Showing posts from April, 2016

Fears Of Anschluss Not False, Just Premature

Thursday 30th April 1936

The German press worked itself into a lather of fury over stories in the British press over the last few weeks reporting German supposed German troop movements on the frontier with Austria. After the remilitarization of the Rhineland, the next provision of the Versailles Treaty that was likely to be broken was the ban on unifying Germany and Austria. The feeble response to the Rhineland move suggested that there would be little serious opposition. It was yet another direction from the peace of Europe might be threatened.
The German newspapers blamed the reports on French attempts to antagonize other countries, in practice Italy, which might be hostile to so powerful a new neighbour on its border.  France certainly hoped that tension over the issue might keep Italy and Germany apart. Whilst denying the substance of the reports, the German press argued vehemently for the right of the Austrians to make their own decision. In fact the British papers…

Australia Told: Stick To Your Own Mice

Wednesday 29th April 1936

The Walt Disney empire was already showing signs of the ferocity with which it defends its intellectual property. Radio Corporation Pty, an Australian maker of raido sets had sold them under the name of  Mickey Mouse  and Disney was fighting back through the Federal Trade Commission.
Radio Corporation defended itself with the rather suspect claim that Disney had rights only to the image of Mickey Mouse and not the name alone. Disney argued that Mickey was so well known as to be "almost a living personality" as proof of which he even received fan mail. Disney went on to win and the case became a corner-stone in Australian copyright law.

The King Wants Money For A Hypothetical Queen

Tuesday 28th April 1936

The Parliamentary Select Committee published its report on the Civil List, the public funding of the Royal Household. They had been confronted by an unusual request from the King and one that might have set alarm bells ringing. He had specifically asked that the Civil List made provision for a Queen. This was curious on two counts. No-one expected the King to marry in the near future and the normal practice was to allocate a sum to the Royal couple without specifying which spouse had what share.
In practice £33,000 of the total grant to the last two Royal couples had been intended for the Queen and the report recommended that this provision should continue but should not be drawn until the King actually married.  With hindsight it is clear that the King wanted to reduce the Government's scope for making financial difficulties if he carried through his secret plan of marrying Mrs. Simpson.

Murky Affair Of The Emperor's New Plane

Monday 27th April 1936

Free booting French aviator RenéTrouillet landed at a military airfield near Rome after a mysteriously easy escape from Villacoublay in France where the plane he was flying had been impounded by the legal authorities. It was a modern and expensive Beechcraft Staggerwing that he had bought for Haile Selassie, Emperor of Abyssinia, with sacks of silver that the Negus had given him in Addis Ababa the previous year. Trouillet styled himself the Negus's aviation adviser.
Even more mysteriously Trouillet was well-received in Italy, which was in the final throes of invading Abyssinia.  The suspicion grew that he had agreed with the Italians to take the Negus up for a test flight and deliver him into their hands, with the tacit approval of the French authorities, still keen not to alienate Mussolini and force him into Hitler's arms. In the event the invasion of Abyssinia moved too fast and Trouillet never returned there but he did keep possession o…

Big Swing To Left In French Elections

Sunday 26th April 1936

The first round of the French legislative elections showed a powerful swing in favour of the left-wing Front Populaire. For the first time the French Communist Party had allied itself with the Socialists under Leon Blum and it looked as though the strategy was paying off. It came second in a large number of constituencies and was well-placed to win them provided that the Socialist candidate respected the agreemnt and stood down for the second round.

With polls required in two-thirds of constituencies nothing would sure until the following week but crude arithmetic suggested that there would be a change of government. Economic problems and uncertain diplomacy had weakend the appeal of Prime Minister Sarraut and his pre-election broadcast declaring that old-fashioned liberalism was dead had not helped.

Lloyds Drawn Into Burgeoning Budget Scandal

Saturday 25th April 1936

In the debate on Chamberlain's Budget of the previous Tuesday the complaints from Labour that his doubling in the duty on Empire tea penalized the less well-off were losing ground to the far more exciting possibility that an insider had made profitable use of the planned increase in income tax. There had been a surge in insurance policies taken out at Lloyds against an increase in income tax and this had started to attract attention in Parliament and elsewhere.
The Committee of Lloyds was pursuing a messy rear-guard action. There were only estimates of how many such policies had been taken out and it would require several days to look into the matter. Of course, it would have been unacceptable to deal unfairly on inside information but the outrage was directed more against the possiblity that underwriters had lost money as a result. In another sign that something serious was brewing, Chamberlain put the word about that he had wanted to say something on the…

SS Claims Fair Deal For Heathens

Friday 24th April 1936

The official newspaper of the Nazi SS Das Schwarze Korps published a despairing article pleading for traditional, pre-Christian German faith to be recognised. It was triggered by the difficulties encountered by the "German Faith Movement" supposedly established to promote such beliefs which had just lost its only significant leader Count zu Reventlow, who had become increasingly disillusioned with the movement's merely anti-Christian tendencies.
Quite what this faith consisted of was left rather unclear beyond the assertion they could be found in the Eddas heroic poems. The old gods such as Wotan were dead and the sacrifice of an admittedly old white horse some years before had done more harm than good. Hitler had no desire to antagonize the established churches and the vague notions of German blood and soil that he peddled were perfectly adequate as a faith.

First Ancestor Of The Lollipop Lady

Thursday 23rd April 1936

The hyper-active and publicity-hungry Minister of Transport Leslie Hore-Belisha had already ensured that his name would go down in history long after his modest contribution to politics was forgotten, with the flashing orange beacon each side of pedestrian crossings. He was presented with another opportunity to make his mark on the British road scene by a report on possible measures to reduce the appalling number of children killed on the roads, 1,245 in 1933.
Hore-Belisha wrote to local authorities permitting them to issue portable signs that adults could use to instruct motorists to stop to allow children to cross the road. The torch of learning has proved less enduring as an emblem of the presence of a school, but lollipop women and men continue to do their bit to make the roads safer.

Paris Taxi Drivers Fight Competition

Wednesday 22nd April 1936

The French government had fought shy of imposing deflation on the country's numerous and politically powerful farmers but it was prepared to take on Paris's taxi-drivers by permitting "reduced rate" drivers which it was expected would drive fares down. The government was rewarded by a well-supported 24 hour stirke which took practically all of the capital's 5,000 cabs off the the road. The police gave some protection to non-union drivers but they were far less numerous than their unionzied colleagues. The improved flow of traffic through the city made it even more dangerous for pedestrians as motorists and bus-drivers sped through the quieter streets.
The union also managed to fit in a protest against the "interference and domineering attiude" activities of the Prefecture de Police which regulated the profession. Their ultimate goal was a fixed rate for all classes of taxi. Little changes.

Chancellor Puts Guns (A Little) Before Tea

Tuesday 21st April 1936

In his Budget speech in 1934 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Neville Chamberlain, had announced that Bleak House could make way for Great Expectations. This was supposed to mark the beginning of a sustained reduction in taxation. He had been been premature and two years later had to face the needs of Britain's modest rearmament programme.
The Chancellor had to find an extra £42m for the armed services but his commitment to balancing the books outran his distaste for wasteful military expenditure for he bit the bullet and increased taxes modestly. He increased income tax  3d per £, or in modern terms raising the rate by 1.25%. The Chancellor also added 2d to the duty on tea, doubling it to 4d per pound for tea from the British Empire and by a third to 6d for tea from elsewhere.

Hawkish Minister Slips In A Bellicose Speech

Monday 20th April 1936

Britain was anything but commited to maintaining a vast army but even the relatively modest goals ruling in 1936 were hard to achieve. The Regular army was 12,000 men below strength and the Territorials in even worse condition with a shortfall of 40,000. The minister responsible for trying to make good these deficiencies was Duff Cooper, the Secretary for War, and he was also far from convinced that Baldwin's ultra-low risk diplomacy was the right one. He championed a far more active alliance with France vociferously.
Duff Cooper used a speech to 2,000 listeners at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester to call for recruits with the warning that the international situation was more menacing than at any time since 1914 and that it was idle to hope that Britain would be able to stand aside. Britain's defences however had fallen so low that it would be unable to take part in a major war and it would be in no position to support the efforts of the League of Natio…

The King Avoids Putting His Foot In His Mouth

Sunday 19th April 1936

The King attended the annual National Scout service at St. George's Chapel Windsor where he addressed 1,000 scouts from around the country. He reminded them they they might have come across him before in his capacity as Chief Scout of Wales and  urged them to remember the movement's international vocation in later life when they were working when it might help remind them of Britain's place in the world.
It was all good, uncontentious stuff and a colossal relief to anyone in Westminster and Whitehall who remembered two speeches he had delivered the previous year when he was still Prince of Wales to broadly similar audiences. In the space of three days he had told the British Legion that they were the right people to extend the hand of friendship to Germany and the boys of Berkhamstead School, who were overwhelmingly members of the Officer Training Corps, that it was a good idea that they train with lethal weapons given the kind of times in which they…

Edwardian Sage Predicts Twenty's Plenty

Sunday 19th April 1936

Max Beerbohm, the last survivor of the Oscar Wilde generation of wits, devoted a radio talk entitled "Speed" to bemoaning the acceleration of modern life. Your people, he found, talked faster than he when he was young. He was only 63 but somehow contrived to sound much older.
He reserved his most doom-laden venom for a denunciation of speeding motorists, who inflicted the "habitual masscres" on the road. They were like cannon-balls, not dangerous in themselves, only if you happened to get in the way. More stringent driving tests were needed but ultimately the only solution would be a draconian speed limit of 20mph across the country.

World's Second Largest Island Demoted

Friday 17th April 1936

Word reached London that Graham Land was not as previously thought to be an island or archipelago but was attached to the Antarctic continent by a permanent ice mass. As a single island it would have been the second largest in the world other than continents. It still bears the name of Graham Land but is now classed as being part of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Casey Strait, the body of water which supposedly separated Graham Land from Antarctica did not exist. The reaction of Major R.G. Casey, distinguished Australian soldier and politician, after whom the Strait was named was not recorded. 
The British Graham Land expedition of 1934-7 was poorly funded and used a three-masted sailing ship, the Penola. However the survey which established that Graham Land was not an island was conducted by air. It was a far cry from the days of Captain Scott although the aeroplane used was a de Havilland Fox Moth with an open cockpit.

Hard Task For New Viceroy In India

Thursday16th April 1936

Lord Linlithgow the new Viceroy arrived in India. His first task would be to implement the reform of India's government decided in Britain after much political acrimony the previous year. Winston Churchill had fought bitterly against any dilution of Britain's untrammelled power in one of the defining acts of his yeas in the political wilderness.The scheme involved a degree of regional autonomy subject to "special responsibilities" vested in the governors appointed by London, in practice a veto. Without the agreement of Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress Party it would be a dead letter.
The British government had high hope of persuading the new King to make the journey to India. His father's triumph at the Imperial Durbar of 1911 had sent a striking signal of the supposed permanency of Britain in India. It was hoped that a Royal visit would reinforce the prestige off Britain and bind the local rulers more closely to the system. The King had ha…

Neglect Of Safety Alleged At Mine Disaster Inquiry

Wednesday 15th April 1936

The public inquiry into the appalling accident at the Gresford Pit in North Wales of 1934 which claimed 266 lives resumed. It was one of the worst mining disasters in Britain and especially horrific with multiple explosions and long burning fires. Men attempting to rescue trapped miners were killed. The section affected was deemed too dangerous to recover the vast bulk of the dead who remain there to this day. It was commemorated in a hymn that is still played, often at miners' galas.
The left-wing Labour politicians Sir Stafford Cripps who represented the union alleged wholesale neglect of safety precautions. This set the tone for rancorous proceedings which failed to agree a clear picture of what had happened. The industry had a poor record of safety but it was a key source of exports and energy. It was in the hands of under-capitalized and inefficient owners and it had suffered badly in the Great Slump.

Confontational Policy And Widespread Violence In Spain

Tuesday 14th April 1936

The Spanish Republic celebrated its fifth anniversary in an atmosphere of worsening tension. The new government had flagged its intention of following a confrontational path by mandating mixed classes in primary schools by decree. This was vehemently opposed by the Catholic Church.

National day celebrations were marred by violence. there was a bomb attack on the military parade in Madrid followed by the near-lynching of the supposed bomber who was probably merely drunk.  In Andalucia the house of a prominent Falangist was attacked by Communists but he fought back with an automatic pistol killing several until his ammunition ran out and he himself was killed.

Early Rumblings Of The Czech Crisis

Monday 13th April 1936

A mass meeting of the Sudeten German Party in Czechoslovakia was banned by the government. It was feared that it might take a quasi-military form on the model of German Nazi Party rallies. Under government pressure the party had changed its name the previous year from the South German Home Front, which better represented its separatist agenda. The leader Konrad Heinlein was not openly Nazi but the movement derived huge support from Hitler.
Sudetenland had never had any political identity other than as part of Bohemia despite the preponderance of German culture and language. Its inclusion in the new state of Czechoslovakia was thus the product of two anomalies and it was already recognised as one of the difficulties that Europe faced.

Roosevelt Secure In The White House But Challenged in Congress

Sunday 12th April 1936

President Roosevelt returned to Washington and the political fray after short cruise on the presidential yacht, U.S.S. Potomac. His position was paradoxical with the presidency secure but huge challenges in Congress. He was certain of the Democratic nomination for the election in November and the Republicans were deeply divided over whom to filed to oppose him. He had every chance of re-election.
His fiscal policy faced severe challenges. The Supreme Court had struck down his taxes in the A.A.A. case and Congress had overridden his veto to impose payments to veterans. To cover the shortfall Roosevelt planned to tax profits retained by corporations but congressional support for the measure was anything but guaranteed.

Left Wing ILP Fatally Hampered By Its Own Contradictions

Saturday 11th April 1936

The Independent Labour Party held its annual conference at Keighley. Almost from its inception it had been an uneasy left wing Socialist component of the Labour movement. In 1932 it had disaffiliated itself from the Labour Party, itself riven by the formation of the National Government the previous year. The ILP was well on its way to political extinction but its travails mirrored the wider difficulties of reconciling opposition to Fascist with a pacifism that treated all war as a specifically capitalist evil.
The executive of the ILP had recently resolved that as both Italy and Abyssinia were dictatorships, the war between them was of no concern and that the correct attitude of the ILP in the affair should be neutrality. This was not popular with members. Lumping Mussolini, Haile Selassie and Baldwin together as interchangeable facets of capitalism made striking rhetoric but poor practical politics.

Germany's Old School Ambassador To London Dies Suddenly

Friday 10th April 1936

The German Ambassador to London, Leopold von Hoesch, died suddenly.  He was an old-school professional diplomat and no friend of the Nazi regime although tales that he was murdered to make way for the committed Nazi Joachim von Ribbentrop are fantasy. Juggling sane diplomacy with its Nazi variant, notably the delusion that Edward VIII might serve as a tool for an Anglo-German agreement,  had certainly strained him and might have contributed to his death.
He was widely respected in British society and his passing was deeply mourned, both personally and professionally. His coffin was honoured by an escort from the Brigade of Guards as it left London. It was draped in a Swastika as the German national flag and not in any kind of political gesture.

Thrift And Chance Save Maundy Money Ceremony From King's Vanity

Thursday 9th April 1936

The King distributed Maundy money at Westminster Abbey. The ancient tradition of the sovereign making the distribution had lapsed in 1685 but had been revived by George V as a symbol of Royal charity in a period of extreme economic hardship. One part of ancient tradition that was maintained was that there were the same number of recipients as years in the King's age: 42 although only 34 were present, the others being too infirm. This was, of course, fewer than during his father's reign but a supplementary list ensured that no-one was deprived.
The coins that Edward VIII distributed had been minted in advance for his father. The ceremony was thus saved from the trivial but venomous dispute between the King and and the Royal Mint which wanted to apply the traditional but entirely arbitrary practice of alternating left and right profiles with each change of sovereign. Edward VIII believed that his left profile was better and insisted that it be used. No Ed…

Fascist Italy Responds To Gas Allegations With Barrage Of Lies

Wednesday 8th April 1936

Virginio Gayda editor of the Giornale d'Italia, one of the most prominent Fascist journalists, published a long article in response to the news that Italy was using poison gas in Abyssinia, manifestly on government instructions to coincide with a meeting of the League of Nations Committee of Thirteen. He asserted that this was merely an attempt to rob Italy of the fruits of its victory and that there was no evidence to support the accusations. He did not entirely deny the use of poison gas but wrote that if it had been used this was in retaliation for Abyssinia "atrocities".
Gayda claimed that the burns apparent in photos of dead Abyssinians could have been caused by incendiary weapons or by  mustard gas that they themselves were attempting to deploy against the Italian forces. He went on to accuse the Abyssinians of having stocks of pure nicotine with which to poison wells.

Nazi Version Of The Sermon On The Mount

Tuesday 7th April 1936

Bishop Ludwig Mueller had been appointed as Reichsbischof by the Nazi regime to bring all of Germany's protestant sects together in effect as an organ of the government. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the regime. Many sects resisted his domination and a rival "confessing" (Bekennende) Church was founded in opposition.
Mueller gave ample proof of the extent of his desire to manipulate Christianity to Nazi ends with his personal germanized version of the Sermon on the Mount.  It eliminated any reference to the Old Testament or anything that might be seen as Jewish. It praised "manly" virtues and judged behaviour on the basis of whether it was positive for the Volksgemeinshchaft, the Nazi notion of national or racial community.

Churchill Reminds Baldwin Of An Unfortunate Claim

Monday 6th April 1936

To avoid having to obey the vote in the House of Commons the previous Thursday and grant equal pay for women civil servants, the government made it into a matter of general confidence which took the form of a debate on setting  up a "Committee of Supply." The issue of equal pay featured in the debate but it mainly focused on the government's foreign policy.
It was a heaven-sent opportunity for Winston Churchill to deploy the best of his Parliamentary wit against Baldwin. He began by remarking that a certain number of men might approve equal pay as they would think that it  it would eliminate "a serious element of competition" from the job market. He then reminded the House of Baldwin's feeble claim that he could not explain the resign of the Foreign Secretary over the Hoare-Laval pact because his "lips were not yet unsealed." He followed with a more pointed inquiry yet as to why Baldwin had not immediately responded to Sir Au…

Fight For Equal Pay Continues

Sunday 5th April 1936

The Civil Service unions set to work to try to capitalize on the surprise vote in favour of equal pay for equal work the Thursday before. W.J. Brown,  Secretary of the Civil Service Clerical Association, had spoken for all the unions involved when he called on the government to respect the will of Parliament. 300,000 civil servants and not just the 15,000 women who would have benefited immediately were asked to write to their MPs.
There was a wider constitutional aspect to the issue. Baldwin had practically said it was in the government's power simply to ignore the vote. Precedent was against the government. A similar defeat in the House of Commons on the issue of ex-service entrants to the Civil Service had force the Government into holding a full scale inquiry.

The King Indulges In Nostalgia

Saturday 4th April 1936

The King played a surprise visit to Magdalen College Oxford where he had been a student. He had happened to be motoring in the area with friends and, apparently on a whim, took them to see where he had studied much as any alumnus might have done. They saw the staircase on which he had lived but not his rooms. The most senior member of the college's hierarchy the party met was the under-porter. The journalist who reported the story tactfully claimed that as it was the vacation, the President and Fellows were not present to receive the King. He would not have wanted the pomp and ceremony that this would have entailed.

The journalist was similarly discreet as to the identity of the King's friends. He spent that week-end at Lord Dudley's home Himley Hall where Ernest and Wallis Simpson also stayed. At one level the story was a pleasant illustration of the King's easy-going informality, at another level it might have come perilously close to breaking…

Undeniable Report Of Italian Use Of Poison Gas In Abyssinia

Friday 3rd April 1936

There had been persistent reports that the Italian forces invading Abyssinia had used poison gas since early in the operation. They were entirely true. Marshal Badoglio, the local Italian commander, had sought and obtained Mussolini's permission to use gas as a reprisal for the killing of a downed Italian pilot in December. The reports though had not been universally accepted. Lord Halifax, the Lord Privy Seal, had expressed the hope that they were not true in the House of Lords during a debate a few days before. 
Partly in response to Halifax's speech The Times published an authoritative article from its special correspondent describing the regular use of mustard gas bombs by the Italian air force and the horrific casualties they caused. Given the newspaper's unique status, Italian guilt in the matter was now beyond argument.

The King Cuts Down His Workload

Thursday 2nd April 1936

By ancient custom the new sovereign receives loyal addresses from prestigious public bodies such as the Corporation of the City of London, Oxford University, the Royal Academy of Arts &c., &c. which are "Privileged" to do this. In 1936 there were twenty of them but this has since crept up to twenty-seven today. By ancient custom each body received an individual reply from the sovereign.
This was the kind of flummery that Edward VIII loathed. He insisted that the bodies parade in a group to present their addresses to him. Even so this took two hours. He then gave a single reply to the assembled worthies. This was regarded as an immense slight at the time but has now become normal practice.

Government Defeat On Women's Civil Service Pay

Wednesday 1st April 1936

The government suffered an unexpected defeated in the House of Commons over a motion tabled by Labour's Ellen Wilkinson, one of the most prominent of the pioneer female MPs. It proposed that female civil servants doing the same work as males should receive the same pay. The motion received support from both sides of the House. Other women MPs made major contributions to the debate on both sides of the argument, including the Duchess of Atholl against the motion and Lady Astor in favour. With about 300 MPs there the sitting was quite well attended so the result could not be dismissed as a fluke product of thin attendance.
It dented government prestige, especially as Captain David Margesson, the formidable Chief Whip, had personally fought against the measure. Opposition morale benefited accordingly but there was no practical result. Baldwin refused to be bound by the vote and it was not until long after the Second World War that female civil servants won eq…