Saviour of the Nation: An Epic Poem of Winston Churchill's Finest Hour

Saviour of the Nation: An Epic Poem of Winston Churchill's Finest Hour

by Brian Hodgkinson

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Overview


This engaging poem depicts Winston Churchill as a hero, in traditional epic style and echoes the works of Homer and Virgil. The metre adds an emotional intensity to the events of 20th century history more usually found within Classical literature. The narrative covers the period from 1940, when Great Britain faced perhaps the greatest threat to its very existence as an independent nation: invasion and defeat by the rampant forces of Nazi Germany, to 1941 when the United States entered the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780856835063
Publisher: Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers, Limited
Publication date: 10/01/2015
Pages: 186
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author


Brian Hodgkinson has taught history for many years. He has published three books of poems, as well as others on history, philosophy and economics. He is currently working on a narrative poem on the history of the Second World War.

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Saviour of the Nation

An Epic Poem of Winston Churchill's Finest Hour


By Brian Hodgkinson

Shepheard-Walwyn (Publishers) Ltd

Copyright © 2015 Brian James Hodgkinson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-85683-506-3



CHAPTER 1

    The Menace of Nazi Germany
    Winter 1933

    Throughout the night the drum of marching feet
    And flickering light from torches held aloft
    Engrossed the streets of many German towns;
    Whilst in Berlin the aged President
    Saluted from his balcony the troops
    Of Sturmabteilung, Stahlhelm and S.S.,
    Whose banners rose in white and red and black.
    And watching, too, with burning eyes of zeal,
    Stood Adolf Hitler, now the Chancellor.

    In that great land of prehistoric myth,
    Of mighty rivers, darkest forest, lakes,
    Of Alpine peaks that cast long shades of night
    And bar the way to Bacchus' revelries,
    A deep resentment warped the souls of men.
    The lust of Mars, the pride of nationhood,
    Abruptly had been shamed. For many years,
    The warlike Germans could not carry arms.
    Their massive guns, steel-plated battleships,
    And marching ranks of millions, bold and loyal,
    Obedient to fatherland and king,
    Had vanished at the word of armistice.

    Thus mortal wounds, inflicted by defeat
    And violent insurrection, doomed the State
    Which followed on the Versailles settlement.
    It was an interregnum for all those
    Who smouldered with desire to be avenged.
    Some, like Stresemann, tried to quench the fire,
    But few would stand by Weimar and the law.
    Bruning and Streicher struggled to enforce

    Their vain attempts at sweeping compromise,
    Till Papen came, a former Chancellor,
    To woo the careworn President with hope
    That, once in office, Hitler would be bound
    By cabinet colleagues, like the Nationalists.
    "We'll box him in!" brave Hugenberg had said,
    And few, beyond the Nazis, could believe
    That Corporal Hitler, but a demagogue,
    Would govern long unruly Germany.
    Yet soon he showed his innate ruthlessness.
    The violence of his language won support
    From all those Germans keen to see destroyed
    The Treaty of Versailles, and those who feared
    That Jews and Marxists threatened Germany.
    He called for new elections, claiming these
    Would but confirm his own supremacy.

    Before the votes were cast the Reichstag fire
    Had burnt to ashes hopes of real reform.
    The stormtroop legions cast aside restraint.
    When Goring sanctioned police atrocities,
    The Communists were murdered, or were held
    Without due trial, regardless of the law.
    A presidential edict had destroyed
    All guarantees of personal liberty;
    The new Republic, handicapped from birth
    By enemies of freedom – Freikorps bands
    And revolutionaries of left and right –
    Was strangled by the senile Hindenburg.

    At Potsdam, where the Prussian kings had sat,
    Old memories of the Kaiserreich were stirred
    When Hitler bowed before the head of State,
    And wreaths were laid on tombs of monarchy.
    But two days later all pretence was gone.
    The Reichstag met in Berlin's Opera House
    To grant to Hitler unrestricted power.

    Before the doors the Sturmabteilung stood,
    Jackbooted brownshirts, eyeing delegates.
    Inside, their comrades ringed the chamber walls.
    Despite such terror, Otto Wells spoke out,
    A final voice of liberal Germany,
    Against the certain passage of the Bill
    That gave to Hitler overwhelming powers.
    Wells could not win. Too many absentees,
    Deprived of rights, were held in custody.
    This overture to German tragedy
    Now set the scene for crude dictatorship.
    The State would be the instrument of men
    Obsessed by hate and racial fantasies.
    The road to war was opened to the tread
    Of German armies soon revitalised.

    To Adolf Hitler war had been a dream,
    Which offered him a kind of comradeship
    In risk and violence, bravery and will.
    When, as a youth, he'd seen so many Jews
    Within his Austrian homeland, when he'd read
    Hypotheses of racial purity,
    And heard condemned the role of German Jews
    In business, banking, law and medicine,
    His mind was warped by unremitting rage:
    Marxism was the Jew's conspiracy,
    Now thriving in that Slavic hinterland
    Where Germany demanded Lebensraum.
    The Nordic race must claim its destiny
    And rid itself of all but German stock.
    By war a race survives, by right of strength.
    Destroy the rule of parties and of laws
    That do not bear the German people's will.
    Ein Reich, ein Volk, ein Führer; thus it was.

CHAPTER 2

    The Prophet Unheeded
    Summer 1932

    Winston Churchill, of the famous line
    Descended from the Duke of Marlborough,
    Had stayed in Munich, just before the rise
    Of Adolf Hitler to dictatorship.
    In that same city, which not long before,
    Had seen the police shoot down a Nazi band,
    Who'd planned to seize the reins of government,
    A meeting was arranged. For Churchill then
    Had little knowledge of this violent man,
    Who was to be his chief protagonist.
    Against Herr Hitler, at this time, he said,
    He had no national prejudice, nor knew
    What views he held, what type of man he was;
    He had the right to be a patriot,
    To stand up for his country in defeat.
    But Hitler learned that Churchill had enquired
    About the Jews. Why did he hate them so?
    No more advances came from either side.
    The arch-opponents of the future war
    Would never see each other face to face.

    Though he had held high offices of State,
    Now Winston Churchill sat in Parliament
    Below the aisle, a lonely figure, shunned,
    A critic of his party's policies.
    Rotund and short, and stooping from a blow
    Received in playing polo in his youth,
    He yet retained a charismatic power.
    His smooth and pinkish face, with glaucous eyes,
    Set 'neath a lofty brow and balding head,
    Could be expressive when he was aroused.
    But often now he looked more in repose,
    In brooding thought on matters secretive,
    As one – for those who knew him – like a fire,
    Damped down, but waiting, incubated, dulled,
    Yet burning still with concentrated heat.

    Most doubted now his judgment, since that time
    When, in the former war, he'd pressed the case
    For Allied action in the Dardanelles.
    How much he'd suffered from that cruel debacle,
    Fought out on shores of far Gallipoli!
    Without full power, yet ardent to pursue
    A plan to end the slaughter in the west,
    He'd watched its failure, grieved at its mistakes,
    And mourned for those who'd perished there in vain.

    He listened now to lesser men's debates.
    Prime Minister MacDonald was not loth
    To press upon the European powers
    The need to hasten their disarmament.
    Widespread opinion favoured such a course.
    Had not the war been caused by armaments?
    The losers had been stripped of all their power,
    But, of the victors, France especially,
    Retained its forces in preponderance.
    Should not the French and others acquiesce
    By cutting down their arms to parity?
    The British government did not make a stand
    Against this plea from vanquished enemies.
    Indeed they showed displeasure at the French
    For clinging to their own security.
    For Britain had not witnessed German troops
    Trample the growing corn of native land,
    And seen their ancient villages subdued
    By field-grey soldiers, alien in tongue.
    Yet France would keep her army, though some knew,
    Like Charles de Gaulle, it was not competent.

    Amidst these cries of fear and sentiment,
    One voice in England spoke of principles:
    'Whilst grievances of vanquished States remain,
    It is not safe for victors to disarm.'
    Churchill did not ignore the Germans' case
    For some amendment of the harshest terms
    Imposed by post-war treaty at Versailles:
    Their loss of land, their weakness in defence
    In view of Russia's greater armaments,
    Their economic burdens, and the guilt
    Which they regarded as unjustly borne.
    And yet to see them arming for revenge
    Was to invite a new catastrophe.

    It was not long ago that he himself
    Had argued for the British to reduce
    Expenditure on arms. As Chancellor,
    He'd forced the British Admiralty to cut
    Its spending on new cruisers; then refused
    To finance a new base at Singapore.
    And later he'd advised the Cabinet
    To keep the rule that war was not foreseen
    For ten years in the future. Now he knew
    How circumstances differed; how once more
    The world was threatened with the bane of war.

    So Churchill braved the judgment of his peers;
    'Thank God', he cried, 'that France has not disarmed.'
    Though even he did not expect the war
    That Germans, like von Seekt, had now conceived:
    A war of movement, blitzkrieg, planes and tanks.
    Instead he feared the flames in city streets,
    The hail of bombs on helpless citizens.
    For he well knew the face of war had changed.
    As First Lord of the Admiralty, he'd known
    How every ship was armed; how they must match
    The German Dreadnoughts and the submarines

    Within the North Sea and the ocean deeps.
    One admiral then, he'd said, could lose the war;
    In one engagement all could be at risk.
    But aircraft had transformed the art of war.
    Britain, especially, was most vulnerable,
    With massive cities, ports and industries
    And London within minutes of the coast.
    He was appalled to hear the government say
    That no new squadrons were to be equipped;
    That Britain's air force was the fifth air power.
    What scorn he poured on Baldwin's later claim
    That he'd not called for due rearmament,
    Because he'd feared to lose too many votes!

    Within the Civil Service some men felt
    The need to give support to Churchill's views,
    For they, like him, envisaged Britain's plight
    If she was soon outpaced in armaments.
    They secretly informed him of the news
    About the German programme, whilst he too
    Obtained from agents on the continent
    Material to further his critique
    Of Baldwin and his government's policy.

CHAPTER 3

    Office Denied
    Summer 1934

    From Germany a fearsome signal came
    Of what dire evil gathered there unchecked.
    The leader of the Sturmabteilung, Roehm,
    Was not content with Hitler's policies,
    Especially for the army, which Roehm saw
    As still the Prussian hierarchy's preserve,
    A bastion of social privilege
    Denied to those who'd fought for Nazi power
    With rallies, marches, violence in the streets.
    Stormtroopers, or the Wehrmacht? Which would hold
    The sword of execution in the State?

    Though Hitler was reluctant to condemn
    A comrade from the Munich barricades,
    He did not dare offend the army's pride.
    Upon the Wehrmacht all his hopes were built
    Of future war, of German dominance.
    With its connivance, Roehm was soon destroyed –
    S.S. gunmen shot him down unarmed –
    With others who might threaten the regime.
    To justify the murders, Hitler claimed
    That fateful hour had made him arbiter,
    Responsible for German destiny
    And thus empowered to disregard the law.
    When Churchill heard of this dark episode,
    It but confirmed his view of Nazidom.

    Yet British leaders still retained some trust
    That Hitler's word could be relied upon.
    They signed a naval treaty, which defined
    A limit to the German Kriegsmarine.
    Henceforth it could not build beyond a third
    Of British strength, except in submarines.
    Churchill condemned it. Did it not ignore
    The limitations still applicable?
    Moreover, Churchill knew that not for years
    Could Germany construct beyond this norm.
    How could the British claim still to respect
    Collective action 'gainst the German threat,
    When now they came to terms bilateral?
    The world could see', he said, 'they had connived
    At Germany's undue rearmament.'

    The hope of peace was struck another blow
    By Mussolini's greed in Africa.
    To claim revenge for Adowa's defeat
    And build an Italian empire in the south,
    The Fascist leader wilfully attacked
    The ancient State of Ethiopia.
    It was not long since Churchill had approved
    Of Mussolini as a lawgiver;
    But now the Duce clearly had transgressed
    The common rules of international law.

    A hard dilemma faced the Western powers.
    Though Italy had previously opposed
    All Nazi plans to coerce Austria,
    If France and Britain did not acquiesce
    In Italy's unwarranted attack,
    The Fascist State might turn to Germany.
    Churchill realised this, yet he advised
    That international law was paramount.
    The British followed League of Nations' plans
    For economic sanctions, but these proved
    Much weakened by omission of the oil
    That drove the wheels of Mussolini's force.

    Yet Churchill knew that greater danger lay
    In what was happening inside Germany.
    For Adolf Hitler, now the Head of State,
    Whom every German soldier swore to serve –
    Since Hindenburg had died – against advice
    Of cautious generals, sent a Wehrmacht force
    Across the Rhine to occupy the zone
    Devoid of troops since Germany's defeat.
    This was a flagrant challenge to those powers
    Who'd signed two treaties with the Weimar State
    That guaranteed the western status quo.
    It was a gamble. Hitler knew his troops
    Could not withstand a major French assault.
    But he discerned infirmity of will,
    And deep divisions, doubt, and dread of war,
    Besetting now the populace of France.

    No leader, like the tiger Clemenceau,
    Would bend the springs of French resilience.
    To Britain Monsieur Flandin looked for help,
    Yet Baldwin would do nothing but protest.
    The Germans, it was said, had only moved
    Into their own back-garden. Hitler drew
    Some sure conclusions from his enterprise:
    The Western allies would not make a stand;
    Their leaders were both timid and corrupt,
    Their people feeble, crippled by the fear
    Of Armageddon. Whilst in Germany,
    They cheered the Austrian corporal's bold success.

    Meanwhile, Churchill was contemptuous
    Of Baldwin's prevarication and delay:
    'They cannot make their minds up. They go on,
    Decided in indecision, and resolved
    On being always most irresolute.
    They're firm for drift, and impotent in power!'
    At this key juncture some had pressed the right
    Of Churchill to return to government,
    And he himself still coveted the chance
    Of moving in the corridors of power.
    How much he yearned for office once again:
    To speak his mind with due authority,
    No longer but to cajole and persuade
    These purblind men, who ruled in ignorance.
    But Baldwin's weakness would not let him turn
    To one who stood for firmness. He foresaw
    Fierce arguments within the Cabinet room,
    Across the table Winston's angry face,
    The pointed finger, blunt acerbic phrase,
    The facts divulged by sympathetic friends,
    The unrelenting will, the wish to act.

    Only a few M.P.s and journalists
    Supported Churchill's claim. So once again,
    The aging statesman laid ambition down,
    And sought for solace at his Chartwell home –
    Upon a tree-crowned hill in northern Kent –
    Where he took up his pen, and set his mind
    On follies of more distant history.
    He nursed his grievance, England's tragedy.
    But, in the country, pressure groups were formed,
    Who saw the need for forthright leadership.

    Though journalism earned him high rewards,
    Expensive social life and personal tastes
    Incurred large bills, besides the heavy cost
    Of life at Chartwell, where the house employed
    A range of servants, from a governess
    To bailiff, groom and several gardeners.
    Clementine, his wife, was always loyal.
    His marriage was secure; but troubles came
    From wayward children. Headstrong Randolph,
    Brave, indeed, but rash, was entertaining hopes
    Of having a political career,
    Against his father's contrary advice.

    'An animal love connects us' Churchill said,
    'But, when we meet, we have a bloody row'.
    One daughter recently had been divorced.
    Another, Sarah, was about to wed
    An entertainer Churchill did not like,
    Not least because he was a Viennese,
    Twice married and much older than his bride.
    Mary, the youngest child, was still at school.
    And so, despite some disappointed hopes,
    Churchill loved his children, and declined
    To let their faults distract him from his task.
    And later, in the war, they all would play
    An active part, of which he would be proud.

    In Parliament he was still moved to speak:
    'Now, like the Great War's line of Hindenburg,
    Across the western front a fortress wall
    Would soon be built of bunkers, mines and guns.
    Then German arms could turn upon the Slavs.'
    He made a sweeping gesture with his hands,
    As though he saw the Germans surging through
    The undefended borders to the east.
    'No more could Poland, nor the French entente
    Of Yugoslavs, Roumanians and Czechs,
    Expect assistance from the western States.
    Even Russia was more vulnerable.
    Who now could stop the Anschluss? Who could know
    The sequel to the Führer's overture?'

    But Churchill's hopes of office were destroyed.
    Edward of England, recently enthroned,
    Became enamoured of a divorcee,
    The American Mrs Simpson, disinclined
    To rest content as mistress of a king.
    Supported by the Church and by The Times,
    Baldwin opposed the marriage. Even so,
    Against this powerful triad, Churchill spoke
    Of Edward's right to personal happiness.
    Established interests were too strong for him.
    King Edward chose his wife and not the crown.
    His brother George succeeded in his place,
    And Churchill's judgment was again denounced
    As lacking wisdom, and impetuous.

    Whatever chance remained for his return
    Was cast away by loyalty to a king.
    None knew, not even he, what hand of fate,
    Protected him by failure. None would say
    That he had held high office in the land
    When policy had erred, when war was caused
    By gross mistakes and lack of readiness.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Saviour of the Nation by Brian Hodgkinson. Copyright © 2015 Brian James Hodgkinson. Excerpted by permission of Shepheard-Walwyn (Publishers) Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Preface,
1 The Menace of Nazi Germany,
2 The Prophet Unheeded,
3 Office Denied,
4 Appeasement,
5 Dreadnoughts and Dardanelles,
6 The Admiralty at War,
7 Prime Minister at Last,
8 The Battle of France,
9 Dunkirk,
10 The Agony of France,
11 Armistice,
12 Tragedy at Mers-el-Kebir,
13 The Threat of Invasion,
14 The Battle of Britain,
15 The Blitz,
16 Dakar,
17 North African Success,
18 Balkan Disaster,
19 Nadir,
20 Operation Barbarossa,
21 The Atlantic Charter,
22 Crisis at Moscow,
23 The Failure of Crusader,
24 Pearl Harbor,
Principal Sources,

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