THE LAST WEEK - THE ROAD TO WAR
Chapter 10 - Part 4
August 30, 1939
by David H. Lippman

Unemployed and beaten, Ted decides to hit the road – he takes his brother Kermit on an expedition to the Himalayan Mountains for Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History to find a species of sheep that answers to the Latin name of "Ovis Poli" but less formally as "Marco Polo’s sheep." The brothers head for Asia in May 1925.

Also facing political defeat in 1924 is Jackson County Presiding Judge Harry S. Truman, who faces re-election. The Jackson County Democratic Party is divided between Joe Shannon’s "Rabbits" and Tom Pendergast’s "Goats." Shannon allies with the Klan to defeat Truman, even though Shannon is a Catholic. When Truman wins the primary by 1,000 votes, Shannon bolts the Democratic Party and delivers his backers and the Klan to the Republicans. Truman hits the campaign trail, backed by an endorsement from the Kansas City Star, and his record of erasing the county’s deficit and replacing it with a $250,000 budget surplus. When the Klan declares itself "unalterably opposed" to Truman, the candidate sees that as a threat to kill him. Truman drives out to a big outdoor Klan rally at Summit, to confront 1,000 Klansmen, including people he knows.

There, Truman berates the racists (who are not wearing their sheets). He says later that he tells them that "anybody who has to work behind a sheet is off the beam and my partner in the haberdashery business, Eddie Jacobson, told me that the fellow who was organizing the Ku Klux Klan had to be a Jew because nobody but a Jew could sell a $1.95-cent nightgown for $16. That’s what it cost to get into the Klan." Jacobson is a Jew.

With that, Truman heads back to Independence, and passes by two carloads of fellow Democrats heading out with shotguns and baseball bats, to protect him. Truman tells the men to turn around and go back. "You don’t have to use guns. Those guys are scared when they don’t have their sheets on," Truman says.

But the Klan is more powerful at the ballot box than at the rally. Truman loses the election. The day after the vote, Truman spots a friend, Henry Chiles, who worked hard with the Rabbits for Rummel. Truman crosses the street to shake hands and say there should be no hard feelings. Chiles expresses regret at helping to defeat Harry, saying he feels ashamed of himself.

Put that out of your mind, Harry says. "You did what your gang told you and I did what my gang told me." That’s the way it is in politics.

Out of office, Truman sells memberships in the Kansas City Automobile Club on commission, at $5 for every new member he signs, clearing $5,000. Meanwhile, Ralph Truman writes his cousin Harry, saying that Harry will be re-elected presiding judge in two years.

Also somewhat out of the public eye is Britain’s Prince Albert, second in line to the throne and overshadowed by his dashing, flamboyant older brother, Prince Edward. Yet Albert and his wife, now Princess Elizabeth, continue to support his favorite charities: his wedding guests include 30 boys from the Industrial Welfare Society and slices of cake identical to his wedding cake go to poor children throughout Britain.

The Duke and Duchess of York move into the White Lodge in Richmond Park after the April 26, 1923, wedding, and ask for furniture as wedding presents. The British Empire responds, with gusto: the Worshipful Company of Patternmakers provides a tallboy in English oak with shelves and drawers packed with rubber boots, shoes, and galoshes, while the Metropolitan Police offers a dinner service. The Prince of Wales gives them a fur wrap and a "luxurious motor car."

Both Albert and Elizabeth find the wedding an ordeal due to its public nature, aware that they are the "second-best" couple.

Backed by warm letters from King George V – he is pleased with Albert’s sensible nature, splendid wife, and willingness to listen to sensible advice – the Yorks honeymoon in Britain, and settle down to a life of shooting, fishing, and reading. Unlike his brother Edward, Albert is a voracious reader.

Also finding little to do as 1924 opens is Winston Churchill, out of Parliament for the first time in decades. With Ramsay MacDonald and the first Labour government in power, the Liberals move to support the Scot, and Churchill resigns from the Liberal Party. The National Liberal Club reacts by placing his portrait back in the basement.

Five weeks after MacDonald kisses hands in Buckingham Palace, Lords Beaverbrook and Rothermere, the press barons, offer to back Churchill if he stands for election as the Conservative candidate for the Westminster district, one of London’s poshest neighborhoods. Buildings in this neighborhood include Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament, Pall Mall, and even Covent Garden. The Conservative Party, however, won’t take Churchill back, so he stands (runs in America) for election as an "independent anti-Socialist." Sir Philip Sassoon writes, "I am so glad you are standing. You are bound to get in." Leo Amery is harsher: "the menace of Socialism is not to be fought by negatives, however brilliantly phrased." Labour blasts Churchill for his militarism and anti-Bolshevism.

Nevertheless, Churchill stands – or runs – with his usual energy, delighting large crowds at his speeches. His cousin, the Duke of Marlborough, raps on doors with his gold-headed walking stick in support, young aide Brendan Bracken presses flesh in nightclubs and brokers’ offices, and soon Churchill has support from peers, boxers, courtiers, businessmen, even girl performers at the Gaiety Theater. Churchill polls 8,114 votes on Election Day. His Tory opponent polls 8,187. By 73 votes, Churchill has lost his third straight election. He walks slowly out of the election hall, head down.

Aged 50, Churchill is very much on the outside. Ramsay MacDonald leads the slumping British nation, and the "Dear Vicar," Stanley Baldwin, leads the Conservative Party. Churchill has no role to play, even though he remains a prominent speaker: assailing the French for occupying the Ruhr, the Harding administration for demanding war debt money, and leading a criminal libel action against Lord Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde’s lover. Lord Douglas accuses Churchill of issuing a false communiqué about the Battle of Jutland, so that he could benefit "Jewish financiers." It takes the jury eight minutes to decide in Churchill’s favor, and Douglas gets six months in jail.

Churchill also has to cope with personal tragedy: the death of his two-year-old daughter Marigold on August 25, 1921. "We have suffered a very heavy and painful loss," he writes Lord Crewe. "It also seems so pitiful that this little life should have been extinguished just when it was so beautiful and so happy – just when it was beginning." Churchill regards the loss as a gaping wound. His wife Clementine never speaks of the lost child for the rest of her life. The youngest daughter, Mary, born in autumn of 1922, grows up puzzled by the identity of a little girl in a framed photograph on her mother’s dressing table.

Defeated in politics, wounded in life, Churchill turns to writing to fill the gap, firing off 33 articles for 11 newspapers and magazines in two years, earning £13,200. He even turns a few quid from his artwork, writing an article for Strand magazine on "Painting as a Pastime." When not batting out articles like "My Dramatic Days with the Kaiser," "The Danger Ahead in Europe," "Should Strategists Veto the Channel Tunnel," and "If We Could Look Into the Future," Churchill soldiers on with his memoirs of the Great War, pocketing a £9,000 advance for it from his British publisher, and £5,000 from Scribner’s in America. His deadline is December 31, 1922, for the first installment, and the first volume of "The World Crisis" appears on time, and the book is a smash. British editions alone sell 80,551 copies, and Churchill earns 30 percent royalties, £58,846. He uses the money to purchase a new home for his family in Kent, a red brick mansion dating back to Henry VII, named Chartwell, for its view. Finding that the ancient mansion is rotting, he personally goes to work to rebuild the battered, leaking structure, even bringing in his Scotland Yard bodyguard, Detective W.H. Thompson, to lay bricks. Churchill spends days laying bricks and dictating his books, laying 200 bricks and writing 2,000 words a day. James F. Lane, a big wheel in the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers, reacts by sending Churchill a union card. The executive committee, remembering Churchill’s role in cops roughing up strikers at Tonypandy in Wales before the Great War, rules that Churchill is ineligible. He frames the certificate anyway.

With Chartwell and Churchill’s finances restored, he has time to play host to his friends, which include a bowler-hatted vegetarian physicist named Frederick Lindemann, known to his pals as "The Prof."

While Churchill writes and raises pigs in Chartwell, the Labour-Liberal alliance crumples, and Labour loses a vote of confidence in mid-1924. At issue is a letter allegedly written by Grigori Zinoviev, president of the Third Communist International, calling on British socialists to organize armed rebellion. Labour says the letter is a fake, but in the October General Election, the Conservatives gain 419 seats, Labour 151, and the Liberals a mere 40. Among the winning Conservatives is Churchill, who stands for the seat from Epping, a seat he will hold (through its name and boundary change to Woodford in 1945) for the rest of his public life. On paper, Churchill stands as a "Constitutionalist," but the Tories adopt him anyway. With 60 percent of the vote, Churchill sails back into Westminster, and more importantly, back into Stanley Baldwin’s Cabinet, appointed as Chancellor of the Exchequer, his father’s old post. Indeed, Churchill still has Lord Randolph Churchill’s robes of office. Churchill pledges loyalty to Baldwin, saying "You have done more for me than Lloyd George ever did."

Other future British leaders are also hard at work. Major Frederick "Tim" Pile is serving two years as a liaison with the Royal Air Force, enjoying it immensely. Lt. Lord Louis Mountbatten, in charge of the forecastle division, a 15-inch gun, and 160 men on HMS Revenge, is gaining popularity with the lower deck. In August 1924, he moves on to the signals school at Portsmouth and the naval college at Greenwich, zooming around London in his personal Rolls-Royce, which has its back seat fitted with a collapsible seat to enable him to sleep between classes and dancing. Captain Andrew Cunningham has no time for dancing, as he commands the 1st Destroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean and home waters. In October 1924, he takes command of Port Edgar, the destroyer base on the south side of the Firth of Forth, near his Edinburgh home. Sub-Lieutenant G.W.G. "Shrimp" Simpson serves on L-class submarines in the Fourth Flotilla, based in Hong Kong. James Fownes Somerville is Captain of the battleship HMS Benbow, and wears himself into exhaustion to keep the ship at high efficiency. Even so, he finds time to provide hospitality to Major Harold Alexander, second-in-command of the 1st Irish Guards, whose men are in Constantinople until October 1923, when the Treaty of Lausanne confirms Turkey’s independence and neutralizes the Dardanelles. Alexander and the Irish Guards head for Gibraltar for six months, then back to London.

That same month, the strain of commanding Benbow beaches Somerville with malaria, and his life is in danger. After four months, Somerville is able to return to his battleship. Fortunately, he has a superb executive officer in Cdr. Bertram Ramsay. At the end of 1924, Somerville heads home to London to take over as Director of the Signal Division of the Admiralty.

Major Bernard Law Montgomery, on the staff of the 49th West Riding Infantry Division of the Territorial Army, at York, is a busy man in 1923 and 1924, writing new, clear training manuals for his battalions, trading letters with Captain Basil Liddell Hart, the tank theorist, on training manuals. Liddell Hart chides Montgomery for not covering "exploitation" enough. However, Montgomery does write that the proper way to fight a war is with coordinated mobile columns, equipped with radio. Working with the part-time soldiers of the Territorials, Montgomery gains a great deal of respect for their energy and drive. On January 7, 1925, he rejoins the 1st Warwicks as a company commander.

Another officer developing new ideas on warfare is Major Richard O’Connor, serving in the Experimental Brigade from 1921 to 1924. On the Salisbury Plain, the brigade’s tanks, infantry and artillery run exercises, sometimes with aircraft. In 1924, O’Connor becomes second-in-command of the 1st Cameronians, based at Aldershot.

Also at Aldershot is Capt. Brian Horrocks of the 1st Middlesex. In 1924, he is a member of the British Pentathlon team at the Olympic Games in Paris, but does not come near winning a medal. He also finishes dead last a week later in the final of the army mile.

Some of Britain’s future leaders are honing their skills at Camberley Staff College: Arthur Percival, Montague Stopford, Michael Gambier-Perry, Willoughby Norrie, and a quiet Canadian, Harry Crerar. The instructors include Alan Brooke, Ronald Adam, Philip Neame, and "Boney" Fuller.

In Egypt, the RAF’s Keith Park refuses to let physical exhaustion stop him from leading his planes of 47 Squadron on patrols over Egypt after the Egyptian Army’s Sirdar, Sir Lee Stack, is murdered in Cairo on November 19, 1924, as part of uprisings at the time. The British planes’ presence prevents further bloodshed.

In 1924, Canada has a population of 9 million people, and every English school reader in the country contains the motto: "One King, One Country." Canada might say it has two kings, though, with George VI on the throne and Mackenzie King as Prime Minister, a sort, uninspiring man with a high-pitched voice, obsession with spiritualism and contacting the shade of his dead mother, an ability to rule by consensus, and tightness with the Canadian dollar. As part of his budget cuts, King reduces army pay by 50 cents per day.

Canada’s Army Permanent Force consists of 3,611 men and 756 horses, and its men will earn $1.20 per day under the cuts (soldiers with six years service earn $1.50 plus uniforms, room, and board). Faced with these reductions, soldiers are given the option: stay in with the cuts or quit the Army. In some outfits, 90 percent of the men below the rank of corporal leave the forces.

Officers, including the newly-commissioned Harry Foster, do little better. Foster, fresh out of the Royal Military College, gets assigned to one of the nation’s oldest regiments, Lord Strathcona’s Horse. Technically, it’s not even a Canadian outfit – it was created in 1900 by Lord Strathcona, who paid to raise, equip, and send a mounted unit from Western Canada to fight in the Boer War, so it was founded as a British army regiment recruited in Canada and paid for by a very generous Canadian citizen.

But in 1924 it is a Canadian Army unit, whose honors include two Victoria Crosses, 15 Distinguished Service Orders, and 21 Military Crosses, earned in Flanders. On July 2, 1924, Foster joins the regiment at its B Squadron base on the Sarcee Plain outside Calgary. The city itself is a clapboard Prairie town of fake storefronts, Chinese laundries, dusty unpaved streets that turn to glue in the rain, home to 66,000 people.

Foster goes there by train and finds the journey "Hour after hour of flat pancake yellow land with afternoon temperatures close to a hundred under the blazing sun." When he reaches Calgary, he phones the ADC to ask about transport and is told, "Ah, yes, Foster. You’re the RMC chappie, aren’t you. Well we don’t provide transport. If both your legs are functioning I suggest you try using them." Instead he hails a taxicab for his large kitbag and tin trunk.

The regiment is based in an armory, its horses in a barracks a mile away hard by the city dump, a row of tumbledown sheds roofed with rusty tin. Foster’s new CO, Lt. Col. Lionel Page, DSO and two bars, tells Foster that "Those RMC instructors from the Horse Artillery turn out riders that look like clothespegs instead of cavalrymen. Can’t have that. Cock Roberts will straighten you out."

Next day, Foster reports to Sergeant-Major "Cock" Roberts, MC, a Great War captain who has accepted a bust down to sergeant-major to stay in uniform. Roberts is a sample of a typical military specimen, the harsh NCO assigned to properly train his boss. He greets Foster by saying, "As far as I’m concerned, you’re just another dumb farm recruit who’ll ride his horse like a jackass until he’s properly trained by me, sir!"

Like most young officers, Foster’s early days with the regiment are spent in considerable discomfort, caring for his horse with curry comb, saddle soap, and harness oil, then training himself and the horse to function under battle conditions.

He also spends considerable time in debt: the army only pays for saddle, harness, and stabling. He has to pay for his own mount, and Target, an enormous black stallion, costs Foster $50, nearly a month’s pay. So do the incredible costs officers must pay in the inter-war British Commonwealth and American armies, for mess, uniforms, and tailoring. A Canadian Army directive reads, "It is preferable that subalterns should have some form of private means upon which to draw as supplement to their army pay." Most do. Those who don’t struggle to marry money, which only adds to expenses, as married officers are soon expected to entertain, if only to impress their superiors. American officers live in genteel poverty, renting Purdey shotguns for hunting and silver service sets from department stores for dinners – the stores soon stop doing so when the sets come back scratched and damaged.

Worse, despite the regiment’s achievements in France, Lord Strathcona’s Horse and its men are hardly the heroes of Calgary. Residents regard them as being too stupid or lazy to find work in the "real" world. After all, while cavalrymen only spend three hours in the saddle every day, local cowboys are on horse 12 hours a day, maneuvering cattle, and not wearing toy-soldier uniforms.

Foster, however, has little time to entertain, as he has to work to impress "Cock" Roberts, who snarls for weeks: "Bend that back! Not that way! You look like a bullfrog trying to hump a bass drum, sir!" As long as Roberts finishes every sentence with the word "Sir," neither Foster nor any other officer in the British Empire can accuse the sergeant-major of insolence.

In September, after two hours of hard riding under Roberts’ roaring, Foster rides back to the stables, and Roberts strolls over. Foster stiffens, awaiting another rebuke. Instead, Roberts salutes and smiles. Foster returns the salute, dumbfounded. Roberts says, "You’ll do, Lieutenant. Glad to have you with the regiment." It’s the first time Roberts has called Foster something other than "sir," and Foster realizes he’s made it.

Chapter 10 - Continue


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