Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

England Recalls Its Finest Hour

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

England Recalls Its Finest Hour

Article excerpt

A glimpse of the Queen Mother brings it all back. She's near 95 now, but doing her duty as she did 50 years ago, with hand upraised and smile in place. It is impossible to look at her without tears, to think how close it was. You can hear the roar of the Spitfires, the strains of "Bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover," the wailing sirens, the long, bloody redemption of the promise, "There will always be an England."

We were all Anglophiles in those days. Who could not be in the face of Britain's daily enactment of the copybook virtues of steadfastness, calm, endurance? We were stricken with admiration for them -and terrified they would drag us into the war.

It was a terrible time for England, and glorious.

Many of the veterans who spoke at the grand V-E Day anniversary picnic in London expressed nostalgia for resolve and unity. Maybe they liked being wonderful, liked the world's homage for their spunk.

No one contributed more to that overwhelming feeling of being in it together than the Queen Mother and her husband, King George VI. Little was expected of them. She was a commoner, he a stuttering, pale shadow of his glamorous, abdicated brother, King Edward VIII. Neither of them was thought to be uncommonly bright.

But they had the wisdom to stay in London and to keep their daughters with them, as symbols of muddling through. The royal pair, she in her plumed hats, her fussy crepes and matching pumps, visited the docks, the factories; she shook hands with the survivors. In September 1940, months into the Battle of Britain, Buckingham Palace itself was bombed. The queen is said to have said, "At last I can look the East End in the eye."

Maybe some silken private secretary crafted the line. No matter. It was perfect: dismissive, cozy and guaranteed to annoy the man Winston Churchill called "a bloodthirsty guttersnipe."

That was another thing about World War II. It had people who could define it. Churchill had at his disposal the 26 letters of the alphabet. He used them as living rock from which to carve out lapidary declarations that rang around the world.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was also a master chronicler. Before we got into the war, he told us in strong, marching sentences what it was all about. …

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