Streaking northward on the crack Paris-London Golden Arrow, we saw much of the desolate ruins left by the war that had ended only a year and a half before.
In America, we had heard and read about the war daily. We had seen pictures and newsreels. But now my wife and I were there, where it happened. Here was the actual devastation of war all around us. Now it suddenly became real!
The Marshall Plan and American dollars had not yet made progress toward restoration. Europe was laid waste, many of its cities in ruins. Almost no one believed, then, that Europe could ever rise again. Yet I had been persistently proclaiming for two years, over the air and in the Plain Truth, that Germany would once again come to economic and military power, heading a 10-nation resurrection of the Roman Empire.
Desolate, Hopeless Europe
Have we forgotten what bleeding, war-torn, disheartened Europe was like immediately after World War ii? That is, all but prosperous Switzerland. Switzerland kept out of the war, by means described previously. Switzerland did business with both sides and prospered during the war years.
We need to be reminded of the condition of prostrate Europe before United States dollars went to the rescue. These dollars did a sensational pump-priming job. German and Dutch industry did a phenomenal job of rebuilding. Then the Common Market produced the almost unbelievable prosperity that is Western Europe’s today.
I was seriously impressed with this wretched postwar condition in France and Italy. From Lugano I had written our family at home:
“This afternoon we were in Italy. Took a boat trip down the lake, east, to the end of Lake Lugano. Halfway we crossed the Swiss-Italian frontier. Immediately we noticed a difference. The style of architecture was much the same—all Italian—but as soon as we were on the Italian side, everything was run-down, dilapidated, gone to rot and ruin.
“There are seven or eight little towns along the lakeshore, and the boat is like an interurban railway by which people from all those towns come to Lugano to shop. We docked at every town. The Italians were so very shabbily dressed. Some of the women had no shoes—they wore a sort of flat wooden sandal, strapped to their feet with string or ribbon. Most of the Italians looked defeated, hopeless.
“Once they were a proud, prosperous, world-ruling people. But ancient Rome became prosperous, as the United States is today. Then they went in for soft, luxurious living, idleness and ease, entertainment, lax morals.
“The United States is starting that same toboggan slide to doom today.
“This afternoon, along the five or six Italian towns where we docked, we saw the result of going the way of ancient Rome. We saw their 20th-century descendants, poor people one looks on with pity. Yet the Italians are emotional, and Mussolini took advantage of them, played on their emotions, whipped them up to a fanatical frenzy for Fascism. Then Hitler took them over. Then the Allies invaded the peninsula. And now they are a dejected, discouraged, helpless, hopeless people! Even worse than the French we saw.”
And Mrs. Armstrong wrote this about our boat trip:
“Italy is in terrible shape. We were up and down the shores of Lake Lugano, in Italy. It was a cold day in winter, but women, old and young, were on the lakeshore on their knees leaning over into the water, washing clothes in the cold lake water on flat boards—not washboards—no soap, just pounding and rubbing, some using a brush on their sheets, men’s pants, sweaters and everything—big baskets of clothes, gray and dingy looking. They hung them along the lakefront or on buildings, balconies—anywhere.”
Back in London
Arriving back in London, I found letters and reports from the office in Eugene, Oregon, awaiting me. The news from the office was not good. Receipt of money was way down. The office was in a tight financial squeeze.
I wrote the office staff: “Since receiving your letters and reports today, I have had to decide we will not, at this time, obligate the Work to payments on Heleneum, the villa we went to Lugano to see. Madame Bieber is anxious to sell it to us on the terms we had in mind when we came over. I received a letter from her here this morning, enclosing a complete list (in German language) of the rooms on every floor, and assuring me she would send a blueprint of floor plans if I still wanted them, which I do. … It is offered to us at a fraction of its cost (it is a replica of the Petite Trianon at Versailles) and on terms we could handle, once out of this financial slump, with about 8 percent increase over present income. There is no down payment whatever required. Just monthly payments three or four years, before we take possession—while she still lives there. … God will direct us and show us His will, and His selection, in due time.
“I have been shown a fine large building (large for us, that is)—right on this fabulous Park Lane boulevard, just a half block from our hotel—The Dorchester—here in London. I am advised that the price is very low, right now. It was used as the officers’ club by United States Army officers during the war. I was advised that we very likely could purchase, with use permit for a college, and very likely get local support for such a college here that would pay half the costs, because Britain is now very anxious to encourage everything she can in good relationships with the United States. They feel here that an American college in London, sending American students here to study, would bring here some of our very best young men who will become leaders, and would better international relations between the two countries.
“If it were not for the foreign language angle, I believe I would prefer to have it here. … It might ultimately work out that we would have two European units—one in London, one in Switzerland. We are the first to have the vision of such a college. It is something entirely new in the world of education. It’s something big! It will be accomplished. But it will take time. I know we are being led by the hand of God into things never before done. They will be done, and in time—and there is not too much time.”
How prophetic were those words, written March 13, 1947!
God did guide and lead—not the way I then planned. But He did, in His due time, which was the year 1960, establish His college overseas. He did not establish it in Switzerland, but on the outskirts of London. Not in that fine but very old stone building in congested downtown London, but just outside, in the scenic Green Belt, with a 180-acre campus, beautiful and colorful gardens and lawns, adequate buildings. The building on Park Lane was finally torn down in 1962—probably to be replaced with a modern skyscraper.
A Prophetic Occurrence
In view of an event that occurred March 10, 1963, it becomes pertinent to quote another paragraph from the above letter to our office staff, written March 13, 1947, from London: “But after visiting Geneva, we are somewhat in favor, now, of Geneva as the seat of the European unit of Ambassador. The city and buildings are more beautiful at Geneva, but the natural surrounding scenery and mountains are more beautiful at Lugano. Both are on lakes. Geneva is the number one education center, with great libraries, the large university, and it is a world political capital in international affairs. We will never find another place as modern and elegant as Heleneum, but for extracurricular advantages, great libraries and international atmosphere, and a center for world affairs, Geneva would be preferable.”
Was that, by coincidence, prophetic?
On March 10, 1963, I gave our French department approval for signing a five-year lease for a suite of offices in Geneva!
Mr. Dibar Apartian, at the time of this writing, is professor of French language at Ambassador College in Pasadena. Also he is director of the French work, and the voice on the air of the French-language version of The World Tomorrow. Our French department is now well organized, with offices and a staff at our headquarters Pasadena campus, and also an office and French-speaking staff at the college in England.
Many of our booklets have been translated into French. And, of course, we have a full-color French language edition of the Plain Truth.
Sir Henry’s Gripe
Our 1947 trip to London, Lugano, Geneva and Paris did pave the way for important developments that have followed.
In the lobby of our hotel in London, the Dorchester, I met a baronet—a “Sir Henry,” though I do not remember his family name. He was indignant at us Americans, and candidly told me so. That morning, the London papers carried a story of Herbert Hoover’s recommendation that the United States appropriate a few hundred million dollars to feed starving Germans.
“Why, hang it, sir,” he sputtered in exasperation, “they ought to use those millions to feed us starving Britons before they feed those Germans who caused all this starvation. Do you know, sir, what I get to eat for breakfast? I haven’t been able to get an egg for six months, and just two little slices of bacon a week. The nearest we can come to eggs is some kind of dried powdered synthetic stuff, sir! And it isn’t fit to eat! We get almost no fruit, or fresh vegetables, or milk, butter or sugar.”
Sir Henry may have been griping, but we found this allegation true. Actually we ourselves fared better than English titled people in their homes. Leading hotels and restaurants were allowed to serve more and better food than was obtainable by private citizens. But even so we subsisted primarily on potatoes and cauliflower at every meal, along with soups thickened with flour but no milk, and a limited amount of fish.
On Tuesday, after returning to London, we spent an eventful day on a tour, afoot, of the royal and government sections of London.
We had been standing that morning before the entrance gate to Whitehall Palace, watching the mounted King’s Guards. A guide came up to us and began to give us an interesting explanation. He showed us his credentials as an accredited guide. Spencer-Jones was a real character! We decided to engage his services, for a foot tour beginning at 2 that afternoon.
He met us at the entrance of the Dorchester. After three hours of seeing some of the most interesting things of our lives, he asked so little for his services I paid him double, and then wondered if I had not underpaid him. He knew his London and British history.
He took us through places closed to the public. He seemed to know all the guards and officials, and they would smile and let us through. He told us that the then Queen Mother, Queen Mary, knew him, and always gave him a smiling, friendly nod when he passed her. He had acted as guide over this same tour to General Eisenhower, and at the end of their tour he said the general said to him, “I wish I had your memory, Spencer-Jones.” We could understand why. He gave us a whole college education on British history.
On our tour we walked through the court of what had been the palace of Britain’s kings 400 years before. It was so dirty and shabby I asked why they didn’t clean the place up.
“Oh that would never do, sir!” the guide assured me. “We are proud of its age, sir, and it must be left just as it was 400 years ago. But it’s very beautiful inside, sir.”
Spencer-Jones’s wife and two daughters were killed one morning at 11 a.m. in a daylight raid by German bombers during the war. But he wanted no pity. He was proud.
“Imagine,” he said, “a dark night, a complete blackout, a thousand planes screaming overhead, bombs exploding like deafening thunder here and there around you, the incessant fire of our antiaircraft, guns, and people screaming. I’ve walked right past here,” he said at one point, “and watched hundreds of planes overhead—Germans desperately trying to bomb this royal and government section—our boys up there shooting them down. A Nazi parachuted right into that tree you see there, sir, and would have been torn to bits by the women who rushed at him, but the guards reached him first and took him prisoner. Dozens of planes crashed right in this park, sir!”
This guide lived in a humble “pensioner’s home.” He drew a pittance of a pension from World War i. His clothes were worn and frayed.
But Spencer-Jones was English, and the English are proud. He asked if I would convey one message from him to America. This was his message: “Tell America, please, don’t ever express any pity for us because we’ve gone through a war and are now having a hard time. That, we just couldn’t stand, sir!” He had lost home, family and prosperity. But he still had his pride!
We sailed from Southampton on the return voyage, again on the mighty Queen Elizabeth, at 4:30 in the afternoon of March 15.
On our eastbound crossing, we had prayed for a calm sea. Stewards and stewardesses had told us it was the smoothest crossing in their memory—and in mid-February at that. But somehow we must have taken calm crossings for granted by the time of our return voyage. At least we neglected any petitions to the God who controls the weather. And we learned a lesson!
In the early afternoon of Tuesday, March 18, I wrote the following from the middle of the Atlantic:
“Dear Everybody at Home: What a sea! Today we’re seeing something you never see at home—a real rough sea in the middle of the Atlantic. Mother isn’t seeing any of it. This is her third day confined to bed. A rough sea greatly encourages her penchant for seasickness. We’ve had three days of choppy sea, but today the waves are far bigger and higher than before.
“This great Lady (the Queen Elizabeth), who is no lady, lurches, and heaves, and tosses back and forth, and groans and literally shudders! The doors and walls creak. Out on deck the high gale whistles and screams! And the great giant waves sink way down the depth of the ground from a 15-story building on port side, as the giant ship swings and dips over to starboard, and then we roll back to port side just as a massive wave swells up alongside, it seems only two stories below.
“It’s a sensation—but, unfortunately, one of those things one must experience, and cannot be really understood by a word’s-eye view. So you won’t really know what I mean. Right this second this ship is shuddering like a dying man. She groans, and then amid her rolling, swaying motion just shivers, and shakes, and shudders—and then sways on! A while ago ‘Her Majesty’ got to heaving more than usual, and I rushed to the aft main deck, just as she sank way down. Then the rear deck tossed high, and a wave that seemed as high as a 10-story building rolled over and broke into a beautiful white spray, dropping like a cloudburst on the deck. In the excitement I shot the last 10 feet of movie film. I think I caught the most spectacular film of all—waves rolling like mountain peaks—then the break—and the stiff gale blows spray like boiling steam.
“Most of the ocean is dark muddy green in color—almost black, but covered with white caps as these gigantic waves break about every 780 or 800 feet. Then, in the wake of the ship is a trail of light, bright, turquoise-blue in the sunlight—when the sun flashes its brilliant rays down between clouds.
“It’s real stormy weather—yet there’s no rain today, though there was yesterday and Sunday. But, in spite of the intermittent sunshine playing hide-and-seek behind spotty billowy clouds, we are today heading into the stiffest gale so far. And, although I hope I have shot some more or less thrilling pictures of it, you’ll never know what I mean. No picture can give you the third dimension—the feel—the motion—the lurch and sway, the sounds, and the experience of it. Poor Mother! She’s experiencing it in seasickness, but not seeing any of it! They say we won’t dock in New York until Friday or Saturday, now. We’ve had to slow down to five or six knots.”
But the worst was yet to come—and I had not realized, when the above was written, that we were in a hurricane! Actually I did not realize how serious the storm was until we docked in New York, as I shall explain below. But the storm became more wild toward evening. Early next morning I added a postscript to the above letter. Here are excerpts from it:
“Mid-Atlantic, Wednesday a.m., March 19, 1947. Dear Folks at Home: Just a little early morning P.S. to yesterday’s letter about the storm. Yesterday, toward evening, the sea became wildest and most thrillingly exciting. Finally there were tremendous swells, about 1,500 feet apart, farther than the length of this ship that is 1,031 feet. They became like mountain ridges. Sinking down in between the towering ridges the sea was like smooth valleys. The gale was so stiff that, while the ‘valleys’ in between liquid peaks or ridges were quite smooth, yet spray was being whipped along like a sandstorm on the desert. It actually looked more like a desert sandstorm than a sea—in between peaks, that is.
“The sea seemed wildest about dusk. I had shot all my movie film, but I still had seven shots left on the Plaubel Makina. It was becoming too dark for most cameras, and I was thankful for the f/2.9 Makina. There was quite a little haze, too—and the fierce gale raised a continuous spray above the water surface (like a sandstorm). So I used a haze filter, opened the shutter all the way, set it down to 1/25 of a second. My light meter showed the necessity of this, although I should have liked to have taken these shots at 1/200 of a second. I hope the fast-whipping spray doesn’t turn out to be a blur.” (These pictures were developed by Associated Press, New York, immediately on landing.)
“At times it seemed the stern of the ship lifted 50 or 75 feet out of the water. As I stood on one of the aft decks, as low as we were allowed to go, it seemed we sank way down into the water, then lifted up clear out of the water as the prow plunged down. After some time, I decided I had all the good pictures possible to get. I had closed up the camera, and started back inside, when, suddenly, the deck below seemed to leave my feet, as if I were left in midair. It was a sensation!
“Instantly I realized we were taking another of those super-dips. As soon as I could get traction under my feet, I rushed back outside on the deck at the stern to catch the thrill of the next dip. We usually got about three in succession before those extreme tilts dissipated themselves. This had been the most sudden and extreme dip I had experienced, so I tried frantically to pull out the tin shutter in front of the film pack and get the camera set for action as I ran. In the excitement I failed to get the camera set and adjusted in time, but I did reach the open deck in time to see the one most thrilling dip of all!
“It was the sight of a lifetime! The stern of the gigantic ship rose high above the water, as the prow plunged down into it. Then we on aft deck seemed to lunge down deep into the water, just as a huge liquid mountain peak rolled up behind us. It seemed almost as if the ship were about to stand straight up in the water—we on the bottom, the bow pointing straight up to the sky. Of course, we didn’t sink quite that far down—but we experienced the sensation of being about to do so. A big portion of that stupendous wave rolled up behind us, broke, sprayed up into the air like an explosion, and came like an avalanche full force down upon the lower deck just below us at the complete stern of the ship! Then the flood of water rolled off the far-stern deck like the torrent of a river, as once again we mounted up toward the sky.
Mrs. Armstrong Collapses
“For an hour I kept running intermittently down to our cabin on C deck to urge Mother to come up and see the thrilling sight. I knew that in an hour it would be too dark to see it, and it might be the last chance in our lifetime to witness anything like it. I was more excited now than she was on the train ride through the Swiss Alps. I learned later it was the angriest, most furious sea in 20 years—with the highest waves and greatest swells, and mountain-peak waves forming a jagged and uneven horizon as far as the eye could see! Every now and then—perhaps a half mile—perhaps three or four miles away—a great aqua-peak would suddenly rise up, towering above all else on the horizon, only to sink rhythmically back down again.
“The sea was almost half white with the white caps in sandstorm effect in the screaming gale—half, ugly dark green-brown, almost black, forming the most weird and fantastic shapes as giant waves surged up toward high heaven, broke, then sprayed down to sink below other heaving waves surging up in front of them. I was as excited as a 12-year-old boy!
“I guess a stewardess outside our cabin door overheard my almost frantic urging of Mother to try to come above with me to see the exciting spectacle, and she must have thought there was going to be domestic trouble if she didn’t get Mother up there. Anyway, she went into our cabin, and took the covers off Mother and insistently marched her out to the lift, and on up to the main deck lounge.
“But there Mother almost completely collapsed. The stewardess (all stewardesses are trained nurses) finally found me and brought me to Mother, slumped over in a chair, pale-white. Together we got her back to our cabin and to bed. It was just after this that the above-described most exciting scene occurred.
In Mortal Danger
“The motors of the ship were stopped down to around six knots. I did not realize until after the above-described incidents that the big ship actually was in danger. We were in desperate danger! I was told then, at late dusk last evening, that the ship might break in two, in the middle, if the full speed were put on, or if, at any time, Captain Ford failed to keep the ship headed straight into the wind in that furious storm. Regardless of direction, we had to keep headed straight into it. It was the worst storm the Queen ever fought through.
“When I learned from a steward that we were actually in mortal danger, I went to our cabin and prayed. Suddenly I remembered how we had failed to ask for God’s protection on this voyage. Now I realized we were in the plight described in Psalm 107:23-31: ‘They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven. Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!’
“So now I prayed, in real earnest—and also in real faith. I knew that those words of God were not idle words—they were the very promise of Almighty God. He is no respecter of persons. Here was the largest ship, so far as we know, ever built by man—in mortal danger!
“Until now, I had looked on the whole thing as an exciting experience to be enjoyed. Now I was sobered. I knew the eyes of God were on that great ship and its thousands of passengers. I knew that if I asked Him to do what He promised in that 107th Psalm, He would do it. He is no respecter of persons. Those lives on that ship were as precious to Him as any.
“So Mrs. Armstrong and I very soberly and earnestly prayed to the Eternal to calm the storm. We claimed this psalm as His promise that He would. We thanked Him for doing it. After that we had a good night’s sleep.
“So I awoke early this morning, and before breakfast I went up on the main deck to see a calm sea! Not yet completely, but relatively calm and quiet. It was cloudy and began to rain while I was up on deck. The rolling movement of the ship is now caused by the forward motion—the motors are now opened full blast, and we are plunging full speed ahead. What a changed ocean from last night! No whitecaps this morning, except those created by this floating city.”
Safe in New York
We had smooth sailing the rest of the way. The big Queen arrived in New York two days late. When we docked, excited newsmen were allowed to come on board before anyone could disembark.
I attended the news conference in Captain Ford’s quarters. The captain said it was a “storm of hurricane force,” and the worst of his entire life’s experience. It was bignews. The world’s largest ship had been in mortal danger.
I had the only good camera shots of the storm. The Associated Press men asked if they could have the films, promising to develop them immediately and turn them over to me, with prints, the next morning.
Mrs. Armstrong and I were allowed to disembark from the ship immediately, ahead of other passengers, with the AP men and customs waved us through with very scant inspection, on learning that the AP wanted to get our pictures by wirephoto to all papers coast to coast immediately. I left the film-pack at AP headquarters.
Next morning I returned to AP offices. An angry official said that some “dumb cluck” around there had mislaid or misfiled my films, until too late to get them into print while it was still fresh news. He apologized profusely, and handed me the films and prints.
So they were never published in the newspapers across the United States, after all.