St Martin's Ride

An aerial photo of destroyed buildings at Essen, Germany, in 1945
Between the ages of three and six I lived in Germany, in Essen, in the Ruhr. I did so  soon after the end of the Second World War. The German industrial cities had been about 90% destroyed by Allied saturation bombing, and constituted an appalling landscape of desolation: mile after mile of rubble and jagged ruins like rotting broken teeth. For many years I wanted to convey my child’s bewilderment at the results of so much adult aggression and anger, and eventually I did so – in the first part of my memoir St Martin’s Ride (1990/1991). The actual writing of this was galvanised by the coming down of the Berlin Wall which I witnessed Christmas 1989-New Year 1990. Like countless others I felt this extraordinary event was the true ending of the War into which I had been born, and whose grim aftermath had provided me with effectively my earliest memories.     

My early years in Germany have made me pacifistic, and a dedicated internationalist, starting with the EU. I find it hard to accept the need for any armed combat when the lives of the innocent – children and animals - are bound to be taken in its course, and have joined many protests when such combats are proposed.

When as a small child I returned from Germany to England, I was amazed at the general lack of interest in the sufferings and destruction I had seen on continental Europe, and I tended therefore for many years to keep these sorrows to myself. This was reinforced by my conventional private-school education, making me feel something of a foreigner in my own country. But perhaps that’s how a lot of English people feel anyway!

 

The Berlin Wall

The current wave of Europhobia caused by David Cameron’s veto has appalled me. I hold media rather than the government guilty, but they should appreciate what dragon’s teeth their attempt to please the reactionary wing of the Tory party has probably sown.

St Martin’s Ride was Sir Stephen Spender’s Book of the Year, was awarded the J.R. Ackerley Prize for the best autobiographical book of 1990, and was a runner-up for the Angel Award for that same year. It has been translated into Dutch. Please see link with FaberFinds.