Barbara Kay: The Invasion of Ukraine and the Forgotten Virtues of Duty and Honor

British drama Foyle’s War makes the case for the resurrection of old ideas

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At midday on January 20, 1943, a little girl jumping on the school playground at Sandhurst Road in south-east London waved at what she thought was an RAF bomber. It was a German plane, the pilot of which “sliced” it in a salvo of machine guns. He then turned around and dropped a 500 kilogram bomb on the school building, killing 32 children and six staff instantly. About 60 others were injured, some grotesquely. Parents frantically searched the rubble for their missing children.

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A survivor (of numerous operations, two leg amputations) told a journalist later in life: “I saw the best and the worst of humanity during the war. From the malevolence of the pilot who was about to kill children, to the nurse who kept the ribbon from the chocolate boxes and braided it in our hair, and our director, who visited me and said calmly: “It was a bad day, it was ‘not that.'”

A bad day “. How English is this euphemism?

I was unaware of the Sandhurst school bombing until it became part of the plot of Foyle’s War, a 2002-13 English series, set during and after the Second World War. I loved it then and I watch it again with even more appreciation for its production values ​​and writing smarts.

Created by accomplished novelist and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz (Poirot, The Alex Ryder YA series), Foyle’s War recreates England’s home front in the town of Hastings on England’s south coast with impeccable fidelity to material features and cultures of the time. Although presented as a mystery series, Foyle’s War was conceived as a portal into the lives of English men and women of all classes – at their best and their worst – facing for years the justifiable terror of an impending invasion and the relentless stress of a continued siege by a brutal and amoral enemy.

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The central character is the widower Det. Supt. Local police’s Christopher Foyle, played as the epitome of English understatement by Michael Kitchen. The series begins in 1940, with England dangerously held hostage by Hitler’s seemingly unstoppable Nazi juggernaut, and ends in season eight with Foyle still solving crimes, but now set against a Cold War backdrop.

Foyle is often frustrated in his efforts to solve crimes by war-related political interventions favoring military objectives that conflict with the normal course of criminal justice. Foyle himself would have preferred to contribute to the war effort, but was denied a transfer. At his side are his trusty driver, “Sam” (Samantha), a vicar’s daughter, whose wholesomeness and stubbornly dynamic optimism provide comic relief, and the devoted Sgt. Paul Milner, whose personal war ended early in Trondheim, Norway, where an injury resulted in a leg amputation.

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Foyle is old school: none of the weaknesses, neuroses, drinking problems, or distracting sexual entanglements we associate with contemporary detectives. Stoic, reserved and calm, demanding but fair to his subordinates, Foyle is pushed into combative glaciation by the hypocrisy or cowardice of his superiors. Huge reserves of sensibility are evoked, but sequestered by default, according to the English horror of ‘wet’ sentimentality. The too-soon death of the woman he still mourns prevents real happiness, but Foyle finds modest pleasure in fly-fishing and casual friendships.

Each episode contains three intertwined elements: a local murder to solve, a main character’s personal conflict, and a “tutorial” on some aspect of warfare. The facts of the Sandhurst school bombing, for example, unfold during a subplot in which Foyle’s goddaughter appears out of the blue one day, alone in the world but for her child, a little boy. become mute. after surviving this tragedy.

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Foyle’s son, Andrew, is a fighter pilot, cheating death daily by tearing thumbs. The episodes he stars in shed light on the ecstatic highs and heartbreaking lows of a pilot’s constant exposure to danger, as well as the fierce love of wartime male bonding, the heartbreaking grief of the frequent deaths or maimings of companions. weapons, the need to repress grief to continue flying with confidence, and the consequences of such repression weigh on intimate relationships with women.

Many commentators have watched – with sadness and wonder – as the war in Ukraine brings Europe back to horrors like the Sandhurst Road school bombing they thought they would never see again. Just as in 1943, the deliberate targeting of children was aimed at undermining national morale. The barbaric tactic had the opposite effect, just as it did in Britain at the time.

Duty and honor are outdated concepts in a postmodern world. Or so we believed. But here they are in Ukraine, and we enthusiastically approve of them. Foyle’s War provides the thoughtful viewer with an argument for their resurrection as a partial remedy for our own nation’s “post-national” malaise.

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Twitter: BarbaraRKay



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