January 7th 1940
Sunday January 7th 1940
I suppose now that the New Year has come, one must go in for a kind of annual stock taking, especially as 1940 is likely to be so fateful a year. What better day could one chose than one’s own twenty sixth birthday.
Christmas was marvellous; more marvellous I suppose than it had any right to be in these times. Theo and Renee* came home, which they would not have done if it had been peace time, and I refused to believe that there was any tomorrow or any world outside our own little family circle, which seemed so snug and quite falsely secure.
I was interested to read in a book by Sir Ian Hamilton** an affirmation of the same idea that I have myself expressed earlier in this diary, that in war-time the circle of one’s sympathy shrinks unbelievably so that it ceases to include any other but one’s immediate and most loved relatives. The mind becomes incapable of appreciating huge catastrophes.
An example of this is the terrible earthquake which has taken place in Turkey***. It happened on Boxing Day, and the loss of life has been awful. I tried to feel the magnitude of it in relation to humanity, but only found myself wishing it hadn’t happened at Christmas to cast a gloom over a festival season at which it was being difficult enough to rejoice as it was.
This is imaginative paralysis, not callousness. I am not callous, I never have been and I never shall. It is simply atrophy produced by these times so hopelessly out of joint.
I mourned too hastily for Finland on November 30th. Despite unparalleled weight of men and materials hurled against them, the Finns still hold out and have won breath-taking victories. The accounts of these actions against the Soviet Armies read like an Apocalypse. Whole divisions have been annihilated by a handful of Finns, columns routed, and enormous stores of equipment captured.
But all this is the business of formal history. This is what will be recorded in books and discussed as proof of this or that method of warfare.
What won’t get into the history books is the story of a bundle of letters found in the pocket of a dead Russian. They were the loving outpourings of his half-literate wife, in which she told him how unhappy she was, and what a miserable day she had spent on the last festival day. But most of the letter was concerned with little Ljonja who wanted to know when his Daddy was coming home, and asked that if Daddy came home in the night, might he be wakened up so that he could see him.
“Daddy” is dead, frozen stiff in a Finnish wood, because Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler have determined to walk the way of senseless ambition.
Huge catastrophes have no power over me, but these small tragedies, which mean so little to demagogues’ and tyrants who demand them, have power to make me think and feel violently.
I can’t get out of my mind what I read about a child in the sinking of the “Simon Bolivar”**** crying “Save me Jesus” and little Ljonja without a father, and thousands like him: English, German, Finnish, French, Polish, Czech, and Russian.
“This commandment I give unto you that ye love one another - thou shalt love they neighbour as thyself!”
*Lorna's brother and sister-in-law. They are pictured with Lorna and the rest of their wedding party on 18th June 1938 in the photograph that we blipped on 10th October 2019.
**See his biography at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Hamilton_(British_Army_officer)
*** The 1939 Erzincan earthquake struck on 27th December. Almost 33,000 people died in the earthquake and its aftermath. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1939_Erzincan_earthquake
**** Recorded in Lorna's diary entry of 20th November 1939