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Foreign News: Noblest of Englishmen

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In Chicago last week with a row of medals on his chest, Philip Henry Kerr, Marquess of Lothian, British Ambassador to the U. S., faced the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, including bemedaled Charles Gates Dawes, who did tit for tat at the Court of St. James’s. Lord Lothian in his matter-of-fact way gave what he called an honest account of what Britons “think and hope and fear” about the war. He told his U. S. audience that the British Government was not “trying to drag you into this war,” but that Britain did look forward to the day when the U. S. would be needed in establishing the peace that was to follow.

Of this war Lord Lothian explained the real prize is sea power, the issue “freedom or tyranny.” Sometime next spring he expected the crisis—when the Germans would attack with “all the ferocity and ruthlessness the Nazis have taught us to expect.”

Of the last war, he said, with candor, that it was lost by the Versailles Treaty—”The Allied Powers threw away their chance, both by faults of omission and commission. . . . For that tragedy no nation and no statesman can establish a full alibi.” But he denied that “this is a mere war between imperialisms,” and foresaw some better peace, based not on spoils but on a federalized Europe.

There is no stuffing in Lothian’s shirt.

His speech was one of the most effective, skillful briefs yet delivered for the Allied cause. It was the sort of talk which earns Britain a reputation for fair dealing and open-minded thinking. To keep its sprawling Empire together Britain needs that reputation as much as she needs her powerful Navy. As a Nazi critic once remarked, the “weakness” of Britain is that she can no longer survive without the moral approbation of the world. Today, in such widely separated capitals as Ankara, Buenos Aires, Rome and Stockholm, other British envoys besides Lothian are working just as hard to convince other nations that Britain’s cause is their cause, that Britain’s defeat would be their tragedy.

Director of the far-flung diplomatic machinery which tackles this job is a tough aristocrat of 58—a tall, big-boned man with a high forehead, clear, slightly myopic eyes, a firm chin, a sensitive mouth. He was christened Edward Frederick Lindley Wood. Now he is Viscount Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of His Majesty’s Government for the past 23 momentous months of world affairs.

Spook Fancier. Stanley Baldwin would rather have tended his garden than preside over a Cabinet meeting. Sir Edward Grey liked birds more than diplomatic reports. Lord Halifax once said with evident truth: “I would rather be a Master of Foxhounds than Prime Minister.” That is natural, for Edward Wood grew up outdoors on his father’s spacious estate at Garrowby, Yorkshire, where he learned to ride as soon as to walk. His pious father, the second Viscount Halifax, was for 60 years the leader of the High Church party whose never realized dream was to reunite the Church of England with the Church of Rome.

The father invariably arose at 5 or 6 a.m. to make his private devotions and go to Holy Communion, taking his son with him from an early age. He also had a lively interest in spooks, visited haunted castles, collected accounts of ghosts, of startling dreams, of premonitions which came true. After his death—at the age of 94—his son dutifully prepared his father’s ghost stories for publication. In the U. S. they were printed in Hearst’s Sunday supplement, the American Weekly.

No Snob. At Eton, Edward Wood made a scholastic record his father was proud of. At Christ Church, Oxford, he was equally studious in modern history. Unlike many a future British statesman, he took no interest in politics at Oxford. But in his schooling he acquired neither the snobbish “Eton manner” nor the equally snobbish Oxonian accent.

In 1910 the Conservative Party persuaded young Edward Wood to run for Parliament from Ripon, near York. So at 28 he became an M. P. By then he was already well married to Lady Dorothy Onslow, daughter of the Earl of Onslow, one time Governor General of New Zealand.

During World War I he served as lieutenant colonel in the Yorkshire Dragoons, was mentioned in dispatches and at war’s end was one of 200 Conservative M. P.s who signed a demand for harsher terms for Germany. Meantime his parliamentary career had moved slowly but surely.

Prayer. No one in British politics ever mistook him for the ordinary kind of politician. He was patently of a different breed, a law-abiding, churchgoing, public-spirited English gentleman of high birth. Such have their uses in politics. In 1922 he got his first Cabinet job as President of the Board of Education, first under Prime Minister Bonar Law, and then under Prime Minister Baldwin; in 1924 he became Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries.

The British political world was surprised when Stanley Baldwin suddenly gave him, at 44, the biggest job of the British Empire outside Britain itself—that of Viceroy and Governor General of India. His sole qualification for that job seemed to be that his grandfather, Sir Charles Wood (the first Lord Halifax), had been Secretary of State for India. Actually his best qualification, as events proved, was that he was a charming, quiet, high-minded British aristocrat.

The story is told that Edward Wood was reluctant to leave his fox hunting to become a Viceroy. He asked his father for advice. “Let us go to church and pray,” suggested the father. On leaving the church his father said: “I think you will have to go.” Replied the son: “I think so too.” Since a Viceroy is traditionally a peer and Edward Wood had not yet inherited his father’s title, the King made him Baron Irwin of Kirby Underdale.

Viceroy. On Good Friday 1926, the new Viceroy’s ship rounded Point Colaba and anchored off the ornamental Gateway of India in Bombay Harbor. Ashore India was prepared to greet her new ruler with the customary fanfare. India waited. Lord Irwin sent word that he considered Good Friday an inappropriate day for pomp. Instead he went ashore unofficially to attend a three-hour Good Friday agony service in Bombay. Not until the next morning did the new ruler officially step from his launch to Indian soil while the white warships of the Indian squadron boomed 31 guns.

To Government House at Malabar Hill, with a scarlet-clad bodyguard, rode the Viceroy. On the long white stairway of Government House he met India—officers, naval, military and civil, provincial governors, maharajas, envoys of potentates, dignitaries of the Anglican Church, judges of India’s High Court. At the top of the stairs stood Lord Reading, the departing Viceroy. The oath of office was administered and for five years Lord Irwin personified the British Raj in India.

In the Viceroy’s House in New Delhi unassuming Lord Irwin lived as India expected him to—more sumptuously than his King did in Buckingham. Bejeweled Princes held his train on ceremonial occasions. At extravagant durbars, at elephant and tiger hunts, he was the guest of honor of India’s fabulous maharajas. His coach had eight magnificently caparisoned horses with postilions. An official in scarlet & gold held the Viceregal umbrella over Lord Irwin’s modest head. Servants in embroidered gowns waved brushes of white horsehair to keep mosquitoes from his skin.

Mahatma Irwin. Before his five-year term was up Lord Irwin had the Mahatma M. K. Gandhi and growing civil disobedience on his viceregal hands. But the Yorkshireman had the advantage, in dealing with the unruly, ascetic Mahatma, of being also a man of piety. The Mahatma, although determined to wipe British rule from India, found the new Governor General a “man I can trust to tell me what he thinks.” Even after Lord Irwin had put Gandhi in jail, the Saint referred to His Excellency as the “Christian Viceroy,” “one of the noblest of Englishmen.” He met Gandhi as a “man, not a Viceroy,” and the Mahatma greeted him as “my dear friend.”

British Sunday supplements featured Lord Irwin as the “British Mahatma,” a man of deeply religious feeling who at last understood mystic India. Actually, Lord Irwin was as tough as most governors general. The press was gagged; Indian police beat political strikers with staves. Peaceful picketing was made a crime. Failure to pay taxes was rigidly punished, as were agitators who suggested nonpayment. Some 47,000 persons in all, including virtually all prominent Indian Nationalists, were locked up without any libertarian nonsense.

Once when Gandhi went on one of his famous fasts unto death, Lord Irwin remarked: “Gandhi is now speaking in a language the Indian people understand. If I were to get in the hallway of the government buildings at New Delhi, squat on the floor and refuse to eat a bite until the Indian civil-disobedience movement came to terms, the trouble would be over in a few days. Of course, before these few days could elapse, my Liberal, Conservative and Labor colleagues in London would send for me to come home and would have a padded cell waiting for me on my arrival.”

But Lord Irwin made British rule less onerous for India. He acknowledged that India had a Nationalist movement afoot. He was willing to work on a long-term basis, for some measure of self-government—with many safeguards for Britain. He made the British Government’s historic statement on Indian home rule: “I am authorized on behalf of His Majesty’s Government to state clearly . . . that the natural issue of India’s constitutional progress is the attainment of dominion status.” When he left India the British press almost unanimously acclaimed him as having saved India from a blood bath.

Appeasing. Having had potentates at his beck & call, he returned to England to a new triumph. He was at last elected Joint Master of the Middleton Hunt. In 1932, he got back his old job on the Board of Education; in 1935 he spent a few months as War Secretary (a job he did not like); later that year he became Lord Privy Seal. That being a job of few duties, Lord Halifax began, from time to time, to pinch-hit for Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden when Mr. Eden was away on diplomatic trips. Soon he was to do more than pinch-hit. On the same day that Adolf Hitler mocked Mr. Eden in a Reichstag speech, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain decided to change Foreign Secretaries.

By that time the sands of peace had almost run out. The Prime Minister, with his faithful civil servant Sir Horace Wilson as economic adviser, set out to direct foreign policy along the lines he had chosen when he parted with Anthony Eden. To carry out that policy he had to have a man who had the sympathy and respect of both friends and foes of appeasement.

During the now well-known diplomatic negotiations that went on & on till peace finally collapsed, Viscount Halifax occupied a unique place as Foreign Secretary. Even at the time of Munich he had the sympathy and respect of such men as (appeaser) Sir John Simon and (vigorous anti-appeaser) Winston Churchill. To all of them he was a sort of civil servant of the highest order. Winston Churchill recently called him “a gentleman, a fox hunter, a friend.”

War Diplomacy. His servant calls the Foreign Secretary at 7 in the morning but he does not breakfast until 8:45, for like his father he goes to church before breakfast. From 9:30 in the morning till 11:30 at night he is occupied at home, at the Foreign Office, across the street at the Prime Minister’s (No. 10 Downing Street) or in the House of Lords. He allows himself only about an hour out for lunch and the same amount of time for dinner. The rest of his day is work. It is no life for a fox-hunting gentleman, but to a man of his vanishing species, it is what one does for his country.

After Ethiopia and Spain, after Munich and the rape of Czecho-Slovakia, after the final diplomatic defeat of letting Russia sign with Germany instead of the Allies—British diplomacy came to World War II with a minus score. But since war began British diplomacy has a wholly different record.

Germany has lost Italy and gained no new allies. Britain cemented friendship with Rumania and Turkey. The Scandinavian democracies, maintaining a poker-faced neutrality, did their best to hide their patent sympathies. A friendly U. S. repealed its arms embargo. Lord Halifax’s diplomatic machine is in fine fettle.

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