Above: Old methods still in use in Warwickshire (near Coventry) in 1933
This weekend, churches everywhere are celebrating the Harvest – but strange as it may seem, the Harvest Festival as we know it is a tradition that’s less than two hundred years old, and was invented by a local vicar in the tiny (but beautiful) North Cornish Parish of Morwenstow.
Mechanisation has undoubtedly taken most of the romance out of the harvest season, but it was not so long ago that the last loaded wagons drawn by a team of horses, with garlands, ribbons and flowers, rolled back to the farm to begin the Harvest Home, with good food, dancing, singing and general merriment. As the last wagon rolled to a halt a young reaper would shout:
We have ploughed, we have sowed,
We have reaped, we have mowed,
We have brought home every load,
Hip Hip Hip – Harvest Home!
Then the cakes and beer came out and – on with the dance. For this evening, master, rector and labourer sat down with no distinction between them, and there would be visitors from other farms, since the farmers pooled their labour at this time. Much of this disappeared with the replacement of the horse by the tractor, yet such is the sense of heritage and tradition that Harvest Home continues to be linked with Harvest Thanksgiving in parish churches throughout England and Wales.
The Church had for hundreds of years taken an interest in the Harvest customs. A peal of bells from the tower would greet the harvest, wheat and other produce had been blessed in the church and even the corn dolly was allowed to grace the church door, although it was soon transformed into a cross. The Sixteenth Century Reformation discouraged this, but in 1843 the vicar of Morwenstow issued a notice inviting parishioners to receive the Sacrament in bread of the new corn. This morning’s Harvest Thanksgiving service broadcast on BBC Radio Four came from Wallingford in rural south Oxfordshire, and recalled this event:
The Reverend Robert Stephen Hawker was a somewhat eccentric man. He was not what you might call a conventional priest, refusing to wear clerical black, instead wearing a purple three-quarter length coat, and underneath the coat a thick fisherman’s jersey, to show people that, like Jesus, he was a ‘fisher of men’. On top of this he wore long sea-boots, a pink brimless hat and a poncho made from a yellow horse blanket. He talked to birds, invited his nine cats into church and apparently kept a pig as a pet.
Hawker became famous for giving Christian burials to shipwrecked mariners washed up on the shores of the parish, and was often the first to reach the cliffs when there was a shipwreck.
In 1843 he began a tradition which lives to this day. One September day, he nailed up, in the church porch, an open invitation to his parishioners…
“Let us gather together in the chancel of our church…and there receive in the bread of the new corn, that blessed sacrament which was ordained to strengthen and refresh our souls.”
A few days later, on 1st October, the first Harvest festival took place, during which bread made from the first cut of corn was taken at communion. From these humble beginnings, Harvest festivals are now celebrated in churches throughout the world.
For many years, Thanksgiving became an ‘Evensong’ service in parish churches, but the was suitably decorated all day long with all God’s gifts around us, as the popular hymn, We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land… has it. The Harvest Festival is still one of the best-attended services in churches of all denominations throughout Britain, especially popular with children and families, with the ‘gifts’ presented and displayed often then given to local charities. In recent decades, the other ‘harvests’ of the sea, mining and manufacturing have also been recognised, especially in coastal and urban districts.
3 October 2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the reunification of Germany…
In the early summer of 1990, the conditions to be attached to German reunification were hammered out. The Soviet Union failed to secure a transitional period in which the military forces in East Germany retained “associated membership” in the Warsaw Pact, an obvious nonsense, or an agreement on a hard-line plan whereby for three to five years the other powers would oversee Germany’s conduct. In London in early July, a NATO summit made a declaration of non-aggression with the Warsaw Pact nations. That helped the cause of German reunification, and Germany, meanwhile, helped itself by confirming its borders with Poland, promising to limit the future size of a German army, agreeing not to station nuclear weapons in East Germany and offering to pay the costs of removing half a million Soviet troops from the former DDR and resettling them in Russia. Kohl and Genscher went to Moscow together, and at a press conference on 16 July, Gorbachev declared, “whether we like it or not, the time will come when a united Germany will be in NATO, if that is its choice. Then, if that is its choice, to some degree and in some form, Germany can work together with the Soviet Union.”
Above: West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (second from right), with Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow.
This extraordinary statement was, as Chancellor Kohl put it, “a breakthrough, a fantastic result.” A fortnight earlier, at the Twenty-eighth Party Congress, Gorbachev had been ferociously attacked by party hard-liners for letting the Baltics go, for weakening the Warsaw Pact, and for undermining the ideological foundations of the Soviet Union and its ruling Communist Party. He was, nevertheless, re-elected its general secretary, and continued to commit the Soviet Union to uprooting the cornerstone of its security policy since the end of the Second World War. On 3 October, East and West Germany were joined; Germany was reunited. The crowds and flags in the pictures below show that this was a popular political reunification, at first, within the European Union. The security and economic issues would be addressed later.
Above: Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, 3 October 1990. Crowds celebrate as Germany is re-united.
Some historians say the Cold War ended when the Berlin Wall came down in October 1989: others say it was when the Soviet Union publicly reconciled itself to seeing a reunited Germany, whose invasion and defeat in 1941-45 had cost the Union more than twenty million dead, in military alliance with the West. Since Germany had always been at the epicentre of the Cold War in Europe, Gorbachev’s statement in Moscow on 16 July has a strong claim to be considered the decisive moment of the Cold War’s ending. However, there was still much unfinished business, both in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Just as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 marked the beginning of what has become known by historians as the ‘Second Cold War’, so too the summer of 1990 also marked the beginning of two conflicts which still remain to be resolved, one in the Persian Gulf and the other in what, then, was still part of the USSR, in the Ukraine.
Gorbachev had, almost immediately, to cope with two desperately difficult tasks at home, in what was still, just, the USSR. He was trying, as fast as he could, to reform an economy and system of government that had become a way of life. Just the prospect of radical economic restructuring threatened social chaos and caused immediate fear and distress. To go from a command economy, where everyone did as they were told by the centre, to one that operated without central planning and control, leaving prices to market forces, was to travel a pathless route into unknown territory. Not many wanted to go that way, and the few who did had no route map by which to arrive at a clear destination.
On 20 July a “five hundred day” economic programme to move the USSR towards a market economy was published. It proposed the sale of large numbers of state enterprises, the dissolution of state collective farms, currency reform and new banking system. But Gorbachev’s nerve failed him, and the reforms were not introduced. Uncertainty was only making matters worse, and the Bush administration steadfastly refused to provide aid to fund the programme up front, saying that it would only give it as a reward for implementing reform, not as an inducement. Moreover, concerned that Gorbachev might be deposed, the US continued to maintain a state of full military preparedness.
Above: Ukrainians protest at continued Soviet domination.
At the same time Gorbachev was also trying, against all the odds, to hold the Union together, when it seemed that every single member state, in turn, was seeking independence. On the very same day that he was declaring German reunification and NATO membership a foregone conclusion, the Ukraine declared its sovereignty, followed by Armenia, Turkmenistan, and Tadzhikistan in August, and Kazakhstan and Kirghizia in October. In October, too, both Russia and the Ukraine declared their state laws sovereign over Union laws. The Supreme Soviet declared this invalid in November. Gorbachev proposed to set up a new central government that would have in it representatives from the fifteen Soviet republic. By the end of November, he proposed a new Union Treaty: a Union of Sovereign Soviet Republics, with loosened ties between each republic and the central Soviet government. In other crucial matters the Supreme Soviet had taken giant strides; on 1 October it passed a law guaranteeing freedom of worship and on 9 October legislation was brought in to set up a multiparty system. The media too were freed from state control.
While Gorbachev was dealing with these ‘domestic’ issues, the superpowers’ commitment to peaceful collaboration was severely tested by events in the Persian Gulf region. On 2 August the army of Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s brutal Baathist dictator had overrun neighbouring Kuwait, a small but oil-rich nation to the southern end of the region. Iraq was a Soviet ally, but it had also enjoyed the tacit support of both Britain and the US in its war with Iran, and had secretly been provided with arms by them while it continued to torture and oppress both its Shi’ite and Kurdish minorities, as well as many dissidents. Several thousand Russians worked in the country. The invasion and annexation of Kuwait had taken the Kremlin, the White House and the world by surprise. On 2 August, BBC journalist John Simpson, who had been eye-witness to most of the tumultuous events of 1989-90, was on holiday in southern France. Within three hours of hearing on the radio that Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait, he was on a plane back to London. Not for another six months was he able to take another day off.
Above: August, 1990. The Iraqi army, on the orders of Saddam Hussein, invades and annexes Kuwait.
James Baker and Eduard Schevardnadze, who had been meeting in Irkutsk, had flown to Moscow. Baker had been anxious to ensure that the Soviet Union would stand with the United States in its condemnation of the invasion and support whatever action it eventually would take against it. Although Iraq had long been an ally of the Soviet Union, and the initial reactions of Gorbachev and some of his colleagues against an alliance, Shevardnadze stood with Baker at Vnukovo Airport the next day. Together they told the press that the two great powers were “jointly calling upon the rest of the international community to join with us in an international cut-off of all arms supplies to Iraq.” Superpower confrontation had become co-operation. For James Baker, this was the Cold War’s ending: for others it was the first joint act of security policy in the post-Cold War world.
By the end of August, the United States had begun to despatch land, sea, and air forces to Saudi Arabia in Operation Desert Shield, to discourage Iraq from a further invasion. The UN Security Council voted the first of a dozen resolutions demanding Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait. However, by the end of the year, Shevadnadze had personally paid the price for the USSR’s concessions in Eastern Europe and on Germany, and support for the United States in the Persian Gulf. He had been offered up as a scapegoat by Gorbachev to the conservatives. Knowing that he was about to be kicked upstairs as vice president, he resigned and returned to his native Georgia.
In September 1990, John Simpson returned to Britain from Baghdad for a short break, if not a holiday. The first poster he saw was ‘Thatcher Warns Evil Saddam’. “Some of us”, he thought, “have been writing and broadcasting about the unpleasantness of Saddam Hussein’s regime for years, while the British government regarded Iraq as a good customer for weaponry of all kinds.” He went back to Baghdad after about a week and was there until November 1990. He commented:
Iraq seemed to me like a hijacked plane, being flown to an unknown destination. A man whom scarcely anyone wanted as their president was holding a gun to the pilot’s head, and the passengers and the rest of the crew were terrified to say a word or stop him. The fact that British industry, with the enthusiastic encouragement of the British government, had supplied the hijacker with his gun and the bullets for it made it all the worse.
In November (19-21), NATO and Warsaw Pact leaders met in Paris to sign a historic treaty setting reduced levels of conventional forces in the whole of Europe (CFE) from the Atlantic to the Urals. Disarmament was no longer simply about the ‘superpowers’ controlling the numbers of nuclear warheads. Negotiations had become multi-lateral and multi-faceted.
Following a visit to Brussels by Hungarian Foreign Minister Géza Jeszenszky at the end of June (see picture above), on 16 July, József Antall had become the first Prime Minister of a Warsaw Pact country, Hungary, to meet with the Secretary-General of NATO. He met Manfred Wörner at NATO Headquarters in Brussels. From that point on, the Hungarian Ambassador in Brussels maintained permanent contact with NATO’s relevant authorities. As democratic reform began to take hold in Hungary and elsewhere in central Europe, the United States and other Western Countries agreed to help with the tremendous financial burden of restructuring the former ‘satellite’ countries and preparing them for global integration. In October 1990, Prime Minister Antall made an official working visit to Washington, during which President Bush noted the resumption of American business investment in Hungary. He asked Congress for 300 million dollars in economic aid for Eastern Europe. He also asked the IMF to extend five billion dollars in loans to Eastern European countries to compensate them for increased oil prices following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Bush also announced the end of travel restrictions on Hungarian diplomats in the US, and that a Hungarian Consulate General would be opened in Los Angeles.
It was against this background that, in Paris, the sixteen member states of NATO and the six member states of the Warsaw Pact countries published a Joint Declaration on non-aggression in which they stated that they no longer considered themselves as enemies. This was immediately followed by a visit by the Secretary-General to Hungary where he held talks with President Árpád Gönz, PM József Antall and members of the government. Wörner also gave a presentation to the Foreign Relations Committee and the Defence Committee of the Hungarian National Assembly. By the end of November, Hungary had been accorded the status of associate delegation by the North Atlantic Assembly (NATO’s ‘Parliament’, meeting in London), together with other Central European countries.
On the same day, 29 November, the United Nations passed Security Resolution 678, authorising the use of force in the Gulf if Iraq was not out of Kuwait by 15 January 1991. As the Cold War ended with the former ‘satellite’ states freely placing themselves under the NATO umbrella, the conflict in the Middle East was about to go up in flames, quite literally. Together with the break-up of the Russian sphere of influence and the Balkan wars, this was to dominate the next generation of international relations.
Jeremy Isaacs & Taylor Downing (1998), Cold War. London: Transworld Publishers.
Rudof Joó (ed.) (1999), Hungary: A Member of NATO. Budapest: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Hungary.
John Simpson (1998), Strange Places, Questionable People. Basingstoke: Macmillan.