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Authors: Christopher Serpell

If Hitler Comes

BOOK: If Hitler Comes
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A Cautionary Tale





New Zealander who is supposed to write this book is as remote as that other foreshadowed by Macaulay. No-one believes he would ever have the opportunity of telling this sad tale of Britain’s decline and fall. But, in fighting this war, it is as well to have in our mind’s eye a picture of what would happen to us if the Germans won, either through
us to accept a dishonourable peace or (what is equally unlikely) through gaining the victory in the field.

This is no fanciful picture. It is painted from life, with England as the background instead of Bohemia or Poland or any other country now under the Nazi heel. It is not intended to cause despondency or alarm, but to confirm and justify that resolution with which we are now fighting.

If such a tale is to have a dedication it can only be




of the New Zealand Society of Pre-Cataclysmic Research


document which I have the privilege of submitting to members of the Society in this volume of the Records was recently discovered during excavations on the site of the former City of Wellington, which was overwhelmed by the volcanic disturbances occurring in the Antipodes at about the time when the greater cataclysm struck the Continent of Europe. The find, which was made by my assistant, Mr. Rowatorua, is important as being the longest and most complete printed document yet discovered on this site. It was unearthed at the bottom of a deposit of charred and
literary fragments—probably the remains of a public library—which will require much careful deciphering and editing before they can be made available to members of the Society. This document, however, appears to lack only the first twenty-one pages, and is otherwise in so perfect a
that it was felt by the Committee that it should be published at the earliest possible opportunity.

As an archaeologist and not an historian, I am not entitled to offer much comment on the contents, and an authoritative volume of historical notes on the text will shortly be published by my friend and colleague, Dr. Omawei, of Auckland
. As the reader will see for himself, the document takes the form of a quasi-historical record of events occurring towards the end of the second world war of the Twentieth Century as they were witnessed by the writer. The standard of material culture depicted agrees with all the discoveries made by archaeologists investigating that period, and from this point of view the work should be of valuable assistance to us in enlarging and making more detailed our picture of the civilization of the period.

Whether the work can be trusted as an accurate record of events is another matter. The writer, one Charles Fenton, about whom nothing is known except those details with which he himself provides us, was a “correspondent”—in other words a contributor living abroad—of the Wellington Courier,
one of the daily news-sheets which used to be published at a low price during his epoch; and it is known from numerous contemporary references that “journalists”, as such men were called, were notorious for the sensational and inaccurate reports which they circulated. Fenton’s account of events, although not apparently written in a spirit of levity, does not entirely agree with the theory of world development at that time as it has been formed by modern historians, and it has accordingly been suggested that the document should be
as a work of fiction. It is pointed out, for instance, that he does not record the exact year in which the events he describes took place. On the other hand it is clear from in- ternal evidence that they can be ascribed to the fifth decade of the Twentieth Century, and there are several references to incidents and developments which are known to have occurred during the German bid for hegemony. My personal view is that the work, although commonplace in style and to some extent distorted in outlook, may prove of value to both
and sociologists.

In conclusion I may say that it had been hoped to illustrate the text with photographs of recent discoveries made by archaeologists both here and in Europe. This unfortunately has proved to be impossible, but I cannot do better than to refer members to the admirable volume of drawings recently published by Mr. Rota-iki-pa-wei, after his return from the Society’s expedition to the site of the ancient city of London. His sketch of the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral drawn from a precarious perch on a broken arch of London Bridge, and accompanied by an imaginative reconstruction of the same scene during the period of its prosperity, is a fine example of how even the dry bones of antiquity can be revived by the artist’s visionary eye.

… speech at Hamburg in January was the most effective of his career. It made him master of half the world. He did not follow it up with pamphlet raids but let it sink in of itself, helped by some feckless pronouncements by British Cabinet Ministers and journalists. I happened to listen in to it at home (quite accidentally, because no-one at that time thought German speeches of much significance), and at once I began to be anxious. I cabled, of course, that the British public would know how to respond to this familiar blend of threats and promises. I wish I had not been lying.

Some of the newspapers, prompted by the Press
of the Foreign Office, were foolish enough to answer the speech in detail. It was then that one overheard some ominous comments in the street. Ideas had certainly been put into people’s heads. “I wonder if he really meant what he said about wanting to treat the Czechs and Poles decently if we only let him alone? Certainly the Scandinavians don’t seem too badly off.” … “It is quite true; the French
did let us down.” … “Between you and me there is something in what he says about letting bygones be bygones, and calling it quits.” … “Well, there must be room in the world for both countries, and if it was anyone else but Hitler” … “He didn’t even ask for colonies.” … “Mind you, Russia is the real enemy.” … “It’s a senseless war, really. I can’t bear to think of those poor starving children in Germany.”

Thus it began—with half-serious comments in pubs and buses, inspired I believe not mainly by real cowardice or lack of resolution, but by a queer blend of simple humanity and sheer weariness of discomfort and anxiety. In both Britain and Germany trade was being ruined; in both Britain and Germany home life was being destroyed, and the women and children were suffering. Blood all the time was being uselessly spilled. And now Hitler, in apparently chastened mood, offered an end to all this. It was such a simple solution—just the “Cease Fire”, the
status quo nunc

The Government, the Services, the trade unions—all that complex of ruling elements which had taken charge of the British war effort—heard little of these whispers; and they were too closely engaged in the struggle to entertain these doubts themselves. But there were others who had their ears

to the ground, and who welcomed thankfully the first
rumblings of mass pacifism in Great Britain. Peace to them meant dividends, concessions, cartels; it meant escape from the heavy taxation on profits and all the other
which the war effort had imposed on private enterprise; it foreshadowed a triumphal rise through a post-war slump to a new boom; and possibly a more profitable war later on. Above all, since it implied the abrogation of the
Pact, it meant the banishment once again of the dread spectre of Bolshevism.

As I say, I must leave it to someone more detached than I to describe the slow evaporation of England’s fighting spirit. It was the most despairing task of my career to go on sending encouraging messages to New Zealand, when every day I learnt more about the organized letters to M.P.s, the
campaign in the clubs, the commercial pressure brought through neutral countries. I have reason to believe that by the summer a complete plan of an Anglo-German financial set-up was already being keenly discussed in City offices.

When Parliament began to reflect the new movement a fissure rapidly revealed itself. The parties supporting the National Government were rent from top to bottom, and out of the confusion that pathetic idealist, Matthew Evans, emerged as the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. “No shameful peace, no selfish war,” ran his queer slogan, and it was of course a cry of surrender. Behind him stood that “able man” Sir John Naker, the new Foreign Secretary.

Hitler waited a week, and then, early in September, seized the glittering prize. He issued his brief appeal—for “
co-operation in a world that is crying out for peace founded on justice”. Oddly enough, I cannot now remember how I felt at this time, or the kind of remarks I made to my wife, to my colleagues, to the man who cut my hair. Did we just talk about the weather and the revival of commercial football pools? The lazy blue skies hung over an autumnal and unreal England and it was in a dreamlike frame of mind that I stepped into the plane that was to take me to the signing of the Peace of Nuremberg.

I hardly awoke from my dream during the four days I was in Germany. Our representatives solemnly went through the motions of co-operation with our late enemy to build a better and a happier Europe, and the only real unpleasantness was caused by the presence of the captive French, Czechs, Poles, Scandinavians, Dutch, Flemings, and Walloons, brought to initial the constitutions of their “autonomous” republics.

I was surprised that the Führer refrained from openly
gloating. He remained quite impassive, but ominously
. Ribbentrop—what an escape that man had had!—could not altogether avoid the bearing of one who had finally triumphed against odds, but he observed the decencies. Evans was pale and intense, and somehow dignified. It was only Sir John Naker whom I wanted to kick out on to the Kornmarkt: his smile was so beautifully eloquent of hypocrisy and greed.

During the private discussions I walked about the
galleries of the Germanic Museum, reflecting on the extraordinary capacity of this race to create and destroy. But there was not long to wait; Hitler had everything cut and dried. It was not like Munich. There was no sense of drama, because the struggle was over.

I waited for the Nazi Party Rally, the postponed Rally “of Peace”, to which the British delegation were invited as guests of honour. I saw poor Evans, looking for all the world like Ramsay MacDonald, wearily watching the hordes
past, and responding now and again with an apologetic Nazi salute.

“Not thus doth Peace return!” This time, it will be
, there was no waving from the balcony of Buckingham Palace. The popular reaction was less one of relief than of guilty satisfaction. Here was what we had asked for, and it was for us now to make the most of it.

The necessary moral obtuseness was soon acquired. Had consciences remained tender life would not have been worth living. I remember saying good-bye to a Polish colleague, a man lately fêted as a representative of our noble ally. He was one of many of his race who were “extradited” at the instance of the German-controlled Government in Poland; in fact, Britain had betrayed him. Yet I was quite capable of
something about adapting oneself to the new
, and he made a wry smile. It is not easy to adapt oneself to the conditions in a concentration camp. The French who had taken refuge with us quietly disappeared under a thin smokescreen of regretful courtesies.

From our new selfish point of view, things jogged along all right at first. Even my own messages to a shocked Dominion held just enough of enthusiasm for the brave new world in which Germany and Britain claimed a joint leadership. No miracles happened, but people half expected something more disconcerting, and that didn’t happen either. After an
it must seem a complete answer to prayer if one’s own house is left standing; and here was the political, financial and economic structure of the British Empire still intact. We
prodded it a little gingerly; it did not give way. That was enough. Let Hitler settle as he thought best the problems of south-eastern Europe—that was his responsibility. Let France go her own way—our new statecraft had proved we could do without her. And had we not found a room in Hampton Court for the former Polish Ambassador?

Demobilization was our first concern. It was a pity it was not also Hitler’s, but then he had become our bulwark against Bolshevism again, and Ribbentrop did not turn a hair. The great wave of unemployment was rather disconcerting, but it was obvious, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that a new prosperity was waiting round the corner, now that Europe was dedicated to eternal peace. Much was to be expected of the comprehensive trade agreement being thrashed out with Germany—the big London hotels were full of the delegates, whom you could tell by their ostentatious Swastika armbands.

It was curious how cynical we tried to become in our defeatism. Yet we talked a good deal about the Navy, and it was arranged to hold a Spithead review in the summer. There were plenty of hidden doubts about the future, but the prevailing mood was nostalgic. Something very precious had passed silently from the, national life.

No more to watch at night’s eternal shore,

With England’s chivalry at dawn to ride;

No more defeat, faith, victory—Oh! no more

A cause on earth for which we might have died.

When the real troubles began we bore them stoically. “An inevitable period of friction and readjustment,” the Prime Minister called it—and in this he included the I.R.A. bombs, the Communist strikes, the troubles in India, and the
nuisance value which our latest native brand of Fascists, the Greyshirts, were acquiring. You will not, I am afraid, find a particularly full account of these latest
in the files of the
Wellington Courier
, or of any other newspaper. No-one wrote about trends, and the troublesome events seemed to happen in a vacuum. Parliament had got itself adjourned, and there was little demand for its recall; editors were told that the quickest way of restoring confidence was to refrain from too much comment. We concentrated on Utopian visions of the future, and on the lighter side of life. “Crisis” was an outmoded word. There were still enough people making handsome profits out of the peace.

On Friday, 10th March, of the fateful year that followed
the peace, my wife Elizabeth and I, with our young child Julia and her nurse, went down to spend a long week-end with friends at Debenford. There was no news about, we said in Fleet Street—in fact, we were always complaining about the absence of news. Labour troubles in the North, the usual depressing cables from Calcutta, some Jews beaten in
—none of this was news to a case-hardened England. Now if Hitler would give some indication of his future policy, it would be different. The coming of the new era awaited his word. Even a hint or two that he would like some colonies back would have been a relief. But he was strangely silent, while all that Goebbels could talk about was the influence the Jews had over the policies of the United States.

Yes, it was safe to take a holiday, and seek the first signs of spring in the byways of Suffolk. The world had had a surfeit of high politics, and the chief virtue of the Peace of Nuremberg, as an ex-Prime Minister had said (forgetting that there were still 2,000,000 men under arms in Germany, and that Europe was full of refugees), was that it sent men back to the corners of the earth to which they belonged, there to rediscover the simple and abiding things. What if we had sacrificed some of our imperial pretensions, and had become a humbler people? We had purged away dross, and could the better treasure the gold. The swans gliding on the Deben and the ploughman crossing by the evening ferry perhaps knew a secret of happiness denied to those who had gone out and built empires.

It was an incomplete philosophy, and would have appeared so among the harassed Friday-night shoppers in the East End. The great crowds cannot step aside from history; and in our hearts we knew that even the peace of the Suffolk marshes was a prize of war, only to be defended by the same determination that once drove back the marauding Danes.

That night, while the high tide flushed silently into Martlesham Creek, Downing Street received an urgent
call from Heir Hitler in Berlin.

BOOK: If Hitler Comes
2.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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