Dr. Marisa Linton to speak at the ‘Living the French Revolution’ symposium in Australia

Dr. Marisa Linton, Associate Professor of History at Kingston University, has been invited to the University of Melbourne this July, where she will speak at a forthcoming international symposium, ‘Living the French Revolution’, in honour of Professor Peter McPhee.

The prestigious event will see Marisa discuss two great figures of the French Revolution: Maximilien Robespierre and Antoine Saint-Just, in a talk entitled: ‘The Sea-Green Incorruptible and the Archangel of Death’.

                  Maximilien Robespierre   Saint-Just-French_anon

As well as teaching History at Kingston University, Marisa is an active researcher and is a leading expert on all aspects of the French Revolution. She is in demand internationally and has given many invited talks on the Revolution, including in the USA, France, Canada, Australia, Germany and Norway.

Her upcoming talk in Australia will look at two leading figures of the French Revolution, Robespierre and Saint-Just (pictured), and how their reputations have been presented in fictionalised narratives: popular histories, literature, theatre and cinema. Such narrative accounts typically present these two revolutionaries as having held strongly contrasting attitudes towards tactics and the ethics of using violence in the cause of sustaining the Revolution.

Saint-Just is frequently portrayed as a pitiless and ruthless proponent of terror, a foil against which to contrast Robespierre’s more conscience-stricken responses. Invariably Saint-Just’s logic wins the argument, whilst Robespierre’s humanity suffers.  Their choices are often depicted in personal as well as political terms, focussing on the pivotal question of whether friendship or commitment to the Revolution was more important, as in the so-called ‘Danton Affair’. Yet in life these men worked closely together and shared many, though not all, attitudes towards policy and tactics.

Marisa’s talk will ask to what extent the narrative of contrasts was part of a ‘mythologisation’ of the nature of the Revolution, intended to show Robespierre’s lingering humanity gradually crushed out of existence when confronted with the inexorable logic of revolutionary politics. Marisa’s talk draws on material for which she is currently working for a book on Robespierre, Danton, Desmoulins and Saint-Just, entitled Saturn’s Children: Leaders of the French Revolution, to be published by Oxford University Press.

Marisa Linton’s publications include the critically-acclaimed Choosing Terror: Virtue, Friendship, and Authenticity in the French Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)

186Linton, Marisa

 

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Posted in European History, Events, French History, Kingston University, Oxford University Press, Public History, Research, Uncategorized, World History | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rewriting history: Russia invents an alternative Chernobyl story

In 1986 public opinion around the world was shocked when the full extent of the nuclear disaster that had occurred from an explosion at Reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine slowly became clear.

Chernobyl Disaster Ukraine 1986

Approximately 350,000 local people had been quickly evacuated, and many could never return to their homes near the Chernobyl plant. Moreover, a huge radioactive plume rose up from the Ukraine and spread across parts of northern Europe, leaving serious contamination in its wake. At the site itself, many brave people sacrificed their lives trying to fight and contain the disaster.

Disturbingly, the Russian Communist state at first tried to deny anything had happened and sought to cover-up the full extent of the accident, until this became a near impossible task. Russia’s then-leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, later admitted that the disaster, and the Russian state’s incompetence and mishandling of the event, was undoubtedly a key factor in undermining the credibility of the Soviet system, which effectively collapsed in 1989-91.

The American HBO drama series Chernobyl, which is directed by US film director Craig Mazin, has sought to lay out the full story surrounding those terrible events, and with as much attention to historical detail and accuracy as possible. It has been receiving much critical acclaim, and has been gripping viewers in both Britain and the USA and, interestingly, also in Russia.

However, this has not best pleased President Putin’s government. It seems that the Russian state has instructed the nation’s NTV television channel, which is controlled by the Gazprom state energy company and has close links to the Kremlin, to produce an alternative and more ‘patriotic’ drama series about the disaster.

Putin’s government, of course, has been re-writing parts of Russia’s history for a number of years now, in a strategy that seeks to take greater control of how ordinary Russians think about the past and also about the present. Putin himself is an ex-KGB officer (he served in East Germany before the Wall came down in 1989), and critics have noted how some of the leading figures of the KGB’s past history have been rehabilitated in recent years.

Similarly, many archives opened after the fall of Communism have now been closed once again to historians. Russian school textbooks have also been quietly altered to provide a more nationalist version of Russia’s role in the Second World War and Cold War periods, while state authorities have made big efforts to harass and close down any cultural groups devoted to ‘memory’. This campaign of intimidation has been especially targeted against voluntary groups which have compiled close records on the imprisonment of citizens held in the extensive network of Gulags, the notorious labour camps which existed in the former Soviet Union. More recently, the history of Crimea has been re-written by Russian censors to justify Putin’s annexation of the area.

Chernobyl map

We should not be surprised, therefore, that a nuclear accident such as the Chernobyl disaster, which was the world’s most serious nuclear accident, and which revealed serious flaws in the former Soviet system, has also now become a target for the current Russian state’s blatant manipulation of history. The official line from the NTV channel is that their drama series ‘recreates the historical chronology of the accident and recounts the heroic days of those who liquidated its consequences’.

However, reports suggest that the new NTV drama series will also make use of conspiracy theory, as a key part of the story will apparently see a Soviet military intelligence officer chase down an American CIA agent seen near the Chernobyl nuclear plant. No evidence has ever been put forward of foreign involvement in the disaster, but it seems the Russian series will hint strongly that a secret American hand played a role in the explosion. The NTV show’s director, Alexei Muradov, has claimed that the show ‘will tell viewers about what really happened’. He said: ‘There is a theory that the Americans had infiltrated the plant and many historians do not deny that on the day of the explosion an agent of the enemy’s intelligence services was present’.

Frankly, this is simply untrue. Historians of intelligence history know, for example, that the CIA later lamented that they had only learnt of the explosion at Chernobyl two days after it happened.

Vladimir Putin

Yet, the Russian state today remains keen to take control of any cultural product that officials may be uncomfortable about and which does not reflect the current desire of Russia’s leadership to present a more muscle-bound, decisive and patriotic version of the country’s past. But is Putin’s government underestimating the sophistication of the wider Russian population? Reports suggest that the HBO series has been popular with Russian TV viewers, who have praised the sympathetic portrayal of key figures from the time and also the attention to background details and accuracy on screen.

The NTV show’s director, Muradov, also commented to a Russian newspaper that his show ‘proposes an alternative view of the tragedy’. He may find, though, that Russian viewers can be more discerning in their understanding of the past, and perhaps more sceptical about their government’s use of ‘alternative facts’.

And that will not be good news for Vladimir Putin and his close acolytes in the Kremlin.

Dr. Steven Woodbridge is Senior Lecturer in History at Kingston University

(Images: Wikimedia Commons)

 

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Radical readers in Richmond: New research explores the Left Book Club of the 1930s

New research by a member of Kingston University’s cutting-edge History teaching team offers some fascinating insights into the local impact of the famous Left Book Club of the 1930s.

Published by Dr. Steven Woodbridge in the latest issue of the Richmond History journal, the article, entitled ‘Radical Readers’, briefly sets out the history and impact of an active branch of the Left Book Club (LBC) in leafy Richmond-on-Thames in the late 1930s.

Some people might be surprised that Richmond saw such leftwing activities during the interwar period, given the town’s reputation as a very middle-class district located in the Thames Valley area of South-West London. Yet, Richmond saw a fairly wide range of politics during the 1930s, ranging right across the political spectrum from Right to Left.

Victor Gollancz

What was the LBC? The Club was one of the first national book clubs in Britain. Founded in May, 1936, by the leftwing sympathiser and well-known publisher Victor Gollancz (pictured), the Club was designed to help spread knowledge and progressive ideas among the general public, via accessible and reasonably-priced volumes specially produced under the distinctive LBC colour design and imprint.

Gollancz (1893-1967), born in Maida Vale, London, to Jewish parents of German and Polish background, had joined the Labour Party in 1931 but, over the course of the next few years, came to feel that the Left in Britain had lost its intellectual direction. In his estimation, it required a new ‘Popular Front’ kind of unity in the face of the rise of fascism in Germany, threats to democracy elsewhere in Europe and the outbreak of civil war in Spain. He was also concerned at the apparent sympathy shown by Britain’s aristocratic and governing elites towards authoritarian regimes.

George Orwell Road to Wigan Pier

One way Gollancz felt that he could help the leftwing cause in Britain was to try and educate people about the value of democracy, participation and free debate, and provide them with access to cheap editions of suitable books, all written from a leftwing perspective, but covering a wide range of topics and issues. As well as books by new authors (such as George Orwell), there would also be occasional reprints of ‘classic’ leftwing texts.

Speaking at an early rally of the LBC held at the Albert Hall in central London in February, 1937, Gollancz – who was one of the main speakers – told the 7,000-strong audience that the Club had three objectives: 1. To inculcate ‘a sense of political responsibility’; 2. To impart knowledge; and 3. To establish ‘unity among thinking people’ in combatting ‘reactionary forces’.

The LBC also began to publish The Left News, a monthly newsletter which was posted to all Club members. Taken by surprise at the rapid growth and success of the LBC (membership rocketed to 35,000 in the first nine months alone), Gollancz also decided that the LBC should give people the opportunity to meet and share ideas about what they had read via a network of local discusson groups.

As Steven Woodbridge demonstrates, one such discussion group was founded in Richmond in November, 1936, which became known as the ‘Richmond and Kew Left Book Club’. An early mention of the Richmond LBC came in the local press in February, 1937, when it was reported that the group had held a meeting to discuss the LBC’s January, 1937, book choice, Stephen Spender’s Forward From Liberalism.

ARP wardens wanted

Over the course of 1937-1940, other LBC activities in the Richmond area included, for example, a ‘summer party and dance’ held at the Princes Hall in Richmond, which also doubled-up as a political meeting and cultural festival, together with various public meetings in the town on the big issues of war and peace, especially as the clouds of conflict increasingly loomed on the horizon. In September, 1938, for example, the local LBC helped stimulate some vigorous debate on the topic of Air Raid Precautions (ARP), which had become something of a hot political potato for many citizens (some were in favour, but others firmly against). An LBC book on the subject by Professor J.B.S. Haldane had also provided some stark insights into the potential effects of mass bombing from the air, based upon what the author had witnessed in Spain’s civil war. This had given local people in Richmond much food for thought about how Britain was possibly also very vulnerable to this type of indiscriminate warfare. Calls were made for more provision of ‘deep’ shelters.

Another fascinating development came with the foundation of a local LBC theatre group, which mounted various productions of ‘political theatre’ to try and get the Club’s message across. The LBC was also able to borrow films from Kino Films Ltd, a number of which were shown to subscribers and other interested members of the public at community halls in Richmond and Barnes. It also interesting to note that, locally, LBC discussion groups began to spring up in other parts of the South-West London suburbs, including one run by a woman in Avenue Elmers in Surbiton.

The National Archives

Unsurprisingly, the activities of the broader LBC at national level began to attract the attention of the Government, who were concerned about Communist infiltration of the Club. Home Office officials asked the domestic Security Service, MI5, to keep a regular watch on the LBC and to produce monthly intelligence reports on the key personalities involved, especially if they were Communists or other ‘subversives’. This secret surveillance work was carried out by the Metropolitan police’s Special Branch, whose officers collated detailed information on the LBC from across London and elsewhere in the provinces.

Interestingly, files held in the National Archives at Kew indicate that the Richmond LBC was occasionally included in this secret monitoring, and it is only in recent years that historians have come to realise the full extent of such surveillance at both national and local levels.

Richmond History journal no. 40 (May, 2019), ISSN 0263-0958, is available from the National Archives, from good local bookshops, or from the Richmond Local History Society at www.richmondhistory.org.uk

(Images: Wikimedia Commons)

Posted in Archives, British history, Local History, Public History, Research, Teaching, The National Archives, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Uncovering Kingston’s role in the 1944 D-Day landings

It is no exaggeration to say that D-Day, the 6th June, 1944, is a day that changed history. With the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, a day which began ‘Operation Overlord’ and the invasion of German-occupied France by the Allies, it is important to recall the essential role that Kingston and the surrounding area played in those momentous events.

Many people are unaware of the extent to which the Borough of Kingston and the surrounding district helped contribute to the tremendous success of D-Day. Here are six interesting facts about the Kingston area and its role in D-Day:

D-Day Diver

One: Kingston’s main public swimming pool in the 1930s, the Coronation Baths, was located in Denmark Road, just a short walk from what is now the University’s Penrhyn Road and Knights Park campuses. One of the closest-kept local secrets of the Second World War was that the pool, which had underwater lights, was taken over by the Admiralty in January, 1944, and was used for training many of the frogmen who carried out a particularly hazardous mission in the very early hours of the D-Day invasion morning. Wearing specially-designed rubber diving suits, some 120 divers were trained to swim underwater to enemy defence obstacles and plant special explosives, which helped clear a path for Allied landing-craft to safely reach the Normandy beaches.

Two: The complex military and logistical planning for Operation Overlord and D-Day was one of the most secret Allied operations of the Second World War. It was overseen by American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied invasion forces. Intriguingly, ‘Ike’ Eisenhower lived and worked in Kingston from 1942-1944.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

With his main headquarters located in Bushy Park, near Teddington and Hampton Court, Eisenhower (see photo) rented Telegraph Cottage in Warren Road, at the top of Kingston Hill, where he would snatch time to relax and go for occasional horse-rides in Richmond Park. Eisenhower’s presence in Kingston was a closely-guarded secret, as it was feared that the Germans would attempt an assassination had the news leaked out.

Three: The Bushy Park camp was known as ‘Camp Griffiss’, named after Lieut-Col. Townsend Griffiss, who had been first U.S. airman to die in Europe after America’s entry into the war in 1941. The camp was a major military base for both the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force from July, 1942 to December, 1944. Much of Eisenhower’s detailed planning for D-Day took place at the camp which, at its peak, had some 4,000 personnel working there. Although many service personnel lived in the grounds of Bushy Park in huts, numerous officers were billeted with local families in the Kingston area. Interestingly, most of the camp’s huts remained standing until as late as 1963.

Four: Although much of the press in Britain could not go into detail about the actual military events of D-Day, or reveal which areas of the country had contributed to Operation Overlord and precisely how, newspapers were nevertheless allowed to carry very general reports on the landings over the next 3-4 days after D-Day. In Kingston, the local Surrey Comet published an editorial on 10th June recognising the enormity of the landings and their significance: ‘This lodgement on a broad front has constituted a unique operation of war, an immense venture which has been years in planning and which is of an intricacy so vast that only very few can have the least realisation of its amazing complexity’.

D-Day -British_Forces_during_the_Invasion_of_Normandy_6_June_1944

And, by July, the Comet was able to report that the Queen’s Royal regiment, the West Surreys (which had local Kingston men in its ranks) had arrived in France a few days after D-Day and ‘were almost immediately engaged in very heavy fighting near Tilly sur Seulles’. For several days they took part in resisting powerful German counter-attacks in the Tilly area, an action that was vital to the overall success of the Allied invasion.

Five: A huge armada of many vessels and landing craft were used on D-Day, a key one being the L.C.T. (‘Landing Craft Tank’). This was an amphibious assault craft for landing tanks or heavy guns on beachheads, and many of the L.C.T.s went in just before the main landings took place to lay down covering fire. One such L.C.T. on the early morning of D-Day was commanded by Sub-Lieut. Richard Offer, R.N.V.R., a former pupil of Tiffins School in Kingston. He gave a vivid account of what he experienced to the local Surrey Comet. Mines were dodged successfully, he said, but the craft came under heavy fire and two shells hit his vessel. Yet, despite a ‘whacking hole’ in its side, the craft managed to get back successfully to England. Another LC.T. was under the command of Lieut. W.E. Fairiey, RNVR who, prior to the war, had himself been a Surrey Comet reporter. He commented to the paper: ‘The number of ships off the beachheads and going backwards and forwards across the Channel was simply staggering’.

Six: It is estimated that about 130,000 men bravely swept onto the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, with many men killed or seriously wounded in the first waves of the assault. One of these was the son of Mr. and Mrs. W. Harper of Surbiton. In early July, 1944, they were officially notified that their son, private Robert Harper, a commando, had been killed in action with the first wave of assault troops on D-Day. Born in 1915, he had been educated at Christ Church School in Surbiton, and became a brickmaker at Tolworth brick fields before he was called up in 1940. Before he was killed, he had been stationed in Iceland and in the Shetlands.

The 75th anniversary of D-Day and its associated commemorative events helps remind us how the bravery and sacrifice of such local heroes enabled the eventual liberation of Europe from fascist tyranny.

Dr. Steven Woodbridge is Senior Lecturer in History at Kingston University, Surrey 

(Images: Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

 

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When the Bombs fell: The impact of wartime air raids on Kingston

The recent discovery of an unexploded Second World War bomb on a building site near Kingston University’s Penrhyn Road campus was a good reminder of how the local area suffered some considerable attention from the German Luftwaffe during the years 1939-1941.

Kingston University’s History Department has compiled five brief facts about the frightening and damaging consequences of air raids on Kingston and the surrounding district during the first three years of the War, some of which may be familiar to people but others less so.

London Blitz

The reason why researchers have sometimes found it difficult to put together accurate information is that newspapers were often subject to censorship during wartime, as the government naturally did not want news of casualties and damage to residential areas to have a negative impact on civilian morale. Newspapers could only report in very general ways on air raids, and not give precise details on locations.

Similarly, official files at the National Archives at Kew sometimes only offer patchy information, as central government were often very dependent on reports from local authorities, and some of this information was sometimes lost in the disruptive fog of war.

But here’s five interesting local items:

One: Kingston experienced its first serious bombing raid by the Germans on the night of August 24th, 1940, when houses in Avenue Road, Orchard Road, and Eden Street, together with various shops in Clarence Street, suffered serious damage.

Two: From 7th September, 1940, for 57 consecutive days, London and its suburbs were subjected to what became known as the ‘Blitz’, an attempt by Hitler’s air force to weaken the British population’s will to continue fighting. It has been reliably estimated that, in the period 7th October, 1940, to 6th June, 1941, alone, approximately 447 High Explosive bombs fell in the Kingston area.

County Hall 1940 bomb damage

Three: One building that suffered major bomb damage was the Surrey County Hall (see photo), the home of Surrey County Council (which is located just opposite Kingston University’s Penrhyn Road campus today). Many of the Council staff had been evacuated two weeks after the outbreak of war in 1939 to a disused college in Guildford, and the building had been taken over by the Ministry of Health.

Four: As the recent unexpected discovery of an unexploded bomb (UXB) near the University illustrated, we tend to forget that not all bombs dropped in wartime detonated, or sometimes they fell but exploded after a short while. In the Surbiton Borough area, for example,  it is estimated that 45 bombs failed to detonate on impact, and had to be detonated or made safe by brave members of the Army bomb disposal squad. It was highly dangerous work. On 3rd November, 1940, a bomb that had smashed into No. 78 Ewell Road, Surbiton, and lay unexploded for eight hours, suddenly exploded.

Five: Key local factories, communication links and public utilities, such as railway lines and water and sewage works, were also targeted by enemy planes. It is known that the Hawkers Aircraft production factory in Canbury Park Road, Kingston, was hit by German bombs early on in the Blitz, with several people killed. Similarly, the sewage works in Lower Marsh Lane (located near the University’s current-day Clayhill student hostel) was hit by High Explosive devices at least twice during 1940, but fortunately with minimal damage.

Interestingly, later in the War, the sewage works in Lower Marsh Lane was hit by a V-1 Flying Bomb (known as a ‘doodlebug’), but there was only minor damage to the filter beds.

All in all, Kingston and the surrounding areas of Surbiton, Tolworth, Hook and Chessington suffered some considerable damage and casualties from Hitler’s bombs during the War.

Dr. Steven Woodbridge is Senior Lecturer in History at Kingston University

(Images: Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

 

Posted in British history, European History, German History, Kingston, Kingston University, Local History, Media history, Public History, Research, The National Archives, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

State of Emergency: Kingston and the General Strike of 1926

One of the areas of expertise in Kingston University’s History Department is in-depth knowledge of the interwar period and, in particular, some of the key political and social upheavals of the 1920s and 1930s. A good example is knowledge of industrial relations disputes, including at the local level.

Just over ninety years ago this month, in May, 1926, Britain experienced a General Strike, called by the Trades Union Congress (T.U.C), and – for a few days at least – ‘normal’ life in many parts of the country was put on hold. We can trace some of the effects of the dispute in Kingston-on-Thames.

The 1926 General Strike

The strike, which lasted from 3rd-12th May, saw ’emergency measures’ being put in place in Kingston from day one of the dispute (Monday 3rd).  On Tuesday morning, the local Surrey Comet was able to issue a one-page ‘Emergency Bulletin’, which noted that the Government ‘have taken all steps to preserve law and order’.

Rightly or wrongly, however, there were genuine fears held by some members of the local town council that law and order might still somehow break down and serious food shortages would occur. A representative from the central government came down to the Municipal Offices at Kingston and, with the assistance of the Mayor and the Town Clerk, the foundations were laid out for how the local network of the government’s ‘Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies’ (O.M.S.), and its many volunteers, could be organised to ensure food supplies and the maintenance of existing services.

An appeal was issued for more local volunteers in Kingston, who were asked to register at the Town Hall and other local Municipal Offices. It was decided that the most urgent requirements were for assistance in transport by road and rail, and the appeal stated that ‘offers of the use of motor vehicles will be especially welcome’.

Over the next two days (4th-5th May), the Town Hall was, according to the local Surrey Comet newspaper, ‘besieged by volunteers eager to help in the present crisis’. The paper noted that it was emphasised by the officials that ‘nothing in the nature of any attempt at strike-breaking was desired, the only purpose of the organisation being to maintain absolutely essential services’. In fact, in the Kingston district, by the Wednesday morning (5th May), a thousand volunteers had been registered, with the work divided up into clerical duties, motor-driving and general labour. As well as the main local police, the official ‘Special Constabulary’ was also called out for extra policing duties and used the Kingston Public Library’s lecture hall as their temporary headquarters. A number of volunteers were also enrolled as ‘Special Constables’, and equipped with emergency powers to detain troublemakers if necessary.

By 8th May, the Surrey Comet itself had been reduced in size and could only be published as an ’emergency edition’. The paper’s mechanical printing staff, while showing loyalty to their Trade Union, had still allowed a special shorter version of the newspaper to come out, containing brief items of news about the progress of the strike. The Comet also posted news updates outside its offices in Clarence Street in Kingston.

The 1926 General Strike bus

The first two or three days did see some overcrowding on buses and considerable activity by volunteer car drivers, and the very few trains that ran into Waterloo were also very full. Overall, however, as with nearby Surbiton and other local areas, Kingston remained relatively quiet during the strike, with little sign that the lives of Kingstonians were being seriously effected or disrupted. As the Comet noted in its emergency edition: ‘There has been nothing in the nature of disorder in this district. The men as a rule have been loyal to their Unions, and have complied with the instructions given, though in many instances with very great reluctance’.

At the local utility depots in Kingston, there were some signs of tension, but nothing had really interfered with the supply of power to the town. Kingston Gas Company, for example, managed to retain a full staff at work and a good supply of coal, even though customers were still urged to make ‘greatest economy of use’. At the electricity plant, things were a bit more pressured, but still calm. Many of the regular workers at the electricity station had joined the strike, and had been replaced by 50 volunteers. Mr. T.A. Kingham, the Kingston Borough Electrical Engineer, admitted to the local press that he was having ‘a very strenuous time’, being practically chained to his office owing to depleted staff, but he was nevertheless ‘quite optimistic as to being able to keep up the supply of current’. He said he had been able to secure an adequate number of volunteers to ensure continuity of current.

Meanwhile, the local Conservative M.P for Kingston, Mr. F. G. Penny, issued an appeal to every citizen to ‘stand fast and be calm’ and to do ‘all in their power to assist the Prime Minister [Stanley Baldwin] in the very grave and anxious days which are undoubtedly before us’. He said he hoped ‘reason will prevail’ and a satisfactory solution would be found to end the dispute. Penny was also enrolled by the Mayor of Kingston as a temporary Special Constable, and immediately reported for duty.

Arguably one of the clearest signs of the strike in the town could be seen in the series of evening meetings arranged by the ‘Kingston Strike Committee’ in conjunction with the local Kingston Labour Party. This series of meetings came to a climax on the first Saturday of the strike, when a ‘massed demonstration’ of the strikers of Kingston, Surbiton and Teddington was held in Kingston Market Place, in the centre of the town.

Estimated to be 1,000 in number, the crowd of strikers, which included men and women, heard a series of platform speakers. As the Surrey Comet noted: ‘Practically every speaker urged the strikers to keep calm and go about their legitimate duties as pickets and in other capacities in such a manner as not to arouse others to rowdyism, and to refrain from looting’.

In hindsight, there was very little likelihood of ‘rowdyism’ and looting breaking out in Kingston. The evidence suggests that many strikers were keen to get back to work as soon as possible, and there was probably a sense of relief when the T.U.C. called off the General Strike just a few days later.

Dr. Steven Woodbridge is Senior Lecturer in History at Kingston University

(Images: Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

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‘Ike’ on the Hill: Kingston’s D-Day secret

When the History Dept at Kingston University put on a special talk in 2018 by three very research-active staff members to help commemorate 100 years since the end of the First World War, it proved to be one of the best-attended events of the year in our ‘Cultural Histories at Kingston’ talks programme.

Peoples’ fascination with the history of war in all its aspects – political, social and cultural – seems to be greater than ever, especially if it has a ‘local’ dimension.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

While at the National Archives at Kew recently, I noted that the bookshop is gearing up to commemorate the 75th anniversary of ‘D-Day’ in World War Two i.e. the Allied invasion of France in June, 1944. This brought back memories of some research I conducted on General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) and his wartime role.

The planning for D-Day, one of the largest invasions of its kind, was one of the most complex and secret operations of World War Two, and was planned and overseen by General Eisenhower, who had been appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied invasion forces. The job carried a huge burden of responsibility, and the General knew that he would be sending many young servicemen to their deaths.

But what many people don’t realise is that ‘Ike’ Eisenhower lived and often worked in Kingston-on-Thames from 1942-1945. While most of his military duties were carried out at his headquarters in nearby Bushey Park, General Eisenhower rented a small but pretty cottage called ‘Telegraph Cottage’, located in Warren Road, at the top of Kingston Hill (not far from what is now Kingston University’s Kingston Hill campus). Used as a respite from his busy military life, the cottage and its peaceful and private location became a source of joy for Eisenhower. In fact, when he took up oil-painting (at the suggestion of Churchill, as a way to cure a chain-smoking habit), Eisenhower’s wartime paintings included one of Telegraph Cottage.

Although much of the main planning for D-Day was conducted at his HQ in Bushey Park, it is said that some of the logistically intricate and top-secret planning for ‘Operation Overlord’ (as D-Day was officially named) was still discussed at Telegraph Cottage. A small D-Day operations room was even set up in the garden shed. A small staff at the cottage helped protect the General from too many visitors, however, and were determined to help him enjoy some genuine free-time away from all the pressures of being Allied Commander in charge of what would be a huge invasion armada.

Eisenhower’s presence in Kingston was a closely-guarded secret, of course, as there were genuine security fears that the Germans might send an assassin if they had found out the General’s precise location. These fears were probably fanned by Eisenhower’s habit of going horse-riding in Richmond Park, albeit during times when it was closed to the public.

Kay Summersby

One of the key members of his small staff at Telegraph Cottage was an Anglo-Irish woman named Kay Summersby, who was a member of the British Mechanical Transport Corps and became Eisenhower’s personal driver (see photo). She regularly dined with him and he apparently seemed very cheerful in her presence, sometimes seeking out her advice. Both during the War and after, there was speculation about the nature of Eisenhower’s relationship with Summersby, as the General only visited his wife back in the USA on two occasions during the War.

Summersby and Eisenhower later strongly refuted the rumours about their closeness. However, when she was close to death in 1975, Summersby appeared to change her mind and confirm that she and the General had indeed been more than just good friends. In fact, she claimed they had had a passionate but unconsummated wartime affair. Most of Eisenhower’s biographers rejected this, and still do. But it appeared to be further confirmed when a cache of private letters between the two emerged in 1991, letters which offered further hints at how close the General had become to his favourite driver. This aspect of Eisenhower’s time in Kingston re-emerged in 2018, when the UK’s media carried yet more claims about their relationship.

Ultimately, it is difficult for the historian to determine the truth or otherwise of all this. What is certain, though, is that Telegraph Cottage became a beloved haven for Eisenhower during the two years or so that he resided there. Unfortunately, the Cottage no longer stands, as it was destroyed by fire in 1987. However, a plaque to Eisenhower and his residency there was put up in the road by the Royal Borough of Kingston in 1995, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of VE Day and VJ day.

And I suspect it is highly likely that, as we approach the 75th anniversary of D-Day in June this year, there will be a renewal of biographical interest in ‘Ike’ and his life and career. After all, he was the General who also later became a two-terms President.

Dr Steven Woodbridge is Senior Lecturer in History at Kingston University

(Images: Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

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