Bristol to Bristol: Vermont Speaking
WHEN we here in Bristol, Vermont, U.S.A., were given an opportunity to send a radio greeting to you in Bristol, England, we decided to make the most of it. It was a grand idea, we said, to tell those gritty Britishers how we felt about them — the very thing we had been wanting to do for months.
Everyone in town hoped to send an individual message, but that was impossible because there are 1832 of us here, so we appointed a committee to decide what should be said officially in the name of all of us. On that committee were an electrician, an insurance agent, a farmer, a merchant, a professor, and a guy who writes for the newspapers. We met in a room around a wood-burning stove to pour our collective thoughts into words that would go winging and ringing three thousand miles across the Atlantic, each word a brilliant verbal meteor designed to dazzle our English cousins.
But somehow the meteor business did not work right. No sooner had the guy who writes for the newspapers sharpened his pencil and announced that he was ready to record the thoughts of the committee than the room became heavenlike in one respect — for it is related that once there was silence in heaven for the space of a quarter of an hour.
At the end of that time the guy who writes for the newspapers asked impatiently, ‘For gosh sakes, why don’t you say something?’
‘We are thinking,’the professor answered.
‘With what?’ the electrician wanted to know.
That was a question that seemed more pertinent and less impertinent as time went on. Try as we would, we could think of no high-sounding phrases, no epoch-making thoughts, no burning oratory. We admitted what we all knew in the beginning, that such things were beyond our reach, and we decided to eell you about our town in the language of our town.
Bristol, Vermont, is about the size of the average New England town. It has an area of 21,710 acres, some twelve acres per person, so we are not crowded. It lies in the foothills of the Green Mountains, a hundred miles south of the Canadian border, looking west across the valley of Lake Champlain to the Adirondack Mountains in New York State. In prehistoric times a great river roared through a gap in the mountains from the glaciers to the eastward, piling up a delta of sand and gravel hundreds of acres in extent. On this delta Bristol Village now stands, reaching along the foot of the mountain in streets that are shaded by old elms and maples. The river is still here, a peaceful, domestic stream that turns our water wheels and gives us the sport of trout fishing.
In the year 1762, Governor Benning Wentworth of the Colony of New Hampshire, acting for George III of England, granted a charter to the town, which was then an unbroken wilderness. It was first called Pocock, after the famous British admiral, but the name was soon changed to Bristol, presumably because the first settlers had strong ties of friendship with Bristol in the old country. Those settlers were English, having landed at ports in the Colony of Connecticut and moved north in quest of new land.
Such, briefly, was our beginning. After that we added our little chapter to the book of the pioneers. The towering forests of pine were felled, and the stumps were dug out. Even to this day some of them remain in the form of stump fences, fences that were living and breathing on the day that Henry Morgan, the grand old buccaneer, came as a runaway boy to the port of Bristol, England, from where he set sail on a life of adventure that has seldom been equaled. Then, with the trees out of the way, the stones were piled in walls, countless miles of gray stone walls that shall forever bound our fields. Those fields were cleared by, and still support, a race of men of whom we are not ashamed.
Today Bristol, Vermont, is a town of agriculture and manufacturing. Here you will find herds of dairy cattle and fields of hay, grain, corn, and potatoes. And everywhere, along our village streets and country roads, in our dooryards and fence corners, you will find trees, for we love trees as you Englishmen do. And in one way we use them as you do not, for in March, when the sap starts, we manufacture maple sugar and syrup that find their way to all parts of the world. The hills still supply us with timber for our factories, one of which is engaged in helping manufacture airplanes for our own defense and for yours as well. Another branch of our military work is our airfield, where we are at the moment training forty pilots.
From this, do you get a picture of our town ?
And now for you, as we imagine you to be. As we broadcast this we see, from what we have read and been told, a great city of 396,000 or more people, lying in a bowl-like valley some four miles in breadth. Here the Frome joins the Avon, and after a few miles they enter Bristol Channel. We like the names of some of your streets — Broad, High, Corn, and Wine. They have a hearty, robust sound and they leave a good taste in the memory. We may be wrong, but we picture them as smelling of tar and spices and sea air and being lined with ancient gabled houses.
We have heard a great deal about your beautiful old cathedral and your churches. The fame of your schools and colleges has also reached us, and we know you have magnificent public buildings and parks. Your docks and manufacturing plants are famous the world over. All told, we are very proud to be associated in name with the city of Bristol, England.
Such associations are pleasant, but there is another that goes farther. It touches a deeper note in our friendship for you and it extends not from town to town, but from nation to nation. We are thankful that in your hour of sore trial we sympathize with you. We are grateful that we can do this, for it shows that the poison of barbarism has not entered our veins and distorted our vision. In seeing eye to eye with you we find vindication of our hatred of the hideous forms of force that are battling to destroy what we believe is holy. We are the only democracies left, the only nations on earth where men and women can try to shape their destinies according to their ideals — that is, can try with any hope of success. These ideals of ours — liberty of speech and of action and of worship — are shared by millions of other people to whom they are only impossible dreams. Impossible at the moment, but not ultimately impossible if we can stop and crush the powers that oppose us. This is a crusade not to rescue the tombs of dead heroes but to establish new sanctuaries for living men and women and children.
No doubt many of you in England are saying, ‘Fine words, America, but it takes more than words to kill a dragon.’
We know it does. The time was when we, like you, thought that laurels won in the past were sufficient to insure the future, but that time is gone. The awful awakening that you suffered brought us to our feet. We are still rubbing our eyes, perhaps, but we are rolling up our sleeves. There is not an industry in our land that is not throwing in its every resource to build up our strength and yours. Nor, mechanicalminded though we are, do we depend on machines alone. A few weeks ago seventeen millions of our young men willingly registered for military service. Yes, willingly. They were not bribed to do it, they were not lured by promises of booty, they were not driven by armed guards. They went because there is a feeling among them, as there is among you, that liberty is worth any price, even the price of life itself. And it those seventeen millions are not enough, there are more where they came from.
That is not boasting; it is a mere statement of fact. We are slow to get under motion, — we know that as well as you do, — but we honestly believe that when we get going it will take a considerable aggregation to stop us. And at last we are moving. A hundred and thirty million people, backed by untold material resources and united by a common will, are pulling in the same direction. You may be sure that that direction parallels the path of your own efforts.
As to those efforts of yours, will you pardon us if we praise you to your face? Here in America we have a wholehearted admiration for good sportsmanship. It is one of our idols, and because we have made it for ourselves we know what it is made of. We know that its chief substance is courage, the courage to refrain from fighting when provoked by a bully, and then, when forbearance is at an end, the courage to fight against, tremendous odds — and to keep on fighting when those odds pile up to seemingly irresistible proportions. We have seen you do just that, and our admiration goes beyond our powers of expression.
Long before you entered this war we admired you for your efforts to avoid it. And when you did enter, because there was no alternative for free men, you did so fearlessly, ill armed though you were because you had believed in peace to the last. When you were deserted by your allies we stood aghast, believing, yet unable to believe, that your very gallantry would cause your destruction.
Then came Dunkirk. As hour by hour over our radios we followed that magnificent and unequaled retreat we realized that, no matter how humdrum life had once seemed, we were living in a heroic age. And when the withdrawal was complete our confidence was restored. We knew that a people who could transmute disaster into glory as you had done could never be conquered.
All that has followed has deepened our faith and our admiration. The feats of your Air Force and your Navy make us tingle with pride because they are carrying on a tradition that is from far back our tradition as well.
But what stirs us most is the glorious courage of your people as they face the horrors of air attack. Trained armies have broken under a fraction of such punishment, yet you, the civilians, are carrying on to a victory which shall be the greatest of all victories because of the way in which it is being won.
Over here we are given to hero worship, but as a rule the heroes are our own. Even in the other war we did not get unduly enthusiastic about the Allied leaders, much as some of them deserved it. But in the case of Winston Churchill we have let down the bars and taken him to our hearts. Anyhow, he is half American by birth. But it is what he has done and is doing that appeals to us. He typifies our idea of a Britisher, solid, resolute, and wise, and a fighter who fights clean and knows no fear.
It has been a long time since we felt the need of a sovereign. You will be the first to agree with us that some sovereigns are not to be classed among the modern conveniences. But if that nostalgic urge should suddenly return to us, your king and queen might be invited over here. We fell for them, as our slang has it, before the war, first because of what we heard about them, and later, definitely, when they visited us. Many from this little town went to Canada to see them, and, believe it or not, those hard-headed Yankees came back, if not out-and-out Royalists, at least with a deep respect for royalty, British style. We can readily understand why you people put your hearts into it when you sing ‘God Save the King/ but if we had as beautiful a queen as you have we should insist on adding, ‘and Elizabeth too.’
We feel that we can sum up our attitude in this salute from Bristol, New England, to Bristol, Old England, by repeating a story we, and probably you, have recently heard. Not long ago when King George was walking about London inspecting the damage done by air raids a cabby recognized him and shouted, ‘You are a great king,’sir!’ To which the king answered heartily, ‘And you are a great people!’
That is the way we feel.