Fifth Column Fears in Kingston

A few years ago I carried out some research on wartime fears about ‘Fifth Column’ activities in Richmond-on-Thames, Surrey, and the extraordinary degree of paranoia that gripped some of the local townspeople at the time about the possible activities of the ‘enemy within’. More recently, and keeping the focus on the Thames Valley area, I have conducted some similar research into how such fears about potential collaborators, spies and saboteurs had an impact on Kingston-on-Thames and the surrounding area in 1940.

The term ‘Fifth Column’ had its origins in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, when the fascist General Emile Mola, during his march on the besieged Spanish capital Madrid, boasted that he had not only four columns of troops under his command, but also a ‘fifth’ secret column of Francoist supporters already in the city, a body of pro-fascists who would work to undermine the Republican defenders from within, through acts of sabotage and spreading defeatist rumours.

British soldier on beach 1940

Many scholars now feel this was exaggerated and more a product of skilled pro-Franco propaganda than real historical fact. However, the notion of a ‘Fifth Column’ still caught the popular imagination of the public across Europe at the time, including in the UK, especially when people were faced with the rapid occupation of Norway and Denmark by the Nazis, and then the shocking collapse of Belgium, France and the Netherlands under a German onslaught soon after. Many commentators in 1940 put these huge defeats down to the work of spies, saboteurs, ‘Quislings’, traitors, and pro-Nazi elements working behind Allied lines. ‘Spies’ and ‘subversion’ also made good copy for newspapers, who helped fan the growing atmosphere of distrust.

How did all this have an impact in Kingston in Surrey and the surrounding area? One can certainly see evidence of such fears building up about the so-called ‘Fifth Column’ in the spring and summer of 1940, especially as news began to filter through about the defeat and evacuation from France of the B.E.F. (British Expeditionary Force).

Tragically, many of the refugees who escaped to this country became a focus for suspicion, with some people suggesting that ‘enemy spies’ could easily have smuggled themselves in among those who had fled Nazi tyranny, including among the Jewish refugees. Fortunately, more sane voices prevailed (for a while, at least).

Jewish chidren arrive in Britain 1938

The Surrey Comet, for example, did its best to encourage people to trust the authorities on this issue. In April, 1940, an editorial in the newspaper assured its readers that they could safely rely upon ‘the police and other competent authorities to tighten their grip upon the insidious evil known as the Nazi “Fifth Column”, and find time to give help and friendship particularly to the thousands of young people, Germans, Austrians and Czechs, who have lost their countries and have even better reason than we to hate old enemies’.

On the other hand, as May turned into June, 1940, and news from the continent (in so far as it passed tight censorship restrictions) became more grim, even the calm ‘reasonableness’ of the Surrey Comet began to crack somewhat under pressure. In an editorial in late May, 1940, on ‘Spies and Saboteurs’, the newspaper welcomed the new Treachery Bill that was quickly going through the House of Commons that week, and added: ‘Experience in other lands has brought home to the Britisher that stricter measures must be taken against espionage, sabotage and “Fifth Column” activities. The Germans’ easy success in occupying the Norwegian ports is known to have been largely due to the activities of traitors like… Quisling and German agents…’.

If the Invader Comes

The newspaper claimed that other countries, notably Holland, had since found that their public services had been ‘corrupted’ in the same way by agents of Berlin, and thus ‘a wholesale clearance of Nazi sympathisers has become necessary’. The Comet argued that the law in the UK should now be strengthened against ‘anti-war agitators and those who are covertly assisting the enemy’. Similarly, a week later, the same newspaper used another editorial to warn people about ‘Mischievous Gossip’ and the repetition of rumour – ‘the chatter of the man in the street and club’, which ‘may easily result in demoralisation and, indeed, the defeat of the Allied cause’. It was the duty of the ‘patriotic citizen’ to ignore and discourage such ‘vapourings’.

Clearly, fears about ‘Fifth Columnists’ and enemy spies could have serious implications for innocent people visiting Kingston and the area at the time, even serving members of the Armed Forces. In May, 1940, it was reported that three young uniformed Naval ratings were taken from the upper deck of a trolley bus on the Hampton Wick side of Kingston Bridge and arrested by police officers, and detained for about an hour on suspicion of being ‘Fifth Columnists’. It emerged that the innocent men had been stopped by police who were acting on information provided to them by a local woman.

In another example of the tense atmosphere that descended on the area in light of ‘Fifth Column’ fever, in early June it was reported that alarms had been raised at Teddington Weir about a man who ‘been seen photographing the weir’. A police car had been sent to detain the ‘Fifth Columnist’, but when they arrived and closely quizzed the man, they had found his ‘camera’ was in fact a gas mask (of the kind issued to all civilians).

little-englander

Even the Local Defence Volunteers (L.D.V.) (later the ‘Home Guard’) could be subject to ‘Fifth Column’ suspicions. As the scale of the disaster in France became apparent and fears of German invasion of Britain grew, thousands of volunteers responded to a radio appeal by the government and flocked to join the L.D.V. in the Kingston and general Thames Valley area, but local authorities remained keen to root out anybody ‘suspicious’. In the Twickenham and Teddington area, for example, the newly appointed L.D.V. commandant, making a speech to his new force on Twickenham Green, said that, in view of the ‘danger of Fifth Column activities, selection of the men for the unit was being done very carefully’.

In the same way, local elected Councillors in the area began to show signs of paranoia about ‘Fifth Column’ spies. In early July, a debate at a meeting of Surbiton Town Council saw a Councillor ask whether Surbiton’s Mayor would consider setting up an ‘Espionage Corps’ to report ‘anything of a subversive character that they hear’. The Mayor promised to see that the matter was brought before the local Emergency Committee, but probably privately agreed with another Councillor who asked pointedly: ‘Are we to have a Gestapo in this country before Hitler gets here?’

The presence of conscientious objectors (who were labelled as ‘conchies’) also became the focus of ‘Fifth Column’ suspicion within local authorities in Kingston and the surrounding areas. A major row broke out within Twickenham Council, for example, in July about a plan to root out all ‘conchies’, as such men, it was claimed, ‘might be a pernicious influence on their colleagues’. Some Councillors wanted a special test to be introduced for every Council employee to ask whether they were an ‘objector’, and to also ask about their nationality and even the nationality of their parents. In the heated debate over the issue, some members of the Council argued it was a naive effort to find ‘Fifth Columnists’, which would be doomed to failure and only serve to imperil liberty, the very thing the country was fighting to protect.

Shockingly, at one stage in the debate, one of the Councillors referred to conscientious objectors as ‘worms’ and said they should be ‘put in the lethal chamber’. No further comment is required.

Dr. Steve Woodbridge is Lecturer in History at Kingston University

(All images: WikiMedia Commons)

 

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Beer and Kingston: The Surrey town’s long history of brewing

Sometimes historical research can be an arduous business. Research for this blog post necessitated extensive field work, initially at Kingston Workingmen’s Club and Institute, venue for the Surrey town’s annual beer and cider festival, held each May. The festival is organised by the Kingston and Leatherhead branch of CAMRA, the ‘Campaign for Real Ale’.

Founded in 1971, CAMRA’s aim was to promote the production, distribution and sale of beer better in quality than that produced by major brewers at that time. In that endeavour it has been very successful. A not-for-profit, voluntary organisation, with a current membership estimated at 185,000, CAMRA claims to be one of the most successful British consumer campaigning groups ever. Apart from campaigning, it organises beer festivals all over the UK, most of the year round. The Kingston festival, for example, has run for eighteen years.

JS Hodgsons Horses

There is a long history of brewing in Kingston-upon-Thames, dating back about 500 years. There may at one time have been as many as 10 breweries in the area, most of them very small indeed.

The most notable was Hodgson’s, originally based in the City of London. As well as brewing its own beers, it bottled those produced by other brewers, such as Guinness. In 1854, Hodgson’s acquired an existing business in Brook Street, Kingston (see photo). The company subsequently expanded, buying up other businesses. In fashion typical of the British beer industry, it was eventually brought up in turn by the much larger Courage and Co. But Hodgson’s finally closed in 1965. Sadly, no trace of the brewery, or of its beer, remains.

Over the following half century the only commercial brewing in Kingston-upon-Thames seems to have taken place in a short-lived micro-brewery in a pub on the London Road in the town, currently closed and awaiting redevelopment as a boutique hotel.

JS Hodgsons Guinness

In 2014, however, the Park Brewery started up in Elm Road, Kingston. At the local beer festival, I met Josh Kearns, who owns and runs the business with his wife, Frankie. Two days later, I visited their premises, a converted terrace house. Typical, it seems, of many such recent ventures, the Park Brewery’s origins lie in home brewing – beer brewed at first for friends and family, then, in ever greater quantity, for sale (in keg and bottle) at local pubs and off-licences. I asked what made that transition possible? Josh acknowledged the important role played by the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), set up in the UK in 1980. A trade organisation, SIBA campaigned successfully for the introduction of progressive beer duty (PBD), in 2002. Breweries are taxed according to the quantity of beer they brew. That idea, apparently borrowed from Germany, aims to encourage small-scale, local ‘craft’ beer production. In that aim, it has been extremely successful.

According to one source, the UK now has the most craft breweries per capita of any country in the world. In 2002, there were fewer than 500 breweries, of all kinds. Now there are about 1,700. Beer is very big business.

Advertising_craft_beer,_English_Pub,_April_2016

Breweries in Britain continue to close nevertheless. The most recent example in London is the huge Stag Brewery, at Mortlake, which produced Budweiser. It will make way for luxury, Thames-side apartments, located by London’s famous River Thames. Paradoxically, given the overall increase in the number of breweries, the number of pubs in the UK is falling. People are drinking less, in pubs at any rate. Various causal factors are attested: changes in British consumption habits; the smoking ban of 2007; higher alcohol prices. The recent Labour Party 2017 general election manifesto included a pledge to investigate the ‘large-scale demise’ of local pubs. Beer is nothing if not a political issue.

Medium-sized breweries, who do not benefit from PBD to the extent of their smaller counterparts, now lobby government for review of the scheme. Meanwhile, as some micro-breweries become successful, they attract the interest of larger concerns keen to benefit from the profitability of their product. It is not easy to know precisely what will be the shape of the British beer industry in, say, 10 years’ time.

Most visitors to the 18th annual Kingston beer and cider festival were probably not too concerned. Brewers such as Josh Kearns and Ben Norman, of Twickenham Fine Ales, whom I also met there, are beer aficionados, but they are not business people. They benefit from PBD, and their products are currently in demand, locally. For the drinker, there has never been as much choice of beer, whether brewed in Britain or abroad. In a small way, the Park Brewery has revived an almost forgotten but important part of Kingston’s social and cultural heritage.

John Stuart is Associate Professor of History at Kingston University

(All images: WikiMedia Commons)

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‘Corporate Personhood’ – an American Phenomenon

What is ‘corporate personhood’? In relation to American history, it refers to a long legal debate over the degree to which the rights normally given to persons should also be given to corporations. Why does this matter? It matters enormously, because – alongside individual citizens – corporations arguably have major influence in U.S. politics today.

To understand how this came about historically, let’s start with American citizenship and citizen rights. The 14th Amendment to the United States constitution is not something that readily rolls off the tongue in Britain. If there is any familiarity, it is usually restricted to the 5th Amendment, where individuals on television or in films are often depicted in police or court dramas ‘taking the 5th’, this being the legal right not to self-incriminate.

The 14th Amendment, possibly the least known but undoubtedly one of the most significant, was enacted in July, 1868,  following the cessation of the American Civil War. This Amendment bestowed citizenship to both the country and state on all those individuals who were born or naturalised in the USA. It is particularly important in that, for the first time, it gave American citizenship to the whole population, as well as the millions of African Americans who had either fought in the conflict or been subjected to slavery. Prior to this Amendment there was no defined right of being an American citizen and you were only a citizen of the United States when abroad.

Smith-Seal_of_the_United_States_Supreme_Court

The American Supreme Court established this precedent in 1857, when it concluded in its landmark judgement of the Dred Scott case (Dred Scott v. Sandford) that individuals were citizens of their own state and must be adjudged by the laws of their birthplace, and that African Americans had no rights to citizenship. Scott had argued that, because he had resided from 1833 to 1843 in Illinois, an area of the Louisiana Territory (a free state) – where slavery was forbidden by the Missouri Compromise of 1820 – he was entitled to be emancipated. But the court ruled that African Americans, under Article III of the constitution, were property, and – as such – could not be citizens.

The 14th Amendment was intended to eradicate this precedent and bestow on its populace equal rights. But, ironically, not long after this Amendment was enacted, corporations began to use its wording to counter and supress any attempts by individual states to introduce anti-trust legislation or labour reforms. The area of contention relates to the wording ‘nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property with out the due process of law, nor deny to any person… the equal protection of the laws’.

Over the next 100 years, the wording of this Amendment, originally designed to enhance life, would – instead – be used to supress social, economic and labour reforms in what has now become defined as ‘corporate personhood’. Numerous attempts were made by corporations to try and get businesses defined in law as a ‘person’. And, in 1878, they achieved success, via the case of San Mateo County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. The Supreme Court was asked to adjudge whether Santa Clara County had the right to levy taxation on the land and rights of way owned by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The railroad claimed the taxation was improper and had refused for 6 years to pay any taxation. The railroad argued that, as a corporate body, it was – in fact – a ‘person’, and should be entitled to the same right of equal protection granted to former slaves by the 14th Amendment, and that local governments could not discriminate by applying different laws and levels of taxation.

The Court agreed with the railroad company’s argument and found in its favour. Whilst the case was not specifically about the 14th Amendment, the very fact that it had been used by the railroad company in its arguments, and later formed part of the written judgement, now opened the doors for corporations to use it in the future – which they repeatedly did.

In fact, over the next 100 years, corporate America used the 1878 precedent to overturn state and federal labour and social reform laws 211 times. The last of these was in 2014, in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, where the Supreme Court heard arguments related to the 1st (Right to Religious Beliefs and Practice), 5th and 14th Amendments on the supply of free contraception demanded of employers under the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court again confirmed the 1878 ruling, agreeing that as a business was a ‘person’, the demands of the Affordable Care Act were unlawful, infringing the rights of the individual (Hobby Lobby) as defined by the constitution.

Smith Democracy is for People

At some point the American government may change this Amendment, but the process for doing so is complicated.  The last Amendment to be repealed was the 18th Amendment enacted in 1919, which introduced ‘Prohibition – an alcohol free America’, and that was eventually repealed in 1933. From the moment this 18th Amendment was enacted, opposition grew, but it still took 13 years to achieve its repeal. Unlike depriving a nation of its alcohol, where a cross-section of opposition combined to achieve its repeal, the 14th Amendment has no collective opposition dedicated to its repeal. It is therefore unlikely change will be achieved.

If anything, the power of corporations as ‘persons’, and relative to citizens, seems to be growing by the day. Many of the big corporations, for example, influence American politics and government by their donations to political campaigns.

Smith Congress sold

In the recent 2016 Presidential election, Hilary Clinton received over $1.2 billion in donations, mainly received from major business donors. It was a similar situation with the Trump campaign. Could this be considered undue influence? Not if you are the Supreme Court, who ruled in 2010 (Citizens v. Federal Elections Comm.) – referencing the 1st and 14th Amendments – that the federal government could not and should not quantify or control political campaign donations.

There is now no control on what amounts of money can be donated by ‘corporate persons’ and what possible influence such a contribution may achieve. This cannot be good for politics or the American citizen.

Stuart Smith has just completed his History Degree at Kingston University

(Images: WikiMedia Commons)

 

 

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Did History undermine Le Pen? Some brief thoughts

Did history and memory of the past play a key role in undermining the French far right last weekend? There was certainly a huge sigh of relief across Europe when it became clear last Sunday (7th May, 2017) that Marine Le Pen, leader of the French Front National (FN), had failed in her bid to become the first female president of the country.

Emmanuel Macron, who at 39-years old is now the youngest president in the history of the Republic since Napoleon in 1799, scored a decisive victory in the second round of the presidential elections, with 65 per cent of the vote, compared to Le Pen’s 35 per cent. It appeared to be a huge demonstration of faith in the Enlightenment values held so dearly by many in France, together with a significant show of confidence in the pro-European and pro-business policies espoused by Macron.

On the other hand, it would be dangerous for commentators to be complacent. The FN is not finished. As a historian of the extreme right, I think it is especially important to assess the result in the cold light of day. Le Pen’s score was the highest ever obtained by the Front National in a presidential election, and she almost doubled the vote share achieved by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the original founder of the FN. He won 18 per cent in a shock result in 2002 against Jacques Chirac. Indeed, it is important to recognise that Marine Le Pen and her ‘re-branded’ version of the FN still managed to persuade 11.4 million French citizens to vote for what is arguably still an extreme right party, and she now has her eyes firmly fixed on the upcoming French parliamentary elections in June, 2017.

Worryingly, Marine Le Pen has made the FN one of the most successful extreme right parties in Europe. There is also evidence that many people who voted for Macron did so not because they were strongly in favour of seeing him become president, but rather because they feared the prospect of a Le Pen presidency more, and just held their noses in the polling booths. Macron, as he himself has openly acknowledged, has much work to do to try and unite people of all classes across French society, and to undermine and reverse the intolerant nationalism that has appeared to make serious inroads throughout the country in recent years. Some of Le Pen’s strongest support came from disillusioned working-class people in the French equivalent of the ‘rust-belt’ areas, regions which have suffered from widespread de-industrialisation in recent decades.

It is a huge challenge for Macron. If he handles it thoughtfully and imaginatively, however, the fight-back against rightwing extremism could be easier than perhaps people imagine. And history is probably on Macron’s side, especially the ‘history’ of the FN and the movement’s regular manipulation of the past for ideological purposes. While ‘history’ has sometimes worked in the FN’s favour (Le Pen has ruthlessly exploited the iconic image of Joan of Arc as a defender of France against ‘foreigners’, for example), the past has had a habit of coming back to haunt and seriously undermine Le Pen and the FN. Despite her determination to ‘de-toxify’ the party and remove the anti-Semitic, Vichyite and racist legacy of her father’s time as leader, history has regularly helped reveal what is still arguably the core extremist nature of the movement. Just one example of this was evident to me as I closely watched the campaign.

It concerned the people around Le Pen. As the New York Times at one stage noted (13th April), Le Pen has worked hard to sanitize the image of her party and to distance it from the uglier and more extreme parts of the wider European extreme right. But Le Pen’s inner circle has tended to fuel serious doubts about her bid to ‘un-demonize’ the FN. Two men in her inner circle, who are key policy advisors to her and also remain very close friends of the FN leader – Frederic Chatillou and Axel Loustau – are well-known members of a violent extreme right student group that fought street battles with Leftwing activists in the 1960s, and also displayed open nostalgia for Hitler in the 1990s.

Embarrassingly for Le Pen, French TV recently broadcast video footage from the early 1990s of Loustau visiting Leon Degrelle, a Belgian former Waffen-SS officer and collaborator and (until his death in 1994) one of the most notorious neo-Nazis of the post-war period.  Moreover, further footage also showed Le Pen’s other advisor, Chatillou, speaking very fondly of his own visit to see Degrelle.

Leon Degrelle (1906-1994) is very familiar to experts on the history of the European far right (see photo). As founder of the interwar fascist Rex party, he went on to raise a force of thousands of Belgian volunteers to fight for the German war effort in an anti-Bolshevik ‘crusade’ on the Eastern Front during the war. He was personally decorated by Hitler for his efforts, and claimed that Hitler had personally told him that if he (Hitler) had fathered a son, it would have been someone like Degrelle. Moreover, in 1945, Degrelle managed to escape to Franco’s Spain, where he was given sanctuary by the regime and spent much of the rest of his career. His home in authoritarian Spain became something of a ‘must visit’ shrine for a wide variety of dedicated European neo-Nazis, and Degrelle’s continued praise of all things ‘Nazi’ saw him espousing a highly selective version of history: the SS volunteers in the wartime ‘European anti-Communist struggle’ had been examples of the new ‘European Man’, while racism was perfectly ‘natural’. Degrelle was also a strong supporter of Holocaust Denial, raising funds for the distribution of such material across the world. All this made him a major ‘hero’ to many extreme right activists.

Tellingly, Le Pen appeared to downplay and be unconcerned about these revelations about two of her key advisors. It is difficult to measure her real thoughts on the controversy, or the impact of such things on the opinion polls, but I would wager that this example of some of the FN’s historical ‘skeletons in the cupboard’ was undoubtedly unwelcome to her and very damaging to her campaign. When it emerged on 28th April that Jean-Francois Jalkh, her choice of interim FN leader (she had stepped aside temporarily as leader to fight the campaign) had appeared to deny the Holocaust in a 2005 interview, he was quickly forced to resign.

But it raised further strong doubts about the whole Le Pen project to remove the FN’s historical demons and its links to neo-Nazism. When all this was combined with some comments that Le Pen had made herself in early April, claiming that France had no responsibility for the forced deportation of French Jews to the Nazi death camps (an astonishing assertion, which flew in the face of all the available evidence from historians), then it is clear that the ‘respectable’ image so carefully cultivated by the FN in recent years should be taken with a huge dose of salt.

As we move towards the next parliamentary elections in France in June, I suspect there will be a number of other such revelations about the movement’s past that will serve to further damage Le Pen and the FN. If Macron plays his cards wisely, this ‘history’ could be very helpful indeed when facing down the electoral challenge posed by the FN.

Dr. Steve Woodbridge is Lecturer in History at Kingston University

(Images: Wikimedia Commons)

Posted in European History, Fascism, French History, Media history, Public History, Teaching, Uncategorized, World History | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment