The Anglo-German Review: A Portrait of Right Wing Britain in the Thirties

The following is an excerpt from my study, The Red Book: The Membership List of The Right Club. A new edition will be published early next year.

Those in favour of doing a deal with Hitler – in favour of Appeasement – found their views articulated and all the options explored in the pages of a significant publication of the late Thirties, the Anglo-German Review

In The Roots of Appeasement Martin Gilbert drew a useful distinction between the ‘old appeasement’ and the ‘new’. Whereas the old was ‘Victorian in its optimism, Burkean in its belief that societies evolved from bad to good and that progress could only be for the better’, the ‘new’ reflected a ‘mood of fear, Hobbesian in its insistence upon swallowing the bad in order to preserve some remnant of the good’. Something of the flavour of both brands comes across very strongly in the Anglo-German Review, published between 1936 and 1939, listing several Right Club members amongst its contributors, notably Lord Redesdale and Charles Sarolea – and many others closely connected with Archibald Ramsay, like Barry Domvile who used the Anglo-German Review as a mouthpiece for The Link, when that society was still at the fledgling stage. Under C. E. Carroll’s editorship, the A-GR proclaimed a clear message, a clear sense of purpose and direction. Judged in purely journalistic terms, it was a far greater success than Action, the magazine of Mosley’s BUF. That, under the fastidious but over-intellectual supervision of Harold Nicolson, had been an uneasy hotchpotch of sabre-rattling and highbrow, where stirring accounts of the Leader were juxtaposed with helpful gardening tips from Vita Sackville-West. A-GR, by contrast, was very sharply focused.

Peace at any cost was its keynote. The tone was upbeat and breezy, calculated as far as possible to appeal to the broadest spectrum of British society. The magazine sought, identified and celebrated common ground between Germany and the United Kingdom, cemented by shared values and aspirations on the one hand and, on the other, values and virtues that each side could offer the other in the spirit of friendship and reconciliation in the wake of World War I. At the outset, the A-GR was devoid of anti-Semitism or racism of any other kind, though there were outbreaks, notably in the music columns, where ‘negroid jazz’ was given a firm thumbs-down. Later on, with war imminent, anti-Semitism crept in, as we shall see. 

The advertisements and announcements in A-GR give an intriguing picture of Britain in the mid-Thirties, its values and susceptibilities. Modern Touring of Lower Regent Street offered ‘Eighteen Days through Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia for £31, in high-powered luxurious motor cars’; ‘The home without a piano lacks one of the greatest sources of pleasure – the capacity for full self-expression: Bluthner: “The Piano with the Golden Tone” ’; ‘Swastica [sic] Badges, black enamel chromium finish 9d each; Bar gilt brooch, 1/3, post free from T. C. Nobbs, 51 Gorringe Park Avenue, Mitcham’; ‘Under the auspices of the Anglo-German Academic Bureau a Company of German Amateur Players presents Friedrich Schiller’s “Maria Stuart” (in German) at Battersea Town Hall’. We learn that the All-Hohner Orchestra of the British College of Accordionists toured Germany in the summer of 1939. Events in Germany were prominently listed, the hurly-burly of social and cultural life called vividly to life in a monthly calendar. Readers were alerted to the German Dancing Championships in Kassel and the Exhibition of Degenerate Art in Stuttgart. At the Cologne Dog Show in November 1938, the Führer’s Special Prize for Best of Breed was co-adjudicated by Colonel G. G. Woodwark, the Mayor-designate of Kings Lynn. There was even a motoring column contributed by Gordon Fathers, founding father of the laddish lyricism favoured by today’s motoring correspondents. 

To the man to whom the smell of racing oil is the most fragrant perfume, the very name Frazer Nash evokes dreams as lotus-like as those of the opium-smoker.

In the October 1938 edition of A-GR Fathers performed the impressive journalistic contortion of weaving the Munich Agreement into the motoring review.

It [the Mercedes-Benz Type 540 Cabriolet] has eight super-charged cylinders, and a four-speed gearbox, all gears being synchronized, and an unusual fifth gear incorporated in the back axle. Although it is a monster of a car it has surprisingly graceful lines. The chassis price is £1,395. Those who have the necessary in the bank could not do better than to take the advice of a famous daily and buy themselves this as a “peace” car.

All of this was intended to create a sense of ‘normality’, common sense, co-operation; as time wore on, preceding and surrounding the Munich Agreement, the A-GR resolutely presented an upbeat picture of Anglo-German friendship, openly chastising the Winston Churchills, Duff Coopers and Anthony Edens for being irresponsible ‘warmongers’.

[Winston Churchill] has committed himself utterly and most emphatically to a power-policy that would lead straight to war. War we might perhaps win – but still, war. Let us pray that no Winston Churchill ever comes to power either in this country or Germany. He is unquestionably the biggest warmonger in the world today.

The A-GR line was communicated through an array of contributors, ranging from what would today be called ‘lifestyle’ journalists through to no-nonsense characters like Redesdale and Bruce Bairnsfeather or political heavyweights like ‘famous historian’ Sir Raymond Beazley and the Right Club’s Charles Sarolea. Each contributor was trumpeted in a succinct biog in the prelims of the magazine: ‘Elizabeth Craig, probably the world’s most famous woman journalist’ who ‘lives at Hampstead in a converted Wesleyan Chapel’, ‘the last thing in all electric up-to-dateness’. Mrs Craig’s piece in Volume 1 Number 1 of A-GR was entitled ‘The German Housewife’ and in it she leaves no doubt as to the lessons that British women might profitably learn from their opposite numbers in Germany:

If I had my way, I would turn every Englishwoman into the equivalent of a German Hausfrau, whether she were married or not. If the average Englishman realized the difference between having his home mismanaged and managed, he would back me up. There is no excuse for slovenly housekeeping any more than there is an excuse for slovenliness in the business world. If more women realized that, we should hear fewer tales of domestic strife. Looking back to the days I spent overlooking the Leitzensee, I wish I had paid closer attention to the example I found in Berlin. Meticulous in every detail appertaining to home comfort, the German housewife sees that her kitchen is efficiently equipped before she begins to think of her personal needs. A fur coat can wait. She does not know the call of a club. Bargain sales do not make her lose her head. In short, the German Frau puts the interests of her household first. I wish I could treat every budding housewife to a year in Germany. Germany is the only country I know where sheer common sense is brought to bear upon the minutest problem of the home.

The article develops further in the same vein and is accompanied by a useful photograph, by way of inspiration, captioned ‘Elizabeth Craig, chatting with “Ossi von Stresow”, her German Dobermann-Pinscher.’

In its first issue the magazine addresses the vexed issue of dictatorship in Germany. Since dictatorship is a very un-British thing, the A-GR needed to offer its readers some plausible justification for the German regime. This task fell to Redesdale, described as having a ‘broad mind, sound judgment’ and a ‘sense of humour’; ‘a strong, silent man, but not too silent’ who ‘speaks precisely and well’. In an article entitled ‘This Way Lies Peace – A Plea for Better Understanding Between Germany and Britain’, he tackled the issue head-on, his irresistible logic combining the elegance of Athens with the briskness of Ascot. 

What ill will does exist here against Germany is due largely to confused thinking.

For instance, there is the man who says “I am deadly opposed to any form of Dictatorship.” To him I say, “So am I,” but I qualify what I say by adding “…in this country.”

What is the sense of a man who is in the enjoyment of good health saying to another who is taking some potent drug and being relieved, if not completely cured, of some ghastly and agonizing disease, “I am opposed to the taking of potent drugs.” Obviously, there is no sense in that.

Equally, there is no sense in an Englishman saying to a German that he is opposed to Dictatorship.

Should this line of reasoning have failed to convince, then readers might have considered a more elaborate thesis put forward by Professor Charles Sarolea, a fellow Right Club member, in a later edition of A-GR. Scotland, he claimed, was the spiritual cradle of Nazi philosophy; Thomas Carlyle, with his mistrust of the ballot box, was the true inspiration of the Third Reich. After all, Carlyle had memorably said: ‘find in any country the ablest man that exists there; raise him up to the supreme place and loyally reverence him; you have the perfect government for that country; no ballot box, parliamentary eloquence, voting, constitution building, or other machinery whatever can improve a whit’.; another famous Scotsman, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, was a prophet of Nazism. Sarolea’s piece prompted a courteous challenge from south of the border by Professor A. P. Laurie, described by A-GR as a ‘famous scientist, pedagogue, student of human affairs and Member of the National Council of The Link’. Laurie quoted the following words of a revered English visionary:

[the] discipline of the masses has hitherto knit the sinews of battle: a government which shall have its soldiers of the ploughshare as well as its soldiers of the sword, and which shall distribute more proudly its golden crosses of industry – golden as the glow of the harvest – than it now grants its bronze crosses of honour – bronzed with the crimson of blood.

Whilst ‘his thought is often confused’, said Laurie of John Ruskin, ‘he is searching in the dark for a dimly visible light; but the germs of National Socialism, including the Labour Camp, and the recognition of the right foundation of the State on blood and soil, are to be found in his writings’. Elsewhere in A-GR, we read that a German director had recently completed a film of a play by that other well-known advocate of the National Socialist Weltanschaung, Oscar Wilde.

If Redesdale was its avuncular voice of common sense, Charles Sarolea provided the intellectual voice of the British right. His views are always expressed with balance and caution, especially so when addressing two contentious topics, one of them Russian Jews, the other the racial and cultural make-up of Poland. On Jews:

I am quite ready to admit that the Jewish leaders are only a proportionately infinitesimal fraction, even as the British rulers of India are an infinitesimal fraction. But it is none the less true that those few Jewish leaders are the masters of Russia, even as the fifteen hundred Anglo-Indian Civil Servants are the masters of India. For any traveller in Russia to deny such a truth would be would be to deny the evidence of our own senses. When you find that out of a large number of important Foreign Office officials whom you have met, all but two are Jews, you are entitled to say that the Jews are running the Russian Foreign Office.

Regarding Poland, Sarolea articulated more efficiently than most the view that Danzig was ‘a purely German town’. 

Ninety-five per cent of the population are Germans. So homogeneous a population is, in itself, sufficient to prove that Danzig always was a purely German town…. Nor, strangely enough, did the Polish people themselves ever try to settle in any large numbers in Danzig territory, so that a Polish minority problem never had any occasion to arise. It is, indeed, a curious anomaly, as was set out … in a recent article, that after 300 years of personal union under the Polish kings and of close commercial intercourse, a much larger proportion of the Danzig population should have been of Scottish origin than of Polish origin.”

Of the more obscure Right Club members, Nancy Brown contributed a travel piece, ‘Rhineland Holiday’, to the July 1939 issue. This holiday was one of several group tours organized by The Link and had clearly been enjoyed by the writer:

The sound of children’s voices raised in a marching song, while we sat in a beer garden, gay with flowers, shady with sweet-smelling lime trees, watching the ripples on the lake at Marcus Mill. Presently the children came into sight from out of the dark forest, knapsacks on backs, and swarmed into the garden for refreshment. One bright-eyed boy was playing his accordion, and as he played the shining plaits of the little girls around him gleamed in the sunlight like neat braids of gold.

It appears that every school has by law to take its children on such an excursion at least once a month, and the wisdom of such a step seemed amply justified by their physical perfection and high spirits.

The A-GR greeted the Munich Agreement with a series of ‘considered statements’ by its more prominent contributors, amongst them Ramsay himself and three other Right Club members, the Duke of Wellington, the MP Sir Ernest Bennett and Lord Redesdale. In these statements Neville Chamberlain was feted as hero and saviour, his detractors dismissed as troublemakers and warmongers. Ramsay scrupulously avoided any anti-Bolshevik or anti-Semite overtones in his statement, though seen in the context of utterances he made elsewhere, it is clear who he meant by his descriptions of ‘disruptive international forces’ which ‘seek to build a godless and materialistic hell out of the debris of European civilisation’. Taking a customary swipe at the press, he deplored ‘the systematic campaign kept up by international news agencies’.  Right Club member Ernest Bennett praised ‘the joint efforts of Herr Hitler and Mr Chamberlain’ that had ‘brought back to Europe that international peace and goodwill which the “men of Versailles” – to quote Field-Marshal Goering’s words – had almost “banished from mankind”.’ He offered a ‘word of advice to our German friends’:

If Germans see an insulting cartoon by Low or read abusive and vitriolic speeches by irresponsible English politicians, will they please remember that such exhibitions of malevolence spring to a large extent from mere party prejudice or personal animosities, that there is no machinery for controlling them in a democracy, and that the great mass of our people attach very little importance to them? The vast majority of our countrymen trust the pledge of both the Führer and our own good Prime Minister.

Redesdale was predictably unimpressed that anyone in the country should dare criticize Chamberlain – ‘I cannot recover from my amazement…’. The Duke of Wellington hedged his bets.

In the history of the world it is seldom found that any nation goes to war within fifty years of a great war. And it is very doubtful whether any representative plunging his nation into war would survive doing so, in modern times.

Throughout its 33-issue run, the A-GR consistently extolled Hitler as a dynamic, kind, firm saviour of an embattled nation – a nation with which Britain had for centuries sustained a strong cultural bond. By and large it reiterated Lord Redesdale’s opinion of Hitler as a ‘right-thinking man of irreproachable sincerity and honesty’. The position of A-GR contributors was concisely summed up in The Link’s famous 1938 letter to The Times.  

Sir, – The undersigned, who believe that real friendship and cooperation between Great Britain and Germany are essential to the establishment of enduring peace not only in Western Europe but throughout the whole world, strongly deprecate the attempt which is being made to sabotage an Anglo-German rapprochement by distorting the facts of the Czechoslovak Agreement. We believe that the Munich Agreement was nothing more than a rectification of one of the most flagrant injustices of the Peace Treaties. It took nothing from Czechoslovakia to which that country could rightfully lay claim and gave nothing to Germany which could have been rightfully withheld. We see in the policy so courageously pursued by the Prime Minister the end of a long period of lost opportunities and the promise of a new era compared to which the tragic years that have gone since the War will seem like a bad dream.

Yours truly,

Arnold, Bernard Acworth, Raymond Beazley, C. E. Carroll, J. Smedley Crooke, W. H. Dawson, Barry Domvile, A. E. R. Dyer, Fairfax of Cameron, Hardinge of Penshurst, Edward Inglefield, F. C. Jarvis, Douglas Jerrold, John Latta, A. P. Laurie, Londonderry, V. B. Molteno, Mount Temple, A. H. M. Ramsay, Wilmot Nicholson, Redesdale, G. Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers, Arthur Rogers, Arthur Solly-Flood, Nesta Webster, Bernard Wilson.

Until 1937, even after Barry Domvile had established a regular spot as columnist and commentator of The Link, the magazine remained resolutely pro-German rather than anti-Semite in political tone. The first whiff of anti-Semitism came in the August 1938 issue of A-GR, which contained an article entitled ‘Regrettable Campaign’, opening with the following explanation.

A section of the Jewish community in Great Britain – we believe a small section – is waging a campaign which, though it contrasts sharply with the wise restraint shown by many leaders of British Jewry in their attitude towards Germany, is likely, if it continues, to do infinite damage to all British Jews. For that reason alone it should be discountenanced, for it leads inevitably to the creation of a Jewish question. But we are concerned with it here more especially because of its bearing on Anglo-German understanding.

Leslie and Lewis Lazarus, directors of Lucifer Ltd, manufacturers of boxes of matches and matchbooks, had waged the ‘campaign’. The Lazarus brothers, along with many Jewish businessmen in Britain, were dismayed at what had now become the widely publicised persecution of Jews in Germany. They and many others felt that a boycott of German goods would constitute an immediate and effective protest against the regime in Germany. Accordingly, Lucifer Ltd manufactured – ‘published’ would be an appropriate word – a match-book with the slogan ‘Boycott Everything German’ printed on the inside cover. A further flourish was evident on the matches themselves, each of which was individually printed in such a way that when the book was open, one was unequivocally invited to ‘Boycott’ ‘Everything’ ‘German’ and ‘Buy’ ‘British’. This simple but effective protest was described in reproachful tones by A-GR. Its reaction to the Lucifer matchbook captures exactly the spirit in which an influential cross-section of the British right wing approached any criticism of the Reich’s domestic policies regarding Jews. 

Undoubtedly the German Jews are being harshly treated, though the atrocity reports to which so much publicity is given are more often than not quite demonstrably untrue. 

On the other hand, the German Government, and the overwhelming majority of the German people, have a strong case against the Jews. That case is not given publicity in this country, and we have no desire to dwell on it here.

But there is one aspect that does concern us. It is this: We are most emphatically convinced that the charges levelled against the Jews by the German Government and those raised by the Jews against the German Government should not be used to foment discord between German and Britain and thus endanger peace.

Yet that is precisely what is being done. It is being done openly and ruthlessly, even by refugees to whom we are giving hospitality in this country, and all the protection and benefit of our liberal institutions.

We do not know into what category falls the firm of Messrs Lazarus but, if our assumption is correct, those gentlemen are allowing racial prejudice to outweigh their conception of what they owe to the country that harbours them.

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