George Bell, Bishop of Chichester: Church, State and Resistance in the Age of Dictatorship
Eerdmans, pp. 224, £
George Bell (1883–1958) was, in many respects, a typical Anglican prelate of his era. He went to Westminster and Christ Church, and passed his career in the C of E’s fast stream. Never a parish priest, he became, first, chaplain (and later, biographer) of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson; next, Dean of Canterbury; finally, Bishop of Chichester. He was not an intellectual or a contemplative. He was an effective, energetic leader, strongly interested in public affairs, a natural candidate to end up as an archbishop of the established church.
This did not happen, probably because Bell opposed ‘area’ Allied bombing of Germany in the second world war. Such carpet-bombing threatened ‘the roots of civilisation’, he said. The British war cabinet, by permitting the indiscriminate devastation of civilian populations, was ‘blind to the harvest’.
Given the titanic nature of the struggle against Hitler, it is not surprising that many, from Winston Churchill downwards, were angry with Bell. When Bell’s office requested transport for him to visit an RAF station in his diocese, an officer there retorted: ‘Let the bugger bike.’ But Bell was not a pacifist, and he was someone who, against the trend, had always warned against the Nazis. In the 1930s and even — when contacts were minimal — in the 1940s, Bell did everything he could to support Christian resistance in Germany. Close to many of the July plotters against Hitler in 1944, he was probably the only senior English clergyman to work actively with those trying to overthrow the regime. He sought unsuccessfully to persuade the British government to back them.
This commitment explains why the last message of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, before he was murdered by the SS in April 1945, was to Bell. The principle of ‘universal Christian brotherhood which rises above all national hatreds’, Bonhoeffer said in that message, means that ‘our victory is certain’.
‘Universal Christian brotherhood’ can sound platitudinous, but the spectacle of Christians killing one another in vast numbers twice in the 20th century showed that it is all too easily forgotten. To Bell (and Bonhoeffer), it meant everything. That is why he absolutely resisted writing off all Germans. His striking way of putting it was ‘Germany was the first country in Europe to be occupied by the Nazis.’
Round this, as Andrew Chandler sets out in this learned and thoughtful book, Bell organised his thought and action: his help for Jewish refugees and persecuted ‘non-Aryan’ Christians; for all the German churches which refused to enter the stooge ‘Reichkirche’; for those detained as ‘enemy aliens’ on the Isle of Man; for a negotiated peace if Hitler were overthrown; and for those trying to rebuild Germany after its defeat.
Bell lacked political skill. As the historian Owen Chadwick put it, he was ‘the most Christian bishop of his age, but had little idea how to commend the points he wanted to press’, so most of his causes — the ecumenical movement is the great exception — did not prevail. His importance lies in his witness to the truth as he saw it. T.S. Eliot, whom Bell encouraged to write Murder in the Cathedral, described him as ‘a lovable man’. Bell had, said Eliot, ‘dauntless integrity’, and ‘no fear of the consequences’ of speaking out: ‘With this went understanding and simplicity of manner, the outward signs, I believe, of inward humility.’
Fifty-seven years after George Bell’s death, his own diocese, supported by the national Church authorities, announced that Bell had sexually abused a child between 1949 and 1953. They gave no details, and paid compensation. (The complainant later revealed herself to have been a five-year-old girl when the alleged abuse began.) The Church said it had decided against Bell ‘on the balance of probabilities’. No other such accusations — or even rumours — have ever been heard against Bell. His name was removed from buildings and institutions named after him.
A recent detailed review of the case showed that no effort had been made by the Church to consider the evidence for Bell: his voluminous papers and diaries had not been consulted, nor had living people who worked with him at that time (including one domestic chaplain, Adrian Carey, now aged 94, who spent virtually every waking moment with Bell for more than two of the years in which the abuse supposedly happened). His cause was given no legal advocate. Instead, in a process still kept secret, the ‘victim’ was believed. The normal burden of proof was reversed and so it was considered wicked to doubt her veracity.
As Chandler puts it, ‘We are asked to invest an entire authority in one testimony and to dismiss all the materials by which we have come to know the historical George Bell as mere figments of reputation.’ Of course, if Bell was guilty, his high reputation should not protect him. But we have not been given the chance to establish fairly whether he was. Jesus, of course, also suffered from unjust process. When the Church forgets this, it is not — as it claims — rejecting the dreadful child-abuse cover-ups of the past. It is dishonouring the example of its founder.
THEY were an unlikely pair — the English bishop and the German Christian-Jewish constitutional lawyer — but they were linked by the fact that Bell shared a birthday with Leibholz’s wife, Sabine, and thus with her twin brother, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who is present, off-stage, throughout the book. It was the Bonhoeffer connection that made it natural for Leibholz to turn to Bell for help, when he and his family escaped from Nazi Germany in 1938. Practical help in finding food and shelter, work and income, and in dealing with intractable bureaucracies, dominates the early phase of the correspondence and recurs throughout.
Leibholz was only one of many whom Bell was aiding, before, during, and after the war, with advocacy and practical Christianity. In 1945, Bell was supporting Dietrich’s youngest sister, Susanne, in getting members of her husband’s congregation in Berlin to put slices of bread in the collection plate for starving children. He does all this and more, while fulfilling, even over-fulfilling, the duties of his daytime job as Bishop of Chichester. He is unfailingly kind, thoughtful, practical, and effective, making full use of his position at the heart of the Ecumenical Movement and of the Establishment with easy access to politicians, publishers, universities, and, above all, the House of Lords, which gave him a platform for his prophetic ministry to the nation and beyond.
This is the core of the book, in which Leibholz’s mastery of jurisprudence and knowledge of Germany inform Bell’s passion for justice. Their chief concern was the Christian and democratic future of Germany and of Europe. They were strongly opposed to both Fascism and Communism, but feared that British and Allied vindictive attitudes (typified by Robert Vansittart) and the policy of unconditional surrender failed to distinguish between Nazis and Germans, deprived the resistance of hope, and prolonged the war.
STADTARCHIV GÖTTINGEN Gerhard Leibholz
They were deeply critical of the agreements reached in Casablanca, Yalta, and Potsdam, and, while wanting a unified Germany, feared that it could be only a communist one. After three years of political stagnation, 1945-48, they rejoiced to see the beginnings of the Marshall Plan and the establishment of the Federal Republic, though at the cost of a separate German Democratic Republic. Leibholz was restored to his Professorship at Göttingen, and became a leading member of the Federal Constitutional Court. He is regarded as one of the founders of the modern German State.
The exchange of letters is a delight. However intimate and affectionate the contents, they consistently address each other as “Dear Leibholz” and “My Lordbishop” (sic). Leibholz is expressing himself in a second language; so there are inevitable infelicities. Bell writes with unfailing clarity and charity, compassion and care. In a letter of 1945, he lets us into the secret: “I don’t want to say things that are unnecessary or untrue, and I want to remember the minds of the reader into whose hands such [letters] might fall. I want to say no word that cannot be substantiated.”
Readers should include all who care for truth and right, justice and mercy, German and church history, and Bonhoeffer studies. The book is beautifully produced with an introduction, real footnotes, extensive bibliography and index, and two appendices: Gerhard’s perceptive and appreciative review of Bell’s Christianity and World Order, and Sabine’s wide-eyed memoir of the family’s first visit to Chichester in January 1939.
Leibholz died, crowned with years and honours, in 1982, and Bell in 1958, after chairing a meeting of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches and attending the Lambeth Conference. As Leibholz and his wife wrote to his widow: “What made him unique was that he put into action the spirit which moved him and commanded his conscience. The World has become poorer by a really great man. . . We have to thank him for having granted us the privilege of setting up a bond of friendship which shall last forever and which death cannot destroy.”
The Very Revd Dr John Arnold is a former Dean of Durham.
The George Bell-Gerhard Leibholz Correspondence: In the long shadow of the Third Reich, 1934-1958 Gerhard Ringshausen and Andrew Chandler, editors Bloomsbury £85 (978-1-4742-5766-4) Church Times Bookshop £76.
‘Buckingham Palace opposed stripping Savile of knighthood after his death’ – interesting piece by @TimesONeill on the issue of posthumous forfeiture of honours and whether the rules should change pic.twitter.com/DPO6ZnYi2O
And Buckingham Palace remained silent as the Church of England – whose Supreme Head is Her Majesty The Queen – continued to trash the name of its great wartime Bishop of Chichester, George Bell – despite two legal rulings clearing him of a posthumous paedophilia accusation.
So the Archbishops of Canterbury and York “have issued a rare joint apology” for the Church of England’s misguided declaration that those in civil partnerships should not have sex. (“Archbishops ‘very sorry’ for sex advice”, Jan 31). This, they now acknowledge, “has jeopardised trust” among the general public.
Apologies from clergy, especially senior ones, are rare indeed in my experience.
The Archbishops have one further apology to make while they are in the mood – to admirers and relatives of Bishop George Bell of Chichester (died 1958). The saintly bishop was accused a few years ago of paedophilia on extremely uncertain grounds given his previously entirely blameless reputation. Against all reason Archbishop Welby still considers Bell to be ‘under a cloud’. This unjustified slur has been long overdue for removal, and the present moment would be a good time to achieve that.
Following the 75th Anniversary of the Dresden bombing, we must remember that the wartime Bishop of Chichester George Bell was outspoken in his opposition to the Obliteration Policy of German cities.
Lord Bishop Bell, who was anti-Nazi but not anti-German, questioned the morality of bombing civilians. Most of his fellow Bishops in the House of Lords did not openly support him, and his moral stand in what he believed to be right made him few friends, especially in the higher echelons of power.
But this brave Bishop, who was considered a future Archbishop, was revered by many. George Bell House, at the Cathedral’s 4 Canon Lane was dedicated in his honour – and there is a ‘Dresden Room’ within that building.
Shameful, but discredited, attempts have been made to tarnish his reputation in recent times. Official apology has not been forthcoming.
Bishop Bell’s courage, bravery and integrity must not be forgotten
On February 4, 1944, a prominent Anglican bishop addressed Britain’s House of Lords. He deplored the devastation wrought by the Royal Air Force (RAF) in nighttime raids on dozens of German cities: Lübeck, Rostock, Cologne, Hamburg, and Berlin, among others. His name was George Kennedy Allen Bell of Chichester.
Bishop Bell warned that not just military and industrial targets, but museums, libraries, churches, hospitals, schools, and architectural monuments were being destroyed indiscriminately along with residential areas. While apartment blocks could be rebuilt, cultural treasures were being lost forever that would be needed for the Germans’ cultural renewal after the war.
He mentioned cities that had not yet been bombed: “Dresden, Augsburg, Munich are among the larger towns….” He hoped that RAF Bomber Command would restrict future attacks to the military installations and arms factories generally situated in such cities’ outskirts, while avoiding town centers full of cultural monuments.
Biblical scholars remind us that “prophecy” involves much more than just foretelling the future. But Bell was speaking prophetically at multiple levels. All the cities he mentioned were eventually subject to devastating air raids before war’s end. Dresden’s bombing, in a series of attacks on February 13-15, 1945, has become infamous.
Bell was neither a pacifist nor a sentimentalist. He had been a committed anti-Nazi since the early 1930s. He fully supported the Allied war against Hitler even as his extensive ecumenical friendships with Germans such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer made him draw a crucial distinction between the Nazi regime and the German people.
Nor was Bell militarily naïve. In preparing his speech he relied on the advice and assistance of his friend Captain B. F. Liddell Hart, the noted military historian and strategist. Bell accepted the necessity of air raids on Germany, provided that they were directed at targets like military bases, airfields, arms factories, railroad yards, naval docks, radio stations, radar installations, and oil refineries.
However, in 1942, responding to effective German air defenses and limitations in navigation and targeting technology, Bomber Command adopted a policy of “area” or “obliteration” bombing. Instead of aiming at specific targets, the strategy was to mass as many bombers as possible over an urban area by night and to drop as many bombs as possible. The hope was that at least some assets of military, industrial, or administrative significance would be engulfed in the general devastation below. The violence was indiscriminate. In each raid, vast residential areas were destroyed, and thousands of civilians were killed.
Bell understood that this policy violated the Christian just war tradition’s jus in bello norms of discrimination, noncombatant immunity, and proportionality. He granted that unintended civilian casualties were inescapable in necessary raids against military targets. But the sheer extent of noncombatant suffering and death caused by area bombing was entirely out of proportion.
“I fully realize,” Bell declared, “that in attacks on centers of war industry and transport the killing of civilians when it is the result of bona-fide military activity is inevitable. But there must be a fair balance between the means employed and the purpose achieved. To obliterate a whole town because certain portions contain military and industrial establishments is to reject the balance.”
By early 1944, technological innovations and Allied air supremacy could have made a switch to “precision bombing” feasible. But under Sir Arthur (“Bomber”) Harris’ obstinate leadership, the RAF continued area bombing through the war’s end. Bell’s speech had not the slightest effect on military policy. But some suggest it cost him any prospect of becoming Archbishop of Canterbury when William Temple died suddenly eight months later.
The speech’s real value lay in putting a statement of prophetic Christian witness on record. Future generations could look back to see a clear voice of conscience raised to protest this immoral strategy.
The bombing’s 75th anniversary raises the question of why the name “Dresden” has taken on iconic significance. Using the same strategy, Bomber Command undertook similar attacks over a four-year period against dozens and dozens of enemy cities.
True, the Dresden raid was horrific. Swollen with refugees fleeing advancing Soviet armies on the Eastern Front 80 miles away, the city was largely undefended, with inadequate air-raid shelters. The RAF’s aiming point was the town center, where the ancient timbers of medieval buildings quickly caught fire when pummeled by high-explosive “blockbuster” bombs and a rain of incendiary devices. The resulting firestorm killed an estimated 25,000 civilians.
It was, however, neither the first, last, nor deadliest raid of the war. The British bombing of Hamburg on July 27, 1943 caused a similar firestorm, killing about 42,000 civilians. Less than a month after Dresden, the American firebombing of Tokyo (March 9, 1945), killed about 100,000 and left over a million homeless. It was the single most destructive bombing raid in human history. Then came the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
What may be special about Dresden, however, is that it was the first city whose destruction awakened significant numbers of consciences on the Allied side. The Nazi propaganda machine disseminated hundreds of photographs documenting the carnage, which soon appeared in British and American newspapers.
Public revulsion ensued, heightened by Dresden’s cultural significance as home to a vast collection of artistic treasures, and led to widespread questioning of the city bombing. Bishop Bell’s House of Lords speech of a year earlier may have sown seeds of conscientious doubt that began to blossom.
The questioning reached the highest levels of government. In a memo of March 28, 1945, Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote: “It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into possession of an utterly ruined land. … The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing.” After vehement RAF objections to the word “terror” as the bombing’s objective, Churchill removed the offending phrase in a revised draft. By then, however, the point was moot with the European war almost over.
Historians and ethicists continue to debate whether the Dresden raid was militarily and morally justified. Some defend it as a legitimate attack against a vital center of administration, communications, transportation, and industry crucial to the enemy’s efforts to resupply the Eastern Front. Others condemn it as a moral outrage that killed tens of thousands of civilians for negligible military gains.
In the years since, the Dresden bombing has become something of a political football. Until 1989, the city was located in Communist East Germany, whose government pointed to the city’s destruction as an instance of Anglo-American terrorism. Since German reunification, far-right and neo-Nazi groups have appropriated that rhetoric, using the controversial and offensive term Bombenholocaust (holocaust by bombing) to describe the conflagration. At the opposite end of the political spectrum, German Antifa groups annually celebrate Bomber Harris for killing hundreds of thousands of Germans that they regard as complicit in Nazi crimes.
In today’s polarized political discourse, the memory of Dresden all too easily becomes a symbol and catalyst of division. A more hopeful and ultimately Christian approach looks instead to its potential as a signpost of reconciliation.
One of the most beautiful buildings destroyed in the Dresden firestorm was the baroque Frauenkirche — the Lutheran Church of Our Lady. For 60 years following 1945, its ruins stood in silent witness to the war’s devastation. But in 2005 it was painstakingly reconstructed and returned to service as a home for a worshiping community.
The gold orb and cross on the church’s dome were forged by Alan Smith, a London goldsmith whose father participated in the RAF raid on Dresden. On the main altar stands a cross of nails given by Coventry Cathedral in England — itself destroyed by the Luftwaffe on November 14, 1940 and rebuilt after the war. In the past 15 years, the Dresden Frauenkirche has become a center of worldwide ecumenical pilgrimage, hosting, among others, Catholic groups from neighboring Czech Republic and Poland, early victims of German wartime aggression.
Such symbolic gestures of repentance, reconciliation, and forgiveness testify to shared hope for a future free from such mass atrocities. In a world where war itself is unlikely to be abolished anytime soon, the urgent work continues of trying to limit noncombatant suffering and death as far as possible. Bishop Bell would approve.
The Rev. John D. Alexander, a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island, is writing a book on the Church of England in the Second World War.
“The firestorm is incredible… Insane fear grips me and from then on I repeat one simple sentence to myself continuously: ‘I don’t want to burn to death’. I do not know how many people I fell over. I know only one thing: that I must not burn.”
On 13 February 1945, British aircraft launched an attack on the eastern German city of Dresden. In the days that followed, they and their US allies would drop nearly 4,000 tons of bombs in the assault.
The ensuing firestorm killed 25,000 people, ravaging the city centre, sucking the oxygen from the air and suffocating people trying to escape the flames.
Dresden was not unique. Allied bombers killed tens of thousands and destroyed large areas with attacks on Cologne, Hamburg and Berlin, and the Japanese cities of Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
But the bombing has become one of the most controversial Allied acts of World War Two. Some have questioned the military value of Dresden. Even British Prime Minister Winston Churchill expressed doubts immediately after the attack.
“It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed,” he wrote in a memo.
“The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing.”
This story contains graphic images.
Dresden is the capital of the state of Saxony. Before the bombing it was referred to as the Florence on the Elbe or the Jewel Box, for its climate and its architecture.
By February 1945, Dresden was only about 250km (155 miles) from the Eastern Front, where Nazi Germany was defending against the advancing armies of the Soviet Union in the final months of the war.
The city was a major industrial and transportation hub. Scores of factories provided munitions, aircraft parts and other supplies for the Nazi war effort. Troops, tanks and artillery travelled through Dresden by train and by road. Hundreds of thousands of German refugees fleeing the fighting had also arrived in the city.
At the time, the UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) said it was the largest German city yet to be bombed. Air chiefs decided an attack on Dresden could help their Soviet allies – by stopping Nazi troop movements but also by disrupting the German evacuations from the east.
RAF bomber raids on German cities had increased in size and power after more than five years of war.
Planes carried a mix of high explosive and incendiary bombs: the explosives would blast buildings apart, while the incendiaries would set the remains on fire, causing further destruction.
Previous attacks had annihilated entire German cities. In July 1943, hundreds of RAF bombers took part in a mission against Hamburg, named Operation Gomorrah. The resulting assault and unusually dry and hot weather caused a firestorm – a blaze so great it creates its own weather system, sucking winds in to feed the flames – which destroyed almost the whole city.
The attack on Dresden began on 13 February 1945. Close to 800 RAF aircraft – led by pathfinders, who dropped flares marking out the bombing area centred on the Ostragehege sports stadium – flew to Dresden that night. In the space of just 25 minutes, British planes dropped more than 1,800 tons of bombs.
As was common practice during the war, US aircraft followed up the attack with day-time raids. More than 520 USAAF bombers flew to Dresden over two days, aiming for the city’s railway marshalling yards but in reality hitting a large area across the city.
On the ground, civilians cowered under the onslaught. Many had fled to shelters after air raid sirens warned of the incoming bombers.
But the first wave of aircraft knocked out the electricity. Some came out of hiding just as the second wave arrived above the city.
People fell dead as they ran from the flames, the air sucked from their lungs by the fire storm. Eyewitness Margaret Freyer described a woman with her baby: “She runs, she falls, and the child flies in an arc into the fire… The woman remains lying on the ground, completely still”.
Kurt Vonnegut survived the bombing as a prisoner of war in Dresden.
“Dresden was one big flame. The one flame ate everything organic, everything that would burn,” he wrote in his work Slaughterhouse-Five.
He described the city after the attack as “like the moon now, nothing but minerals. The stones were hot. Everybody else in the neighbourhood was dead.”
In total, the British lost six bombers in the attack, three to planes accidentally hitting each other with bombs. The US lost one.
Nazi Germany immediately used the bombing to attack the Allies. The Propaganda Ministry claimed Dresden had no war industry and was only a city of culture. Though local officials said about 25,000 people had died – a figure historians agree with now – the Nazis claimed 200,000 civilians were killed.
In the UK, Dresden was known as a tourist destination, and some MPs and public figures questioned the value of the attack. A story at the time published by the Associated Press news agency said the Allies were conducting terror bombing, spreading further alarm.
US and UK military planners, however, insisted the attack was strategically justified, in the same way as attacks on other cities – by disrupting industry, destroying workers’ homes and crippling transport in Germany.
A 1953 US report on the bombing concluded that the attack destroyed or severely damaged 23% of the city’s industrial buildings, and at least 50% of its residential buildings. But Dresden was “a legitimate military target”, the report said, and the attack was no different “from established bombing policies”.
The debate about the Allied bombing campaign, and about the attack on Dresden, continues to this day. Historians question if destruction of German cities hindered the Nazi war effort, or simply caused civilian deaths – especially towards the end of the conflict. Unlike an invasion like D-Day, it is harder to quantify how much these attacks helped win the war.
Some argue it is a moral failing for the Allies, or even a war crime. But defenders say it was a necessary part of the total war to defeat Nazi Germany.
It has even become a symbol for conspiracy theorists and some far-right activists – including Holocaust deniers and extremist parties – who have quoted Nazi casualty figures as fact and have commemorated the bombing.
Seventy-five years later, the bombing of Dresden remains a controversial act.
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‘DRESDEN/BELL’ EMAIL FROM DR GERALD MORGAN
The troubling question of the bombing of Dresden is raised in your columns by Sinclair McKay and A.N. Wilson under the heading ‘Was the Bombing of Dresden a War Crime?’ (The Spectator, 8 February 2020, pp.20-22). It is written with the luxury of knowing that Nazi Germany was defeated in 1939-1945, a knowledge denied to those with the awesome responsibility of winning the war. In many respects the contributions are self-indulgent and imbued with an arrogant sense of moral and even aesthetic superiority.
How to defeat Nazi German in 1939-1945 (no simple task)? Germany did not surrender after the liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944, although a civilised nation might have done so.
Sadly Arnhem (17-26 September 1944) was a tragic failure, leaving Holland to the cruelty of German occupation throughout the winter of 1944-1945. Probably Boy Browning (Eton) was as much to blame for this failure as anyone else, but the British blamed the Poles under Sosabowski, who indeed wanted to fight on once Operation Market Garden had been undertaken.
So far from surrendering the Germans invaded the Ardennes on 16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945 and in defeating them the Americans lost some 85,000 men. No small price to pay. I remain loath to criticise those who fought and won the war even in the wake of Arnhem. And, as if the Poles had not suffered enough, thanks to continuing German resistance the Soviet offensive in Poland was launched on 12 January 1945.
I have greater admiration for George Bell, Bishop of Chichester (1929-1958), for he opposed area bombing in the midst of the war when it took great moral courage to do so. Unsurprisingly his words of wisdom were not heeded at that time. Since then his reputation has been trashed by the present Archbishop of Canterbury (yet another Old Etonian).
And what lessons have we drawn about the bombing of civilian populations since 1945? In March 2003 the messianic Tony Blair, supported by countless Labour and Tory MPs (including Theresa May) unleashed with the Americans a bombing campaign on Iraq.
In the 1960s Harold Wilson and the Labour Party expelled the Chagos Islanders from their home in the Indian Ocean to make way for an American bombing base at Diego Garcia.
How easy it is to convict Sir Arthur Harris and Mr Winston Churchill of war crimes in their absence.
Perhaps we can at least restore the reputation of the Bishop of Chichester by according him the presumption of innocence.
Gerald Morgan, FTCD (Leader: English Parliamentary Party, 2001)
Dr Gerald Morgan, FTCD (1993)
Lydbrook School (1946-1953),
Monmouth School (1953-1961),
Meyricke Exhibitioner, Jesus College, Oxford (1961-1964),
D.Phil. (Oxon.), 1973
Director:The Chaucer Hub.
Tel.: 086 456 56 60
The Revd Dr Barry A. Orford
‘BISHOP BELL’ LETTER SUBMITTED BY THE REVD DR BARRY ORFORD TO THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
The Daily Telegraph
February 13th, 2020
The article by Sinclair McKay (February 13th) on the 1945 bombing of Dresden was timely and welcome. What a pity, though, that he did not mention the most prominent wartime challenge to the British policy of Obliteration Bombing, which came from Bishop George Bell of Chichester.
In 1944, when Hamburg had been devastated the previous year and Dresden was still to suffer, Bishop Bell, a fervent anti-Nazi, questioned in the House of Lords the morality of such bombing of targets which were not primarily military. Few of his fellow bishops supported him, and he earned himself both widespread abuse but also agreement. The bravery of his stand is undeniable.
Recently, there have been shameful (and now discredited) attempts in Bell’s diocese to tarnish his reputation. Since an apology for this behaviour is still not forthcoming, it is more than ever necessary that we are reminded of George Bell’s courage and integrity, both in wartime and beyond it.
Dr Konrad Adenhauer [Source – “Adenhauer Memoirs 1945-53” – Page 241]
“Oberkirchenrat Cillien from Hanover visited England for two weeks in the summer of 1946 and made a very interesting report on his trip. He met prominent men in political and social life, and was impressed by the readiness of the British as private individuals to help. He also got the impression that government offices were doing everything in their power to alleviate conditions in Germany, and that the British could not understand why there was so little German recognition of all the trouble England was going through to save Germany from catastrophe after her defeat. British occupation policies were indeed being harshly criticised in Germany, especially the dismantling of big industrial plants, and many a hard word was said against the British.
“Oberkirchenrat Cillien told me that German appreciation and courtesy, whose absence had been so remarked on in Britain, were in his view a pre-condition of any later understanding and rapprochement. This door must not be allowed to close – not even if German complaints were justified. He had found a plain and simple readiness to give help, the predominant characteristic in all his conversations with leading personalities, especially of the Church of England.
“His visit to the Bishop of Chichester, Dr George Bell, showed this. Dr Bell, incidentally, had protested strongly against the unlimited bombing of Germany during the last years of the war.
“The Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Reverend Walter Robert Matthews (see “Teach Yourself Philosophy” by CEM Joad – Ed), had received Cillien with great kindness on the steps of the cathedral.
“All this Cillien took as a signof the readiness of British Christians to hold out a hand to a beaten enemy, without resentment. He was most impressed by British respect for the individuality ofan alien people.”