Halifax
A play in two acts

 A play in two acts                                                                                                                                   Public domain / manipulated by Michael Simms


26-28 May 1940, London, UK: Would Lord Halifax really have given in to Hitler?

SATURDAY 3rd MAY 1940, GARROWBY HILL, NORTH RIDING OF YORKSHIRE. HALIFAX'S DEPUTY HAS RUSHED UP FROM LONDON TO SEE HALIFAX . ALARM BELLS ARE RINGING IN LONDON.

RAB

How can we possibly be at war with that tranquil vista down there?

HALIFAX

It does seem impossible, Rab. The Vale of York in all its glory! A true fragment of the undying England. Its sights, its sounds and its smells are ingrained in me. Nearly every field and hedge conjures up some half-forgotten association. The warming stirrup cup on a frozen winter morning. The excitement on seeing a fox break covert. Passing the time of day with bodgers[1], sheep-shearers and carders; hedge-layers and dry wallers; basket weavers – whose trades remain unchanged for centuries. Look down there at the red roofs of Bishop Wilton and the hamlets nearby, gathered around an old Norman church, where men and women have knelt in prayer for centuries. And in the distance you can see the faint pencil line of the Pennines. It is unthinkable that the Prussian jackboot could ever trample over the English countryside. The very thought of it is an outrage.

RAB

Hopefully, our economic blockade will strangle the German economy before this war explodes into something more serious. Another total war could lead to the end of British society as we know it.[2]

HALIFAX

Yes, Rab. Even the unpalatable prospect of a Britain permanently transformed by socialism. But we cannot forget that Hitlerism is an active force of evil, Rab, which, unless we fight it, will turn civilisation to a desert of the soul. It must be defeated and the subjugated peoples of Europe must regain their freedom.

RAB

As long as we don’t destroy civilisation in the process.

HALIFAX

In 1916 our Commander cheerfully promised that we would be the first territorial cavalry corps to charge through the gap at Bapaume. Instead I saw appalling human destruction wrought by modern weapons. Horses writhing in agony from shell fire. Horses swimming in mud. Horses clattering, slipping and sliding on cobblestones in torrential rain. I read farriers’ reports smudged with mud to the drumming of hailstones on the tin roof of my hut.[3] (Looks into the distance, seemingly unaware of RAB’s presence.) And man and nature were locked in a dance of death. Man was killing nature by shell-fire and nature was killing man by mud, water and slime.[4] (Suddenly returning to the present.) Yes, we must try to resolve the present conflict as quickly as possible. (Sees that RAB is deep in thought.) I’m sorry, Rab: you didn’t come all the way to the East Riding of Yorkshire for the weekend to hear my reminiscences about the Western Front.

RAB

No, please don’t apologize, Edward. It’s all been very instructive. I always learn a lot from you …

On Friday Alec Dunglass, Neville’s PPS, came to see me. He’s very well-connected. Very shrewd. He keeps his ear to the ground. Anyway, he says Labour will demand a vote of confidence after the debate. Now, the thing is, according to Alec there are enough potential rebels to make Neville’s position untenable. And that’s what persuaded me to come up to see you this weekend, Edward.

HALIFAX

Tell me what’s on your mind, Rab.

RAB

Alec and I believe that you must take over if Neville goes.



[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodging

[2] Scott Newton, the author of Profits of Peace: The Political Economy of Anglo-German Appeasement (1997) has argued that Lord Halifax was a member of a group of peers who feared that total war would mean a socialist Britain and a disastrous conflict in Europe from which only the USSR would gain. 

[3] Based on ‘Halifax’ (Birkenhead) p.106

[4] Inspired by http://modernconflictarchaeology.com/my-academic-work/ma/muddy-hell-the-realities-of-the-western-fro...