[ 1 December 1937 ]
The left leaning Daily Herald, was arguably the most progressive of Britain’s mainstream newspapers in the thirties. Unlike The Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Express and the Daily Mail, it would often carry articles and editorials which were mildly disapproving, and even occasionally sharply critical, of Britain’s policy of appeasing Hitler. At the same time, it also realised, if it was to retain access to key sources in government, that it had to strike a moderate tone and sometimes lavish a little praise on ministers. It was in such a spirit that, on 1 December 1937, in an editorial speculating on what diplomatic position Britain might take in diplomatic negotiations, that its lead paragraph asserted: ‘So far, so good with the talks between Britain, France and Germany,’ adding that ‘after yesterday’s Anglo-French statement, those who were fearing that Britain might arrange a deal with Hitler at the expense of the French, can sigh with relief and cease to worry.’1
The newspaper was, understandably, also moderately critical of the possibility, favoured by some Foreign Office officials, of surrendering colonies to the Nazi regime which Germany had lost in the First World War, arguing that ‘the only colonial policy worth bothering about is one which will not perpetuate rival imperialisms but permit the development of colonies in the common and equal interests of all people, including their own.’2 However, it was an adjacent cartoon by Will Dyson that set alarm bell ringing in Whitehall. It depicted a growling Hitler, with his hands on two long daggers, and a cowering angelic figure ( Britain ) handing over a black child, representing one or more of her African colonies, and pleading ‘take my child, but spare, oh spare me.’ It accurately reflected a policy favoured by many in the British government, though it didn’t mention the preference among senior British politicians, including Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, for concessions to Nazi territorial ambitions across central and Eastern Europe, which wouldn’t come at the cost of Britain’s imperial interests.
Within hours, Lord Halifax, a leading Cabinet minister who would soon be promoted to Foreign Secretary, dispatched a furious note to Lord Southwood, the editor. The Lord President of the Council had just returned from Germany, where he had enjoyed tea with Hitler at his mountain retreat at the Berghoff and later with the Nazi propaganda minister Jozef Goebbels and his wife in Berlin. Goebbels had warned Halifax that ‘nothing caused more resentment in Germany’ than the satirical cartoons lampooning Hitler in one or two of the more petulant popular newspapers. Halifax, who found himself strangely attracted to Goebbels, possibly due ‘to some moral defect in me,’ promptly assured the propaganda minister that ‘His Majesty’s Government would do everything in their power to influence our press to avoid unnecessary offence.’3
Determined not to disappoint his pledge to Goebbels, Halifax informed Southwood of his personal displeasure over the ‘unjustly cruel cartoon,’ reminding him that it could have serious repercussions for Britain’s relations with Berlin. He did not even need to warn the editor that in a moment, he could deny the newspaper access to government briefings. Southwood immediately understood his precarious position and rushed off a profuse apology, promising the minister that such a satirical insult to the Fuhrer would not be published again.4
This undertaking doubtless went some way to reassuring Halifax, who was now on a personal mission to tame Britain’s press, issuing similar warnings over anti-Nazi bias to Sir Walter Layton, Chairman of the News Chronicle, and the Evening Standard‘s cartoonist David Low, who after being confronted by the Lord President at his newspaper editor’s Bayswater apartment, promised that, although he thought ‘this man (Hitler) is awful… I’ll slow down a bit.’5 Halifax even acted to silence critical commentary on the BBC, persuading it to take off the air a series in which the National Labour MP Harold Nicolson and the Conservative MP Leo Amery took it in turns to speak out against the government’s policy of appeasement. Triumphant at having intimidated the BBC and the more dissident elements of the press into a tactical retreat, Halifax then contacted Nevile Henderson, Britain’s ambassador in Berlin, imploring him to ensure that Goebbels, Goering and other Nazi officials were duly informed of his success.6
- ‘Friends for Peace,’ The Daily Herald, 1 December 1937, p. 10.
- Tim Bouverie, Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Churchill and the Road to War, The Bodley Head, London, 2019, p. 147.
- Ibid., p. 149.
- Ibid., pp. 149-150.
- Andrew Roberts, The Holy Fox: The Life of Lord Halifax, Head of Zeus, London, 2014.
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