Showing posts from February, 2016

Peeress Punished For Penguin Protest

Saturday 29th February 1936 Chessington Zoo was awarded damages of £50 for a libel by Lady Waechter De Grimston who had written to the R.S.P.C.A. complaining  that its penguins were kept in filthy conditions with no protection from the sun. In her letter to the R.S.P.C.A. she stated that the birds were gasping from heat. The day on which she visited the zoo was exceptionally hot. She wrote in the belief that all penguins lived amidst snow and ice such as the ones she had seen in films whilst Chessington's were African penguins from South Africa and used to a climate similar to England's. Anyone who has visited a penguin rookery will also attest that their sense of personal hygiene is not high. Awarding damages against her Mr. Justice Finlay said it was a pity she knew little about penguins as it might be rather rash to talk about them unless one knew something more.

Depressing Possible Candidate For New Ministry

Saturday 28th February 1936 The King received Lord Eustace Percy, the Minister Without Portfolio, at Buckingham Palace. It was a mildly unsettling reminder of his existence. For no better reason than that he was the spare man in the Cabinet, he was thought of as a candidate for the Ministry of Defence Coordination, the day before. He had no obvious talents for the job. He was the son of a Duke and something of a protege of Baldwin, who had earned a return to ministerial office because of his vigour in defending the government's India policy. He had been ineffective as the minister for Education in Baldwin's second government and made as good as no impact in his current role, which he regretted having taken. Anyone who entertained hopes that the new ministry might bring some change viewed his possible appointment with despair. That he should even come under consideration showed how little faith there was that Baldwin was very serious about rearmament.

Baby Step Towards Coordinated Defence Policy

Friday February 27th 1936 Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin took a small step towards recognizing that Britain's rearmament programme needed to be taken more seriously than it had been. He announced in the House of commons that he would be creating a new post of Minister for the Coordination of Defence. The exact duties of the new minister were not spelled out and remained extremely vague. Britain's rearmament programme had created extra work for the Prime Minister which was unlikely to diminish so the new minister would relieve him of part of this burden The responsibility of the individual service ministers would not be weakened and the Prime Minister would remain as Chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence, the country's highest military planning body. The crucial question of who would be given the post was left open. It was already known that the Chancellor the Exchequer, Neville Chamberlain, had declined such a role. Few existing Cabinet ministers approached

Army Coup In Tokyo

Wednesday 26th February 1936 A faction of young officers of the Japanese army, who advocated traditional culture and ultranationalism, attempted to stage a coup against  their slightly more conservative rivals. As well as seizing power they intended to kill seven senior politicians mainly because of their supoort for the London Naval Treaty, which was seen as an unacceptable constraint on Japanese military expansion. The plan was exceptional only in its scale and ambition. Political violence, including factional murders within the army, had been a feature of the preceding years. The coup failed notably in the attempt to take over the Imperial Palace but the plotters did succeed in killing a number of their targets as well as other senior officials. Participants in the coup were pursued and punished in contrast to previous uprisings. This does not mean that the incident made Japan more stable or less of a threat to peace. In fact it served to strengthen the army's influence w

No Sign Of Resolute Foreign Policy In Eden's Speech

Tuesday February 25th 1936 The international reaction to Anthony Eden's speech as Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons debate on foreign affairs was approving, in particular from both France and Germany. This was a sure sign that he had avoided taking a strong position on anything of importance in line with the government's generally entirely passive approach to diplomacy. The French were pleased that Eden indicated that an oil embargo against Italy would not be pursued vigorously. In turn the desire not to upset Italy reflected France's own lack of policy. For their part the Germans were happy that Eden expressed confidence in "collective security" and appeared to disavow what was labelled as the "encirclement" by Germany. It was comforting to the Nazi regime that Britain should cling to the delusion that the League of Nations offered any constraint on its ambitions and not attempt to construct a system of alliances as an alternative.

Tory Elder Statesman Lambasts Government Defence Policy

Monday 24th February Sir Austen Chamberlain picked the first day of a major Parliamentary debate on foreign affairs to deliver a severe blow to the government's policies on defence and diplomacy in a speech in his family's political heartland of Birmingham. Britain, he said, had delayed rearmament. Her diplomatic credibility had been weakened because every other country knew that her defences had been neglected. Brain's traditional control of the seas was no longer sufficient to defend the country. The people of Britain required not just a clear statement of what the government's foreign policy was but an assurance that the question of rearmament was being properly addressed. By implication Baldwin's attempt to muddle through and vaguely trust to the League of Nations was no longer viable. He had left office five years before but he still spoke with immense authority, particularly on foreign affairs. The scion of the great political dynasty whose name he bore

The King Imposes His Stamp On Men's Hosiery

Sunday 23rd February 1936 The King's visit to the British Industries Fair was starting to pay dividends for some of the exhibitors, whose stands he had visited, notably in the clothing industry. He had gently hinted to the makers of neckties that the fact that the Royal Court was still wearing black ties in mourning for his father did not impose a duty on ordinary members of the public to follow suit. Exhibitors switched away from greys and blacks to brighter colours and enjoyed a surge in demand. The King also struck a blow against sartorial conservatism when he endorsed elastic-topped socks, saying he had worn them for years. The established fashion had been to depend on suspenders (garters) worn on each leg to hold socks up. (The author of this blog can remember his own father wearing such things as recently as the 1960s). Orders for the new technology poured in.

The Voice Of Isolationism Speaks

Saturday 22nd February 1936 One of the US's most prominent politicians took advantage of George Washington's birthday to remind Europeans just how strong isolationist sentiment was. It was a view he advocated strongly and it was to be major part of his platform when he sought (unsuceesfully) the Republic nomination to fight President Roosevelt in the autumn. He denounced the "insidious wiles of foreign influences." Britain was a particular target. It had failed to oppose Japan's invasion of Manchuria, where its interest were not at stake, but had opposed Italy's invasion of Abyssinia, where they were. He ignored the feebleness of Britain's action and its minimal interests. He denied vehemently that US neutrality was in any way prejudicial to world peace.

Franco Dismissed

Friday 21st February 1936 The Spanish government dismissed General Francisco Franco as chief of the army general staff and posted him to the Canary Isles. He was one of a number of of generals demoted because they were suspected of hostility to the Republic. Franco was a traditionalist army officer, who had never reconciled himself to the fall of the monarchy. More importantly, he was instrumental in deploying non-Spanish national units against striking Asturian miners in 1934. Inevitably the Foreign Legion and Moroccan levies had defeated the striking miners, killing several hundreds. Franco contrived to label the strikers as less Spanish  than his troops in "a frontier war and its fronts are socialism, communism and whatever attacks civilization in order to replace it with barbarism."

Mussolini's Attempt To Embarass British Flops...For Churchill

Thursday 20th February 1936 Mussolini provided Winston Churchill with an opportunity to put the Government on the spot when Italy published a confidential British document about Abyssinia. It was simply a review of British interests in the country prior to the Italian invasion in 1935 and contained nothing that could embarass the British. The only purpose that publication served was to demonstrate publicly the regime's ability to obtain such a document. Churchill attempted to ask a private notice question on the matter but failed to give sufficient notice. He was ruled out of order and Baldwin was able to assure the House that he would have been happy to answer the question but, having had no notice of the question, he had worked on other things that morning. British diplomacy over Abyssinia was quite ineffective but it faced practically no effective political challenge at home.

On The Royal Treadmill

Wednesday 19th February 1936 The King undertook his first public engagement since his accessions. He attended the British Industries Fair, which was so large that it  was split between the two of London's exhibition venues: White City and Olympia. It was an event that he had already supported as Prince of Wales and in which his father had been interested. It embraced the industries of the Empire as well as those of Great Britain. The King received an enthusiastic welcome from the crowds. He, or his briefers, let themselves down when he asked at the New Zealand stand whether Great Britain was still the main market for the dominion's butter. He was told that it was practically the only only one. He did rather better at the South Africa stand where he denied rumours that he was prejudiced against ostrich feathers, claiming that he would do anything he could to bring them back into fashion again. The fashion icon of the 1920s flapper had suffered something of an eclipse.

First Investiture Of The Reign

Tuesday February 18th 1936 In line with tradition the King announced that he was assuming the Colonelcy-in-Chief of a number of the regiments and corps of the British army: all the Guards regiments, The Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers. He had served with the Grenadier Guards in the First World War, but much against his wishes he had been kept out of combat service. He took special pleasure in the Colonelcy of the Welsh Guards, a memory of his time as Prince of Wales. The King also conducted the first investiture of his reign. Many of the honours had been awarded in the last New Year's Honours list of his late father, but there was also recognition for servicemen who had marched in the funeral procession of George V. There were none, however, for any of the police involved in the ceremony which strengthens the suspicion that the King remained unhappy with the police's performance in crowd control.

Tension With Italy Accelerates Rearmament

Monday 17th February 1936 Continuing tensions with Mussolini's Fascist Italy over its invasion of Abyssinia had prompted a rethink of Britain's military requirements. Not merely had the weakness of the armed forces militated against firm diplomatic action, but it was increasingly clear that the British Empire would struggle to defend itself even against a nation previously considered insignificant. The services presented a supplementary budget of £7.8m for the year to the end of March, in practice money that was already being spent. The chief beneficiary was the Royal Navy taking nearly two-thirds of the extra spending. The RAF did rather better than the army its share of the remainder. Much of the extra was being spent on bases in the Mediterranean and Middle East areas, where Italy was the most likely enemy.

Election Worsen Political Instability In Spain.

Sunday 16th February 1936 A general election in Spain produced a narrow majority in favour of the alliance of left wing parties, the Front Popular , largely reversing the right wing victory in 1933. The existing government hung on in a minority administration. Spain had suffered more than a decade of political instability and this was yet another step towards civil war. King Alfonso XIII had fled the country in 1931 to join the ranks of Europe's ex-monarchs, which had been greatly swelled in the aftermath of the First World War. This usehered  in the second Spanish Republic, but monarchism remained a potent force along with many other violent shades of opinion, notably Communism and Falangism, the home-grown Spanish version of Fascism.

Strategic Angles To Berlin Motor Show

Saturday 16th February 1936 Adolf Hitler opened the International Motor Show in Berlin. By a process of rather twisted logic he managed to slip a plug for the "People's Car" into his usual complaint that Germany lacked living space ( Lebensraum ). He also contrived some unsubtle vegetarian propaganda. Germany could not produce enough food, notably livestock, so if people eliminated any food consumption that was not absolutely necessary and spent their money on things that Germany could produce (like a People's Car) all would be well. More ominously he reported that experiments by the Wehrmacht had been successful and synthetic rubber tyres were now a practical proposition. As Germany had no rubber-growing colonies, the strategic implications were clear. As well as the military, the German Post Office had place substantial orders for the new "Buna" tyres with I. G. Farben of future infamy.

Mrs. Simpson Inspires Security Fears Amongst The Mandarins

Friday February 14th 1936 Hardly had Edward begun his reign, when concern at his behaviour, in particular, the lax security with which he treated confidential official documents, made itself felt at the highest levels in Whitehall. His Private Secretary, Clive Wigram, was called to a conference with the three top mandarins in the country: Sir Maurice Hankey, Secretary to the Cabinet, Sir Warren Fisher, Head of the Civil Service, and Sir Robert Vansittart, Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign Office. They had tried unavailingly to persuade Baldwin to take action but he had refused. They now wanted Wigram to intervene with his master. Vansittart was worried that the King discussed his confidential papers with Mrs. Simpson and that she, it turn, was indiscreet. She was thought to be "in the pocket of the German Ambassador." When Wigram raised the question of the security of documents with the King, he was given the hardly comforting answer that the King read them in

The Royal Crown, Legend And Continuity

Friday 14th February 1936 The Society of Antiquaries was treated to a learned talk by Mr. M. R. Holmes on the "Crowns of England." He was anxious to dispel the many misunderstandings and legends on the subject that had developed over the years, in particular the belief that every monarch had been crowned with the same crown apart from a regrettable  interval in the middle of the sixteenth century. Mr. Holmes deplored the "heresy" which had led to the destruction of the Regalia at that period.  He was not so crass as to mention the Revolution or the Protectorate by name. Such aberrations did not deserve the attention of polite society. Unspoken was also the ugly possibility that misguided individuals might explore the idea of repeating them. He gave some attention to one happy element of continuity between crowns from either side of this unfortunate period: the presence of the irregularly shaped spinel (long thought to be a ruby) that Pedro the Cruel had g

Feeble Foreign Policy

Wednesday February 12th 1936 The Cabinet had been expected to discuss the recommendations of the Defence Requirements Committee (DRC) that had had been meeting since 1934, but it was not to be. The DRC had been established to set a coherent pattern for Britain's armaments spending after a decade when the Ten Year Rule had dominated, applying the principal that Britain would not be involved in a major war in a rolling ten year time horizon. It had served as an intellectual justification for spending as little as possible on the armed forces. The institution of the DRC marked the formal end of the Ten Year Rule but not the adoption of any coherent programme of military spending. Politically unchallenging drift remained the unacknowledged policy of the Baldwin government. Th topics actually discussed at the meeting provided a litany of Britain's ineffectual diplomatic policy. A formal alliance between France and Russia would be allowed to pass without comment. Britain's

Trial Of The First Shellackers Opens

Monday 10th February 1936 A high profile fraud trial opened at the Old Bailey. The Attorney-General himself, Sir Thomas Inskip, led the prosecution of the promoters of a commodity broking firm, which was deeply involved in huge speculative trading in pepper and shellac. The shellac market was rigged by a syndicate which almost doubled the price before it collapsed back to near its starting point. Many private investors lost money heavily and the term shellacking went down as a short-hand for heavy losses in financial markets, which was in use long after the episode itself was forgotten. President Obama applied the term to an electoral defeat of the Democrats in 2010 but by then the origin of the term had vanished so deep into the mists of history that even the BBC could not retrieve it It has nothing to do with nail varnish. The chief defendant rejoiced in the name Garabed Bishirgian.

A Reluctant New Occupant For Buckingham Palace

Monday 10th February 1936 Queen Mary together with her daughter, the Princess Royal, visited Marlborough House. They were inspecting her new home. It had been prepared for the Prince of Wales in 1927 but he had never lived there. His mother would soon move in for the rest of her life now that she had lost her husband. She attached great importance to Edward VIII moving into Buckingham Palace and was anxious to hasten the process. To her and to many at the Court it was of vital symbolic importance that the Sovereign should live there. It was a move that he was reluctant to make. He did not like its gloominess and it symbolized everything that he disliked in the formal, constricting world of the Royal Court.

Continuing Deadlock For US Diplomacy

Saturday 8th February 1936 A personal statement by the Chairman of the Foreign Relations of the US Senate, Key Pittman, offered a glimmer of hope that US isolationism was not going to get worse. He did not think that there would be a permanent extension of the Neutrality Act and, correctly, predicted that the Act due to expire at the end of the month would be replaced by one of only a year's duration. Pittman felt that the President and his advisers were privately opposed to a permanent act but that they would not say so publicly. President Roosevelt faced re-election later in the year so this was unsurprising. The Acts were strongly supported in Congress and by the public on the grounds that the US had suffered by entering the First World War, financially, in human terms and in diplomatic prestige. US reluctance to intervene in Europe was a counter-part to the visceral pacifism and horror or rearmament which still ruled in western Europe. Together they hampered any hope of

First Step To Reform Antique Divorce Law

Friday 7th February 1936 Comic writer and independent MP, A. P. Herbert, presented a private member's bill to reform Britain's antique and incoherent divorce law. He had previously satirized its effects in a highly successful humorous novel, Holy Deadlock , in which an unhappy couple find themselves imprisoned in their marriage because they had both committed adultery. Under the existing law if the innocent party in a divorce case, were found also to have committed adultery, the divorce could be blocked. In practice  the only grounds available for divorce was adultery, but Herbert proposed to add a number of other grounds notably desertion. The government very tacitly supported Herbert, but a large body of conservative opinion remained opposed to divorce at all and was content that an inefficient and unjust law served as an obstacle. Divorce was still severely frowned upon in the higher reaches of society and divorced people were not received at Court.

Doomed Attempt At Naval Disarmament

6th February 1936 A few days before his father died Edward VIII had attended a reception at the Guildhall for the delegates to the Second London Naval Disarmament Conference, which was to continue the work that had begun Washington Naval Conference in 1921. The Conference had pursued its work through the period of George V's funeral and now its Second Technical Sub-committee had come up with the categories of ships that might be discussed. The Conference began to negotiate on the size and weaponry of the ships involved. Quaintly, aircraft carriers were viewed in terms of the guns they carried and not the aircraft, but this was the least of its flaws. Japan, one of the world's top three naval powers, had withdrawn on 15th January so its work was as good as meaningless but continued nonetheless. The conference was the last significant attempt to negotiate disarmament of any kind before the Second World War broke out. It was the last, doomed relic of hopes that war could be

Simpson Family Values

Wednesday 5th February 1936 Among the King's official visitors was Air-Vice Marshal Sir Philip Game, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. They probably discussed the security arrangements at George V's funeral, which had caused Edward momentary but deep and lasting anguish on the day. Edward believed that it was because of a failure by the police that his father's coffin had been put at risk. It is unlikely that Game gave any hint that Edward's indiscretions had made him vulnerable on a quite different score. The previous year the Metropolitan Police Special Branch had investigated the affairs of Mrs. Wallis Simpson, the dominant figure in the the Prince of Wales's private life, and her husband, Ernest. The detectives had come back reports of a squalid and compromised relationship. Mrs. Simpson was fond of men, but was mainly after the Prince's money, some of which she lavished on a secret lover, Guy Trundle. Ernest Simpson expected to be given a

Visitor To Downing Street Brings A Disturbing Tale

Tuesday 4th February 1936 A former Lord Mayor of London, Sir Maurice Jenks, came to J. C. C. Davidson, one of the Prime Minister's most intimate cronies with a disturbing tale concerning Wallis Simpson, the woman widely believed to be the King's mistress, and her husband. Jenks had already tangled with Simpson the previous year in his capacity as president of a prestigious Masonic Lodge in the City of London of which the then Prince of Wales was a member. The Prince had tried to obtain membership of the Lodge for Simpson, which Jenks had resisted on the double grounds that it would appear as a favour to a complaisant husband, whose interests were purely commercial. Only by giving a Masonic oath that his relationship with Mrs. Simpson was innocent did the Prince achieve his goal. Jenks told Davidson that Simpson had claimed to him that the new King wanted to marry his wife and that he was prepared to step aside to facilitate this. He would also like to discuss this dire

Employment Figures Show Britain Still Suffering

Monday 3rd February 1936 National employment statistics as 20th January showed some underlying recovery but Britain was still suffering badly. The total number of people working was up 3% at 10.35m but this was mainly because the previous year had been hard hit by very poor weather. A rise of nearly 50,000 in workers in the construction and contracting sector which is severely exposed to weather factors accounted for much of the overall improvement. By contrast employment in the heavy exporting sectors of the economy which were still suffering from the after effects of the Depression  and massive structural problems slipped. Workers in coal mining sector fell by 42,000, in ship-building by14,000 and in engineering by 24,000. The unemployment rate had improved on 18.8% in January 1935 but was still terrible at 17%.
Sunday, 2nd February 1936 The Dean of, Windsor delivered his first public sermon in St. George's Chapel since the funeral.  He had been in office since 1917 and had practically grown up in Queen Victoria's court, but he was alert and not hostile to the way in which the world had changed over the years. He began with a conventional enough tribute to George V, emphasizing his simplicity. It was when he turned to the new King, that his sympathies became clearer. Edward should not an "imitation" of his father and it would be wrong to criticize him for this. His father had grown up in an atmosphere of "settled faith" whilst Edward was "plunged into the turmoil of war" and "grew up in a generation of unsettled faith and disturbed thought." The ten years that he had spent traveling the Empire had prevented him developing home ties. At one level the sermon tried to excuse Edward for his poor church attendance and bachelor status. It also hinte
Saturday 1st February 1936 Randolph Churchill issued his manifesto for the upcoming by-election in Ross and  Cromarty. The contest had the dubious distinction of being more about the fathers of candidates than candidates themselves. Randolph's father, Winston, was still notionally a supporter of the government, but had been a fierce opponent of its policy on India and left office to go into the political wilderness as a result. The fact that Randolph had already fought one by-election against the official government candidate albeit without telling his father and was now doing so again was an embarrassing reminder of Winston's ambiguous position. Long viewed with great suspicion by conventional Tories because of his track record of defection, volatility and bad judgement, Winston's hopes of getting back into the Cabinet were looking ever slimmer. The official government candidate in Ross and Cromarty was Malcolm MacDonald, son of Ramsay, who had lost his seat in the prev