Travels: London

Ship to England | France

England, Sept. 18, 1945
So at last I'm in London.

It was wonderful to see the repatriated children meet their parents. Little Catherine's mother was on the dock, but couldn't pick out her little daughter till an older brother and sister, who had been in America and returned sooner, found her. Our Hedy Lamar high schooler was in tears before we landed, but when last seen was flirting outrageously with her daddy.

I finally found myself in a railway coach-the trains run right to the dock-with two nice ladies I had only talked to casually on the ship, and one's very American high school son. And we all turned out to be-of all things-Californians, and bay regioners at that! Small world!

The docks at Southhampton were battered by unbowed, and all along the line there was evidence that the Germans knew what they were after and it was that railroad. Great shell holes and piles of rubble and whole dwelling houses ripped open-often several of them in a row, where the bombs had dropped. Everything around the power company had been torn up; it's impossible to believe they missed the one thing they were after: probably that has been repaired or rebuilt.

… Eventually I landed in a cab and a U.S. naval officer who was trying to make a plane at the airport hopped in beside me and away we went. He is on leave from Germany, and says the fighting is by no means over-thinks we need to rather ruthlessly and spectacularly eliminate the trouble makers. He says the Germans haven't all the atrocities out of their systems yet and we ought to retaliate in kind. Thought my best chance of getting into Germany was through the military in Belgium, and decidedly emphasized that if I am to get into Belgium at all it will be through the Belgium Embassy here in London. So I'll try that, first anyway. He thought it would be better to see the Holland Embassy here, too.

England, Sept. 19, 1945
Anyway, getting lost so much, I saw a lot of London. And you can't tell me it got this way in seven years! But maybe the seven years is the difference between quaintness and dingy untidiness. And anyone less stolid and phlegmatic than the British could never have taken this punishment. The thing that impresses me is the wide distribution of the destruction. They say "every third house" damaged. And it is true that the bombs seem to have had a true Nazi antipathy for churches. It is heartbreaking. Even in their ruins you can tell how lovely some of them were. I took a bus that followed along the tracks. The British themselves admit that except for the loss of life, the Jerry's did them a kindness in wrecking places they'd never have gotten around to wrecking themselves. Dr. Allen insisted I go see the area around St. Paul's, which is the worst in the city. It has a weird, unearthly quality, but doesn't tug at your heart the way the individual houses in residence areas do. I saw one where one wall was left standing, and in the center of it the dearest little green tile fireplace, which had surely been someone's pride and joy. I wonder if the persons who sat by it are alive and if they go and gaze mournfully at it. Being British, probably the man does and the woman says, "Come along! It's no good looking. We'll be getting ourselves another one one of these days."

England, Sept. 20, 1945
Londoners know what to do about rain. They take it like everything else, in their stride. Just like Californians, they can't be bothered with umbrellas and rubbers, but unlike Californians who keep protesting it is liquid sunshine, they completely ignore it. Even the black cats refuse to give it cognizance. London is full of black cats. They stride up and down the long sloping roofs between the rows of tall chimneys, or sit sedately opposite the foot scrapers in front of the scrubbed white steps. Wish I had time to photograph them. London's black cats photographed in their native habitat would make a most picturesque and unusual book.

The conference this morning turned out to be with Dr. Allen…

…We had a long talk and he was intereste in all the details especially of our material aid program. My fears that a woman might be looked at askance were unfounded, so far. They apparently are genuinely pleased to have a woman going onto the continent in this capacity, and Dr. Allen was so insistent that I return this way so we could have further discussion after we had both been on the continent (he will be there next month for a while) that he persuaded me to at least get my visa validated for reentry.

These things came out in our talk:

In spite of being by nature a cheerful soul, he sees little hope for the continent except in the natural ability of man to somehow pull himself out of situations and rehabilitate himself. Rubble to be cleared before fields can be plowed, and because fields are not plowed, no food. Till factories are rebuilt, no materials. Till mines are opened, no heat, no power. You can't work long on an empty stomach and you can't get things going without tools. Better stay in bed and keep warm and conserve what strength you have. Yet it is the nature of man to rise above disaster, and somehow they will make it.

A personal letter signed by Marc Boegner, which I saw, says money is of little use compared to commodities. After the wheels begin to turn, yes, but for the present there is just nothing to buy. This is disappointing news here, for just recently it has become possible to send money to France, Holland, Finland, Belgium, Denmark. Norway, Italy and Greece will probably open up for the sending of money shortly.

On the subject of personnel, Allen thinks maybe we could loan some of the men who have been chaplains to Europe for a while-maybe give them an 18 month appointment in a country, 12 of which should be spent helping under supervision of the Protestant Council where they were needed, the rest their own for study or additional work as they see fit. I think he and Cavert discussed this. I thought from some points of view it would be better to give them the best of our ministers who stayed home, and who need this experience yet who would represent a more normative American theological approach, replacing them meanwhile in our own churches with men who had been in the chaplaincy and the benefit of whose experience should be made immediately available to congregations thruout America.

1,500 was allocated for the purchase od theological books published in England during the war, to be sent to the continent. I believe one collection of new books was presented to Metropolitan Nicholai along with 120,000 (referred to above) at quite a ceremony at Lambeth palace, and Boegner's letter was pathetic in its gratitude for the ones sent to France. We have talked a lot about this, but if nothing has been done I think CCORR ought to consider it a matter of urgent material aid, and somehow get something done right now. The leaders need these books and need them badly. They hesitate to strike out in their thinking and teaching till they know what the rest of the world has been doing during their period of isolation. If we don't get them to them right away and in sufficient quantities the rift between "continental" and American theology which is sure to follow and deepen will be on our heads. They want a good range of solid stuff in the Pfeiffer-Van Duren-Niebuhr category, I take it. If we have any belief in our American theologians and Biblical scholars, here's a wonderful chance to get some impact in back of them. Both sides have to speak up to get a dialectic.

I tried on Allen my newest pet idea of the ecumenical centers where people would be trained for lay Christian reconstruction work in their own communities and go forth equipped with the necessary tools, books, and materials to revive at least individual Christian self-respect. He thought such an idea should certainly be explored. Our feeling was that from where we stand it looks as if you can never reconstruct Europe without power plants, railways, mass feedings, and individual resurrection is the thing that is the concern of the church, and the thing they need most of all is trained and equipped leadership. Allen, quite independently of any suggestion on my part, brought up the desirability of having sewing equipment and carpentry tools at the church center. I certainly don't want to put myself on record as going "all out" from some such thing, but I do want to explore it and I would like reactions from Americans on the possibility and desirability of opening up any such discussion in Geneva or elsewhere. Till I hear from you I shall silently explore rather than suggest. But of course llen may suggest when he goes over. This was one of the things he particularly wanted to talk about after we had both been on the continent. Of course, it will probably come up when Dr. Barstow arrives.

I spent my evening looking at the ruins around St. Paul's, walking over London Bridge, being oppressed by the huge commercial houses along the Thames (symbols of imperialism!) and contemplating the relative effects on the British and American temperament of having to grow up figuring out pounds and shillings, or by the mere addition of a cipher being able to multiply your wealth ten-fold. After seeing that commercial district (including India House) I realize how firmly England is rooted in her Empire. No matter how much she wants to give it up (and a visit to amazing Hyde Park convinced me at least some of the people would like to) it would be impossible to know how to start. Very depressing.

I like London's tall friendly policemen (they don't look as if they could ever be tough.) One walked tow blocks with me tonight to show me a place he recommended for eating. (My having said in asking directions that I was a stranger, and him thinkin' maybe I hadn't had my supper.) "Right through the swingin' doors there," sez he, "they do have nice things-and reasonable." We enjoyed assuring each other neither could have won the war alone. As we parted he held out his hand and shook hands, assuring me it was a pleasure to be of assistance "to the likes of me." And the rabbit pie was delicious.

Tower Bridge

Ship to England | France

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