Thoughts for Remembrance Sunday The BBC recently celebrated the life and work of H G Wells, who was born 140 years ago and died 60 years ago. Although a science fiction writer, Wells is respected by many as a visionary who predicted the ways technology would contribute to future wars. In 1935 he wrote the screenplay for the film of his 1933 book “The Shape of Things to Come”, simply entitled “Things to Come”. Here is an extract from Ron’s journal, written in 1981
I am writing this in the summerhouse. The dog lies contentedly on the lawn; the birds are singing; the sun is shining through galloping yellow-grey clouds surging from the south-west; in the greenhouse the plants are looking lush and green; it is a picture of contentment for which I give thanks. Why then is there lurking in the back of my mind that disquieting sense of – I know not what to call it – not exactly gloom, uncertainty, foreboding? I trace the answer back to breakfast and the radio playing the music Sir Arthur Bliss wrote for the film “Things to Come”, which the announcer said was first shown in 1935.
I remember it as though it were yesterday. I recall how I left the cinema a very sober and concerned 12 year old. The film has left a lasting impression to this day for this reason: that it was the first time a prophecy was to unfold before my horrified eyes. The music moves from describing children playing soldiers in the comfort and supposed security of their home, through attack and all the terrors of indiscriminate warfare, destruction, desolation and pestilence, to recovery and reconstruction through mechanisation and technological advance. The final piece effuses the atmosphere of a triumphal technological utopia launching out into space – optimistic, planet-venturing.
My brother and I were those children playing soldiers. Throughout 1937 and 1938 I remember my growing awareness of the Nazi threat; then came the war, evacuation, and terror from the skies. A particular fulfilment of the 1935 prophecy came on the night of the first flying bomb raid on London. I was studying for my degree at my home in Abbey Wood. Terror rested in the unknown nature of the horror: the unfamiliar engine noise, the sudden silence, the ghastly explosion.
The prophecy unfolded. As a telecommunications worker I travelled the country – to Coventry, a burnt-out city, its cathedral in ruins, to Plymouth, Bristol, Portsmouth; everywhere I visited carried the scars of war. Yet there was talk of reconstruction, of town and country planning. The mood was optimistic, the vision utopian.
Now I find the triumphal spirit of the march from “Things to Come” an empty mockery. The shadow of foreboding still hangs over us. Apparently we have solved nothing. Technology has advanced. It has delivered the goods but not the utopia.
It is time we all prayed for Thy Kingdom to come on Earth, not the empty kingdoms of our own making which offer no satisfaction and are foredoomed. I found this Chinese proverb on the door of the Church of the Holy Cross near Aston Keynes:
“If there be righteousness in the heart there will be beauty in the character.
If there be beauty in the character there will be harmony in the home,
If there be harmony in the home there will be order in each nation.
When there is order in each nation there will be peace in the world.”
Ron Cretchley www.thinkingpoet.co.uk
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Irene, greetings to you. This is a classic your late husband wrote. It is thrilling to read eye witness accounts, and he did wonderfully in letting the reader share his thoughts. I hope all is well with you. Thomas