Authors: Christopher Serpell
A Cautionary Tale
CHRISTOPHER SERPELLFOREWORD AND DEDICATION
THENew Zealander who is supposed to write this book is as remote as that other foreshadowed by Macaulay. No-one believes he would ever have the opportunity of telling this sad tale of Britain’s decline and fall. But, in fighting this war, it is as well to have in our mind’s eye a picture of what would happen to us if the Germans won, either throughpersuadingus to accept a dishonourable peace or (what is equally unlikely) through gaining the victory in the field.
This is no fanciful picture. It is painted from life, with England as the background instead of Bohemia or Poland or any other country now under the Nazi heel. It is not intended to cause despondency or alarm, but to confirm and justify that resolution with which we are now fighting.
If such a tale is to have a dedication it can only be
THOSE WHO WILL NOT LET THIS HAPPENCONTENTS
Foreword and Dedication
EXTRACT FROM THE RECORDS
2.“BLOOD IN BRITAIN”
5.A LIGHT THAT FAILED
6.FIXTURE AT LORD’S
8.UNDER THE YOKE
9.VALHALLA IN SYDENHAM
CopyrightEXTRACT FROM THE RECORDS
of the New Zealand Society of Pre-Cataclysmic Research
EDITED BY PROFESSOR APA-KE-MAUI
THEdocument which I have the privilege of submitting to members of the Society in this volume of the Records was recently discovered during excavations on the site of the former City of Wellington, which was overwhelmed by the volcanic disturbances occurring in the Antipodes at about the time when the greater cataclysm struck the Continent of Europe. The find, which was made by my assistant, Mr. Rowatorua, is important as being the longest and most complete printed document yet discovered on this site. It was unearthed at the bottom of a deposit of charred andconfusedliterary fragments—probably the remains of a public library—which will require much careful deciphering and editing before they can be made available to members of the Society. This document, however, appears to lack only the first twenty-one pages, and is otherwise in so perfect aconditionthat it was felt by the Committee that it should be published at the earliest possible opportunity.
As an archaeologist and not an historian, I am not entitled to offer much comment on the contents, and an authoritative volume of historical notes on the text will shortly be published by my friend and colleague, Dr. Omawei, of AucklandUniversity. As the reader will see for himself, the document takes the form of a quasi-historical record of events occurring towards the end of the second world war of the Twentieth Century as they were witnessed by the writer. The standard of material culture depicted agrees with all the discoveries made by archaeologists investigating that period, and from this point of view the work should be of valuable assistance to us in enlarging and making more detailed our picture of the civilization of the period.
Whether the work can be trusted as an accurate record of events is another matter. The writer, one Charles Fenton, about whom nothing is known except those details with which he himself provides us, was a “correspondent”—in other words a contributor living abroad—of the Wellington Courier,one of the daily news-sheets which used to be published at a low price during his epoch; and it is known from numerous contemporary references that “journalists”, as such men were called, were notorious for the sensational and inaccurate reports which they circulated. Fenton’s account of events, although not apparently written in a spirit of levity, does not entirely agree with the theory of world development at that time as it has been formed by modern historians, and it has accordingly been suggested that the document should beregardedas a work of fiction. It is pointed out, for instance, that he does not record the exact year in which the events he describes took place. On the other hand it is clear from in- ternal evidence that they can be ascribed to the fifth decade of the Twentieth Century, and there are several references to incidents and developments which are known to have occurred during the German bid for hegemony. My personal view is that the work, although commonplace in style and to some extent distorted in outlook, may prove of value to bothhistoriansand sociologists.
In conclusion I may say that it had been hoped to illustrate the text with photographs of recent discoveries made by archaeologists both here and in Europe. This unfortunately has proved to be impossible, but I cannot do better than to refer members to the admirable volume of drawings recently published by Mr. Rota-iki-pa-wei, after his return from the Society’s expedition to the site of the ancient city of London. His sketch of the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral drawn from a precarious perch on a broken arch of London Bridge, and accompanied by an imaginative reconstruction of the same scene during the period of its prosperity, is a fine example of how even the dry bones of antiquity can be revived by the artist’s visionary eye.PROLOGUE
… speech at Hamburg in January was the most effective of his career. It made him master of half the world. He did not follow it up with pamphlet raids but let it sink in of itself, helped by some feckless pronouncements by British Cabinet Ministers and journalists. I happened to listen in to it at home (quite accidentally, because no-one at that time thought German speeches of much significance), and at once I began to be anxious. I cabled, of course, that the British public would know how to respond to this familiar blend of threats and promises. I wish I had not been lying.
Some of the newspapers, prompted by the PressDepartmentof the Foreign Office, were foolish enough to answer the speech in detail. It was then that one overheard some ominous comments in the street. Ideas had certainly been put into people’s heads. “I wonder if he really meant what he said about wanting to treat the Czechs and Poles decently if we only let him alone? Certainly the Scandinavians don’t seem too badly off.” … “It is quite true; the FrenchGovernmentdid let us down.” … “Between you and me there is something in what he says about letting bygones be bygones, and calling it quits.” … “Well, there must be room in the world for both countries, and if it was anyone else but Hitler” … “He didn’t even ask for colonies.” … “Mind you, Russia is the real enemy.” … “It’s a senseless war, really. I can’t bear to think of those poor starving children in Germany.”
Thus it began—with half-serious comments in pubs and buses, inspired I believe not mainly by real cowardice or lack of resolution, but by a queer blend of simple humanity and sheer weariness of discomfort and anxiety. In both Britain and Germany trade was being ruined; in both Britain and Germany home life was being destroyed, and the women and children were suffering. Blood all the time was being uselessly spilled. And now Hitler, in apparently chastened mood, offered an end to all this. It was such a simple solution—just the “Cease Fire”, thestatus quo nunc.
The Government, the Services, the trade unions—all that complex of ruling elements which had taken charge of the British war effort—heard little of these whispers; and they were too closely engaged in the struggle to entertain these doubts themselves. But there were others who had their ears
to the ground, and who welcomed thankfully the firstspontaneousrumblings of mass pacifism in Great Britain. Peace to them meant dividends, concessions, cartels; it meant escape from the heavy taxation on profits and all the otherrestrictionswhich the war effort had imposed on private enterprise; it foreshadowed a triumphal rise through a post-war slump to a new boom; and possibly a more profitable war later on. Above all, since it implied the abrogation of theGerman-RussianPact, it meant the banishment once again of the dread spectre of Bolshevism.
As I say, I must leave it to someone more detached than I to describe the slow evaporation of England’s fighting spirit. It was the most despairing task of my career to go on sending encouraging messages to New Zealand, when every day I learnt more about the organized letters to M.P.s, thewhisperingcampaign in the clubs, the commercial pressure brought through neutral countries. I have reason to believe that by the summer a complete plan of an Anglo-German financial set-up was already being keenly discussed in City offices.
When Parliament began to reflect the new movement a fissure rapidly revealed itself. The parties supporting the National Government were rent from top to bottom, and out of the confusion that pathetic idealist, Matthew Evans, emerged as the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. “No shameful peace, no selfish war,” ran his queer slogan, and it was of course a cry of surrender. Behind him stood that “able man” Sir John Naker, the new Foreign Secretary.
Hitler waited a week, and then, early in September, seized the glittering prize. He issued his brief appeal—for “Anglo-Germanco-operation in a world that is crying out for peace founded on justice”. Oddly enough, I cannot now remember how I felt at this time, or the kind of remarks I made to my wife, to my colleagues, to the man who cut my hair. Did we just talk about the weather and the revival of commercial football pools? The lazy blue skies hung over an autumnal and unreal England and it was in a dreamlike frame of mind that I stepped into the plane that was to take me to the signing of the Peace of Nuremberg.
I hardly awoke from my dream during the four days I was in Germany. Our representatives solemnly went through the motions of co-operation with our late enemy to build a better and a happier Europe, and the only real unpleasantness was caused by the presence of the captive French, Czechs, Poles, Scandinavians, Dutch, Flemings, and Walloons, brought to initial the constitutions of their “autonomous” republics.
I was surprised that the Führer refrained from openlygloating. He remained quite impassive, but ominouslyself-assured. Ribbentrop—what an escape that man had had!—could not altogether avoid the bearing of one who had finally triumphed against odds, but he observed the decencies. Evans was pale and intense, and somehow dignified. It was only Sir John Naker whom I wanted to kick out on to the Kornmarkt: his smile was so beautifully eloquent of hypocrisy and greed.
During the private discussions I walked about theimpressivegalleries of the Germanic Museum, reflecting on the extraordinary capacity of this race to create and destroy. But there was not long to wait; Hitler had everything cut and dried. It was not like Munich. There was no sense of drama, because the struggle was over.
I waited for the Nazi Party Rally, the postponed Rally “of Peace”, to which the British delegation were invited as guests of honour. I saw poor Evans, looking for all the world like Ramsay MacDonald, wearily watching the hordesgoose-steppast, and responding now and again with an apologetic Nazi salute.
“Not thus doth Peace return!” This time, it will beremembered, there was no waving from the balcony of Buckingham Palace. The popular reaction was less one of relief than of guilty satisfaction. Here was what we had asked for, and it was for us now to make the most of it.
The necessary moral obtuseness was soon acquired. Had consciences remained tender life would not have been worth living. I remember saying good-bye to a Polish colleague, a man lately fêted as a representative of our noble ally. He was one of many of his race who were “extradited” at the instance of the German-controlled Government in Poland; in fact, Britain had betrayed him. Yet I was quite capable ofmurmuringsomething about adapting oneself to the newconditions, and he made a wry smile. It is not easy to adapt oneself to the conditions in a concentration camp. The French who had taken refuge with us quietly disappeared under a thin smokescreen of regretful courtesies.
From our new selfish point of view, things jogged along all right at first. Even my own messages to a shocked Dominion held just enough of enthusiasm for the brave new world in which Germany and Britain claimed a joint leadership. No miracles happened, but people half expected something more disconcerting, and that didn’t happen either. After anearthquakeit must seem a complete answer to prayer if one’s own house is left standing; and here was the political, financial and economic structure of the British Empire still intact. Weprodded it a little gingerly; it did not give way. That was enough. Let Hitler settle as he thought best the problems of south-eastern Europe—that was his responsibility. Let France go her own way—our new statecraft had proved we could do without her. And had we not found a room in Hampton Court for the former Polish Ambassador?
Demobilization was our first concern. It was a pity it was not also Hitler’s, but then he had become our bulwark against Bolshevism again, and Ribbentrop did not turn a hair. The great wave of unemployment was rather disconcerting, but it was obvious, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that a new prosperity was waiting round the corner, now that Europe was dedicated to eternal peace. Much was to be expected of the comprehensive trade agreement being thrashed out with Germany—the big London hotels were full of the delegates, whom you could tell by their ostentatious Swastika armbands.
It was curious how cynical we tried to become in our defeatism. Yet we talked a good deal about the Navy, and it was arranged to hold a Spithead review in the summer. There were plenty of hidden doubts about the future, but the prevailing mood was nostalgic. Something very precious had passed silently from the, national life.
No more to watch at night’s eternal shore,
With England’s chivalry at dawn to ride;
No more defeat, faith, victory—Oh! no more
A cause on earth for which we might have died.
When the real troubles began we bore them stoically. “An inevitable period of friction and readjustment,” the Prime Minister called it—and in this he included the I.R.A. bombs, the Communist strikes, the troubles in India, and theextraordinarynuisance value which our latest native brand of Fascists, the Greyshirts, were acquiring. You will not, I am afraid, find a particularly full account of these latestdevelopmentsin the files of theWellington Courier, or of any other newspaper. No-one wrote about trends, and the troublesome events seemed to happen in a vacuum. Parliament had got itself adjourned, and there was little demand for its recall; editors were told that the quickest way of restoring confidence was to refrain from too much comment. We concentrated on Utopian visions of the future, and on the lighter side of life. “Crisis” was an outmoded word. There were still enough people making handsome profits out of the peace.
On Friday, 10th March, of the fateful year that followedthe peace, my wife Elizabeth and I, with our young child Julia and her nurse, went down to spend a long week-end with friends at Debenford. There was no news about, we said in Fleet Street—in fact, we were always complaining about the absence of news. Labour troubles in the North, the usual depressing cables from Calcutta, some Jews beaten inWhitechapel—none of this was news to a case-hardened England. Now if Hitler would give some indication of his future policy, it would be different. The coming of the new era awaited his word. Even a hint or two that he would like some colonies back would have been a relief. But he was strangely silent, while all that Goebbels could talk about was the influence the Jews had over the policies of the United States.
Yes, it was safe to take a holiday, and seek the first signs of spring in the byways of Suffolk. The world had had a surfeit of high politics, and the chief virtue of the Peace of Nuremberg, as an ex-Prime Minister had said (forgetting that there were still 2,000,000 men under arms in Germany, and that Europe was full of refugees), was that it sent men back to the corners of the earth to which they belonged, there to rediscover the simple and abiding things. What if we had sacrificed some of our imperial pretensions, and had become a humbler people? We had purged away dross, and could the better treasure the gold. The swans gliding on the Deben and the ploughman crossing by the evening ferry perhaps knew a secret of happiness denied to those who had gone out and built empires.
It was an incomplete philosophy, and would have appeared so among the harassed Friday-night shoppers in the East End. The great crowds cannot step aside from history; and in our hearts we knew that even the peace of the Suffolk marshes was a prize of war, only to be defended by the same determination that once drove back the marauding Danes.
That night, while the high tide flushed silently into Martlesham Creek, Downing Street received an urgenttelephonecall from Heir Hitler in Berlin.
Chapter OneFORCED FRIENDSHIP
THEbest-remembered blue sky is that from which a bolt has fallen. But I will not stop to describe Debenford, its trees, its flats, its shining estuary, its vicarage, and grand old church. They, with our friends there, and Ashdene Cottage, are symbols which no-one else would wish to bother about. All I will affirm is that when the crisis of Saturday, 11th March, overtook us we were in a place we shall always remember and that we believe to have been one of the pleasantest spots in the world.
It was a matter of looking at theDaily Expresswhen I came down to breakfast I had lain overlong in bed listening drowsily to the jubilation of a thrush in one of the tall cedars on the lawn, and had no desire to look at a paper at all. But my host, Gerald Cooke, himself buried in the pages ofThe Times, handed me theExpresswith the remark: “Looks as if your friends in Fleet Street had got the wind up again.” With a slight and familiar sinking of the heart I looked at it.
“Another threat of war,” the headlines screamed at me. “Germany masses her armies.” … “Menacing speech by Führer.”
The news, when one got down to it, proved to be vague, but none the less alarming. There had been German troop movements towards the north-east, and a Dutch source gave their number as twenty divisions. One knew and mistrusted Dutch sources, but there must be something in it. Hitler had spoken at a gathering of Party leaders at Breslau, reverting abruptly to the intransigent style of his early war speeches. It might be intended only for home consumption, but there were some ugly passages. “The colonial question must be settled here and now. Those who speak of conferences do not realize the temper of the German people. The German people will not plead before a conference table for their rights. They will demand them with a voice of thunder, and no international Jewish combine shall dare to oppose that voice.…” Another passage, referring to the armed might of the Reich, “perfected by its recent trial”, contained the sentence: “The German Air Force is the strongest weapon that any nation has ever possessed. Others have boasted of their defences, but I say now that if I were to give the word the war-planes of the Reichcould take off in their thousands and lay any hostile capital in ruins.”
The Timesgave the news in more qualified fashion, but did not conceal its gravity. To say that the German troop movements might be only a prelude to the long-promised German demobilization did not exclude the possibility of another less pleasant alternative. Hitler’s speech was given in full, and a brief diplomatic commentary deplored its tone, pointing out that a settlement of the questions left outstanding by the war was one of the first objects of the BritishGovernment.
“I’m afraid I shall have to run up to Town to look into all this,” I said, with a feeble attempt at light-heartedness. “It may prove to be a mare’s nest, and in that case I can catch the four-thirty down in time for dinner.” Elizabeth looked at me anxiously, and I could feel the concern of our hosts, who, however, took the matter with their customary matter-of-fact calm. It was arranged that my wife should stay on, and that I should telephone as soon as I knew how things were going.
“By the yellow Tiber there was tumult and affright”—in fact all the symptoms of a crisis as pre-war London had displayed them. There was remarkably little news from the Continent, the usual “well-informed sources” having closed down with unanimous rapidity. Officials at the Wilhelmstrasse had declined to comment on the current rumours, merely remarking that, as the Führer’s speech had shown, thesituationwas one of gravity. The Foreign Office in London was equally uninformative: reports from various European centres had been “grossly exaggerated”; the Government were not inclined to view the situation as a crisis: it was true that in view of certain unexpected developments a Cabinet meeting had been called for that afternoon, but this was no more than a normal precaution due to the desire of the Foreign Secretary to acquaint his colleagues with the facts; any tendency to panic was strongly deplored.
If such remarks were intended to have a reassuring effect it was unfortunate that the Home Office should haveannouncedsimultaneously that the London A.R.P. organization was to be revived. There was a frenzied remobilization of wardens and ambulances going on all day, and those firms which had discarded their wartime defences of sand-bags and boarded windows looked askance at those which had retained them.
I soon realized that there was to be no return to the country for me that week-end, and rang up Ashdene Cottage. “Isthere going to be another war?” Gerald asked, and all I could do was to say that it was best to prepare for the worst.
By six o’clock the Cabinet had risen, but there was no statement forthcoming in spite of the crowds waiting inDowningStreet and Whitehall. Privately I learnt that theGovernmentwere in continuous touch with Berlin, but no-one was bold enough even to guess at the nature of the negotiations. Fresh reports of troop movements had come in from the Low Countries, and were published in the evening papers, and there was also a story of unidentified aircraft seen flying along the East Coast. Personally I had come to the conclusion that we were to be treated to a display ofBlitzkriegat its worst, and had hinted as much in my dispatches to Wellington.
There was an extraordinary atmosphere of helplessness everywhere. If this had not been foreseen by the Government, what could the private man do? Even the attempts to revive A.R.P. were, I was told, half-hearted. I was thankful that Elizabeth and the child were in the country.
At half-past eleven that night, when I was contemplating going to bed in my clothes after a day spent mainly in making fruitless inquiries, some enlightenment wasvouchsafed. An urgent message was circulated from the Foreign Office requesting the representatives of all the newspapers to be present in the Locarno Room at nine o’clock thefollowingmorning, as an important statement was to be made. Inquiries into its nature were useless, and the infuriated editors of Sunday newspapers had to go to press without satisfaction. They could only record the officialannouncementbroadcast with the late News that His Majesty’sGovernmenthad been engaged in important and delicate negotiations with the German Government and that it was expected that these would shortly be brought to a successful conclusion. Dubious, but relieved of its immediate fears, the nation went to bed.
The next morning I took my place in a congregation of my colleagues seated rather incongruously on gilt chairs arranged in rows at one end of that august meeting place. Some of us were yawning and bleary-eyed after our labours overnight. Officials, among whom I recognized Billings of the F.O., were gathered at the far end of the great table. Then the door opened, and in walked none other than Ribbentrop himself, bulky in a great fur-collared overcoat, followed by the Prime Minister and Sir John Naker.
There was a mutter from, someone behind me—someone possessing the omniscience of the true reporter which I was never able to achieve: “Flew over in a special plane thismorning; arrived at seven-thirty.” To me the appearance of the German Foreign Minister was a complete shock, and so it was to many others. I was expecting a temporizing statement, even the announcement of an immediate conference, but the presence of Ribbentrop must mean that everything was settled. There was tense expectation in the air.
The statesmen had taken their seats at the head of the conference table. They were surrounded by officials, some standing on either side of the central group, others hovering in the background. Dr. Evans and Sir John Naker wereconferringin low tones over a piece of paper. Ribbentrop sat staring superciliously down the room, apparently bored with the whole proceedings.
Then there was a brief stir as the Prime Minister rose to his feet and looked down the room towards us. A shaft of sunlight from the long windows touched his grey curly hair. We leant forward to catch his cultured, diffident voice—perhaps this time a little more diffident than usual.
“I have invited you here to-day, gentlemen,” he said, “as witnesses of an historic act of peace. I am well aware of the rumours which during the past twenty-four hours have been reaching this country from various unauthorized sources—rumours of yet another war, rumours of menaces directed against this country by a Great Power—a crystallization, in fact, of all the irresponsible talk that has been flying about since this country signed a peace with Germany last autumn.
“To-day I am privileged to dispel not only these rumours but something of much greater moment—all fear of war in our time. I am about to put my initials to an instrument which will bind Great Britain and the German Reich in a union closer than has ever before been achieved by two Great Powers, a union which will effectively remove …”
Here the precise words, with their sing-song intonation, were drowned in a growing roar which shook the tall sash windows. We turned involuntarily to look, and glimpsed phalanx after phalanx of broad-winged bombers sweeping low across the narrow segment of sky which was visible from our seats. The noise lasted for an intolerable minute, while Evans stood irresolute, fingering a sheet of blotting paper. Then as the roar swept on in a diminuendo over London, Sir John Naker leant forward. “I am advised by the German Foreign Minister”, he said in an expressionless voice, “to say that the German Air Force has chosen to celebrate to-day’s proceedings with a goodwill flight over London and the other larger cities of the British Isles.”
The Prime Minister bowed his acknowledgement and ina rather shaken manner scrambled to his conclusion. “I am, in fact,” he said, “about to initial a Treaty of Friendship and Mutual Assistance with the German Reich, thus confirming the Peace of Nuremberg on a just and reasonable basis put forward by Herr Hitler with the thorough agreement of His Majesty’s Government. I believe it will be in accordance with public feeling in both countries.”
He stopped, looked towards us almost as if expecting comment, and sat down. A few seconds later he had initialled the document.
After a pause, Sir John Naker came down towards us with the genial Rotarian countenance which he reserved for the Press. “Now, boys,” he chuckled, wagging his finger at us like an indulgent schoolmaster, “no questions! no questions! Billings there will let you have a copy of the instrument. Yes, I know it’s been sudden, but you’ll find it’s all for the best. Glad to see you all here so early in the day. Good morning, all.” He turned his broad back on us and made his way, with the others, to the door.
We stared at our copies, finding it difficult this time to disentangle the diplomatic verbiage. It was, indeed, a military alliance, by which Germany guaranteed Great Britain, India, the Dominions, and the Colonies, and we the Greater Reich with all its attendant “autonomous protectorates”. Each country “recognized as part of its own vital interest the integrity and orderly government of the other”. There were to be staff talks, and an exchange of military and naval information. Naval bases in the Mediterranean and elsewhere were to be shared and jointly administered. An elaborate system of trade preferences was to be set up, foreshadowing, it seemed, a customs union. The Mandated Territories,naturally, were to be handed back; but in any case there was to be an “open door” all round, British capital being as free to develop Galicia as German traders to establish themselves on the Gold Coast. There was a lot about “culturalexchanges”, and—most ominous of all—a Press pact, by which neither Government would permit its newspapers to attack the other country’s political institutions. Lastly, there was something about eternal peace.
Exclamations expressive of varying degrees of surprise, excitement, and dismay accompanied the departing diplomats, and then we all began to shout and gesticulate at once. I can remember feeling rather helpless, with a dim idea that, since the ineluctable processes of history had produced thisinevitabledocument, one could only wait to see what would happen next.
But a journalist must get his story. A thousand questions were waiting to be asked; and there was a rush to consult Billings or some other official of the Press Department. But Billings looked as bewildered as the rest of us. He said there was nothing to add. The treaty spoke for itself, and in any case the Prime Minister would be broadcasting during the evening.
The American who shared my taxi back to Fleet Street was voluble and incoherent. Like me, he must send a message at once, and he was equally at a loss for “a line”. He muttered conflictingclichés, varying from “Hitler’s Paper Triumph” to “The Beginning of the End”.
“Who can tell what it means?” he asked despairingly. “A people like this cannot be robbed of their birthright by a hole-and-corner rendezvous at nine on a Sunday morning.
“I am beginning to think it amounts to very little, really,” he went on, as the cab cut the corner of Trafalgar Square. “The return of the colonies is the only concrete clause in it; and that was expected. The rest just flatters Hitler’s vanity—lets him link arms with a respectable old aggressor like your British Empire. You have got to live side by side in your respective spheres, and there is no harm in drawing up a nice, neighbourly contract in black and white.”
He laughed, probably because he knew he was talking nonsense.
The bells of the few Wren churches in the City which had survived the second “Great Fire” were keeping up tradition by summoning to prayer the inhabitants of an unslept-in part of London. The few people in the streets were walking westwards, feeling that the rumours of Saturday night might find some visual expression in the neighbourhood of Downing Street. The special editions were not yet on the streets. A London Sunday morning was still nearly its old, blank self.
Our taximan, however, had heard something of what had happened, and displayed a mild interest in it. When he was being paid he remarked: “So they’ve been signing another treaty down in Whitehall, have they, gentlemen? Well, after that Nuremberg business, I suppose they might as well make a proper job of it.”
What, I wondered, was Hitler’s notion of a proper job? After I had sent my first startling cablegram I sat back for a moment, and my eye lighted on an old wartime copy of an illustrated paper. On the cover was a portrait of the Führer, his little eyes glowing with an inexhaustible fanaticism; and inside were some rather unpleasant pictures, smuggled out of Prague.
The tide of excitement soon began to rise, and by dusk the streets and clubs were full. On the whole, to my surprise, it was a pleasurable excitement, and the impression began to gain ground that the Government had cleverly averted another tiresome crisis in cutting the Gordian knot and frankly acknowledging the interdependence of the two greatest Powers in the world. Leader writers were busy describing this “great new experiment in international relations”, and one of them was tactless enough (but positively on this occasion only) to write of “new opportunities for the civilizing influence of Great Britain”.
Cabinet Ministers contributed nobly to the atmosphere of anti-crisis. Ribbentrop, wise man, had flown back early to Berlin, upon which they felt capable of assuming an attitude of dignified and assured insouciance. They lit complacent cigarettes on the steps of Number Ten, and the Prime Minister, within earshot of a gossip writer, remarked to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he had decided to make a start with pruning his roses. Sir John Naker threw some crumbs to the pelicans in St. James’s Park, dined informally at a popular restaurant, and then went to see the film version ofMerrie England. All interviews were refused; and not even the Dominions High Commissioners were seen. “The policy of His Majesty’s Government,” it was officially explained, “of which the agreement with Germany forms a part, can be elaborated only in Parliament, but the Prime Minister will broadcast a statement to the nation at eight o’clock to-night.”
The broadcast stands on record as one of history’s most celebrated manifestations of unconscious hypocrisy.Everyonewanted to believe it, so it passed. But as soon as that tired but pathetically hopeful voice died on the ether England began talking again, and went on talking far into the night. All had their hopes—the privileged that they would keep their privileges in a world that had become far too restive, the workers that they would catch up with the cost of living, the unemployed that they would find jobs again. Perhaps in a stable balanced Europe all wishes would be fulfilled.
The Greyshirts also had their hopes. They marched down the Mile End Road, and beat up quite a number of Jews before order could be restored by the police.
I was up early next day to read the papers. TheGovernmenthad a good Press, in the sense that no-one suggested that they might have taken a different course. Each journal in its own way put the best face it could on what had happened. There was nothing anywhere that was constructive, that indicated or commended a policy for the future.
The news columns were more revealing. Dispatches from Germany showed that the crowds in Berlin, in markedcontrastto those in London, had spent a Sunday of triumphant rejoicing, culminating with a speech from the Führer in the Sport Palace. That speech was gone over in London with a toothcomb, but, though it contained many expressions of goodwill towards the British Empire, there was no clear indication of what he hoped to do with it in the future. The best indication was perhaps provided by the news that, while he was yet speaking (and anticipating somewhat the terms of the treaty), an unspecified number of troops had set sail from Hamburg, under convoy, to take possession of the former German colonies in Africa.
The interpretative message that I put together that morning was necessarily ill informed, but not more so than anyone else’s, and I felt that in a discreet way I had warned my startled readers to expect the worst. Usual sources ofinformationhad now completely broken down, and the busy London scene through which I walked to the cable office had suddenly become as remote as that of a strange city. Yet the red buses and the taxis were the same, like the people hurrying up familiar office stairs. It was as though some firm to which one had devoted one’s working life had quietly gonebankrupt, but was still being carried on as a going concern by a shadowy Official Receiver.
However, it was not long before I came up against the first signs of inner change. As I was about to hand in my painstaking cablegram the clerk, polite and friendly, said: “Ah, Mr. Fenton, we have a nice little office fixed up for Mr. Johnson already. Smart work, eh? Perhaps you will step along.”
In a moment I was standing before a nervous young man who, seated at a trestle table, looked as surprised to be there as I was to find him. The clerk announced me, and withdrew.
“Well, Mr. Fenton,” said this unexpected apparition, “I’m from the Foreign Office. It is a matter of glancing at outgoing cables, under the terms of the Treaty. No abuse of the other country’s institutions, and so on. A pure formality, of course,” he added hastily.
“What is this—a censorship?” I said, amazed.
“Well, no, it’s not that,” he replied. “It’s just that the F.O. thinks it would help the Press in this matter if there issomeoneat hand who can initial messages before they are sent.”
“But why pick on me?” I asked.
“Oh, but this applies to everybody, of course,” he said. “I’m here to cover the Eastern Union cablegrams, but there’ssomeone in every newspaper office in London and at all the agencies.” He held out his hand for my typescript.
“Well, this beats me,” I said. “However, I don’t think I’ll trouble you. I am prepared to take full responsibility for what I have written.”
Then it all came out. Mr. Johnson coughed apologetically, and said: “As a matter of fact, I doubt if the cable company will dispatch the message if I haven’t initialled it. Those seem to be the instructions.”
So, in this little bare room, standing before a callow youth who was more of a straw than I was on the tide of change that was sweeping over England, I realized that we could no longer take for granted the Freedom of the Press. The young man picked up a blue pencil and poised it helplessly over the flimsy paper. He fumbled a little, initialled each page, and handed the wad back. “This looks all right,” he said weakly.
I thanked him, and walked out unhappily. Poor Mr.Johnson, little as he looked the part, was a portent, and a very unpleasant one.
“A tiresome business, this,” suggested the clerk, when I gave in the initialled sheets, “but we shall get used to it.”
I hurried back to the office, anxious to consult my colleagues upon this new development. On the way I had a bright idea. I called in at the Post Office, and dispatched a private cable to my editor. It ran something like this:
“TODAYS STUFF CANNOT ENTER NATIONAL SINCE ORMONDE RECENTLY ENTERED DERBY FENTON.”
At Wellington they tumbled to my elementary code, and that day the staidCourierwas as effective as any of its rivals in bringing home to New Zealand a sense of great changes. My dignified message was read between the lines by the whole Dominion, for it achieved the distinction, incredible in that time of peace and liberty, of being headed:
“From Our Own Correspondent,
LONDON, March 13.
As a matter of fact, Mr. Johnson, though a portent, was but a temporary one. The Foreign Secretary called theimportanteditors together. With them went my Australiancolleague, Dorman, to represent the Dominion journalists, to whom he afterwards reported what had happened. He said that the tiny bubble of optimism that the Government had succeeded in blowing the day before had already burst. Naker had been unable to conceal his anxiety. He had spoken of “Herr Hitler’s somewhat natural impatience” and “thenecessityof showing the utmost goodwill at the outset”, and had declared that “the success of this great experiment” depended altogether upon the discretion of the Press. But the outcry against a Foreign Office censorship had been too much for him, and he had agreed to the withdrawal of Mr. Johnson and his colleagues.
In the afternoon Parliament met. This simple fact was of great comfort to the people. The pre-Hitler machinery of State in the United Kingdom was vast and complicated, with feudal trappings, but the sovereign power ultimately rested with the sober and simple entity known as the House of Commons, and the House of Commons, as was often proudly and ungrammatically declared, “is us”. To the averageEnglishmanthe authority of Parliament was unchallenged and unchallengeable; subconsciously, he probably believed that its mere assembling would set a term to any unfortunate nonsense that Naker, say, might have been up to.
To be riding in a bus along Whitehall, past the Cenotaph, and to be bound for yet another important debate in the cramped Press gallery of that tawdry, stuffy, and majestic Chamber had a steadying effect upon my nerves. Big Ben struck two, in the tones that meant “heart of Empire” to half the world. A good crowd had gathered, and there was some excitement in Parliament Square. It was caused by one of those tiresome Greyshirt processions, which the police were dispersing. Demonstrations of any kind, it will be remembered, were forbidden within half a mile of the High Court of Parliament.
Among my papers is Hansard for the Thirteenth of March. I have often glanced through it since the day I bought it, and it has assumed in my mind the proportions of a classic tragedy.
“The House met at a quarter before Three of the clock, Mr. Speaker in the Chair.” The formula calls to mind that dignified little procession, perhaps the most moving of all the State ceremonial of England, when, preceded by theSerjeant-at-Arms with his mace, the bewigged Speaker walked through the lobbies and the House to his chair. Everyone would bow, and it was an expression, not so much of patriotism, as with cheers for the King, but of an even deeper loyalty to theancient liberties of which Parliament was the age-long guardian.
How much had not been accomplished in this mock-Gothic Chamber in the course of a century, by the last Parliaments in the long line that went back centuries more! One thought of the wise social legislation brought to fruition, the scandals exposed and ended, the voices of successive statesmensummoningthe nation to its constructive tasks. Thus had British democracy and empire been slowly and delicately integrated, through storm and calm, until to-day, it had come to provide the framework of millions of happy and useful lives.
And now this great institution, palladium of English liberties, was still in being, its meeting-place overflowing with the full complement of duly elected members. Everyone, I was told, was there for prayers; and very moving it must have been. Even the Cabinet were in their places, Naker and the rest; but surely those of them (I exclude Evans) who knew what they had done or assented to must have felt like Judas in the Upper Room.
I never mastered British Parliamentary procedure, and cannot explain how it came about that a meeting summoned during the Easter recess to deal with an emergency and to ratify a treaty should begin with a string of questions to Ministers about pensions and municipal finance in West Ham. But I have the clearest recollection of the famous incident that came in the middle of these proceedings, and added to the feeling of tension in the debate that followed.
There was suddenly a great commotion in the Distinguished Strangers’ Gallery. It was already stiff with diplomats, but here came the German Ambassador, followed by a suite of seven or eight attachés and brown-shirted secretaries such as had never before been seen in these surroundings. The Dutch and Flemish Ministers, with some others, hastened to make room for them, but they did not at once sit down. Instead, standing to attention and raising their right hands towards the Chair, they interrupted the quavering voice of the Minister of Health with the raucous, staccato cry, like blasphemy in church, “Heil Hitler!”
The Speaker made no sign, but, while the House kept shocked and humiliated silence, a bold member of the Labour Opposition jumped to his feet, and cried: “On a point of order, sir. Will not the officers of the House, in accordance with practice, see that the strangers responsible for this unseemly interruption are summarily ejected?”
The Germans had clattered down into their seats, like aRoman emperor and his familiars at the circus. There was a pause; the Labour man remained on his feet, while a faint sound of “Hear, hear” came from the benches around him. The Treasury Bench tried to look as though nothingremarkablewas happening.
At last the Speaker found his voice. It shook as he took the only dignified course, picking up the thread that had been rudely, perhaps permanently, broken. “The Right Honourable the Minister of Health,” he said, looking straight in front of him; and the thin voice that had been interrupted resumed its part in the orderly proceedings of the Mother ofParliaments.
At last the Foreign Secretary rose to open for the Government in the big debate. He had quite regained his self-possession; one could see that he knew exactly what he was going to say, that he was prepared to answer certain objections and determined to ignore others, and that by the sheer force of his personality he intended to keep the debate on the plane of slightly cynical, but genial, common sense.
His brisk, cheerful tones dispelled some of the gloom of the “Heil Hitler!” incident. He was, in fact, brilliantly persuasive. For all his tortuousness he had always been a good Commons man, and he wooed the House like a rather too practised lover. There at least he was sure of himself, however delicately he might still have to tread before the representatives of the Wilhelmstrasse.
There is no need to repeat his arguments. They look false enough now, but most people welcomed them gladly enough at the time, as holding out the one chance of a prosperous and not undignified future for Great Britain. The House listened to them hopefully, but in silence.
He came at length to the circumstances of the last fatal week-end.
“As time went on”, he said, “it became increasingly clear to His Majesty’s Government and to the Government of the German Reich that the new situation should be clarified and crystallized, for all the world to see, in a treaty of friendship and mutual assistance. This instrument, freely negotiated, is that which the House——”
It was here that the first interruption occurred. There were cries of “Question”, and Churchill was first on his feet to ask with calm deliberation whether His Majesty’s Government, in these “free negotiations”, had been uninfluenced by the fact that Germany on the previous Thursday had begun thetransportof twenty divisions from the interior to the north-east coast.
“And by Hitler’s threat on Friday night to bomb London to bits,” added a bold member of the Labour Opposition, guessing at the truth.
Almost the whole House was now on its feet, the Opposition back-benchers emboldened at last to make a demonstration, screaming “Traitors!” at the Government, and theGovernmentmembers calling “Mischiefmakers!” in reply. The Speaker made no attempt to quell the tumult, and Naker remained seated until it had died down. Then (says myHansard):
“Honourable members opposite”, he said (with adeprecatinggesture of his hands), “are inclined to ignore the processes of history. Their antique jingoism has little meaning to-day. One could not but admire their valour (were it ever put to the test), but we on this side of the House prefer a higher patriotism. To us the British Empire is no mere temporary phenomenon, consistent with but one phase of historical development. We do not seek to preserve it by vainly trying to keep the rest of the world unchanged; we seek to develop it by meeting changing conditions in a spirit of realism and co-operation.”
So he went on, and no interruptions could break his apparent complacency. He became very plain and matter-offact, almost casual, and in a bare twenty minutes he had finished the speech in which, as British Foreign Secretary, he virtually handed his proud country to the mercy of the enemy. But when he sat down there was sweat on hisforehead.
Some of the speeches that followed, on the Opposition side, were almost worthy of this great and tragic occasion. One notable Tory Parliamentarian evoked the great leaders of past times, who would have wept had they seen the extremity to which modern leadership had brought the nation. Labour leaders spoke of painfully won social reforms, and asked who would be their guardian now. All pleaded that the House might, at the last moment, take a mighty risk to redress a great error; all, at the same time, clearly knew they were making valedictory speeches.
On the Government side there was gallant wishful thinking. Backbenchers exhibited a renewed faith in Nazi promises, and the Lord Privy Seal almost made it appear that Great Britain, out of sheer altruism, had condescended to help Germany in her European problems. “Naught”, he said, with sublime inappropriateness, “shall make us rue.”
Chamberlain’s unforgettable speech will find its way (ifcivilizationsurvives) in the school history books. “Peace was mylife’s ambition, but not this peace.” His voice trembled when he said that it was his faith in his country’s courage and integrity that had enabled him to make the great experiment of Munich. Could it be that faith was unjustified?
Evans rose to wind up the debate. One was aware of the strange similarity between the two men. They had many ideals in common, and were equals in sensibility, but Evans had no strength of character.
The House held its breath. Who knows but that in that brief moment there lay the chance that a great leader might have seized, to rescue England, if not from destruction, then from shame? Did the House feel that the shades of Pitt, Disraeli, Gladstone were crowding round the last holder of their great office, begging, even commanding him to shrink from the final betrayal? If so, the moment passed, and soon members were settling down to listen to an uninspiredrecapitulationof all the arguments which, during the last six months, had been brought to defend a policy of surrender. There was a sense of anticlimax as, rather unexpectedly, the Prime Minister sat down; and the question was put. No-one had the heart to challenge a division; the last formalities were rapidly attended to; and, in the midst of an intolerable silence, the Speaker rose and left the Chamber. Britishdemocracy, fruit of centuries of struggle on this hallowed spot, had gone by default.
Few of the faithful Commons could trust themselves to speak, either to themselves or to the familiar, courteous attendants, as they struggled into their overcoats and were gone. “Who goes home?” Many, many things, that would not bear thinking of.
Chapter Two“BLOOD IN BRITAIN”
FATE, you may remember, allowed Sir John Naker three days in which to enjoy the full triumph of his foreign policy. Three spring-like days they were, so that, discarding an overcoat, he could walk jauntily across the Park each morning to the Foreign Office, surveying, through the burgeoning trees, thegallant towers of Westminster, symbols of the mighty State machine that he had set rumbling on the course he had chosen for it. They were honeymoon days, with the diplomatic wires buzzing with congratulatory messages, from GÃ¶ring, from Ribbentrop, from Hitler himself, while the British Press played up nicely and the Stock Exchange boomed. There was no need for him to listen at Cabinet meetings to the tale of woe of the Minister of Labour; he, Naker, had now provided the international conditions for a trade revival, and it was for the other fellows to take advantage of them. Still less need he bother much with the Egyptian Ambassador who kept anxiously asking for certain assurances, and for a promise of mediation in some incipient dispute; trust him, Naker, not to interfere in anyone else'sLebensraum. Soon it would be time to settle some of the details of the brave new world, and Hitler's State visit, expected in May, would be a busy time for him; meanwhile, he felt he could afford to climb with leisurely aplomb into the biggish niche that history, he was sure, had provided for him.
So I read his attitude, but I do not pretend to know what came into his mind when the three days were over and the ground opened before his feet. I do not know whether even then he foresaw the full disaster, or whether the thing that meant so much for the rest of us had little or no significance for him. He was a man without roots, patrician or plebeian, and he could have been betrayed by his cynicism into grave miscalculations.
But none of us, indeed, had realized quite how large a place the monarchy played in British nationhood. When theRenownslipped silently out of Plymouth Sound, flying the last Royal Standard ever rightfully to flutter in an English breeze, it took away more than the Crown. It took away our faith in our future and in ourselves. Constitutional propriety allowed only this supreme rebuke from the monarch to his people. There had never been a juster one.
The quiet honeymoon was over. Shorn of our ancient symbol of continuing tradition, we found ourselves face to face with grim reality of the present. We felt uncomfortable when Herr Hitler sent a telegram of congratulation to our makeshift, and probably unconstitutional, Council of Regency, upon their good fortune in “opening a new and glorious chapter in Anglo-German Nordic history”. We were afflicted with painful doubts about the legal status of the British Empire, under the Statute of Westminster. We trembled when we came to examine the problems that demanded solution at home.
“Watch the Greyshirts” came as an entirely unnecessary admonition from my editor. Who in England was not now watching them? Within a few days, wherever Englishmen met and talked the same question was asked: “What will the Greyshirts do now?”
Looking back, I am ashamed to think that I had not paid more attention to the rise of Fascism in England. It was an alien, injected poison, but when the right conditions for its growth appeared it began to flourish soon enough.
Our body politic had long before been deliberatelyinoculatedby the adroit pathologists of Nazi expansion. The technique which, after years of careful tending, turned Austria into a hotbed of sedition, which converted the SudetenGermansfrom a comparatively passive minority into a raging fever of protest, and which pushed the Trojan horse into Norway, Holland, and Belgium, was from the very outbreak of hostilities directed towards fomenting divisions anddissensionsnot only between the chief Allies but between parties and bodies of opinion in both nations.
For a time these efforts had no results. Goebbelsundoubtedlythought at the beginning that the tolerantatmosphereof a democracy would present an ideal field for his experiments. He forgot that he was attacking a healthy body, which centuries of open political discussion and criticism, and the traditions of a free Press, had immunized against the poison of seditious propaganda. A few pacifists, purblind with the immature ideals of youth, could be found to heckle the public speeches of Ministers and glory in the martyrdom of being expelled by the police. The I.R.A. could be subsidized to distribute a few bombs and so-called Communists could be bribed to foment disorder, but the British public could never be persuaded to adopt the right terrified attitude towards the melodramatic type of agitator. It was only mildlyindignantat an added inconvenience to existence. Thus the first German attempts to introduce sedition failed miserably. People were too absorbed in the magnitude of the task undertaken by the nation to pay much attention to those who sought to sow doubts; and where there were just grievances the Constitution still allowed a remedy.
Demobilization brought back into the civilian life thousands upon thousands of young men who had thrown up jobs and prospects to fight for the ideals which had now been betrayed. They came back disillusioned and exasperated. They had experienced all the boredom and misery of war, and all its horrors; some of them had even tasted its triumphs on the field of battle. But their determination and their endurancehad suddenly been nullified by the action of “politicians” and they were faced with an intolerable anticlimax. All wereconvincedthat they would have “brought it off” if they had been given a chance. Consequently, from the very beginning, the mood of the average demobilized man, with hisweather-beatenold-young face and the green “Nuremberg ribbon” in his button hole, was one of sulkiness and wounded pride. But he was to suffer a worse blow yet. He and nine-tenths of his fellows had been assured that their jobs would be kept for them when they came home. Now they were to find that industry was hard put to it to absorb one-third of their numbers. No-one had taken their jobs: the jobs had simply ceased to exist. Firms which had begun the war bycomplainingof being short-handed had very soon begun to be thankful for their depleted pay-roll. Now there was no question of rapid expansion. Supplies were still short, and demand was restricted by the thin purse of the average citizen.
I remember talking to one of these men early in January. I met him in a small public house off Fleet Street where both he and I had taken shelter from a heavy downpour soon after opening time. He had just been to see his old firmâhe was a paper-makerâand his former manager, who had been, I gathered, kindly though firm, had tried to explain the position to him. The bar was empty except for us two at first, and he had perforce to unburden himself to me.
At first his mood was one of blank bewilderment. Here was he, a man of twenty-eight, with a wartime wife and a mother to support, with his bounty nearly spent, and with thefoundationof his existence, his “safe” job, suddenly removed from beneath him. What on earth were they going to do now? His mother had run a small lodging-house for respectable working-class folk before the war, but that had petered out after six months, “what with evacuation and all”. Then he had married Renee on leave, and Renee had secured a job in a munitions factory on which she had been able to support herself and his mother. Renee's job had come to an end just before he was “demobbed”, and they hadn't minded then, because his civilian job was good enough for them both, and he didn't hold with the wife going out to work. Now they were left without anything.
“There's no kid, anyway,” he said slowly. “We weremeaningto have one when the war ended â¦ but now, well, we'll just have to change our minds.”
After a couple of drinks his mood had changed to one of self-pity and an outraged sense of justice. It was no longer what Renee and Mother were going to say that matteredâitwas what his boss had said to himâJoe Richardsâwhen he left to join up.
“He shook me by the hand, and he said:' Richards, there'll be a place for you here when the show's over.' That's what he said. âThe firm will look after you,' he said. That was a promise, wasn't it?”
The story of this parting interview was repeated several times, with mounting indignation. He wouldn't have put up with that perishing cold and that stinking mud and that asterisked sergeant if he hadn't thought that a promise was a promise. Not only the economic but the moral foundations of life had been shattered for Joe Richards by this second interview with his manager. If the boss wasn't going to keep his word, who in this world was?
By this time the bar had filled up, and Joe Richards'saudiencehad swollen. I had murmured my ineffectual sympathy, and it was now being reduplicated profanely and forcibly by a couple of printers, an elderly taxi-driver and a battered old office-cleaner. And as his audience swelled and bought him drinks, so the wrath of Joe Richards mounted, and his eloquence rose to greater heights. I perceived that I was no longer necessary, and unobtrusively retired as yet another round of drinks was bought, this time out of the remnants of the depleted bounty. As I left I had an uneasy premonition that the end of Joe Richards's evening would be ablasphemousencounter with a policeman and a night in the cells.
Joe Richards and his fellows were represented statistically by a catastrophic leap in the already swollen unemployment figure. The harassed Government hurriedly evolved amakeshiftprogramme of public works, intended to absorb some of the labour surplus, but, not unaccountably, men who had once given up skilled jobs to, face the necessary drudgery ofmilitarylife declined in peacetime to do navvy's work at navvy's rates of pay in road building and land reclamation schemes. They preferred the only alternativeâthe dole, feeling in their angry misery that they were owed something by their country.
Here at last was a promising culture for infection by the Nazi propagandists, and the virus they chose to start with was inevitableâanti-Semitism. The refugee population of the country had swollen enormously during the years leading up to the war, and, although some misgivings had been felt, the popular sympathy for the victims of the worst type of Nazi brutality had overridden them. Besides, it was then felt that this increase was only a temporary one until Germany was made safe again for non-Aryans. But, by the time the armies were demobilized, many thousands of these hunted peoplehad begun to look on Britain not merely as a refuge in the time of trouble but as a home where they might be safe and free to establish themselves. Had not Britain been waging a war against their persecutors?
Some of the Jews were deeply grateful to their protectors, and did their best to show it. Others, uneducated andinarticulate, merely felt that here at last was the good time comingâthe opportunity which mankind owed them in return for their sufferings, a little peace and time to start the business which was their second nature. They had not reached the stage of feeling allegiance to their new country: many of them could not yet speak her language, and in any case were they not themselves children of Israel, a race apart, who through all the centuries of their wanderings had never allowed themselves to be fully absorbed by any other nationality? They were timid and peace-loving; they were incredibly industrious; and they were prolific. It was not for them to realize the problems which their advent wouldprovokefor their new hosts. They were content to obey the laws and asked only the right to work and make a living.Moreover, after their privations, they were ready to begin work for very little. This characteristic appealed, of course, to the employer who was struggling with rising costs; and, although the restrictions on aliens which prevented many of them from being taken into the fighting services applied to some extent to the conditions of employment, a “way round” could often be found, when both employer and would-be employee were willing. Once in employment, their inherent business acumen and their industry stood them in good stead. They wereinventiveand ambitious, and whenever possible they found vacancies for their brethren.
Thus the Jews became an easy target for all the confused resentment and ill-feeling which was latent in the demobilized unemployed. Anti-Jewish riots broke out more than once in the East End, even before the Treaty of St. James's had been signed. The severity with which they were repressed added fuel to the flames, and the fact that the new Home Secretary, Mr. Bernard Goldsmith, was popularly supposed to be of Jewish descent did not help to keep the peace.
It was about this time that the Greyshirts began to make their appearance under the leadership of the meteoric Patrick Rosse. Long before the war began, when the Government was coping with the ineffectual Fascism of the early âthirties, there had been legislation against political uniforms, and the “shirt” of various hues had been banned. But the philanthropic War Office, ably seconded by a North Country manufacturerof shoddy, issued each man on demobilization with a complete suit of “mufti”, including a grey flannel shirt. When Patrick Rosse began his series of meetings up and down the country it was men in grey shirts who flocked to hear him, and when the League of Britons was formed by the same Patrick Rosse its members wore grey shirts. Who was to forbid them? Who was to deprive the ex-Service man of the gift which his own country had made him?
It is not easy to present a convincing portrait of their leader now. There are so many damning facts, so many equally damning suspicions attached to his history, that it is almost impossible for those who never came into contact with him to imagine the personality of a man who, in spite of his Irish origin and doubtful antecedents, could induce many thousands of Englishmen to follow him over theprecipiceof their own ruin. There is no doubt that he had been a member of the I.R.A.; his enemies said that he had been one of its leading organizers, but, if that was so, he had abstained from taking any active part in its campaign for some months before the war began. By hook or by crook he then entered the ranks of the British armyâaccording to his enemies as a paid agitator. This at least is doubtful; it may well have been the Irish instinct to join in the biggest fight going. There is no record of his having indulged in any treasonable activity in France; on the contrary he was decorated for gallantry and his promotion was obstructed only by minor incidents of indiscipline which were natural in so obstreperous and reckless a character.
His motives in founding and organizing the League of Britons are equally obscure. Those who regarded Rosse as endowed with a Satanic hatred of England and an equally Satanic ingenuity in accomplishing her ruin believe that the League of Britons was founded with the deliberate intention of building a bridge to the German domination of England, and that it was an I.R.A. conception no less murderous and devastating than a bomb. The complexities of the Celtic mind have always been beyond me, and it is, I suppose, notimpossiblethat a man might give himself up heart and soul to the ruination of a foreign country, if he thought that he could thus free his own. But I find it difficult to believe that anyone with so Machiavellian a turn of mind could inspire his public utterances with the atmosphere of passionate and abandoned sincerity that surrounded the speeches of Patrick Rosse. There is unfortunately no doubt that the League received subsidies from Germany, under the transparent cloak of “gifts from German ex-Service men”, and that Rosse wasfully aware of this. But I personally do not believe that Rosse fully realized the purpose behind the “gifts”. I think he was a man naturally “agin the Government” who becameintoxicatedwith his own popularity and success, and who in his fervour and fury would seize any weapon to attack his adversary.
That is my personal opinion. But I met Rosse and I heard him speak, and I am prepared to admit that anyone who ever fell under the spell of that flaming personality is not a reliable witness. He was the most potent orator I ever heard. It was only a few weeks after the Treaty of St. James's that I went north to attend a big Yorkshire rally of the League of Britons, held in Leeds Town Hall. Unemployment had of course hit the industrial areas hardest, and it was here that the League found its staunchest and most stubborn adherents. Delegations from all over Yorkshire and Lancashire marched into the great hall, each headed with a home-made banner bearing the name of the local branch, and took their places in the rows of red-plush seats under the huge and intolerably bright electric chandeliers. There was nothing theatrical about the gatheringâno brass bands and no music from the vast and ornate organ that rose behind the platform and hadaccompaniedso many lusty performances of theMessiah. The hall was insufficiently warmed, and I shivered in the Press seats, which were caught by a draught from one of the side-doors. The men about me talked in low tones. There was no smoking: tobacco for this class had become a luxury that was enjoyed only in moments of leisure, and this was not one. Here and there in the crowded hall I could see a woman when I stood up, but it was primarily a male gatheringârow on row of serious-faced men, with shabby jackets or overcoats over the inevitable grey shirt.
Then the committee filed on to the platform, and there was a brief stir and a perfunctory clapping from the audience. Still there was nothing to recall earlier outbreaks of Fascismâno roll of drums, no floodlights, and no saluting. Patrick Rosse was easily distinguished from the small group on the platform by his bright red hair and tall stooping figure. He wore a dark suit on which I could see the ribbons of the Military Medal and the Nuremberg decoration. Both he and his companions seemed to the eye of a journalist to be unusually slim and young to be occupying the platform of a public meeting. One was so used to the elderly and well-fleshed committee man.
Lawson, a local journalist, named some of them for me in a whisper. “The scruffy little fellow on the right, who lookslike an atheist cobbler, is Morley, the secretary. The chap next to him is a German delegateâthink his name's Meyerâhe's over on some sort of goodwill mission.” (We could not know then that the pale face of Meyer with its fixed smile and staring blue eyes was later to preside over the horrors of the Godalming concentration camp.) “Fellow in the middle is the local chairmanâLewthwaite's his nameâand then there's Rosse. Don't know any of the others.”
After a few laborious words by the chairman, whichincludedan introduction of “our good friend and late foeman, Herr Meyer” and an acknowledgement of the “handsome donation from our brothers in arms in Germany” which he had brought with him, Rosse rose to speak. I took no notes: I was not there to give averbatimreport, only myimpressions, and when I later came to write them up I found them incoherent. It was difficult to realizeâmuch less to describeâthe way in which that sober, rather stolid meeting was roused to a ferocious and hoarse-voiced mob which went out and did its best to sack the Jewish quarter of Leeds.
It was, to begin with, the strong confident voice, reaching the ears without strain or violence, which disarmed the critical faculties. There was none of the practised lilt of the politician in it; it was not over-educated, and yet the latent brogue was too restrained to become “picturesque” or comic. It was in fact a pleasure just to listen. Then I found myself noticing, with keen appreciation, the extraordinary richness of the man's vocabulary and vivid phrasing. But before long, in spite of all my training, I found myself gripped by his matter. He made the injustices done to ex-Servicemen sound like some huge and legendary crime which must make the world weep. He created bloated giants of oppression, which the feeblest Jack of all longed to rise up and slay. He surrounded us with a labyrinthine web of corruption and inefficiency, and then led us sword in hand to slash our way out. Above all, he depicted the Jewânot the oriental, child-murdering bogy of Nazi doctrine, but the well-to-do smiling alien in our midstâwith such venom that even my sanity was clouded with resentment, while half the audience was on its feet baying with fury. Throughout the whole speech he played subtly on the sense of shame which secretly beset so many consciencesâa war unwon, a job half-finished, a nation disgraced in the eyes of the world, betrayed by its own half-heartedness and the leaders it had produced. I still remember his peroration, delivered with the voice of a trumpet:
“On your feet. March through the town. Show the Jews and show the world that there is still blood in Britain.”
His hearers had leapt up like one man, and, as he ended, streamed shouting and cheering into the city streets.
I sat where I was until my dizzied wits had come to earth. Then I remembered that there was to be an interview with the Press in one of the committee rooms. At this Rosse showed that he was not merely a demagogue. Most of the journalists who were there to question him felt, as I felt, indignant at having been swept off their feet by an oration. They were out to justify themselves as hardened newspaper men, to trip him up and reveal him as a callow politician. They did not succeed. He met their questions with wit and ability, and occasionally abashed them with a quiet sincerity which blunted their would-be cynicism. When he learnt that I was from one of the Dominions his face lit up and he drew me aside to beg that I would convey his message to my own countrymen. Would I ask them, he said, to have patience with the Old Countryâto remember that the voice of politicians was not the voice of England? I was to tell them that he and his like were there to restore the lost tradition of Britain, to renew the pride in their heritage which Britons all over the world had once shared between them. The men who had returned sulkily or defiantly to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand would once again be glad that they had sprung to arms. In spite of myself I was moved, not only by his discernment of the feelings which were troubling the hearts of my countrymen, but by the warm, personal friendliness of his manner, and the spontaneity of his words.
Yet even while I talked with him, pandemonium wasspreadingthrough the streets as darkness fell over the city. The authorities had been deceived by the quiet and orderly way in which the meeting had begun, and had relaxed theirprecautions. But what had begun on the Town Hall steps as a tumultuous procession developed within twenty minutes into a riot. It was a Saturday, and the large Jewish population of the city was out enjoying the Sabbath holiday. The sight of the crowded pavements and brightly lit shop windows seemed to enfuriate the Leaguers. One of them levelled his banner-pole like a lance, and with a shout of “Come on, boys, we'll show 'em” dashed it through a window. With the crash of the broken glass rose the ugly, long-drawn sound of women's screaming, and with a roar the fight began. It became the worst kind of street battle. The local citizens fought furiously against the invaders. The Jews among them were not the timid refugees of recent years, but a hardy race born and bred in the industrial slums, and they fought backwith the jagged armouries of the race-gangs and the back streets.
The inadequate police forces struggled desperately to regain control, but they were swept aside or trampled underfoot as the battle raged up and down the main shoppingthoroughfares.At first the Leaguers, united in a blind enthusiasm, had the upper hand, and drove the crowd before them. Then, as local resentment boiled up and as reinforcements poured out of the public houses and side streets, they in their turn were hurled back. Gradually the main battle broke up into a number of vicious and hard-breathing struggles between small bodies of men, and it was then that the worst casualties occurred. Fortunately by this time the police had collected enough reinforcements to clear the streets, and this they did with repeated truncheon charges and a good deal of very necessary hard-hitting.
By nine that night the battle was over. The pavements were covered with broken glass and wreckage, but the streets were empty except for the police patrols and a few ambulances cruising about to pick up casualties. Leeds Infirmary was full of the wounded, sobbing or shuddering with the sickness that follows mob violence and being tended with grimefficiencyby the overworked staff. In the mortuary lay seven broken bodies, two of them in police uniforms, as witnesses that there was “still blood in Britain”.
Chapter ThreeFACILIS DESCENSUS â¦
THEriot in Leeds marked the beginning of the nightmare period of English history which is not yet ended. Until then the slope into Avernus had been gradual, and the many people who hated the turn events had taken still felt that it was possible to arrest their course and scramble up the insidious incline on to some firm and level ground. But now the abyss opened suddenly at their feet and tune to turn back was not given. Englishmen were plunged into a chaos in which all the things that “don't happen” were dreadfully fulfilled. The friendly half-tones and compromises of ordinaryexistence seemed suddenly to be resolved into the menacing blacks and blinding whites of improbable drama. Even now, at a distance of both time and space, it is difficult for me to visualize the main actors in that drama as real human beings, and not as portents of perfidy and heroism, oppression and martyrdom.
It is easy, for example, to label Sir John Naker a villain and a traitor; he has been called these names and worse often enough, and yet he was a man who under other circumstances might have lived out an obscure life as a prosperous if none too scrupulous business man. Those of us who met him before he trafficked in his country's liberty thought of him as a not very pleasant characterâhe was too plausible and genial to carry any honest convictionâbut there were other politicians whom we disliked as much, and there werefinancialmagnates whom we suspected of equal dishonesty. We were prepared to believe the gossip-writers when they told us that he was an affectionate parent to his young family, and his expansive after-dinner speeches bore witness that he was an enthusiast for thegenrenovel, with a happy knack of quoting Dickens. But chance, or his own ambition, or the credulity of us, his countrymen, who had grown too prone to substitute mere ability for integrity, placed him in apositionin which his ordinary and shabby failings were magnified into an extraordinary betrayal, and Naker the inadequate man was lost for ever in the Naker the arch-traitor.L'on fait plus souvent des trahisons par faiblesse que par un dessein formÃ© de trahir.
Two days after I had returned from Leeds I was able to read the German version of the affair, as recounted in theVÃ¶lkischer Beobachter. The British Press, at the urgent request of the authorities, had reduced the incident to a local street affray which had no national significance. There was no attempt to conceal the serious nature of the fighting or the death-roll, which had been swollen when two or three of the casualties succumbed to their injuries, but, deplorable as the disorder had been, it was felt to be too dangerous to lay much emphasis on it. Events were to show how mistaken was this policy. It was no longer the time to hush things up; nerves were too much on edge, and, since the days of the war, official reticence had been regarded as a veil drawn over catastrophe. Now came the German report, compiled by those practised in describing the enormities committed in theunenlightenedareas outside the Reich. It appeared that the British police force had been utterly corrupted by Jewish influence and Jewish funds. Together with organized bands of hooligansfrom “the dance-hall and the gambler's den”, thisunscrupulousbody had made an organized and bloodthirsty assault on a harmless gathering of patriots. There had been unparalleled scenes of cruelty and massacre. There was a heart-rending description of a band of heroes, armed only with “flagsticks”, falling in heaps before the “well-aimed volleys” fired by the police. Worst of all, a German had been involved. The war-hero, Meyer, whom the FÃ¼hrer himself had decorated with the Iron Cross, had barely escaped from this holocaust with his life. This was worse than an outrage: it was an insolent defiance of the honour of the Reich. It must be avenged in blood. Meyer, fresh back from England, contributed his “eye-witness account” of these horrors. “Germanswine” had said one of these English policemen, reeking of slaughter. “Back to your ownverfluchtecountry.” It is, I believe, a fact that Meyer, suffering from a black eye, had been given a strong police escort as far as Harwich, where he was put on a boat for Germany.
The political repercussions were prompt. On the same day that the account appeared in the German newspapers, the German Ambassador presented himself at No. Ten Downing Street. He was accompanied by a brown-shirted escort similar to that which had attended him in the House of Commons, but this time It was armed with revolversâ“renderednecessaryby the civil disorders”. He demanded a full-length apology from the British Government for this insult to a German citizen, and substantial compensation for the injuries “he had received at the hands of the police”.Furthermore, the German Government insisted that stem reprisals should be taken against the officials involved.
This was the first time that Dr. Evans had come intopersonalcontact with the more downright methods of Nazi diplomacy, and he was worsted badly in the encounter. No details of that interview, which took place at ten o'clock in the morning, are available, but as soon as the GermanAmbassadorhad taken his leave the Home Secretary was sent for and requested by the Prime Minister to take exemplary measures of discipline against the constabulary involved in the suppression of the Leeds riot.
Mr. Bernard Goldsmith, the Home Secretary, had been regarded as rather a joke, at least by Fleet Street, up to that time. He was not considered to be particularly competent, and his fussy manner in the House of Commons, together with his sheep-like profile and gold pince-nez, had been favourite material for the cartoonists. His alleged Jewish ancestry had made him the target for the abuse of the Leaguersand their organ theFree Briton, which began to appear about this time, but the average man did not take these attacks very seriously. There was nothing of the “sinister Semite” about Mr. Goldsmithâonly a catholic enthusiasm for all forms of welfare work and a tendency to take precipitate and rather indiscreet decisions. His reaction to Dr. Evans'ssuggestionwas instant and indignant. He had perfect confidence in the police: their conduct in this unfortunate affair had been admirable. If disciplinary action was to be taken it should be against the disorderly political organization which had provoked the riot. He would listen to no lectures from Dr. Evans on the subject of international tact. Rather than cast any slur on the well-known reputation of the British police force he would tender his resignation. The Prime Minister did his best to soothe him, and the conversation ended without any decision having been made.
Dr. Evans was in a quandary. “People were being very difficult,” as he observed pettishly to one of his secretaries, and the situation demanded that worldly wisdom, which, as he had been fond of remarking with mock deprecation from the platform, was abhorrent to his idealistic temperament. Consequently he turned to a source of that commodity which had become habitual to him, and the third visitor to Downing Street that day was Sir John Naker. The result of his advice was startling. The following morning Members of Parliament and the general public read with equal astonishment in their newspapers an open letter from the Prime Minister to Mr. Bernard Goldsmith accepting his resignation, “as tendered orally to me to-day”. The letter began in the approved manner, “My dear Bernard”; it paid a cordial tribute to the services which he had performed as Home Secretary, regretted deeply that he had not seen eye to eye with the Government on a matter of policy, and concluded by “Looking forward to the time when we may once more work in harnesstogether”. The signature was the signature of Matthew Evans, but there were many who felt that the pen had been the pen of Sir John Naker.
The letter was not accompanied by any explanation orstatementfrom Mr. Goldsmith. That gentleman had of course been rung up by the Press as soon as the letter was circulated, but, although he professed the utmost astonishment at its contents, he refused to comment, reserving the matter, as he said, for the House of Commons.
The House that afternoon threw off for once the dread apathy which had invested it ever since the ratification of the Treaty of London. Every bench was crowded when Mr.Goldsmith made the statement to which he was entitled. In a voice which trembled with indignation and self-pity he described the conversation in which he had taken part at Downing Street. It was true, he said, that he had conditionally offered his resignation, but had he dreamt that the Prime Minister was contemplating such immediate and underhand action he would have demanded a meeting of the Cabinet. What had he done, he asked, wiping his pince-nez with a shaking hand, to forfeit the confidence of his colleagues? and what had the police of this country done that the word of a single and suspicious alien should be accepted against their official and careful report?
The Prime Minister proceeded to surround the affair with a smoke-cloud of involved eloquenceâa screen which concealed the bomb which he exploded with his concluding words. He was pained, he said, by the misplaced emotion which had been engendered by this affair. Mr. Goldsmith's indignation, which had led him to refer in ill-chosen and insulting words to a war veteran of our great ally, had also clouded the conversation at Downing Street, and it was perhaps due to this fact that Mr. Goldsmith had not then made his meaning as clear as it should have been. He (the Prime Minister) had then been fully convinced that the Home Secretary's offer of resignation had been unconditional and to take immediate effect. Under the circumstances, whether they were due to a misunderstanding or not, the public interest had compelled him to take at once a step of which he felt sure that his colleagues in the Government would approve. While no-one deplored more than he did the loss of so distinguished and able a colleague as Mr. Goldsmith, he felt that the present situation, involving not only the maintenance of order at home but our relations with a great and friendly Power, called for extraordinary action. He had accordingly put Sir John Naker, the Foreign Secretary, in temporary charge of the Home Office. It was, he knew,unusualfor one Minister to hold both posts concurrently, but he felt that the circumstances justified this appointment.
There was a moment of stunned silence when Dr. Evans sat down, and then pandemonium broke out. The issue was twofold. There was first the insinuation against the police, which was generally felt to be unwarranted, and then there was the extraordinary initiative taken by the Prime Minister without full consultation with his colleagues. Member after member of the Opposition rose and attacked the Government on one or other of these points, and there were signs of mutiny among the Government supporters. Sir John Naker,in an ill-judged attempt to calm the tumult, announced that he had instituted an official inquiry into the affair at Leeds, and that, while the report received by the German Government had, he thought, been somewhat exaggerated,preliminaryevidence tended to show that the police had exceeded their authority in dealing with the rioters.
This temporizing only served to exasperate the House still further, and provoked a split in the ranks of the Cabinet itself. Sir Willoughby Parker, K.C., then Minister forAgriculture, and an old enemy of Sir John Naker, flouted all precedent by asking his own Prime Minister whether heconsideredthat the Foreign Secretary was a fit and proper person to conduct such an inquiry, and whether the matter was not one for a full debate. Dr. Evans was about to reply when he received a note passed to him from Sir John Naker. The House watched him in dead silence as he read it. Then the Prime Minister rose, and in a shaking voice pronounced the final death sentence on free parliamentary debate in the British Isles.
“I have just received information”, he said, “that serious civil disturbances have again broken out in the North of England. In view of this fact and the unfinished character of the inquiry into the actions of the Leeds and West Riding police I do not think it expedient that this discussion should continue further at this time. Therefore, I propose immediately to advise the Council of Regency that this session ofParliamentbe suspended until further notice.”
I shall not describe the scenes that ensued. The demise of the British Parliament was without order or dignity. The Council of Regency had, as I have already said, been hastily constituted as a shamefaced and temporary stopgap to fill the absence of the Crown. Its powers, although a legalcommissionwas attempting to determine them, were stillundefined. Their very vagueness made them the more formidable and the less easy to challenge. No-one knew whether the Prime Minister possessed the authority he claimed, but the Speaker, after a vain attempt to quell the uproar and even violence which arose, declared the sitting adjourned and left the House. Members gradually realized the futility of their indignation, and angrily dispersed. There was no Oath of the Tennis Court.
Attempts were made afterwards to prove that the Tyneside disturbances had actually begun at the time of the Prime Minister's announcement. But a few stormy meetings of the unemployed are all that can be adduced in support of this theory, and there is little doubt that the disorders to whichhe referred were fathered by the inventive brain of Sir John Naker, always ready to discover a quick exit from anembarrassingsituation. Nevertheless, if these disorders were imaginary, they antedated the real thing by only a few hours. As the news of the Prime Minister's action was spread by Press and wireless all the latent anxiety and unrest came to a head, and the confusion in which Parliament had broken up Was the prelude to something little short of anarchy throughout the land.
The disorder occurred in two main areasâTyneside and London. In the north the League of Britons had apparently lost much prestige as a result of the Leeds riot. Middle-class citizens who had been inclined to sympathize with itsflamboyantlyexpressed ideals fought shy of their violentexpression. But, although the movement thus lost much of its respectable fringe of adherents, it had also gained enormously in momentum. The cards were on the table, and, in the words of the Leaguers, “war had been declared on the alliance between Jewry and bureaucracy”. Bureaucracy to the Leaguers meant the police.
The leaders of the movement did not lose sight of the confusion caused in high places by the German move, and seized their opportunity to stage another demonstration. This was to be a “battle march”âI detect Patrick Rosse's phraseologyâthrough Newcastle, Jarrow and South Shields, three places which had for long before the war suffered from the worst kind of depression and unemployment, and after the brief armaments boom felt themselves slipping back into their former misery.
Like so many of Rosse's slogans the phrase “battle march” was vague but suggestive. The demonstration, which began in Newcastle as the usual affair of banners and brass bands, developed rapidly into a savage and semi-organized fight with the police. The authorities had their hands tied; already shaken by the questions which were being asked over the suppression of the Leeds affair, they now received a circular from the new Home Secretary warning them that on no account was popular feeling to be excited by the presence of large bodies of police or military. Nothing must be done which suggested persecution. Local forces were to deal with local disturbances.
The result was that the demonstrators found themselves from the first opposed by small bodies of police who,themselvesaffected by the indecision of their superiors, hesitated to take effective action and were quickly routed. As the mob saw the forces which represented discipline melt before it, itstaste for triumph was whetted, and the next phase of the disorder was a series of deliberate attacks on police stations and assaults on isolated police units.
The marchers got no farther than Jarrow; here motor lorries and vans were commandeered, and the rioterscirculatedover a wide area of the poorer parts of Durham. In many places they were joined by parties of the younger unemployed, though it was noticed that the older, married men stood aloof. Everywhere small local police stations were attacked and looted, and in small villages the local constable's house was searched out and broken up. The police, wherever they could, resisted furiously, and would by now have acted without thought of future reprimands and inquiries, but the attack was so sudden and so widely dispersed that they had no time to form any effective concentration. Ten police officers were murdered by the rioters, and many others were man-handled and more or less seriously injured.
I have described the Durham disturbances from reports collected after the event, but I was myself a witness of part of the London trouble, and even I shudder as I remember what was for me the first spectacle of street anarchy, of open and destructive fury in men's faces, and the ugly snarl of a fighting crowd. I was working in my office in Fleet Street when O'Flynn, of the Irish United Press, which had premises across the passage, ran into my room. “Get your hat on if you want to see some fun,” he said. “They say the boys are marching on Downing Street.”
We chartered a taxi and reached Trafalgar Square, where we were stopped by a police cordon and got out. It appeared at first that O'Flynn was wrong. From inquiries in the crowd and from a large and friendly police constable I learnt that the square was the objective of the march, that Sir John Naker, apparently with the object of convincing the world and Germany that the Constitution had room for all sorts of politics, had authorized a mass meeting of the League in the Square, and that a procession was even then approaching down Haymarket.
The procession appeared in due course at the north-west corner of the square. It was led like so many Londonprocessionsby a small detachment of mounted police, behind which marched a large and efficient brass band. As they came into the open the mounted police drew off to let the marchers defile into the area round Nelson's Column, but instead the brass band and the leading Leaguers advanced steadily down towards Cockspur Street and Whitehall. The policeappearedmomentarily nonplussed, and then, as the danger ofÂ the situation dawned on them, crossed the centre of the square at the trot and formed a weak cordon acrossWhitehalljust below King Charles's statue.
Still the band came on, lustily playing “Hearts of Oak”, and then the officer in charge of the mounted police made a grave mistake. Instead of falling back behind the strong reserve of foot police, which was now emerging from the region of the Admiralty Arch, he gave a sharp order, and drawing his long truncheon cantered forward with his men. They fell on the unfortunate bandsmen, who, hampered with their instruments, could put up no resistance and fell beneath the truncheon strokes as if pole-axed. Then the mass of the marchers behind lost their temper. They surged forward, grabbing at the truncheons and the feet of the mounted men, who became isolated and surrounded by the dense crowd. Two men disappeared from their horses, and at those points a hoarse and furious clamour arose above the general confusion, as the mob stamped and struck at something on the ground. The riderless horses reared and broke a way out through the crowd. One of them galloped round the square, skating and slipping on the smooth surface, anddisappearedup St. Martin's Lane, where the crowd was relatively thin and fell back quickly as the frightened animal came towards it. The rest of the mounted police gradually fought their way out through the furious crowd down intoWhitehall, where they were received into the ranks of a large body of police on foot which had now assembled to bar the way.
The crowd had tasted blood and was not to be held back. The numbers of the marchers were swollen by onlookers who found themselves infected by the mob-spirit. I saw a man near me forcing his way through the spectators, his face suffused with fury. He was cursing incoherently at the “blue bastards”; “Let me through: I'll get 'em!” he kept shouting. The bottleneck at the top of Whitehall became a confused mass of fighting men, but the police were in sufficient numbers this time, and had the advantage of organization. Their truncheons rose and fell mercilessly: one could hear from the steps of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields the sickening sound of the impact. But there was neither time nor room for quarter. At last the crowd began to give way, and those who had been bold to shout in the rear suddenly broke into hurried retreat as they saw the fighting zone approaching them. Similarly, as the leaders, engaged in fierce hand-to-hand fighting, noticed the pressure yield behind them, they felt that they were being abandoned and fell back in their turn to find supporters. The immediate battle was over, and I, whohad been so far infected with the deadly spirit of the affair as to watch fascinated with my heart beating violently, now felt the chill of panic in the atmosphere and turned with those who stood beside me in hasty retreat. I had enough sense to leave the main streets for the by-ways running up to Covent Garden, and so escaped the headlong rout which swept up the Strand, with the mounted police, furious at the fate of their comrades, doing savage execution on therearmost.
What I had seen was bad enough, but there was worse happening elsewhere in London. There was carefulgeneralshipbehind the apparently disorderly outbreaks of the League, and the fight in Whitehall with its threat to the seat of Government was only a feint to distract the attention of the authorities. Simultaneously there were two savage outbursts against Jewry, one in Whitechapel and the other in Golders Green. In the East End armed gangs of roughs attacked the Jewish traders. Shop after shop was broken up and looted while their wretched owners were beaten, stripped naked and maltreated in various hideous ways. In Golders Green there was an organized assault on a social centre which had been started by Jewish philanthropists for the benefit of refugees during the war. After the place had been set on fire the affair developed into a manhunt, with scared old men and women as the quarry. My wife, who was out shopping in Hampstead, saw with bewilderment and horror apasty-facedmiddle-aged Jew running full tilt down the main street with a hue and cry of Greyshirts tearing after him.
That same day Berlin, the hidden hand behind all this disorder, sent its first direct orders to Naker, and he obeyed. At midnight I was sitting by my wireless trying to collect European reactions to the doings of the day, when I suddenly heard Hamburg announcing an “important bulletin”. It was addressed to “the people of Greater Germany” and it was as follows:
“The British Government is meeting with certain difficulties in controlling Jewish-organized anarchy which has occurred in every part of the country, and it has appealed for help to the FÃ¼hrer and Chancellor, in accordance with the obligations assumed under Article VI of the Treaty of St. James's. Adolf Hitler, whose mission, now as ever, is the maintenance of peace and good order, has decided therefore to dispatch a limited number of picked units of the Special Police toEnglandto help in the work of restoring order to that country.”
I sat motionless as the unctuous voice of the German announcer repeated his tidings, and during those seconds thereflooded in upon me a full realization of the fate that had come upon us. The Treaty had been a shock and a portent, but the imagination had shrunk from envisaging itsconsequences. The rioting and the Government crisis had strained our nerves and demanded our attention, but it had been a day-to-day anxiety and had left little time to look ahead. Now I saw that these things were but as the chill wind that blows before the tempest, which at last had burst upon us. I will not say that at that time I foresaw all the horror and humiliation which was to come, but for one moment of vision I felt like a man standing on a hilltop and watching the shadow of a cloud sweeping across the land towards him. The last light of liberty was blotted out, and before me I could see nothing but darkness and terror. So I sat, and then the firelight and the familiar room came back to me, and I went to tell my wife the news.
It is said that the first Germans arrived at dawn, by air. How many there were of them has never been disclosed. They were not unduly conspicuous; one never saw them cantering on horseback along the principal streets, orstanding, hand on holster, in the neighbourhood of the greatrailwaystations. Yet anyone who had business with the C.I.D. or was concerned with the organizing of public assemblies would be sure to observe them standing in the background, taking notes; and public figures, in politics or industry, were apt to be politely questioned by them. But the surprising thing was that, beginning almost with the day of their arrival, the rioting lost its force, became sporadic, and at last gave way to an unnatural calm. It would not be right to say that the Greyshirt movement collapsed, but it became respectable. It marched now, but did not fight. When it beat up Jews and Socialists it did so with nice selectiveness, and calculated method. The Lord Mayor of London reviewed it. It formed a guard of honour for Professor DÃ¶ppelganger, the great German authority onHenry VI, Part I, when he visited Stratford on the Birthday. It became almost as respectable as the British Legion.
Where, then, was Patrick Rosse? Was his passionate struggle over? A few parades, a little organized andcold-bloodedcrueltyâwere these the marks of a Britain reborn? It is sad to admit it, but Rosse's doubts on these points were, for the time being, swiftly set at rest. Herr Meyer, joined now by a number of equally insistentParteigenossen, firmly but gently took Rosse in hand. They waved cheque-books, and at the same time made suggestions. They took him to the Savoy, where many long dreams for the future mightquiver in a golden haze of champagneâand many concessions might be granted for the immediate present. Rosse regained his self-respect in these surroundings, among the uniforms and pretty women; it was possible there to believe ofGermanyeverything that Herr Meyer said; and political ideals, if they lost in precision, glowed splendidly in the distance. But the day of reckoning was coming, in his own heart, and Patrick Rosse knew it.
There were many other Meyers at work. On the day the German police arrived the B.B.C. lost its familiar voice, and gained a new one. The first news bulletin of the dayconsistedof a fulsome and rhetorical document extolling the new measure as an act of German friendship. There was no direct criticism of the British policeâonly a suggestion that they were at the moment overworked, and that the Germans were to act as temporary reinforcementsâbut citizens were urged to extend the hand of friendship towards the newcomers and to obey them implicitly. Thus, it was added, they would display the true spirit of order and discipline which was inherent in the British people but had been obscured by the “recent and unfortunate occurrences”. The wholedocument, which was read in a non-committal monotone by an obviously unregenerate announcer, resembled a “pi-jaw”deliveredto an unruly set of children by a schoolmaster who knew his own weakness. I do not know who had compiled it, but it was the voice of all that was left of the British Government.
The newspapers also had come under an iron hand.Commenton the measure was conspicuously absent. My message of the previous evening to New Zealand had just escaped the news censorship, but when I arrived at the office of the cable company that afternoon I found it was in full force. There was no ineffectual Foreign Office clerk to deal with this time. I was ushered straight into the presence of a genial and competent-looking Dr. Schultz, late, I was told, of the German passport control. He spoke a fluent if Teutonic English and firmly took charge of my copy, regretting the necessity with the appropriate and entirelyersatzcharm. Would I be so kind as to wait while he read it?
I sat in some apprehension, for I had not minced matters, foolishly hoping that I would be able to get one lastuncontrolledmessage through to my paper. Presently he looked up: “It seems you do not like the Germans, Mr. Fenton?” he remarked with a bland smile. I told him that I had no personal animosity, and that my message was intended entirely as an objective commentary on the situation. “Quite so,” he replied,“but I am afraid that our friends in New Zealand might accidentally get a wrong impression from your words. If you please, you will keep your message to the facts, as the British Government has announced them. Perhaps you will revise it now? Here is a pencil.”
He handed me back my copy, and I spent some minutes in a dead silence cutting it. He examined what I had left closely. “Splendid,” he said, “and such a message is the better journalism, no?” I murmured something non-committal and turned to go. “One moment, if you please, Mr. Fenton,” he said. “In future we will have the names and addresses of correspondents. It is more convenient so. Where do you live, please?” With misgivings I told him. “Thank you very much,” were his parting words. “You will tell us if you change your home. I hope your English Mr. Billings, who is my opposite in Berlin, is received in a spirit so helpful. Good-bye, Mr. Fenton, and if you please more conservative messages in the future. Also be advised that journalists at present will send no private messages to their editors.”
Fleet Street was simmering with suppressed fury.Representativesof the German authorities were ensconced in all newspaper offices with full credentials and virtual control of the news. Editors were warned that attempts to evade the censorship would result in confiscation of an issue or even the suspension of a newspaper. Journalists are always the best rumour-mongers, and the mere fact of the censorship had charged the air with electricity. The wildest stories were flying about, and, when the known facts were so fantastic, it was not difficult to believe the wildest. One report, which no one seemed to doubt, left me with an unpleasant sensation at the pit of my stomach. It was to the effect that a large mental hospital in North London had been inspected by the Germans for possible future use as a place of “protective custody”.
Retribution had indeed been cruelly swift. The “new Europe” was Germany's, not ours. Within a month of the fatal treaty the great British Empire lay inert and inoperative, from the City of London, whence all financial confidence had flown, to the most distant of the outposts. In the Colonies authority was shaken, and isolated British officials feared for their lives. India, outside the neighbourhood of garrison towns, was given over to communal violence, and the tribes swooped down unresisted from the North-West Frontier. The Union of South Africa, through acoup d'Ã©tat, became a republic, and formed its own independent alliance withGermany. My own New Zealand, with Canada and Australia, remained formally linked, as monarchies owning a commonKing, but they began to look to America as their protector.
And in the heart of the Empire the canker was at workâhigh German officers at the War Office and the Admiralty, Nazi “experts” in all the industries, and certain of Himmler's policemen (not at first, perhaps, very many) who installed themselves in all the key points, and pored long over the records in Scotland Yard.
Chapter FourSTRANGE NUPTIALS
ITwas early in May that the German Embassy took over Bush House. “Bosche House” the Londoners called it; and stopped to stare every time they passed. No such portentous diplomatic establishment had been known before.
I don’t remember how many rooms there were in that great skyscraper, but every one of them was occupied by Nazis enjoying full diplomatic immunity. Armed S.S. men in the vestibule paced up and down in front of a hugeindicatorwhich gave directions for reaching the Ambassador’s Suite, the offices of the Military Mission, the Publicity Bureau, the Passport Control, the Sports Alliance headquarters, the Cultural Institute, and a number of other sections marked only by mysterious letters and figures. There was a constant stream of people going in and out; and Aldwych assumed as weighty and official an atmosphere as Whitehall. “Any more for the Seat of Government?” facetious bus conductors would sometimes ask at the stop at the bottom of Kingsway.
In the first week a giant housewarming party was given. It was no mere affair of the Diplomatic Circle; everyone of note in London life was invited. What is more, a largeproportionwent, explaining to their friends that they did so out of curiosity.
There was a nightmarish touch about the event. One’s taxi moved slowly along the Strand, which was decorated for the occasion with Venetian masts bearing Swastikas and Union Jacks. The enormous Embassy was floodlit, and one surged into it beneath a gilt statue of Hitler, the Colossus of the modern world. Inside one was hustled from room to room,where a system of loudspeakers relayed Wagner and guttural greetings from across the North Sea. And all the while one kept meeting one’s old English friends, and the familiar faces of the leaders of English life—faces known at Ascot, the Stock Exchange, and Church House, Westminster. People glanced at one another as contemporaries might be expected to do in the novel surroundings of the Day of Doom.
I found myself trapped in a corner with a broad-shouldered, keen-eyed Nazi Press official, a man named von Holtz, whom I knew and rather liked.
“Are you enjoying yourself, Mr. Fenton?” he asked. “It is splendid, is it not?”
I said I could understand that he thought it splendid, but added that I found it rather close.
“Come with me,” he said. “I badly want to talk to you. I can take you on to the roof.”
We escaped into a comparatively deserted corridor, and were soon climbing in the lift. Outside on the roof there was a pleasant breeze, just strong enough to give a slight motion to the folds of the huge Swastika flag. We leaned on the parapet, watching the lights of London and looking down the processional Strand to where Nelson stood on his column.
Von Holtz was the best kind of Nazi. It was anunpromisingbest, but he was not without ideals, reticences, and a dim respect for the world beyond Hitler’s. He was old enough, and fortunate enough, to have inherited sometraditionsfrom the vanished Germany.
To-night he was happy, and could not stop talking of the grand “marriage feast” below. To him it was the symbol of a wonderful new alliance, by which the technique and spirit of British imperialism were to be forged by GermanKulturinto a weapon which was to rule the world, down to the last native in his hovel. It was a grotesque idea, but it was one which those Englishmen who were prepared to compromise with evil were beginning to formulate for themselves, if in rather different terms.
So von Holtz wanted to know particularly about some of the people who were at the reception. “Of course, we have them all fully card-indexed,” he said, “but I would like to confirm some preliminary impressions.” He whipped out a neatly multigraphed list of acceptances, carefully classified under such heads as “Society”, “Universities”, “Art and Literature”. “Tell me,” he said, “is this a good cross-section of the high officials of the Civil Service? And here, under Church, is it important that there is no representative of the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion?” It appeared that everyhundredth man in Burke’s Landed Gentry not otherwise accounted for had been sent an invitation, and that but a small proportion of these people had come. (“Probably, they’re too poor,” I suggested, but he was not happy about the squires.) The pro-Nuremberg trade unions were fullyrepresented, the economists had come in full force, and the City of London, von Holtz said, was “sound”. But why were there so few novelists and painters, and why, please, had both H. G. Wells and Bernard Shaw, of whom so much had beenexpected, failed to turn up?
The list I found amusing, but it was a bore to take it too seriously. “Some people don’t like parties,” I said, and, though he thought this was frivolous, he reluctantly put his list away.
“At any rate,” he said, smiling but very earnest, “you will agree that, apart from the Führer’s coming visit, this is the most important event of the London Season? This, and the Nordic Games at Wembley.”
I laughed. “I had not thought of it that way,” I said, “I had not thought of a London Season. Why, there is no Court now, and many of the old rich and decorative people have gone abroad or are staying in the country. I don’t think we can talk about a Season this year.”
“Not, of course, in the old narrow sense,” he replied, “but why should not London become a brilliant centre of art and intellect, directed to the service of the people and the State? There will be the German season at Covent Garden, and all the other forms of cultural exchange. A new vitality, a new sense of purpose will be given to your intellectual activities, and in this regeneration the present leaders of your cultural and even your social life have an undoubted part to play.” Sublime in his racial conceit, he gazed over the twinkling West End. There was a note of wistfulness in his voice, and I rather wondered if he was looking for Mayfair and aninvitationfrom a duchess. “London,” he cried, “why should she not become the Vienna of the West?”
“And is Vienna so very brilliant?” I put in.
“The Führer has decreed that Vienna shall become eventually the cultural capital of the German Reich,” he replied coldly. “And London——”
“Oh, and what has the Führer decreed for London?”
“The Führer believes that it is in London that yet new standards of pan-Nordic culture will be hammered out. It is a great task. Your fine traditionalism; our strength. Your forms; our spirit. What together cannot we do forcivilization?”
He began to ask me whether I thought duelling was likely to become fashionable at Oxford and Cambridge. I felt I had heard enough.
“Look here,” I said, “we know that in a military sense you Germans are now in a pretty strong position in Europe and the world, but there are limits to your power. At the moment it goes little farther than the point of your bayonets. It may be that one day you will be able to assert such a moralleadershipthat we shall all delight in following it, in our different ways. But meanwhile don’t count too much either on the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion or on the Society people who happen to have come to your party.”
Von Holtz’s friendliness, his naïveté, did not leave him, but a new grimness tightened the corners of his mouth. He made no reply, and I felt what an incredible fool he was, wedded to his crude idea of harnessing the whole life of England to Nazidom by the methods of the card-index. To tell the truth I was nettled, and I added with bombasticrecklessness: “Those who think like you have a good deal of brute force at their disposal, but they cannot with brute force kill the soul of England.”
Before I had finished speaking, I knew what he would reply. “The soul of England?” he said, “I don’t insult you, I try to understand you. But was not the soul of England conquered, and made Nordic again, in the Great Blockade?”
At any rate von Holtz was right about the Season. At first it had an artificially stimulated life. Official entertaining (led by the German Ambassador himself, who leased the Superb for the purpose) was never on so lavish a scale. If the usual London hostesses were shy, their places were taken by a charming cohort of German ladies out of the Almanach de Gotha, whose parties, their guests declared, were ofunexampledbrilliance. The postponed opening of the Royal Academy was a disappointment, but it had been a bad year for artists, some of whose works, the circumspect ventured to say, were sadly “decadent”. All who were expected to do so attended the Nordic League sports meetings, and there was a certain public excitement about the plan for the culminating Anglo-German Tattoo at Aldershot.
Von Holtz flitted about at such of these functions as his duties led him to attend with a joyful earnestness. He always had his multigraphed lists, and the card-index must have swollen considerably. I even met him at the Derby, which as a popular festival seemed as happy as ever, although there was but a thin show of fashion in the Paddock. But I don’t think he was ever at a cricket match, and I often wonderedif he had got down on any list the names of those members of the M.C.C. who still came up from the country to watch matches at Lord’s, but went straight home again afterwards.
In general, what with the military missions and professorial exchanges, Germans were everywhere—in messrooms, senior common rooms and clubs. They did not, I am told, behave with conspicuous tact, but their very presence solved certain difficulties. In front of a German one was excused from saying what one thought about Hitler, the Grey shirts, and the policy of the Government.
About this time all sorts of familiar things quietly changed or disappeared. Anti-Hitler literature had long vanished from the bookshops, but now it was only with difficulty that one could buy the ordinary political writings of the pre-Nuremberg era. Churchmen ceased lecturing the politicians, and reverted to discussions on the nature of God. Most of the wealthy Jews had left just in time for America, taking their capital with them, and the British film industry collapsed inconsequence. Many voluntary associations devoted to familiar causes held no meetings at all. Street oratory was forbidden, even at Hyde Park Corner. “Deutschland über Alles” followed “God Save the King” on public occasions. One or two great public schools failed to reopen after the Easter holidays, there were almost no worthy candidates for the I.C.S., and a Gilbert and Sullivan season at the Savoy was a failure.
Thus slowly the scene began to change, but against it the lives of ordinary people were, on the surface, very little altered. Troubles of work and wages, high prices andin-securityof employment, had been common since the war; they were not lessened, but neither were they yet much increased, by alliance with the enemy. The future was uncertain, indeed, bound up with all kinds of decisions that might be taken, not in London or Manchester, but in Berlin andLeipzig; but it was not the habit of Englishmen to peer far into the future. There were still moments of leisure and fun, and these could be enjoyed to the full. There was the romance of the lengthening spring evenings, a time for lovers, when the dullest suburb quivered with enchantment; there were the Sunday papers, sensational about non-essentials, to be read deliciously in bed; there were the pub, and the Oval, anddog-racingand fish-and-chips. All these could be enjoyed even if several of one’s friends were joining the Greyshirts, and twice as many officials were busy at the town hall, and Sergeant O’Malley next door, of the local police, wasscratchinghis head about the kind of report he must send in to the German inspector who had come to “co-operate”. True, thepicture-house was less attractive since there had been so many dull films that had to be fitted with “English sub-titles”, and the music hall seemed to have lost all spontaneity, and the wireless, between the extremes of Beethoven and brass bands, was simply not worth listening to. But on the whole, if one was lucky and in work, life jogged on as before, and, Hitler or no Hitler, one could expect births, marriages and deaths, breakfast, dinner and tea.
So it seemed; but a little below the surface there were unmistakable signs that the common people were not spared the humiliation and the fears that haunted their leaders. The bar parlour of the “Sawyer’s Arms”, round the corner from where I lived, had once been a great place for discussing foreign politics. Everyone had had his views on what Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, or Churchill were likely, or ought, to do next; and on most nights a friendly argument would develop, illustrated by head-shakings, scraps of private information, and expletives. Mr. Alf Stevens, a facile but dignified lawyer’s clerk, would sum it all up towards closing time, and, by sheer force of personality, have his reading accepted as final. But after the Treaty he drank his beer in silence, there being no debate calling for his analysis. Soon not even the home news was discussed—it was merely explained, illustrated, andaccepted. During Registration Week, for instance, there was a lot of talk about how various people fared at the town hall, but when a young stranger ventured to draw dark pictures of the uses to which the registration particulars might be put in the future no-one else did more than grunt, or throw darts with greater intensity. It was not to be long before a cell of the Greyshirts adopted the “Sawyer’s Arms” as theirheadquarters, and Mr. Stevens and his boon companions were dispossessed of their red-plush cosiness. Perhaps they went to the “White Lion” farther down the street, but it was not their kind of place, and it is more likely that they drank bottled beer beside cheerless hearths at home. In either case, they must have preserved their latter-day silence, which was eloquent not so much of fear or foreboding as of a conviction that freedom of speech had suddenly become an empty privilege in England.
This queer silence, or, what was worse, a babble about indifferent things, descended in time on every honoured and popular institution. People went on doing the same things, but, it almost seemed, from new and depressing motives. My secretary, Smithers, was a pillar of North StreetCongregationalChurch, Tanner’s End, and once, before the war, he had persuaded me to give a talk on New Zealand to thedebating society that was run in the schoolroom hard by. I spent a stimulating evening in the company of people who took life seriously, thought deeply within narrow limits, and had a strongly ethical approach to public affairs. Of the quality of their piety I was no judge, but it seemed to me that democracy at least was in no danger of senile decay while enough such earnest people were at hand to take humble parts in working it. The minister, over a farewell cup of cocoa, confessed that, with the introduction of conscription, pacifism was likely to become a big issue among hiscongregation.It was an admitted dilemma, when war and Fascism were regarded as equally abhorrent manifestations of evil; but to him the remedy in the human sphere was to go on working for conditions in which neither war nor Fascism could flourish.
It turned out, when war came, that there were only three determined conscientious objectors in the whole congregation. Smithers, who went off cheerfully with his class late in 1940, spoke of them without bitterness; but even at that stage I fancied he was a little less certain about his religious bearings. Back after Nuremberg, he resumed family life at Tanner’s End, and it never occurred to me to ask him how his church was getting along. But one day some event of New Zealand interest took me to the neighbourhood, and I recognized the ugly group of buildings I had visited so long before. The notice board showed that my acquaintance, the Rev. M. Brownlow, was still pastor, and that Divine Service was still held at eleven and six-thirty on Sundays. But a great banner was flapping against the grimy Gothic windows, bearing an announcement quite out of keeping with my recollection of the practical Christianity of Mr. Brownlow and his flock. It said that the subject of the sermon next Sunday evening was “Will the Second Coming be next year?”
I asked Smithers about this, at the first opportunity. “Yes,” he said, “things are different now at North Street. Ourcongregationsare no smaller, and we sing the same hymns and hear much the same prayers. But you could hardly call us Radicals to-day. Some of us are still great admirers of Dr. Evans, but Mr. Brownlow says that in the past we have tended to identify the Gospel too much with some particular programme of social reform. He says that it is time to lay more emphasis on personal holiness. Some of us don’t care much for the Apocalyptic teaching he goes in for nowadays, but others do. I believe the Church means more to us to-day than it ever did.”
“And the debating society?” I asked. “Oh,” he said, “weuse the schoolroom on Wednesday nights for aprayer-meeting.”
So much for the democratic spirit, as nurtured by faith. Just as the fiery Socialists had become Greyshirts, or were simply disillusioned, so the more bourgeois Radicals were taking refuge in a purely personal religion. Henceforth, from bus tops I looked with special interest at the blank façades of Nonconformist chapels. I took them to be the monasteries in which frustrated democrats found, I hoped, a trueconsolation.
But what of the worldlings in positions of greater influence, who bore a much heavier responsibility for the tragedy of the age? Some of them, as I have said, gyrated, gaily or desperately, in the inner circle of Herr von Holtz’s London Season. They were the simple turncoats, into the workings of whose minds it would be unprofitable to enter. But there were several thousand others who had supported the elaborate superstructure of English life, who had been tricked or not, as it might be, into approval of the Peace of Nuremberg, and who remained loyal at heart to the old standards and the old ideals. These were the Army men, the original Civil Servants, the dons, the leaders of local industry up and down the provinces, the country gentlemen—in short, that great body of Englishmen who, more truly than most of their fellows, had what I might call a moral stake in the old order. These were the greatest sufferers in mind and spirit. It was not only that many of them had the intelligence to see that their own future, and that of their children, was barren and perhaps painful; it was that they knew they had been doorkeepers in the Temple while the Ark, by stratagem, had been defiled.
Their human consolations were a mockery.
Where the land is dim from Tyranny
There tiny pleasures occupy the place
Of glories and of duties.
They had the opportunity to approach that brittle, unreal world that represented “modern thought” in London. They could listen every day to the hypocrisy of the Nurembergers in high places, to the twittering exponents of “neo-Fascism” and “neo-Teutonism”. It was only to them to follow the neurotics of Mayfair and “go Viennese”, as a self-deceptive preliminary to “going Prussian”. But mostly they preferred to do what remained of their business quietly, and then to go home or to the club to talk absently of unimportant things, or play bridge. Every turn of the day brought them againstsome fact, some symbol, some situation that put them in mind too poignantly either of the world that was passing away or of the world that was being born.
Humour saved many immediate situations, but Mr. Punch was already a peace casualty. Reminiscence satisfied the very old, and dissipation attracted the young. In some circles there was a short phase offin de sièclenastiness which washeaven-sentmaterial for Dr. Goebbels. Much worse, there was a loosening of the moral fibre in almost all places where the example should have been set. There were, of course,countlesssplendid people who maintained their own integrity, but even they learnt to be suspicious of others. Peculation reared its head where it was undreamt of before—in localgovernment, in Whitehall itself. Crimes of violence increased. “We have cut ourselves off from nearly all our traditions,” apenetratingfriend of mine remarked, “and so we have to start again from the moral level of the Balkans.” In fact we had become familiar with the spiritual atrophy of Nazism before we had submitted to its discipline.
Such was the England awaiting Herr Hitler. He might well have come as arranged in the last week of May. He might well have been satisfied to look down on distracted London from the roof of Bush House, while the plane-trees were in young leaf, and murmur: “I had no idea it was so beautiful.” But bigger changes were on the way, and he was patiently awaiting them. One by one, as spring melted into a golden summer, his policemen stepped confidently ashore at Harwich and Gravesend.
Chapter FiveA LIGHT THAT FAILED
HITLERpaused, and by his own standards he was right. The fruit even now was trembling on its rotting stalk; let God, or some other agency, blow, and it would inevitably fall into his lap. Time, he must have thought, was his almost fanatical ally.
Yet can it be that Hitler’s was not the ultimate wisdom? Is it “wishful thinking” that makes one hark back already to those lines of Tennyson’s that people used to quotecomplacently about the Finns, about the “banked-up fire” which even a hopeless fight for freedom will leave glowing for future deliverance? For in those brief despairing months there was at least one spark of determined heroism inEngland, which even grew into a tiny flame. Hitler came and quenched it—how easily! … but not, perhaps, for ever.
It is with diffidence, almost with shame, that I write of my acquaintance with Stephen Mallory in those days. He never openly summoned me; but I know in my heart that he represented a challenge which I had not the courage to accept. I had a thousand excuses, of course, as we all did, including the bravest of us. I was a New Zealander; I was a mere journalist, not supposed to mix in politics; I had my wife and child to consider; I had few gifts to place at his disposal; and in any case, since it was impossible to resist the trend of history, one must try to adapt oneself to it. I knew that these were only excuses, and he knew that I knew it. But he said nothing; because he was finding just the same moral cowardice among men who had gaily gone off to France three years before, quite ready to lay down their lives for freedom.
Mallory has not yet emerged as a figure in history. He had no chance to lead an active revolt behind the barricades. To the Nazis he was an obscure agitator, soon put out of the way. To newspaper readers only his death wasremarkable, and even that, alas, would not have seemed so a couple of months later. But to those Englishmen who, silently, came under his ever-widening influence he stands as an inspiration as well as a reproach, and one of the last things I recall before I was expelled the country is his name chalked boldly, under cover of night, on the railway arches of Limehouse.
Stephen Mallory. Wild hope suggests that the name may one day be a war-cry, and a triumphant one. It is whispered to-day in gaols and concentration camps, and wherever two or three are gathered together in the name of freedom. It is sometimes shouted by those about to die.
No doubt a legend has already grown up round it. Deeds, I expect, are attributed to Mallory which he never did, or could have done. Yet the legend does but express hissignificanceto British patriots, which is profound. A country has no claim to resurrection if, with its political forms, its spirit too has entirely perished; but the memory of Mallory, and of the little band of heroes he inspired, may be enough to ensure the spiritual survival of England.
It was a spiritual battle he fought. The joy of grasping material weapons and making a last heroic stand against theoppressor was not his. He had not the rude task of aHerewardthe Wake; indeed, I doubt if he was fitted for it. The foes he fought were moral evils, in and around him, and, as we have seen, they advanced with a rapidity andinsidiousnesswhich paralysed most of his countrymen. But he did not give in, and it was the smallest of his fears that his struggle would be ended, like that of fighters on a humbler plane, by a German bullet.
Mallory, it must be confessed, was no democrat. Rather, he wasfascigeant, believing that Britain, suddenly finding herself plunged into such a state of shame and self-pity as marked the Weimar Republic, needed the counterpart of the National Socialist movement to restore her self-respect. But it was a Christian Fascism that he envisaged, a movement that would redeem the pagan brutality of Hitler’s régime, and set forth as its first principle a respect for the rights of others. He saw the very shame of Britain as a likelyfoundationfor this purified nationalism. There was to be no talk of stabs in the back, of international Jewish machinations, or of a gallant war lost on the home front. To the moral surrender the whole country had been party, the people as well as the leaders. No-one was to blame but ourselves; and the rearmament we needed was “moral rearmament”, though that phrase had been emasculated by a pseudo-religious revival much advertised before the war began. To this end Mallory would have adapted some of the methods of the Nazis and the Greyshirts, as General Booth captured from the devil the good tunes. He had thoughts of red shirts, like Garibaldi’s, and he believed in his heart in the Party-State. But no-one troubled to assess him as a candidate for the job of Dictator of Britain, and no-one paid the least attention to his theories, which were based on some half-forgotten reading in political science at Cambridge. It was simply his burning patriotism which made those who came in contact with him uncomfortable, ashamed, or, in a few cases, resolved to fight and die for freedom. Nor did his theories matter. The immediate and belated task was to “stop the rot”, and persuade people that all was not yet lost.
Mallory was less than forty years of age. He stooped slightly, had lank, black hair, and sharp features that were not too prepossessing. It was, however, impossible to deny the lively brilliance of his eyes. He had had a distinguished academic career, had been called to the Bar, and hadpublishedan authoritative work on the economics of the steel industry. Rich and well-connected, he had soon found his way into the House of Commons, where he had sat under thequaint banner of National Labour. But he never made his mark in Parliament, for he was an indifferent orator. He had been connected with a number of societies whose aimincludeda more determined effort at economic planning. He had been useful, during the war, at the Ministry of Supply, though, if the doctors had let him, he would have enlisted.
He opposed the Peace of Nuremberg, and crossed, with a crowd of others, the floor of the House. But in the months that followed he busied himself with plans of Anglo-German economic co-operation; and the hopelessness of it all must have been borne upon him only by degrees. At any rate, it was some time before he settled down as a confirmed critic of the Government’s foreign policy, acquiring the art of the Supplementary Question, and spoiling a good deal of Sir John Naker’s fun. Not until the Treaty of St. James’s was signed did he look around him and realize, with sickening force, that among the debaters and the arguers, the elder statesmen and those who cried “Ichabod”, he alone, apparently, had received the call to win the British people back to theresponsibilitiesof nationhood. And this, he knew, was not a matter of asking questions in Parliament.
I first made his acquaintance early in June, when Australia and New Zealand began a tentative approach towards the United States. He sought me out and invited me to lunch at the Reform Club. He wanted to know more about feeling in the Antipodes than the controlled Press could tell him, and he asked me what would be the effect on opinion there if the United Kingdom were ever to renounce her alliance with Germany and face up to the consequences, whatever they might be. The most outspoken anti-German had never before, in my hearing, done more than suggest resistance to further Nazi encroachments, and I sat back in surprise. “The effect”, I could only say, “might be magical, but so would the cause.” “No,” he said. “I am quite serious. It would surely not be miraculous if England were to exert her utmost efforts to throw off a foreign tyranny. Even now there is time.”
One night a little later he outlined his plan in greater detail to a party of us gathered in his chambers in the Temple. A strong Government was to proclaim martial law, disband the Grey shirts, and put an end once and for all to the deliberate German-fomented attacks on Jews and Socialists. If necessary, this was to be done with machine-guns. Properly executed, the manœuvre might throw the Germans off their balance. They might hesitate and threaten, and in the meantime the second part of the plan could be brought into operation.
The Navy was intact and so was the small Regular Army of 200,000 men. They should be adequate for the immediate defence of the country from actual invasion, even though the German military missions now knew their organization from A to Z. The real danger was from the air, and here we must rely mainly on passive defence. The air-raid shelters were still in existence, for the preservation of human life, and until the system of wardens could be re-established the police could take over the responsibility of the A.R.P. It took time for air attacks to do any irreparable damage to a country’sorganization; and if we made up our mind to it we could proceed quite calmly to this second part of the plan.
“And what, then, is the second part of the plan?” I asked. “Simply”, he said, “to deport, imprison, or shoot everyGermanpoliceman in England.
“Then”, he went on, “the struggle begins and grows. Say what you like, the world would be in the melting-pot again. Canada would be back in the fray once more—what, in such circumstances, could hold her back? The spectacle of such a gallant last-minute fight would grip the world; I think we should hear no more of a revolution in India. And what of the United States? Goebbels has already been foolish enough to show the beginnings of an anti-American Press campaign, and to talk mysteriously of the combined might of the British and German navies. America must see that this is her last chance as well as ours. And so is it Italy’s, and Turkey’s, and Scandinavia’s. Since the overthrow of Stalin there is no chance of a new German-Russian alliance. Once overcome the initial difficulties, and the rest would be easy.”
Mallory always grew excited as he pictured the pieces of a jigsaw world thus neatly falling into place again. But it was not the mechanics of anti-Nazism that excited him, it was the passion and faith that must first lie behind it. He did not want another war about a map; he wanted to uncover again the underlying moral pattern of human society, which no tyranny could permanently disperse. Ways and means, he thought, lay always at the disposal of a resolute will; and there was an inner rottenness in Hitlerism which would cause its swollen bulk to begin to disintegrate as soon as it was met, at any point, with a determined resistance. The immediate problem was not military or political; as he put it: “If God grants us the courage to raise the sword He will teach us how to wield it.”
Mallory looked eagerly around the group—composed of some of the unconverted whose loyalty and discretion were unquestioned but whose determination and courage were not.By this time, as I knew, he had formed the nucleus of his movement—a score of men of various callings who were all now busily at work, as he was, preaching the gospel of national self-help. He called them merely Patriots; he formed no party and collected no funds. One of his theories was that of the Fascist Party-State inverted; at the ultimate crisis, he believed, a nation could save itself only by the spontaneous functioning of its natural parts. Given an army and a police force, a civil administration and a labour movement still intact, whose leaders believed in the national cause and could communicate their faith to the rank and file, then, he said, the merest word from some central rallying point would be enough to start the struggle with every chance of success. There were historical instances of this, which Mallory was fond of citing—the Risorgimento, Primo de Rivera in Spain, or (a perverted example) the rise of Hitler himself—and in each of these the inner conviction of the patriots, and not their strategical situation, was the deciding factor. It was morally impossible, according to Mallory, for the largest imaginable foreign force to hold down an unwilling and determined Britain.
Against this theory someone instanced the apparentpowerlessnessof the Czechs, who, of all Hitler’s victims, had the reputation of professing the fiercest patriotism. There were the Poles, too, who had preserved their proud national spirit for centuries, without ever succeeding in building a durable State. There were the Finns, who fought the hardest in defence of their freedom, but gave way in the end; and there were the Austrians and the Danes, whose cultural achievements on the fringe of Germania had shown what a purified Teutonism could become, but who had been conquered in a day. The methods of the Gestapo seemed unchallengeable.
“Only because they have never been challenged,” replied Mallory. “The neighbours of Germany, however great their courage and national pride, have always acknowledged a kind of divine right of German arms. The huge German race was dominant in Central Europe long before it achieved political unity; and this dominance found mystical expression in the theoretical Holy Roman Empire. The surrounding races were part of the German scheme of things, and if that scheme came to involve the establishment, by violence and cruelty, of an immenseMitteleuropa, they felt in their hearts that they must ultimately submit to it. But with ourselves, it is different. We are outside the German system, and we have imperial traditions of our own. Just as Germany isindestructible, so are we. The presence of German policemen on Britishsoil is an aberration of history so monstrous that the smallest effort of will could put an end to it—that is the first thing. But we also have our responsibilities on the Continent, counterbalancing those of Germany. After the war is resumed and won we must see to it that the vassalage of Germany’s neighbours becomes an honourable and creditable one again, working for the good of civilization as a whole.”
Mallory was no League of Nations man, or abstract political thinker. He divided the weak from the strong, and knew hisLebensräume. He was not poles apart from the Fascists, and had once contributed an article to Mosley’sAction. In the early days of the Hitler régime, had he had the direction of British foreign policy, he would have gone far to strike a bargain with Germany over respective spheres of influence on the Continent and overseas. He would almost certainly have been accused of belonging to the “Cliveden Set”; and he would not have admitted, until it was proved up to the hilt, that it was both useless and immoral to negotiate with the Nazis. But the time arrived when his conscience spoke, with the single voice of patriotism and Christian justice. Like many others, he came to realize the error of Nuremberg, but, unlike them, he did not despair. He still believed in the politics of power, but he thought the power was as much in British as in German hands. It was latent, but it was there; and it lay in the spirit of the race, co-existent with the race itself, which any resolute political engineer could transform into successful action.
Much of this seemed to us pretentious nonsense, like Hitler’s or Rosenberg’s; but it is impossible to fight a war without some suspension of disbelief in fallacies about race. Mallory’s best claim on our credulity was that none but he made any attempt to rally us in the defence of the things which in past times we had held dear. At the least, it was surely better to fight for a lost cause than to own no cause at all.
Mallory, then, set himself to fan back into a flame the damped-down embers of British patriotism; and he would have hit more than the headlines had his little bellowsproducedanything but the tiniest flicker. But, alas, he failed, or seemed in his lifetime to have failed; and the world, which he wished to save, has still largely not heard of him. He was not a conspirator, but a prophet; and as a prophet he was first unheard, and then, almost casually, silenced. But he never himself abandoned hope, or recoiled for long before his successive disappointments. He died believing that he had started a movement that would sweep on to victory. In therealm of political thought, and in the long run, perhaps he had.
The former War Coalition had by this time become sadly disorganized. Mallory went to see all the old leaders, whose voices, not long since, had been heard on the wirelessexhortingthe nation to fight on to the end. They received him, I believe, without enthusiasm, and when he had gone forgot about him, unless they wondered whether he was anagent provocateur. Most of them had already retired from political life. They were lost without their Parliamentarysounding-board, their privileges and their nice rules of procedure; they could hardly be expected, at their age, to take leading parts in the Continental melodrama that now dominated English politics, with its private armies, and strange disappearances, and multitude of spies. “We have lived too long,” was the burden of their complaint, and, as they had played out the game honourably according to the rules, they were entitled to excuse themselves thus. From many a remote country house, its gardens falling somewhat into neglect, Mallory drove despondently back to the village station—not always unnoticed by a man in a high peaked cap lounging near the lodge gates.
But these lost leaders had sons: were they not picking up the dropped torch? Alas, in their bewilderment, theirjudgmentseemed to desert them. Some of them were frankly with Rosse, irrelevantly hunting the Jews; others responded to Mallory’s approaches with futile plans for minorcoups d’état. A small proportion, who might have passed as honourable men in simpler circumstances, were already making their contacts with the German party bosses—giving mixed house parties at home or lending aristocratic tone to the orgies in the Karinhalle. The great majority were helpless anddismayed, waiting to see what would happen next—ready, perhaps, to strike a simple blow for freedom as part of a disciplined revolt, but unable to plan or lead it.
One of Mallory’s group was a young and not unsuccessful stockbroker. This Mr. C. (his name is better not given, as the Nazis may still have failed to track him down) used to tell some incredible stories about conditions in the City. “We are business men, not politicians,” was the common slogan among those who in other circumstances might have found it useful to become Conservative M.P.s, and this asseveration covered a multitude of strange dealings which trailed the Red Ensign in the dust. The financial outlook was, of course, as black and uncertain as it could well be, and the whole of British foreign trade was in the balance. There was a bigfield for speculation, and some cause for panic. One fact alone was certain, and that was that the political power in the shade of which financial power must wax or wane lay on the other side of the North Sea. The central finances of the British Empire were already at the disposal of German development in south-east Europe. Dr. Schacht was made an honorary member of the Court of the Bank of England, and it was astonishing how many heel-clicking Nazis wereentertainedin the battle-scarred halls of the Liveries. C. was decided on this point—it was quite impossible to finance a national revolution in the City of London.
But it was not so much money that was wanted as influence. What then of the various organs of publicity that a short while ago had been loudly urging on the war effort? The Ministry of Information itself was of course part of the Government machine, which meant that it was entirely at the disposal of the Nazis. They had increased its technical efficiency, and imported into British public life all those devices of propaganda which, crude as they seem to those outside its range, are effective enough on the mark. Thewartimeheads had long ago resigned, with the better part of their staff, but the vacant places were soon filled with “advisers” from Germany, who knew what they were about. During the war German propaganda had set out to disturb and depress us. It had succeeded, and now a new technique was required. We were to be calmed, reassured, mildly convinced. How skilfully it was done! Every Briton has by this time a deep track in his subconscious mind scored by those endless posters showing the combined might of the British and German empires, busts of Shakespeare and Goethe entwined with laurel leaves, showing, above all, a British and a German workman generously shaking hands and saying, “Nicht wieder—never again.” There is something hypnotic about pictures of workers shaking hands.
The Alliance propaganda was not confined to posters,. It penetrated every activity of life, and rapidly built up that clever picture, too soon shown to be a dissolving view, of a sort of Viennese honeymoon for Nazidom and its British bride. A painfully forced smile as of that lost easy-going Austria came over the countenances of our cultural invaders; for a brief moment it was Lilac Time. We waltzed, drankduty-freehock, and bought splendid books with baroquetitle-pages. Strength-through-Joy offered the British worker such tours of the Black Forest as the Polytechnic could never accomplish. The rubber truncheon was for the moment hidden away.
On the crest of such a wave even Lord Haw-Haw could rise with all his old sublimity. He was now installed inBroadcastingHouse, whence he lulled the listening public into a belief in a serene and happy future that was being prepared for them behind the scene. At first people were inclined to laugh at him, and the Mallory group rejoiced that the Nazis had made such a psychological blunder as to send him over. But he began to say so many of the nice things which people wanted to believe that it was not long before one ventured to remark, in suburban sitting-rooms, that perhaps he was not such a bad fellow after all. Nevertheless, he wenteverywherewith an armed escort; and, somewhat later than the time of which I am writing, as he was hurrying across to a taxi in Portland Place, a young Guards officer was thought to have aimed a revolver at him. The officer was shot dead by the Nazi escort; it was the first and almost the only “unpleasantness” of the kind, and it was hushed up.
Here, then, was a formidable barrier to Mallory’spropagandacampaign. It was difficult to see any way through or round it. The Press was still nominally free, except that it was forbidden to criticize German institutions, but it had abdicated from the leadership of public opinion. Reuter was nationalized. The most influential newspapers had gone; one does not spend twopence a day to read of prophecies belied or fulfilled. The big provincial dailies gave up national politics, and turned to local and sectional interests. The popular dailies, deserted by nervous advertisers, were swamped by Dr.Goebbels’sPeople’s Observer, which, though supposed to be a kind of London edition of theVölkischer Beobachter, provided the unthinking Briton with such an attractive substitute forPicture Post, theMirror, and theExpressas no Berliner had ever seen. Some of my Fleet Street acquaintances took jobs on this monstrosity, explaining, of course, that “they were interested in it only from a technical point of view”, in its pictures, or racing news, or dramatic criticism. They were careful to steer clear of Mallory.
At one time I suspected Mallory of plotting a desperate revolt with his friends on the British General Staff, with whom he had some very secret contacts, or even of trying to shame the leaders of the Greyshirts into biting the vile hand that fed them. But he stuck to his view that the first preparations for such a move were moral and psychological, and for this he pinned his remaining hopes on the world of labour. He persuaded himself that if the solid basis of British society was firm it mattered not that the superstructure was breaking. Hepaid a visit to Transport House. When he returned he was very nearly in despair.
“My God, Fenton,” he said, “the British trade-unionmovementhas crumpled at the mere raised fist of Dr. Ley. D. told me there had been some changes in the Executive, but there is a completely new crowd there now. That’s the devil about this controlled Press. A man like Citrine can have the whole of his life’s work bullied or bribed out of existence, and then not know how to get the facts before the workers or the public.
“Well, they are a strange, hunted lot at Transport House now. A rather pansy young man who had obviously never done a day’s manual work in his life seemed to regard me as an envoy of doomed Jewish capitalism.’ The British worker is done with fighting your battles,’ he said. I asked him if he was old enough to remember what had happened to the trade unions in Germany. He said that when capitalism wasdestroyedin Germany the trade unions turned to fulfil a more constructive function, and that we must be ready for the same glorious revolution over here—not without theco-operationof the Communists. Isn’t it extraordinary how, with big guns and determination, Hitler has been able to turn all the old political theories upside down?”
Next day Mallory went back to his old constituency in Lancashire. I saw him off at Euston, feeling acutely that his failure was due in the long run to the cowardly inactivity of such as I. I muttered over again my feeble self-justifications; and when the whistle blew I felt like jumping into thecompartmentwith him, without quite knowing why. He pushed me back on to the platform with a melancholy smile.
Three weeks later I heard from him, at the “Old Red Lion”, Oldham. “How glad I am I have come back here,” he wrote. “This is where our resistance begins. You could sweep the whole decadent world of London away to-morrow, and these people would throw up a new set of politicians and financiers and professors without any fuss at all. I have been addressing some meetings of the local Cotton Spinners’ Association, and, if the men here are typical of the rank and file of the trade-union movement up and down the country, I can assure you that next September’s meeting of the T.U.C. will change the whole situation. The Greyshirts are strong here too, but I prefer the quiet strength of the loyal Labour men. No Hitler could begin to undermine their confidence and determination, or could resist them when the time comes to act.”
I had two or three letters from Mallory after that. He spokeof meetings and processions, and admitted to someunprofitablestreet encounters with the Greyshirts. There wassomethingof the demagogue about him after all; he must have thumped the tub good and hard. Some of his friends shared with him a tour of all the industrial regions; nowhere was their belief shaken in the nationalist fervour of the British working man or in the crucial importance of the next Trades Union Congress.
He was, on a short view, deceived. History records that this Congress never met. It records very little (as yet) about Mallory and his movement. In the remaining London papers there was only this, an agency message published on Monday, 23rd June:
“In a slight street disturbance in Oldham market-place on Saturday evening an unfortunate accident caused the death of Mr. Stephen Mallory, of Crown Court, Temple, E.C., a former National Labour M.P. for the borough. Mr. Mallory was wounded in the head by a revolver bullet which is thought to have been fired inadvertently by one of the Socialist demonstrators.
“Mr. Mallory, who was thirty-eight and unmarried, had been staying at Oldham for some time. He served in the Ministry of Supply during the last war, but for some time had retired from political life.
“The street disturbance was of a minor character, and Major Robinson, the newly-appointed Chief Constable of Oldham, states that order has now been permanently restored. ‘We have had some trouble lately with Socialist agitators,’ he told a Press Association representative yesterday, ‘but we are taking firm steps to preserve law and order. A detachment of Greyshirts rendered yeoman service in giving immediate assistance to the police, and I cannot be sufficiently grateful for the help given by those members of the German police who are here under the exchange system, commanded by the gallant Captain Trauber.’”
Many people read this item of news and blenched, or hung their heads with shame, but there were few comments on it. At the inquest they brought in a verdict of accidental death; but from evidence as reported in theOldham Chronicleit would not have taken Lord Peter Wimsey to deduce that of all the unhappy people huddled together in the market-place that Saturday evening the only man likely to be armed with a revolver was the gallant Captain Trauber himself. He soon became Major Trauber, and got himself appointed to a coveted post (for such as he) in Whitechapel.
After that, one heard no more of the Patriots—if, indeed,one had heard of them before. A bullet from a minor Nazi gangster brought that whole grandiose movement to an end. One or two younger men, hitherto known to have beensomewhatactive on the fringe of public life, disappeared,apparentlyto the complete mystification of the police. One day, when it is quite certain that they are either dead or safe from Nazi clutches, I will write what I know about them. Meanwhile, I must confess that I had certain fears for my own safety, though Heaven knows I am no hero, and had done nothing to deserve the crown of martyrdom.