The Red Book reopened

John Paulson reviews a recently published study of the Right Club, a group of inter-war British pro-Nazis. The Red Book: The Membership List of The Right Club – 1939 by Robin Saikia (Foxley Books, June 2010) 160 pages paperback. ISBN 978-1905742028 £12.95

In 1939 an eccentric and more than slightly unhinged British MP called Archibald Maule Ramsay founded a political society he called the Right Club, its aim to combat what Ramsay saw as the menace of ‘International Jewry’. He recorded the names of the members, many of them MPs, peers, army officers and society hostesses, in the stout leather-bound ledger that came to be known as the ‘Red Book’. Members were invited to get-togethers in South Kensington and issued with a silver badge bearing the anti-Semitic motto ‘Perish Judah’.  The club was short lived, Ramsay and many of his contemporaries being imprisoned for the nearly duration of the second world war under Defence Regulation 18b. The Red Book itself was seized by MI5 and Special Branch following a tip-off that Ramsay had left it in the safekeeping of the American traitor Tyler Kent (a close up photo of the Red Book ledger’s Bramah lock appears on the front cover of this book, the lock twisted as a result of having been forced open by MI5 officers in the presence of the American Ambassador in London following the raid). The Red Book ‘disappeared’ for many years but was later rediscovered in a solicitor’s safe. It was given to the British historian Richard Griffiths for purposes of research and he in turn presented it to the Wiener Library in London where it now is, a stark reminder of inter-war anti-Semtisim and, according to Robin Saikia, a perpetual warning against the dangers of the far right in this and future ages.

Saikia’s book is divided into three parts. First there is a prologue and extended introduction, describing the life and times of Ramsay and his followers. Secondly there are facsimile pages, never before published, of the entire Red Book with transcriptions and explanations of the entries together with some interleaved material. Finally there is a full biographical A to Z of all the members. There are useful appendices, including the transcipt of Ramsay’s replies to the indictments made against him by the British Government. There is an intriguing foreword by one of Ramsay’s living relatives, his cousin Julia Camoys Stonor.

There is no doubt that this book will become an indispensable study of the Thirties on the strength of the facsimiles and biographies alone, but the true merit lies in Saikia’s original and thought-provoking commentary on Ramsay and his type and the period they lived in. Of particular interest are the more extreme anti-Semites in the group, activists like A. K. Chesterton, co-founder of the National Front, and Colin Jordan’s mentor, Arnold Leese. Saikia subjects their posturings to merciless scrutiny, largely through the clever technique of giving them more than enough rope to hang themselves. A sentimental musing from Leese about his pet cat is juxtaposed with one of his more rabid recommendations for the wholesale extermination of Jews. A rank outpouring from Chesterton is dismissed as though it were ‘Mein Kampf, badly rewritten by Dickens’. These and other ideological forefathers of today’s far right are systematically thrust into the limelight like superannuated music hall acts and summarily shot down one by one.

The upper-class right-wingers connected to Ramsay come in for similar treatment. Mosley, referred to by Saikia as ‘Valentino in knuckledusters’, emerges as a lazy, womanizing, attitudinizing playboy, his followers ‘tipsy East End ruffians’ and ‘gullible women’ from the north of England. Lord Lymington is roundly pilloried for his cranky right-wing ruralism and desire to recreate a golden age of healthy, country-living Anglo-Saxons subsisting entirely on organic food. Lord Redesdale, father of the Mitford girls and a staunch Right Club supporter, is presented as an absurd racist bully, his untimely pro-German oratory described by Saikia as having the ‘elegance of Athens tempered by the briskness of Ascot’.  Captain George Henry Drummond of Pitsford Hall, Diana Mitford’s bank manager, had a swastika emblazoned on the bottom of his swimming pool and gave parties at which guests were encouraged to arrive in Nazi uniform.  In the event that any reader is tempted to forgive this as mere eccentricity, Saikia gently reminds us of the activities of Drummond’s anti-Semite cronies in Northamptonshire; of the occasion, for example, when a pig’s head, dripping with blood, was hung above the door of the local synagogue. Among the more lunatic pro-Nazi publications of the late Thirties, Saikia singles out the Appeasement-driven Anglo-German Review for a roasting. We learn from the small ads that a man in Mitcham sold ‘Swastica badges’ for one and thruppence and that at the Cologne Dog Show in November 1938, the Fuhrer’s Special Prize for Best of Breed was co-adjudicated by Colonel G. G. Woodwark, the Mayor-designate of Kings Lynn.

There are honourable exceptions to the extremist rot. In what will probably be a widely discussed revelation, Saikia identifies a hitherto unexplored member of the Right Club, the White Russian nobleman, Prince Yuri (‘Yurka’) Galitzine. Galitzine, in an extraordinary rite of passage, joined the Right Club in 1939 only to dramatically renounce his extremist views in 1945, when he found himself heading an intelligence unit investigating atrocities committed in the Natzweiler Rudhof death camp in Alsace. Saikia’s account of this episode, and of the pleasure he felt on his chance discovery of it in Galitzine’s war scrapbook in the Imperial war Museum, make absorbing reading.

This is a fine book, eloquently written, that will quietly take its place amongst the historical classics devoted to this disturbing period. There are lessons here that many across the full breadth of today’s political spectrum would do well to heed.

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