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Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Sir Roger Casement

In July 1914 Sir Roger Casement traveled to United States in order to raise support for the IVF. Basil Thomson received information on Casement from Reginald Hall, the director of Naval Intelligence Division of the Royal Navy (NID). Hall was in charge of the code-breaking department Room 40 had discovered the plans hatched in the United States between German diplomats and Irish Republicans.

On the outbreak of the First World War Casement traveled to Berlin. According to the author of Casement: The Flawed Hero (1984): "When the First World War broke out in August he resolved to travel to Germany via Norway in order to urge on the Germans the 'grand idea’ of forming an ‘Irish brigade’ consisting of Irish prisoners of war to fight for Ireland and for Germany". His attempts to persuade Irish prisoners to enlist in his brigade met with a poor response. Private Joseph Mahony, who was in Limburg Prisoner of War Camp, later recalled: "In February 1915 Sir Roger Casement made us a speech asking us to join an Irish Brigade, that this was 'our chance of striking a blow for our country'. He was booed out of the camp... After that further efforts were made to induce us to join by cutting off our rations, the bread ration was cut in half for about two months."

On 4th April 1916, Casement was told that a German submarine would be provided to take him to the west coast of Ireland, where he would rendezvous with a ship carrying arms. The Aud, carrying the weapons, set out from L├╝beck on 9th April with instructions to land the arms at Tralee Bay. Unfortunately for Casement, Reginald Hall, the director of Naval Intelligence Division of the Royal Navy (NID), had discovered details of this plan. On 12th April Casement set out in a German U-boat, but because of an error in navigation, Casement failed to arrive at the proposed rendezvous with the ship carrying the weapons. Casement and his two companions, Robert Monteith and David Julian Bailey, embarked in a dinghy and landed on Banna Strand in the small hours of 21st April. Basil Thomson, using information supplied by NID, arranged for the arrest of the three men in Rathoneen.

As Noel Rutherford points out: "Casement's diaries were retrieved from his luggage, and they revealed in graphic detail his secret homosexual life. Thomson had the most incriminating pages photographed and gave them to the American ambassador, who circulated them widely." Later, Victor Grayson claimed that Arthur Maundy Gregory had planting the diaries in Casement's lodgings.

Reginald Hall and Basil Thomson took control of the interrogation of Casement. Christopher Andrew, the author of The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) has argued: "Casement claimed that during the interrogation at Scotland Yard he asked to be allowed to appeal publicly for the Easter Rising in Ireland to be called off in order to 'stop useless bloodshed'. His interrogators refused, possibly in the hope that the Rising would go ahead and force the government to crush what they saw as a German conspiracy with Irish nationalists."

According to Casement, he was told by Hall, "It is better that a cankering sore like this should be cut out.'' This story is supported by Inspector Edward Parker, who was present during the interrogation: "Casement begged to he allowed to communicate with the leaders to try and stop the rising but he was nor allowed. On Easter Sunday at Scotland Yard he implored again to be allowed to communicate or send a message. But they refused, saying, it's a festering sore, it's much better it should come to a head."

The trial of Roger Casement began on 26 June with Frederick Smith leading for the crown. But as David George Boyce points out: "The most controversial aspect of the trial took place outside the courts. Casement's diaries, detailing his homosexual activities, were now in the hands of the British police and intelligence officers shortly after Casement's interrogation at Scotland Yard on 23 April. There are several versions about precisely when and how the diaries were discovered, but they seem to have come to light when Casement's London lodgings were searched following his arrest. By the first weeks of May they were beginning to be used surreptitiously against him. They were shown to British and American press representatives on about 3 May and excerpts were soon widely circulated in London clubs and the House of Commons. This could not have been done without at least an expectation that those higher up would approve, though Smith opposed any use of the diaries to discredit Casement's reputation, as did Sir Edward Grey. The cabinet however made no attempt to stop these activities, the purpose of which was not to ensure that Casement would be hanged - that was inevitable - but that he should be hanged in disgrace, both political and moral."

On 29th June 1916 Casement was found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death. On 30th June he was stripped of his knighthood and on 24th July an appeal was rejected. A campaign for a reprieve was supported by leading political and literary figures, including W. B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, John Galsworthy, and Arthur Conan Doyle, but the British public, primarily concerned by the large loss of life on the Western Front, were unmoved by this campaign.
Roger Casement was executed at Pentonville Prison on 3rd August, 1916. John Ellis, his executioner, called him "the bravest man it ever fell to my unhappy lot to execute".

Monday, 10 January 2011

Jessie Stephen and Bermondsey

In 1917 Jessie Stephen became the Independent Labour Party organizer for Bermondsey. She worked very closely with Alfred Salter. The anti-war stance of Salter resulted in a loss of support for this left-wing member of the party. Salter wrote: "For a while it seemed as if the whole fabric of our organisation so laboriously built up in the past years, was doomed to go under."

Jessie had developed a good reputation for effective campaigning and Mary Macarthur recruited her to work for the National Federation of Women Workers. In December 1918 Jessie became secretary of its domestic workers' section. The following year she was appointed vice-chair of the catering trade for the new Ministry of Reconstruction. In 1919 she was elected to Bermondsey Borough Council.

Under the leadership of Ada Salter, London's first woman Mayor. As a socialist she declined to wear Mayoral robes or the chain of office. With a Labour majority on the council, Ada could now push on with her plans to improve the look of Bermondsey. A Borough Gardens Superintendent was employed and ordered to plant elms, populars, planes and acacias in the streets of Bermondsey. Later he added birch, ash, yew and wild cherry.

Jessie Stephen also became involved in the campaign to improve public health in Bermondsey. Special films were prepared and were shown to large crowds in the open air and pamphlets were distributed throughout the borough. A systematic house-to-house inspection was conducted to seek out conditions dangerous to health. Premises where food was sold were constantly examined and samples of foods were taken away for analysis.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Aldous Huxley

Leonard Woolf first met Aldous Huxley at Garsington Manor. He later commented: "The Oxford generations of the nineteen tens and nineteen twenties produced a remarkable constellation of stars of the first magnitude and I much enjoyed seeing them twinkle in the Garsington garden. There for the first time I saw the young Aldous Huxley folding his long, grasshopper legs into a deckchair and listened entranced to a conversation which is unlike that of any other person that I have talked with. I could never grow tired of listening to the curious erudition, intense speculative curiosity, deep intelligence which, directed by a gentle wit and charming character, made conversation an art."

Saturday, 1 January 2011

D. H. Lawrence and Ethel Mannin

There is no doubt that people's opinions change dramatically over time. No more is this true is on the subject of sex. In the first volume of her autobiography, Confessions and Impressions (1930), the 29 year old Ethel Mannin praised D.H. Lawrence banned book, Lady Chatterley's Lover, as "one of the truest and most beautiful and moving books the age has produced, there will be no more taking truth's name in vain, for truth will no longer be regarded as an indecency, and men and women will live and work and love and beget each other in the sun and wind and rain, cleanly and decently and simply as the animals do... who do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, nor make one sick discussing their duty to God, nor are demented with the mania of owning things."

However, in her book, Young in the Twenties, published when she was aged 71, Mannin described Lady Chatterley's Lover as "a very silly book". I first read the book when I was 17. I also felt it was a very silly book. However, knowing what I do now, I think that Mannin was right to praise the book when she was a young woman. In the context of the 1920s, Lawrence's book was indeed a brave attempt to deal with a taboo subject in mainstream literature.