. Do we learn from history or are we doomed to repeat it? Michael Howard is old enough to know better. Shame on him!

    1. I’m not sure about our family WWI history, but my grandad was in the Western Desert too – captured out there and sent to prison camps in Italy. After the war he made a point of sending my Dad to Germany to learn German, to France as well. There are times when I feel that – in not being as European as I could have been – I’ve let him down very directly, and of course by extension his generation. So yes, absolutely agreed!

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