Revolution in South Asia

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Book review: Churchill’s secret war in India

Posted by Mike E on April 12, 2011

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Book review: Churchill’s secret war in India

by Susannah York

Madhusree Mukerjee’s book, Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II (Basic Books, New York, 2010), is a deeply moving read.

Her subject is the 1943 famine that ravaged India for over a year, snuffing out the lives of 3 million people. Mukerjee argues that the figure should be adjusted upwards to over 5 million. When thinking about the millions of dead resulting from World War II, many atrocities come to mind: the 6 million Jews killed in the concentration camps, half a million Roma, 20 million Soviet citizens, 8 million Chinese, to name only some examples. Not so well-known, especially to people from the imperialist citadels, are those who suffered and died from what Mukerjee calls the “man-made” famine in India, a human catastrophe that could have been easily prevented if Churchill had not refused to assign available ships from Australia to carry their surplus grain to the Bengal region. This famine gets rarely mentioned in British history.
A former writer/editor for Scientific American and a trained scientist in her own right, Mukerjee’s preoccupation with the question of hunger and famine led her to delve deeply and thoroughly into the archives of the British War Cabinet and the Ministries of War and Transport, the correspondence between the various major British players, and their memoirs during World War II. Much of this material was first made available in the mid-2000s. Among them are Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Secretary of State to India Leopold Amery (who thought that the British Empire should be contiguous and stretch from Cape Town through Cairo, Baghdad and Calcutta to Sydney) and the successive viceroys to India, Lords Linlithgow and Wavell. In an interview, Mukerjee acknowledges that given where her investigation was leading, she knew that if she were not especially careful, she would be torn apart by those who hated her conclusions.

Mukerjee’s prologue provides background to how the British government subjugated India in 1757 and continued robbing it through steep taxation, theft of resources, unequal trade and the exploitation of its people for 200 years under colonial domination until its independence in 1947. Peasants were forced to pay the British East India Company rent for the land they farmed and to turn over a large percentage of the crop yield. The once prosperous exporters in the Bengal region of North-East India (including what is now Bangladesh) became impoverished as British-bound ships loaded with gold, silver, silks and other valuable commodities sailed off to London.

Mukerjee spells out many interpenetrating features that contributed to the famine, contextualising it in the raging world war and the independence movement against Britain then gathering force. Among those factors was the fall of Burma to the Japanese; the hoarding of rice by brokers from Bengal, other Indian provinces and also Ceylon, creating exorbitant prices; Churchill’s intense racism and hatred of Indians and above all, in this reviewer’s opinion, his ruthless determination to preserve the British empire. With the onset of World War II, maintaining the empire’s interests was Churchill’s uppermost goal, and he took decisions around the war effort accordingly. India was already contributing to the war effort on many fronts, from soldiers fighting in the Middle East to sending grain and other exports.

The British army had thousands of troops stationed in India, both British and Indian. The very large Indian army was poorly trained by the British for fear the guns would be turned on them. Feeding the soldiers as well as those involved in industries considered essential to the war effort was considered a priority. This included workers in industries in other colonies like the rubber workers in Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka). Feeding other civilians didn’t fit into the calculus of the war effort.
The British empire was taking a beating in the South Asian theatre of war. In 1942 the Japanese captured Singapore, then Burma, one of the largest rice exporters to British colonies and the UK itself. Burma provided 15-20 percent of India’s rice consumption. The conquest of Burma also meant that Japan was at India’s doorstep, with the threat of imminent invasion.
The British response, euphemistically-called the “Denial Policy”, was meant to deprive the Japanese of any useful material they might seize in an invasion. All along coastal Bengal, vehicles of any kind (trucks, cars, thousands of bicycles and boats, bullock carts etc.) were requisitioned by the military authorities and rice stocks were destroyed or removed. In addition, 35,000 families lost their homes and livelihoods to military barracks and air strips.

As Mukerjee describes it,

“Boats were the primary form of transport of riverine Bengal. Most villagers were so poor that they either walked or boarded a ferry. Boats took traders to the market, fishers to the sea, potters to their clay pits, and farmers to their plots, which were often marooned between vast swathes of river. “

Even the viceroy’s secretary Leonard Pinnell understood that demolishing boats meant destroying livelihoods. He said

“for anyone who knows the Bengal cultivator it was a completely heart-breaking job.”

With the fall of Burma, not only did India have to get by without the usual tonnage of rice imports, she also supplied rice to those parts of the British Empire that previously received rice exports from Burma. With the scarcity came the hoarding by Indian businessmen who stood to make huge profits when the rice price skyrocketed.

As evidence of impending disaster grew, on several occasions Viceroy Wavell and Secretary to India Amery appealed to Churchill, the War Cabinet and Shipping Ministries, warning them of the impending food crisis. To Amery, Churchill replied, “If food was so scarce, why hadn’t Gandhi died yet” (Gandhi, a leader of the Quit India movement imprisoned along with others seeking independence, was on a hunger strike at the time ). To others, Churchill claimed that there were no boats. Previously German U2 submarines were sinking British supply boats. But by 1942 that problem had ceased once the US began building ships for British use and sending airplanes to protect British convoys against German subs. Rather than not enough ships, there was a surplus of ships that did not have enough cargo to fill them, documents Mukerjee. She argues that this was the critical moment when Churchill could have allocated the shipment of wheat from Australia to India. (Canada and the US also volunteered to provide aid.) It would have made hoarding unprofitable and food accessible to the rural population of Bengal province.

To complicate matters, in October 1942, a major cyclone hit Bengal, flooding the land with salt water, destroying every house and tree on the flatlands adjacent to the sea, sweeping away farm animals and leaving a layer of sand that flattened the rice crop. The moisture caused pest infestation, destroying the meagre amounts of grain that the peasants had acquired. Some local survivors date the famine as starting from this storm.

Cyclone relief was withheld by the British authorities because the population was “infested” with Quit India movement supporters. Instead they went to ferret them out and set fire to those homes still standing and burned any rice that survived the storm.

The famine struck ferociously in rural Bengal. Mukerjee vividly describes its effect, drawing on interviews with survivors. Many suicides, mercy killings and cases of child abandonment took place among families who could no longer bear to see the wild-eyed, starving faces of their children. Mass prostitution by village mothers, wives or daughters with anyone who had grain often saved whole families. Brothels for soldiers were serviced by the starving young girls from the countryside. Many were lured by promises of a real job and then forced into servitude, in much the same way as today women are forced into prostitution around the world.

The streets of Calcutta were flooded with skeletal figures waiting in soup kitchen lines for a thin gruel, which often failed to keep them alive. One agitated mother appealed to relief workers, “Please, take us first” for her baby’s sake, but by the time she finally made it to the front of the queue that was full of others equally desperate, her baby had died. The situation became so serious that people at evening parties attended by the upper classes began discussing remedies. Bodies, dead and nearly-alive, were carted out of the city to keep them out of sight as much as possible. Even the dogs preyed and feasted on those near death. Amidst this tragedy, hotels in Calcutta continued to serve five-course meals to those who could afford them.

Much heroism also occurred in confronting the lack of food, with neighbours or older siblings somehow keeping younger ones alive. Children made up half the refugees flocking to Calcutta. They often appeared alone, with no one knowing what village they came from or what happened to their parents. Babies were left abandoned on hospital doorsteps in hopes they would be saved. One survivor, Gourhori Majhi, recounts how he lived by the grace of one relief worker. He told Mukerjee, “the food served at the relief kitchen was like water. The family had sold its utensils and would accept the soup in cupped leaves, but others would snatch even these out of their hands. The child (Gourhori) was fortunate, though, in that his swollen belly caught the eye of a gentleman with the relief operations, who called him aside. ‘He gave me a few grains of rice and watched me eat them.’ Day after day for months the man had fed him, in secret and a little at a time, so that the body slowly recovered.” Officers reprimanded sympathetic rank and file soldiers (Indian and British) stationed there who gave their rations to the starving.

While the Japanese bombarded the city of Calcutta, they never invaded. The Japanese army was bogged down in China, which proved to be “a tough piece of meat” (as Mao Tsetung said) for the occupiers. Unlike Churchill, who feared unleashing the subjugated Indian soldiers, Mao did not fear mobilising the Chinese masses who saw it in their interests to fight the invading Japanese army, eventually routing it, just as the Soviets masses had broken the back of Hitler’s army.

In the backdrop of the complexities of the war situation, the struggle for independence from Britain escalated. The Indian National Congress led by Nehru and Gandhi were part of the backbone of the Quit India movement. The Congress was willing to trade Indian independence in exchange for supporting the British war against Japan. While Gandhi wanted to keep the movement against the British non-violent, his position would have meant dragging the Indian people even deeper into the war – one in which British aims were to keep Burma, Malaysia, Singapore and other colonies.

Nevertheless, the independence leaders were arrested and thousands imprisoned for what was considered to be impeding the war effort. “I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire,” Churchill famously declared.

In 1940, the British War Cabinet had stated that “if conflict with Congress should arise, it should appear as an outcome of war necessity rather than as a political quarrel unrelated to the war.” Mukerjee says that the rise of the independence struggle led Churchill to hate Indians more than ever. But actually, Churchill understood what was objectively at stake. A strong independence movement was a threat to the British empire and India was one of many rebelling colonies wrestling for independence from the colonizers.

The intensity developing in the independence struggle was met by the police killing insurgents and burning down homes and possessions, including the remaining grain that the peasants still had, and gang-raping women. In some rural areas, the insurgents organised the peasants to prevent grain from being sent to businessmen hoarders in Calcutta and were met with a hail of police bullets. As part of the divide and conquer approach of the British and Churchill, the police encouraged Muslims from different villages to join them in looting better-off Hindu homes.

To prove her point, Mukerjee cites many statistics from a broad range of sources about food shipments through the war years, the number of boats available for shipping, and the changed situation in 1943 when the famine became virulent. While acknowledging many contributory factors, she exposes Churchill’s monstrous lie that no ships were available when there was a glut of ships available, sailing around with half-empty hulls.

Churchill pit the Muslim League against the National Congress, fanning religious fury and other rivalries, encouraging them to insist on the creation of a separate state for Muslims (today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh). With the Congress leaders in prison, the Muslim leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah (who had promised support for the British war effort in exchange for British recognition of his Muslim League as the only organisation representing Indian Muslims) commanded the political stage in India. Appealing to Muslim nationalism, the idea of creating a Muslim state inflamed passions and encouraged bloodletting between Muslim and Hindus. Again, ever watchful for the interests of empire, Churchill thought that the creation of Pakistan would make that state beholden to the UK, thus enabling Britain to keep a foothold in the South Asian region.

While even today polls in the UK hail Winston Churchill as a great statesman, perhaps the greatest ever, many people remain unaware of his war crimes. Yet Churchill never hid his desire to keep the British Empire intact. Many of his statements openly state his strongest motivations. In the Spanish Civil War, at first Churchill sided with the fascist General Franco against the Republicans, but he overcame those gut feelings in the interest of the British empire. Hugh Thomas’ book The Spanish Civil War (Harper & Row, 1961) quotes Churchill: “Franco has all the right on his side because he loves his country. Also Franco is defending Europe from the communist danger – if you wish to put it in those terms. But I, I am English, and I prefer the triumph of the wrong cause. I prefer that the other side wins, because Franco could be an upset or a threat to British interests.”

Churchill had a “bull-dog” grasp of what was best for the interests of British monopoly capital, both at home and in the colonies and neo-colonies where superexploitation built up the wealth of the empire. The economic and social relations embodied in capitalism requires brutal forms of exploitation and oppression of the people and colonies it subjugates in its effort to ever expand. For profit and empire, there is no horror or crime that a statesman for a capitalist-imperialist empire will not commit.
The armies of all the imperialist powers criss-crossed the globe in a war over how it would be divided up between them. The significance of this book’s title, Churchill’s Secret War, in this reviewer’s opinion, is that Britain was both using India to wage war against Japan and at the same time waging a no less deadly conflict against the Indian people, who were the booty both sides in World War II sought.

Despicable and criminal as it was, Churchill’s racism no doubt spared him of any anguish over the deaths of millions of subjects to Her Majesty, the Queen of England. From the viewpoint of the interests of British imperialism, a famine in India just didn’t matter.

The days when European powers enjoyed direct and open government over colonies may be over, but imperialism as an economic and political system in which a handful of countries dominate and bleed the world is still in force. While today is not marked by a war between the imperialists, their invasions, occupations and other armed actions in the name of “humanitarian” ideals and “democracy” are driven by the same kind of interests, even if in different circumstances than those that Churchill so viciously embodied.

9 Responses to “Book review: Churchill’s secret war in India”

  1. Nobody in Particular said

    Fucking AWESOME.

  2. celticfire said

    Churchill was an epic slimeball.

  3. dodge said

    He wrote that India’s independence would be ‘nonsense,’ and that India could ‘no more be independent than can a cat or a dog’. He wrote that without the Empire, Britain would be merely a cold rock whose inhabitants would be reduced to eating herring – not the best of forecasts!

    The “he”?….no NO NO!! not Churchill……
    George Orwell……..seems yer can take the boy out of ETON, but not Eton out of the boy!

    My Pa was there during the war….he witnessed granaries full to overflowing. Indian profiteers and speculators must not be forgotten. They grew fat while their hapless countryman starved to death before their eyes.

    Celticfire….yes your view of churchill was shared by British people …they kicked him out of office as soon as the anti fascist war was over. They knew only too well what his game was and had no stomach for defending an empire that had not benfited them. In a few short years the tide of struggle bore fruit…India was lost…the ‘jewel in the crown’ gone! Forever.

  4. Mike E said

    Dodge wrote:

    “He wrote that India’s independence would be ‘nonsense,’ and that India could ‘no more be independent than can a cat or a dog’. He wrote that without the Empire, Britain would be merely a cold rock whose inhabitants would be reduced to eating herring – not the best of forecasts! The “he”?….no NO NO!! not Churchill…… George Orwell……..seems yer can take the boy out of ETON, but not Eton out of the boy!”

    First, dodge, are you cutting and pasting from the remarks of others without attributing them?,1457.0.html

    Have you even read these works yourself?

    Meanwhile this snarky paraphrase of George Orwell implies (or assumes) he is wrong. Here is his actual quote (from chapter 10):

    “Under the capitalist system, in order that
    England may live in comparative comfort, a hundred million Indians must
    live on the verge of starvation–an evil state of affairs, but you
    acquiesce in it every time you step into a taxi or eat a plate of
    strawberries and cream. The alternative is to throw the Empire overboard
    and reduce England to a cold and unimportant little island where we should
    all have to work very hard and live mainly on herrings and potatoes. That
    is the very last thing that any left-winger wants. Yet the left-winger
    continues to feel that he has no moral responsibility for imperialism. He
    is perfectly ready to accept the products of Empire and to save his soul by
    sneering at the people who hold the Empire together. “

    Is this wrong? Or profound?

    Is it wrong to question whether Indian independence is genuine national liberation?

    I have always thought his insights (in “The Road to Wigan Pier”) were remarkable and deep about the corruption and hypocrisy of the whole Labor Party phenom.

  5. dodge said

    yes mike i have read Wigan…and met someone who remembers ….orwells visit. Slumming with the lower orders. IT perfectly illustrates a mindset of Colonial mentallity , justification. Wrong thinking. Britain has never been one and indivisible it has been riven by class. Hence as I said Churchill was booted out , despite dire warnings of a bleak future without an empire. Workers gained a health service , education reform , social protection and many others.
    In short we (us) not ‘them’….were not to be left out to wither but actually prospered relative to what had gone on before.
    My fathers memories of Bengal haunted him to his death. In a war that took him to Burma and Malaya as was the personal experience of many who lived through those troubled war years.
    But thanks for taking the time to put out Orwells view…it speaks volumes to me and he was wrong. He was also pernicious to say that we needed India….events have proved otherwise.
    Others at the time courageously nailed their colours to the mast of FREE INDIA. Not some craven mumblings, weasel words, about “strawberries and cream”. Of course that would have required backbone and a certain vision about which way the tide was turning.
    Brits had a vision of what country they wanted after the war….a pity it was not shared by ORWELL.

    ‘Is it wrong to question whether Indian independence is genuine national liberation?’
    Good point…I suppose one could ask an Indian. NOT THE SORT OF QUESTION I WOULD BE ASKING ON THE EVE OF iNDIAN INDEPENDANCE. Confused or irrelevant? Poisoning the water, it was meant to dilute the calls for independance, it smacks of treachery to me. Still he was not alone…..hacks in the Fleet St papers were churning all this out I suppose even in Wigan fish and chips had to be wrapped in something.

    Down and out in London and Paris.. a good descriptive of life below stairs in ‘top’ hotels. Just a pity he could not leave behind the mindset of a colonial policeman. I wish I could say those days are gone for good but still on the left we are told that we need the EU and other power blocks for us to survive.

    Oh well bring on the herrings!

    Apologies for not attributing..I will in future..

  6. dodge said

    ‘no more be independent than can a cat or a dog’

    The English revolution…by GEORGE Orwell

  7. Mike E said

    Dodge writes:

    [Orwell] was also pernicious to say that we needed India….events have proved otherwise.

    I don’t agree with Orwell’s larger politics or personal actions. He was a cynic — and each truth he extracted from life was waved around to evangelize for cynicism. Orwell was also a scoundrel who (apparently) fingered various communists for the british government.

    But surely we can read and learn from all kinds of writers, without feeling obliged to endorse their specific worldview or deeds.

    You seem to think that Orwell is mainly arguing that “we needed India” — that his arguments were mainly old line arguments for the empire. I think you have misunderstood them.

    The heart of “The Road to Wigan Pier” is a searing reality check on the actual political life of the working class (where bitter working class poverty co-exists with living rooms decked in lace doilies and portraits of royal family), and it includes a searing critique of the left in Britain which grumbles sullenly over class conditions, but really has never faced (or embraced) the loss of empire. In a left culture soaked in maudlin romanticism of the working class, this was a highly acidic corrective.

    Here is the full paragraph on “cat or dog” from the other essay (The English Revolution) where he mocks the Labor Party’s nominal position of “granting” independence (and points out both that it is insincere, and that it is not a road to genuine independence):

    “In England there is only one Socialist party that has ever seriously mattered, the Labour Party. It has never been able to achieve any major change, because except in purely domestic matters it has never possessed a genuinely independent policy. It was and is primarily a party of the trade unions, devoted to raising wages and improving working conditions. This meant that all through the critical years it was directly interested in the prosperity of British capitalism. In particular it was interested in the maintenance of the British Empire, for the wealth of England was drawn largely from Asia and Africa. The standard of living of the trade-union workers, whom the Labour Party represented, depended indirectly on the sweating of Indian coolies. At the same time the Labour Party was a Socialist party, using Socialist phraseology, thinking in terms of an old-fashioned anti-imperialism and more or less pledged to make restitution to the coloured races. It had to stand for the ‘independence’ of India, just as it had to stand for disarmament and ‘progress’ generally. Nevertheless everyone was aware that this was nonsense. In the age of the tank and the bombing plane, backward agricultural countries like India and the African colonies can no more be independent than can a cat or a dog. ….To a Labour government in power, three imperial policies would have been open. One was to continue administering the Empire exactly as before, which meant dropping all pretensions to Socialism. Another was to set the subject peoples ‘free’, which meant in practice handing them over to Japan, Italy and other predatory powers, and incidentally causing a catastrophic drop in the British standard of living. The third was to develop a positive imperial policy, and aim at transforming the Empire into a federation of Socialist states, like a looser and freer version of the Union of Soviet Republics. But the Labour Party’s history and background made this impossible. It was a party of the trade unions, hopelessly parochial in outlook, with little interest in imperial affairs and no contacts among the men who actually held the Empire together. “

    Orwell’s acid tongue here is not mainly making a some defense of British colonialism, he is pointing out why the Labor party is ensnared in parochialism, empire and hypocrisy — fighting a rear guard for crumbs, promises and conditions that historically required the existence of imperialism.

    This colonial hypocrisy is (and was) the dirty little secret of British working class politics (even in its militant forms).

    In many ways the dominance of a certain kind of workerist left-laborism (on the british left) is precisely a long complaint about conditions that flinches at internationalism. (Didn’t the Militant Tendency take a notorious stand on the British/Thatcherite war with Argentina? Didn’t the Labor Left — Tony Benn, Michael Foote — prove to be pro-imperialist war supporters?)

    And (it is worth noting) these are problems that the British left has still not climbed out of — because the singleminded fascination with their own angry class “traditions” largely represents one long endless demand for the concessions that their previous empire promised. And as the Labor Party moved right (modernizing in that classic imperialist way), it has left behind itself (like little rabbit pellets) a string of leftish (largely but-not-only trotskyist) groups that seek to recapture and preserve the old school militancy of the long-dead labor movement.

    And the central problem with the whole edifice is the dirty little secret that the anger emerged from a combination of the old aristocratic class structures and the potential for concessions were linked to the empire — so that old labor movement (with its traditions and blindspots) was itself an institution of a fractured feudal England giving rise to a fattened monopoly capitalist one.

    Building a modern revolutionary movement on the basis of those “traditions” is a non-starter. And yet it is the sinkhole that the whole left revolves around endlessly.

  8. Mike E said

    Side point:

    I wrote:

    “‘Is it wrong to question whether Indian independence is genuine national liberation?’

    Dodge answer:

    Good point…I suppose one could ask an Indian. NOT THE SORT OF QUESTION I WOULD BE ASKING ON THE EVE OF iNDIAN INDEPENDANCE. Confused or irrelevant? Poisoning the water, it was meant to dilute the calls for independence, it smacks of treachery to me.”

    I think this logic gets you unintentionally in a terrible bind.

    We can’t speak on whether independence is genuine national liberation? We can only wander around blankly until we “ask an Indian”?

    Can evaluations of events only be made by those directly involved? Is the only valid response to a distant event silence on our part (for fear of speaking out of turn)?

    What does that mean for a project like this website: Should we shut down operations, not offer political support to a particular revolutionary movement, go silent and perhaps advise those curious about Maoism in India to go “Ask an Indian”?

    Is reality so fragmented and consciousness so subjective, that no one can evaluate the status of India but an Indian? And which Indian person precisely should we ask? Any of them? All of them?

    We support the self-determination of oppressed peoples — but are we going to adopt the bizarre identity politics that claims any evaluations, opinions and analysis we might have regarding any situations facing a distant people are (inherently!) chauvinist violations of self-determination?

  9. dodge said

    mike..apologies for delay in replying, fever,post8 my logic(which yes often does get me into a terrible bind), my logic in answering your perfectly valid question :

    ‘“‘Is it wrong to question whether Indian independence is genuine national liberation?’ was answered in the particular (orwell1937) rather than some all encompassing pointer to ‘best practise’.

    ‘Ask an Indian’ not a throw away remark either in the context of 1937 England. Were Indian people invisible? Serious question. Like the poor in uk, ‘HANDS WANTED’a common sign outside factoory gates in 40/50s.

    Platitudes repeated ad nauseum Raffles to Churchill, tea/rubber planters club from Darjeeling to Rangoon. In truth everyone was rattled a war looming..Japan flexing…salt boycotts, strikes, posters. student agitation, lawyers in loincloths driving poor ‘Winnie’ into apoplexy. Ferment.The ‘jewel in the crown’ might be lost!’ Well the ‘cats and dogs’ have nuclear weapons now….ENGLISH enjoyed an unrivalled bout of prosperity and social advance.

    We still love our herrings. Modern machines have minimised drudgery. Women who took up employment and who proved their worth in the war, were not content to remain Hausfrau. Jews can join the golf club. Homosexuals cannot be jailed or blackmailed. An Indian bought up our state owned steel industry. The kings portrait was not to be replaced by HARRY POLLITT’s ugly mug.

    Though my pa swears he saw a portrait in a dayak longhouse surrounded by shrunken heads, not lace doylies. As did an uncle in a Canadian native Wigwam.

    That’s the rub, when you make dire predictions, commit them to paper Poor poor Orwell in his straightjacket, Father a civil servant in the Opium Bureau of the hidebound Indian civil service. Eton, Indian police in Rangoon and the communist charge against him was proved, police agent, a narc.

    Still, hey ho, can’t leave school without reading Animal Farm and 1984.

    But give the old fellow his due not all his predictions went down the pan.

    My pal emailed to say the police called at my quiet rural canal cottage…they wanted to erect a spy camera!!! Vandalism(THEY S A I D) in the area. It was only afterwards It dawned on me there’s a portrait of Charlie Chaplin in the front room. Hope he had the sense to take it down before he let the police in. Charlie was on Orwells list as communist and JEW. He never denied being a jew in his lifetime(his half-brotherwas) out of respect.

    I wish I could say I told them to stuff their camera …my principles are in tatters like Orwell’s.

    Orwells charge against us, parochial, truth in spades.

    A well known ‘northern comedian’ had a much loved catchphrase in his act.


    He borrowed the phrase from an elderly group in a pub talking about HITLER. So yet another crime to be set against the Fuhrer? Not a bit of it! It was the only crime thought worthy of mention added to which the chippy two streets away “weren’t alf uz good”.

    No wonder Orwell was pulling his hair out. An acid tongue would have been wasted, these people were in a league above him in that department. the women especially…they always frightened me. Obviously they never embraced Nazism, goes without saying.

    Another Etonian, editor of the Mosley fascist journal, ranted to anybody who might listen that Grey Serge rather than black or brown might make their uniforms more English, less ‘foreign’. He ended up in the ministry of information for the duration of the war. He complained bitterly about having to queue up behind office boys to get tea at the red cross canteen.

    The hackneyed phrase “THE EMPIRE WAS WON ON THE PLAYING FIELDS OF ETON” was just plain wrong. It was lost there.


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