Sunday, 3 April 2011

Class of '39

Charlie Pottins looks at British support for Hitler before the Second World War. (originally published in 1989 for the 50th anniversary of the war's outbreak.)

FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor meet the Fuhrer

One still hears the argument every so often, "We made the mistake of underestimating Hitler. We must not be deceived again." Margaret Thatcher, evoking Churchillian daydreams, admonishes peace-seekers sternly, blaming them for pre-war appeasement and encouraging aggression.

Wiseacres, claiming superior knowledge by virtue merely of having lived longer, attempt to silence the young by conjuring-up the cliche of Neville Chamberlain back from Munich, promising "Peace in our Time". "We must not be fooled again," they say with a superior smile. But whoever "We" are (and it apparently includes the prime minister, armed service chiefs, captains of industry, intelligence chiefs and the person on the bar stool addressing you, all with an assumed common interest and shared knowledge) rest assured, "We" are the goodies, ever the innocent and injured party. Our political leaders may be fools occasionally, misled by the wily foreigner, but never (except possibly when putting up taxes) knaves or the villains of the piece.

The picture of Chamberlain being duped by Hitler, due to his sincere quest for peace in our time, is a myth. If the British government was duped, it was because it wanted to be. How it systematically duped the British public, with the help of the Tory media, is another matter.) In February 1938, Chamberlain
rejected a US approach for one from Mussolini, got rid of Eden, and effectively connived at the Nazi Anschluss in Austria the following month.

By May (six months before the Munich agreement) British Foreign Office officials were talking of how the Czechs must concede territory to the Reich. Nazi emissaries, including the Sudetan fuhrer, Konrad Heinrein, were warmly received in London while the Czechs and their republic were roundly abused in ruling circles.
On 3 March 1939, dissident German officers tipped off British intelligence that invasion of Czechoslovakia was imminent. Chamberlain encouraged Sir Samuel Hoare to make a speech on 10 March anticipating a "Golden Age of peace and prosperity, the end of the armaments race, and future co-operation between nations".

The Nazi tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia five days later.

A wisecrack that went around Prague at the time of the Russian invasion in 1968, when the Kremlin claimed it was forestalling "fascist aggression", was that the Soviet army had arrived a little late. The same could be said of the British Tories' new-found concern, 30 years after Munich, for Czech sovereignty and freedom. "...Czechoslovakia, a tumour in the heart of Europe ruled by the Communist Benes, which required a surgical operation to prevent it poisoning the lifestream of Eurooe," wrote Professor A P Laurie of the pro-Nazi organisation, the Link, in its Anglo-German Review, December 1938.

Headed by Admiral Sir Barry Domville, a former Director of Naval Intelligence, the Link was just part of a chain of groups and prominent individuals in Britain who wanted an alliance between this country and Hitler. Its council included Lord Redesdale, father of Unity Mitford and father-in-law of Sir Oswald Mosley. Just before the war it was joined by the Duke of Westminster, one of the richest landowners in England and friend of the Duke of Windsor.

The Pro-Nazi Lobby

Sir Barry Domville was involved with Mosley, the fanatically antisemitic Tory MP Captain Archibald Maule Ramsay, and others in a series of conspiratorial secret meetings from 1939 to 1940 which were brought to a close by their internment. Some writers believe that a pro-Nazi coup was being hatched and go so far as to link Rudolf Hess's flight to Britain with this, as well as the Duke of Windsor's possible role as a figurehead. (It is said the reason Anthony Blunt enjoyed protection in later years was his inside knowledge gained from wartime work in MIS, and his willingness to recover embarrassing documents for the royal family.)

The Windsors and the Mosleys remained on friendly social terms in Paris in the 1950s and 1960s. Sir Barry Domville had his memoirs, blaming a Jewish freemason for his being pensioned off from Naval Intelligence, published by the Britons Publishing Society. (They also published the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and had among their post-war directors Sir Archibald Maule Ramsay.) In 1967, Domville was a founder and honorary president of the National Front.

The discussions which Admiral Domville, Lord Lymington, Lord Tavistock (later Duke of Bedford) and Mosley had between March and the end of May 1940, concerning a negotiated peace with Germany, had parallels at a more official level as Holland, Belgium and Norway fell. On 29 May, in Cabinet, Lord Halifax proposed suing for peace. Lord Buccleuth, a friend of the Duke of Windsor, had been urging peace
with Hitler, as had the Duke of Westminster. Sir Samuel Hoare at the Foreign Office was reputed to be in favour. Indeed, his permanent secretary, Sir Alexander Cadogan, remarked, perhaps unfairly: "He'll be the Quisling of England when Germany conquers us..." (He was made ambassador to Franco instead.)

The pre-war pro-Nazi lobby in Britain was not confined to a few convinced fascists or antisemitic eccentrics. Nor was it a matter of "peace at any price", as the Nazis conquered Europe. Even before Hitler attained power in Germany he had powerful backers abroad, such as Sir Henri Deterding of Royal Dutch Shell. Some researchers probing the prehistory of the Nazi Party, among the right-wing Freikorps and the antisemitic, aristocratic Thule Society, say evidence points to some British "godfathers" being around when Nazism was still in its cradle. Then, it was a matter of combating Bolshevism in Germany. Later, the Nazi reich was seen as both good for business, through rearmament and crushing trade unions, and an ally in the war against communism.

"Liberal ideas and public freedom of thought and speech are to some extent luxuries...," merchant banker Ernest Tennant told an audience at Ashridge Conservative College, explaining the Nazis' rise to power. Germany had endured economic chaos, a grim struggle for survival, and the threat of communism, he said. "When accusing the Nazis of wanton brutality, it must be remembered that the alternative — a Commu­nist revolution — might have been worse." Tennant led a British trade delegation to Germany in 1934 and was pleased to see how impressed members were. "It was decided on returning to London to form and finance the start of the Anglo-German Fellowship." Richard Griffiths, in Fellow Travellers of the Right, suggests the real source of the idea may have been Ribbentrop.

An earlier Anglo-German Association, aiming to promote friendship between the two peoples and including such people as Wells and Galsworthy, had been dissolved when Hitler came to power. There was little doubt of the mutual approval which existed between the Fellowship and the Nazis. Among speakers who were guests of the Anglo-German Fellowship were Ribbentrop (on several occasions), General Tholens of the German Labour Service, Hitler Youth leaders, and Freiherr von Hadeln, SS Adjutant to Himmler.
Ribbentrop was nicknamed the "Londonderry Herr" by some wags, being a frequent guest of the Marquess of Londonderry at his seat in County Down. The Marquess, Minister of Air from 1931 to 1935, was invited to Goering's summer residence along with Mussolini after the 1937 German army manoeuvres.

He had already met Hitler the year before and was keen for him to succeed, although he mildly cautioned Ribbentrop on taking antisemitism too far: "As I told you, I have no great affection for the Jews. It is possible to trace their participation in most of these international disturbances which have createdso much havoc in different countries, but on the other hand one can find many Jews strongly ranged on the other side."

Influence in High Places

In 1936, the secretary of the Anglo-German Fellow­ship told a reporter: "It isn't numbers that matter. We want 'Names', otherwise how can we have any influence with the government or the Foreign Office." If "names" were what was needed, the Fellowship must have gained plenty of influence! Along with Sir Barry Domville, Professor Laurie and Lord Redesdale (who turn up again in the Link), the Anglo-German Fellowship had about 2 7 Conservative MPs as members and at least 30 members of the House of Lords, such as the Marquess of Londonderry, Viscount Esher, the Earl of Glasgow and the Duke of Wellington.

Lieutenant Colonel Sir Thomas Moore, one of three Tory MPs on the Fellowship council, had written an interesting article in the Daily Mail on 25 April 1934, entitled: The Blackshirts have what the Conservatives Need.

"What is there in a black shirt which gives apparent dignity and intelligence to its wearer?" he said, describing a fascist rally at the Albert Hall. "All seemingly filled with the same emotions, pride of race, love of country, loyalty, hope... As I listened ;o the vibrant tones of Sir Oswald Mosley ... I got my answer. There was little if any of the policy which could not be accepted by the most loyal followers of our present Conservative leaders... Why,therefore the Blackshirts? The answer lies in the one word - Action!"

Having satisfied himself that the Moslev movement was "largely derived from the Conservative Party" and shared the same "instincts" — "loyalty to the throne and love of country". Sir Thomas urged an alliance between his own party and "this new and virile ofshoot". In another article that year, entitled Give Hitler a Chance he told readers, "I am satisfied that Herr Hither is absolutely honest and sincere."

An interesting feature of the Anglo-German Fellow­ship, noted in Simon Haxey's classic work Tory MP, 1939. but left unexamined in more recent books, was its corporate membership (as perhaps befitted suppor­ters of the corporate state!). Companies which had corporate membership of this pro-Nazi propaganda body, indicating that their Board of Directors approved, included Guinness, Mahon & Co, Lazard Bros, and J Henry Shroder in City banking; Firth-Vickers in the steel industry; and, among other firms, Dunlop, McDougalls, and the giant Unilever corpora­tion.

Individual members of the Anglo-German Fellow­ship included 21 bank directors, including the Gover­nor of the Bank of Scotland, Lord Lothian; and Deputy-Governor, Sir Donald Cameron. Three direc­tors of the Bank of England were members; one of them, F C Tiarks, on the Anglo-German Fellowship Council. Lord McGowan, chairman of ICI and director of Midland Bank; Andrew Agnew, managing director of Shell; and Sir Leonard Lyle, president of Tate and Lyle; are a few more names on the Anglo-German Fellowship's list.

Material Support

It is well known that British industry was shipping strategic materials to Germany right up to the out­break of war. A third of Britain's 50,000-ton stock of rubber was on its way in mid-August 1939. What is perhaps not so well known is that the British govern­ment and the Bank of England facilitated credit and exchange for the Nazi war build-up. Montague Norman at the bank also saw to it that Czechoslovakia's gold was handed over to the Nazis.

While, according to its secretary, the Fellowship was a club for Tory peers and "distinguished repre­sentatives of Big Business", the Link, set up by Admiral Domville, formed local branches for local bigwigs: city aldermen, country squires, magistrates, vicars, councillors (some of them Labour) and retired military and naval officers who were probably attracted by the Admiral. It grew in the outer London suburbs, the Midlands, southern services towns and Ulster.

There were garden parties and socials, as well as propaganda. Ilford branch had a "Bierabend" in March 1939, at which local MP Geoffrey Hutchinson praised the work of the Link. Croydon branch had sent Alderman Mrs Bessie Roberts and her daughter to the 1938 Nuremberg rally: "an unforgettable experience," she enthused. "Herr Hitler himself is very keen on the movement," Admiral Domville assured reporters (The Observer, 28 November 1937).

The president of the Anglo-German Fellowship, and also chairman of the Anti-Socialist Union, was former Tory MP and Transport Minister Lord Mount-Temple. "If another war comes, " he told the Fellow­ship's annual dinner in 1936, "well, I must not say what I was going to sav — I hope the partners will be changed." He met Hitler that year. At a reception for the German ambassador on 19 October 1938, propos­ing the toast, Mount-Temple said, "Never, since the Anglo-German Fellowship started have we met under fairer auspices."

After Kristallnacht
On 19 November, following the Kristallnacht pogroms and Nazi anti-Jewish decrees, the London Evening Standard reported Lord Mount-Temple's resignation from the chairmanship of the Fellowship "as a protest against the treatment of the Jews by the German government." Perhaps it had taken a while for him to notice. Mount-Temple's first wife, the mother of Lady Mountbatten, had been of Jewish descent, the Evening Standard pointed out. If he had been a German subject "this non-Aryan connection would be enough to make him ineligible for chairmanship of the Deutsch-Englische Gesellschaft in Berlin". Although resigning his post, Mount-Temple did not quit the Fellowship.

Only 20 of the Anglo-German Fellowship's 900 members decided to leave after Kristallnacht. As for the Link, although its Anglo-German Review received a few letters protesting the antisemitic outrages in Germany, membership continued to grow: from 2,600 in September 1938 to 3,500 by the end of the year, and more than 4,300 by June 1939. The Link's Central London branch, launched at the beginning of 1939, soon had 400 members. In June 1939, Captain Ramsay addressed them on "Secret Forces Working for War". It's a fair guess that he was not talking about Krupp or IG Farben. Ramsay, Tory MP for Peebles, was a devotee of the Protocols. In August 1939, the subject was "The Hidden Hand in European Affairs", with their vice-chairman, Richard Finlay, describing "the influence exerted by the Jews in Europe as an evil one," the Anglo-German Review reported.

People may have joined the Link for a variety of reasons, from naive views on peace to social climbing, and not all were hardline Nazis. However, it is clear that Nazi antisemitism was embraced with enthusiasm by most of the rest. When we picture, ranged behind these respectable suburbanites, the powerful barons of the Anglo-German Fellowship, and in front of them the lumpen organised by Mosley, it is not difficult to imagine that had the Nazis ever occupied this country they would have enjoyed the same collaboration from the same social forces as they found elsewhere in Europe.

Without in any way justifying the Communist Party's contortions — before, during and after the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact — one can under­stand left-wing hostility and distrust of the motives behind rearmament.

As it happened, the conflict between Axis ambitions and British interests overcame the tendency of right-wing rulers to ally. It was Labour, which had opposed the betrayal of Czecho­slovakia, whose backing during the May 1940 crisis enabled Churchill to take over government. The man who had used artillery against a few anarchists and sent in troops against the miners, who had told Mussolini in 1927: "Had I been an Italian, I would have been with you from the start", became the defender of democracy.

"The use of recriminating about the past is to enforce effective action at the present," Churchill said on another occasion. Today, when a decayed British imperialism attempts to restore its youthful vigour via Thatcherism, the danger to peace may be not from the appeasement of some foreign power, but the belli­gerence of our own bomb-happy Tories. It is essential to tear down myths about the past and counter those engaged in recreating facades of virtue for our rulers in order to find the way again for our future.

Some recommended reading:

Fellow Travellers of the Right by Richard Griffiths

Tory MP by Simon Haxey (Gollancz 1939). Look out
for it in second-hand bookshops or on older
friends' shelves.

Wallis by Charles Higham (Sidgwick and Jackson).
American biographer's blockbuster expose of the
Duchess of Windsor.

Peace for Our Time by Robert Rothschild (Brasseys)

Fascism in Britain by Richard Thurlow (Basil Blackwell 1987)

(Original article published in Jewish Socialist, Summer 1989)


  1. Class of '39: This did not surprise me but it was gratifying to see it all together. A great piece. Thank you

    1. Thanks, John. Always gratifying to know someone found an article worth reading.

  2. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this. What an eye-opener. Thanks for sharing.