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“Oh What a Lovely War”

Last week we went to see “O What a Lovely War”, given by a most accomplished amateur group in the Newman Hall, Henleaze. It is a satire on World War I and, by extension, on war in general. The show combines genuine pathos with rip roaring music hall songs. I first saw it at the age of 18 in the West End and was much impressed. It was a shock to hear the grim data on casualties, the result of asinine incompetence by generals and politicians.

This time I came away applauding the production but aware of how dated the piece is. It was part of the social revolution of the 1960’s, decrying the class system. I now know very much more about that war and I think the piece was partly a stick to beat the “upper classes”.

When the First World War finished the German civilian population was starving and bankrupt, and over half a million had died as a result of the Allied naval blockade.

Commonsense and Christian charity suggest that we should be magnanimous and forgiving after victory. But after the war we punished Germany and imposed severe reparations through the Treaty of Versailles. Alas, this was fertile ground for fanatics like Adolf Hitler. The result was not peace but, as one French general put it, a twenty year armistice between wars.

A lesson here is that one should always look at the other person’s views. This was brought home to me a few years ago when I was showing some German students around Falfield parish church. I drew attention to the war memorial and remarked that as always there were at least twice as many dead listed from the First World War than the Second. One girl replied: “It’s the other way round on German war memorials.”

V Costello

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