Category Archives: Second World War

The Home Front

In a previous blog entry I looked at those amongst Mitrinović’s friends who joined the armed services. However, not everyone was of an age, or was suitable, for active service. They nevertheless made their own contributions to the war effort.

Mitrinović himself found some interesting ways to contribute. Even before war broke out, this man who worked so hard for peace in Yugoslavia, Europe and globally, came to believe that the only way to defeat Hitler was by force. He foresaw the need for an “Atlantic Alliance” with America in the 1930s, making his case in lectures and articles.  Once Yugoslavia was thrust fully into the war with the brutal 1941 attack on Belgrade, Mitrinović offered his help to the British authorities as an expert on the region. He wrote to the then Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, offering his services in an advisory capacity. Eden accepted his offer of a memorandum on Yugoslavia.

NAF 1-8-2-20 Letter from Eden's Secretary, [1941]

Mitrinović put his art collection at the service of the cause, loaning a number of artworks to a very grateful British Council, which was staging a touring exhibition of Yugoslavian art to bolster feelings of solidarity and support amongst the British public.

NAF 1-8-2-28 Letter from Allied Art Exhibition, British Council, 1942

Mitrinović also provided a detailed critique to Churchill and others of a BBC broadcast, “Salute to Yugoslavia”, in 1941. And, whilst ill health and the difficulties of hiring space and getting audiences for lectures and discussions meant he was less publicly active, Mitrinović kept the New Europe Group going. The Group published pamphlets and managed to stage some lectures despite difficulties.

NAF 3-3-1-16-12 Letter from WGF to P.T.R. Kirk 1941

Keeping New Europe going wasn’t down to Mitrinović alone. Harry Rutherford, Niall MacDermot, David Shillan and Ralph Twentyman all remained or returned to Britain in the war years, and formed a constant core for the N.E.G. They then built on this foundation to continue its work on until 1955. The women in the group, particularly Ellen Mayne, Winifred Gordon Fraser and Valerie Cooper, were vital during this period. They embarked on a great project to gather up records of lectures, discussions, and teaching sessions held from around 1925 onwards. Fraser took on the mission of sorting and typing out fair copies of these records. We might speculate that faced with Mitrinović’s own failing health, and of war time destruction on a huge scale, the women of the group in particular felt compelled to ensure the survival of Mitrinović’s ideas. In so doing they could also re-visit their teacher’s ideas and prepare the ground for a “new order” in the post-war world. Similar work would be undertaken by Fraser’s successors in the 1960s, 1970s and finally 1990s, when word processed copies were produced (often with an eye to publication).

Researchers using the Archive today have reason to be extremely grateful for all of this activity, as it not only ensured the preservation of original records, but often transferred those records to more usable, legible forms. The practical difficulties of carrying on with the usual public lectures, discussion groups and publications in wartime created a focus on the records of previous activities, helping to establish a pattern of caring for the Archive that ultimately led the New Atlantis Foundation to donate their collection to the University of Bradford.

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Joining Up: The New Europe Group and the Second World War

NAF 5-4-5 Photo from Ellen Mayne & Group c1943

Because of his involvement in the Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia) movement and friendship with the notorious Gavrilo Princip, there has been an understandable focus on Dimitrije Mitrinović’s activities during the First World War amongst historians. Even here in the Archive we’ve tended to focus on his dramatic escape from Germany in August 1914, and his bold attempts to establish himself as a journalist and teacher in his adopted British home. In the inter-war years, Mitrinović positioned himself at the heart of a large network of psychologists, artists, writers and intellectuals. In the space of a few years he founded the Adler Society, Chandos Group, New Europe Group, New Britain Movement, Eleventh Hour Flying Clubs and House of Industry League. As might be expected,  those organisations that were still operational when war broke out in 1939 were all severely affected. The only organisation that emerged intact in the 1940s was the New Europe Group, though it too suffered losses.

Some group members joined the armed forces, breaking up Mitrinović’s “Senate of Youth” organisation. Orion Playfair became an RAF pilot and died in an air crash in 1941. A great favourite with Mitrinović, he was mourned by the New Europe Group.

NAF 3-2-2-10 Photos of John Harker, WWII, Reading

John Harker became a somewhat reluctant army surveyor, serving in East Africa. His letters grumble about “militaristic nonsense” and document his efforts to maintain an intellectual life in difficult circumstances. His great comforts when far from home were the novels of Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope. Harker was curious about Africa, recording his observations about the people, languages and wildlife he encountered. Harker’s story reminds us of just how truly global the war was. He was killed in 1944 when his transport ship was torpedoed off the coast of Madagascar.

NAF 5-4-5 Photo of Ellen Mayne, May 1944

Others in the Group were more fortunate, including one of the women in the group who had also ‘joined up’. Ellen Mayne joined the Women’s Transport Service (F.A.N.Y.) in 1939. Her experiences there are recorded in a charming series of photographs, notes and printed ephemera which seem to convey a sense of genuine camaraderie amongst the women involved.

NAF 5-4-5 Photo of Ellen Mayne, Army Service, WWII

Not all members of Mitrinović’s circle were of an age or inclination to join the Services. However they were far from inactive during the war and a future blog post will explore their experiences on the Home Front.

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Robert Dell, Our Man in Geneva

Here in Special Collections we are always telling students that the power of archives comes from the fact that they were generally not produced with any consideration for how they would be seen in the future. Rather, they were working records produced at a given moment in history for contemporary purposes. I came across a letter recently that reminded me of the truth of that.

NAF 3-3-1-20-18 Letter from Dell, SignatureRobert Dell wrote to Winifred Gordon Fraser in 1935 from Geneva discussing Nazi Germany and the difficulties facing German refugees. The letter is a prime example of how archival sources put us back in the shoes of those living through the historical events we study, and how they can put a human face on world affairs.

Dell was a journalist, then working as a Foreign Correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, but intriguingly his career had already included co-editing The Burlington Magazine and being an art dealer in Paris. He was involved in Dimitrije Mitrinović’s New Europe Group, and even for a time served as its President. Dell had written a book on Nazi Germany, Germany unmasked: on Germany under the National-Socialist regime (Martin Hopkinson, London, 1934).

NAF 3-3-1-20-18 Letter from Dell, p.1, Excerpt re European Situation

From this letter alone, it is clear that Dell understood the real threat that Hitler posed – unlike many in Britain at the time. He talks of German negotiators effectively stalling for time. Dell also writes about his frustration with the British authorities, particularly when it came to immigration. He complains that it is far easier for members of Nazi Party to come to Britain than German refugees, even when those refugees might be demonstrably capable of supporting themselves once in the UK. Dell himself was doing his best to help one Mrs. Brandt, and part of his reason for writing to Gordon Fraser (and Mitrinović) was to try and obtain some work – even unpaid – with the New Europe Group to bolster her case.

NAF 3-3-1-20-18 Letter from Dell, excerpt re RefugeesI do not know whether or not Mrs. Brandt was successful in her bid to come to England, nor whether or not Winifred Gordon Fraser and the New Europe Group were able to help her. In Robert Dell, however, she at least had an articulate and well-connected advocate. Thanks to his letter, we have an interesting report on what it was like to observe the failure to create a lasting peace in the 1930s at close hand, and a terrible sense of the consequences for people like Mrs. Brandt.

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