Eighty years ago: Hollow diplomacy, rearmament phony and real, and an impostor eco-warrior with a real campaign

Neville Chamberlain’s policy of constructive dialogue with the dictators (a.k.a. appeasement) produced its first demonstrable result when a series of agreements known as the Easter accords were signed.  with Fascist Italy was signed after months of negotiation. They amounted to little more than an agreement to maintain the status quo in the Mediterranean and the Near East. Italy committed itself to withdrawing its “volunteers” from Spain with very little by way of specific detail. The accords would not come into force until the volunteers had been withdrawn. There was no mention of the great prize for Italy: British recognition of its conquest of Ethiopia. The accords were trumpeted as the start of a new era in Anglo-Italian amity but they fell well short of detaching Mussolini from friendship with Hitler, the goal that lay behind Chamberlain’s policy. Italy had already accepted without protest the Anschluß of Austria to Germany which had occurred during the negotiations.

It was announced that the British Air Ministry was sending a technical mission to the USA to examine the possibility of buying aircraft for the RAF from there. It aroused violent protests from the British plane makers who were struggling to execute the RAF’s expansion scheme. Relations between the industry and its client had fallen into hostility and mistrust. The plane makers might well have interpreted the mission as an attempt to pressurize them into bending to the Ministry’s will. The US military aircraft industry was barely developed and the mission achieved little practical. The only aeroplane that was imported as a result was the Lockheed Hudson, a militarized airliner design, which gave useful but unspectacular service.

US rearmament was getting properly under way but this was focussed on the navy, which was essentially a weapon of defence against Japan. The Senate Naval Affairs Committee endorsed a Bill embodying President Roosevelt’s plans for 46 new vessels including three battleships and two aircraft carriers. This would represent a major expansion of the USN. Unlike the US aircraft industry there was already huge spare ship-building capacity. Only armour-grade steel supply could hold back production.

The death of the celebrity Canadian environmental campaigner Grey Owl triggered the revelation that, rather than being born in Canada of the first nations, he was a native Englishman called Archibald Belaney, who had invented the identity under which he lived. His perfect English accent helped to betray him. He also proved to be have been an alcoholic bigamist which further dented his reputation. The value of his work for beaver conservation and that of other wild animals is beyond dispute, but it was a sad story. It was also mildly enbarassing for King George VI who had invited him to deliver a talk to the Royal family at Buckingham Palace.