Showing posts from August, 2016

Tibet Has a New Dalai Lama

Sunday 31st August 1936

The new and still today current Dalai Lama was identified in Tibet. His predecessor had died in December 1933 and according to Tibetan belief his spirit had transferred to a child born at the exact moment of his death. Given the size of Tibet it had taken some time to collect all the possible children and examine them for the bodily marks that proved his status.

The return to Tibet of the Tashi Lama, second in the hierarchy to the Dalai Lama, from China, where he had been in exile since 1925 following disagreements with the late Dalai Lama, had added further complexity. The Tashi Lama was suspected to pro-Chinese inclinations. For the time being the new, infant Dalai Lama was being kept in a place of secrecy.

Moscow Leans on Oslo to Expel Trotsky

Saturday 30th August 1936

One of the chief motivations for the recent show trial in Moscow became clear when the Soviet government formally sought the expulsion of Leon Trotsky from Norway, where he had been in exile since the previous year following his expulsion from France. It repeated the accusations made in court, notably that Trotsky had plotted the murder of Stalin and the other Soviet leaders from the safety of Norway. The note stopped short of demanding Trotsky’s extradition to the Soviet Union; even Stalin’s Russia had a sense of what was plausible and what was implausible.

The Norwegian government was at best a reluctant host to Trotsky and was considering holding him in close confinement in a military fortress. Ultimately it bowed to Soviet pressure and sent Trotsky to Mexico later that year, where he lived until his murder by the NKVD in 1940.

True Home of the Spitfire

Friday 29th August 1936

Work on what could arguably be described as the most important of the shadow factories created to extent Britain’s aircraft making capacity got fully under way. Near to its main car plant at the Longbridge suburb of Birmingham, the Austin Motor Company was beginning work on a 25 acre site. It was due to enter production in July the following year, a remarkably short lead time.

The factory was not yet referred to as the Castle Bromwich plant, as it later became famous. It was to be the main production site for the Spitfire through the Second World War. It was not immune to German raids but was a far more distant target than Supermarine’s Southampton plant, where Spitfire production began. Much is made of Britain’s unpreparedness for war, but the shadow factory programme contributed the industrial depth that gave it superiority in production efficiency when the time came.

Britain’s Mainstream Left Stops Short of All-Out Support for Spanish Republicans

Thursday 28th August 1936

The three pillars of the mainstream left – the Parliamentary Labour Party, the National executive of the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress - in Britain met at Transport House to discuss the appropriate response to the Spanish Civil War. These bodies had just sent a formal deputation to the Foreign Secretary. The discussions were secret and only a communique was issued afterwards.

The statement was long on wordy condemnation of the threat posed by Fascism, the wickedness of the rebels and the unlawfulness of Italy and Germany in supplying the rebels with arms. The conference expressed regret – but no more - that it had been found necessary to impose a general arms embargo by the European powers. Clearly wholehearted support for the Republic was not in the offing. If nothing else the instinctive pacifism of the left stood in the way of advocating a military solution.

London Bridges Puzzle

Thursday 27th August 1936

Waterloo Bridge had been closed earlier in the year, because it had fallen beyond repair. John Rennie's Greek Doric Bridge of 1817 was an architectural triumph, but not durable enough and The old bridge was demolished and it would take some years to build the new one. This helped focus the attention of London's traffic planners on the need for a new road bridge over the Thames in central London. They cast an envious eye towards Paris, where there were 25 bridges over the Seine compared to London's twelve and the far more thorough approach to creating new roads to feed them.

An advisory committee recommended a new bridge at Charing Cross, but London Transport was concerned that without major changes to the road-system that fed it, it would cause as much congestion as it aimed to remove. It would entail a massive rejig of bus routes as well It was never built.

Monarch 1, Post Office 0

Wednesday 26th August 1936

The designs for the first four postage stamps of the reign of Edward VIII were announced by the Assistant Postmaster General. Designs for the remaining denominations of postage stamp had not been set and it was suggested that the public reaction to the first four might be the deciding factor. This strange access of openness towards public opinion may have masked hopes of a successful  rearguard action by the forces of conservatism.

The designs were markedly more modern than those of  George V stamps and set the style for standard British stamps ever since. They did resemble George V stamps in what was actually a shocking and scandalous innovation. Like his father's, Edward's head faced to the left, in breach of the wholly inexplicable, but iron, tradition that the orientation of the monarch's head should alternate between reigns. Edward believed that his left profile was more flattering and had bitterly resisted following this practice for both co…

British TV Programmes Begin with a Watching Eye

Tuesday 25th August 1936

The fist ever television programmes in Britain , as opposed to tests, were aired at the Olympia Radio exhibition.  They began with a watching eye shown on screen with accompanying music to allow the system to be adjusted before the public was admitted at noon. Two one and a half programmes daily were sent out by the BBC's transmitter at Alexandra Palace.
The programmes featured light entertainment items, such as the Three Admirals close harmony group, tap-dancing and humour in the shape of the Griffith Brothers comedy horse "Pogo." More heavyweight culture was represented by "Cover to Cover" with Somerset Maugham, Julian Huxley, "Sapper", T.S . Eliot, Rebecca West and A. P Herbert. The Gaumont British News covered the current affairs base.

Post Olympic Increase in Conscription Shows True Face of Nazi Germany

Monday 24th August 1936

The tensions set loose by the Spanish Civil War provided Germany with a pretext for a step which would doubtless have been made anyway. The period of compulsory military service was doubled to two years, which would boost the size of the serving armed forces by about one third to an estimated 550,000. Call-up of all reserves would bring strength to 800,000 About half of the conscripts currently serving had volunteered to serve the extra year, which suggests that the measure had been prepared in advance. 
The move was presented as necessary to counter Bolshevism exemplified by Russian meddling in Spain. Czech refusal to enter a non-aggression pact with Germany and a visit to the chief of the Polish general staff by his French opposite number were also cited. In reality the end of the Berlin Olympic games which freed Germany from some necessity to present itself as a peaceful nation, more likely the determined the timing.

Battle Between Tame and Independent Unions in South Wales Coalfield

Sunday 23rd August 1936

A major dispute in the South Wales coal mines was set to escalate badly. 128,000 miners were set to give fourteen days notice of strike action. At issue was the tension between the mine owners' tame union, the Miners' Industrial Union, and the independent South Wales Miners' Federation. There was little spontaneous support for the Industrial Union but desperation had force many to join it notably at the Bedwas Colliery. Here management was accused of operating the kind of attempt to control workers and dragoon them into a captive union more familiar in the US.
The owner of Bedwas, Sir Samuel Instone, was unusual as a mine-owner in that that he had bought into the industry as an investment, rather than merely owning land on which coal was discovered. He had been an early investor in airlines He also hoped to modernize operating practices to ensure the profitability of the mine. It was joked of an earlier coal dispute by a minister that he would have …

Triumph for Soviet Justice

Saturday 22nd August 1936

The chief Soviet prosecutor Andrei Vishiniski found that his eloquence before the court trying sixteen people on charges of conspiracy was to rewarded. In his closing statement he had sought the death penalty for all of them in a four hour speech. They were a "society of political murderers...Mad Fascist police dogs....Despicable rotten dregs of humanity...Scum of the underworld." He pointed out that the confessions that they had given during their imprisonment for the previous three months provided ample evidence on which to convict. What was labelled the Trotsky Zinovieff conspiracy also drew in the Gestapo, which, according to the confession of one of the defendants, had supplied false passports.
All sixteen were sentence to death by firing squad, although they were given a generous 72 hours in which to appeal. A telegram from the Second International and the International Federation of Trades Unions suggesting that independent counsel and clemen…

Talks About Talks Amongst Indian Princes

Friday 21st August 1936

Even the very limited measures for autonomy that the government proposed to introduce  in India had to struggle with the immense complexities of local politics. A key part of the British Raj's structure was the role of independent Princes who had long retained a very considerable degree of local authority, albeit on traditional terms, in practice hereditary and absolute monarchy. They were as little interested in a national, open democracy as the most reactionary of the British.
The number of the minor Princes had pushed hard to use the negotiations to rebuild their own position within the Chamber of Princes, the body through which their collective interest (if such a thing existed) was represented across the sub-continent. The Viceroy proposed a basis for talks to secure some kind of unanimity. It was set to be a long process.

RAF Rearmament Targets Both Quality and Quantity

Thursday 20th August 1936

As well as modernizing its equipment, the RAF was also growing in size. The Air Ministry was able to report, perhaps with a touch of smugness, that the RAF was on track to meet the target for expanding its personnel in May 1936. The Army was still struggling to meet its recruitment goals.
There was, though, still some way to go. The government's target was an increase of 22,500 by March 1937. In the fourteen months since this had been announced the RAF had recruited a net 15,300 men. 

First of many Soviet Show Trials Begins

Wednesday 19th August 1936

The first of many show-trials of Stalin's regime began in Moscow. There were sixteen defendants, notably two of the old Bolshevist leaders, Zinoviev and Kamenev. They were accused of plotting against the legal leadership of the Soviet Union and planning to murder Josef Stalin himself, the army commander Voroshilov, Kaganovich, the railway minister and Ordjonikidze,a Georgian and close associate of Stalin. It was a helpful guide to who was considered important. The charges carried the death penalty.
The worst crime of all that these scoundrels were accused of was conspiring with Leon Trotsky. then in the relative safety of exile. Trotsky was alleged to have provided instructions on how to murder the Soviet leaders. once they had achieved their evil goal, the plotters would invite Trotsky to return to the Soviet Union.

Economy and Safety are the Watchwords in Preparations for the Coronation

Tuesday 18th August 1936

The coronation of Edward VIII in May 1937 was set to be a major event both logistically and economically, but serious preparations could only begin when the definitive route for the procession was published. The size of the crowds that had attended George V's funeral had surprised the authorities and led to confusion and disruption; they were determined to avoid a repetition.
The route of the procession was to be longer than that taken by George V in 1911, in part to give space to the expected crowds. Temporary stands erected for spectators were to be inspected for safety purposes. It was hoped that the greater scope for  such stands would help bring prices down and it was firmly suggested that hotels in London should should put their prices up by more than 50% to the event.

Alvis Moves from Cars to Aero Engines

Monday 17th August 1936

The Alvis company of Coventry opened its aero-engine factory. This was one of the first shadow factories, key to Britain's rearmament programme, and Alvis's first major step away from motor-car manufacture. The factory was a major addition to production capacity for high-power engines, but in other respects it was something of a dead-end.

It began by producing Mistral radial engines under license from the French Gnome-Rhone company. At that point the Bristol Motor company had something of a monopoly in radial aero-engine in Britain and Alvis hoped to develop its won engines in competition.and developed its own Pelides motor from the Mistral. By the outbreak of the War, the Pelides was not fully developed and established designs had priority. The Alvis factory was one of the key targets for the Lufwaffe, when it bombed Coventry in November 1940. The car factory was badly hit, but the aero-engine plant escaped almost unscathed.

Londoners See Their First Roosting King Penguin

Sunday 16th August 1936

Visitors to London Zoo were treated to their first ever view of a King Penguin, incubating its solitary egg. No form of nest was built as no material was available in the birds' normal Antarctic habitat, but the egg was supported on the bird's webbed feet to protect it from the cold of the ground.
The first King Penguin had arrived at London Zoo from the Falkland Islands as long ago as 1865. Its penguins were housed in a special enclosure with dramatic ramps opened in 1934, designed by the Russian architect Berthold Lubetkin, of the Tecton Movement. When the penguins were given the opportunity to show a preference in 2004, when they were temporarily housed in a duck pond during the renovation of Lubetkin's enclosure, they showed such a an affection for the less architecturally distinguished surroundings that they remain there to this day.

Storm of Badajoz Brings the First Full Scale Bloodbath of the Spanish Civil War

Saturday August 15th 1936

The Spanish rebel forces under Colonel Yague had stormed the city of Badajoz on Friday evening and now set to punish its population for supporting the government. Colonel Yague's forces were a combination of Moroccan Foreign Legionnaires and local Falangists. some units suffered heavy casualties in the hard fighting , but overall rebel losses were moderate. 
Some if the defending troops wisely defected to the attackers, but most others were killed out of hand. The rebels massacred some thousands of civilians, figures range between 1,800 and 4,000. Many were machine-gunned in the town's bullring. Predictably, Yague came to be known as the "Butcher of Badajoz" and went on to become one of the rebels' most effective soldiers.

Government Goes Hard After the Soft Target Amongst the Anti-Semites

Friday 14th August 1936

The leader of Britain's Imperial Fascist League,  Arnold Leese and his printer Walter Whitehead were committed for trial on the charge of seditious libel for a series of articles in The Fascist newspaper advocating the extermination of Jews and accusing them of the ritual murder of Christian children. The charge was a criminal one and carried a possible severe jail term, but Leese was in many senses a very soft target.

The IFL was a small minority group, entirely dedicated to Leese's obsessive racial anti-Semitism, and was of practically no political significance. Leese was a former military veterinary surgeon, who had become fixated on what he saw as the cruelty of Jewish slaughter techniques. The prosecution left wide open the question of how the government was to deal with the far larger British Union of Fascists, who policies were becoming explicitly anti-Semitic and whose provocative demonstrations posed far more of a threat to public order the safe…

Baby Step toward Independence for Egypt

Thursday 13th August 1936

Local negotiators in Egypt finally concluded the details of a new treaty with Britain. De facto Britain had ruled Egypt since 1882, first under the very nominal suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire and, since 1922,  under a more-or-less sham arrangement under which Egypt was formally an independent monarchy, but Britain maintained a military occupation and enjoyed a series of specific privileges. Britain's key goal was to protect its use of the Suez Canal, the principal route to and from India and it had little colonial ambition for the rest of the country.

Rising nationalism led by the Wafd party had prompted the renegotiation. The new treaty committed Britain to withdraw from everywhere but the Canal Zone by 1949. It also removed judicial immunity from British troops. The agreement was greeted with immense, and quite premature, celebration as a harbinger of proper independence.

Brutality on Both Sides in Spain

Wednesday 12th August 1936

The day's crop of news from the Spanish Civil War gave the readers of British newspapers a clear idea of the brutality with which it was being waged on both sides. Coverage of Republican actions was more extensive, feeding the notion that government supporters included dangerous revolutionaries.
Two generals who had supported the insurrection were executed by firing squad for treason in Republican-held Barcelona after a formal condemnation by a court martial. The sentence had been conformed by the government in Madrid, but it was observed that Anarcho-syndicalists had taken over the court building and barred it to,all but judges. Much play was made of the fact that one of the generals had tried to obtain clemency for two Republican prisoners in the Jaca uprising of 1930.  On the rebel side, General Franco had started to use his Moroccan troops to their full capacity on the Southern front, sending detachments to surround villages, searching out suspects a…

New Nazi Ambassador to London

Tuesday 11th August 1936

The new German ambassador to London and successor to Leopold von Hoesch, who had died in office, was announced. It was not to be another professional diplomat, still less an old-style aristocrat like von Hoesch, but the Nazi politician, Joachim von Ribbentrop, arguably the most stupid and worthless of the party's senior figures, albeit cultivated and cosmopolitan in comparison to his colleagues.

Von Ribbentrop had already spent much time in London, negotiating the Anglo-German Naval Treaty of 1935 and cultivating the higher reaches of cafe society, in particular Lady Cunard. Lady Cunard  had been an early sponsor of  Mrs. Simpson's rise in society and much of von Ribbentrop's hopes for his mission rested on exploiting the connection to Edward VIII to promote good relations between Britain and Nazi Germany. He wildly exaggerated the strength of his relationship with the King, the King's enthusiasm for his regime and the King's influence on go…

Special Areas Programme Bears First Fruit

Monday 10th August 1936

The government's programme to bring new industries and employment  to the depressed, mainly coal-mining, areas, started to bring concrete results, somewhat late in the day, it might have been argued, considering that the Great Slump had begun over five years ago. Non-profit making companies had been established financed by the £2m allocated by the government to the "Special Areas" to build trading estates attractive to newer, high-growth industries, which were hope to take over from the more traditional heavy industries.
The first of these was announced as the Team Valley trading estate near Gateshead. The plans were well thought-out and the estate offered good infrastructure and transport links including main roads that would be built from new. 35 firms had expressed interest in renting sites and work began very rapidly. The £80,000 contract to build the estate went to Wimpey, a London-based firm, but the site employed local people, giving an imm…

Fourth Olympic Gold For Jesse Owens

Sunday 9th August 1936

Black American athlete Jesse Owens won his fourth gold medal of the Olympic Games in Berlin with victory in the 4 x 100 metres relay, setting a new world record. He had already won gold in the 100 metres, long jump, defeating Germany's Lutz Long, and 200 metres. His achievement has since been encrusted by legend; much of it dubious.
It was doubtless an embarrassment for the Nazis to see a black athlete beat aryans, but the story that Hitler stormed out of the stadium is unverified and the story that he refused to shake Owens's hand is even more dubious. It is certainly true that two Jewish runners (the only Jews in the US squad) were dropped from the team in favour of Owens and another black athlete at the last moment, and it is an open question whether this was motivated by a desire to save the Germans the humiliation of losing to Jewish athletes or outright anti-semitism on the part of US team officials..

Arms Industry Nationalization In France

Saturday 8th August 1936

The French National Assembly voted through the Front Populaire's bill nationalizing the arms industry. Aircraft plants had been especially hard hit by the wave of strikes in the weeks after the election. The defence minister also promised that the government would take measures to prevent the export of raw material with potential military uses. This was prompted by a story that iron ore had been exported to Germany.

Like Britain's Labour Party, the French left was moved by a combination of pacifism and anti-capitalism to try to bring the arms industry under control. Ultimately these were more powerful forces than hostility to Fascism, which demanded rearmament if it was to be taken to its logical conclusion. This was another factor in France's doomed advocacy of an embargo on arms supply to either side in the Spanish Civil War.

The Horse: Enemy of Speed

Friday 7th August 1936

There was no let-up in the crusade by Transport Minister, Leslie Hore-Belisha, to drag Britain's road system into the mid twentieth century. After the system of national long-distance roads, he turned his attention to the notoriously clogged streets of the capital. Horse-drawn buses and cabs had almost vanished, but many commercial deliveries were made by horse and cart, in particular doorstep delivery of milk and brewers' drays taking beer to pubs.
Under the new regulations, horse-drawn vehicles were to be banned from certain streets of the busiest during the working day, unless making a delivery there. Contravention would be punished by a hefty fine of £5. Like all such measures, it was quite futile and London surface traffic still moves no faster than in victoria's reign.

Civil Service Scandal

Wednesday 6th August 1936

The chief civil servant at the Air Ministry was summarily dismissed in what might still rank as the worst non-political scandal to affect the top level of the Civil Service. Sir Christopher Bullock had become the Permanent Secretary to the Air Ministry before he was even forty years old and was highly regarded for his work on the modernization of the RAF.
His ministry was also responsible for dealings with the state-controlled airline, Imperial Airways, and Bullock had negotiated the contract between it and  the government for Empire air mail. In the course of the negotiations he made clear that he would like a seat on Imperial's board and to succeed Sir Eric Geddes as its Chairman. He also, quite improperly, tried to introduce the question of an honour for Geddes into the discussion. The Imperial representatives seem to have done their best to ignore  these indiscretions, but a board of enquiry of two senior civil servants and a government lawyer censure…

Front Populaire Struggles with Economic Reality

Tuesday 4th August 1936

The French National Assembly voted through the Government's bill to control prices.It was a desperate and futile move to avoid the economic consequences of the Matignon agreement, which had granted huge wage increases as well as workers' rights. The bill was presented as a measure  to prevent predatory and illicit price increase by shopkeepers, but the in reality inflation was now running at a gigantic rate. In the last week of July wholesale prices had risen by 2%, even before the full effects of Matignon made themselves felt.
In an extraordinarily muddled piece of economic thinking, the Government tried to pass off the recent measure, easing credit terms for small businesses, as a means of financing the increase in their costs. Even more desperate was a mooted moratorium on overdue rent and interest arrears. The whole being temporary until December, when comprehensive legislation would have been introduced.

Temporary Line Drawn Under Sectarian Strife in Iraq

Tuesday 4th August 1936

Martial Law was withdrawn in the Middle Euphrates area of Iraq as the British backed authorities suppressed a revolt by local Shia, inevitably referred to in the British media as "tribesmen". Britain had been given control of Iraq under the Versailles agreements after the First World War, nominally under a mandate from the League of Nations. The British-installed Hashemite monarchy was generally seen as Sunni and enjoyed little popular support. The Hashemites had little historical connection with the region and their promotion might be seen as a consolation prize for the failure to deliver on the grander promises made to them when they were being courted as allies against the Turks during the First World War.
Baghdad had greatly restricted the celebration of the key Shia festival of Muharram. Together with the threatened revival of conscription, which had been a great burden under Turkish rule, and a botched irrigation scheme, this triggered an uprisi…

Spanish Republicans Soon at War with Each Other

Monday 3rd August 1936

One of the grimmest aspects of the Spanish Civil War and a significant factor in the fatal weakness of the Republican side were the savage internecine quarrels amongst its supporters. These were at their most acute in Catalonia, where rival extreme left-wing political ideas interacted with local separatism. Violence soon broke out.

A dispute between Socialist and Anarcho-Syndicalists escalated into a gunfight in which a number of Socialists were killed. It was foretaste of the all-out bloodbath in which Stalinists, faithful to Moscow, suppressed the Anarcho-Syndicalists, unforgettably depicted in George Orwell's Homage to Barcelona

Olympic Opening Ceremony Hijacked for Nazi Propaganda

Sunday 2nd August 1936

The opening of the Summer Olympic games was a Nazi propaganda event. The 100,00 seat Olympia stadium had been built as a demonstration of the might of Nazi Germany. Leni Riefenstahl, who had directed the movie Triumph of the Will celebrating the Nazi Party rally of 1934 in Nuremberg, had been commissioned to make a film of the Olympics and the result, Olympia, has provided potent images of Nazi triumphalism ever since.
The ceremony opened with Hitler's arrival in orchestrated silence, when he was handed a bouquet of flowers by a small girl. Before the teams marched in, Deutschland Ueber Alles and the Nazi party anthem, the Horst Wessel Lied, were sung. In the evening the stadium provided the backdrop to a floodlit "Festival of Youth" and Berlin was given over to even more blatant political displays.

Italy Begins its Air Support for Spanish Rebels

Saturday 1st August 1936

France's dream of non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War soon proved to be entirely one-sided. Having enunciated the policy unilaterally, its first diplomatic move was to approach Britain and Italy to join in. The democracies held back from supporting a Republican regime, tainted by atrocity and far left forces, but the Fascist powers had no such qualms about supporting the rebels.
Italy gave a rapid foretaste of its actual intentions by dispatching 21 military aircraft to the rebel military in Spanish Morocco. Three crashed en route in French territory, but the remainder arrived safely, beginning the long chapter of Fascist air assistance to the rebels. The surviving crews of the crashed aircraft were formally charged with arms supply and air navigation offences, but the fact that they were permitted to attend the funerals of those comrades who had lost their lives, points to the underlying sympathies of the French colonial authorities.