Hugh Victor Duke Remembered

He stood for for something very precious…for an England…made up of honest, brave, and tender men, and his life and death must have done something towards the realisation of that England.

Our portrait is of Temp.-Major Hugh Victor Duke, M.C. and Bar. of the Devon Regiment, who was killed in the invasion of Normandy. His record, and what the record of such men means to England, is the theme of the accompanying article by Mr. Arthur Bryant. Son of the Rev. V. Duke, Vicar of Holne, Newton Abbot, and Mrs. Duke, Major Duke was educated at Bedford School, Newton College, and Sandhurst. He was mentioned in despatches during the siege of Malta, and was in the first landings in Sicily. He went through the Sicilian campaign, winning the M.C. at Vizzini and a Bar to the M.C. at Regalbuto. He died, aged twenty-five, leading his company to the assault on the D-Day beaches. 

Source: Arthur Bryant, The Illustrated London News, 9 November 1946.

I HAD a letter this morning from a mother, one of the hundreds of thousands of mothers who lost a son in the war. “ I beg you, ” she wrote, “to write an inspired article about Malta, and I enclose a poem my dear dead son wrote whilst there. I enclose a snapshot of him when he was at Sandhurst. He was over 6 ft., with very fair hair and blue eyes–a typical British officer. Write it as a tribute to his regiment, the 2nd Battalion, the Devonshire Regiment”; as I read, I could feel the pride and grief burning through the lines.

Hugh Victor Duke Remembered

Hugh Victor Duke

 “He went all through the siege”…“he was mentioned in dispatches”…“fought all through Sicily, where he won the immediate award of the M.C. and Bar”; an honour only given to very brave men—was severely wounded, rejoined his unit in Italy, later returned to England, and died leading his company to the assault on the D-Day beaches.

There is little comment one can make on this brief, simple record, telling so much (scarcely to be guessed at by those who have not passed through that fiery ordeal) in so few words. He and his men did their duty, and by right of that duty we live. “Must their deeds die?” writes my unknown correspondent. And the answer is that their deeds will only die if England dies and if the cause for which England and these, her champions, fought, dies. They made their sacrifice with open eyes: they surrendered their own mortal lives—their personal doings, hopes, longings, dreams—that what they deemed a greater dream might survive and triumph. That dream has survived: it has triumphed, once again, as by virtue of the sacrifice of other brave Englishmen in the past, over the many and terrible dangers that threatened it. Terrible dangers still threaten it: they always will. This is a world where good and evil never cease to clash, and the armour of God’s champions is as dented as it is gleaming. And where the faithful dead, their duty done, rest from their labours, the living must take up the fight that the dream may continue and triumph.

What is that dream? I think it was best summed up in a phrase of a young officer, Charles Lister, who fell in the last war, and which he used of a fellow-officer who fell before him; “He stood for something very precious to me—for an England of my dreams, made up of honest, brave and tender men, and his life and death must have done something towards the realisation of that England.”

“Honest, brave, and tender men,” it is strange how much those five words say and how perfectly they epitomise what we mean by the English tradition. If everything else went—our commerce and finance, our coal-seams, our Parliamentary institutions the beauty of the English village, the dome of St. Paul’s, the British Empire (themselves, rightly considered, only at their best the outward manifestations of the men who made them), and we still retained our ability to breed honest, brave and tender men, England would still be England. It is in the combination of those three virtues that the English dream lies: that, at bottom, is our national ideal, and it is this, and this alone, that makes England, with all her faults and shortcomings, so infinitely worth preserving. The young man who died on the D-Day beaches and whose photograph his mother sent me was quite manifestly from his face all these three things. Many men are brave—even Hitler was that—and yet leave the world no better or often far worse than they found it. And quite a number of men are brave and honest. Some of these have been almost as great a curse to the world as Hitler. But not very many men are brave, honest and tender. Those who are, are the salt and light of the world. A society whose ultimate ideal from age to age is the creation of such men is a society very well worth preserving. It is worth the sacrifice of even the noblest man.


Cap badge of the Devons

And here lies the answer to the question so many are asking. Those who died did not die in vain. Their bodies, bared to destruction, stood between England and a titanic wave of danger which, but for them, would have engulfed her for ever. And their nobility and conquest over self is not lost in a world apparently peopled by so many surviving and ignobler creatures. Though their days on earth were brief, they were pregnant with good; their influence and example lit a flame in others that is not extinguished and which, in turn, by example and influence will light a flame in others yet unborn. It is so that a great society lives; by its virtues, its traditions. These intangible qualities are made out of individual human lives: of such lives as the young officer of the Devons, whose virtues, and those of the scores of thousands like him, this article commemorates.