Showing posts from June, 2016

Royal Society Put Straight On The Panda Question

Tuesday 30th June 1936

One of Britain's leading zoologists, Captain Guy Dollman of the Natural History Museum addressed the Royal Society.  He was an authority on the smaller mammals and gave his name to Dollman's tree mouse as well as helping to classify almost countless different types of shrew, but that night he was there to explain to members the true facts about both types of pandas.
Above all, we wanted to remove any misapprehension that either was a kind of bear although he admitted that the giant panda was very bear-like and 99 people out of 100 would think it was one. Its teeth, face and colour markings made it clear that it was a quite different species. The colour pattern was the factor that made it most clear that the giant panda and the panda (today usually called red panda) had a common descent. For all his scientific rigour, Dollman was fully alert to the animals' visual appeal.

The author makes no apology for featuring a photo of red pandas for the second t…

Sir John Reith's BBC Harvests Reward For Good Behaviour

Monday 29th June 1936

The government finally announced what it actually intended to do with the BBC on the basis of the Ullswater report which had been been grinding its way through the political process since 1935. The answer was rather little and what little was to be done was favourable to the BBC. Sir John Reith was being rewarded for good behaviour in the stewardship of what was, to a large extent, his creation.
The term of its charter was extended by ten years and its share of the license fee pushed up to 75% with the possibility of more if it needed more money for Empire and television broadcasting. the number of governors was increased to seven with a one-third rise in their pay to £1,000 per year. Quangocracy is not a recent development.  Reith won a partial victory in his drive to exterminate the  hated private sector relay exchanges. Their licenses were extended for three years, but the Post Office was to begin experimental work to replace or absorb them. The idea of giving…

Strain Tells on Prime Minister Baldwin

Sunday 28th June 1936

The strains of the previous few months were beginning to tell on Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin. Under a facade of bluff insouciance, he agonized over decisions. His camouflage was so successful that many of his colleagues thought that it was mere idleness that made him defer decisions, and not an acute awareness of the damage that a wrong decision could cause. On top of the Abyssinia and Rhineland crises, he had had to cope with the Budget leaks affair.
In the usual way, he had gone to his official country retreat, Chequers, for the week-end, but late in the evening there came a surprise statement that he would now remain their for "a few days" of rest. In reality he was close to a nervous breakdown. The Home Secretary would handle his Parliamentary questions and the Lord Privy Seal would chair the Cabinet.

Riviera Laid Low By Hotel Workers' Strike

Saturday 27th June 1936

A wave of strikes broke out at the hotels on the French Riviera. It came on top of strikes by transport workers and guests were soon left without any service at all. It was amongst the last waves of industrial unrest, ushered in by change of government to the Left wing Front Populaire. It was all the more worrying, as the Riviera was hardly an established hot-bed of socialist agitation.
It brought home to the many British visitors, actual and potential, to such a beloved resort area just how unstable the country had become. Amongst the British people planning to holiday there that summer was none other than the King himself. It was not a prospect that appealed to the Foreign Office.

Sinister Opponent For Roosevelt

Friday 26th June 1936

The Democratic Party Congress in Philadelphia nominated President Roosevelt as its candidate for the the presidential election in November. He was the only contender. His selection had been a foregone conclusion for months, but there was still enormous enthusiasm at the prospect. There were 110,000 to listen to his acceptance speech.
Few doubted either that he would beat the Republican Candidate, Governor Alf Landon, in the election itself. Landon was a lacklustre campaigner. Apart from his eventual defeat by Roosevelt, he is little remembered although he did live to the age of 100. His weakness attracted a third party to enter the contest, the Union party, led by North Dakota Congressman William Lemke, who announced his a rigorously protectionist platform on the same day. Lemke was backed by Father Charles Coughlin, the virulently anti-semitic "radio priest."

Storks Return To Britain

Thursday 25th June 1936

In an attempt to reintroduce storks to Britain Germany presented 23 young birds, which arrived by Lufthansa at Croydon aerodrome. They were welcomed with a tasty meal of rabbits and fish. This followed on from a largely unsuccessful attempt to place stork eggs in herons' nests in the hope that they would be incubated. The last time that storks had bred in the wild in the UK was in 1416.
The letter covering the gift from Dr. Schuetz, of the bird care organisation of East Prussia, made a point of saying how reluctant the local peasants had been to lose the storks and requested that they be kept in touch with the progress of the birds which had been ringed for tracing purposes. Dr. Schuetz assured his correspondent that letters with news might be written in English as there was someone in each village who could translate.

Plea For British Solidarity With France

Wednesday 24th June 1936

Duff Cooper, the war minister, made a speech at the Cercle Interallie club in Paris that once again showed him willing to take a rather different line on Britain's Continental policy  than a good number of his colleagues, notably Neville Chamberlain. The Union Interallie had been founded in 1917 when the USA entered the war against Germany and was thus charged with symbolism. He said that the friendship between between France and Britain was not a matter of sentiment, but one of life and death. It was clearly a call for solidarity against the challenge of Nazi Germany and, to a lesser extent, Fascist Italy.
Duff Cooper spoke in fluent French and his speech was praised by Camille Chautemps, the Minister of State replying on behalf of the French government. He remarked that he and the other listeners "could often understand between the lines" in a clear sign that the diplomatic significance of what Duff Cooper said had been fully appreciated.

Speculators Beware

Tuesday 23rd June 1936

The  new left wing government in France set about preparing the ground for the defence of the Franc against speculation with a package of measures covering policy from high to low included in four separate bills presented to the Senate. Spreading false rumours which hurt the currency or the value of bonds was to be a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment. This was similar to a bill passed in Switzerland with the same intention: a reminder that once upon a time it was necessary to hold the Swiss Franc up rather than to drive it down. Declaration of foreign bank accounts was made mandatory. The next two bills gave the government power to operate by decree. It was to be allowed to alter the statutes of the Bank of France at will; civil servants would represent the government on the Bank's ruling body. Treasury accounts were also to be reformed by decree.
Interest rates were but by one percent to 5% in a move widely expected in financial circles. The stock…

Ancestor Of The Gatwick Gusher

Monday 22nd June 1936

Oil exploration came to the peaceful south of England in the form of an exploratory well being drilled near Worthing by the D'Arcy Exploration Company, a subsidiary of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, today known as BP. It used conventional technology. There was no sign of protest from local people.
It proved a fruitless venture but many years later commercially viable deposits were found at Horndean. This field is today operated by UK Oil and Gas, a quoted company which makes much of the potential for massive extraction of shale gas in the area of Gatwick airport.

Palestine Close To Outright War

Sunday 22nd June 1936

The unrest in Palestine was coming dangerously close to a state of outright war. 70 or so Arab insurgents ambushed a convoy headed towards Tel Aviv with an escort from Scottish regiments of the British army. Fighting was intense and prolonged enough for RAF aircraft to be brought into action, flying low enough to use their machine guns.
The attackers retreated, leaving at lest ten dead. The British suffered two dead and three wounded Three of the RAF aircraft were holed by bullets. After the fighting had ended aircraft evacuated the seriously injured.

Nazification Of The German Police Force Gathers Pace

Saturday 20th June 1936

Germany took two steps towards integrating the civilian police force into the monolithic Nazi state. One was practical and the other was symbolic.
Hitler approved new uniforms for the police on a national level. All regional differences disappeared. More important, a military field grey colour replaced the dark blue that was supposedly a relic of allied military occupation in the wake of the First World War. Inevitably the Swastika featured prominently.
Heinrich Himmler, who had controlled the secret police as well as the SS, took charge of the police as well. This was under the nominal supervision of the interior minister, Wilhelm Frick, an early star of Nazism at national political level but already heading towards comparative insignificance.

The RAF Line-up For The Battle Of Britain Takes Shape

Friday 19th June 1936

Two major pieces in the combination of forces that won the Battle of Britain in 1940 were taking the shape. More obviously, the Vickers Supermarine Spitfire made its first high profile public outing in a demonstration of the company's six military aircraft. The Spitfire's vaunted high performance made it undoubtedly the star although an oil leak curtailed its display. The other aircraft presented showed how far the RAF had still to travel. Only two gave useful service in the war although the Wellington bomber  was soon outclassed and the Walrus flying boat was a solid low performance workhorse rather than a combat machine.
Splitting the RAF into separate commands for different missions was arguably a more crucial contribution. Establishing Fighter Command as a separate entity allowed air defence to escape partly from the mantra that bombing was the sole raison d'etre of air power and a war winner in its own right, which dominated the thinking of the R…

Inevitable Diplomatic Climbdown

Thursday 18th June 1936

Neville Chamberlain had chosen his moment well to set down his marker as the proponent of diplomacy by "practical men" a few days before. It was inevitable that Britain would bow to the fait accompli of Italian domination of Abyssinia. This involved not merely a diplomatic climbdown but, in practice, interring the idea that the League of Nations had any real influence.
The miserable task fell to the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, who was clearly embarrassed if not downright ashamed to announced to a packed House of Commons that Britain could no longer support the League's economic sanctions against Italy. All the major European ambassadors were there to be told that the forces of caution, to put it at its gentlest, held sway in the formation of British foreign policy.

Lords Talk About Talk

Wednesday 17th June 1936

The House of Lords was treated to a real debate although it was a debate about debating rather than any great political issue. Lord Crawford had tabled a motion deploring the tendency of members merely to read out pre-prepared speeches. His campaign for real rhetoric had the better of the discussion. His chief opponent Lord Snell, Labour don and briefly minister, scored a series of own goals. He admitted that ministers were often "departmental parrots" and needed to recite facts correctly, a powerful deterrent to turning up in the Chamber to listen to him in future. He also seemed to suggest weirdly that the victims of the Spanish Inquisition would have benefited from being able to respond to interrogation from notes. Equally strangely he argued that speeches read out were audible in a way that those declaimed weren't.
Snell quite surpassed himself with the quite irrelevant observation that organized silenced by members was enough to defeat the s…

Demi-Royal Ascot

Tuesday 16th June 1936

Royal Ascot got under way in fine weather conditions allowing a healthy parade of the latest fashions above all in the Royal Enclosure. The photographers had a field day. The Royal family were absent because the Court was still in mourning for George V so the traditional procession of Royal carriages along the course did not take place which somewhat detracted from the spectacle.
One visitor, though, did travel in a carriage provided by the Royal household but was unmolested by the newspaper photographers. Whilst it went entirely unreported in the press, the presence of Mrs. Wallis Simpson was soon widely known in the higher reaches of society. Ramsay MacDonald,  a member of the Cabinet and former Labour Prime Minister turned frequenter of ducal salons, was appalled at what he saw as the parade of an unworthy mistress.It appeared to be the next step in her social promotion after her shocking appearance in the Court Circular the previous month.

International Tensions Reach Switzerland

Monday 15th June 1936

Anybody who might have been in any doubt as to extent of European diplomatic tensions need only to have looked towards Switzerland to understand just how acute the situation was. The Swiss government voted to spend an unprecedented sum equivalent to £15m on defence. This was treble even the exceptional spending of the previous year. It would be financed by a loan at 2%, low by the standards of other countries but burdensome for a country with only four million inhabitants and normally minimal central government spending. Trade unions and some Socialists who had opposed heavy spending the year before had come around to supporting the government. Only a small hardcore of Socialists ans Communists voted against the new measures.
More than two thirds of the money was to be spent on fixed fortifications and expanding the air force. There was no pretence that the measures were intended to deal with anyone but Germany. Unlike Austria where Fascism remained powerful, Swi…

Another Great Voice Of Literature Falls Silent

Sunday 14th June 1936

It had not been a good year for famous British writers. Rudyard Kipling and A. E. Housman had already died earlier in the year and they were joined by G. K. Chesteron at the early age of 62. The passing of all three rather left the flavour of the passing of an era. In quite different ways they were all acutely aware of transience and they all mourned things that had disappeared or were disappearing. They seemed to belong to the world that had vanished in the Great War.
Chesteron was in some ways the most eccentrically nostalgic of the three. His fervent Catholicism was informed by a vision of an imaginary perfect mediaeval Christianity. Some of his writing notably the novel The Man Who Was Thursday presents contemporary democracy in an unflattering light. His heyday had been the classic period of the Edwardian literary world and his post-war writing had not had the same impact although he had turned to broadcasting on the radio in 1931 and had been very well rece…

Judicious Averaging Smooths Way For 40 Hour Week In France

Saturday 13th June 1936

The labour legislation proposed by Leon Blum's left wing government in France was bound to face opposition in the upper house, the Senate, which had an inbuilt conservative majority.  Its members, though, were aware that the outright opposition of the Senate or at least a thorough reform of its powers featured in the programme of the Front Populaire. The senators appear to have decided that discretion was the better part of valour.
The Trade Committee of the Senate approved the three main labour measures after some discussion: paid holidays, collective labour contracts and the 40-hour week. The last was the most contentious but Blum offer a faint concession in the shape of suggesting that this might be averaged over a three month period. Plus ca change.

King Experiences Demographic and Industrial Change

Friday 12th June 1936

The King showed once again his interest in those of his subjects who were facing a tough time because of the poor economic conditions. He made a quite unheralded visit to training centres for the unemployed run by the Ministry of Labour in Slough and Park Royal Acton. He was accompanied by Ernest Brown, the Minister of Labour, and was, as usual,  enthusiastically received by hundreds of trainees.
The centres reflected broader trends in the economy. Many of the trainees came from the depressed mining and ship-building regions of Britain. As it is today there was a distinct regional divide in the economy with the new industries such as electrical equipment and motor cars concentrated in the South East, which had remained relatively prosperous. Motor industry skills were a particular focus of the training as were service industries such as hairdressing and restaurant service. Former trainees had jobs at leading West End hotels and returned to the centre to see how t…

MPs' Resignations Draw Line Under Budget Leak Affair

Thursday 11th June 1936

A line was drawn under the affair of the Budget leaks. The judicial Tribunal had reported that there had indeed been unauthorized advance disclosure of the tax increases and that Jimmy Thomas was to blame. The evidence of which it ruled would probably not have stood up in a court of law had the men been on trial for criminal offences but under any common-sense reading of the events they were guilty. There was no innocent explanation. It was practically inevitable that the two M.P.s involved would have to resign their seats. Their statements to the House would decide how they would be judged.
Jimmy Thomas went first. He had already resigned from the Cabinet and was in despair. He was close to tears throughout his statement and broke down afterwards. What he did was the product of naive stupidity rather than cynical greed. It seems that he simply failed to understand that passing insider tips on to his mates was unacceptable and his claim that he had not "kn…

Midsummer Dawn Of Appeasement

Wednesday 10th June 1936

The Chancellor of the Exchequer Neville Chamberlain made an unheralded, high profile  foray into the world of foreign policy. He was setting down markers on a number of points. He was the most likely successor as Prime Minister to Stanley Baldwin, who was widely recognised as tired and expected to give up his post before too long. Chamberlain's work had been overwhelmingly on home affairs (with a brief excursion into Imperial trade policy) so his speech marked his intention to move into the realms of high diplomacy. Family questions added a particular flavour to the step. His earlier career had been far overshadowed by his elder half-brother Sir Austen Chamberlain, who had been rewarded for his efforts in negotiating the Locarno Treaty with the unique double of a Knighthood of the Garter and a Nobel Peace Prize. 
Chamberlain was also setting out the stall for what was to become his policy of appeasing the dictators, although in modern parlance he would dou…

New Colonial Secretary Faces Trouble In Palestine

Tuesday 9th June 1936

William Ormsby Gore had succeeded Jimmy Thomas as Colonial Secretary when the latter resigned over the Budget leak scandal. Ormsby Gore soon found himself earning his keep as the troubles in Palestine worsened, prompting him to make a statement to Parliament. Emergency powers had been extended by proclamation and press censorship reinforced. In an interesting demonstration of how political agendas shift over the years, Labour's Herbert Morrison insisted that the leaders of the disturbances be dealt with severely; he suspected them of being "capitalists." The minister could reply that the leaders of the Arab strike suspected of inciting violence had been detained.
Ormsby Gore claimed to be impartial in the communal conflict but there was ample evidence that the British were no longer counting on Arab goodwill. They were giving priority to a military solution to the unrest. Two more infantry battalions had arrived and another was on its way. This woul…

Shock Discovery Of King's Interest In Things Intellectual

Monday 8th June 1936

The eleventh annual International Publishers Congress opened at the Stationers' Hall in the City of London under the presidency of Stanley Unwin. The delegates received the thrilling news that the Congress's President, Vice-President and organizing committee would be received by the King at Buckingham Palace that Thursday. This provided "gratifying evidence for the King's interest in and concern for the intellectual life of his people, and his realization of the important role played by book publishers."
The reality was rather different. The King was patron to the Congress having been made the Master of the Stationers' Company in 1934 so the honour extended to the organizers had more to do with the arcane world of the City's livery companies than promoting readership. International politics even crept into the speech delivered by Lord Eustace Percy with the unlikely proposition that international agreement on copyright recognition sho…

Leon Blum Wins Breathing Space But Faces Venomous Opposition

Sunday 7th June 1936

Leon Blum's FrontPopulaire left winggovernment in France was slowly surmounting its first hurdles. The day before it has secured  parliamentary approval by a large majority (in line with the result of the election) for a very detailed programme of reform which included a 40-hour working week and other measures for which the unions had been pushing. Blum had a comfortable parliamentary position but he faced virulent opposition, notably from the extreme right wing anti-semites of Croix du Feu such as the deputy Xavier Vallat, who deplored the fact that this "old gallo-roman country should be ruled by a Jew."
Organized labour also decided to show solidarity with the FrontPopulaire now that their main demands - collective bargaining and the nationalization of war industries - had been met and backed away from the outright confrontation with employers of the last few weeks. But this came at a price. Wages were to rise by 7% to 15%. Strikes were also conti…

Opening Of Gatwick Airport Not Quite The Dawn Of The Modern World

Saturday 6th June 1936

The air minister Lord Swinton opened London's new aerodrome at Gatwick. It had been chosen by the newly created British Airways as its main base. British Airways had been formed at the start of the year by the merger of a number of smaller airlines and was being subsidized to develop routes in northern Europe. Gatwick did not prove a success as the ground became water-logged and British Airways transferred to Croydon aerodrome early the following year.
Unpatriotically British Airways  used American built Lockheed Electra airliners, one of which flew Neville Chamberlain to Munich in 1938. In 1940 British Airways was absorbed by Imperial Airways, the British flag-carrier, and the name vanished until 1974 when it was resurrected for the airline that included all of the nationalized companies.

Slippery Sam Returns

Friday 5th June 1936

As had been widely expected Sir Samuel Hoare returned to the Cabinet after an absence of about six months. He had resigned as Foreign Secretary the previous December following public outrage at the leaking of what came to be called the Hoare-Laval agreement under which Britain and France were to acquiesce in Italy's invasion of Abyssinia. France was more concerned to keep Mussolini out of the arms of Germany than anything else. Hoare had  manifestly been no more than a scapegoat who had (temporarily) been sacrificed to protect the government. Whilst out of office he had devoted a certain amount of effort to cultivating the King and, more important, Mrs. Simpson.
He became First Lord of the Admiralty to replace Lord Monsell, who had long wanted to retire. The Prime Minister Baldwin was still grateful for Hoare's work over the India Bill which had required delicate parliamentary manoeuvres to steer through opposition from die-hard Conservatives. Otherwise Ho…

Challenging Start For France's New Left Wing Government

Thursday 4th June 1936

Leon Blum's left wing government finally took office after a prolonged period of negotiations. His ministry was striking for the presence of three women, including the daughter of the scientist, Marie Curie. Otherwise it was chiefly noteworthy for its absences. The heaviest hitter was Edouard Daladier, who had twice been Prime Minister albeit for terms of only nine months and ten days respectively. Yves Delbos, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, was a former journalist with little ministerial experience. The Communists did not participate.
Its first priority was to deal with the massive industrial unrest that had developed to a large extent spontaneously. Many factories were occupied by their workers on sit-down strikes. Even Parisian department stores were affected. The new government was sympathetic to the workers' demands but unsettled by a movement that appeared out of control. The Minister for the Interior, Roger Salengro, promised simultaneously legi…

Britain Consoles Haile Selassie With A Warm Public Welcome But A Royal Snub

Wednesday 3rd June 1936

Haile Selassie arrived in the UK to begin what proved to be a five year exile. He received an enthusiastic reception from thousands of Londoners. It might have offered a small consolation for Britain's failure to come up with any worthwhile attempt to halt the Italian invasion.
Close readers of the Court Circular might, however, have noticed one thing that was missing. The King did not receive Haile Selassie at Buckingham Palace or anywhere else. As he was the legitimate sovereign of a friendly country who had been deposed with no trace of legality, it was a pointed snub. In fact the Foreign Secretary had suggested that it would be popular for the King to receive him. This would also have signalled to Italy Britain's refusal to acquiesce in its invasion. The King refused; "Popular with whom? Certainly not the Italians." The Negus had to content himself with an informal call from the Duke of Gloucester, one of the King's younger brothers.

Call For Return Of Germany's Colonies Not Atavism But Coded Protest Against Autarky

Tuesday 2nd June 1936

A report by one of the directors of Germany's central bank, the Reichsbank, came to light which set out an economic argument in favour of restoring the nascent colonial empire that Germany lost in the Great War. It was a thesis supported by the Reichbank's high profile chief, Hjalmar Schacht. Restoration of the colonies would make good Germany's growing shortage of foreign exchange - supposedly due in part to a "Jewish boycott" - by supplying raw materials such as fats, tobacco and coffee from imperial possessions. 
According to the promoters of the scheme, it was backed by Hitler and the passage in Mein Kampf where he appeared to put expansion in Europe before empire building had been misunderstood. In reality it had not. The demand for the return of colonies provided nothing more than a convenient tool with which to needle the British who went on to respond with ever more futile projects to appease Germany on this score, achieving nothing …

In India, Britain Proposes but Congress Disposes

Monday 1st June 1936

Manoeuvres within India's Congress Party served to remind the British that the initiative lay with the advocates of full independence and not with the loose collection of their local allies who might support the tentative arrangement that had emerged from the Government of India Act. By far the most important figures in Congress were the Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru, whom the British had released from prison to be with his dying wife in Switzerland. This was not just a humanitarian gesture; apart from a few extremists, the British understood that a policy of remorseless repression would be futile and doomed and that negotiation with Congress's leaders was inevitable.
The debate between Gandhi and Nehru was about means not ends. Nehru continued to hanker after a rapid policy of direct action and was firmly opposed to Britain's "communal award" which gave limited voting rights to India's various social and religious groups. Gandhi was cr…