14th October 2009
For some time I’ve been puzzled by what you might call the 'spiritual dimension' to British activities in occupied Germany after the war, typified by Field-Marshal Montgomery, the first Military Governor of the British Zone, saying that what they were really trying to do was to “save the soul of Germany”. It’s as if they thought they were missionaries trying to convert the heathen, rather than soldiers administering a defeated enemy country.
Back in December 2008, I wrote on this blog, about how I gained an insight into this way of thinking after reading a book published in 1943, Darkness over Germany, by Amy Buller.
Amy Buller was a remarkable woman. Her greatest achievement was founding Cumberland Lodge in 1947, as a type of alternative university or college, where students and others could meet to attend courses and conferences. I’ve now discovered more about her after reading 'A Short Account of Amy Buller and the Founding of St. Catherine’s, Cumberland Lodge', by Walter James, who was the Principal of Cumberland Lodge from 1974-82.
She was born in 1891, and died in 1974. She was brought up as a Baptist in South Africa, but appeared to experience something of a religious conversion when she returned to England in 1911 to study at Birkbeck College and became a devout Anglo-Catholic. After the end of the First World War she worked for the Student Christian Movement and developed close links with both senior academics and Anglican bishops, including William Temple, later Archbishop of York and Canterbury.
Between the wars she made several visits to Germany and these formed the basis of her book 'Darkness over Germany'. Walter James described her views at the time as follows:
“What she wanted people to understand, as far as one can judge, was that Nazism, though false, was a new and powerful religion, demanding the whole man as every religion did and as German Protestantism had ceased to do.”
And he quoted from the prologue to Darkness over Germany, where she wrote that:
“I record these stories to emphasize the need for youth and those who plan the training of youth to consider carefully the full significance of the tragedy of a whole generation of German youth who, having no faith, made Nazism their religion.”
According to James, writing the book was the watershed in her life and this was when she started to think of founding a college. She resigned from her job as warden of a residential women’s college in Liverpool and moved back to London. By chance, Queen Elizabeth read the book on the recommendation of the Bishop of Lichfield and she was summoned to meet the queen in March 1944. She told her of her ambition to establish a college and the queen said she would do what she could to help.
After many difficulties raising the necessary funds and finding a suitable location for the college, the King and Queen offered her the use of Cumberland Lodge in 1947. Sir Walter Moberly was appointed as the first principal in 1949, and an impressive array of people came to speak at events there, including Lord Lindsay, Karl Popper, A J Ayer, Michael Oakeshott, R H S Crossman, Ernst Gombrich and T S Eliot. Amy Buller became the honorary warden until 1964, when she retired, first to Oxford and then later to London, where she died in 1974.
Walter James, A Short Account of Amy Buller and the Founding of St. Catherine’s, Cumberland Lodge, (Privately printed, 1979)