Well here's one for History Corner & no mistake. Did anyone realise Clarissa Eden was still alive? Until this week, that is, when the grand old lady died, aged 101.
|© Imperial War Museum MH 23509|
Hard to envisage, really.
Of course it's conventional to consider Suez 1956 the precise moment when Britain ceased to be a Great Power. But the years that followed didn't represent the freefall that was envisaged by Clarissa's husband Anthony Eden, and the roguish, unscrupulous Harold Macmillan (the big winner in domestic political terms, though he was gung-ho for the campaign beforehand). They both seem to have firmly believed that if they let Nasser get away with nationalising the Suez canal, not only would Soviet-backed Arab nationalist-communism quickly come to dominate the entire Middle East, but Britain would be headed swiftly for the status of a "third-rate power, like the Netherlands". But no; we remained stubbornly second-rate for many decades thereafter. Maybe we still are.
One concern that comes through very strongly in the attitudes of the time is the concept of national "prestige", the word I used of Nasser above. Cultivating prestige, estimating and comparing different countries' prestige, in those explicit terms, was a major preoccupation in them days. Maybe we ought to worry about it more today: the Chinese obviously do. (Personally, as a very frequent pre-covid overseas traveller, I generally felt myself the beneficiary of a great deal of residual esteem for Britain.)
I was remined of all this when recently writing an obit for an old soldier of my acquaintance who'd fought in many conflicts and served in many countries from 1944 onwards (though not, as it happens, the Suez 'campaign'). He'd left some invaluable notes by way of a memoir, in which he'd been really keen to stress that in everything he did abroad (which was a lot more than fighting, by the way), he'd worked to enhance Britain's prestige. It meant a lot to him; and to the Edens, too. RIP both.