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Peter Rhodes on memories of September 3, how the Downton classes enriched their genes and what really scares Remoaners

By Peter Rhodes | Peter Rhodes | Published:

Read today's column by Peter Rhodes.

Sparky - Julian Critchley MP

WHILE the anti-Brexiters rush in their hundreds of thousands to sign the online petition against suspending Parliament, they're still a wee bit short of 17.4 million, aren't they?

I WROTE a few days ago about Debrett's, the encyclopedia of the aristocracy. You can't help noticing how, in the 19th century, many old English bloodlines were suddenly transformed with the arrival of young brides from the United States, as seen in Downton Abbey.

IT was often a simple deal. English dynasties had titles to offer but were stony-broke. American girls wanted an English title and had plenty of their own - or Daddy's - money. It took me back to a memorable interview with the late Julian Critchley, the sparky Tory MP for Aldershot, at his home in Ludlow. He remembered the impact of those American genes among his fellow students at Oxford. While most of the undergraduates were a lumpy, awkward bunch, those with an actress or society beauty as mother or grandmother tended to be tall and elegant with "wavy floppy hair." Forty years on, Critchley still seemed to regard the wavy, floppy hair as an unfair advantage.

TOMORROW marks the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War. There are still thousands of Brits alive who remember hearing Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's broadcast on Sunday, September 3, 1939: "Consequently, this country is at war with Germany." On September 3, 1989 my father recalled being put on a bus exactly 50 years earlier with his younger brother to be evacuated from Bradford to a village in the safety of the Yorkshire Dales. I should have asked him more about the experience of being an evacuee, if only for the benefit of later generations who will simply never believe that three million civilians packed their bags and left their city homes to be resettled, because the Government told them to. Would today's Britons go quite so meekly? I doubt it.

I HAVE interviewed dozens of readers who remembered the outbreak of war. The most poignant recollection, and the one that still moves me, was from a lady who was a small child when she was told her beloved father would have to go away to war. She was eating her breakfast and her abiding memory was of watching her tears falling into her boiled egg.

THE great thing about that wartime generation is that they understand the true meaning of terms such as catastrophe, disaster and Armageddon. They watched their cities blaze and their friends vanish. They witnessed a continent almost perish and then be saved. And now they hear those same words used by hysterical politicians to describe Brexit. It is almost sacrilege.

AND as the row over suspending Parliament continues, do you sometimes wonder how many of the wild-eyed, catastrophe-preaching Remoaners are frightened not that Brexit will lead to disaster, but that it won't?

Peter Rhodes

By Peter Rhodes

Award-winning columnist and blogger. Keeping an eye on the tribulations and trivia of a fast-changing world

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