More than anything it provides a snapshot of the young Frank’s life in Newcastle after coming back from Spain: staying with various friends/acquaintances, including Frank Graham (who had been in Spain as well and later became a Tyneside publisher), and generally feeling pretty sorry for himself; correspondence to be sent care of the Newcastle People’s Bookshop – home to the North East Branch of the International Brigade Committee; working to raise awareness, and funds, for the International Brigades, including organising a gala (in one of the documents in his Comintern file Frank had declared his intention to “go back to England to stimulate the propaganda for Spain”); and concerned with internal Labour Party workings – and with the relationship between the Communist Party and the Labour Party.
The expulsion of Stafford Cripps (who had advocated a “United Front” between Labour and the Communists) from the Labour Party at the Southport conference in June 1939 marked an end to the “Popular Front” of the late 1930s and, as Frank notes, prompted Communists who had previously been working within Labour to leave the party and instead to work on building the Communist Party (work which would come to a rapid end with the outbreak of war only a few months later).
It sounds like Frank was expecting Elizabeth to disagree with this decision and it’s amusing to read the slightly patronising tone he takes with her in this letter – suggesting that her “isolation” in Perthshire means that she can’t properly judge “the wisdom of the step”.
I don’t know who the Betty is that Frank suspects of trying to sniff out sedition by asking about his politics – his sister’s name is Betty, but this clearly isn’t her. The Alison referred to is Elizabeth’s youngest sister. I’m not sure what the connection with Walter Hood is (though it seems likely that Elizabeth knew him from Oxford), or why Frank took against him so violently – jealousy perhaps?
Transcript, with a number of indecipherable words, and images of the full letter below.
The announcement of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact) on 23rd August 1939, only a week before Germany’s invasion of Poland, and Britain’s declaration of war on Germany, was a key event in the lead up to the Second World War.
This letter, written by Frank on the evening that the pact was announced (a Wednesday), captures some of the intensity of – and speed at which events were moving at – this time. It is written from Newcastle on International Brigade notepaper (Frank was working for the north-east branch of an International Brigade committee at the time), and was sent to Elizabeth – apparently still at Ashintully (“languishing in idleness”, according to Frank). Frank and Elizabeth married almost immediately after the war broke out – so within a few weeks of this letter.
I don’t know what or who the “S. T. D.” that Frank is awaiting a reply from refers to (any pointers gratefully received) – nor who Jack Sword (?) and the Bickfords are.
Transcript below, along with a copy of the invitation to their Diamond Wedding party – they eloped, so this is the closest there was to any kind of wedding announcement.
Holocaust Remembrance Day made me think of the heartbreaking profiles of potential refugees that I had seen among my grandmother’s papers. I don’t want to deify my grandparents – they were by no means perfect, but I do think that they generally tried to do their best (according to their belief in what “best” might mean). This letter to my grandmother, asking her to take these Jewish refugees from Germany, is dated June 1939; I don’t know if she refused for some reason (unthinkable, but possible I suppose), or if events intervened (the war broke out three months later) – but Max Gerhard Löwenberg (/Loewenberg) was sent to Auschwitz in March 1943 and was killed there along with his parents.
I had been planning to be slightly systematic about this all – to go through the contents of the first box I opened before moving on to the next – but this morning I had to look for something else in one of the dusty tea chests that house a lot of Frank’s papers, and came across this little packet of letters between Elizabeth, her sisters and Edward Cadbury. They are about Elizabeth’s plans to sell the Scottish estate she had inherited (Ashintully) and to give the money to Spain (specifically Spanish Medical Aid, as I learn from these letters). Obviously various kinds of family and official pressure was exerted on Elizabeth not to sell – for reasons of family, responsibility, etc. – including from Edward Cadbury, who had acted as guardian and adopted uncle to Elizabeth and her sisters after the death of their father. Ultimately, the case went to court and the will was changed so that Elizabeth inherited jointly with her two sisters (and therefore couldn’t sell – as she couldn’t give money to Spain, she went there instead). I do wonder if the same would have been done to a male heir?
Elizabeth always spoke very highly of Edward, his wife Dorothy, and all of the Cadburys: they were socially principled, and deeply committed Quakers (and pacifists), and were a great support to Elizabeth and the rest of the Aytouns over many decades – but in this case respect for him, and for her family, was secondary to her socialism, and her explanation and moral justification for selling Ashintully is an eloquent articulation of her socialist principles (and the rights and wrongs of property ownership) that I find incredibly stirring – and still very relevant.
Here it is (with image, and letters from Edward Cadbury below):
To Edward Cadbury, 17.8.37
You may be right about my motives. I’m not the one to judge. I am quite sure though that to sell now is not the “easy” way. The easiest way would be to keep Ashintully for a year at least, and then decide. I don’t find riding rough-shod over my family easy. It is so difficult as to be almost impossible.
As to the praise – most of the people who need to know about it would think me irresponsible or melodramatic. I don’t want the kind of praise I might get for giving large sums of unearned money away – just as I hate it if anyone ever thanks me for doing political work – it only makes me feel an outsider.
Anyway, surely we should be discussing results and not motives? The responsibility argument might be valid, except that it might be used by any and every capitalist as a reason for hanging on to property. Also in this case I think the first responsibility is to the tenants, and in the circumstances I don’t think sufficient good would be done to them by my keeping it to justify myself on those grounds alone.
If the two clash I do definitely put my responsibility to the world at large before that to my family, short of doing them harm. Actually, of course, they count far more than that, but I don’t think they should. I was writing to the lawyer today, and asked him as a point of information for definite facts about the ownership, though he did explain it all to me when I was there. Also I won’t do anything without at least Joanna’s complete and willing agreement.
I am not just throwing my money into the waste-paper basket for the sake of getting rid of it – and the real question to be answered is, I think, whether the need for medical aid supplies, doctors, nurses etc. in Spain is great enough and urgent enough to require all or some of the money now or whether the sale and decision of amounts could justifiably be left till next year. And on the other hand whether an equal amount of good might be done in other ways in this country. As far as I can tell now, partly for political but mostly for humanitarian reasons, I don’t think so. I have written to a member of the Spanish Medical Aid Committee, who is a great friend of mine and did not ask me to sell for information. Joanna raised some questions which certainly need answering. I will also wait to hear your proposals for the use of the estate, and, of course, what the lawyer has to say. I know the question is complicated – I’ve been thinking about it for two months.
I am very grateful for all the help you are giving me – you do understand better than almost anyone, but we must remember that there is a fundamental difference between us. You are, when all is said and done, a man of property – very probably as things are now even from my point of view, rightly so, and I am a socialist.
There are just two other points – first that I am interested in my own integrity, and second that I am as fond of Ashintully as anyone.
Don’t bother to answer this till Saturday.
P.S. No-one has called me inconsistent – no socialist tries to be consistent in this system, we only try to judge by results.