When we took a group of Bethel University students to Europe last January for the maiden voyage of our travel course on the history of World War I, a clear highlight was our day trip to Oxford. Because we were reading C.S. Lewis’ reminiscences about serving in WWI, we visited Magdalen College, where Lewis taught from 1925 to 1954.
One imaginative moment seems now to matter more than the realities that followed. It was the first bullet I heard — so far from me that it “whined” like a journalist’s or a peacetime poet’s bullet. At that moment there was something not exactly like fear, much like indifference: a little quavering signal that said, “This is War. This is what Homer wrote about.” (C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy)
As at many Oxford colleges, there are war memorials near the Magdalen chapel. “Have in honour you who enter here,” instructs an inscription, “all those sons of this house who went forth to serve in the years 1914-1918,” — not just the long list of Britain’s best and brightest (including the father of James Bond creator Ian Fleming), but a German “son of Magdalen” who died at 1st Ypres in 1914. Around the corner is the WWII memorial, whose roll of honor includes one more German and three Americans (one a Rhodes scholar from West Point who died in Vietnam).