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.
|Publisher:||Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers, Limited|
|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.
Read an Excerpt
Saviour of the Nation
An Epic Poem of Winston Churchill's Finest Hour
By Brian Hodgkinson
Shepheard-Walwyn (Publishers) LtdCopyright © 2015 Brian James Hodgkinson
All rights reserved.
The Menace of Nazi Germany
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.
The Prophet Unheeded
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.
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.
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
1 The Menace of Nazi Germany,
2 The Prophet Unheeded,
3 Office Denied,
5 Dreadnoughts and Dardanelles,
6 The Admiralty at War,
7 Prime Minister at Last,
8 The Battle of France,
10 The Agony of France,
12 Tragedy at Mers-el-Kebir,
13 The Threat of Invasion,
14 The Battle of Britain,
15 The Blitz,
17 North African Success,
18 Balkan Disaster,
20 Operation Barbarossa,
21 The Atlantic Charter,
22 Crisis at Moscow,
23 The Failure of Crusader,
24 Pearl Harbor,