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"The Alfred Munnings: War Artist 1918" exhibition, Britain then Canada

I wanted to focus on WW1 anniversary exhibitions in this blog before the end of 2018. So today we will examine Canadian soldiers and horses in Europe, and next post we will examine animals in the Australian army camps in Europe.

From a young age Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) loved drawing. His art was further developed through his apprenticeship as a lith­og­rapher in Norwich and by attending night classes at Norwich School of Art. By the time Munnings set up his first studio in Mendham, Suffolk in the late 1890s, he had already exhibited at London’s Royal Academy. Munnings travelled extensively to enhance his knowledge of art and techniques. He visited continental galleries, studied in Paris and was based in Cornwall with other well-known artists like Laura and Harold Knight.

Exhibition catalogue
Alfred Munnings: War Artist, 1918
Now in the National Army Museum in Chelsea

Thanks to the Canadian War Museum for the following details. It was WW1 that was the making of him because soldiers and horses always had a special relationship. Munnings was denied service in the British army because of a blind eye, but he found work examin­ing horses for diseases and parasites as they arrived to supply cavalry and transport units the programme acquired 44 artworks from Munnings, which are now part of the Canadian War Museum.

In the early part of WW1, Canadian soldiers were rarely featured in official images. But in 1916, a Canadian newspaper mogul became that country’s wartime publicist in London. Sir Max Aitken later Lord Beaverbrook used his considerable political influence and personal fortune to create the Canadian War Memorials Fund. The programme employed British, Belgian and Canadian painters, photo­graph­ers and sculptors to capture the Canadian war effort, at home and overseas. Mun­nings was commissioned by the Canadian War Memorials Fund as an official war artist.

Sold­iers, horses, battles and ruined landscapes were made when Munnings joined Lord Beaverbrook’s art initiative in 1918. Munning's time in the final year of WW1 was an embedded artist with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, on the Western Front. Munnings wanted to cap­t­ure the fighting front and logistics behind the scenes. With 45 paint­ings of the Canadian Cavalry hung in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1919, Munnings became a household name.

Eight million horses suffered and died in WW1. So in 2014-5 The Lightbox Gallery in Surrey ran an exhibition, exploring how the horse was depicted in war, both heroically and as beast-of-burden. Some of the leading British artists of the day were on show, including William Roberts and Sir Alfred Munnings. A social history display looked at the care and training of the horse and local effects of the requisition of horses during WW1. Lightbox Gallery said about Munnings that he had the ability, like no other artist, to exquisitely depict equestrian subjects, capturing their rippling muscles and sheen of colour.

Now a new WW1 exhibition at the National Army Museum in Chelsea has been developed by the Canadian War Museum (Ottawa) in partnership with The Munnings Art Museum (Dedham) and The Beaver­brook Canadian Foundation. Paintings regarded as one of the most important collections of war art anywhere have gone on display together for the first time since they were exhibited in 1919.

The exhibition Alfred Munnings: War Artist, 1918 shows his mas­t­ery of equine subjects, portraiture and landscapes. It features 40+ original paintings from Munning’s time with the Canadian Expeditionary Force late in WW1.

His impressionist paintings highlighted the role of horses in mil­itary operations, while capturing the beauty of these animals in the war-affected landscapes of France. And it was this impress­ionism that made him the C20th’s greatest equine artist and this exhibition reminds people of the importance of horses in WW1.

Munnings, Charge of Flowerdew’s Squadron, 1918

Munnings, Moving the truck another yard, 1918

Munnings went to the Battle Front to paint his subjects. Although modern weaponry made cavalry almost obsolete by WW1, he saw that horses still played an important role in transport. So this exhibit­ion features rare paintings of soldiers and their mounts at rest, at work and in battle.

The Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation’s Collection of War Art, established in 1960 by Lord Beaverbrook, has a long history with the Museum and loved that the Canadian artworks was returning to Britain. Appropriately it was Alfred Munnings who produced evocative images of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade and the Canadian Forestry Corps.

After London, the exhibition will move to the Munnings Art Museum in Dedham Essex in March 2019; the elegant country manor that was the artist’s home and studio. Then will make its North American debut at the Canadian War Museum and a cross-Canada tour.


1905 - in art, science, films, Canadian confederation, Bengal partition and Russian revolution

I normally think of the Edwardian era as time of culture, literature, science, medicine and peace. But 1905 began with a series of strikes and demonstrations in the Russian streets. In Jan a protest march in St Pet­ersburg was led by a workers’ organ­isation, the Assembly of Russian Factory and Plant Workers. c200,000 mar­chers moved to the Wint­er Palace to present pet­itions to the Tsar, but soon 1,000 protest­ors lay shot dead that Bloody Sunday. Anger spread throughout Russia with more strikes and mar­ches. In March the universities were shut down by radicals. In July, sailors on the battleship Potemkin mutinied in Odessa and avoided death only when the firing squad seized the ship instead. Odessa’s citizens turned out to support the sail­ors and many were massacred on the steps leading to the wharf.

Albert Einstein 1905

In St Petersburg Leon Trotsky set up a Soviet Workers’ Council to organise opposition to the Tsar. But Trotsky and his supp­or­ters were soon imprisoned. A revolutionary spirit arose, but it lacked the necessary central organis­at­ion to overthrow the government. After the lim­ited reforms of 1905 when a political amnesty was granted, Lenin briefly returned to Russia from Geneva, then left again when the Tsarists cracked down on dissid­ents.

Any protest was met with a brutal resp­onse and anti-Semitic pog­roms increased. In Odessa c2,500 Jews were killed in a single day; Kishinev had two pogroms; in Mariupol, 21 Jews died and their shops were destroyed.

Bloody Sunday 1905
St Petersburg

Tsar Nicholas II had to head off a revolution. He promised to allow the creation of a state Duma-assembly but the proposed Duma limitations led to further protests. In Oct 1905 a gen­er­al strike was called. Reluct­antly Nicholas drafted the October Manifesto, a ser­ies of proposed ref­orm measures that granted civil rights, free political parties, universal voting provis­ions and the estab­lishment of the Duma as the nat­ional assembly.

In late 1905 the mystic Grigori Rasputin (1869–1916) was in­tro­duced by the Tsar's cousins and quickly be­came a trusted advisor to Emperor Nicholas II and a loved confid­ante to his Empr­ess. Rasputin used his miraculous faith-healing powers in the Rom­anov family home.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) and Mileva Marić married in 1903 and had their first son in 1904 in Switzerland. But it was 1905 that was a frantic, miracle year for the young scientist. He published four papers, form­ulated the theory of special relat­iv­ity and expl­ained the photo-electric effect. In April he worked on the spec­ial theory of relat­iv­ity. He pub­lished his paper "On a heuristic viewpoint con­cerning the pro­duction and transformation of light" in May. Here he ex­plained the photo-electric effect and submitted his doctoral diss­ert­ation On the Motion of Small Part­icles.

In June Einstein published an article On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies where he publicly revealed his theory of special relativity. He soon submitted his paper "Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?" Albert Einstein never won a Nobel prize for the theory of rel­ativity. Instead, when he was given the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics, he received it for his explanation of the photoelec­t­ric effect. But note he developed both his theories in the same year: 1905.

By the late 1890s movies could be projected onto a screen. In 1896 the Edison Company launched the era of commercial movies. The earliest vaudeville theatre owners had to purchase films from factories via mail order, rather than renting them, which made it expensive to change shows often. Then in 1905 c450 people attended the world's first nickelod­eon, in Pittsburgh Penn. Dev­eloped by showman Harry Davis, the storefront theatre had 96 seats and charged each patron only 5c to see the silent film The Great Train Robbery. The first nickelodeon could off­er both live vaude­ville acts and short films, so oth­ers quickly set up in converted shopfronts, with flashy posters and ornate facades to attract patrons. Nickel­odeons remained the main outlet for films from 1905 on.

Detroit nickelodeon, 1905

Nickelodeons drastically altered the leisure-time habits of Americans, showing continuous performances of short films. Called disreputable by some municipal agencies, the crude, ill-ventilated nickelodeons with hard wooden seats were replaced later by more comfortably furnished theatres.

With the start of Canadian Confederation in 1867, only four provinces emerged - Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Whereas in Australia all the states were federated on the same day, in Canada the rest of the provin­ces came on board in different years: 1870: Manitoba, NW Territories; 1871: Brit­ish Columbia; 1873: Prince Edward Island; 1898: Yukon; 1905: Alberta, Saskatchewan; 1949: Newfoundland and Labrador; and 1999: Nunavut.

The two Canadian provinces that were
confederated in 1905

Note that the original bord­ers of Yukon Territory were chang­ed, gaining area from the North-West Territ­or­ies. Import­antly for us the econ­omy of the southern areas had changed. From just fur, Alberta and Saskatchewan now included farm­ing, logging, mining and railway. Many people were arriving, people who believed they deserved the same kind of government and services as in other provinces. In 1905, Alberta and Saskatch­ewan were carved out of the NW Territ­ories and confederated.

Fauvist artists pres­ented their first Paris exhibit at 1905 Salon d'Automne, displaying their lurid colours and wild execution. Henri Matisse’s portrait of his wife showed her with a face blotched with colours under a bright hairdo, as well as a giant purple hat and feathers. André Derain’s port­rait of Matisse had half the face in coloured streaks in the beard, while Maurice de Vlaminck’s trees were blazing pink.

Henri Matisse, 1905, 
Woman with a Hat, 
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The Salon d’Automne had been established to encourage experim­ental artists, but the Fauve paintings worried the Salon’s liberal jury and shocked everyone else. Fortunately the hang­ing committee ensured that the Fauve entries were included, and that they were hung together, increasing their impact. Paris saloniers Leo and Gertrude Stein saw the Fauvist exhibition in Paris and bought up Matisses, thus encouraging Fauvism at a crucial point in their salon.

Partition of Bengal
press to expand image

In 1905 it was decided by the Viceroy of India Lord Curzon that the 80 million people of Bengal would be partitioned i.e the Muslim majority eastern areas would be separated from the Hindu majority western areas. The Hindus of West Bengal were furious at what they believed was a divide and rule policy, where the colonising Britons turned the native population against itself for overall control and administrative ease. There was a growing belief among Hindus that East Bengal would have its own legal system.

Partition also created a sense of political awareness among the Muslims of East Bengal, leading to creation of fervent Islamic nationalism. So it didn’t last. In order to appease the Hindus, Bengal was reunited by Lord Hardinge in Dec 1911 but the Muslims were indignant. The administrative capital of British India was moved from Calcutta to New Delhi and  the entire experience predicted a tragic future for partition.


150 years celebrating St Pancras railway station, London

I love travelling on trains and ships, but not so much on planes. 

St Pancras is a C19th station that provides regional, inter-city, continental services to London. It is London’s second busiest railway station, the terminus for Eurostar trains arriving from Europe. But who was St Pancras?

A short Latin account of his martyrdom suggested that Pancras was born to a wealthy Christian family in Phrygia (Turkey). After the death of his par­ents, he moved to Rome with his guardian. There they both gave shelter to Christians persecuted by the Emperor Dioc­letian (284-305 AD). When the Emperor heard of Pancras’ eff­orts to save Christians, he im­mediately summoned him. He tried to dissuade the 14 year old him from Christianity but Pancras was adamant. Enraged, the Emperor ordered Pancras' immediate beheading and burial in Rome c287CE.

What made Saint Pancras' cult so potent were the mir­acles assoc­iated with his relics. No wonder that Pancras’ relics were soon distributed to many other churches, towns and countries, even Britain. The relics of Pancras sent by popes to England were used to re-consecrate old Romano-British churches. And as a result, churches dedicated to Pancras include St Pancras Old Church in Camden, from which the railway station took its name.

Before the 1860s, the London Midland & Scottish Railway/LMS had no direct line into London, routing its goods and passenger traffic via the London and North Western railway to Euston, and from 1858 via a route into Kings Cross station, operated by the Great Northern Railway. They wished to ex­tend its line from Bedford to London in order to compete for the Yorkshire railway traffic. Foll­owing disputes in 1862, Midland Railway got a bill from Parliament for a route from its line at Bedford via Luton and St Albans into St Pan­c­ras, its suitably grand terminus! 

St Pancras Station and Midland Grand Hotel

The Victorian neo-gothic station was designed and built in two parts; the train building and the hotel frontage. Midland’s consultant engineer, William Henry Barlow, designed the extension route and station layout, including the single span arched train shed built from iron and glass. At 243’ by 110’ high at its apex, it was then the largest ironwork structure of its kind. As the 6 platforms were tied to the ribs, the train shed area was spacious compared to other sites, making the structure much more flexible.

Because the line had to bridge the Regents Canal, the platforms at St Pancras were built on a high, imposing level. Resting on 850 cast iron pillars, this gave the station space underneath for storage of goods. The distance between the columns was measured using one of the Midland Railway’s most lucrative goods: beer.

In 1865, a competition was held to design the front of the station and hotel, won by famous neo-gothic architect George Gilbert Scott. Construction of the hotel started in 1868, but an economic downturn meant that the prominent Midland Grand Hotel was only finished in 1876. The hotel was expensive, with a grand staircase, rooms with gold leaf walls and a fireplace in every room.

In 1923 St Pancras was transferred to the management of the London Midland & Scottish Railway which focused its activities on Eus­ton. And so began the decline of St Pancras over 60 years. In 1935 the Midland Grand Hotel was closed due to falling business, so the building was used instead as office accommodation for railway staff and renamed St Pancras Chambers.

Station's top floor
Train platforms
Note the single-span iron and glass roof

Station's lower floor
Shops and restaurants

The Betjeman Arms Pub

Barrels of beer had long come to London from the Bass Brewery in Burton on Trent. Open­ing up the station undercroft allowed developers to let in the light from the roof. The building held the new Eurostar lounge, shops, restaurants and food halls, created in the space Barlow had originally designed for beer barrels. The storage and distribution of ale under the station platforms continued up until post-WW2, with the arrival of the last steam train from the brewery. 

During WW2, the station played an important role for troops dep­arting for war and for children being evacuated out of London. Although the station was hit hard during the blitz, there was only super­ficial damage and the station was quickly functioning again.

Throughout the 1950s-60s, St Pancras’ decline continued and British Railways tried to close and demolish the station. Writer John Betjeman led a campaign to save the station and hotel, and in Nov 1967 successfully had the buildings declared Grade 1 listed, just before demolition was due to begin. Although the buildings were saved, the train shed roof fell into a state of serious disrepair. 

The Channel Tunnel opened in May 1994, but high speed trains were only able to reach their maximum speeds on the French side of the Chunnel. In 1996 the gov­ern­ment passed the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act, authorising the construction of a high speed line from the Chunnel to a redeveloped St Pancras International.

St Pancras’ revival started: to extend platforms long enough to accept Eurostar trains, an add­it­ional train shed to the rear of Barlow’s original was designed by Foster & Partners. The west wall of the station was rebuilt using 16 million bricks, made exactly as the original was. New public works of art include the statue of the station’s “saviour” John Betjeman and the 30’ tall bronze sculpture called The Meeting Place, under the station clock. Oak doors for the main entrances were made anew.

St Pancras International Station was officially opened on in Nov 2007 with Eurostar and East Midland services. At the end of 2009, high speed domestic services began between St Pancras and Kent.

Hotel reception room

The company that owns and operates the station has launched Cele­brate St Pancras – The People, The Place, The Journey this year. Its exhibition, open until the end of 2018, analyses the construct­ion and transform­ation of the space, role of women in the rail­way industry, impact of world wars and the station’s brewing heritage. St Pancras ale, brewed by Rivers Brewing, is available at The Betjeman Arms in the station.


How close was Salvador Dali to Sigmund Freud?

The main founder of the Surrealist movement and writer of the Manifesto of Surrealism in 1924 was André Breton (1896-1966). According to Breton in 1924, the Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) “very rightly brought his critical faculties to bear upon the dream. It is, in fact, inadmissible that this consider­able portion of psychic act­ivity”. Also Breton credited Freud’s ideas with discovering “a current of opinion that was finally forming and that the imagin­ation is perhaps on the point of reasserting itself, of reclaiming its rights”. So André Breton and Max Ernst were very knowledgeable about Freud's beliefs. They saw that Surrealism was the most popular modern art form because it was a special, dogmatic and theoretical art that revealed human emotional truths. The theory it illustrated, i.e Freud's, was true as well.

Freud's conception of the unconscious and the importance of dreams en­c­ouraged painters, sculptors and writers to pay attention to their pers­onal world of dreams. The thoughts and images they prev­iously would have dismissed as absurd or illogical would now have a meaning. His art explained that “the sublimation of the artist's unsatisfied libido is responsible for producing all forms of art and literature whether it be painting, sculpting, or writing”.

At that time, Breton and Freud were admired by the rest of the Surrealist circle. Familiar with Freud’s theories of accessing the subconscious for surreal inspiration, Spanish artist Sal­vador Dalí (1904–89) increasingly considered dreams central to human thought.

Dali (top) and Freud (bottom), mid 1930s

Dali was enthralled when he discovered psychoanalysis and dreams, reading Freud’s Die Traumdeutung-The Interpretation of Dreams that was first published in 1899. "It was one of the greatest discoveries of my life. I was obsessed by the vice of self-interpretation, not just of my dreams but of everything that happened to me, however accidental it might at first seem". Since that moment Dalí's masterpieces became interpretations of Freud’s psychology as fixations, complexes and psychosexual development.

It was clear in Dali’s paintings how Freud’s psychoanalytic theories inspired the Spaniard and left their mark on his ic­on­ography. Dalí ex­plained his paintings in this way “to express for the first time in images Freud’s discovery of the typical dream and the consequence of a chance event which causes the sleeper to wake up”. “The only difference between imm­ort­al Greece and the present time, is Sigmund Freud, who discovered that the human body is full of secret drawers that only psycho­an­al­ysis is capable of opening”.

In many of Dalí’s artworks there was a surreal, unconscious, dream-like quality, for example in the painting Persistence of Memory 1931. The message in the artwork was that a person’s subliminal unconscious mind was present in daily life and had more power than man-made objects of the conscious world.

Clearly influenced by Freud’s ideas, Dali's goal in 1936 was to bring the world of dreams, visions and hypnagogic imagery to tangible, concrete reality, using his unique language.

Dalí wanted to meet Freud. During the 1930s, he went to Vienna sev­eral times but failed to meet him. Dalí said in his autobiography The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí: "I remember with a gentle melancholy spending those afternoons walking haphazardly along the streets of Austria’s ancient capital. The chocolate tart, which I would hurriedly eat between the short intervals of going from one antiquary to another, had a slightly bitter taste. In the evening I held long and exhaustive imaginary conversations with Freud; he came home with me once and stayed all night clinging to the curtains of my room in the Hotel Sacher.” Oh dear.

Dali, Metamporphoses of Narcissus 1937

In 1938 Dalí finally met Freud in the exile’s London home in Hampstead. Dali took his painting The Metamporphoses of Narcissus 1937. Like many of Dali's works, this was indeed Freudian, referring in its title, content and style to Freud's interpretation of Narcissus sitting in a pool. During the visit Dalí sketched Freud, and the resulting artwork Portrait of Sigmund Freud now hangs in the Freud Museum. We know Freud loved art; his house-museum walls are covered with drawings, paintings, sculptures, antiques and collectibles.

On meeting Dalí, Freud was said to be impressed. He wrote about the Catalans’ technical mastery to another Austrian Stefan Zweig: “I was inclined to look upon the Surrealists, who have apparently chosen me as their patron saint, as absolute cranks. The young Spaniard, however, with his candid fanatical eyes and his undeniable technical mastery, has made me reconsider my opinion”.

But Freud's approval didn’t make sense to me. Freud was a very proper, formally dressed, German-speaking gentleman! Dali had a wild, eccentric face, pupils that widened with ? drugs, a ridiculous moustache and an absurd, irrational personality. Dalí was also an anti-Semite and a supporter of the Fascist dictator of Spain, Franco. Nonetheless Freud was right when he said Dalí was a technical mast­er.

Even after Dali left the Surrealists in 1938 and pursued science and religion as his subjects, Surrealist imagery and Freudian symbolism continued. Freud died in 1939, during Dalí’s best period.

In 2009 Dali Museum in St Petersburg Florida displayed 70 works from the mus­eum’s permanent collection, centring on two important influences in Dali’s life: Sigmund Freud and the C20th Avant-garde movement which closely based on Freud’s writings. The Dali, Freud and Surrealism Exhibit spanned Dali’s entire career, beginning with his earlier 1930s work where his concern with landscape and family portraits preceded the influence of Freud and Surrealism.

Freud's house museum, Hampstead
Filled with paintings, sculptures, textiles, carpets and antiques

Or read Salvador Dali: Provenance is Everything, where Bernard Ewell discussed the Freud-Dali connection.


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.


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.


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).


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".


Deporting or imprisoning desperate refugees is a shame on all Australia

Over the years in this blog, I have tried to show how Australia’s most creative and productive citizens were once terrified refugees and migrants, forced out of their own countries and waiting to be accepted by Australian society eg Judy Cassab: from HungaryScottish migrants,  the Evian Conference of 1938,  Holocaust survivors from Poland,  child deportees from Britain,  recent boat people, the Dunera BoysNicholas Winton’s train loads of children and Viennese refugee Richard Goldner. Australia would have been a very bland, conservative country, if it was not for the large minority of Australian citizens in every generation who were not born here (26%). My year at school would have had five children in it, rather than the 120 I met in 1953.

Jane McAdam is law professor and director of the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at NSW University. McAdam and Fiona Chong’s new book Refugees: Why Seeking Asylum Is Legal and Australia’s Policies Are Not (UNSW Press, 2014) was published just a few years ago.  This book should be read by all Australians concerned about the inhumanity demonstrated by successive federal governments when dealing with refugees seeking our protection. I hope schools will introduce young Australians to such issues. The book reveals not merely the abandonment of Australia's cherished "fair-go", but shows how we have breached international law.

small boat filled with asylum seekers, Christmas Island
photo credit: ACBC Media Blog

As the Refugee Council of Australia has said, permitting asylum-seekers to enter a country without travel documents is similar to allowing ambulance drivers to exceed the speed limit in an emergency. International law recognises that desperate people have a right to seek asylum. This book explains, using case studies, why some people fleeing persecution have no choice but to risk their lives at sea rather than face certain death at home.

Some families fled persecution in Myanmar & won refugee status from the UN 8 months after arriving in Indonesia, yet had to await resettlement for long periods. We can scarcely imagine their emotional suffering. Yet Conservative prime minister John Howard increased such suffering by denying family reunion to small boat arrivals. Consequently, entire families risked their lives at sea. As the case studies demonstrate, it is the last choice of desperate people.

From the time the Keating Labour government introduced mandatory detention... to the Conservative government’s current stand, Australia has adopted many policies in breach of international law. Citizens with an ounce of humanity were and are disgusted.

Temporary protection visas do not fulfil our obligations under the Refugee Convention. Mandatory detention behind barbed wire breaches intern­at­ional human rights law. The contrast with the bi­partisan policies of the Fraser and Hawke governments could not be greater. The authors outline the need to restore a functional refugee status determination process, with merits and judicial review. Australia used to be recognised as having one of the best systems, but successive governments have sought to restrict access to the courts.

Statistics quoted in this book also help place the issue in another important context. In 2012 Australia received 17,202 asylum-seekers by boat, its highest annual number. Yet this represented only 1.47% of the world’s asylum-seekers. The Abbott government may have stopped the boats, but at what cost to a fraction of the world’s asylum-seekers? And at huge cost to taxpayers. Research by the Kaldor Centre puts the cost of Australia’s onshore and offshore detention system — $3.3 billion — as equivalent to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ entire budget for projects covering 51.2 million people of concern worldwide. So much for morality and budget prudence :(

At the same time, we have an annual intake of 190,000 legal migrants. Surely we must also debate whether asylum-seekers should be processed in regional nations and, when declared to be refugees, be invited to Australia as part of the immigration intake. That was the policy of the Fraser and Hawke governments and refugees made outstanding migrants. This book exposes myths about asylum-seekers, such as that those arriving by boat pose a security risk. The statistics show this is not so. Yet they have been placed in barbaric conditions on Nauru and Manus Island and may be sent to Cambodia or any other country that will have them; they will not allowed to settle in Australia. The children suffer the worst.

Nauru and Manus Island are arguably the poorest islands in South East Asia. Papua New Guinea granted refugee status to some men on Manus Island, but has also amended laws to allow asylum seekers to be gaoled without trial.

Successive governments have continued to pander to paranoia by demonising people who have no choice but to flee persecution. So the authors explore alternatives to the present situation. The chapter on the need for a regional framework is essential reading. One of our diplomatic priorities should be to persuade those of our neighbours who have not signed the Refugee Convention to do so and help our region meet the humanitarian goals of the UN. We should have used our moment (2013-14) on the UN Security Council to achieve this.

asylum seekers in a Malaysian detention centre 
photo credit: The Daily Telegraph

Nauru Detention Centre, 2016
photo credit: Social Vision

In another important recent book, Walking Free, Munjed Al Muderis writes of his reasons for fleeing Iraq, his hazardous journey to Australia, his detention and ultimate acceptance as a refugee. As a doctor, his community contribution has been inspiring. So are the stories of countless other refugees who have been welcomed into Australia. We must influence our politicians from the grassroots! McAdam and Chong’s book should help to achieve that.


I asked 20 Australians why they believe it is appropriate for our governments to tow boatloads of refugees back into the open ocean or lock them up behind barbed wire in remote Pacific islands. The answers were – they eat smelly foods, they are not Christian, they don’t speak English, they will steal our jobs and especially they might be Islamic terrorists! My response? Settle the refugees in safety in a proper Australian building, with health care and English lessons, and ensure the Immigration Department does thorough background checks.

A country with a particularly innovative, inquisitive, industrious people always thrives. History is replete with examples of countries undermining their own potential by banishing groups of people with greater potential to serve the greater cultural, scientific or economic good. Host countries, like Australia, would be lunatic not to accept refugees who were once the cream of their own nation, before they were forced to flee.



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