Shameful Moments

Other shameful moments when British officials encouraged or enforced deference to Nazi Germany

The England football team gives the Nazi Salute – PA images 1938.

What is surprising about the incidents at Brighton and Hove in June 1935, is that, shocking as they seem, they were typical of many other occasions throughout the thirties when the British establishment showed absolutely no tolerance of any dissent which might upset the otherwise cordial relationship between Britain and Hitler’s Germany.

Several academics, such as Professor Richard Griffiths in “Fellow Travellers of the Right“(1980) and Professor Martin Pugh in “‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts“(2005), have argued that fascist and pro-Nazi ideology was a powerful current of thinking among the British elite and intellectuals during the inter-war period.  It is no surprise that their work, which undermines the traditional narrative of appeasement as the product of well intentioned gullible politicians, has not been accorded the importance it deserves. That is not, however, a reason for giving up research into this vital, if usually neglected, aspect of British history.  I wanted to find any new evidence I could to add to the debate. Fortunately,  I stumbled on an underexploited but invaluable source as I trawled through the British Newspaper Archives of local newspapers.

Whenever British politicians, church officials, businessmen or other members of Britain’s political, business and intellectual class returned from visits to Hitler’s Germany, it would often be a journalist from a local newspaper that would interview them for their impressions. Similarly whenever a Nazi official or group or sports team visited any British town or locality it would again be a local journalist who would usually be on the scene first and often write the longest or even the only report of the reception and welcome.

It also appears that many members of the British establishment, when commenting on Nazi Germany, may have been less cautious in their choice of words when explaining their enthusiasm and support of Hitler’s regime if they were speaking with a local journalist, who’s report was unlikely to be read by watchful and wary Whitehall mandarins or other gatekeepers of national propaganda. It’s not that most of their colleagues did not share the same enthusiasm for Hitler’s Germany, but rather that those in power were keen that the argument for supporting Hitler be presented in a cautious and diplomatic way so as to attract the widest possible popular support.

The most repeated article of faith within this pro-Nazi propaganda mainstream was that of Hitler’s regime as a bulwark against Bolshevism and anarchy.  His dictatorship was, it was reasoned, a distasteful necessity if central Europe was to be kept free of the communist threat. However, there were also many leading intellectuals and officials who were less circumspect in expressing sympathy and support, even sometimes enthusiasm, for the most brutal aspects of Hitler’s dictatorship and while there is probably little doubt that many of their colleagues would have quietly agreed with them, nodding approvingly if such views were expressed in private across the dinner table, much more discretion was expected when talking in front of the national media.

Dr. Walter Matthews – Dean of Exeter

This is why it may never been previously reported in any of the literature on fascism in Britain that in 1934 Dr. Walter Matthews, the Dean of Exeter, expressed his enthusiasm for the Nazi experiments in forced human sterilisation or how the same year Stanley Ratcliff, the president of the National Union of Farmers, argued that the Jews did not have anything to fear “so long as they behaved themselves” and these are only two of numerous examples I will present here of extreme pro-Nazi and racist views from leading members of Britain’s establishment and intellectual elite during the thirties

However, before taking a closer look at the many ways in which Britain’s support for Nazi Germany was justified by intellectuals and politicians with varying levels of enthusiasm, it is worth looking at nine instances, besides that at Hove in 1935, when, in order to avoid offending Hitler’s regime, British officials either encouraged or enforced deference to Nazi etiquette.