5 An embarrassment?

by Malcolm Redfellow

This one was on the light side. Even so, it fitted in an area of history that perpetually fascinates:

It is subtitled British Traitors of the Second World War. The most pertinent introduction might be the summary on the Waterstones site:

This is the story of a collection of misfits and renegades who came from all walks of life and different social backgrounds, but who all had one thing in common — during World War II they chose to reject their country and follow the path of treason through collaboration with the Axis powers. Altogether, about 200 British citizens were under investigation for assisting the Axis powers. Using the case studies of the individuals concerned, this work uncovers the reasons for their treacherous activities, describes how they collaborated with the enemy and, come the end of the war, it explores their respective fates. The stories of some of the more notorious traitors like William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) and P.G. Wodehouse are already well-known — and they are included here, but also included are some of the lesser known but equally treacherous individuals. For example, Duncan Scott-Ford, a Scottish merchant seaman, who sold information to the Germans about convoy movements, and Harold Cole, who infiltrated Allied escape lines in Europe and betrayed between 100 and 150 British and French agents to the Germans.

In other words it is one step up from popular journalism.

It’s when we read, in the index, references to “Sir Ernest Bevin” that we start to wonder about the degree of research, and even more of empathy, involved. Indeed,  the references and notes (all of ten pages to support some 229 of text) tell us this is a pretty thin and superficial effort. Only in the very final paragraph do we find an opinion which might provoke further thought:

… the most interesting conclusion to be drawn from this study is the reaction of the British state to the collaborators. Many of the renegades were simply let of or given light prison sewntences, or obtained early release, on the grounds that they were followers in collaboration rather than leader. Joyce and Amery were made examples of and executed because the state wished to demonstrate the maximum retribution against anyone who challenged it. Future purveyors of treason beware!

That is unanswerable and a truism.

So: why did Malcolm waste good reading time on this?

Probably because he had hopes there might, just might, be an Irish dimension and some small insight into the likes of

  • Charles Bewley, born a British citizen (1888 in Dublin, educated in England, New College Oxford) who served as the Irish Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary in Berlin from 1933 until Éamon de Valera properly sacked him in 1939, mainly because Bewley was an anti-semitic nut-case beyond belief. Not a mention.

or of:

  • the Australian-born immigrant to Ireland, Francis Stuart, who attached himself to the Maude Gonne coterie, married Iseult Gonne, and then fecked off to Germany for the course of the War. Not a twitch.

Moreover, while Bewley and Stuart remained in Nazi Germany (both, quite happily, until 1945), Dev and his consigliere, Joseph Walshe, would have kept a watchful eye (as far as conditions permitted) on them and theirs. Until his death, was one of the watchers Frank Ryan? No, he’s not there, either.

So: all a bit of a let-down.