Tag Archives: Politics

Oxfam archive inspires potential University of Oxford students

Nineteen year-12 students recently attended a seminar in the Weston Library’s impressive Bahari Room as part of a summer school organised by Wadham College.

The programme allows students from schools with low application/entry rates into higher education to experience university life through a four-day residential. During the visit, students attended lectures, seminars and tutorials, giving them a taste of what it is like to be an undergraduate at the University of Oxford.

The theme for this year was ‘The Politics of Immigration’ and in the seminar, students had the chance to handle a selection of material taken from the Oxfam archive. They were then asked to discuss the representation of Palestinian refugees in the archival documents dating from the 1960s. The material used was taken from the Communications section of the archive – i.e. records of Oxfam’s external communication with the public – and is just a very small example of the material available to the public in the extensive Oxfam archive (the Communications catalogue is online here).

An example of some of the material that the students were using from the Communications section of the Oxfam archive.

Though initially hesitant, we were pleased when two eager students volunteered to open up the archival boxes and find the files that were needed. After being carefully handled by our volunteers, all the files were laid out for the students to analyse in groups.

Dr. Tom Sinclair and a student unpacking an archival box.

The students then took it in turns to give examples of how Palestinian refugees were represented in the Oxfam material. One of the excellent examples that students spotted was how Oxfam was able to remain politically neutral (a constitutional necessity for charities) by not specifying why the refugees were displaced. Students also remarked that Oxfam preferred to focus on individual stories in their communications – for instance, that of a displaced teenager with aspirations to be an engineer – which the students suggested helped humanise a crisis that could be difficult for the public to comprehend.

The students studied selected material from the Oxfam archive and gave examples of how Palestinian refugees were represented.

Overall, the ‘Politics of Immigration’ seminar was a great success that gave the students a good feel for what it would be like to use the archives to complete research for a dissertation or other academic project.

Dr Tom Sinclair, who organised the summer school, said: “It was such a privilege to be in that lovely room and have such free access to the archives… I really think that a couple of the students were inspired, and I hope they’ll be future Oxford undergraduates visiting the archives again in a few years’ time.”

The 1923 General Election

 

Junior Imperial League Gazette

Junior Imperial League Gazette, Dec 1923, p.7 [PUB 199/2]

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, surprised many when she announced her intention to call a UK general election to be held this Thursday, 8 June 2017. The ‘snap’ election came as a shock not least because, as she acknowledged in her announcement, since becoming Prime Minister she had made it clear that she did not anticipate any election before the next scheduled general election in 2020. A combination of Westminster ‘game playing’, which might weaken her government’s hand in Brexit preparations and negotiations, and the fact that talks would otherwise reach a critical stage in the run up to the next scheduled election, led Mrs May to conclude that it was in the national interest to hold an election after all and by so doing remove possible uncertainty or instability with regard to the country’s future. So the electorate is being asked to provide Mrs May and her Conservative government with a direct mandate to settle the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union, leaving it “free to chart its own way in the world” (regaining control of our money, laws, and borders with the opportunity to strike our own trade deals). Surely few can have missed the campaign mantra ‘strong and stable leadership’ versus a ‘coalition of chaos’ (Labour propped up by the Liberal Democrats and Scottish Nationalist Parties).

So, as we look forward to the results of this week’s ‘snap’ general election it might be interesting to look back to a previous ‘snap’ election, specifically the general election called by Stanley Baldwin in 1923.

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Parliament Week: Britain and Europe: Britain’s third (and final) attempt to join the EC, 1970-73

Britain’s two previous attempts to join the European Community – in 1963 and 1967 – had been humiliatingly rejected by the French. Two British prime ministers – Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson – had both failed. Brought to power in the 1970 elections a new leader, Ted Heath, was determined to have a third try. But Heath faced two massive challenges: negotiating a place for Britain in Europe, and bringing the British public with him.

Like so much related to the history of Britain’s relationship with Europe, the story of Britain’s three attempts to join the EC are largely forgotten by the general public. Yet, as well as fundamentally changing the course of British post-war history, they can clearly inform current discussion of Britain’s place in Europe.

Getting in

So, what had changed between 1967 and 1973? First, and perhaps most important, was the fall from power of General de Gaulle. De Gaulle, who had vetoed both British applications, was a victim of the 1968 student protest which forced him from the office he had held for a decade; in his place, the new president Georges Pompidou was considerably more sympathetic.

Brought to power in the 1970 general election, the Conservative government of Ted Heath decided that the time was right to revive the application that had been left dormant in 1967 after the veto. For Heath, the domestic pressures for Britain to enter the EC were just as powerful as they had been for Wilson. The lack of export markets for British industry was becoming an ever-greater problem and hastened the decline of British living standards. In 1945, Britons had been 90 percent better off than citizens of ‘the Six’; by 1969, they were six percent poorer.

Negotiations opened in June 1970 alongside parallel negotiations with Britain’s traditional allies Ireland and Denmark. In January 1972, Heath finally signed the accession treaty in Brussels.

Party and people

The diplomatic negotiations were just the first obstacle that Heath faced; bringing Britain into Europe would also require the support of his party and the British electorate. This was a challenge that faced the Conservative Whips as they tried to make sure that enough MPs would vote with the government to pass the European Communities Act – the piece of legislation that was finalise the negotiations. It is on this aspect that many of the papers held by the Conservative Party Archives at the Bodleian focus.

CCO 20/32/28: ‘Report and Analysis of the State of the Party’ (c. Jan 1971).

CCO 20/32/28: ‘Report and Analysis of the State of the Party’ (c. Jan 1971).

The Conservative Party, which had stood on a pro-European platform since Macmillan, clearly had a parliamentary mandate if only its MPs could be brought on-side. Looking at the Conservative Party’s 326 MPs in January 1971, the Whip’s Office was not entirely happy with what they saw. At least 218 could be counted on to support the government’s position but 75 were ‘in doubt’ and 33 ‘against’. Although comparatively small in number, the 33 (not to mention the large in-doubt contingent) could stop the government getting the votes it needed to pass the bill, especially considering the divided and disorganised state of Labour. The judgement on the 33 was pretty damning: ‘a hard core of right-wingers, backed up by some Powellites, Ulster members, a handful of new Members, and one or two who for specialist reasons oppose entry…[and] 15 of the anti’s come from the old brigade…who have always been against the Market and always will be.’ (CCO 20/32/28) By August 1971, when the terms of the negotiations had become clear, there was a big rallying to the government’s side. Just 21 were estimated to be implacably hostile and almost all of the undecideds had been won over. The Whips were also delighted to note that this rallying ‘has taken place in the House, in the Parliamentary Party; it has also taken place in the Conservative Party outside the House and amongst voters as a whole.’ (CCO 20/32/28)

CCO 20/32/28: ‘Third Report and Analysis on the State of the Party on Common Market Issue. August 1, 1971’.

Some voters writing into the party expressed their concerns whilst others wrote in support. Ultimately, however, the issue remained unsolved and the public divided. With the Labour Party also ambivalent towards Europe (a radical change of direction), confrontation was inevitable. In 1974, new elections brought Labour back to power with the promise that continued British membership of the EC would be decided by referendum. The result – a surprise 60 percent majority in favour of staying – guaranteed Britain’s role as a major player in European integration for almost half a century.

Guy Bud

Parliament Week 2016: Britain and Europe: Britain’s second attempt to join the EC, 1966-67.

‘Now, the question is asked – will France veto us, and should we be deterred from application for fear that they will? I think the situation in 1967 is markedly different to what it was in 1963.’ (MS.Wilson c. 873)

Speaking here at the Labour Party Conference, the Foreign Secretary George Brown was undoubtedly wrong. Britain’s second attempt to join the European Communities (EC) in 1967 would end, ultimately, in the same ignominious failure as its first – shot down by a French veto, wielded by General de Gaulle. However, Brown was certainly right about one important thing: both Britain and Europe were very different in 1967 to how they had been just four years previously.

Britain’s three painful attempts to join the European Union’s predecessor are, today, almost totally forgotten by the general public. Yet they can serve an important role in informing current discussions, not least as a reminder of why Britain was so keen to join the union in the first place.

MS.Wilson c. 873, iii.3: ‘Britain and the EEC’ speech to PLP

1963 and 1967: Similarities and Differences

Considering the embarrassment of Britain’s failed attempt to enter the European Economic Community in 1963, it is perhaps surprising that the issue returned to public discussion so quickly. Between 1958 and 1963, Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government had attempted to get Britain into the association but had been humiliated, in 1963, when the French president General de Gaulle vetoed British accession outright. In contrast, Britain’s 1967-68 attempt, unflatteringly dubbed ‘the Probe’, under the Labour government of Harold Wilson looks very similar. Yet this is not how it seemed to contemporaries.

Britain was a very different place in 1967 to what it had been under Macmillan. For one thing, the attitude of the Labour Party – traditionally the less ‘European’ of the two – had changed profoundly. Under Hugh Gaitskell, Labour had vigorously opposed entering the Common Market. In government after 1964, their new leader Harold Wilson led a surprising volte-face.

This reversal was even more remarkable given Wilson’s own initial stance. In a speech given in 1962, the draft of which is preserved in the Bodleian, Wilson had voiced scepticism at the stance taken by ‘the Six’ EEC members and, especially, the Belgian statesman Paul-Henri Spaak:

Now, M. Spaak began by saying “We [the British] forget that we are the askers”. [Perhaps not his intention, but] Seemed to suggest [the only posture fr. wh. the British can negotiation is one of suppliance] we should adopt a suitably suppliant tone. This is not our position at all… We in UK are also centre of a trading system – older, less integration, not based on any T[rea]ty or Constitution, yet an effective + identifiable trading area [community, outward looking] without wh. would be a gt. deal poorer…(MS.Wilson c. 873)

MS.Wilson c.873, iii.3: ‘Problems of Western Foreign Policy’ (undated speech at Wilton Park).

Partially, Wilson’s rethinking can be seen as an attempt to outflank his rival – the pro-European, Conservative leader Ted Heath. But it was also a reaction to Britain’s changing circumstances.
Importantly, British industry was in ever-faster relative decline. Lack of investment, as well as poor labour relations, led to economic stagnation in contrast to more dynamic continental economies, such as West Germany, which had access to the European market. In 1945, GDP per capita was about 90 percent higher in Britain than in continental Europe; by 1967, the difference was just 6 percent. Soon, Britons would be poorer than Europeans.
What really prevented British industry from reaching the ‘white heat’ to which Wilson aspired was a lack of markets. Britain’s own European Free Trade Area (EFTA) could simply never compete with the Common Market set up within the EC. ‘All EFTA countries now seem to accept that the goal is that they should all sign the Treaty of Rome’, noted a Conservative Party report in 1966 (CRD 3/10/2/3). Likewise, the Commonwealth was clearly failing to live up to the expectations of those who hoped that it would one day form a viable trade block of its own. In short, Britain needed Europe or – as a Conservative report concluded – entering Europe was ‘the only immediately practicable way of revitalising British industry’ (CRD 3/10/2/3).

CRD 3/10/2/3: ‘EFTA + Appreciation for Association to EEC’ (28 Oct 1966).

CRD 3/10/2/3: ‘EFTA + Appreciation for Association to EEC’ (28 Oct 1966).

But if Britain had changed profoundly, so too had Europe. The EC had begun to move in a new direction – one that emphasised the power of national authorities within a ‘Europe des états’ – and this suited the British. Likewise, the new Common Agricultural Policy removed the problem of continuing Britain’s heavy subsidies to farmers which had been a major obstacle in the 1958-63 negotiations. Perversely, much of this change had been brought about by the same man whom the British reviled for his earlier veto.

CRD 3/10/2/3: ‘Preliminary Report by the Industrial Sub-Group’ for the Committee on Europe (c. Nov-Dec 1966).

CRD 3/10/2/3: ‘Preliminary Report by the Industrial Sub-Group’ for the Committee on Europe (c. Nov-Dec 1966).

As a Conservative briefing put it:

The British attitude towards…General de Gaulle has…often become tinged with elements of hypocrisy and envy. Hypocrisy because sometimes he has done certain things straight-forwardly which we have done deviously and envy because sometimes he has done things successfully which would like to have achieved ourselves. (CRD 3/10/2/1/1)

CRD 3/10/2/1/1: ‘Brief for Mr Heath for the Television Programme ‘Britain in Search of a Continent’ on 9th June’ (8 Jun 1966).

CRD 3/10/2/1/1: ‘Brief for Mr Heath for the Television Programme ‘Britain in Search of a Continent’ on 9th June’ (8 Jun 1966).

Negotiations

Uncertain of their position – and, especially, the opinion of de Gaulle – Wilson chose to approach the European negotiations cautiously. Stuart Holland, an Oxford academic, was despatched to gauge the French government’s mood through a personal contact, Pierre Joxe. The results appeared encouraging.

This low-key approach did not find favour with the more pro-European Conservative Party:

The Labour Party appear to want to start the negotiations by sending someone round Europe drawing up a list of all the difficulties. And this is justified by earthy metaphors about not buying goods before you have inspected them. This is not a deal to buy a second-hand car. You do not go around Europe kicking at bits of the Common Market for all the world as if you were looking for rust under the mudguard in the hope of being able to knock £5 off the purchase price.  (CRD 3/10/2/1/1)

CRD 3/10/2/1/1: ‘Statement on Britain and Europe’ (27 Mar 1966).

CRD 3/10/2/1/1: ‘Statement on Britain and Europe’ (27 Mar 1966).

Britain officially submitted its application to join the EC in May 1967, joined by its traditional non-EC trading partners: Ireland and Denmark. Everything seemed to be going well.
Then, on 27 November 1967, de Gaulle walked into a press-conference and, apparently out of the blue, vetoed British EC membership. It was yet another humiliation.
But the mood in Britain had changed in favour of Europe – and, importantly, the British government refused to withdraw its application for membership. Other members of the ‘the Six’ were also becoming increasingly sympathetic to British entry and impatient with de Gaulle’s personal agendas. Negotiations would eventually be re-opened in 1970 and would culminate, in 1973, with Britain finally fulfilling the twenty-year hope of entering the European Communities.

Source: Daddow, O. J. (ed.) Harold Wilson and European Integration: Britain’s Second Application to Join the EEC (London, 2016).

Guy Bud

Parliament Week 2016: Britain and Europe: Britain’s first attempt to join the EEC, 1958-1963

‘I will not disguise from the House, as I have not attempted to disguise from the country, the deep disappointment of the Government and, I think, of the whole nation, at the turn of events. […] If the European vision has been obscured, it has not been by a minor obstruction on one side or the other. It was brought to an end by a dramatic, if somewhat brutal, stroke of policy.’ ( HC Deb. 11 Feb 1963, vol. 671, fols. 943-1072.)

Speaking at a parliamentary debate in February 1963 shortly after Charles de Gaulle’s veto of British membership of the European Economic Community (EEC), it is perhaps easy to understand why Harold Macmillan was quite so bitter. After close to five years of negotiation, British hopes of joining the European Union’s antecedent had just been crushed – publicly – by a former ally, President Charles de Gaulle.

Britain, the Commonwealth, and Europe

Succeeding Anthony Eden as Prime Minister in 1957, Macmillan’s six years in power spanned a period of almost unprecedented change in Britain’s geopolitical status. The Suez Crisis of 1956, which had brought down the Eden government, demonstrated to the world that Britain was no longer a superpower in comparison to the United States or Soviet Union. No longer a major imperial power or, at least, no longer the major imperial power it had been twenty years before, the country was caught in a kind of malaise. The result was a difficult period of soul-searching about where Britain’s future should lie.

By the late 1950s, Britain’s economy was also encountering problems. Although Britain remained a rich country – richer, per capita, than most of continental Europe – the disparity between the levels of economic growth in Britain and the rest of Europe were becoming increasingly obvious. In order to keep in business, British industry needed ever-increasing overseas markets for its products.

Against this difficult backdrop, Britain was caught between two centres of gravity. One the one hand, the Commonwealth pulled the country towards its traditional export markets in the former colonies. Although very informal and disorganised, the Commonwealth – and especially the ‘White Dominions’ (notably Canada, Australia, and South Africa) – appeared to offer a way for the British to keep the economic benefits of empire as well as its sentimental attachments. On the other, attempts to form an economic union in Continental Europe were viewed with a mixture of scepticism and alarm.

In March 1957, six European countries (France, West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Italy) signed the Treaty of Rome, paving the way for a supra-national organisation intended to facilitate trade and political cooperation between the member-states. Macmillan faced a dilemma. Although not totally incompatible, Britain could not move towards both the Commonwealth and the EEC at the same time.

A difficult decision

The Macmillan archives on deposit at the Bodleian provide a fascinating snapshot of the difficulties of the decision, especially in the period immediately after the signing of the Treaty of Rome. They also show Macmillan’s attempt to play a difficult double game between what he termed ‘the practical’ and ‘the idealistic’ (Bodleian, MS. Macmillan dep. c.920, fol. 21). While he could certainly dress his actions in the ideology of Europeanism, he was also acutely aware of the dangers which a united Europe would create for a disengaged Britain.

MS. Macmillan dep. c. 920, fol. 21: Luncheon Speech for European Free Trade Area, 20 Feb 1957. Reproduced with kind permission of the Trustees of the Harold Macmillan Book Trust.

MS. Macmillan dep. c. 920, fol. 21: Luncheon Speech for European Free Trade Area, 20 Feb 1957. Reproduced with kind permission of the Trustees of the Harold Macmillan Book Trust.

In a speech written for the European Movement Industrial Conference in February 1958, Macmillan wrote that he saw Free Trade as an ideological glue to cement unity within the Continent:

‘The European idea is gaining every day in strength and purpose. […] The Treaty of Rome is a major achievement and one which we welcome because it will bring increased prosperity and strength to our friends and partners on the Continent. We believe that it is of the greatest importance to the future of Europe that the European Economic Community should be linked from the outset with the other free countries of Europe through a Free Trade Area. Such an association could draw the European nations steadily closer together in their political and economic relations…to the immense and lasting advantage of Europe and the free world as a whole.’(Bodleian, MS. Macmillan dep. c.920, fol. 110)

MS. Macmillan dep. c. 920, fol. 110: macmillan to Beddington-Behrens, 17 Feb 1958. Reproduced with kind permission of the Trustees of the Harold Macmillan Book Trust.

MS. Macmillan dep. c. 920, fol. 110: macmillan to Beddington-Behrens, 17 Feb 1958. Reproduced with kind permission of the Trustees of the Harold Macmillan Book Trust.

In other company, however, it was clear that his approach was much more grounded on the realities of the British position:

‘Of course it might be argued that we could use all our influence to break up the six and to prevent their plan coming into being. I think there would be great dangers in this. First of all, it would be a very wrong thing to do, and secondly, it would probably not succeed.’ (Bodleian, MS. Macmillan dep. c.920, fol. 24)

 

MS. Macmillan dep. c. 920, fol. 24: Luncheon Speech for European Free Trade Area, 20 Feb 1957. Reproduced with kind permission of the Trustees of the Harold Macmillan Book Trust.

MS. Macmillan dep. c. 920, fol. 24: Luncheon Speech for European Free Trade Area, 20 Feb 1957. Reproduced with kind permission of the Trustees of the Harold Macmillan Book Trust.

Macmillan realised that Britain could not preserve its economic and political status in Europe from outside a united Europe and, despite his reservations, began to negotiate with European leaders to get Britain in.

Painful process

Informal negotiations with ‘the Six’ began in 1958. Unfortunately for Britain, the same year saw the rise to power of General de Gaulle in France. Although concerned about the escalating war in French Algeria, de Gaulle still saw British membership of the EEC as potentially damaging to France’s international position and especially to its leading role within the EEC.

Britain went to the polls in 1959 and re-elected Macmillan, giving him the mandate to formally apply for Britain to enter the EEC in 1961. Edward Heath, as Foreign Secretary, was sent to Brussels to open formal accession talks.

Politically, British discussion on EEC membership hinged on two issues: the privileged position of the Commonwealth and agricultural subsidies. Both immediately created problems. The British refused to extend Free Trade to food because this would mean removing the existing heavy subsidies given to British farmers and a rise in food prices as a result. The Six, however, also refused to allow the Commonwealth to hold onto its existing trading privileges, despite Macmillan’s attempt to use separate negotiations with the Commonwealth as leverage against the Europeans. For Macmillan, the process was deeply dispiriting. ‘I think sometimes our difficulties with our friends abroad result from our natural good manners and reticence’, he wrote in June 1958.

Gauging the public reaction to the process is difficult. The Labour Party, under Hugh Gaitskell, was certainly hostile. The Conservative Party Archive at the Bodleian does preserve a number of angry letters on the issue; many complain about the perceived ‘betrayal’ of the Commonwealth, others voiced suspicion of European motivations.
Certainly the Conservative Research Department worried that Macmillan’s ‘rational approach based on a simple analysis of our political and economic problems’ might make the attempt to join the EEC sound, publicly, like ‘an act of desperation’. (Bodleian, CRD 2/43/2)

Ultimately, however, public opinion was never put to the test. In January 1963, de Gaulle vetoed British membership of the EEC with his famous comment: ‘non’. Britain would have to wait until 1973 – and endure another humiliating French rejection – before it would finally take a seat in the EEC.

Guy Bud

2016 Conservative Party Conference

The 2016 Conservative Party Conference was held at Birmingham’s International Conference Centre (2-5 October) and, as in previous years, the Conservative Party Archive was there.

Jeremy McIlwaine (Conservative Party Archivist) and myself left behind the quiet confines of the Bodleian Library where the collection is housed and took a very small number of items from the Archive ‘on tour’.

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The 1975 Referendum on Europe

Car campaign sticker

[Car campaign sticker, CCO 508/11/9-16]

The United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community (as it then was) on 1 January 1973 after negotiations by the Conservative government led by Edward Heath. In the run up to the subsequent 1974 General Election the Labour Party pledged, in its manifesto, the United Kingdom’s first nationwide referendum on whether to stay part of the Economic Community on renegotiated terms or to completely part company. With a Labour victory, the new Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, followed through on his promise and a referendum was held on 5 Jun 1975. The outcome was an overwhelming victory (67%) for the ‘In’ campaign.

The 1975 vote in favour of Europe did not, however, end the debate on the United Kingdom’s membership of what is now a much expanded European Union.  As we await the results of a second referendum on whether to ‘remain’ or to ‘leave’ on 23 June, the Conservative Party Archive provides much research material to those interested in exploring the Party’s position with regard to the 1975 EU referendum and toward the EEC/EU more generally during this period.

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The 1968 Sheffield Brightside By-Election: An Archaeologist in the City of Steel

Colin Renfrew Campaign Flyer

Colin Renfrew Campaign Flyer: CCO 500/18/115

Following the death of the Labour MP Harry Harpham on 4 February 2016 the Sheffield constituency of Brightside and Hillsborough goes to the Polls today for the election of a new MP.

Created in 2010 following a review by the Boundary Commission, the constituency is essentially the successor to the Sheffield Brightside. Since its creation for the 1885 General Election Sheffield Brightside had elected a Conservative Member of Parliament only twice: James Hope in 1900 and Hamer Russell in 1931. Indeed, since 1935 it had been a staunchly held labour seat which is perhaps identified in the minds of many today with David Blunkett, its long-standing labour MP, 1987-2015.

The papers of the Conservative Party Archive held at the Bodleian Library allow us to look back to the last by-election of Sheffield Brightside on 13 June 1968 held after the death of Richard Winterbottom who had been elected in the 1950 General Election. Continue reading

Lord Southborough papers now available

Francis Hopwood, first Baron Southborough

Francis Hopwood, first Baron Southborough, MS. Photogr. c. 185, fol. 56

The archive of the civil servant Francis Hopwood, first Baron Southborough (1860–1947), has now been catalogued and is available in reading rooms in the Weston Library.

Trained as a solicitor, Southborough had a fascinating career in the public service. The consummate civil servant, he worked at the Board of Trade, the Admiralty, and the Colonial Office when the British Empire was at its territorial peak. A skilled negotiator who was involved in public affairs at the highest level, he (among many other duties) served as secretary of the Select Committee investigating the botched Jameson Raid (1895-96), was entrusted with a secret peace mission to Scandinavia during World War I, and was elected as secretary of the Irish Convention which attempted to resolve the “Irish Question” following the Easter Uprising of 1916.

Southborough also worked closely with members of the British royal family and royal household, and was involved with the acquisition and cutting of the famous Cullinan Diamond, resulting in nine principle gems, two of which (known as the Great Star of Africa and the Second Star of Africa) today form part of the Imperial State Crown and the Sovereign’s Sceptre With Cross. The archive also includes a box of letters from Princess Louise and a typescript account (attributed to Princess Louise) of life in the royal household under Queen Victoria.

The general correspondence is also fascinating, and the archive includes letters from characters as diverse as the fervent naval reformer Admiral Lord Fisher and the author Edith Wharton. There are also significant tranches of letters from Southborough’s close colleague Winston Churchill (they worked together in the Admiralty); the South African prime ministers Louis Botha and Jan Smuts; Bernard Forbes, Lord Granard, corresponding about Irish affairs and the conduct of the Dardanelles Campaign in World War I; and Wiliam Humble Ward, Lord Dudley, while he was governer of Australia.

The archive is astonishingly rich and has a very wide range of research potential, not least for students of British political history.

John Rathbone MP, 1910-1940

Blenheim iv

[Above, a Bristol Blenheim Mark IV bomber, of the type flown by Flying Officer John R. Rathbone in 1940]

At 4.08am on the morning of 9th December, 1940, Flying Officer* John Rankin Rathbone took off from RAF Bodney in Norfolk, the pilot of a Bristol Blenheim Mark IV bomber, on a mission to bomb the German-occupied port of Antwerp. Sadly, his aircraft was shot down over Antwerp and Rathbone, along with his two crew members, Pilot Officer F.W. McMurray and Sergeant A.M. Birt, were killed. Rathbone became the sixth of 24 MPs who were to be killed in action during the course of the Second World War.

Rathbone was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Bodmin, Cornwall where he was elected at the 1935 General Election. Visiting Nazi Germany as part of a parliamentary delegation in 1938, he joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve immediately upon his return home. He was mobilised as soon as War broke out, in September 1939.

20151126_104520

[Above, Rathbone’s election address to his Bodmin constituents, 1935 – Shelfmark: PUB 229/7/8. Election addresses for all Parliamentary candidates, all parties, and constituencies, 1922-1983 are included in the Conservative Party Archive at the Bodleian Library].

As an MP he was not exempt from military service, but in his last speech in the House of Commons, on 20th August, 1940, Rathbone criticised the effect on Home Front morale of the arbitrariness by which ‘Reserved Occupation’ status was designated. He also attacked the excessive ‘red tape’ imposed under wartime conditions (‘It should not really be necessary to fill up a form in triplicate, before you can get a window pane repaired.’) , and the inequality of promotion within the Services:

When I think of some of the people who wear stripes and pips and get their promotion by various ways and means, through friends and so on, it makes me wonder whether, not only in the fighting Services but in the Civil Service and in every walk of like, promotion is given, not for birth or money, nor yet for age, but purely for efficiency. This war will not have been worth fighting if we do not at least establish that principle. Promotion in any walk of life, in the Civil Service or in politics, should not be for the length of time a person has served but for the efficiency with which he has served. Promotion should be given on these grounds alone.

Rathbone was born in 1910 and attended Eton and Christ Church, Oxford where he met Beatrice Frederika Clough, whom he married in 1932. After 4 years as an MP he obtained a junior ministerial position as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply in Chamberlain’s government, in July 1939.

Upon mobilisation, he was posted to RAF (Volunteer Reserve) No. 82 Squadron, a light-bomber squadron which had been reconstituted at the outbreak of War. By the time Rathbone joined the squadron it had already seen action in France, and both during and after the Dunkirk evacuation had suffered appalling casualties. Following its re-deployment to RAF Bodney in Norfolk it attacked German-held airfields in France and the Low Countries, and occasionally Denmark. One notorious raid on a German airfield at Aalborg, Denmark, on 13th August resulted in 11 of 12 Blenheims being shot down, with the twelfth surviving only because the pilot had returned early, for which he had been due to face a court-martial before he was killed during another operation the following week.

No. 82 Squadron’s Blenheims were outclassed by the modern fighters being fielded by the Luftwaffe, and the high casualty rate contributed towards Bomber Command’s switch from daylight to night-time bombing. Between July-Dec 1940, Bomber Command lost nearly 330 aircraft and over 1,400 aircrew killed, missing or captured.

Blenheim on ground Blenheims in formation crashed Blenheim

[Above, photographs of No. 82 Squadron’s Blenheims including, bottom, the wreckage of  one which had been shot down being towed away. Reproduced courtesy of  Aircrewremembered.com **]

On 9th December, 1940, while most of 82 Squadron’s Blenheims were engaged in a bombing raid on Bremen docks, the Squadron’s log, now held by the National Archives at Kew, records starkly,

F/O Rathbone and his crew, who were carrying out their first operational flight, were to attack the docks at Antwerp. They did not return from the trip, and nothing was heard from them.

Rathbone and his crew were buried in Schoonselhof Cemetery, near Antwerp, and the grave is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. He is commemorated by a stained glass window in Westminster Hall and an heraldic shield in the House of Commons Chamber, and is listed on the war memorial in the entrance to Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. A silver alms dish was also donated to Liverpool Cathedral in his memory.

Rathbone_JR

[Above, photograph of Rathbone’s headstone. Reproduced courtesy of The War Graves Photographic Project]

The Times reported him as ‘missing in action’ on 13th December 1940, and a memorial service was subsequently held for him at St Margaret’s, Westminster on 29th January, 1941. In the peculiar circumstances of the ‘political truce’ during the Second World War, Rathbone’s widow Beatrice was elected unopposed in his place as Conservative MP for Bodmin at the ensuing by-election on 11th March, 1941. In 1942 she re-married, though an unfortunate and ill-founded rumour that Rathbone was not in fact dead but a Prisoner-of-War circulated for some time and formed the inspiration, with very little change, for Daphne du Maurier’s 1944 play, ‘The Years Between’.

Tragically, Rathbone’s younger brother Henry, a Captain in the Scots Guards, was killed at Cassino, Italy, on 9th November, 1943. Beatrice stood down prior to the 1945 general election, while their son, also called John Rankin Rathbone but known as Tim, went on to become MP for Lewes between 1974-1997.

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[Above, Election Address of Tim Rathbone MP to his Lewes constituents, Feb 1974: Shelfmark: PUB 229/16/8]

*There is some doubt as to Rathbone’s rank at the time of his death, as the service records of RAF officers from the Second World War are not yet available. The Operations Record Book for No. 82 Squadron, completed by the Squadron’s CO Wing Commander Elworthy, listed him as a Flying Officer, as did The Times’ obituary on 13th December, 1940. However, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists him as a Flight Lieutenant.

 **Aircrewremembered.com is keen to hear from any relatives of crews lost with their stories.