Today is the anniversary of the declaration of 'Victory in Europe'. I was three years old when Churchill spoke to the nation sixty years ago today. I probably heard his speech - but I don't remember. I can remember hearing the sound of the Air Raid sirens, ('La musique qui pleure', I called it), and I can remember hearing doodle bugs. But, I have no real memories of my family's reaction to the end of the war or whether there was a street party in our road. In any case, my parents would have been very anxious for news from our relations in France, Belgium and Luxembourg.
For those who have not lived through a conflict, it is difficult to imagine the horror and the utter futility of war. However, the essence of this realisation is often caught and put into words by a poet. I was looking for a poem written to celebrate the end of the war, I felt sure someone must have written one. Perhaps the Poet Laureate - but, who was the Poet Laureate in 1945? Instead I found a poem called, "If We Break Faith". It actually describes the signing of the armistice ending Word War I but also anticipates the ending of World War II. It was written by a little known American Poet, Joseph Auslander. He was America's first 'Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress' from 1937 to 1941 (a post later called Poet Laureate Consultant). Here it is:
If We Break Faith
When they write an end to war, when they blot away the battle,
While our hearts are hushed in thankfulness and prayer,
With the signatures still wet, Lord, let us not forget
The ghostly line who also sign, though no one sees them there.
They crowd into that railroad car, they throng that flagship’s cabin –
The ghosts of all the dead men in long unending lines:
From the hell-defended rock, from the hallowed beachhead flock
The dead who stand and grip his hand each time the signer signs.
If we break faith with these our dead, play fast and loose with honor;
If we once more betray them as we have betrayed them twice,
We have earned their bitter curse that shall blast the universe ....
Judge Thou us then, O Judge of men, if we deny them thrice!