THROUGH THE ARCHIVES: ‘War over before Christmas’, says Dean of Canterbury

From the News Letter, August 18, 1943

Wednesday, 18th August 2021, 10:06 am
Wakefield Mayor Councillor Harry Watson bestows the Freedom of the City on General Montgomery in 1947. On visit to Belfast in 1943 the Dean of Canterbury, Dr Hewlett Johnston, referred to the general as: “General Montgomery is a progressive - a progressive soldier in the finest modern sense - learning all he can about modern war.” Picture: JPI Media archives
Wakefield Mayor Councillor Harry Watson bestows the Freedom of the City on General Montgomery in 1947. On visit to Belfast in 1943 the Dean of Canterbury, Dr Hewlett Johnston, referred to the general as: “General Montgomery is a progressive - a progressive soldier in the finest modern sense - learning all he can about modern war.” Picture: JPI Media archives

“If we could relieve the Russians of enemy divisions now - they are pinning down and driving back 200 German divisions compared with the three divisions against us in Sicily - the war would be over before Christmas, declared the Dean of Canterbury (Dr Hewlett Johnston) when he was interviewed by the News Letter on arrival in Belfast the previous day in 1943.

Dr Johnston’s chief engagement was to address a meeting in the Grosvenor Hall last night, under the auspices of the Ulster Soviet Committee, on ‘Soviet Strength and Its Source’.

Dr Johnston said that the second front now was important from the humanitarian point of view. The lives of innumerable fighting men would be saved and the lives of our allies’ men would be saved.

“If we attack now, perhaps, indeed, at some cost,” he said, “catch Germany on the wrong foot. If we go slowly she will get on to both feet again and we will have a long and bloody war.”

STALIN’S MIND

Saying that was sorry Russia was not represented at the present Anglo-American War Council, the Dean said that on the other hand it was just possible to argue that Mr Churchill and Mr Roosevelt knew Stalin’s mind. He had made it perfectly clear that what he wanted was a second front. Therefore, it was for the other two Allied leaders themselves to discuss how to give it. After the war, however, he would like to sec the three Powers in contact.

“At first blush,” said Dr Johnston, “the removal of M Maisky from London was a red danger signal that Russia was not satisfied with what was being done. That may be, but M Maisky, who is one of the ablest diplomats and statesmen in Europe, might even come back in a more important position The Russians are essentially realists. They might even take no account of the public opinion in a nation, but they would judge it by its actions, not its thoughts or intentions.”

Speaking with some emphasis, the Dean said: “The guns which were fired to celebrate the retaking of Orel were not for Orel alone. They were fired for what had been done in Orel and all that Stalin could see was then going to happen. The results we are now seeing in a series of Soviet advances.”

GENERAL MONTGOMERY

Recalling that he had talked for three and a half hours with General Montgomery when he was in London and that the General had come again for a second chat, Dr Johnston said that on the second occasion the Eighth Army leader had come with a group of distinguished soldiers, whom he could not name.

“General Montgomery,” he commented, “is a very ‘live’ man. He ‘wanted to know’. He listened to everything I could tell him - why the Soviet Union could put up such a show. He was eager to hear about the industrial side of it, and the moral side of the Soviet regime. I was able show him that, although the material side rose on steep incline every year, the moral side rose on a steeper incline every year.

“General Montgomery is a progressive - a progressive soldier in the finest modern sense - learning all he can about modern war. He is immensely progressive in the industrial sphere, because he wants to know what is the best industrial machine; progressive in the moral sphere because wants to know the best moral impetus behind industry.”

The Dean added that Britain gave the world the machine; America perfected it. Russia came in now and moralised it and spiritualised it. They were, therefore, natural partners in deciding how the machine was to used for the future and benefit of the whole world.

Dr Johnston added: “I am optimistic - full of beans about the future.”