Chris Rogers | Writer on architecture and visual culture

  • VE DAY 75: Aftermath

    “It is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organize the peace.”

    - Aristotle

    “Those who can win a war well can rarely make a good peace and those who could make a good peace would never have won the war.”

    - Churchill

    The impact of the war for Europe was almost impossible to comprehend, even excepting its contribution to a death toll of tens of millions. Entire armies and their weapons had to be stood down, disarmed and returned home. Prisoners of war awaited repatriation. There were insurrections, ethnic and other retaliations and more formal reckonings via war crimes trials. Vast swathes of land had changed hands. Millions of civilians found themselves in the wrong country, homeless or starving, or wandering, lost. Cities had been levelled and were littered with unexploded ordnance and wrecked materiel.

    My father – who was to spend six months in Germany – and his Wing at Travemünde saw many of these problems. A factory was emptied to allow blankets to be made and 2,000 military supply containers were converted into stoves for civilian use in the winter. Theft of food and other items occurred, a guard was killed during an escape of prisoners near Hamburg and cuts in rations caused “alarm and adverse comment on the British administration”. And though the war was over, death was still present for the Wing itself – seven of its airmen died during their posting, by explosion, gunshot, vehicle crash and drowning.

    Mere miles from the agreed occupation boundary between Russia and the Western Allies, the Wing found itself at the intersection of two very different armies and two very different cultures. Oral testimonies of British servicemen based at Lübeck and Travemünde reference Russian abuses of German civilians and the difficulties of intervening in the actions of an ally, and reveal their complicity in disobeying repatriation orders and falsifying papers to allow those fleeing from the east to stay in the west. Interference by Russia in Western intelligence operations was not unusual, although Russian officers visited the Wing cordially at least once. And as early as March 1946, speaking at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, Churchill warned that "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an ‘iron curtain’ has descended across the continent”.

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Click blog images to expand; pre-Sept 2011 posts here

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Chris is one of more than a dozen specialists whose essays fill this fresh examination of the charms of Paris, which is edited by John Flower. Looking at the French capital's history, culture and districts, each item can be read in just half a minute and is beautifully illustrated with its own collage-style spread.

Ivy Press, 2018

ISBN 9781782405443

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