WW 2 BRITISH BLACK PROPAGANDA
Black Boomerang - Chapter Two cont- Sefton Delmer
I could not have felt more exhilarated, if I had been given a knighthood. Here at last, I believed, was a first auspicious raising of the barrier-even if it was only by an inch. I immediately rushed to the office to secure the permission of Arthur Christiansen, my editor. Chris, I think, must have guessed a bit of what it meant to me. He looked almost as pleased as I did.
" Go ahead, Tom," he beamed. "It is a fine idea, I'll print some of your talks. Some of them may even be news." And news they were too. Though not in the sense he or I had intended. For, without meaning to do so, I stumbled into the headlines with my very first talk. In my inexperience I got my-self into trouble with the pacifist critics of Churchill in the House of Commons.
The German-speaking news commentators of the B.B.C. of whom I was now one, had worked out a rota for themselves. Lindley Frazer, the fuzzy-haired Aberdeen professor who had been a contemporary of mine at Oxford, spoke one day, R. H. S. Crossman, the future Socialist M.P. the next, F. A. Voigt, the former Berlin correspondent of the Manchester Guardian the day after that, and so on.
I was assigned the Friday evening pitch. And on my very first Friday-I had never spoken over the radio before, not even in English, let alone in German-I had the task of replying to Hitler himself. For Hitler had chosen my first Friday-Friday July the 19th, I940-to make his triumphal Reichstag oration in celebration of his victory over France. More important still, he had chosen it as the occasion for his `final peace appeal' to Britain." It almost causes me pain," I heard him piously intone as I listened in on the radio in the B.B.C. studio, "to think that I should have been selected by Providence to deal the final blow to the edifice which these men have already set tottering ... Mr. Churchill ought for once to believe me, when I prophesy , that a great empire will be destroyed which it was never my intention to destroy or even to harm ... In this hour I feel it my duty before my conscience to appeal once more to reason and common sense in Britain ... I CAN SEE NO REASON WHY THIS WAR MUST GO ON!"
As it was to turn out he was not to be so far out with his prophecy about the destruction of the Empire. Our 'anticolonialist allies' and our own `Little Englanders'-Tory and Socialist-were to see to that. But even if I had known this, it would have made no difference to me or any other Englishman at this moment. , Within an hour of Hitler having spoken I was on the air with my reply. And without a moment's hesitation I turned his peace offer down. My colleagues at the B.B.C. had approved of what I meant to say. That was enough authority for me.
" HERR HITLER," I said in my smoothest and most deferential , German, "you have on occasion in the past consulted me as to the mood of the British public. So permit me to render your excellency this little service once again tonight. Let me tell you what we here in Britain think of this appeal of yours to what you are pleased to call our reason and common sense. Herr Fuhrer and Reichskanzler, we hurl it right back at you, right in your evil smelling teeth . . ."It was not diplomatic language or very elegant. But I reckoned a little earthy vulgarity in answer to the Fuhrer's cant would be just the thing to shock my German listeners out of their complacency. Especially as I then followed it up with some orthodox moralising about British reason permitting no compromise with murder and aggression. I even ventured to make a prophecy. I told Hitler that though things might look quite bright for him at the moment, the tide would inevitably turn, and he, like the Kaiser before him would find that he had been `conquering himself to death'. It was a phrase I well remembered from my first-war school days in Berlin and it soon became a stock slogan of the second-war B.B.C.
My quick reply to Hitler had resonant reverberations. Everywhere in the non-Hitler world newspapers printed long excerpts from it right alongside Hitler's speech. In Germany too it had its echo. William Shirer, the American radio reporter, who was in Berlin at the time, describes in his book, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,* the consternation among the officials at the German radio when my broadcast came through. " I drove directly to the Rundfunk to make a broadcast report of (Hitler's) speech to the United States," he says. "I had hardly arrived at Broadcasting House when I picked up a B.B.C. broadcast in German from London. It was giving the British answer to Hitler already-within the hour. It was a determined No! " Junior Officers from the High Command and Officials from various ministries were sitting around with rapt attention. Their faces fell. They could not believe their ears. `Can you make it out?' one of them shouted to me. He seemed dazed. `Can you understand those British fools?' he continued to bellow. `To turn down peace now? They're crazy!'."
Mussolini's son-in-law Count Ciano was also in Berlin forthe speech. He too describes the effect of the B.B.C. turn-down in his diary. " Late in the evening when the first British reactions to the speech arrived," he wrote, "a sense of ill-concealed disappointment spread among the Germans." This however, was exactly where I got in trouble. My offthe-cuff rejection-Churchill in his book Their Finest Hour says with characteristic understatement that this immediate and brusque rejection of Hitler's peace offer was made by the B.B.C. "without any prompting from H.M. Government"!aroused the anger of the Socialist pacifists, who would have liked to take it up.
But my most outspoken critic, was certainly no pacifist.
This was Richard Stokes, the Socialist M.P. for Ipswich. He now attacked me in the House of Commons for my presumption in turning Hitler down without first obtaining the authority of Parliament.
Bitterly Stokes demanded of the Government how they had come to allow Sefton Delmer, "a person of no importance" (flattering cries of "OH!" from the Tory benches) "to deliver an answer to Hitler less than two hours after the Chancellor had spoken. "
I think it entirely wrong," he said, "that a speech broadcast in Germany at six o'clock should not first have had better consideration from responsible people.
Surely the responsible authority in this country to make a reply to a speech of that kind is the Prime Minister, or the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, if possible after consultation with this House."
Duff Cooper rallied to my support with all his suave authority. He assured the House that my talk had the Cabinet's full approval. And when the Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax replied to Hitler a couple of days after me the sense of what he said was the same, although he used rather more restrained language.But there was still another sequel to my unauthorised rejection of Hitler's offer. At least I like to think of it as a sequel. In these days of July 1940 the special commando of Himmler's Security Service, which was intended to take charge of occupied Britain in the wake of the Wehrmacht's invasion, was putting the finishing touches to a list of personalities who were to be immediately arrested and handed over to the Gestapo.
This list-`Sonde7fahndungsliste G.B.'* was its official title-was among the many secret documents captured by the Allies in Germany in 1945. Number 3 3 on the list was a certain Sefton Delmer, Paris representative of the Daily Express. He was to be handed over, said the list, to Dept. IV B.4 of the Central Reich Security Office. Maybe I would have been on that list in any case, for other well-known journalists were also included. But, as I have said, I like to think it was my maiden broadcast that put me there.
* The only copy of the list now in existence is in the possession of The Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, California, who most obligingly let me have a photostat of page 42 on which No. 33 appears.
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"Let me tell you what we here in Britain think of this appeal of yours to what you are pleased to call our reason and common sense. Herr Fuhrer and Reichskanzler, we hurl it right back at you, right in your evil smelling teeth"