Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Britain's Real 'Fifth Column'

James Fox as the fiction Lord Darlington in The Remains of the Day
June 1940, and Britain stands alone against fascism. The entire nation is united behind Winston Churchill as leads the nation in war against Hitler.

Or, almost the entire nation.

Until almost the end of the war Churchill had to watch his back against three groups of people who might at any time undermine the war effort and seek terms with Germany. These were the 'enemy within', who happily have done a deal that would have left Hitler with mastery over the Europe.

I am not talking about the British Unions of Fascists, all safely under lock-and-key by 1940, and who were never much rated by the real Nazis, but three groups of people at liberty to bide their time and strike if the Prime Minister showed weakness.

These are the people who Soviet ambassador to Britain Ivan Maisky - one of the unsung heroes of the war - called "the real 'Fifth Column' in England".

The City of London

Montagu Norman, the banker's banker
When Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940 there were no cheers in the City of
London. Here was one Tory who seemingly had no interest in the grubby business of making money, and who seemed to regard their entire trade as a little bit seedy.

General Raymond Lee, an American liaison officer in London, wrote in his diary on December 8 1940, after a conversation with a businessman "(He) was very interesting about the city ... he ... confirmed my belief that the City is ready for appeasement at any time, and is a little bit irritated because it has no hold at all on Churchill".

We don't know who this banker was, but he wasn't alone in his views. Sir Hugo Cunliffe-Owen, City grandee and former Director of British American Tobacco, was still hoping in autumn 1940 that "Neville Chamberlain would come back into his own" and make peace with Hitler.

The most powerful man in the City though was Montagu Norman, the Governor of the Bank of England, and he was a Nazi sympathiser. Norman was good friends with Hjalmar Schacht, Hitler's minister of economics, and admired them both. Schacht eventually turned against Hitler, and ended up in a concentration camp, but it's not clear if Norman ever did.

In 1939 Norman had helped the Nazis sell $735 million (in today's prices) of Czech gold, which the country had deposited with the Bank of England after Hitler's tanks rolled in, in the mistaken belief it would be safe there. The money went to help rearm Germany. We know this because the story partially broke in 1939. However the details of what else he got up to are still sealed in the Swiss vaults.

In 1942 Roosevelt was so concerned about Norman's activities he sent a report to Churchill. The PM launched an investigation but, frustratingly, the outcome is not known. In particular the file does not answer the specific allegation made by the Americans, that Norman met a German official in Switzerland in May 1941 to discuss a secret peace offer.

We should be grateful that the City in 1940 did not have the influence on government it has now. However the second group in Maisky's 'Fifth Column' had plenty of influence.

The Aristocracy

Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster
Oswold Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists, was a baronet and very much a part of the British aristocracy.  When war broke out he was interned in Holloway prison, but he was far from the only posh fascist in the country, and the others were very much left at liberty.

There was, for example, Lord Brocket, “a fundamentally nice but stupid man”, who attended Hitler's 50th birthday party, and who was alleged to light fires on his Hertfrodshire estate to guide German bombers. Also at the party was the Duke of Baccleuch, who continued to sing Hitler's praises even as the bombs fell on London. Then there was Unity Mitford, who had adopt her father's pro-Nazi views, and her sister Diane, who married Oswald Moseley. The Duke of Westminster believed in a Jewish conspiracy to undermine the country and was still calling peace with Hitler in the autumn of 1940.

Out in Kenya the 22nd Earl of Erroll was promising to bring fascism to Africa, until he turned up dead in his car. Possibly MI6 did the decent thing. Also in Africa was Marquess of Graham, who would go on to serve in Ian Smith's racist government of Rhodesia and who went on to believe The Beatles were part of a world communist conspiracy.

Add in Churchill's cousin Lord Londonderry, who Winston regarded as a "half-wit", and the impression is of a bunch of idiots who couldn't organise a piss up in a brewery. However their power came from their birth, and not their brains, and it was very real. Many were prominent politicians in a House of Lords that still had real power.

What these people had in common was virulent anti-semitism, and a belief in a global conspiracy between Jews and communists that only fascism could stop. They also chaffed at their own declining power in the country and the rise of the Labour Party. 

Edward as Prince of Wales
Luckily for Churchill the head of the aristocracy, King George VI, was a staunch supporter of the
war. However had Churchill got his way in 1936, he might not have been.

One of the reasons most of country regarded Winston as a bit of a joke before he became Prime Minister was how he had acted during the Abdication Crisis of 1936. Churchill had encouraged the King Edward VIII to "Retire to Windsor Castle! Summon the Beefeaters! Raise the drawbridge! Close the gates! And dare Baldwin to drag you out!"

Four years later and, while Churchill was promising 'blood, sweat toil and tears', Edward was enjoying himself in neutral Spain and hanging out with Nazi sympathisers. It took a threat from Churchill to court martial the former king to get him to return to the UK, which fortunately thwarted a plan by German agents to kidnap him. Churchill then sent Edward to the Bahamas for the rest of the war where the FBI kept a close watch on him.

Had Britain lost in 1940 Hitler would have put Edward back on the throne. The new king would not have lacked in aristocratic sycophants for his court.

The Conservative and Unionist Party

Archibald Maule Ramsay
One of Churchill's more surprising acts of 1940 was in November when, on the death of Neville Chamberlain, he took the job of leader of the Conservative Party.

Throughout the war he portrayed himself as a man above party politics, who led a coalition government on behalf of the whole nation. What's more, most of the party didn't even like him. When Churchill first came to parliament as Prime Minister he was greeted by thunderous applause from the opposition benches, but silence from his own party.

Perhaps one of the events that influenced his decision was on the 20th May that year when the police raided the house of Tyler Kent, a cipher clerk at the US embassy. Kent had been stealing top secret documents, but in his house Special Branch found the 'Red Book,' a list of the 235 people who were members of something called the Right Club. Amongst the names were the 5th Duke of Wellington, the Lords Redesdale and Lymington, A K Chesterton, who would go on to form the National Front after the war, William Joyce, better known to history as Lord Haw-Haw, and several Conservative Party MPs. Worse, the club itself had been formed by the Scottish Unionist MP Archibald Maule Ramsay.

A minor Scottish aristocrat, Ramsay had been part of the January Club, formed by Oswald Moseley to allow his Blackshirts to mingle with figures from the establishment. Ramsay shared Moseley's anti-semitism. When he formed the Right Club he had said "Our first objective was to clear the Conservative Party of Jewish influence ". Ramsay, it seems, had been using Kent to get hold of secret correspondence between Churchill and Roosevelt. He intended to release selective telegrams with the purpose of stopping America entering the war. The Right Club had so far spent the war giving out leaflets and calling for a negotiated peace to end what they called "a Jew's war".

"Chips" Channon
The Right Club were on the extreme of the Conservative Party, but many more moderate Tories had been torn between admiration of Hitler for his authoritarianism, and fear of German expansionism. As most of them believed Britain had become decadent and was in decline, a large number believed Hitler would win the war anyway. Many simply detested Churchill who they regarded as a vulgar showman, and a traitor for crossing the floor to join the Liberals. Sir Henry "Chips" Channon, an old fashioned Tory in that he was stinking rich but thick as pigshit, reported at the height of Churchill's popularity with the people in 1940 that "Feeling in the Carlton Club is running high against him."

Ramsay was to spend most of the rest of the war in Brixton prison, but by 1944 Conservative MPs were campaigning to have him released. Churchill was acutely aware of the potential for the Tory right to ally with the defeatists, and those who simply thought he was doing a rubbish job of PM, creating a block of MPs who could vote him out of office. Becoming leader of the party was his way of controlling it.

And control it he did. With help of the Labour Party, the Liberals and the Trade Unions, Churchill commanded a national coalition like no other before or since. At a political level, Britain's war effort was run better than that of any other combatant on either side in the war.

We really were all in it together, but next time to you hear the Daily Mail, Daily Express or some right wing politician telling you that, just remember that some people weren't quite in it as much as everyone else.


Was Montagu Norman a Nazi Sympathiser? The Telegraph 31 July 2013
The Nazi's British bankers Independent 30 March 1997
Winston's War: Churchill, 1940-1945 by Max Hastings
Aristocrats: Power, Grace And Decadence by Lawrence James

1 comment:

Matthewe Baker said...

most welcome detail; I knew some of it but noit ALL of the info you havemanaged to ferret out. Some of it I remember on a personal level, because I lived through the WW" as a child, -and Dad used to talk a lot about Politics and appeasers still in the Government and in Cabinet, - because he was very bitter about the way in which the Country had been betrayed during the 1920's and 1930's - which led to the loss of our Family Company main assets - 7 shallow-draft ferry vessels - to RN requisitioning on May 27th 1940, - and the subsequent loss of at least 4 of them at the Dunkirk beaches - not from enemy action but from the incompetence of untrained RN ratings put aboard them at Sheerness - the "sweepings of Chatham barracks", Dad called them! Since then I have done a great deal of research into the whole background to the BEF - including the way in which the Services were starved of investment by the appeasing Permanent Secretary To the Treasury Sir Norman Warren Fisher over a 19 year period], - the panicked retreat to the beaches, the lack of inter-Service co-operation before and during the evacuation, - the Government's attempts to muzzle the rescued troops and their sailor rescuers; - and the Government's attempt to cheat ship-owners of compensation afterwards. I've just completed a book on the subject - 174 copiously referenced and illustrated pages, including materials from my dad's own archives which have not been in the public domain before.