Tag Archives: Wartime Exhibitions

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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