17 November 2018

Worship of Hitler in an English Church, 1945

In Sept 1942, a lone plane dropped three bombs on Petworth in Sussex, one of them falling on a boys’ school. The bomber killed 29 school boys, a headmaster and schoolmistress in this daylight raid. The town was de­vastated so immediate protests were organised to the Lord Lieut of Sussex, the House of Commons and church author­ities.

Why am I discussing Petworth? Kingdom House was a fine C17th grey stone mansion situated in a hamlet named River, consisting of 18 cottages and a public bouse. Near Petworth, one of the most picturesque parts of Sussex, this property was owned by barrister and fascist sympathiser WG Barlow. A church at Kingdom House was set up by a group styl­ing itself the Legion of Christian Reformers/LCR and dedicated to the worship of Adolf Hitler.

During the war Barlow was detained under Regulation 18B of the Defence General Regulations 1939, which enabled the internment of enemy aliens and political dissenters. Most members of the LCR were former 18B detainees so the concept of the Legion probably emerged in late 1944 in the Peveril Internment Camp on the Isle of Man.

The Custodian of Kingdom House, Arthur Schneider, spent the summer preparing Kingdom House for the Legion following his release in April 1945. Other members arrived in Sept, including the two Schneider's sisters, James Battersby and another notorious fascist, Capt Thomas Baker.

Baker and Battersby were involved in the Militant Christian Patriots before the war, an organisation closely linked to other fascist groups like the Nordic League and the Britons Society. Deeply anti-Semitic, the pair developed their pol­itical ideology into a religion centred around the divinity of Hitler. Battersby wrote and published a manifesto in 1943 from the Isle of Man: We Englishmen, true to God and to England, declare the Judgement, the final struggle between God and Mammon, and the God-appointed mission of Adolf Hitler as God’s Judge, from our prison camp to the leaders of our country.

Kingdom House Petworth,
Photo credit: James Battersby, Heirs of the Kingdom. Kingdom Press, 1948

Arthur Schneider, son of an Aust­rian immigrant, was closely watched by Special Branch from the moment he joined the British Union of Fascists/BUF in 1939. Schneider had joined the army at the outbreak of war but requested to transfer to a non-combatant role in early 1940. He held strong pro-Nazi views, so he was discharged from military service and interned. Baker had converted the enthusiastic Schneider to his ideas of Hitler-as-Messiah while they were interned. Lieutenant Paget, the senior Intelligence Officer who interviewed Schneider at Peveril descr­ibed him as a mean, vindictive Nazi thug, crudely and spitefully antisemitic.

Schneider was the last 18B detainee to be released from Peveril in 1945. Even then, he was watched by MI5. His brother Robert was refused entry to the Royal Air Force.

The Schneider sisters moved to Kingdom House from their Women’s Land Army hostel in Sept 1945. In a document dated Nov 1945, Chief Constable of Sussex Police Captain WJ Hutchinson wrote: The sis­t­ers’ letters to their brother made it clear that the “final victory of good over evil refers to the victory of national socialism over democracy and that home means Germany”. Dangerous women!

The residents of Kingdom House said they wanted a quiet, self-sufficient life and were not planning to evangelise. The security services were aware of their existence, not least because Schneider still had to report to the police once a month, but did nothing.

Hitler Bust up for auction
at the German Embassy in Britain, Nov 1945
Photo credit: Getty Images

It might be supposed that in 1945, with war with Nazi Germany re­cently concluded, supporters of Nazism would not have been tol­er­ated in Britain at all. Yet the British government’s gen­eral policy was merely to watch them.

Then in Nov 1945, while reports of the Belsen trial were making news, another story hit the national news­papers. It began with the controversial auction of the contents of the German embassy in London. Among the items sold was a granite bust of Hit­ler, purchased for £500 by Captain Robert Gordon-Canning, a leading member of the BUF before the war. If Gordon-Canning could not consign Hit­ler's bust to Kingdom House, the bust would be presented to Sir Oswald Mosley, head of the League of British Fascists instead.

The villagers of River were horrified to learn that the Legion had settled in their midst. The Home Secretary shared revulsion against the LCR which, in the guise of religion, sought to make a cult of Hitler and of the forces of evil so recently successfully defeated. But unless the Legion broke the law, nothing could be done.

I would ask why could nothing be done? What about treason in war time? What about brutality to families who lost a son or husband fighting against Germany?

In Parliament Labour MP for Gravesend Garry Allighan asked the Home Secretary to 'cause an investigation to be made into the membership & operations of the Christian Reform Legion, with headquarters at Kingdom House ... whose objects are the veneration of Hitler and the perpetuation of his memory. They believe Hitler is the second Jesus Christ’. Two pastors arrived at the gates of Kingdom House to lead hymn-singing local protestors.

In mid-Dec 1945 10 masked men arrived in two large saloon cars, to raid Kingdom House. The residents opened the back kitchen door and were beaten up and cut on the face and head. Only the women were treated courteously. Expressing Christian values, Capt Baker emphasised that they did not want the police to press charges. The raiders fled, leaving a note: We, a party of young officers in HM services, carried out the operation at Kingdom House because the authorities seemed to be doing nothing about this setting up of a Hitler cult in England. All of us have served overseas.

Battersby published The Holy Book of Adolf Hitler
in English in 1951

It was the end for Kingdom House. At first the Legion’s members dispersed, although they tried to create a similar community in South Africa later on. Battersby was deported as an undesirable immigrant, returning home to continue publishing pro-Nazi literature. In 1955 he suicided by jumping from the Mersey Ferry. In Feb 1963 Arthur Schneider disappeared. Baker returned to live in Jersey, where he was visited by neo-Nazi admirers, until his death in 1966.

13 November 2018

Could the British have saved the Romanovs from execution?

We understand the very close connection among the three principal monarchs of the early C20th.

1. British King George V and Russian Tsar Nicholas II’s mothers, the princesses Alexandra and Dagmar, were sisters, the daughters of King Christian of Denmark and his wife Queen Louise. The king and tsar were thus first cousins.

2. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and King George were first cousins (via Wilhelm’s mother and George’s father), while Wilhelm and Nicholas were third cousins.

It was common for European royalty to promote each other into the other’s defence forces.  In the photo below, Tsar Nicholas II was in the uniform of the German Westphalian Hussars and King George V was in the uniform of the German Rhenish Cavalry. King George V was appointed Colonel-in-Chief of the German regiment in Jan 1902 and served in this role until the two countries declared war in 1914. If their grandmother Queen Victoria had still been alive, said the Kaiser, she would never have allowed Britain or Russia to go to war with Germany.

Britain and Russia’s closeness was also important. The threat of growing German naval power had only strengthened the good Anglo-Russian relations established jointly with France under the Triple Entente of 1907. What a shock to Kaiser Wilhelm II when, at the outbreak of war in 1914, his cousins allied against him.

As the combined royal portrait showed a close bond, why were Nicholas II’s relatives in Britain reluct­ant to save the Russians? Did the British king sell the Russian family down the river to preserve his own power base? Or was he put under pressure by the British government to ignore his cousins in the midst of a catastrophic and costly WWI?

George V and Tsar Nicholas II 
Almost identical cousins in German Military Uniforms 
Berlin 1913

Clearly the Tsar and his family did not arrive in Britain. A number of reasons have been proposed. Firstly worsening conditions for the British people, and fears that revolution might come to the Brit­ain, led King George to think that the Russian royals’ arrival would be inappropriate. And in the Russian empire, where many citizens experienced extreme poverty and brutal royal rule, Nich­olas II found himself caught between WW1 and the discontent of his own people. Neither the British nor the Russian peoples would have wanted to support the Russian royal family.

The price for preserving King George V’s throne was high, given the tsar’s brutal reputation as a monarch might have sparked a similar worker revolution in Britain. This was no time for a constitut­ional monarch, anxious about his own position, to be extending asylum to an autocrat, however close they were.

Secondly the logistics in getting the Romanovs safely away from the Urals failed. There were enormous problems of distance, geography and climate. It would be almost impossible getting 7 royals over very long distances via railways controlled by revolutionaries, then by sea through treacherous ice floes and safely past German submarine patrols. Rescue via aircraft was of course impossible.

Thirdly if Britain could not welcome the Russian cousins, perhaps an­oth­er nation could be found. At the outbreak of the WW1 the royal descendants of British Queen Victoria and of Danish King Christian IX occupied the thrones of Denmark, Greece, Norway, Germany, Romania, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom. But neutral Denmark was too close to Germ­any. Norway and Sweden were prepared to help with an evacuation but not to offer asylum. And France and Switz­erland would not be invol­ved at all. Only King Alfonso of Spain tried very hard to help his cousins.

Fourthly would the Russians let their own royal family leave? Init­ially the Russian government that deposed the tsar was definitely open to his leaving the country alive. Pavel Milyukov, foreign min­ister in the Provisional Russian Government, made the first move. It was facilitated by Sir George Buchanan, Britain’s am­bas­sador in wartime Petrograd, a man who saw and spoke to Nicholas II often. Milyukov was taken immediately to the British Embassy and begged the British to offer the Romanovs asylum. David Lloyd George’s government agreed, albeit grudgingly and only for a limited time.

Royal cousins Wilhelm II and King George V
Potsdam, 1913

But later the Bolsheviks were less interested in facilitating safe passage. The British govern­ment apparently had designs on allowing the stricken tsar to gain asylum from a rising underclass and a Bolshevik Party that wanted his entire family eliminated.

Following the February Revolution of 1917 Nicholas, along with his son Alexei, abdicated in favour of his brother. But Grand Duke Mikhail refused the crown, bringing to an end three centuries of the Rom­anov dynastic rule. The family was transferred to Tobolsk in late summer 1917 and had no further choice but to remain in Russia. Help never arrived and the exit gate was firmly shut! 

In April-May 1918, the family was moved from Tobolsk to the local council in Ekaterin­burg, both east of the Ural mountains. The Rom­an­ov murders in 1918 by a Bolshevik firing squad in Ek­aterinburg raised major questions about George V’s inertia. War between the cousins should have been impos­s­ib­le, or at least the royal families should have been able to save each other. Yet no rescue came from the tsar’s British cousin, or from any other cousin. 

Grand Duke Mikhail was arrested in 1918 and imprisoned in St Petersburg, then sent to Perm in the East where he was executed in June. Tsar Nicholas’ younger sister, the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, wrote 52 letters to her sister  during this era and they now provide a fascinating insight into the Romanovs' perilous existence. After the executions, Olga’s anger at the Allies was intense, although she later escaped with husband and sons in Feb 1920 and settled in Denmark. Grand Duchess Xenia moved firstly into exile in Crimea, then King George V sent a warship which brought Xenia to Britain.

10 November 2018

Three Identical Strangers - a film review

Bobby Shafran drove to Sullivan County Community College in New York for his first day of university. The other students were thrilled to see him there, telling him how their summer holidays had been and asking newcomer about his. He was particularly surprised when girls warmly kissed him, and called him Eddy.

Soon Michael Domnitz, whose best friend Eddy Galland had just changed colleges, solved the mystery. Domnitz asked Bobby if he was adopted, and if so, what was his date of birth. It was 12th July 1961, the same date as Galland! Shafran phoned Galland, and they immediately arranged a meeting. Both Bobby and Eddy were gobsmacked that their two faces, clothes and hairdos were utterly identical!

The story of the twins’ reunion made the local news­papers. And an even more striking event occurred. David Kellman, a 19-year-old student at another New York college, saw the twins’ faces in a newspaper and thought he was looking at himself. They turned out to be identical triplets.

All three boys had been taken from their young biological mother at birth, split up by the Louise Wise Jewish Adoption Service and adopted by three different families in the suburbs of New York. All Jewish, yes, but totally different socioeconomic backgrounds.

The three triplets 
after they accidentally got together in 1980

Despite Louise Wise Service saying that adopting triplets together would be impossible, none of the adoptive parents had ever been asked if they would take more than one child. In fact the psychol­ogists specifically split up identical twins and triplets, placing them in different home environments, in order to study their lives.

When the triplets were accidentally reunited at 19 years of age, the boys did not know was that they had been the subjects of a long-term study aimed at finally answering the Nature Vs Nurture question. Partially funded by the government, the relevant grant application was called A Longitudinal Study on Monozygotic Twins Reared Apart. A psychologist and photographer began visiting their homes (and the homes of other identical twins). The visits took place every few months, and went on till the boys were 13. Very detail written records were kept and filed.

They gave many tv interviews in the 1980s, but the scholarly research was never analysed or published. And it wasn’t till 2018 that a documentary about the triplets was released: Three Identical Strangers, directed by Tim Wardle.

Being a psychology graduate in the 1960s when rigorous experimentation was valued, regardless of the ethics, I was fascin­at­ed by this documentary. For example, the boys asked if it was moral to separate twins and triplets at birth, allowing the “research subjects” to grow up alone? How could the adoption serv­ice not ask the adopting parents if they wanted to keep the babies together? Why was the research not published and the results made accessible to the participants? Were the triplets delighted to find each other at 19? Were the three lots of adoptive parents delighted when the triplets found each other? When the triplets started going to the same college, got degrees in int­ernational marketing and worked in the same restaurant, were they successful? When work press­ures led to fights, did the three men remain close to each other? Did the three marry happily and have babies?

The triplets were given bit roles in the film 
'Desperately Seeking Susan' with Madonna, 1985

It was very clear was that Kellman’s father, a grocery-shop owner, was a wonderful man who became the mega-father to all three young men.

But some questions were totally inappropriate. Was their biological mother mentally unstable herself? Were the children therefore susceptible to mental illness in their own lives? And if all three men had had disturbed childhoods and really tough adolescent years, how much was contributed by the secret adoption process?

Eddy had exhibited increasing signs of bipolar disorder (which we didn’t hear about in the film). So in 1995, when the brothers were torn apart again, the audience was in tears. Eddy Galland suicided in his New Jersey home, leaving behind a wife and a young child. The triplets, then aged 34, had spent less than 15 years of their lives together.

After Eddy’s suicide, the lead psychoanalyst Dr Peter Neubauer, who designed and managed the study, could have added to the debate. But he did not. He merely said the trip­lets would have been separated anyway, because it was the policy of Louise Wise Services, so he decided it gave the psychologists a great chance for research. Nor did Neubauer explain why the research had never been published. I was bitterly disappointed.

When Dr Neubauer died in 2008, all of his records were placed with Yale University and sealed till 2065!! So the documentary didn’t and couldn’t plumb the depths of the scientists’ deception.

As the Louise Wise Service closed a long time ago, The Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services would now be responsible for sharing the research findings. And since then, some heavily re­dact­ed pages were indeed copied and sent to the surviving triplets. And the scientists apparently invited anyone who was an identical twin, who knew they were separated at birth in New York and secretly studied, to come and ask them for the records.

The film noted that there were psychiatrists alive and working in New York who worked on this study and could tell us more, but the director only found two almost irrelevant scientists who agreed to appear in the film. For whatever reason, there were really powerful people in New York who didn’t want these events to be aired.

I do not want to discuss Josef Mengele, who experimented on twins during the Holocaust. But the triplets did refer to other unethical studies in the USA: the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment in The Negro Male (1936-46); the Milgram Exper­iments on obedience to authority (early 1960s); and the Stanford Prison Experim­ent on perceived power (1971).

06 November 2018

Clive James - eventual death, Sydney beaches and poetry

Born in Sydney, Clive James (1939- ) aka the Kid from Kogarah, remembered his childhood fondly. He grew up in an ordinary suburb near the beaches in Sydney. Buses from Kogarah serviced surrounding beaches like Monterey (2ks), allowing young Clive and his friends to swim and surf without parental supervision.

His autobiographical series Unreliable Memoirs , written later, documented his early life in Sydney, including the death of his father while return­ing from a prisoner of war camp at the end of WW2.

At Sydney University, the bright young things joined the Sydney Push intellectual movement. In 1963 aged 23, he moved to Britain with clothes and a £10 note. He was in a generation of young graduates who wanted to tackle the world, including art critic Robert Hughes from Sydney, feminist author Germaine Greer from Melbourne and performer Barry Humphries from Melbourne. All of them left Australia in the mid 1960s and found success in the UK.

Clive James back in Sydney, 1991

There James became well known as an “Australian” novelist, critic, journalist and poet, best remembered for his tv chat shows in Britain. He was the Renaissance man with a grin who went from a Kogarah lad to Cambridge-based fame.

Go Back to the Opal Sunset (late 1980s) referred to Australia. The poem evoked a list of Australia's richest-hued charms and contrast­ed them with the stark drawbacks of Britain, James’ adopted home.

Go back to the opal sunset, where the wine
Costs peanuts, and the avocado mousse
Is thick and strong as cream from a jade cow.
Make your escape
To where the prawns assume a size and shape
Less like a newborn baby's little toe

James was diagnosed with leukaemia and emphysema in 2010. Facing death, he expressed in verse his intense longing to return to Sydney and bask in the light he never left behind. He continued to write poetry throughout his cancer treatments, which he acknow­ledged would prevent him returning to Sydney before claiming his life.

In 2014, James wrote of being “sentenced to life” with “lungs of dust”, sleeping face up “lest I should cough the night away”, and walking as if “wading through deep clay”. Mortality narrowed his focus.

In Collected Poems he wrote: “If I should fail to survive this year of feebleness, send my ashes home, where they can fall  In their own sweet time from the harbour wall”.

The poet agreed that the prospect of death beautifully con­centrated the mind. However he recently returned to the significance of childhood mem­or­ies as a stage for his creativity. I agree! After 45 years of marriage, I started going over my primary school photos, telling my beloved (who did not grow up in Melbourne) who each pupil and teacher was, what happened to them, what subjects we studied, what sports we played, what the uniforms looked like and what foods our parents made. The early memories remain.

Once again James’ memories were filled with aching for his home­land. His body was weak, he said; the sky was overcast, and he was far from Australia. In his poem Sentenced to Life (2014), he wrote

The Pacific sunset, heaven sent
In glowing colours and in sharp relief
Painting the white clouds when the day is spent
As if it were my will and testament.
But my mind
Basks in the light I never left behind

During the last few years his poetry continued well. The poems became richly auto­biographical, emotional and circling back to his old themes. “Return of the Kogarah Kid” was written by Clive James and published in Injury Time, by Picador, 2017 . Still death-related but filled with references to the sun, beach, fresh air and sea gulls.

Sea gulls on a Sydney beach

Here I began and here I reach the end.
From here my ashes go back to the sea
And take my memories of every friend
And love, and anything still dear to me,
Down to the darkness out of which the sun
Will rise again, this splendour never less:
Fated to be, when all is said, and done,
For others to recall and curse or bless
The way that time runs out but still comes in,
The new tide always ready to begin.

Do the gulls cry in triumph, or distress?
In neither, for they cry because they must,
Not knowing this is glory, unaware
Their time will come to leave it. It is just
That we, who learned to breathe the brilliant air,
And first were told that we were made of dust
Here in this city, yet went out across
The globe to find fame, should return one day
To trade our gains against a certain loss –
And sink from sight where once we sailed away

Clive James also noted that “In my will I have left instructions that my ashes should be scattered into Sydney Harbour from Dawes Point, presuming that a box of ashes is allowed on the aircraft, that the customs officers at Sydney Airport do not rate ashes as organic matter. In the event of a small bronze plaque seeming possible and appropriate, the above poem is meant as a suggested wording for an inscription”.  But why would Dawes Point be the site for his mem­or­ial plaque, being on the NW point of Sydney’s central business dis­trict instead of near Kogarah.

The Sydney Writers Walk plaques run from the edge of The Rocks, around Circular Quay, and on to the Sydney Opera House. Clive James' plaque has text taken from his 1980 book Unreliable Memoirs: "In Sydney Harbour, the yachts will be racing on the crushed diamond water under a sky the texture of powdered sapphires. It would be churlish not to concede that the same abundance of natural blessings which gave us the energy to leave has every right to call us back".