I did not know my Grandfather, I was 13 when he died of Lung Cancer. He was not your typical Grandfather, for one thing he insisted that we called him Kenneth (which was, to be fair his name).
He was no longer married to my beloved Mimee when I was born, from the scraps of family history I picked up, my loyalty was to my grandma, which made for a difficult relationship all round.
I don’t remember much about our times together, to be honest, occasional trips to the theatre, Terry’s dark chocolate oranges, a stuffed Kermit the frog and some shiny copper pans, a scary hospital room.
For years all I knew about him was that he was a writer, a theatre critic.
My Pa showed me this letter yesterday and it floored me. I didn’t realise what a writer he was. For the first time in 37 years I wish I had known him better.
It felt so relevant, that I had to share it and I urge everyone to share it. This was a man, writing to his young daughter, towards the end of a war, he thought, would end all wars.
Lest we forget, and it feels amid the anger and the hate that perhaps we are forgetting and that should embarrass us and our world leaders.
To our Daughter,
Yours is the heritage of two great nations. Born of an American Mother and a British Father in the State of Maryland, U.S.A., you are recognised as a citizen by the laws of both the United States and Great Britain.
And even discounting the more usual charms which all parents see in their own children, we are inclined to think that this dual nationality makes you rather unique. Nevertheless, it is strange that such a communication as this should be addressed to you when you are but six months old.
The present, however, is the only time at which these things could be written, for they are our pledge to you and your future. You will be given this to read, god willing, on your twenty-first birthday.
You were born, dearest daughter, in such times as have never before seen on this earth. The Brutality, the suffering, the death endured among mankind has never been surpassed. Nor, indeed, and paradoxically, has there ever been such idealism, such high integrity of purpose, nor such hope for the future.
As we write, a new world is being born in the minds of good men, and its bloody travail is sweated out across the globe, from tiny islands in the Pacific to the beaches, hills and plains of all Europe and Asia.
It is a world, as you know, in which every nation has its right to a place in God’s undiscriminating sunlight; in which each race is accorded the respect of other races; in which no man, woman or child can starve amid abundance.
Now, in 1944, we are eager that you should soon read, so that you may know how much of the past has gone to make the present and the future which you enjoy.
You must read of the Magma Carta of King John, of the storming of the Bastille, of the Abolition of Slavery, of the Declaration of Independence, of the Bill of Rights.
Then, as you read this in 1965, you will know that there once existed such a world that the inscription on the Statue of Liberty at the New York gateway to the United States reads:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
At 21 there is no “wretched refuse” in your world, darling. But you understand, because you have read of the racial and religious persecutions of Europe in past centuries, and of a Ghetto in Warsaw and a gas chamber in Lublin which we have known in our time. And because you know, too, of Abraham Lincoln and of his oration at Gettysburg which you read even before you were old enough to understand and know that this great American in 1863 was speaking of the same “great task remaining before us” as Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke about in 1936 when he told us that our generation had a “rendezvous with Destiny;” and the same “unfinished work” as Winston Churchill meant in England’s dark hours of 1940, and which has seen completion only in your generation.
Your will remember how we told you of these things years ago; and how all our endeavours, our printed and spoken words, our lives, were never for anything but the fulfilment of these promises to those who have given their lives in the battle for the Liberty of Man, to those who are yet unborn, and to you.
You will remember how the great power for war which was in the United States and in the British Commonwealth, joined with their brother nations, was continued into the greatest power for peace that men had dreamed of………. but it was not easy.
These great decisions about your future were actually made by the ordinary men and women in those nations, by the exercise of their democratic will.
As we write this, the people of the United States are debating keenly the issues before them in a wartime Presidential election. We have implicit faith in their ability to choose well a President committed in the fullest measure to international co-operation for peace, together with a Congress which will tender him loyalty and support. And, as foreign and domestic issues can no longer be divorced from each other, we know also that such an Administration must also strive for prosperity at home among a people who are tolerant of everything but intolerance.
Such an Administration must necessarily be composed of persons whose courage and vision can be assessed on the basis of their known records.
For 1944, darling was not a time when the world could afford to wait when that time came they, too, chose wisely and well.
You remember these things, of course. We repeat them here only to ensure that you will not forget them. Never, never forget them, nor the millions of ordinary people whose lives were dedicated and even lost to the attainment of the ideals of war.
And finally, as you read these words in 1965, pause awhile to hear the world echoing at last in unison, the great American creed:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Do you hear, our dearest daughter, do you hear it? – clear and sweet as the bell of Evening song across the English Country side – carried on the winds across the Atlantic, over the Western Plains on a Kansas breeze, sweeping low to the Antipodes, heard like a persistent drum in the dark Congo, soaring upward to the Himalayas and on up the Nanking Road to rise with the stars over the Steppes, whispering soft over the Mediterranean blue, riding the wave-crests crescendo in Biscay Bay – and on, on again.
Listen, for we know your hear it. It is the measure of our success.
God help us all, if we, if our generation, have also failed.
Mother and Dad.