Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Revenge enjoyed cold

Joe Joyce, mining the archives of the Irish Times as part of that paper's 150th anniversary, today looks back to 23rd June 1945. He hits on the regular Irishman's Diary column, on that day
written by the paper's editor, Bertie Smyllie, under his pen name, Nichevo.
Expect sparks.

Smyllie was the Irish Times for the twenty years of his editorship (above left); and his paper was pro-Allies, and anti-Fascist.

This led to endless battles of wits with the wartime censorship, who saw Smyllie as a constant threat to Ireland's strict neutrality.

Forbidden to report war casualties, Irishmen serving in the Royal Navy would be reported having suffered a "boating accident". Even on VE-day, when censorship still prevented Smyllie celebrating, at the last moment he famously had the front page re-set so the portraits of the Allied war leaders formed a distinctive V-for-victory (image, right).

Here, at length, respectfully, is "Nichevo":
The British often have been accused of lack of imagination, and even their best friends must admit that sometimes this charge is based on fact.

Nobody can accuse me of lack of sympathy with Johnnie Bull; but when I read that William Joyce was being arraigned on a charge of High Treason, under some Act going back to the Flood, I must confess that I got a bit of a shock.

“If François Villon were the King of France” runs the old verse. I should like to write another, entitled “If Nichevo were the Prime Minister of England”.

What would I do? Quite a few things. But at the present moment probably the first thing I would do would be to drop the charge of treason against William Joyce, and include him in the next Honours List.

I would make Mr Joyce a Peer, conferring upon him the title of Lord Haw-Haw of Hamburg! And I mean that! It has been said that this and that individual “won the war” for the Allies; but in my humble opinion, no man did more to keep the morale of the British people up to the mark than this self-same William Joyce.

For the purposes of my argument, let me take myself as a typical adherent of the Allied cause, although technically, through no fault of my own, I was a neutral.

What happened? Simply this. Whenever I felt depressed at the bad news that from time to time – and how often? – came from the fighting fronts, all that I had to do to restore my equilibrium and to put me in good form again was to tune into Radio Bremen, Hamburg, and the rest, and listen for a few minutes to our old friend Liam of Galway. (By the way, was there not such a person among the crew of Christopher Columbus’s ship some years ago?)

“Haw-Haw” always acted on me as a tonic. Either he made me violently angry, or else he made me, like little Audrey, just “laff and laff”.
That is the true, the blushful hippocrene. It reminds us that the Irish soul of wit often requires a sole, a boot, a toe and an arse to kick. In passing, the "little Audrey" reference, which makes little sense nowadays, was a knowing reference to a variant on the "as the actress said to the bishop" double-entendre.

Between the motion And the act Falls the Shadow

Was there, behind Smyllie's little romance, an element of knowing truth?

By the end of the War, the Irish Department of External Affairs had a lot of fence-mending to do. The "Lord Haw-Haw" problem was one issue. There was also the nasty Charles Bewley (of the important Dublin Quaker family; but a convert to Catholicism and a Nazi sympathiser) and the thoroughly loathsome Francis Stuart (as culpable as "our old friend, Liam of Galway", but married to Iseult, daughter of Maud Gonne-MacBride).

Bewley had been Ireland's Minister in Berlin from 1932 until he was hastily recalled in 1939. Even then Bewley continued to supply dubious and subjective intelligence to the Germans, and apparently expected a high position when the Nazis occupied Ireland.

When the Götterdämmerung of April 1945 ensured that Bewley's hopes and his heroes were finally and felicitously expunged, he took refuge in the Vatican. He had no papers, no passport, and (since he lacked 15 years service) no pension. He petitioned Dublin for a diplomatic passport, which he felt was what his dignity required.

As the story goes, after long consideration, Dublin did indeed issue him with a document. The Bewley family name weighed heavily enough to ensure that the request could not be ignored. A subtle intellect in the Department concocted a solution. In "description" in the document was inserted "a person of no importance". Poor Bewley, whose overweening ego was crushed and humiliated by this, was subsequently unable to present himself at any frontier.

Francis Stuart was less well served. When, post-War, he fell foul of the French, he was simply refused a passport. Sphere: Related Content


Anonymous said...

Nice piece, Malcolm. Three questions:

Can you explain the "If Francois Villon were the king of France" quote?

Can you say more about "little Audrey"? That one sounds juicy.

Who is this Francis Stuart guy? Should he be in your list of the "not so great and the not so good"?

Malcolm Redfellow said...

Thanks, Anonymous @ 8:29 AM.

I'll try to deal with all three later today.

Subscribe with Bloglines International Affairs Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add to Technorati Favorites