Hilaire Belloc bought King's Land (in Shipley, Sussex), 5 acres and a working windmill for £1000 in 1907 and it was his home for the rest of his life. Belloc loved Sussex as few other writers have loved her: he lived there for most of his 83 years, he tramped the length and breadth of the county, slept under her hedgerows, drank in her inns, sailed her coast and her rivers and wrote several incomparable books about her. "He does not die that can bequeath Some influence to the land he knows, Or dares, persistent, interwreath Love permanent with the wild hedgerows; He does not die, but still remains Substantiate with his darling plains."

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Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Belloc Society Annual Lecture...





'Belloc in 1914: Dissolution and the End of Things?'

by Michael Hennessy

Mike will be talking about that most fateful of years, and about the tragedies public and private which marked it.

Please note. If you wish to dine, no food will be served downstairs after 19.30.


Venue:

The Greencoat Boy Pub, 2 Greencoat Place, Victoria, London. SW1P 1PJ.

Tuesday the 11th of November at 19.30.


Monday, 6 October 2014

The Opposing Strengths...




When nations go to war their probable fortunes, other things being equal, are to be measured in numbers.

Other things being equal, the numbers one party can bring against the other in men, coupled with the numbers of weapons, munitions, and other material, will decide the issue.

But in European civilization other things are more or less equal. Civilian historians are fond of explaining military results in many other ways, particularly in terms of moral values that will flatter the reader. But a military history, however elementary, is compelled to recognize the truth that normally modern war in Europe has followed the course of numbers.

Among the very first, therefore, of the tasks set us in examining the great struggle is a general appreciation of the numbers that were about to meet in battle, and of their respective preparation in material.

More than the most general numbers—more than brief, round statements—I shall not attempt. I shall not do more than state upon such grounds as I can discover proportions in the terms of single units—as, to say that one nation stood to another in its immediate armed men as eight to five, or as two to twenty. Neither shall I give positive numbers in less than the large fractions of a million. But, even with such large outlines alone before one, the task is extraordinarily difficult.

It will almost certainly be found, when full details are available after the war, that the most careful estimates have been grievously erroneous in some particular. Almost every statement of fact in this department can be reasonably challenged, and the evidence upon matters which in civilian life are amply recorded and easily ascertainable is, in this department, everywhere purposely confused or falsified.

To the difficulty provided by the desire for concealment necessary in all military organization, one must add the difficulty presented by the cross categories peculiar to this calculation. You have to consider not only the distinction between active and reserve, but also between men and munitions, between munitions available according to one theory of war, and munitions available according to another. You have to modify statical conclusions by dynamic considerations (thus you have to modify the original numbers by the rate of wastage, and the whole calculus varies progressively with the lapse of time as the war proceeds).

In spite of these difficulties, I believe it to be possible to put before the general reader a clear and simple table of the numbers a knowledge of which any judgment of the war involves, and to be fairly certain that this table will, when full details are available, be discovered not too inaccurate.

We must begin by distinguishing between the two sets of numbers with which we have to deal—the numbers of men, and the amount of munitions which these men have to use.

The third essential element, equipment, we need not separately consider, because, when one says "men" in talking of military affairs, one only means equipped, trained, and organized men, for no others can be usefully present in the field.

Let us start, then, with some estimate of the number of men who are about to take part in battle; let us take for our limits the convenient limits of a year, and let us divide that space of time arbitrarily into three parts or periods.

There was a first period in which the nations opposed brought into the field the men available in the first few weeks for immediate action. It is not possible to set a precise limit, and to say, "This period covers the first six" or "the first eight weeks;" but we can say roughly that, when we are speaking of this first period, we mean the time during which men for whom the equipment was all ready, whose progress and munitioning had all been organized, were being as rapidly as possible brought into play. Such an estimate is not equivalent to an estimate of the very first numbers that met in the shock of battle; those numbers were far smaller, and differed according to the rate of mobilization and the intention of the various parties. The estimate is only that of the total number which the various parties could, and therefore did, bring into play before men not hitherto trained as soldiers, or trained but not believed to be required in the course of the campaign—according as that campaign had been variously foreseen by various governments—came in to swell the figures.

The conclusion of this first period would come, of course, gradually in the case of every combatant, and would come more rapidly in the case of some than in the case of others. But we are fairly safe if we take the general turning-point from the first period to the second to be the month of October 1914. The second period had begun for some—notably for Germany—with the first days of that month; it had already appeared for all, especially for England, before the beginning of November.

The second period is marked for all the combatants by the bringing into play of such forces as, for various reasons, the Government of each had once hoped would not be required. The German Empire might have marked them as not required, in the reasonable hope that victory would be quickly assured. The British Government might, from a very different standpoint, have believed them not to be required, because it regarded the work of its continental Allies as sufficient to gain the common object, etc. But in the case of all, however various the motives, the particular mark of this second period is the straining to put into the field newly trained and equipped bodies which in the first period were, it was imagined, neither needed nor perhaps available.

This second period merges very gradually into the third, or final, period, which is that of the last effort possible to the belligerents. There comes a moment before the end of the first year when, in the case of most of the belligerents, every man who is available at all has been equipped, trained, and put forward, and after which there is nothing left but the successive batches of yearly recruits growing up from boyhood to manhood.

Although Britain is in a peculiar position, and Russia, through her tardiness in equipment, in a peculiar position of another kind, yet one may fairly say that the vague margin between the second period of growth and the third period of finality appears roughly somewhere round the month of June. It will fall earlier with Germany, a good deal earlier with France; but from the middle of May at earliest to the end of June at latest may be said to mark the entry of the numerical factor into its third and final phase.

Let us take these three periods one by one.

The first period is by far the most important to our judgment of the campaign; a misapprehension of it has warped most political statements made in this country, and most contemporary judgments of the war as a whole. It is impossible to get our view of the great European struggle—of its nature in the bulk—other than fantastically wrong, if we misapprehend the opening numbers with which it was waged.

There are three ways of getting at those numbers.

The first and worst way is the consulting of general statistics published before the war broke out. Thus we may see in almanacs the French army put down as a little over four million, the German at the same amount, the Russian at about five million, and so forth.

These figures have no relation to reality, because they omit a hundred modifying considerations—such as the age of the reserves, the degree of training of the reserves, the organization prepared for the enrolment of untrained men, etc. The only element in them which is of real value is the statistics—when we can obtain them—of men actually present with the colours before mobilization, to which one may add, perhaps—or at any rate in the case of France and Germany—the numbers of the active reserve immediately behind the conscript army in peace.

The second method, which is better, but imperfect, is that which has particularly appealed to technical writers. It consists in numbering units; in noting the headquarters and the tale of army corps and of independent divisions.

The fault of this method is twofold. First, that only actual experience can tell one whether units are really being maintained during peace at full strength; and secondly, that only actual experience discovers how many new units can and will be created when war is joined. In other words, the fault of this method (necessary though it is as an adjunct to all military calculations) lies in its divorce from the reality of numbers.

At the end of the retreat from Moscow each army corps of the Grand Army still preserved its name, each regiment its nominal identity. And the roll was called by Ney, for instance, before the Beresina, division by division and regiment by regiment, and even in the regiments company by company; but in most of these last there was no one to answer, and there is a story of one regiment for which one surviving man answered with regularity until he also died. What fights is numbers of living men—not headings; and if five army corps are present, each having lost two-fifths of its men, three full army corps are a match for them.

The third method is that of commonsense. We must deduce from the results obtained, from the fronts covered, from the energy remaining after known losses, from the reports of intelligence, from the avenues of communication available, what least and what largest numbers can be present. We must correct such conclusions by our previous knowledge of the way in which each service regards its strength, which most depends upon reserves, how each uses his depots and drafts, what machinery it has for training the untrained and for equipping them. This complicated survey taken, we can arrive at general figures.


From 'The Opposing Strengths' - A General Sketch of the European War, The First Phase (1915). 


Sunday, 28 September 2014

Prussia - Belloc's favourite Kingdom!




It will be apparent that what is called the " Frederician Tradition," which is the soul of Prussia in her international relations, is not an unprincipled thing. It has a principle, and that principle is a patriotic desire to strengthen Prussia, which particular appetite overweighs all general human morals and far outweighs all special Christian or European morals. 

This doctrine of the " Frederician Tradition " does not mean that the Prussian statesmen wantonly do wrong, whether in acts of cruelty or in acts of treason and bad faith. What it means is that, wherever they are met by the dilemma, " Shall I do this, which is to the advantage of my country but opposed to European and common morals, or that, which is consonant with those morals but to the dis- advantage of my country } " they choose the former and not the latter course. 

Prussia, endowed with this doctrine and possessed of a most excellent military organization and tradition, stood out as the first military power in Europe until the French Revolution. The wars of the French Revolution and of Napoleon upset this prestige, and in the battle of Jena (1806) seemed to have destroyed it. But it was too strong to be destroyed. The Prussian Government was the first of Napoleon's allies to betray Napoleon after the Russians had broken his power (1812). They took part with the other Allies in finishing off Napoleon after the Russian campaign (1813-14) ; they were present with decisive effect upon the final field of Waterloo (1815) , and remained for fifty years afterwards the great military power they had always been. They had further added to their dominions such great areas in Northern Germany, beyond the original areas inhabited by the true Prussian stock, that they were something like half of the whole Northern German people when, in 1864, they entered into the last phase of their dominion. They began by asking Austria to help them in taking from Denmark, a small and weak country, not only those provinces of hers which spoke German, but certain districts which were Danish as well. France and England were inclined to interfere, but they did not yet understand the menace Prussia might be in the future, and they neglected to act. Two years later Prussia suddenly turned upon Austria, her ally, defeated her in a very short campaign, and insisted upon Austria's relinquishing for the future all claims over any part of the German-speaking peoples, save some ten millions in the valley of the Middle Danube and of the Upper Elbe. Four years later again, in 1870, Prussia having arranged, after various political experiments which need not be here de- tailed, for the support of all the German States except Austria, fought a war with France, in which she was immediately and entirely successful, and in the course of  which the rulers of the other German States consented to give the Hohenzollern-Prussian dynasty supreme military power for the future over them, under the hereditary title of German Emperors ; to form a united nation under the more or less despotic power of these emperors. This latter point, the national unity, though really highly centralized at Berlin, especially on the military side, was softened in its rigour by a number of very wise provisions. A great measure of autonomy was left to the more important of the lesser States, particularly Catholic Bavaria ; local customs were respected ; and, above all, local dynasties were flattered, and maintained in all the trappings of sovereign rank.

From that date that is, for the last forty-four years there has been a complete Northern Germany, one strong, centralized, and thoroughly co-ordinated nation, in which the original Prussian domination is not only numerically far the greatest element, but morally overshadows all the rest. The spiritual influence ruling this state issues from Berlin and from the Prussian soul, although a large minority consist of contented but respectful Catholics, who, in all national matters, wholly sympathize with and take their cue from the Protestant North. 

So far one may clearly see what kind of power it is that has initiated the German theory of supremacy which we have described above, is prepared to lead it to battle, and is quite certain of leading it to victory. 

But we note the fatal mark in all German history that the unity is not complete. The ten millions of Austrian Germans were, when Prussia achieved this her highest ambition, deliberately left out- side the new German Empire. And this was done because, in Prussian eyes, a so- called " German unity" was but a means to an end, and that end the aggrandizement of the Hohenzollern dynasty. To include so many southern and Catholic Germans would have endangered the mastery of Berlin. The fact that Austria ruled a number of non-German subjects far larger than her Austrian population would further have endangered the Hohenzollern position had Austria been admitted to the new German Empire, and had the consolidation of all Germans into one true state been really and loyally attempted. Lastly, it would have been impossible to destroy the historic claims to leadership of the Imperial Hapsburgs, and that, more than anything else, was the rivalry the Hohenzollerns dreaded. Once more had the Germans proved themselves incapable of, and unwilling to submit to, the discipline of unity. What part, then, was Austria, thus left out, to play in the international activity of Prussia in the future? What part especially was she to play when Prussia, at the head of Northern Germany, should go out to impose the will of that Germany and of herself upon the rest of the world? That is the next question we must answer before we can hope to understand the causes of the present war in their entirety.


From A General Sketch of the European War (Part 1 The General Causes of the War, Prussia). 1915.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

THE GENERAL CAUSES OF THE WAR - The German Object...



War is the attempt of two human groups each to impose its will upon the other by force of arms. This definition holds of the most righteous war fought in self-defence as much as it does of the most iniquitous war of mere aggression. The aggressor, for instance, proposes to take the goods of his victim without the pretence of a claim. He is attempting to impose his will upon that victim. The victim, in resisting by force of arms, is no less attempting to impose his will upon the aggressor; and if he is victorious does effectually impose that will: for it is his will to prevent the robbery. 

Every war, then, arises from some conflict of wills between two human groups, each intent upon some political or civic purpose, conflicting with that of his opponent. 

War and all military action is but a means to a non-military end, to be achieved and realized in peace. 

Although arguable differences invariably exist as to the right or wrong of either party in any war, yet the conflicting wills of the two parties, the irreconcilable political objects which each has put before itself and the opposition between which has led to conflict,can easily be defined. 

They fall into two classes:

1. The general objects at which the combatants have long been aiming. 

2. The particular objects apparent just before, and actually provoking, the conflict.

In the case of the present enormous series of campaigns, which occupy the energies of nearly all Europe, the general causes can be easily defined, and that without serious fear of contradiction by the partisans of either side.

On the one hand, the Germanic peoples, especially that great majority of them now organized as the German Empire under the hegemony of Prussia, had for fully a lifetime and more been possessed of a certain conception of themselves which may be not unjustly put into the form of the following declaration. It is a declaration consonant with most that has been written from the German standpoint during more than a generation, and many of its phrases are taken directly from the principal exponents of the German idea.

The German Object: 

"We the Germans are in spirit one nation. But we are a nation the unity of which has been constantly forbidden for centuries by a number of accidents. None the less that unity has always been an ideal underlying our lives. Once or twice in the remote past it has been nearly achieved, especially under the great German emperors of the Middle Ages. Whenever it has thus been nearly achieved, we Germans have easily proved ourselves the masters of other societies around us. Most unfortunately our very strength has proved our ruin time and again by leading us into adventures, particularly adventures in Italy, which took the place of our national ideal for unity and disturbed and swamped it. The reason we have been thus supreme whenever we were united or even nearly united lay in the fact, which must be patent to every observer, that our mental, moral, and physical characteristics render us superior to all rivals. The German or Teutonic race can everywhere achieve, other things being equal, more than can any other race. Witness the conquest of the Roman Empire by German tribes; the political genius, commercial success, and final colonial expansion of the English, a Teutonic people; and the peculiar strength of the German races resident within their old homes on the Rhine, the Danube, the Weser, and the Elbe, whenever they were not fatally disunited by domestic quarrel or unwise foreign ideals. It was we who revivified the declining society of Roman Gaul, and made it into the vigorous mediæval France that was ruled from the North. It was we who made and conquered the heathen Slavs threatening Europe from the East, and who civilized them so far as they could be civilized. We are, in a word, and that patently not only to ourselves but to all others, the superior and leading race of mankind; and you have but to contrast us with the unstable Celt--who has never produced a State--the corrupt and now hopelessly mongrel Mediterranean or 'Latin' stock, the barbarous and disorderly Slav, to perceive at once the truth of all we say''...


Hilaire Belloc - The General Causes of the War, Part 1 from A General Sketch of the European War (The First Phase). June 1915.


Thursday, 14 August 2014

"Land and Water" By ROBERT SPEAIGHT




On September 9, 1914, Belloc was visited at King's Land by a rich Australian, Murray (commonly known as "Jim") Allison, who had the main control of Land and Water. Allison was advertisement manager on The Times and later on the Daily Telegraph. He became a close friend and neighbour of Belloc, at Rodmell near Lewes, until his early death between the wars. Land and Water was a new weekly journal, as yet only projected, to deal exclusively with the war, and planned to appear on August 22 (1914). After a discussion lasting three hours Belloc signed a contract to write a weekly article on the military situation. These were completed on a Wednesday evening, corrected or amplified up to noon on Thursday, and were in the hands of the public by Friday morning. Later, the paper went to press earlier and the copy had to be in by Monday. In January 1915, Belloc was elected President of the Royal Geographical Society, and he would use the offices of the Society in St. James's Square to make his maps. The naval articles were contributed by Fred Jane and afterwards by Arthur Pollen. Belloc's articles brought him a wider fame than any earned by his previous writings. Land and Water reached a circulation of 100,000 and the articles were discussed by men in every street, club, railway train or mess. People read Belloc on the war who had never read him on anything else. Yet there is no aspect of his public life on which it is more difficult to get an objective valuation. The articles were at once a tonic and a corrective to the layman, who still hoped that the Allies would be in Berlin by Christmas but who could not help observing that the Germans were making it unexpectedly difficult for them to get there. They were richly informative for the same layman who had not the slightest idea what Continental war was really like, and they were based on an exact knowledge of the terrain over which the western campaign was being fought.

Belloc had a personal acquaintance with the methods, and also with the men, of the French Army, not only through his service as a conscript but through his following of the annual manoeuvres. Of course he was occasionally wrong, but this generally happened when he was ignorant of the lie of the land ; the wadis of the Egyptian desert were less familiar to him than the valleys of Champagne. He was accused, later, of lending himself to ludicrous prophecies. But if you study the articles, you will find that his prophecies are nearly always conditional. He never states categorically that this or that will happen ; he only says •that if this or that happens, a certain result will follow. His chief mistake was in underestimating the man-power of the Central Alliance. It was surely rash to say in October 1914 that 'the Germanic powers have put their last recruits and their last reserves into the field '; but when he freely declared, in April 1917, that the Allies would be fighting on German soil before the year was out, he was not alone in failing to see the completeness, or the consequences, of the Russian collapse. However, the day came when the readers of Land and Water were disconcerted to realize that Belloc was not infallible. The soldiers fighting the battles made a ribald play upon his name : a mysterious note-book, What I Know about the War, by Blare Hilloc, was circulated by a business house and was found to contain nothing but blank pages ; and some people wondered why the war was still going on if as many Germans were being killed as he pretended. On September 6, 1915, posters appeared in the streets bearing the words Belloc's Fables.' These advertised an article in Northcliffe's Daily Mail, which convicted Belloc of various errors. Belloc, replying in Land and Water, not only admitted the mistakes but added, for the benefit of his readers, a number 4 other points on which he had been proved wrong.
The point about these admissions was not the degree to which Belloc had been misled, but the fact that under the conditions of war such errors were unavoidable. Every writer on military affairs was calculating in the twilight, and for much of the time in the dark.
Now a distinction must be drawn between military journalism and military history. The man writing from day to day, or from week to week, is at a disadvantage compared with the man who can see the campaign in retrospect, check the rumours and distortions of the moment, rely upon assembled documents and collated evidence, and discuss the part in relation to the whole. Belloc, in these first few critical weeks of August-September 1914, had nothing to go on but the official communiqués and his own military commonsense. The science of public relations was still at a rudimentary stage, and there was the further difficulty of translating the communiqués of the respective combatants. The French announced, for example, that the British line had been nowhere " reellement entamee," and when this was translated as really pierced,' justifiable alarm was excited. Belloc was able to point out that 'entamee' does not mean 'pierced,' or anything like it. Again, the Press Bureau announced that in their advance over the Marne the French had captured the whole of a 'corps artillery' and estimated this at 160 guns. Belloc, as an artilleryman himself, was able to remind his readers that a 'corps artillery' did not mean all the artillery belonging to a corps, but only those guns not allocated to a particular division. The numbers captured, therefore, were more likely to be thirty-six than 160.
Only very occasionally did Belloc betray his deeper feelings. The French army was "engaged in this war upon the stupendous task of saving the culture of Christendom from dissolution" and "historic France from final disaster"; the sacrifice of Belgium promised the redemption of Europe since it had imposed a delay of ten days upon the German advance. Belloc knew in his bones, as well as in his heart and mind, what was at stake when the German pressure at Vitry-le-Francois threatened to break the French line before the mass of manoeuvre from behind Paris could threaten von Kluck and force a general retirement. It was along these river valleys---the Marne, the Meuse, the Grand and Petit Morin—and across the bare plateau of Champagne-Pouilleuse and looking eastward to the wooded ridge of the Argonne, that he himself had driven the guns in the summer manoeuvres of '92, a conscript in the same army that was now battling for survival. He could imagine it all, as clearly as if he had been there ; the trees untouched by autumn, the harvest gathered. And as he imagined it, history took hold upon him.
. . . Even as I write these lines upon the Wednesday of the week I do not know, for there is no immediate news in England, whether this effort of the invader upon the French centre at Vitry has succeeded. But I know that he is marching over sacred ground where there rise against him the influences 'of the dead. Not so far away, a day's march behind the defending line, ig the house that nourished Danton. If that line is pierced the invader may burn the house, still standing, where Joan of Arc was born.
The effort, as we know, failed and a week later Belloc imagined himself on a certain hill, called 'Mont Airne,' which formed part of the escarpment bounding the Champagne-Pouilleuse on the west:
On this height I could wish to have stood last Friday in the south-westerly gale watching the long lines threading northward across the flats and knowing that these were the columns of the invaders in retreat.
But such passages were rare. For the most part Belloc's articles were pure analysis, and only descriptive when description was necessary to aid an understanding of the campaign. They were clear by dint of bard repetition and numerous maps and diagrams. They were also exceedingly long, often running to eight thousand words in a single number. Belloc maintained a close contact throughout with people who were vaguely, or precisely, 'in the know.' He often stayed with Sir Herbert and Lady Jekyll, near Godalming, where Reginald and Pamela McKenna, their son-in-law and daughter, were constant guests. 'The politicians,' he remarks in his diary, 'say that England is all right and everyone else is in the soup.' He noted a particular dislike of the French and a conviction that the war would not 'cost so much as to burden the finance of the country." But McKenna showed him confidential documents which explained the strength of the German forces in Poland, and gave him the details about Verdun just,after they had been given to the Cabinet. On other visits to the same house he would discuss politics with Haldane, whom he found 'comfortable and cynical ' ; or walk through the woods with Harold Baker, listening to his views on Hesiod. His chief friend among the military was General Sir David Henderson, who was in command of British Aviation H.Q. in France. Belloc paid several visits to these H.Q., to which Maurice Baring was attached ; and on one of them he lectured to the officers. Jekyll was frequently in Paris where he would dine with Berthelot, head of the Quai d'Orsay, and obtain information from the Press Bureau. In February 1916 he had an interview with Joffre at French G.H.Q. at Chantilly and was given secret documents by the Deuxieme Bureau. He saw the Arsenal at Le Creusot and was lent a staff car to visit the battlefields of the Marne. Two further visits followed in December 1916 and in June 1917. On the second of these he went to Compiegne, where the French had moved their H.Q., and saw Main at some length. He again had the fullest information from the Deuxieme Bureau, and dined at Moricourt with General de Castelnau, whose son was a gunner in Belloc's old regiment. In Paris he met Foch at the Invalides:
A really delightful man, full of genius and movement. He confirmed me in what I had said of the Marne and drew a little rough plan for me, which will be the most precious possession when I have it framed in my house.
The sketch was hung in Belloc's study, and remained there until the end of his life. It bore the following inscription :
This sketch was drawn for me in the Invalides by General Foch on Saturday the 23rd June 1917 to illustrate his manoeuvre when he brought the 42nd Division down and broke the German centre at 5 p.m. Wednesday 9th September 1914.
The sketch shows in rapid and simple diagram, the Prussian Guard advancing in rectangular formation, and Foch moving to meet it from behind the marshes of St. Gond.
Belloc made two journeys further afield in his efforts to know what was going on and to give his news to those who only knew a particular sector of the War fronts. The first of these was to Lyons, where he lectured to the University at the request of the Foreign Office ; and the second was to the Italian front in June 1916. Then he went on to Rome. There had been general discontent in Allied circles over the lack of sympathy shown for their cause by the Vatican, and neither the efforts of Sir Henry Howard, head of the British mission to the Holy See, nor those of Cardinal Gasquet, the only English-speaking Cardinal in Curia, had modified this hostility. Little as it liked the Hohenzollerns, the Vatican had some reason for bolding to the Austrian connection. Neither the Masonic governments of France and Italy, nor the Liberal government presided over by Mr. Lloyd George, gave much ground for hoping that the rights of Catholic populations would be respected in the post-war settlement, should the Allied Powers prove victorious. Quite early in the War, a Catholic friend in the Foreign Office, J. D. Gregory, had mooted the idea that Belloc should go out and see the Pope. He was at all times ready to do what could, and the visit to the Italian front gave him an easy opportunity. He arrived in Rome on June 3, and two days later he was writing to Miss Hamilton from a room in the Vatican, on Vatican notepaper, with the complaint that he had just had fifty three pounds stolen in a Post Office. As he was finishing this letter, Mgr. Pacelli came into the room ; and the man whom he was later to see crowned as Pius XII informed him that Benedict XV would receive him in private audience. He gave his impressions of this in a letter to Charlotte Balfour, written from Paris on July 11:
I had a long, long talk with him. He is a thoroughly good man, which is not what I had been led to expect ! 1 had thought to see one of those rather subtle and very boring Italian officials—bureaucrates. Instead of that he has something like Holiness in his expression and an intense anxious sincerity. He spoke of individual conversion as opposed to political Catholicism in a way which—with my temperament all for the Collective Church—profoundly impressed me. I was exceedingly glad to have seen him and to have got his blessing. . . I spoke to him at great length on Poland ; that is the key after the war. Only, as all plain wisdom demands clear action and the re-erection of Poland, it will be too much to expect of the modern world. But such as men are they may do something towards that end. Such conditions make me long for momentary power.
All this talk about Poland presupposed that the Allies would win. 'But do you think they will, Mr Belloc?' the Pope asked With kindly scepticism. It was proposed that Belloc should pay him a second visit in 1917:
I shook him badly and took many thousands of prisoners and guns from him a year ago, and some think I might, by repeating the attack under the much more favourable conditions of this moment, compel a general retreat.
But this idea came to nothing.

From The Tablet 27th October 1956.

Monday, 4 August 2014

A calamitous moment in European history...




''Germany must, in fulfilment of a duty to herself, obtain colonial possessions at the expense of France, obtain both colonial possessions and sea-power at the expense of England, and put an end, by campaigns perhaps defensive, but at any rate vigorous, to the menace of Slav barbarism upon the East. She was potentially, by her strength and her culture, the mistress of the modern world, the chief influence in it, and the rightful determinant of its destinies. She must by war pass from a potential position of this kind to an actual position of domination." Such was the German mood, such was the fatuous illusion which produced this war. It had at its service, as we shall see later, numbers and, backed by this superiority of numbers, it counted on victory.

Hilaire Belloc - 'The German Object' - A General Sketch of the European War (The First Phase).


Monday, 28 July 2014

Belloc and the War...


On the 28th of July 1914 His Imperial and Apostolic Majesty Kaiser Franz Joseph (the real German Kaiser, as opposed to the Prussian upstart in Berlin) declared war on the Serbian Nation. The rest is history. This came after the famous ultimatum delivered to the Serbs by the Austrians. Belloc's view, as expressed in The Cruise of the Nona, was that the document was formulated in Berlin as it possessed (as he saw it) the bellicose hallmarks of Prussian arrogance.

Belloc had a lot to say about the First World War, primarily through his own weekly journal Land and Water. It was a rather slanted view of the War and, I suspect, it was State funded. I further suspect that Winston Churchill had a hand in it. He was instrumental in whipping up anti-German hysteria in the run up to the War: notably with reference to the alleged German spy rings which were supposed to be operating in England at the time. Belloc and Churchill got on, for a while, and even bottled wine together! In fact, Churchill was about to put him on his personal staff at the Admiralty (early 1917) when he was dismissed from office.

Aside from that, Land and Water is a bloody good read. I hope to focus on his War writings, in more detail, over the coming weeks.