Wednesday, 15 February 2017

What Would They Have Done ? Hereford City Council, November 1935

Hereford City Council (Mayor Philip Gwynne James) 9th November 1935

There is a useful convention amongst gamers of the "Very British Civil War" that "real life" people should not become characters in "the game". That does not stop speculation about the course that well-known individuals of the day, such as a Churchill or an Attlee, may have taken had they been presented with a constitutional crisis in the form of Edward VIII refusing to abdicate, accepting the resignation of Baldwin's Government, and then appointing Mosley as "the King's Prime Minister". The relevant question is always speculative: "What Would They Have Done?"

The same question, for the purposes of the Hereford1938 campaign, can be asked of those who were in local government at the time. Here is a particularly interesting photograph of Hereford City Council on Saturday, 9th November 1935, illustrating those local worthies who would have had difficult decisions to make in the event of a national Constitutional Crisis but a year later, in December 1936. 

1935's Mayor, Philip Gwynne Jones, sits in the centre of the photograph. To his left sits the Town Clerk, whom we know was the long serving Mr Feltham (Town Clerk, 1929 - 1960). The City Sword Bearer is in evidence, as are what appear to be mace or cup bearers (or "Liveried Men") in top hat and long-tailed uniform. Although, no doubt in a concession to "modernity", the City Councillors appear to have abandoned dress bicornes; and otherwise matters seems to have become slightly more "informal", relatively little has changed from a similar photograph of the City Council in 1915:

Although this photograph is labelled "1914-1915", the very large poster on the right (behind another "Liveried Man") calls upon the citizens of Hereford to "Remember the Lusitania", a liner which was torpedoed (with the loss of nearly 1,200 civilian lives) by the German U Boat, U-20, on 7th May 1915. A similar detail can be picked out from the 1935 photograph, taken only two days before Remembrance Day. Most of the Town Council wear "poppies" (probably the vast majority do, but in some cases they are hidden by their gowns), albeit it is clear that such "poppies" have not achieved the standardised design of today's Remembrance poppies. A number of medals are in evidence (particularly by the Sword Bearer), no doubt from the Great War.

As interesting, the faces staring out from the 1935 photograph are all (probably) deeply and immediately involved in a General Election Campaign (it is not known whether City Councillors at this point maintained the old tradition of standing on their own merits, or under a party label; whatever the case, no doubt the vast majority had a party affiliation). The following Thursday, 14th November 1935, the country went to the polls. The National Government, by now lead by Stanley Baldwin rather than Ramsay McDonald, enjoyed a substantial victory, gaining 429 seats in the House of Commons (Conservative, 387; National Liberal, 33; National Labour, 8; Nationalist 1) against a combined Opposition of 186 seats (Labour, 154; Liberal, 21; Independent Labour Party, 4; Nationalist, 2; Independent Nationalist, 2; Independent, 2; Communist, 1). The victory nevertheless masked, in part, a fall in turnout (down 5.3% to 71.1%), a fall in the number of Conservative seats (down 83 seats from 1931) and a swing to Clement Attlee's Labour Party (7.4%). It could not mask, however, the verdict on Ramsay McDonald's decision in 1931 to form a National Government at the expense of the non-Conservative parties - McDonald lost his own seat at Seaham (County Durham - losing by more than 20,000 votes to Emmanuel Shinwell), and the Leader of the National Liberals, Sir John Simon, only won his constituency (Spen Valley in the West Riding of Yorkshire) by a slender 642 votes. Both parties were effectively destroyed in the 1935 General Election (after a short interregnum, Ramsay McDonald's son, Malcolm, assumed leadership of National Labour upon his victory in the Ross & Cromarty by-election in 1936; the defeated candidates included the Unionist, Randolph Churchill, son of Winston) : the National Labour Committee was wound up just before the General Election of 1945, and the National Liberals "merged" with the Conservative Party, at least at constituency level, in May 1947 (the "Woolton-Teviot Agreement"). The "official" or "opposition" Liberals continued after 1935 under Sir Archibald Sinclair; its former leader, Sir Herbert Samuel, having lost his seat at Darwen (Lancashire), while Clement Attlee's Labour Party was confirmed (with a gain of 102 seats) as the Official Opposition.

All this, of course, was about a week in the future for our 1935 Town Council. How they reacted to the 1935 General Election news is unknown, just as how they would have reacted to the VBCW events of December 1936 and following. We do know, however, the names of the Mayors of Hereford during the VBCW period:

Mayors of Hereford during the period 1935-1945

1935 : Philip Gwynne James
1936 : Louise H. Luard
1937:  Frederick William Allcock
1938 : Harry Percy Barnsley
1939 : Harry Percy Barnsley
1940 : Harry Percy Barnsley
1941 : Harry Percy Barnsley
1942 : R.C. Monkley
1943 : R C. Monkley
1944 : T. Powell
1945 : C.G. Marchant

and can only wish them well in their future VBCW dealings with Lord de Braose, appointed "Governor of the Marches" in 1937 by an unrepentant Edward VIII, and particularly Captain Arrowsmith, the notoriously snarling leader of the BUF's Three Counties Legion.

Real Life Notes : notwithstanding a huge amount of (mostly ill-advised) re-organisation over the years since 1935, there remains today a Mayor and Council of Hereford, still operating from the same Town Hall -

January 2014 - The Mayor and Lady Mayoress wait on the inside steps of the Town Hall
for a distinguished visitor, surrounded by the Sword Bearer (who has by now acquired a
fetching busby in place of the former top hat) and  the"Liveried Men", mostly
 with the usual maces/cups (but now one with a halberd). This is the kind of
 uniform detail needed by the Hereford1938 VBCW modeller!
Greeting HRH Princess Anne on the steps of the Town Hall. The very same steps as the 1915 photograph, but a visit that may very well not have taken place had the VBCW actually occurred some seventy years earlier....

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