“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive” – Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque, VI, El Dorado

On Tuesday, October 17 early, we left home and flew to New York’s JFK Airport. We had several hours to wait there; and then, at 6 pm we presented ourselves to Norwegian Air in order to check in for their late flight to Paris CDG.

Before I continue, there are two details I must mention. First, although it is not the most convenient for us, we have had excellent experiences previously on several journeys with Norwegian in terms of comfort and value for money. Second, we had not booked our return journey, simply because we wanted to be flexible as to our arrangements. Maybe we would return via London (depending on the availability of friends to meet us there). Or maybe we would go to Madeira or Budapest on the way home.

Norwegian refused to allow us to board their flight on that Tuesday night — even though our tickets were paid for and in order. Their gate agent consulted a surly young man, wearing a shirt that proclaimed him as representing the “Aviation Port Services”, whatever that might be. He said, first, that our passports were unacceptable because they expire on March 16, 2018. By my reckoning, that meant that they had five months’ validity. No, he said, they had to have at least six months’ validity after our planned return date — and, since we had no return date or tickets, he had no certainty that we even planned to return at all. I showed him, nevertheless, our printed-out itinerary (prepared some days previously for friends and colleagues) which stated that we would be home on or about Nov 17. He then departed, taking our passports. He returned only a few minutes later, to say that he had telephoned Paris (really?) — and that, indeed, we would not be allowed to fly. I asked to speak to his supervisor. He said that he himself was the supervisor. I asked to see his ID. He refused.

We were shattered by all this — not to say, being far from young, exhausted by a very long day. But there was nothing we could do.

At this point our son Giles stepped in to help. He immediately arranged a hotel booking for us, and also booked air-tickets (via Detroit) home for us.

So: we cannot now be in France until mid-January at the earliest. Meanwhile, we have renewed our passports. But I still cannot understand why this was necessary now. The old passports stated explicitly that they were valid until March 16, 2018. I know that I am a very simple person who may not have spotted something that is obvious – but I took that to mean that they were valid until March 16, 2018.

I have seen official information from the State Department. With regard to France, it says that a passport “Must be valid for at least three months beyond your planned date of departure from the Schengen area.” Ours were valid for four months after our planned return. But we have always known, over our almost countless visits to France, that it is also true that one may not stay in France for more than 90 days without a visa.

No doubt you can imagine our frustration and disappointment in all this, and our vast concern over the financial expense of all this!

Needless to say, I contacted Norwegian Air. After almost a month, they responded as follows:

Thank you for contacting Norwegian and apologies for the long reply time.

It was with regret to learn of the difficulties you experienced when trying to check-in for your flight from New York to Paris on the 17th of October 2017. Norwegian terms and conditions state the following:

You must make sure you have all the necessary travel documents, including passport and visas, for your journey. We reserve the right to refuse boarding if you can not present a valid form of ID and the necessary travel documents.

You’re responsible for obeying all laws, regulations and other provisions of public authorities related to travel in the countries you’re flying from, to, or in transit through. We’re not liable for any consequences due to a failure to obtain the necessary documents or failure to obey such laws, regulations, requirements or orders.

Nationals of USA needs a visa to travel to France. However, there is visa exemption for nationals of USA with a normal passport for a maximum stay of 90 days. Passengers need to hold a return ticket within 90 days. *

In light of the above information, we are unable to offer you refund of your unused tickets. Should you wish to make a claim, we suggest for you to contact your private travel insurance provider for assistance.

We trust that our response has clarified the reason for our decision. We certainly hope that this experience will not deter you from choosing to include Norwegian in any future travel plans. **

 Kind regards,

Customer Relations

* After countless visit to France I have never previously encountered this requirement. And are they seriously suggesting that no one may travel unless they have cast-iron certainty as to the routes and dates on their return travel?

** They must surely be kidding!

I responded to Norwegian Customer Service as follows:

I have just received your response. It is a source of great distress and dismay to us. Please consider the following points:

We have lived in the USA for 37 years, and during this time we have made at least FIFTY round trips to Europe — and a situation like this has never previously arisen.

I am a retired priest, aged 83 years. (My wife is aged 76.) This means, I would suggest, (a) that we are most unlikely to be the kind of people who would engage in deliberately unlawful behavior; and (b) that our age means that we have to live on a tiny pension. In these circumstances, are you contending that it is just, reasonable and appropriate that Norwegian should retain $1200 for services it did NOT provide?

In addition to this, we have had to deal with the cost of our flights between DFW and JFK, the cost of  booked – but, in the event, unusable — French rail tickets, and as well as the unavoidable cost of a hotel at JFK.

We have crossed the Atlantic twice previously on Norwegian — and I believe that you must therefore have in your profile system a record of our passport information, and so on. But at no point did you warn us, in advance, of the problem associated with deferring our return booking.

At no point was there any question as to our return date: this was clearly indicated on the itinerary details that I had printed several days before leaving home, for family and colleagues. I showed this to the agent at JFK Airport, but he chose to ignore it.

The simple fact of the matter is that we planned to go to France for about three weeks, and then — IF suitable and affordable flights could be found (Transavia, perhaps) to go for a few days to Madeira. From there we would have returned to London on EasytJet — again, IF a suitable flight could be found, and IF family and friends would be available to meet us during a brief stop-over in London.

IF these plans had not worked out, we would have omitted the Madeira part of our travel plans and would therefore have returned to the USA via Paris CDG.

You will note that the word “IF” appears FOUR times. In other words, our initial booking on Norwegian for travel to Paris was made before any return plans could have been made. Surely these circumstances are not exceptional: there must be many who travel without detailed plans and bookings for return. 

Our passports were valid for about five months following our planned outward journey. In the plain use of language, the fact that they did not expire until mid-March means that they were “valid” until then.

As I mentioned previously, we have greatly enjoyed and appreciated the value and comfort of our previous flights on Norwegian — but, alas, we are deterred from any further flights on Norwegian. We have recommended Norwegian widely among friends, colleagues and family; and we have passed on supportive articles and press-cuttings. We will now revise these assessments.

Finally, I do not blame Norwegian Air itself for following regulations (obscure, confusing and relatively inaccessible as they are) — but I do lament the hard, unsympathetic, unscrupulous attitude which you have shown to us – your hitherto loyal, but now defenseless, customers.




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“A dab at an index”

Oliver Goldsmith said, in 1759, that “One writer excels at a plan or a title page, another works away the body of the book, and a third is a dab at an index”. A reader’s letter in the current issue of the [London] Spectator says that “It was the legendary Scottish judge and writer Henry Cockburn who declared that ‘the author of a book without an index should be shot’.” Today being All Souls’ Day I consulted an extensive — and generally very useful — anthology of over seventeen hundred prayers in search of an appropriate orison; and indeed this book has an index. However, at the index entry for “Departed” it says “See Faithful Departed”. I am not sure whether this is mere pedantry, or whether an evangelical theological point is being made — certainly a possibility from what the anthologist writes of the matter in his Preface. I just wonder why the numerical references could not usefully and helpfully  be indicated at both points in the book’s index. In the circumstances, shooting does seem to be extreme. But, if it had indeed come to that, it would surely be necessary to find a suitable prayer for the departed author with the utmost expedition.

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Reigning and Ruling

I am often asked: “Queen Elizabeth II reigns – but she doesn’t actually rule, does she?” The answer is: “Yes, she certainly does rule”.


When I was ten years old I was a pupil at our (Church of England) parochial primary school – Broomhouse Lane School at Hope, on Eccles Old Road, Salford. We sat at wooden desks, hinged near the top so that they would open to reveal notebooks, pencils and so on. Above the hinge there was a narrow flat area, with a groove in which to place a steel-nibbed dip pen. At the top, to the right of the groove, there was a removable ceramic ink pot – refillable as necessary from a large jar of ink kept by the teacher.

The steel pen-nibs were not, I imagine, of the very highest quality; and the notebooks in which we wrote were, in those deprived days towards the end of WWII, made of coarse paper.

Naughty boys – among whom I was certainly not one, at least in this particular regard – would sometimes stuff bits of blotting paper into the inkwells, creating a mixture that was at once indelible, blue-black, semi-liquid and fibrous.

With a poor nib, filled with fibrous ink, applied to coarse paper, the resultant hand-writing was often untidy if not actually illegible. The teacher, finding it unacceptable, and unwilling to accept explanations and excuses, would say: “Hold your hand out” … and she would proceed to hit your fingers with a ruler. After that, your hand would hurt so much that you could barely hold your pen, and thus your writing would become even worse than it was before.

But the purpose of a ruler in not to be an instrument with which to inflict unjust punishment on small children. A ruler is a carefully made wooden stick, perfectly and accurately divided into inches, and parts thereof, along its edge. Its true teleology is to provide a standard, to guide, to measure, to enable the drawing of straight lines. That is what a ruler is for – and it is what monarchs are for.

Does Queen Elizabeth II rule? Well, for 65 years now she set standards of unswerving devotion to duty; she has guided numerous Prime Ministers (with whom she has met at least weekly) and their governments, assisting them to draw straight lines as she has been consulted and has advised on every significant (and less-then-significant) decision. She has provided a steadfast standard for national life. She has measured, as it were, the leaders of foreign nations, countless of whom she has met and known personally during the long years of her reign; and her experience and opinion of them must surely be invaluable to successive Prime Ministers.

We are Farmers

Can we know that those successive governments have heeded her advice? It certainly seems to be so. For, after all, she could aptly use that line from the Farmers’ Insurance commercials: “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.”

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October 21 is the Feast of Blessed Karl, Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary

The following is drawn principally from a leaflet published by the Emperor Charles League of Prayer (www.emperorcharles.org):


Charles of Austria was born on the 17th August 1887 at Persenbeug castle in Lower Austria. His parents were the Archduke Otto of Austria and the Princess Maria Josepha of Saxony, the sister of the last King of Saxony. The Emperor Franz-Joseph I was Charles’ Great Uncle.

Charles was brought up consciously as a Catholic, receiving a mainly military but also political train­ing. The young prince received little public attention, and he grew up to be a charming young man, devoted to his tasks whatever they were, charitable always, reverent and pious. “His greatest joy,” however, “was in being allowed to be an altar boy,” his tutor recalled. From a young age Karl had a special, life-long devotion to the Holy Eucharist and to the Sacred Heart. From his earliest childhood his life was ac­companied by a prayer group, after a nun blessed with the marks of the stigmata, had foretold great suffering and personal attacks for Charles in the fu­ture. From an early age, Charles developed a great love of Holy Communion and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Throughout his life he sought to resolve all important decisions through prayer.

On the 21st October 1911, he married Princess Zita of Bourbon, daughter of the Duke of Parma. After their wedding Karl turned to her and said, “Now we must help each other to go to heaven.” In ten years of happy and exemplary marriage, they were blessed with eight children.*

11-570-the empress-H.I.R.H. Empress Zita of Austria, Queen of Hungary, née Princess of Bourbon-Parma (1892-1989)

Zita, at her coronation as Queen of Hungary in 1916

On the 28th June 1914, the murder of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo resulted in Charles becoming the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The death of the Emperor Franz-Joseph in the middle of the war was followed by Charles’ enthronement on the 21st November 1916 as Emperor of Austria. On the 30th December 1916 he was crowned Apostolic King of Hungary.

For Charles the inheritance of crowns was a per­sonal vocation given to him from God’s hand. This duty in the service of his peoples was both unrenounceable and sacred. It was to be carried out if necessary in loving submission even at the expense of his own life as a true Follower of Christ. In the universal and faith-serving tradition of his house, he saw the alternative to nationalism and the other fatal currents of the twentieth century whose be­ginning would encompass the destruction of his empire. Throughout all this, the Empress was his strongest human support.

Charles’ rule expressed Catholic Social Teaching. His highly personal efforts to secure a peace were at the centre of his activities throughout a terrible war. On account of his political ideas, his beatifica­tion honored him as the pioneer and patron of a truly united Europe.

He created a social legal framework which is partly in force even today. Moreover, as practically the only statesman who was himself also a soldier, he had personal experience of the horrors of the front. As Commander-in Chief he made great efforts to humanize military tactics where conditions permit­ted.

Charles saw himself opposed by a violent propa­ganda inspired by international forces which ac­tively worked for the destruction of his empire and therefore had a vested interest in discrediting him personally. These forces influenced also large parts of the leading internal military, social and political circles.

His constant sensitive conscience and courageous conduct enabled the transition to a post-war 0rder to occur without a civil war. Nevertheless both he and his wife were deprived of their homeland birthright and practically all of their possessions.

Loyal to his coronation oath and the express wishes of the Pope who feared Bolshevism was set to engulf central Europe, Charles tried after the war to take up again his ruling responsibilities in Hungary. Two attempts failed owing to the treason and dishonesty of his subordinates. King and Queen were first imprisoned and then exiled to Madeira, together with their children.

There the family lived in impoverished conditions where the already physically weak Emperor con- tracted a painful illness which finally killed him. Just as he had accepted dutifully the inheritance of crowns, he now accepted with equanimity also from God’s hand the cross of exile, painful illness and death, again as a sacrifice for his peoples.

Pardoning and forgiving all, he died on the 1st April 1922, his gaze fixed on the Blessed Sacrament.

Karl, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, said goodbye to his wife, Empress Zita. “I’ll love you forever”, he declared, just as he had eleven years earlier when they were married. Then he called his first born son Otto, to “witness how a Catholic and an Emperor conducts himself when dying.” The Emperor received the Sacrament of the Sick and spoke his last words: “Thy Holy Will be done. Jesus, Jesus, come! Yes—yes. My Jesus, Thy will be done—Jesus.”

The motto of his life was as he repeated on his death-bed:




The Archduke Otto

* I first met the Emperor’s eldest son, the Archduke Otto, at Cambridge University sometime in the late 1950s; and I remained in touch with him intermittently over the years until his death in 2011. I last saw him in Rome, at the Beatification of his father in October 2004, when I was blessed to be a concelebrant with Pope St. John Paul II at the great Mass in St Peter’s Square.


St Peter’s Square in Rome: Pope St. John Paul II greets the Archduke at the Beatification of his father on October 3, 2004

Next Wednesday, October 18,  EWTN will broadcast a program in which Fr Mitch Pacwa will be taking with several people connected with the cause for Karl’s canonization, including a member of the Habsburg family – Her Imperial and Royal Highness, Princess Maria Anna Galitzine, the daughter of Archduke Rudolf of Austria who was the youngest son of Emperor Karl I.

A book I highly recommend: A Heart for Europe, by James & Joanna Bogle. It tells the whole of this great and very moving story.








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In Paradisum


My father, Raeburn Simpson Hawkins, died 36 years ago. His Year’s Mind – the anniversary of his death – falls on this coming Monday, October 2. Born in Canada, he served in the Great War as a very young man in the Canadian Royal Artillery on the Somme and at Passchendaele. Returning from the war, he received his degree from the University of Fredericton, New Brunswick, and then won a scholarship to the London School of Economics; and, although his life moved in a very different direction thereafter, he retained his interest in economics (the “dismal science” as it has been called!) throughout his life. From London he went to Wells Theological College; and in 1927/28 he was ordained to the diaconate and priesthood in the Church of England by William Temple, then Bishop of Manchester but later to become on the of greatest Archbishops of Canterbury. In the Second World War my father served as a chaplain in the Royal Air Force, and his outstanding service was Mentioned in Dispatches. In the New Year’s Honours List of 1963, Queen Elizabeth II made him an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (and my mother, my sister and I were present at the Investiture at Buckingham Palace). But, far more importantly, my father was a beloved parish priest in, successively, inner urban, industrial and country parishes. He was an Anglican. Was he then really a priest in the Church of God? By the understanding of Bishop Temple, in the understanding of the Church of England, in my father’s own mind and soul: Yes. In the understanding and hearts of the countless souls whom he absolved, for whom he offered the Holy Sacrifice, whom he accompanied to the gates of death: Yes. As a courtesy, at the very least, he is entitled to be addressed as a priest. Please pray for the repose of his soul.






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Who said this?

“The past is dead; let it bury its dead, its hopes and its aspirations; before you lies the future – a future full of golden promise; a future of expanding national glory, before which all the world shall stand amazed. Let me beseech you to lay aside all rancor, all bitter sectional feeling, and to take your places in the ranks of those who will bring about a consummation devoutly to be wished – a reunited country.”

Was it those clamoring for the removal of Confederate memorials?

No: It was Jefferson Davis, in his last speech.

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The Purple Testament of Bleeding War — Shakespeare


This years mark the 75th anniversary of an event – the Dieppe Raid — in August of 1942, when I was eight years old.


Dieppe 1942

But I need to start an account of my recollections of this catastrophe some two years earlier. My father, a Canadian by birth and upbringing — a fact that is not entirely irrelevant to what follows — who had served at a very young age in the Canadian Army through the horrors of the Somme, Vimy Ridge, and Passchendaele  in the “Great” War, was now (a priest of the Church of England) serving in the Second World War as a Chaplain in the Royal Air Force.

At the outbreak of war he was parish priest of St James, Hope, in the Diocese of Manchester (a large industrial city in the north of England).

Hope Vicarage

St James Church, Hope, with the Vicarage

The picture above – a watercolor painted in 1911, long before the events which I now relate – shows the church and the vicarage. Maybe a mile behind where the painter is seated is the Manchester Ship Canal, lined with engineering factories and an oil refinery. A quarter mile to the painter’s left is a very large hospital. Note, if you will, the grass banked up below the ground floor windows on the house. My father (who had experienced the trenches of Flanders) had arranged for the cellars below the house to be strengthened and for the construction of an escape route (convex on the outside so that it could not easily be blown in by explosions, but concave within, so that it could easily be knocked out with a sledge hammer which was kept to hand for that purpose).

The UK had been under nightly aerial bombardment for eight months. The “blitz” was intense throughout the Fall of 1940, with the alarm sirens sounding daily as darkness fell until the “all clear” was sounded at dawn. Every night my sister and I, as children, went to bed in the bunks that had been built into the cellar.

My father spent those nights on the streets of the parish, looking to provide help and guidance where needed in the total darkness of the mandatory “black-out”. Many parishioners had “Anderson” shelters in their gardens; but these were prone to flooding – and the rain, typical of Manchester, had been heavy for weeks. Thus my father brought many children back to the extensive cellar beneath our house. There was, at that time, an epidemic of whooping cough; and all we children duly caught it from each other.

The ferocious bombing reached its climax late on Christmas Eve of that year. The incendiary bombs that struck the church had been extinguished, but huge high-explosive bombs on three sides of the house had rendered it uninhabitable. The hospital had been hit; the oil refinery was burning.

The escape hatch worked. A parishioner came to take us to the railway station. I remember being driven through the city center, seeing the Free Trade Hall (the home of the famed Hallé Orchestra) on fire. None of the main railway termini was functioning, so we had to go some way out of the city to find a train. And so it was that my mother, sister and I went to live with my grandparents for almost the whole remaining duration of the war.

Of course, I did not receive any of my Christmas gifts until, some time later, they were retrieved from the wreckage of the house. I remember that one of them was a tin locomotive shed for my model railway. When, eventually, I got it, it was bent and dented. I held – and still hold – Adolf Hitler personally responsible for this affront.


Manchester at Christmas 1940. The cathedral, itself badly damaged, is in the background

On that Christmas morning my father, whom we had left behind, celebrated the early Eucharist in a church lit only by the altar candles; and he told us that he could hear his people crunching through broken stained glass as they came to receive Communion.

Soon thereafter my father left his parish in the care of a priest-in-charge in order to serve in the RAF as a chaplain. By the summer of 1942 he was chaplain to the Royal Air Force (Coastal Command) base at Thorney Island on the southern coast of England, on Chichester Harbour, linked by causeway to the mainland. When it was possible to do so, my father would try to arrange for my mother, my sister and me to spend some part of the summer school holidays near his base. And so it was that we spent some time in August of that year in the small coastal town of Emsworth, from which there was a more-or-less (but this was wartime!) regular bus service across the causeway.

Although we were on the coast, there was ordinarily no possibility of the usual sea-side and beach pursuits. The enemy was a very short distance away to the south across the English Channel, and so the beach was heavily mined and completely covered in barbed wire. However, on the coast road several miles west of the air base a mock, decoy “airfield” had been constructed – using ground markings, some lights, imitation aircraft (made at a film studio, using wood, wire, canvas and paint) – to deceive Luftwaffe visitors in the area, inviting them to attack here rather than at the actual base. This installation was manned by a small group of the Royal Air Force Regiment soldiers, in a bunker there, who would activate it as necesary. These ingenious men had found a way through the adjacent barbed wire and around the mines, so that they could gain just enough access to the sand and the sea for bathing. My father knew them, of course; and thus we spent a sea-side afternoon on the beach.

At the end of that idyllic afternoon, and after a cup of tea with the men in the bunker, we went up onto the coast road the catch the bus back to Emsworth. And it was there, sitting on the upper deck of the bus, that we saw a German Me 109 fighter (basically on a reconnaissance mission, I am sure, given what was to follow) in a low approach and firing at our bus. Given the plane’s speed it was gone almost instantly; but there were several holes in the bus roof over us. The bus driver did not stop. There would be no purpose in doing so.

That night Emsworth was not its usual quiet self. Throughout the night we were kept awake by the constant rumble of tracked vehicles passing through its streets. As we learned later, they were assembling along the coast at several points between Portsmouth and Newhaven in order to launch, on 19 August 1942, a major raid on the French coastal port of Dieppe. Operation Jubilee was the first Canadian Army engagement in the European theatre of the war, designed to test the Allies’ ability to launch amphibious assaults against Adolf Hitler’s “Fortress Europe.” The plan was to take Dieppe, hold a perimeter around the town, destroy the harbour facilities, and then withdraw by sea. The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, led by Major-General J.H. Roberts, formed the bulk of the infantry assault force. As Roberts told his troops before the raid — “Don’t worry men, it’ll be a piece of cake,” — a comment that would haunt him for years afterwards. I believe that there is evidence of the involvement of French double agents who may have given the alert to the German occupiers.

The raid was a disaster. The raid was over by mid-day. In nine hours, 907 Canadian soldiers were killed, 2,460 were wounded, and 1,946 were taken prisoner. That’s more prisoners than the Canadian Army would lose in 11 months of fighting during the Northwest Europe campaign of 1944-1945. Fewer than half the Canadians who departed for Dieppe made it back to England. Perhaps the finest tribute to the men who fought and died at Dieppe is the official report on the battle in 1942 by the German army: “The enemy, almost entirely Canadian soldiers, fought — so far as he was able to fight at all —well and bravely”.

As small children at the time, my sister and I were not unduly alarmed by our proximity to these events at Christmas 1940 nor in August 1942. Our parents protected us from the most frightening things and fears. I can only imagine what the Canadian heart of my father must have endured on that August day.

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