Front Populaire in a Cleft Stick



France under the Front Populaire was not looking any more stable. The industrial suburb of Clichy near Paris was convulsed by major rioting, which left five people dead. The demonstrations had been sparked by a provocative public meeting, organized by the Parti Social Fran├žais, a very thinly disguised rebranding of Colonel de la Rocque’s now banned far right Croix du Feu movement. The Communist Party had been able to win some easy kudos by calling for the meeting to be banned (Clichy was a Communist municipality) by the government, which chose the lesser evil of refusing this at the near-inevitable cost of the disturbances that did occur. A ban would almost certainly have triggered far right demonstrations and the accusation that the government was curtailing free speech at the behest of the Communists.


The Duke of Windsor was able to look forward to the joys of marriage with greater confidence, as one of the threats to the project for which he had renounced the throne disappeared. The Divorce Court formally dismissed the intervention brought in Mrs. Simpson’s divorce suit by an elderly legal clerk, Francis Stephenson. Even though Stephenson had not pursued the action, this had triggered an investigation by the King’s Proctor, which had hung like a sword of Damocles over her and the Duke. Under a quirk of the then current divorce law his action remained on file until it was formally dismissed. It could have left Mrs. Simpson imprisoned in her marriage to Ernest and the King unable to marry her, meaning he would have abdicated for nothing. Given the extent of public concern that Mrs. Simpson’s decree nisi had been granted irregularly, considerable attention was paid to the recitation in Court of the failure by the King’s Proctor to find any evidence to support such allegations. Mrs. Simpson and the Duke were not, though, home and dry even though the major threat had disappeared. Her divorce had still to be made absolute, which could not occur until late April.

The US suffered one of its worst disasters when a natural gas explosion destroyed a school in New London, Texas killing some 300 children. As was common practice in the area, the school heated itself by tapping oil pipelines illicitly and drawing off gas. As gas was then considered merely a waste product by the oil companies, this was generally condoned although its irregular character did not make for high standards of safety. Natural gas is odourless so leaks built up unnoticed in a basement void that ran the length of the school until the explosion was triggered, apparently by an electric spark. Adding an artificial smell to natural gas was one of the consequences of the tragdedy.

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