The London Moment in Big Pictures: Allied (2016)

The blog’s subject, Europeans in wartime London, has been covered by a couple of feature films. There is the classic: Ernst Lubitsch’s „To be or not to be“ from 1947 about a Polish theatre company changing Second World War history. In 2008, Nick Whitby also staged the plot of the film as a play. Then there is the 2017adaption by Christopher Nolan  of the evacuation at Dunkirk in 1941. And of course there is more than one film about Churchill: this year alone, two films came out. One facing the darkest ours of Great Britain during the battle of England with a barely recognizable Gary Oldman posing as the British Prime Minister. Or there is „Allied“ with Brad Pitt as a Canadian intelligence officer and Marillon Cotillard as a woman of the Résistance.

Over the next time, this blog will introduce to you some films in short reviews.  I’ll begin with „Allied“. 

The American drama “Allied“ about two spies falling in love came out in 2016 and was directed by Robert Zameckis, also director of „Back to the future“ or „Forest Gump“. The screenplaywriter Steven Knight claims that “Allied” was based on true events, told to him by someone back when he was 21.

Casablanca 1942: the Canadian Air Force Pilot Max Vatan and the French Resistance fighter Marianne Beauséjour are brought together for a special job: the assassination of the German ambassador. To cover the mission and reach the ambassador’s party, they both pretend to be a couple and then actually fall in love. 

The mission succeeds and they return to London, where they get married. During the wedding reception at a pub you hear rumbling in the distance. Max’ sister comments on the bombing and sirens “Honestly, I’ll miss the Blitz. I will. No one cares who does what to who. So we should be drinking at war. And freedom.“ Then she kisses her girlfriend. And Max’ boss Frank, slightly drunk, appears with a bottle of champagne and a fun fact: “Only thing in London not rationed, champagne!“ So he will miss notably the Ritz War. Some months later, Marianne’s child is born during an air raid. To another party at their house in Hampstead, Marianne invited “Refugees, intellectuals and bohemians“. The party is interrupted by a German airplane crashing into the back garden. At that time, Max already knows about the suspicion of Section V (a central foreign counter-espionage Circulating Section) concerning Marianne’s identity: according to some information, Marianne Beauséjour was arrested and executed in 1941. Her identity was then given to a German agent. The double agent Marianne is accused of sending information concerning activities of SOE (Special Operations Executive) circuits in France to Germany. The Geman Ambassador she and Max assassinated in Casablanca was a dissident. 

The main plot of the film might not concern the blog’s matters: it is a tragic love story set as a spy film during the Second World War. But incidentally and perhaps accidentally the film shows in brief moments the everyday life in London with the Blitz. And in so far it refers to the London Moment. It deals with the work of the Secret Intelligence Service and perhaps a bit with International relations in London in that time: a Canadian pilot and a French women married in London. But in fact it was not that easy to immigrate to Great Britain during the war. The evacuation of the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) and French soldiers from Dunkirk and the French sailors and ratings from Mers-él-Kébir in Summer 1940 had raised fears of a fifth column in the British Government. Just from Dunkirk over 140,000 French refugees came to Britain. If not immediately repatriated, they were initially interned  in prisons and reception centers – later at Royal Victoria Patriotic School (RVPS) in Wandsworth and screened by the MI5 and French institutions. The latter maintained close relations to the Resistance movement in France. The British Government looked on refugees of any nationality as an irritant that might upset carefully laid military plans, alleged fifth columnists were to be spotted everywhere that time – apparently with the exception of pretty women of the Resistance. This fifth column scare calmed down after the repatriation of the majority of suspect French refugees but did not disappear completely until the end of war. 

77 years ago: De Gaulle’s Appeal of 22 June 1940

In the all-time ranking of historic speeches, London wartime speeches feature prominently, and Charles de Gaulle’s first calls for resistance are certainly high up on the list. His address to the French nation right after his arrival in Great Britain, and his strong appeal to continue resistance, are known well beyond France. The myth is still strong: This is where de Gaulle declared his leadership of the Free French in London, where he captured the fighting spirit of the resistance against Nazi Germany and Vichy France, laying a fundament for eventual allied victory. The sentiment of the speech, the date of the 18 of June and the name of de Gaulle are so closely linked, that the French leader has subsequently been dubbed “l’homme du 18 juin” (the man of 18 June):

However, the first thing to note about the Appeal of 18 June is that when talking about it we usually refer to the Appeal of 22 June. While de Gaulle did first address the French people right after his arrival in London on June 18th, no recording of the broadcast exists, only manuscripts, notes, and posters printed with its text. Because of its spontaneity, it is also highly likely that the first broadcast only reached a very small audience. The speech we now usually associate with the Appeal of 18 June was actually recorded on 22 June and archived by the B.B.C.  as “General Charles de Gaulle: Call to Resistance, 22.6.1940”.

Today, 77 years after its original broadcasting, it is time to have a closer look: What exactly did he say and what did it mean?

In the following paragraphs, I will analyse parts of his speech. I will be quoting the translation available on the BBC website, but for a better impression, I highly recommend listening to de Gaulles speech in the original French available in the INA online collections.

As is well known, de Gaulle openly distanced himself in his speech from Pétain’s acceptance of armistice, calling it “capitulation” and “surrender” and challenges the government’s right to accept it. Doing so, he employs a strategy of different arguments, which he sums up as “honour, common sense, and the interests of the country”:

  1. the moral argument: honour and duty
  2. the rational argument: military and financial strength
  3. the strategic argument: future planning and France’s role in Europe
  • 1) Honour and Duty:

It may therefore be said that this armistice would not only be a capitulation, but that it would also reduce the country to slavery.[…] As long as the allies continue the war, her government has no right to surrender to the enemy.” De Gaulle refers to the other governments-in-exile present in London continuing to represent their country, as an example: “The Polish, Norwegian, Belgian, Netherlands, and Luxemburg governments, though driven from their territories, have thus interpreted their duty.”
While, of course, he had every right to criticise the armistice as an individual refugee, he clearly did not intent to speak as a civilian, but with a political agenda and the idea to address the French people as leader figure. With his discourse, he places himself and the Free France he aims to represent amongst a broader community: The community of European governments-in-exile who had fled to London during May 1940 and now represented the joint Allied war effort – at this point, Soviet Russia still fought alongside Nazi Germany, and the USA were more than reluctant to get involved in yet another messy European war. De Gaulle defines it as a French duty not to collaborate with Germany, but to continue fighting with the Allies. His position, however, is very different from those of the other European powers, and I will discuss his “bluff” below in more detail.

  • 2) Military and financial strength

But we still have a vast empire, our fleet is intact, and we possess large sums in gold. We still have allies, who possess immense resources and who dominate the seas. We still have the gigantic potentialities of American industry. The same war conditions which caused us to be beaten by 5,000 planes and 6,000 tanks can tomorrow bring victory by means of 20,000 tanks and 20,000 planes.”  With these words, de Gaulle seems to be addressing the Allied Forces just as much as his compatriots at home: The goal is to convey that France is not lost, that it is strong and battle-ready. The French should be reminded that they are neither helpless nor alone, the Allies should be reminded that France is not a welfare case, but continues to be a strong ally. The motivation behind this is obvious: French soldiers are more likely to join and risk their lives, the allies more likely to provide political recognition and military support, if both believe that this is not a lost cause but a promising venture. Again, de Gaulle is mainly bluffing. The military equipment he is referring to belongs to Vichy France, still the only France recognised by International Law. While later on, de Gaulle manages to mobilise soldiers amongst the French in Great Britain, and gain influence over French troops, in particular in Northern Africa, he had no control over any kind of military or financial resources at the time of his appeal. Additionally, contrary to his allusions, the US had not yet started supporting the allied struggle.

  • 3) Future planning and France’s role in Europe

De Gaulle stresses the framework beyond the Franco-German conflict:” This is a world war. No one can foresee whether the neutral countries of today will not be at war tomorrow, or whether Germany’s allies will always remain her allies. If the powers of freedom ultimately triumph over those of servitude, what will be the fate of a France which has submitted to the enemy?”. Again, this part of the speech addresses the French as well as the Allies: Yes, de Gaulle and his project of Free France might seem utopian and almost ludicrous with regard to the current situation, but who knows what the future will hold? De Gaulle plays it as a central argument that alliances can change overnight (and history proved him more than right on this) and that you need to seize all opportunuties you can get to fight this battle. To the French, he paints a picture of eventual ramifications of collaboration: Firmly believing (or at least bluffing to believe) in allied victory, he makes allusions to consequences of discontinued resistance with regard to France’s standing in Europe and the world.

De Gaulle’s Call to Arms

The intent of this broadcast is twofold: In his words, de Gaulle wants to mobilize French soldiers (and others) to continue the fight at the side of the allies and to join him in London, bringing along as much military equipment as they can lay hands on. At the same time, his appeal is a claim to power in London and in the allied hierarchy. His appeal is highly personalised: “I, General de Gaulle, am undertaking this national task here in England. I call upon all French servicemen of the land, sea, and air forces; I call upon French engineers and skilled armaments workers who are on British soil, or have the means of getting here, to come and join me. I call upon the leaders, together with all soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the French land, sea, and air forces, wherever they may now be, to get in touch with me. I call upon all Frenchmen who want to remain free to listen to my voice and follow me.”  As we know now, he should eventually be quite successful with this attempt. De Gaulle managed to gather between 2.000-3.000 men in London by August 1940. More men should follow his command in the Northern African theatres of war. Even though, de Gaulle always remained a highly disputed figure, even amongst the French in London. Looking back, the success of his appeal is striking: When calling on Frenchmen to follow him, he was in no position whatsoever to demand this. He himself had just been whisked off by a British plane, arriving the in London only the previous day. No government, national committee or anything along these lines had yet been set up. Considering France committed to armistice, and thus continued existing as a theoretically free country in the form of Vichy France, there could not be a government-in-exile as in the case of the other defeated and occupied European countries. In this light, de Gaulle’s appeal to leave France to follow him to London and join the allied fight was a call to join a one-man-show. Even worse, technically and legally, lacking any kind of status for extra-Vichy forces, this amounted to desertion. Eventually, de Gaulles managed to gather French politicians and military leaders like René Cassin and Georges Thierry d’Argenlieu in London and by the Churchill-de Gaulle accords of 7 August 1940, he was recognised by the British as the leader of France Libre (Free France), and the latter recognised as a military and political partner of the Allies.

While the cooperation between France and his fellow Allies (and certainly on a personal level between de Gaulle and his fellow leaders) did not remain conflict-free during the war, de Gaulle’s bluff with the appeal of 18/22 june certainly payed off. His speech continued to be a symbol for his success, even though it was in no way predictable. In 2005, the appeal of 18 June was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register after being nominated in a joint effort by France and Britain via INA and BBC, arguing that it is proof that “ Radio was no longer just a means of entertainment or propaganda available to the powers that be; it also now provided the technical means to enable an isolated individual to launch a huge resistance movement from outside his own country, to urge his fellow citizens to oppose foreign rule and subservience and to fight for the restoration of freedoms.” The “isolated individual” had played his cards right. As de Gaulle said to conclude his broadcast: “Long live free France in honour and independence!

Further reading:

Nicholas Atkin, The Forgotten French: Exiles in the British Isles, 1940-44. MUP: Manchester 2003.

Jean-Louis Crémieux-Brilhac, La France Libre: De l’appel du 18 juin à la Libération.Gallimard: Paris 1996.

Day of Prayer for France

After the November 2015 Paris attacks, the London Eye was illuminated in blue, white and red, the colours of the French flag, as a memorial to the attacks. The British People – as the most people throughout the world – showed their solidarity with France and the French People. The hashtag #prayforparis went viral.

It was the 15th of June, 1940, when the archbishop of Canterbury concluded the service at Canterbury Cathedral with the following words: “To stay upon God will be our greatest strength”. He was praying for French soldiers and the people of France.  In his sermon, he paid tribute to the heroic tenacity, determination and courage of the French armies. No building was illuminated and no hashtag went viral, but that Day of Prayer was held in churches of all denominations throughout Britain and the commonwealth to show loyalty and solidarity with “that sweet enemy”1 France. Why France? The day before, on June 14th, the Wehrmacht had marched into Paris and the Maginot line was about to collapse. Many French were already trying to leave the country, some managed to escape to Britain. The Day of Prayer was usually observed as a day of intercession for international and individual welfare, but on this occasion its special prayer was dedicated to France as an expression of solidarity and unity with the French Allies.

Following the London Times report from 17th of June there was a big congregation at Westminster Chapel.  The British King George VI. and his wife, Elizabeth, attended a service at Royal Chapel in Windsor Great Park. Haakon VII, the King of Norway, accompanied by his son was present at Norwegian Church in Rotherhithe. Queen Wilhelmina was at the Netherlands Reformed Church. At the Eglise Protestante Francaise representatives of Belgium, Russia and Italy were among the worshippers.

This Day of Prayer may be seen as a symbol of the beginning of British-French solidarity and efforts in Britain’s politics and society to welcome French refugees in their own country. Even the arrival of the notoriously difficult Charles de Gaulles only two days later was not going to change this.

  1. Tombs, Isabelle / Tombs, Robert (2006), That Sweet Enemy. The French and the British from the Sun King to the Present, London, William Heinemann.

Upcoming Event: ADEF Workshop and Keynote Lecture “Competitors & Companions: Britons and Germans in the World”

Next week, the Centre for British Studies at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin will host the ADEF Workshop  “Competitors & Companions: Britons and Germans in the World”, organized by Daniel Steinbach (Exeter), Tobias Becker (GHI London) and myself. The complete programme of the workshop is available at the ADEF homepage. Please register to attend the workshop. The public Keynote Lecture will be given by Professor Gaynor Johnson (Kent).

The Inter Allied Services Cup

While the heads of the governments-in-exile met at the West End Hotels like the Dorchester, the Rubens or the Savoy to drink, eat and deliberating on current affairs, their Armies met at the pitches of Stamford Bridge, Selhurst Park or Upton Park.

The Football League First Division (predecessor of the Premier League) had been suspended in September 1939 due to the outbreak of the Second World War. The game operation paused until 1946. But England without Football? Between 1941 and 1944 the Inter Allied Services Cup was held four times. In its first final in 1941 the British Army and the Royal Air Force met. The British Army won 8-2.

On Wednesday, march 26, 1941 the London Times reported on the Belgian Army’s win of the Allies League. Of six matches, they won three, drew two and lost the other. The other teams, taking part in the Inter-Allied Armies Tournament were the Czech Army, who finished second, the Norwegians on third and the Dutch on the last place of the League.

At the same day another article announced the Inter-Allied Services Cup Competition, even sponsored by the British Football Association (FA). New teams entered or were about to enter the Cup: among them the Civil Defence organization, the British Army and the Royal Air Force.

In 1942 the London Police won against the British Army with 6-2. In 1943 again the British Army and the Royal Air Force were the finalists. They drew 2-2 and shared the Trophy. In the last final in 1944, the Royal Air Force could finally take revenge: they won with 3-0 versus the Army.

Although the British teams dominated the finals, there were some international teams consisting of the exile-armies. The most successful team was the Belgian Army (they took part in every year and in three times they even reached the semi-final).

Other teams were the Royal Netherlands Brigade (1941, 1943-44), the Polish Air Force (1941) and the Polish Land Forces (1942), the Czechoslovak Army (1942-43), the Norwegian Army (1942-44) and the Canadian Army (1942-44), even though they did not have a government-in-exile in London. Another team without a government-in-exile, but a national committee was that of the Fighting French (1943).

The temporary Capital of Europe was not only an international microcosm of political and diplomatic elites. It was also a microcosm of international football. Sometimes the matches were not only military or sporting occasions but also political. The heads of the governments-in-exile left their hotels, gentlemen-clubs and restaurants to meet at the football stadium. Among the spectators of the Allied Cup’s final round in 1943 were Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, General Wladyslaw Sikorski, the Polish Prime Minister, Admiral Émile Muselier of France or Paul-Henri Spaak, the Belgium Foreign Minister.

The political collaboration, European cooperation and discussions about a post-war Europe between the governments-in-exile lead to a new international law and juridicial system (UNO); and only eleven years after the last final of the Inter Allied Services Cup sixteen European football clubs played in the European Champion Club’s Cub. In a dramatic final Real Madrid could beat Stade Reims with 4-3.

Blue Plaques

At least 20 years have passed since you died and you are a notable figure of the past? There is still a building in Greater London people might associate with you? Did this building survive in a form you would still recognize and it is visible from a public highway? Finally, there is not more than one Blue Plaque at the building’s front?

If you fulfill all these requirements, then apply for your own original Blue Plaque! Or, even better: hope there is someone who recognizes you and sends a detailed proposal to English Heritage. Being British is not mandatory.

Established in 1866 by the Society of Arts, and under the direction of the English Heritage since 1984, „the London’s Blue Plaques scheme (…) celebrates the links between notable figures of the past and the buildings in which they lived and worked“1. The first Blue Plaque one was installed in 1867 and commemorated the British poet Lord Byron at his birthplace, 24 Holles Street, Cavendish Square (destroyed in 1889).

Today, there are more than 900 official Blue Plaques in Greater London trying to link buildings and people as well as history and the present. Most, but not all of them are round and blue, because the scheme has been run by four different societies since 1866.

Even a fictitious person is mentioned on a Blue Plaque: The plaque at 221b Baker Street commemorates Sherlock Holmes. Although the adventures of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock take place in the Victorian London, Mark Gatiss and Steve Moffat move the plot in BBC’s series Sherlock into the present London. So he is also the only person on a Blue Plaque who could still be alive.

The majority of the Plaques have been suggested by the public: if the suggestion passes all criteria, a panel of experts discusses the nomination after „thorough historical research“.

Don’t worry if your nomination fails: you can submit the proposal again in ten years’ time.

At the blog’s main sidebar you can find pictures of some Blue Plaques commemorating British and European people who lived through the London Moment.

1) http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/about-blue-plaques/

image rights

CFP: Competitors and Companions: Britons and Germans in the World

ADEF – Annual Conference, Berlin, 19 – 20 May 2017

Competitors and Companions: Britons and Germans in the World (19th and 20th Century)

This workshop is concerned with British-German relations beyond government level. While official bilateral relations between Germany and Britain have been thoroughly studied, their ‘unofficial’ connections and interactions await a systematic exploration. These encounters are manifold as Britons and Germans met in various different contexts at home, in Europe, and the wider world and constantly had to define their relationship to one another as either competitors or companions against a third ‘other’. In the colonial sphere a strong sense of a mutual ‘European-ness’ towards the indigenous population could override economic rivalry and cultural differences. Archaeological expeditions or other scientific endeavours could either create transnational collaboration or nationalist competition. Artists, musicians, missionaries, or explorers might be asked to further their countries’ reputation while they sometimes felt closer to their peers and colleagues of other national background. Diplomats representing their nations and pursuing their politics would still share the life and moral index of the diplomatic corps. On the other hand, British and German representatives at multinational organisations or the EU often opted for a surprisingly nationalistic approach and economic, political, and military collaboration was repeatedly undermined by espionage or even sabotage. The varying degrees of competition and/or collaboration were not necessarily in accordance with official policy and diplomatic relations and sometimes in direct contrast to them.
The workshop discusses different aspects of British-German relations between confrontation and cooperation during the 19th and 20th century in a global perspective, while at the same time explores the creation, role, and impact of ‘the other’ and ‘the third’ in the fluctuating construction of companionship and competition.

Convenors: Tobias Becker (GHI London), Julia Eichenberg (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin), Daniel Steinbach (University of Exeter)
Keynote Speaker: Prof Gaynor Johnson (University of Kent)

We invite proposals that investigate examples and case studies of British-German encounter in an international context discussing questions of competition and/or collaboration. All speakers are expected to deliver their papers in English.
The workshop will be held 19-20 May 2017 at the Centre for British Studies (Großbritannienzentrum) at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin.
In the interests of fostering stronger links between scholars in Germany and the United Kingdom and Ireland, the German Historical Institute London will cover travel expenses for accepted speakers travelling in from the British Isles. Accepted speakers from Germany may qualify for bursary to cover travel expenses, depending on funding.
Proposals (in English) should include a brief one-page C.V. and a 250-word abstract of the proposed paper, and are due by 1 March 2017. Submissions and all inquiries should be directed to julia.eichenberg@hu-berlin.de

Kontakt

julia.eichenberg@hu-berlin.de

For more general inquiries about ADEF:
http://adef-britishstudies.org