In the well known Chapter 13 of St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which is often read at weddings and funerals, St Paul urges us to abide by “faith, hope and charity”. The word charity is in the King James’ version of the Bible but it is substituted by “love” in subsequent translations. Throughout my life, from pulpit and elsewhere, I have heard much about faith and charity/love but very little about hope and, being a glass half full person, I am disappointed by this. As one listens to the nightly news when disasters, gloom and weaknesses are emphasised while achievements, successes and optimism is highly qualified or ignored, my mind turns to wondering about hope. With the success of the films 1917 and The Darkest Hour, together with the anniversaries of VE Day and Dunkirk, we have heard much about war recently and, particularly, Churchill. These times are memorable for me and others,who were born in 1941, because our parents decided to have us when the outlook for the UK, Europe and civilisation was at its most bleak. Neither the US nor Russia had joined the war and not only had our troops been driven out of continental Europe but also, as events soon confirmed, were in a precarious position in the Far East. And yet my parents, together with the parents of my contemporaries, had sufficient optimism and hope to plan a family. Driven by this, they faced down the uncertain world, and, as far as I am concerned, thank heavens they did.
One of the reasons for Churchill’s success was that he banished fear and instilled optimism and hope through his speeches and thoughts and these were faithfully reported by the media. As a result, the defeat of our army on the continent was turned into the triumph of Dunkirk and, as President Roosevelt so succinctly put it, “we have nothing to fear except fear itself”. It was during this time that Churchill frequently quoted passages from Arthur Hugh Clough’s poem “Say not the Struggle Nought Availeth”. It goes:
Say not the struggle nought availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been, things remain.
If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field.
For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seen here no painful inch to gain,
Far back through creeks and inlets making
Comes,silent, flooding in the main,
And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward, look, the land is bright.
It was the last line that helped Churchill to emphasise Britain’s expectations of the USA and on March 11th, ,1941, the American Lend-lease Act was passed which allowed President Roosevelt to provide equipment to Britain, whose reserves were almost totally exhausted. And as we combat Coronavirus, we must hope, too, that our advances will be “ flooding in the main” and that progress, like the sun, will continue to climb.