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Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Beaverbrook Wants Mrs. Simpson to Abandon the King

Monday 30th November 1936

Behind the Scenes


Lord Beaverbrook assembled a group of the King’s supporters at his London mansion, Stornoway House, to try to find a way of cutting the Gordian knot. To begin with he had relished the sensation of power, but was not finding it easy to work with the King, who paid little attention to his advice. The conclusion was that the best chance of saving the King on the throne lay in persuading Mrs. Simpson to withdraw. The man chosen to undertake the task was “Perry” Lord Brownlow one of the King’s courtiers. 

Fiery Destruction of Crystal Palace Symbolizes Death of Victorian Certainties and Optimism

Monday 30th November 1936


The Crystal Palace, which had been moved to Sydenham Hill after the Great Exhibition of 1851, was completely destroyed by fire that broke out at 7.30pm. It was never established precisely what caused the blaze, but given the amounts of flammable material present and the relatively dilapidated state of the building, it was probably an accident. Even the efforts of 436 firemen using 88 fire engines could not prevent total destruction. There were no casualties, even the birds in the Palace’s aviary escaped.


Prominently situated 100m higher than the Thames, the fire was visible across much of the London area. The pilot of a plane landing at Margate could see it. Huge numbers of people flocked to the area to witness the spectacle, including the Duke of Kent, who was lent a pair of fireman’s boots for his safety and comfort. The spectacular event seemed to mark a symbolic, final and ominous end to the certainties and optimism of the Victorian age.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Mrs. Simpson Sees an Escape Route

Sunday 29th November 1936

Behind The Scenes

When Mrs. Simpson came to Fort Belvedere she found the atmosphere changed for the worst. It had gone from being an enchanted refuge from the cares of the world to a beleaguered fortress. After a long discussion with his legal adviser, the King admitted to Mrs. Simpson how poor his position was. She saw a glimmer of hope in the idea that the King might set out his position to the British people in radio broadcast and let them judge

Soviet Contempt for Anti-Comintern Pact

Saturday 29th November 1936



The Soviet response to the Anti-Comintern pact dispelled any faint hopes that its signatories might have had that it would be treated as a measure against one organ of the Soviet state (or, officially of the Communist Party) and not the USSR itself. It pointed the finger at Mussolini’s Italian for attempting to spread Fascism abroad through intervention on the side of the Spanish Nationalists.


The Soviet Foreign Minister insinuated that the there were further secret clauses to the Pact that went well beyond the brief paragraphs that had been published, He implied that it masked a full-scale military alliance against Russia. He framed Soviet defiance in soaring rhetoric, "the Soviet Union will stand and proudly tower as an impregnable fortress, against which will be broken the turbid waves of the frenzied Fascist sea".

Monday, 28 November 2016

Sputtering Start for the King's Campaign

Saturday 28th November 1936

Behind the Scenes


The King’s campaign to drum up support against Baldwin had got off to a fitful start. His most potent potential ally was Lord Beaverbrook, the press magnate, but it was far from a perfect partnership. Beaverbrook had no confidence at all in the morganatic scheme and little liking for Mrs. Simpson. Beaverbrook’s one friend in Cabinet was Sir Samuel Hoare, the First Lord of the Admiralty, but he had already declined to back the King when sounded out directly. He knew the cause was hopeless. Hoare and Beaverbrook were in regular contact, but this served more to keep the government informed of the doings of what was coming to be called the “King’s Party”.

First Living Giant Panda Leaves China

Saturday 28th November 1936


The widow of the explorer, who had captured the Komodo Dragons by then in the Bronx Zoo, further extended the family’s reputation as animal collectors. Mrs Ruth Harkness was the first person to capture a Giant Panda alive with the aid of a local guide. They scared a female away from her cub, which they took hold of and bottle-fed on the way to the coast. It was a male, but somehow it was mistaken for a female.


The baby was named Sun-Lin and eventually sold to a zoo in Chicago, where he was visited by Shirley Temple and the President’s son, Kermit Roosevelt amongst others. An attempt to provide him with a companion proved unhappy as he and Mei-Mei fought. Sun Lin survived only two years in captivity, dying of pneumonia in 1938.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Cabinet is Finally Summoned to Discuss the King's Affair

Friday 27th November 1936

Behind the Scenes


Baldwin finally summoned the Cabinet to discuss the King's affair, broadening the tiny circle of government figures officially in the know. Baldwin was probably motivated by the recognition that bringing ministers into his confidence would reduce the reduce of leaks, but the morganatic idea was discussed. The informal consensus was that the idea had no prospect of working, but it was formally decided to refer it to the Dominions. Ministers were asked to spread the rumour that the meeting had been hastily arranged to deal with the question of arms for Spain, a pretence that was also directed at the King himself. 

Modern Brutality Trumps Quaint Mediaevalism

Friday 27th November 1936


The Spanish Nationalists shot the elder son of the (Republican) Prime Minister Francisco Largo Caballero, who had been captured whilst serving with the army. He was killed in direct reprisal for the execution for treason just over a week before of Primo de Rivera, Falange leader and one of the coup leaders and the son of Spain’s dictator up to 1930. His death had provided the Nationalists with an impressive martyr and removed a potential rival to Franco.

Historically minded journalist drew a parallel with the case of Guzman the Good, governor of Tarifa in 1294, whose son was a prisoner of the Moors besieging the fortress. When they threatened to kill him unless his father 

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Churchill Declines to Commit Himself

Thursday 26th November 1936

Behind the Scenes


Baldwin began to prepare for a possible outright constitutional crisis by sounding out the major political figures outside government. The threat of tendering formal advice to the King would be all the more potent if the King had little prospect of forming an alternative government. Baldwin had no difficulty with the leaders of the Labour or opposition Liberal parties, who both promised their support. Labour’s leader, Clem Attlee, committed his party to not forming a pro-King government, even though some more radical elements notably Hugh Dalton, whom he had recently defeated for the leadership, felt the crisis should be exploited. Only Winston Churchill declined to give Baldwin unconditional support and reserved his position.

Germany Aligns with Japan Against the Soviet Union

Thursday 26th November 1936


Amid much fanfare Germany and Japan signed the “Anti-Comintern Pact” in Berlin. The agreement to fight the covert spread of Communism from Moscow orchestrated by the Communist International (“Comintern”) was of little practical significance, but of enormous symbolic importance. It prefigured the extension of the axis of the Fascist powers in Europe to the Far East. The disguised hint of German support for Japan against the Soviet Union, with which it now had a de facto land frontier in China, was aimed at Britain. As was indeed to happen in the Second World War – albeit by a more circuitous route – leaving Japan unmolested in China allowed it a free hand to attack the British Empire and the US in the Pacific.


Curiously, the Pact was signed on Germany’s behalf by von Ribbentrop, now her ambassador to London, rather than the Foreign Minister. A feeble attempt was made to present this as a conciliatory gesture to Britain, supposing that the ambassador to London would not be party to an anti-British move. In reality Ribbentrop was the true author of the Pact together with the his friend, the Japanese ambassador to Berlin, General Oshima.

Friday, 25 November 2016

King's Commitment to Morganatic Scheme Stops Short at Committing Himself on Paper

Wednesday 25th November 1936

Behind the Scenes


The King removed any doubts in Baldwin’s mind as to his desire to make a morganatic marriage with Mrs. Simpson when they finally met to discuss the matter. Baldwin did agree to examine the proposal, but made it plain that he did not consider Harmsworth’s newspapers in anyway representative of public opinion or hold out much prospect that idea would succeed. He also asked the King for a brief written summary of the arrangement that he had in mind. This would pin the King down on both the clarity of his thinking and his commitment to the idea, and there is no sign that Baldwin was at all surprised when the King failed to produce one.

Sir Stafford Cripps Continues to Try to Align British Policy with Soviet Wishes

Wednesday 25th November 1936



The Labour Party continued its gentle shift back towards the right of politics with moves on two high profile figures in the movement, one a readmittance and the other the  public censure of the extreme left-winger Sir Stafford Cripps. Readmitted was Sir William Jowitt, the former Solicitor General, who had been expelled when he joined Ramsay Macdonald’s National Government in 1931. This was essentially a symbolic act of reconciliation; Jowitt’s political career was fading although both he and Cripps were to sit in Attlee's Cabinet in 1945.


Of greater practical significance was the censure of Cripps for saying that if Germany defeated Britain in a capitalist war (whatever that was) it might be no bad thing for the British working class. He was also trying to promote a three-way “united front” between the Communist Party, the Socialist League - a constituent of the Labour Party in which Cripps was a prominent member – and the Independent Labour Party. It would foster “mass resistance” to rearmament, military recruitment and “regional pacts”, a code for any diplomatic alliance other than one with the Soviet Union. Cripps’s move appeared designed to undermine the support for rearmament by the Trades Union Congress, which was powerfully symbolized by the news that Sir Walter Citrine, the General Secretary, was to preside over a large, cross-party rally promoting rearmament at the Albert Hall.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Another Failure in Communication between the King and Baldwin

Tuesday 24th November 1936

Behind the scenes


Once again the King and Baldwin found themselves caught in a basic failure in communication that was part mere accident, and part a register of the gulf between them. Baldwin was not even sure that the idea of a morganatic marriage that Harmsworth had brought to him, was what the King wanted or even that he had authorized Harmsworth to ask the question. Baldwin thought, anyway, that his negative comments to Harmsworth would have been enough to put an end to the idea. On his side the King began to fume at the lack of an answer from Baldwin. As well as assuming that Baldwin would have recognized that the proposal came from him, he expected that it would be possible to decide on such a complex constitutional issue almost immediately.

Anti-Jewish Agitation Closes Polish Universities

Tuesday 24th November 1936


All the state controlled higher education institutions in Warsaw were shut because of an outbreak of anti-Semitic agitation that had begun in the city of Vilna. There, 1,200  students of the Stefan Batory University had launched a hunger strike in protest at the  rejection by the University authorities of a number of demands including the segregation of Jewish students and a restriction in their number. This was accompanies by rioting in which a number of police were injured.


The unrest in Warsaw had focused on the occupation by 400 law students of the main building of the Pilsudski University in support of demands similar to those made in Vilna. There were also street demonstrations. Segregation of Jewish students had begun at Lvov Polytechnic in 1935 and was eventually to become widespread through the use of so-called ghetto-benches.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Unpromising Start for the Idea of a Morganatic Marriage

Monday 23rd November 1936

Behind the Scenes

The King chose Esmond Harmsworth, who had come up the scheme for a morganatic marriage, to present the idea to Stanley Baldwin. It is hard to think of a worse possible choice. Almost the only group whom Baldwin openly despised were the press lords, who had attempted to browbeat him into Empire Free Trade. This had triggered his famous remark that their goal was "the prerogative of the harlot, power without responsibility". He resented above all their pretension to speak for the British public. Baldwin was unimpressed by Harmsworth's pitch for a morganatic marriage, but concentrated his fire on the role of the newspapers.

Minor Economies Fall in Line with UK and US in Drive for Currency Stability

Monday November 23rd 1936



The minor economies of Europe were falling one-by-one in line with the tripartite agree between the British, French and US governments that had accompanies the massive devaluation of the French franc that had become inevitable because of the damage to confidence of the Front Populaire and its political travails. It was a broad but unspecific agreement to use financial resources to ward off instability.


In quick succession the Dutch and Swiss governments agreed to subscribe to the agreement and they were swiftly brought into the arrangements for technical cooperation on the foreign exchange markets, master-minded by the Bank of England. In those days the current global safe haven status of the Swiss franc was undreamed of and its central bank barely registered on the global scale. Switzerland had been shocked by the 30% devaluation of the Franc undertaken at the same time as devaluation of the French franc and there was little recognition that this was a major step to hauling the Swiss economy out of the slump.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

London Gripped by Smog

Sunday 22nd November 1936


London and other area of Britain were gripped by the severe fogs, or more accurately, one of the smogs that were so common when coal fires were the near universal method of heating homes. These were the "pea-soupers" and a major health hazard as well as an inconvenience. London was especially vulnerable, lying low  in a large, shallow bowl of land with a major river running though it.

Traffic was brought to a near standstill. In 1936 the fog was so severe that flares had to be used to guide traffic. Practically the entire capital was affected, but the districts along the river suffered worst.

Monday, 21 November 2016

The King Swallows Idea of a Morganatic Marriage

Saturday 21st November 1936

Behind the Scenes

Mrs. Simpson had been taken by Esmond Harmsworth's idea of a morganatic marriage. The tedious formalities required of a Queen had not been to her taste anyway. She set to work on overcoming the King's objections, when he returned from his highly successful visit to South Wales. He understood that their options were narrowing and agreed to see whether the government would accept the idea as a compromise.

Soviet Union Grapples with Alliance of Nazis and Trotskyists

Saturday 21st November 1936



Stalin’s show trials were well under the way. Under the presidency of Ulrich who superintended the trials of the British Metro-Vick engineers in 1933 and those of Zinoviev and Kamenev. The nine defendants were all engineers from one coal-mining region including a German called Stickling. It would have been an altogether lower key affair – conducted in distant, provincial Novosibirsk - but for the fact that the institutions of a “foreign state” – explicitly Germany – were accused of complicity as well as the usual crew of Trotskyists. No such accusation had been made at the Metro-Vick trial.


The defendants were charged with causing mine accidents in which twelve miners lost their lives as well as broader charges of espionage, economic sabotage and attempting to murder Soviet leaders. They all confessed their crimes, although the condition of the defendants in Ulrich's earlier trials rather suggests  how this came about. All were rapidly sentenced to death, but Stickling was reprieved after vigorous protests by the German Embassy.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

English Divorce Law Gives Government a Headache

Friday 20th November 1936

Behind the Scenes

Decorum dictated that neither in Parliament nor the press was discussion or reports of the Marriage bill sullied by mention of the fact that the case of Simpson v. Simpson was still hovering in the vulnerable six month limbo between decree nisi and decree absolute, when it would be vulnerable to any accusation of collusion between the couple or adultery by the plaintiff. This fact had fully been registered in the inmost sanctums of government, where it added another layer of complexity to a daunting task. On the one hand action by the King's Proctor to prove adultery between Mrs. Simpson and her presumed lover, the King, would cause immense scandal, but on the other keeping her trapped in marriage to Ernest would prevent the King from marrying her.

The Spectre of Modernity Stalks England's Divorce Courts

Friday 20th November 1936


The private member’s bill reforming England's antiquated and irrational divorce laws passed its second reading smoothly. It was approved by 78 votes to 12. The studied neutrality of the government’s law officers gave a clear signal that the measure was acceptable. No hostage was given to fortune should it fall foul of a backlash by strict moralists, but it lay with potential opponents to organize resistance.


The Bill’s chief sponsors, humourist A. P. Herbert and de la Bere, had to put their credentials as men long happily married – moreover “no Bohemian” in Herbert’s case – on display. Herbert adroitly set out the strong parts of his argument: the current rule that even church authorities felt that the rule that made adultery the sole ground for divorce was contrary to morality, desertion was recognised as grounds for divorce in Scotland already, lower courts with conciliation services should hear initial hearings and barring divorce entirely in the first five years of marriage would prevent you people rushing out of marriage. The Bill’s opponents were either against divorce entirely or saw great merits in the most pernicious aspects of the current, in particular the six month gap between decree nisi and decree absolute, which allowed the King’s Proctor time to investigate whether the divorce might be blocked on the grounds of adultery by the plaintiff. Under the Bill this whole charade would become obsolete, but rationality has never held much appeal to British legal conservatives. 

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Behind the scenes: a friend puts an unQueenly thought into Mrs. Simpson's mind

Thursday 19th November 1936

Behind the Scenes

Stanley Baldwin had hoped that the King's visit to Wales would put "Kingly thoughts" in his mind, implicitly displacing ones of an unsuitable marriage. In the King's absence one of his friends was trying to put unQueenly thoughts in Mrs. Simpson's mind. Over lunch at Claridges Hotel Esmond Harmsworth suggested to her the idea of a morganatic marriage, in which she did not become Queen, as a middle way that would duck government objections. Harmsworth knew that the idea would be disagreeable to the King and recognized that only Mrs. Simpson would be able to persuade him of its merits.

The King Makes a Famous Remark

Thursday 19th November 1936


The King made a tour of the areas of South Wales still ravaged by the great slump. Their staple industries of coal-mining and steel making were still hugely depressed. As well as weak demand, the exhaustion of the region’s iron ore deposits fatally undermined steel production as ore had now to be transported from a sea-port.


This had spelled the end for the once great Dowlais steel works, now an abandoned ruin. As the King looked down on it from the top of a hill., it was explained to him that it had once employed 9,000 men. His distress at the sight of Dowlais was unmistakable and it sparked his famous remark, usually given as  “Something must be done”. In some versions it continues “for these men” and thus with less directly political undertones, but there is no definitive record. The Times quoted him as saying "These people were brought here by these works. Some kind of employment must be found for them", but it is a fair chance that decorum would have trumped liternalness had he come even vaguely close to controversy.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Behind the Scenes: the King wants to Makes Mrs. Simpson Queen

Wednesday 17th November 1936

Behind the Scenes

After his audience with Baldwin, the King spoke to his mother and brothers to tell them that he wanted to marry Mrs. Simpson. He said that he was prepared to give up the throne for her if he could not have his way, but, at least to the Duke of Kent, he made it clear that he wanted to make her his Queen.

France's Socialist Interior Minister Hounded to Suicide.

Wednesday 18th November



Roger Salengro, the Socialist Minister of the Interior, committed suicide after a notably savage press campaign against him, mounted chiefly by the extreme right wing newspaper Gringoire. Gringoire was owned by the son-in-law of Jean Chiappe, who had been sacked from the powerful post of Paris’s Prefect of Police at the insistence of the Socialists.


Salengro was accused falsely of having deserted to the Germans during the First world War. He had been cleared of the charge by a majority verdict in a court martial. Much of the abuse featured his military  grade as bicycle courier. A broken bicycle wheel had been deposited on the grave of Salengro’s wife, who had died in 1935, as though a funerary wreath. The affair still serves as a shorthand for unacceptably personalized and mendacious political attacks.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Madrid Becomes the First City to Suffer Massive Air Attack

Tuesday 17th November 1936


As the Nationalist ground attack on Madrid ground to a halt in the face of determined Republican resistance, the city fell victim to severe bombing. This was conducted by both German and Italian government aircraft. At this stage the Luftwaffe was only deploying Junkers 52 aircraft, which had been designed as transport aircraft, as bombers, but the Republican air force was weak and unable to pit much of a defence. Damage was severe and casualties included 200 dead in a single raid. It was the first instance of a major city coming under sustained and devastating air attack.


Franco attempted to spare the upmarket Salamanca districts from the bombing, but the aristocracy suffered nonetheless. The Palacio de Liria, seat of the Duke of Alba, was burned out. The Duke’s dogs and his English groom, Lethbridge, found shelter in the British Embassy.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

King and PM Talk at Cross Purposes

Behind the Scenes

Monday 16th November 1936

Stung by the letter from his Private Secretary, Alec Hardinge, warning him of the risk that his behaviour might trigger a Constitutional crisis and which he took as coming direct from the government, the King summoned Baldwin to Buckingham Palace and preempted the discussion by telling him, unprompted, that he intended to marry Mrs. Simpson and was prepared to abdicate if he were not able to. Baldwin took this as a statement of his intention to abdicate, but in fact the King believed that Baldwin was misreading public opinion and was determined to fight. This was to prove a major breakdown in communication.

Not Only Fascists Targeted by Public Order Bill

Monday 16th November 1936


The second reading of the Public Order Bill in the House of Commons passed off smoothly. There was widespread acceptance of its key measure: the banning of political uniforms. Whilst this was not defined at all closely in the Bill, it was directed squarely at Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. The Home Secretary, Sir John Simon, said directly that everyone knew what was meant by a political uniform. It gave the Bill the appearance of an anti Fascist measure, but this was not the full truth.


Some of the Bill’s other clauses had rather wider potential application. The Police’s powers to regulate demonstrations were increased. They were to be given authority to demand the names and addresses of protesters. Carrying offensive weapons was to be proscribed and the law against abusive or threatening language and provocative actions was to be extended across the country. Hitherto this had only been an offence in London under a quirky relic of decades gone by. All of these measures might be used just as well against counter-demonstrators at Fascist meetings. To many in the Police, Communists posed an equal or greater threat to public order than the Fascists.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

The Republic Goes on the Offensive in the Basque Country

Sunday 15th November 1936


The Spanish Republicans launched what was to be one of their few full-scale regular military offensives of the Civil War. General Llano de Encomienda, who had remained loyal to the Republic at his post in Barcelona at the outbreak of the uprising, was given command of the government armies of the North. Despite a complete lack of air support and desperate shortage of artillery, he launched an offensive into the Basque.


His troops fought bravely but against terrible odds. Even worse, perhaps, his command came solely from the Republics central government. It had not been notified too, still less approved, the semi autonomous government of the Basque country. The Basque “Army of Euzkadi” had no intention of serving under his orders. Once again regional rivalries weakened the Republican cause.  

Monday, 14 November 2016

Germany Rules the (Inland) Waves

Saturday 14th November 1936


Nazi Germany took another step towards the complete repudiation of the Versailles Treaty.  The sixteen governments represented on the Commissions for the nation’s main inland waterways were simply told that these waterways were no longer subject to foreign control under the principle of Gleichberechtigung, or equal entitlement. They included the Kiel Canal between the North Sea and the Baltic.


The move was essentially symbolic. The Kiel Canal had been built in the heyday of Imperial Germany’s drive to build itself up as a naval power, giving it the means to move ships between the two main potential theatre of operations without the delay of sailing through the Skagerrak, but it had never lived up to its strategic purpose. The other waterways served essentially commercial purposes. Hitler’s move is barely remembered at all today. It is hard to find any book on the era in which it is mentioned but it gives a register a register of how much the western powers had resigned themselves to bowing to Hitler’s will.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

An Unpleasant Surprise for the King

Friday 13th November 1936

After an anxious night, Alec Hardinge had written to the King to warn him of trouble brewing. The King found the letter on his return from the Fleet visit in Portland, tired and cold. It was an unpleasant surprise. 

Not only did it contain what the King read as an ultimatum from the government - he knew that it would not have been sent without authority - but it also called on him to send Mrs. Simpson out of the country forthwith. To the King, this would have been tantamount to treating her like one of the embarrassing casual loves of his brother, the Duke of Kent, who had more-or-less been paid off. In his eyes, it was almost a declaration of war.

Royal Visit to Home Fleet Huge Success

Friday 13th November 1936



The King’s visit to the Home Fleet of the Royal Navy off Portland was a triumphant success despite some appalling weather. The contrast was noted between the King getting soaked in the uniform of an Admiral of the Fleet and the First Lord of the Admiralty, the widely unloved sir Samuel Hoare, snugly wrapped up in oil-skins.


The high point was an all-ranks smoking concert in the aircraft hangar of new fleet carrier, Courageous. The King reminded his audience of his own time as a junior naval officer and led the men in a rousing chorus of Tipperary accompanied by a mouth-organ band. The reception was as enthusiastic as his reception had been at the Albert Hall for the British Legion Festival. He had the gift of pleasing crowds and was fully aware of it. It was moments like this that made the chores of "kinging" worthwhile.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Behind the Scenes Pressure Builds to Bring the King into Line

Thursday 12th November 1936

Pressure had been building up in Whitehall and Westminster for some kind of determined move to bring the King to his senses since Mrs. Simpson had remained firmly in the country since her divorce case. The two had continued to see each other as before.

That evening the King's private secretary, Alec Hardinge, was summoned to Downing Street to discuss the problem.  He was as worried as anyone by the King's behaviour, but the King did not take him into his confidence. Hardinge wanted to warn the King of the dangers he was running and asked permission to disclose to him that ministers were meeting to discuss the case, clear sign of a potential constitutional crisis. Baldwin assented.

Government Wriggles away from its Hard Line towards the Hunger Marchers

Thursday 12th  November 1936



The government softened its line on the question of whether it would receive a deputation from the groups of unemployed who had marched on London. The Jarrow marchers had been joined by groups from other areas of the country, who proved less successful in attracting the attention of history. The initial point blank refusal to meet any of the marchers had been severely criticised.


A compromise was worked out in which Ernest Brown, the Minister of Labour who was broadly sympathetic, would receive MPs accompanied by some of the constituents, who had been on the various marches and had personal tales of the hardship they were suffering. The deputation was led by the left-wing Welsh Labour MP, Aneurin Bevan. There was, of course, no hope that the deputations call for the new unemployment assistance regulations not be implemented, but there was a practical side to the government concession, as well its symbolic dimension. The constituents – and by implication other unemployed people - were invited to present details of their difficulties through their MPs with the implication that they would receive a sympathetic hearing. 

Friday, 11 November 2016

Rapturous Reception for Edward VIII at Remembrance Festival in Albert Hall

Wednesday 11th November 1936



The commemoration of Armistice Day at the Cenotaph in Whitehall proceeded along entirely traditional lines. The King led the procession, wearing naval uniform and bearing the first wreath to be laid at the memorial. He was followed by his brothers, senior politicians, Dominion High Commissioners and practically every other dignitary in the land. Place was found for a stray Maharajah who happened to be around.


The King also maintained his practice of attending the British Legion’s Festival of Empire and Remembrance at the Albert Hall. He had done so frequently as Prince of Wales, but his father had only attended once in 1931 and that only as a spectator. In contrast to the usual muted, dignified and reverential atmosphere at the Cenotaph, the King was received with rapturous and sustained applause. It was a striking, but perhaps dangerously misleading demonstration, of his personal popularity.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Government Struggles to Convince Anyone that Rearmament is Being Taken Seriously

Tuesday 10th November 1936



The Debate on the Address – in effect the first Parliamentary debate of the new session – developed into a wide ranging debate on defence and rearmament issues. It was conducted in an objective and calm style, but, perhaps perversely, the absence of passion laid bare the flaws in the government’s programme and the political and bureaucratic cross-currents that hampered the work. Sir Thomas Inskip, the minister for the coordination of defence, was competent, honest and a dedicated public servant, but he had neither the official remit, character nor ambition either to blast through road-blocks or to give the House and the public the impression that the government really cared.


The great rallying call for enthusiastic rearmers was the need for a Ministry of Supply, successor to Lloyd George’s Ministry of Munitions of the First World War, a solid sign that national energies were being channeled into preparing for war. But there lurked in the background the recognition that even a Ministry of Supply would be futile under another Inskip. The inter-service rivalries – above all the merciless struggle between the Royal Navy and the RAF – were plain to see in the call from a backbencher to override “departmental fanatics”. The Navy had won its point in defeating – erroneously - the argument that battleships were vulnerable to bombers, but had failed to win control of the Fleet Air Arm, which left it far behind the US and Japanese Imperial navies. The greatest achievements Inskip could boast was a chain of barrage balloons round London, new heavy anti-aircraft guns and the conversion of two Territorial Army divisions to anti-aircraft duties. This simultaneously served as a confession of British vulnerability to air attack and an essentially defensive mindset in the government.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

The Fuehrer Clarifies German Ethnic Status

Monday 9th November 1936


Hitler led the observance of one of the holiest days in the Nazi calendar, the anniversary of the failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. In keeping with tradition, the events began at the Bürgerbräukeller from which the attempted coup had been launched with a speech by the Führer. He told his audience that he had never striven for the love of foreign countries only the respect which is never denied to a brave nation. The world now knew that Germany could not be treated as though a nation of Zulu Kaffirs.


He then led a procession of 3,000 “old fighters” through an alley of 250 pylons topped with bowls of flaming pitch to the Feldherrnhalle. Each pylon commemorated a Nazi supposedly killed in the struggle against the Reds. The most solemn moments were devoted to the sixteen Nazi fatalities of the Putsch itself with a sixteen gun salute.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The Siege of Madrid Adds Another Phrase to the Lexicon

Sunday 8th November 1936



The four conventional columns of the Spanish Nationalist army launched what was supposed to be the final stage of their offensive on Madrid. The attack was on a narrow front through the open park of the Casa de Campo. The Republicans had got wind of the plan and concentrated troops to defeat it. The situation was so precarious, though, that the government fled the city to Valencia. General Miaja nearly wept with rage, when he was put in command of defenders, seemingly a doomed and sacrificial mission.


The Republican defenders were exhorted to greater efforts by a simple slogan, originally coined by the Republican and Communist propagandist Dolores Ibárrui Gómez “La Pasionara, "¡No passarán!" , they will not pass, another phrase that has gone into posterity. The siege lasted two and a half years, almost the remainder of the war.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Behind the Scenes of the Abdication Crisis


The crisis over Edward VIII had been bubbling below the surface since the start of his reign in January. As his behaviour with Mrs. Simpson became less and less discreet, concern grew at the highest level of government. When the new broke that Mrs. Simpson was seeking a divorce from her husband in mid-October, the horrible possibility opened itself that the King might want to marry her and make her his Queen. 

The Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin came under pressure from government hardliners to act, but his first informal conversation with the King proved entirely inconclusive. When Mrs. Simpson failed to deliver on a vague agreement to leave the country after the divorce hearing, tension began to overflow.

The full, behind the scenes story of what happened next and the factors that drove the action, are told in my book The King Who Had To Go just published by Biteback at £25

https://www.bitebackpublishing.com/books/the-king-who-had-to-go

The Spanish Civil War Enriches the Vocabulary

Saturday 7th November 1936



The latest phase of the Spanish Civil War enriched the vocabulary in two ways. At a more parochial level the insurgents had branded themselves as the Nationalists, which has tended to stick in the accounts of the conflict, more because all other terms proved unattractive than because of its accuracy. The other was also an exercise in propaganda – transparently aimed at unsettling the other side –but it created a term that endures to this day. The insurgent army was advancing on Republican-held Madrid in four columns and one of their Generals Emilio Mola boasted that there was a “fifth column” of supporters already in the city.


It was mythical, but friendly media reported attacks by Falangists, Guardia Civil and Shock Guards as fact. When Ernest Hemingway used the phrase as the title of his only played, written whilst he was in the besieged city, its future was guaranteed.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Franco-Lookalike Grabs Power in Iraq

Friday 6th November 1936



The Minister for foreign Affairs of the new Iraqi government in Baghad set out the circumstances of the departure from power of its predecessor under General Yasin al Hashimi. Hashimi had come to power eighteen months before with a great reputation and great expectations that he would succeed as national leader. He had not. There had been approximately five tribal risings during his time in office and none of the country’s deep-seated problems had been properly addressed.


This had all prompted the professional head of the army, Bakr Sidqi, to stage a coup, possibly the first of the many classic military coups that in the modern Arab world. Sidqi bore a faint, but unmistakable, physical resemblance to Franco. Taking advantage of Hashimi’s absence abroad, Sidqi brought almost all the senior offices out against him, began a march on Baghdad and, in another premiere, dropped leaflets on the capital from aeroplanes, demanding the reinstallation of the anti-reform Hikmat Sulayman as Prime Minister. The ineffectual King, Ghazi I, fell in with Hashimi’s demands. Another military strongman, Jafar al Askari had been foolish enough to go to Hashimi’s advancing troops to try to halt them. This provided the perfect opportunity to kill him, cementing Hashimi’s power behind the screen of Sulayman’s nominal administration, unchallenged until the following year when Hashimi in his turn was murdered.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Appeasement Before it Became the A...... Word

Thursday 5th November 1936



The King’s speech two days before had promised that the government would pursue its policy of the “appeasement “ of Europe. The word had yet to acquire its pejorative connotations and meant no more than the bringing of peace to. So much was clear from the speech by Anthony Eden in the debate on foreign policy. It was a thoroughly pacific performance.


The main goal seemed to be to restore faith in the League of Nations after a “single failure”. Italy, the author of this failure came in for gentle treatment with an assurance that he recognized that the Mediterranean was “vital” to Italy as well. The only hint of firmness was to reject German claims that they had been financially oppressed. The commitment to rearmament crept in as an afterthought in terms that made it painfully clear that the programme was merely to remedy gross weakness.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Landslide Win for FDR

Wednesday 4th November 1936



As had been widely expected President Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected for a second term without difficulty. It was a definite personal endorsement of the man and his policy of the New Deal to combat the effects of the Great Slump. The only surprise lay in the crushing scale of his victory.


Early results showed him taking 46 out of 48 states, the greatest margin of any victory in more than a century. His opponent Alf Landon won only small states so Roosevelt’s margin in the electoral college was a huge 523 out of 531 votes. In the popular vote he polled half as many votes again as Landon. The Democrats did well in Congress albeit not as spectactularly. Perversely the solid Democrat majority was a mixed blessing. Party discipline was not strong and Roosevelt would face as much opposition from his own ranks as from the Republicans. It was on foreign policy that he had to move most cautiously.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Edward VIII Makes his First and Last Speech to Parliament

Tuesday 3rd November 1936



King Edward VIII opened Parliament for the first, and as it proved only time, accompanies by all the traditional ceremonial and flummery of the event. There was only one feature that distinguished the event from the others of the past generation and that had nothing to do with the King’s much vaunted passion for modernization. There was only one throne set in the House of Lords as there was no Queen to occupy a second one.


He was felt to have performed the duty well, giving full gravity to an antique ritual of the kind that insiders knew well that he despised. The contents of the speech was, of course, entirely the Prime Minister’s and attracted little interest. The King was merely a Constitutional mouthpiece, but like an actor, he was judged on performance. Few could have guess that in little more than a month, Parliament would be listening to a brief speech also composed in the King's name, but delivering a message of his own and one that shook the country.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Rodent Peril to Aviation

Monday 2nd November 1936



Aviation in the 1930s faced an unsuspected menace. In the era before all-metal aircraft, the fabric covered structures, or more accurately the cellulose dope used to protect the fabric, attracted the unwelcome of mice attracted by its organic contents.


The Airworks Company at Heston aerodrome found it elf tackling the issue. Cats and ferrets were rejected; the former on grounds of their inability to operate in the tight confines of aircraft wings and the latter because of their smell. Eventually Airworks settled for the humble domestic mousetraps and its aircraft engineers added trap-setting to their portfolio of skills.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

French Communists Restate Their Anti-Fascist Credentials

Sunday 1st November 1936


The fragile truce between the French Communist Party and Léon Blum’s Front Populaire government that had been cobbled together at the Radical Party congress at Biarritz broke, if it had ever really existed. As it had from the start, the initiative lay with the Communists.


The substances of the breach lay, once again, in Blum’s policy towards the Spanish Civil War – with a side swipe at the conversations with Hjalmar Schacht, head of the Reichsbank. Moscow had ordained that the Republicans should be fully supported so Blum was assailed directly Blum’s policy of non-intervention. Thorez, the Communist leader, stopped short of insisting on direct French intervention, but called loudly for the Republicans to have access to French weapons. It was easy work to manufacture an image of the Communists as the sole worthwhile opponents of Fascism and its allies.