Guernica

Late one evening, after a very entertaining visit to trips through the beautiful Surrey Hills, and to the world famous Brooklands motorsport and aviation museum, orchestrated by my son and his wife as a birthday treat, I mentioned, once again (!), my interest in art and recent history.

As my daughter-in-law is Spanish, I spoke of my disappointment that on a visit to Madrid I missed out on a visit to the Prado Museum to see Pablo Picasso’s famous mural Guernica, named by him as a testament to the savage bombing of the Basque town by the German Air Force during the Spanish Civil War. It was a forewarning of similar horrors in a soon to come Second World War.

I mentioned that I had read C.J. Sansom’s novel Winter in Madrid, about Madrid in 1940 lying in ruins after the end of the Spanish Civil War, with the Nazis marching through Europe, spreading more destruction.

She nodded, but indicated there was another book I should read. She loaned me her copy and it is a shocking story, describing in detail the barbaric bombing of Guernica, no quarter given, and the small town’s inhabitants.

It is Guernica by Dave Boling, published in 2009 by Picador.

However, what struck me was a passage in the book where one of the protagonists, Wolfram Von Richtofen wrote in his journal: Fear, which cannot be simulated in peaceful training of troops, is very important because it affects morale…

The reason was that only recently, I’d read something very similar in The Times newspaper about Russia’s campaign in Syria. Apparently, President Putin had hailed the Kremlin’s military campaign as a ‘priceless opportunity’ to develop the Russian army’s fighting capabilities and test new weaponry.

He said: ‘The use of our armed forces in the battlefield is a unique experience, a unique tool by which to improve our armed forces. No amount of military exercises could compare with the use of force in combat conditions.’

Frightening words, indeed, when we consider the consequences of what such statements can lead to.

W.L.