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Book Review: “Faithful Witness: The Confidential Diaries of Alan Don, Chaplain to the King, the Archbishop, and the Speaker, 1931-1946”

The years 1931-1946 were world-shattering and life-altering. Alan Don was the chaplain to the King, the Archbishop, and the Speaker of Commons in England during this period. In Faithful Witness: The Confidential Diaries of Alan Don, we are treated to an open look at his reflections on this time.

The introduction to the diaries provides significant context, background material about Alan Don, and insight into how Don lived and his importance. These diaries were confidential, but Don himself gave them to be read later in his life. It’s difficult to say how remarkable this is, because it gives a firsthand account of many major events in the United Kingdom for those wanting to learn more about this time period. The editor opted not to leave out any material that could be considered especially personal, again because Don provided them intact. Thus, these diaries offer a surprising mix of personal reflections, insights, and revelations into life during this period.

The diary entries themselves range from mundane reporting of moving from place to place to theological reflections, questions of church minutiae, and everyday life. Reading the diaries straight through is revealing over time, as everyday life changes in regard to some of the events happening around the world. Readers could also choose to pick individual topics. A robust index makes this fairly simple to do. For example, if one wants to see what Don says about Germany, one can go to the index, pick Germany (or a sub-topic related thereto), and find numerous entries throughout these years that ultimately yield an evolving understanding of the situation. This is especially interesting due to Don’s interaction with so many major figures of the time, as he gives personal insight and reflection on some of these meetings.

But this isn’t to leave aside those everyday moments or the minutiae of the church, either. It’s refreshing to see that Alan Don worries about such things as whether an ornate Bible is too heavy for someone to carry, what kind of meal he will have at a private gathering, or any other number of personal insights. It reveals a truly human person on the pages, even while giving so many major insights.

Don also writes on the end of each year a brief aside. Comparing the end of 1941 to the end of 1942 is of interest, for example. At the end of 1941, Don writes “Thus ends a year of dramatic events during which the tide of war seems to have turned definitely in our favour – thanks mainly to the Russian army and the British Navy” (384, he goes on to report more specifically). At the end of 1942, though, Don writes, “1942 started badly and we have surmounted many disappointments and disasters in our struggle with the aggressors. But the tide is on the turn and 1943 may see us nearing our immediate goal” (404). He goes on, “Anti Christ is abroad and compromise is unthinkable” (ibid). The evolution of his understanding of events is a truly fantastic thing to read, and to have it intermixed with theological insights makes it a wonderful read.

Faithful Witness is a rare look at the private life and thoughts of a figure with connections to nearly every major player in the United Kingdom during World War 2. It’s a valuable read for that reason, but Don’s tone and constant reflection make it a fascinating study in everyday life and theological reflection during this period as well. Readers interested in this period of history should see it as a must-read. It’s even moreso a required reading for those interested in the intersection of World War 2 and how people viewed it theologically. It’s a tremendous resource and a wonderful read.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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SDG.

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