I am not sure if this Christmas message from 1935 was sent to Frank or Elizabeth; it is from a box full of items belonging to Elizabeth and dates from her time at Oxford, during which she was involved in various Labour Party activities. But it is signed by somebody called Walter, from Castletown in Sunderland – not that far from where Frank grew up, and was living at this time.
Anyway, here it is, a 1935 colliery Christmas card, complete with Dickensian mine owner.
I feel like most of the posts so far have been about Elizabeth (more of the ephemera is associated with her), but that when there is a post about Frank it is a cracker. I have described previously how I was sent the information on Frank from his International Brigade personnel file held in the Comintern archives (now in Moscow). The most exciting things in this file were a photograph of a very young (c. twenty-one) Frank, and an account in his own words of how he ended up in Spain (see Frank’s International Brigade personnel file in the Comintern Archives: 1 for more on all this). There were also two other main items: a “Biografía en España” questionnaire (answered by Frank in French), and an intriguing-looking three page document in German, that looks like some kind of security report on Frank by someone called Kurt.
My German is almost non-existent, so two very kind friends (Hannah and Jenny) have been working their way through this document for me over the last few months – combining the translation of strange German documents (apparently some of the German is an unusual dialect) with various jobs and a new baby! It was a far greater task than I had first anticipated (far longer, and more intricate), and so much information has come out of it, that I have decided to break it up a bit and just post the report page by page. So here is page one, translation first (with the original – and some of my thoughts – below). Here goes:
Around 18 days ago Girling turned up in our delegation to take part in the Interbrigaden. He said that, since 10.10.37, he has been volunteering at the children’s evacuation center in Puigcerda. On his past he gave the following information:
Born in England. Studied at different universities. Then since May 1935 worked in Croydon in England in the Government Office: Civil Service Inland Revenue Department as a scribe. Girling states that this was a position subordinate to the finance ministry. He was here until December 1936. In January 1935 he wanted to enter the K.P.E. [British Communist Party – “Kommunistischen Partei Englisch“?], but left after 11 months, since he was in danger of losing his position in the civil service. After his dismissal from the service, he apparently worked as an unskilled worker in various companies.
Girling is in possession of an English passport no. 4634, issued on 15.7.35, valid for 5 years. In this passport he has various visas and visa stamps of entry and exit to France, from the time he worked in the Civil Service. He states that he went on holiday trips to the French coast. In July 1937 he went to France and joined the International Voluntary Service. Girling states that this is a service attached to the International Red Cross. He was allegedly used for building roads in Kanton Wallis [the Swiss Canton of Vallais] near Loetschental. He was there until the end of September 1937, then went to Bern, where he spent two weeks at the house of Therese Lautenburg, Bern, Falken Höhenweg 8. He states that this is a friend from the International Voluntary Service. In October 1937, he took a bus to Spain to pick up evacuated women. That is why Girling has a visa issued by the Spanish Consul in Bern. He arrived in Barcelona on the 10.10.37. He signed up at the Servicio Internacional de los Amigos Cuaqueros [“International Service of the Quaker Friends”], where he was sent to Puigcerda on October 13, 1937 to work in the children’s evacuation center. He is in possession of a confirmation on the 12.10.37 issued by this service, signed by Alfred Jakob. In Puigcerda he was mainly used for agricultural work by the Comite Ayuda Infantil [“Children’s Aid Committee”] until early January 1938. He then went to Barcelona.
In Puigcerda he met an Austrian physician, Dr. Wallis, who was married to the daughter of a Russian who is living in Barcelona, called Kleinmann. Kleinmann is the owner of a small celluloid factory and lives in Calle Provenza 82. Through the intermediary of Dr. Wallis, Girling met this little man and settled in Barcelona with him. For his time in Puigcerda he refers to the following 2 persons:
1. Friedel Funk (Swiss), head of the Comite in Puigcerda
2. Nic Carter (American), secretary of the Comite.
He first met both people in Puigcerda. Of Funk, we have nothing to complain about, but we are currently trying to inquire about him. Of Nic Carter, we were told that he was the son of an American millionaire. We have also been warned that he is an unknown quantity, with no exact details.
This open letter (transcript below) about the provision of medical aid to Spain is as interesting for its signatories as for its content: Lascelles Abercrombie (poet and literary critic), James Leslie Brierly (law professor), Alexander James Carlyle (minister and historian), Robert Ensor (poet, journalist, historian, etc.), G. F. Hudson (historian), Gilbert Murray (classicist, internationalist, etc.) – an eclectic mix of an older generation of Oxford liberals. I’m not sure exactly when it dates from – probably 1936 or 1937 (the same year that Gilbert Murray’s son, Basil, was killed in Spain) – or if an ambulance was ever sent to Spain from the Oxford students (though there was a Scottish Ambulance Unit). Equally, I don’t know if Elizabeth was involved in the drafting of this letter, or the Oxford University Spanish Democratic Defence Committee that is referred to – this was all a year or two after she had left Oxford, so possibly she just had a copy as an interested party.
I can’t help but compare this to various efforts to help Syrian refugees at the moment – although the idea of university students funding an ambulance is hard to imagine.
A curiosity: did this planned conference on “The Christian Attitude in Politics” ever happen, I wonder?
The writing is Elizabeth’s – and, despite the messy scrawl, the plans look fairly well developed. I would imagine that this dates from Elizabeth’s time at Oxford (so c. 1933-1936; there is a reference to the Oxford University Fascist Association), and is perhaps linked to her activities with the Labour Club there.
The conference, and mix of speakers, sounds fascinating – but I can’t help but think of it all in terms of family psycho-drama as well: before his death in 1920, Elizabeth’s father, Robert Aytoun, had been a Presbyterian minister (and Professor of Old Testament Literature and Religion) and this attempt to examine religion through a political lens seems in some way to be a product of the stark difference between her family’s religious background and her relatively recent (although ultimately permanent) loss of faith. While Elizabeth had declared herself an atheist when still at school, her mother and sisters remained firmly (although perhaps not particularly devotedly) believers. Many a letter from the late 20s and early 30s attests to Elizabeth’s mother’s “disappointment” at this atheist stance, and Edward Cadbury even wrote to her on the subject, lamenting the contrast between her life and her parents’ “lives of service”.
See below for a transcript, and links to more information on those involved.
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.
I can’t quite get over how young and dreamy a c. twenty-year-old Frank looks in this photograph. It is the main image of him from his International Brigade personnel file held in the Comintern archives (now in Moscow). I was sitting in the library a few days ago when an e-mail arrived (from Fraser Raeburn – an Edinburgh PhD student working on Scottish involvement in the Spanish Civil War) with copies of the various documents held in this file. I hadn’t seen this photo – or any of the other material – before and my heart actually skipped a beat.
The file isn’t huge – but all of the information it contains is new to me (including an intriguing document that looks like a security report on Frank, in German, simply signed “Kurt” – more on this once translated). Most exciting is this, an account of how Frank ended up in Spain, including his involvement in politics before going there. It contains so much interesting (to me) new information that I don’t know where to begin… Here he is in his own words, with my thoughts below:
Excitingly, this document means that I can pinpoint where my grandparents were for at least part of their time in Spain – Puigcerdà in the Catalonian province of Girona – and now know that they were there roughly between 1937 and 1938. I previously knew that my grandmother had been looking after evacuated children somewhere in the Pyrenees, fairly close to Barcelona, and that my grandfather had come there at some point. My grandmother met Frank and others off a train; he commented on her “funny hat” – love at first jibe apparently.
I had had trouble working out exactly where they were before finding this document, partly due to my grandmother’s handwriting/spelling of the town’s name (as on the back of this 1937 photo of Frank, with what must be some of the evacuated children).