Noel Coward

Noel Coward Diaries

The date is September 1962, and he is visiting New York.

“This will be a melancholy entry in this journal. I have just come back from the Battle of Britain dinner given In the Shelbourne Hotel at 37th Street and Lexington Avenue in remembrance of those young men who saved, temporarily, the world. It was simple, dignified, sparsely attended and, to me, almost intolerably sad. Air Vice-Marshal Esplin made an excellent, British throwaway speech. The atmosphere for me, was thick with dreadful nostalgia. Those young men, so many of whom I knew, flew up into the air and died for us, and all we believed in has so changed that they really needn’t have died at all. It was all a nonsense. So incredibly brave, so beautiful and true and now 23 years later, it is remembered for one night in the year by a handful of people assembled in a New York hotel.

Their enemy, the German nation, is now flourishing. The tears shed for their deaths are dried and forgotten. Nobody knows or cares really if they ever existed, except this little group of Britishers gallantly making a salute. The Air Vice-Marshal in his speech reminded, lightly, the Americans present that they had not even been aware of what was going on so long ago before Pearl Harbour had dragged them kicking and screaming into a war which was being fought for them as well as for us, and the so-called civilised world. Sitting there, signing autographs and listening to him, I listened further back to the planes flying over to the hated Germany, now hailed as a friend, as indeed is Japan, and my stomach turned and my heart sank. What did they die for? I suppose for themselves and what they believed was England. It was England then – just for a few brave months – so perhaps they were right, except that they are dead and would have been alive today but for the dissolute foolishness of war. Now there is peace. The peace we are enduring is not worth their deaths. England has become a third rate power, economically and morally. We are vulgarised by American values. America, which didn’t even know war on its own ground, is now dictating our policies and patronising our values. I came away from that gentle, touching, tatty little party with a heavy and sad heart. The England those boys died for has disappeared. Our history, except for stupid, squalid, social scandals, is over. We are now beset by the ‘clever ones’, all the cheap, frightened people. The young men who are angry and mediocre, the playwrights who can see nothing but defeat and who have no pride, no knowledge of the past, no reverence for our lovely heritage, nothing but a sick kowtowing to fear of death.

Perhaps – just perhaps – someone will rise up and say ‘This isn’t good enough’. There is still the basic English character to hold on to. But is there? I am old now. Sixty three is old, all right. I despise the young, who see no quality in our great past and who spit, with phony, left-wing disdain on all that we, as a race, have contributed to the living world.

In the meantime, I say a grateful goodbye to those foolish, gallant young men who made it possible for me to be alive today to write these sentimental words”.