I have just 21 weeks to wait before the start of the Rugby World Cup. To while away the time, I want to remember a rugby-playing Marxist from New Zealand who in 1934 taught the haka at a summer camp for unemployed men.
James Munro Bertram was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford when he volunteered to spend his summer with the Universities Council for Unemployed Camps (UCUC). Born in Auckland on 11 August 1910 to a Presbyterian family, he came to England with left-wing views and a training in journalism. He graduated in 1934 with a first in English, then took a second class degree in modern languages in the following year.
UCUC, though based in Cambridge, drew support from a number of English and Scottish universities, and is best understood as part of the broader tradition of student social service, sharpened by the…
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The last remaining hut from Glenfinart Instructional Centre, sadly demolished in 2011 Back in November, the Dunoon Observer reported on my research into British work camps, focusing mainly on the Glenfinart Instructional Centre in Ardentinny. The Ministry of Labour opened the Centre in 1934 as a summer camp where young unemployed men were ‘hardened’ through a programme of heavy manual labour, supported by health care and a solid diet. Most of the work involved preparing rough scrubland and pasture for planting, and the area is now largely covered by a very attractive forest.
Subsequently, a local reader contacted the paper. Mr Ian MacArthur’s grandfather was manager of the Ardentinny Temperance Hotel during the period when the Centre was open; and his father, John MacArthur, found work in the Centre as an instructor.
In the Dunoon Observer for 12 December 2014, Mr MacArthur described the background to his father’s appointment…
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I’ve been reading Nigel West’s book Mask, which recounts MI5’s surveillance of the Communist Party of Great Britain. It’s a rum old book, and West is an odd character, but I was given it, and it tells a good story. It also includes a large amount of original material, including a 1934 message from Alexander Abramovich of the Comintern telling the British Communist leader Harry Pollitt how to handle the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement.
The NUWM was one of the most successful radical campaigning groups in inter-war Britain. Its protests, marches and local advocacy enjoyed significant popular support, and won the NUWM considerable publicity. But ever since the 1930s, participants and historians alike have debated the extent to which the NUWM was controlled by the Communist Party.
In the most authoritative account to date, Alan Campbell and John McIlroy concluded that from 1929 on, the CP effectively imposed its own agenda…
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Red Clydeside collection: http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/redclyde/
This leaflet comes from the Glasgow Digital Library, a fabulous mine of information and collection of resources for teaching. It must date to around 1933-34, when the Left was campaigning vigorously against what became the 1934 Unemployment Act. The National Government introduced the Act in order to restructure poor relief and bring unemployment benefits under central control. It also contained a clause which combined the old poor law requirement of the ‘work test’ with existing powers to compel claimants to undertake training.
The campaign against the Bill was enormous, and the historian Neil Evans describes it as the most-discussed piece of legislation in inter-war Britain. Most of the agitation was led by the Labour Left (including the Independent Labour Party) and the Communist Party. But others were involved as well.
This flyer was published by a group calling itself the Workers’ Open Forum, a Glasgow-based network…
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Since yesterday’s post on British work camps for the unemployed seems to have stirred up a lot of interest, you should check out this blog – the author has written a book on them !
We have a number of organisations and individuals today who campaign for the interests of the unemployed and dispossessed. It is not disparaging their efforts, though, to recognise that we have nothing today to compare with the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement. During the interwar years, according to the historian Rick Croucher, the NUWM’s activities represented ‘a highpoint of unemployed organisation in British history’.
The NUWM is best known for organising the hunger marches, large and spectacular demonstrations that etched themselves into national memories of the 1930s. But it many other, arguably more important roles, from local lobbying and protests through to systematic support and advocacy for individual men and women who were fighting against reductions in their benefits.
Among other campaigns, the NUWM was also active in opposition to the use of work camps. It campaigned in general terms against the camps, it made a public issue of conditions within them, and…
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They were supposedly part of a charitable scheme that offered alternative employment to the region’s young out-of-work miners.
At their height, the work camps of East Cleveland attracted the great and the good of depression-era Britain and even received a visit from Prince George.
But new research into archive documents and the writings of a self-styled “English Fuhrer” reveal the sinister true motives behind the camps – the Nazi creed of Heartbreak Hill.
During the Great Depression, between 1928 and 1933, the closure of many of East Cleveland’s ironstone mines devastated thousands of families as unemployment soared to 91%.
Under the guidance of their friend Rolf Gardiner, husband and wife Major “Jim” and Ruth Pennyman, of Ormesby Hall, began buying stretches of land around Margrove Park, Boosbeck and Lingdale.
The scheme, known as Heartbreak Hill, worked by providing plots of land that the miners could cultivate as farmland, the miners were then paid in produce.
The plan was lauded as a great success and attracted the attention of 1930s high society with Prince George’s visiting 1933.
Yet behind the plaudits and royal visits, it appears the scheme was designed to promote an ideology founded in Nazism – and the connection can be traced to Rolf Gardiner.
Aristocratic and charismatic, the blond haired, blue-eyed Gardiner spoke fluent German, was a prolific writer, folk dancer and a rural revivalist.
He helped pioneer organic farming and co-founded Kinship in Husbandry, a forerunner of today’s Soil Association.
But Gardiner was also an anti-Semite, a Nazi sympathiser and the self-described Fuhrer of German-style youth movements in England.
In his writings found by the Gazette at Tees Archives in Middlesbrough, Gardiner rants of how a “Jew-controlled press, cinema, wireless and advertising,” had “corrupted the soul of England”.
In another piece Gardiner wrote: “Germany has the innate power to claim captaincy of European civilisation at a time when it is menaced from without and within.”
Perhaps most unsettling is the letter Gardiner wrote on April 25, 1933 to the infamous Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels.
Gardiner begins: “Esteemed Herr Reich Minister,” before introducing himself as the “Fuhrer of a young English generation”.
Explaining the difficulties he had faced while setting up a far-right youth movement in England he wrote: “An entire old world stood opposed to our direction and wanted to reverse it. For we sought the new order of a third Reich…
“We wanted to bring about not brotherhood but spiritual combat… We thought in an undemocratic and un-pacifist way.”
Goebbels immediately published the letter as an example of Nazi support in Britain.
It was in 1929 that Gardiner first wrote to the Pennymans with his idea of politicising Cleveland youths under the guise of work camps for the unemployed.
Beginning, “My dear Jim and Ruth,” Gardiner wrote: “Our business is to create something new, something rooted in faith and obedience which may survive the storms which loom and break over England.
“Here’s your job! To initiate something new, and to kindle the life quality where it has been quenched.
“In the neighbourhood of every fluctuating industry today, we ought to be starting some form of rural activity which will about and train the surplus young men.
“Try to get the young socialists and communists to meet the “Imps”… Start your smaller discussion groups.
“Get them to report the result of their discussions to the united assembly afterwards, but be careful whom you put in charge of the groups.”
“You’ll have to sift your human material somewhat cunningly at first and pick out the live-wires from the furred ones: for upon your original nucleus, your larger one will later on depend…
…Have organization and real discipline whenever it is necessary.”
Throughout the 1930s, Gardiner set up similar work camps across Britain, all following the same ideology.
The Gardiner’s camps received regular visits from Nazi youth groups led by Georg Gotsch, director of the Musikheim in Frankfurt, described by Gardiner as being “a true executor of the ideas of the National Socialist state”.
In an Evening Gazette interview after his visit to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Jim Pennyman said: “So much had been said about the bullying of the Jews and political opponents that Hitler’s constructive ideas had been overlooked in many circles.
“The treatment of individual Jews is to English eyes inexcusable but this is not the first time, that in a revolution, people have been deprived of their property.
“There are two classes of Jews to whom the Hitler regime objects, namely the international financier and the Jews who filter in from the East.
“They say Germany is for the Germans, and no foreigner will be allowed to own land or have an important position in the state service.”
While this doesn’t look good in retrospect, it should be understood that in the early 1930s, the true nature of Nazi ideology was poorly understood by most.
At that time there was widespread feeling that the Treaty of Versailles imposed unfair punishment on Germany and that the Nazi’s demands were in some ways justified.
And it should be noted that when asked if he would like to see any form of Hitlerism or Fascism introduced into Britain, Jim’s reply was: “Most decidedly No”.
Also “Red Ruth” Pennyman, as she was known, considered herself to be a communist.
It seems that towards the final years of the scheme, Ruth’s influence succeeded in marginalising Gardiner.
Finally, the record shows that towards the outbreak of WW2, the Pennymans distanced themselves from Gardiner.
Major Pennyman was promoted to Colonel and remained steadfastly loyal to Britain.
Gardiner himself turned his back on Nazism but did keep in touch with his friend, the convicted war criminal and Reichs minister for agriculture Richard Darre.
And history shows that despite the efforts of a fanatical few, the ideals of National Socialism never caught on with the people of East Cleveland.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 24 Feb 2014