Mayor of Cardiff insists the swastika flag is flown over the town hall
30 September 1938
Today in 1938, the swastika flag was raised over Cardiff’s Town Hall, where it fluttered alongside the flags of Britain, France and Fascist Italy. The instructions came directly from Tory mayor Oliver Purnell and within hours he had received a message from the German consul ‘expressing delight at the Lord Mayor’s gesture of friendship.’ Purnell himself described it as ‘a gesture of jubilation’ at the outcome of the Munich conference. An agreement by which Britain and France conceded to Hitler’s demand for Nazi Germany to annex the Sudetenland in return for a dubious promise of peace.1
‘Symbolising the joy of the Welsh people at the signing of the Munich Pact,’ the Western Daily News presumptuously observed, ‘the German (swastika) flag was flown for the first time ever upon the City Hall and Law Courts at Cardiff yesterday.’2 Contrary to the paper’s supposition, the crowd of onlookers which quickly gathered on the pavement below was not, initially at least, at all cheerful. Inside the City Hall, Sir William Williams, the senior member of the council, was equally unappreciative. He urged Purnell to take the Nazi flag down, but the Lord Mayor who was hurrying to a committee meeting, was adamant that it should remain in place. Sir William shouted after him ‘It is an insult to the people of Czechoslovakia. It looks as if Germany has won.’3
Shortly afterwards, two councillors, who strongly disapproved of the Mayor’s action, discovered a route up to the roof via an emergency staircase. The Daily Mirror described how the two men, both aged over sixty and cheered by the crowd below, ‘slowly made their way across the roof. Faced with a thirty foot drop on either side,’ the report continued, ‘they clung on desperately as they made a perilous crawl along the footway running the length of the building. ‘It took them several minutes before they reached the flag,’ an eye-witness told the Daily Mirror. Then they grabbed the swastika together and pulled it down’ as the watching crowd cheered.4 When he heard about what had happened, Purnell informed one reporter that he was ‘investigating as to who is responsible for the incident,’ adding that ‘it is my intention that the flag shall be flown again tomorrow.’5 Two days later he clarified his reasons for refusing to bow to public pressure to take the swastika down to a meeting of the council, telling them he had ordered the Nazi emblem to be flown because ‘it represented the 78 million Germans we want to regard as brothers.’6
- ‘Swastika Flag Hauled Down,’ the Sheffield Daily Independent, 1 October 1938 p7, ‘Swastika Flag Hauled Down At Cardiff,’ the Western Daily Press, 1 October 1938 p. 9 and ‘Swastika Flag,’ the Scotsman, 1 October 1938 p. 16.
- ‘Busy Man’s Summary,’ the Western Daily Press, 1 October 1938, p. 9.
- ‘Risking Death to Pull Down Swastika,’ the Daily Mirror, 1 October 1938, p. 2.
- ‘Risking Death to Pull Down Swastika,’ the Daily Mirror, 1 October 1938, p. 2 and ‘Alderman Hauls Down Swastika Banner,’ the Daily Telegraph, 1 October 1938 p. 6.
- ‘Swastika Flaug Hauled Down At Cardiff,’ the Western Daily Press, 1 October 1938 p. 9 and ‘Swastika Flag,’ the Scotsman, 1 October 1938 p. 16.
- ‘Why Lord Mayor Flew Nazi Flag,’ the Daily Mirror, 4 October 1938, p. 14.
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