24 Pages


ByJenny Rees, Diana Trilling

Damn the appeasers ... If they were not going to fight the Germans, Rees was. On 20 April 1939 he went to Handel Street in Bloomsbury, near the offices of The Spectator, and joined the Royal Artillery Territorial Army. He was posted to the 90th Field Regiment and given the number 903013. He had taken himself by surprise as well as his friends. He thought it was ‘one of the most unlikely acts I could ever commit, like climbing Everest or joining a leper colony ...’ But the step also had for him, he said, the kind of attraction, criminal and seductive, ‘which the acte gratuit had for Lafcadio in Les Caves du Vatican’. As for his friends, he remarked later, it was the criminal nature of the act which struck them most strongly; its seductiveness they could not understand. But, Rees argued, he had spent two years trying to persuade people that it was imperative to resist the advance of National Socialism, by fighting if necessary, and since the time seemed to have arrived, he thought he ought to accept the consequences. Guy, he recalled, regarded it as a ‘foolish and romantic gesture’, even treachery, to fight for a government as detestable as Mr Chamberlain’s. Indeed, given his outpourings on the ‘working class’ and the ‘proletariat’, and well aware that war was a state of affairs from which the masses had the most to lose and the least to gain, my father did feel guilty about joining an army that served a government led by Chamberlain. Fighting for the Conservative Government, he said, felt like going to fight for the Devil.