British Friends of Franco
FRANCO; "The Leader of our cause today", Captain Victor Cazalet, MP, March 23, 1938.
This year has been the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, and seen a fair bit of attention given the many brave left-wing volunteers who went to Spain to fight fascism. Whatever our views on the policies which led to their defeat, we recognise in their courage and motivation, under whichever banners they fought, a spirit we could well do with.
By way of a change from our usual arguments within the Left, I thought it might be interesting in this blog to look at some people who have not had so much attention in this anniversary year. Maybe their political successors should be doing the honours, but in case they are shy, I thought we'd look at the Brits who supported Franco.
ONE Summer morning in 1936 a plane took off from Croydon airport, piloted by Captain Cecil Bebb, with a friend, Major Hugh Pollard as navigator. The flight log showed it was bound for the Canary Islands. Two young platinum blondes were on board to make it look like a pleasure trip.
Special Branch at Croydon monitored all international flights. They may have known that this was no joy ride. Major Pollard was an experienced MI6 officer, Spanish-speaking and with firearms expertise. He had worked under journalistic cover in Ireland, Mexico and Morocco. His superiors in the intelligence services probably had a fair idea of his object in flying to the Canary Islands. The commander of the Spanish garrison there was one General Francisco Franco, whom the Spanish Republic had sent there some months before to keep him out of the way. Franco already had a reputation for his part in suppressing the Asturian miners, and his hostility to the Republic. Had a Spanish plane landed in the Canaries the authorities might have been alerted, but the British flight didn't arouse suspicion.
The plane flew Franco and right-wing conspirator Emilio Mola to Tetuan in Spanish Morocco. On July 18, 1936, some Spanish generals announced a coup against the elected Socialist government. Franco arrived in Morocco the following day to raise support from Spain's African army. The generals had thought their coup would give them power within a couple of days, but the Spanish people resisted, and so the Civil War had began.
Franco's flight had been planned over lunch at Simpsons in the Strand where Douglas Jerrold, editor of the right-wing Catholic English Review met Luis Bolin, London correspondent of the ABC newspaper and later Franco's propaganda and censorship chief. They decided to charter a De Havilland Dragon Rapide aircraft and a pilot, Captain Cecil Bebb, from Olley Air Services at Croydon.
Jerrold brought Major Pollard, into the plot and arranged for him to travel on the plane as navigator, along with Pollard's daughter, Diana, and another young woman, Dorothy Watson, as 'cover'. (BBC History Magazine, April 2002; article by Michael Alpert, Emeritus Professor of Spanish history).
Jerrold's work was only beginning. As the civil war raged in Spain, Franco's forces were backed by Nazi Germany and Italy with arms, men and planes, while the Soviet Union and left-wing volunteers went to the aid of the Republic. The British and French government's official policy was "non-intervention", in effect denying help or supplies to the Spanish republic.
In London, Jerrold was already a member of the pro-Nazi Anglo-German Fellowship, which counted Tory peers and MPs, banks and big companies (ICI, Unilever, Dunlop, Tate and Lyle to name a few) among its supporters. To this he added the Friends of National Spain, which made a particular play for Catholic support against "the Godless Reds" as well as counting on the usual right-wing Tories.
"I recognise General Franco to be a gallant Christian gentleman, and I believe his word", declared Sir Henry Page Croft, MP for Bournemouth, at a Friends of National Spain meeting. Lord Redesdale, father-in-law of Sir Oswald Mosley, and a member of both Friends of National Spain and the Anglo-German Fellowship, said Franco was leading a crusade for all that they held dear. The Earl of Glasgow said in the House of Lords that he could not see "Why this country should insist on the withdrawal of Italian troops from Spain before they had finished the work they were sent for". He also objected to a request to Franco to abstain from acts of vengeance on his entry into Barcelona.
Captain Archibald Maule Ramsay, MP for Peebles, chaired another pro-Franco organisation, the United Christian Front, and bitterly denounced the Bishop of Chelmsford for supporting the Spanish government. "The United Christian Front has fought to prove the real fact, that General Franco was fighting the cause of Christianity against anti-Christ", Ramsay wrote in a letter to the press. Among the United Christian Front's aristocratic supporters was the Earl of Home, whose son Lord Dunglass MP was acting parliamentary private secretary to Neville Chamberlain at the time of Munich.
In 1940, with Franco in power, which he would hold till 1975, Major Hugh Pollard became MI6 station chief in Madrid. Sir Archibald Maule Ramsay, who had become convinced that communism was a Jewish plot, and formed the pro-Nazi Right Club, was detained under Defence Regulation 18b on May 23 1940, following the arrest of his associate Tyler Kent for espionage.
Captain Victor Cazalet, MP for Chippenham, and committee member of the Friends of National Spain, differed from the others in supporting Churchill against Appeasement, and sympathising with Jewish refugees from Nazism. During the war he became liaison officer with General Sikorski, and was killed with the Polish leader in July 1943 when their plane came down into the sea off Gibraltar. (The circumstances remain subject to controversy).
Mid-Bedfordshire MP Alan Lennox-Boyd, a member of the Friends of National Spain before taking government office, went on to be Colonial Secretary in the Tory government in the 1950s, presiding over repression in Malawi and Kenya, including the notorious Hola concentration camp. In 1955 he defended the use of whipping against schoolboys in Cyprus. Such methods were more usually associated with Hitler and Franco, Mr. Fenner Brockway (Lab.) said. We don't know whether that bothered Lennox-Boyd.
Lord Dunglass became better known as Sir Alec Douglas Home, briefly Tory prime minister from 1963-4, when Labour got in led by Harold Wilson.