Tuesday 1 May 2012

Just A Flight Of Fancy

Sometimes odd connections turn up in history which are meaningless but can be intriguing.  One, stumbled on today, began as a search for a house in Liverpool in the early years of the 20th Century.

The Spitfire fighter plane is one of the iconic symbols of World War II and amongst those who know little or nothing about that war if anything occurs to them it might be that airplane.  In the air war against Adolf Hitler and Germany it played an important part.

The Spitfire was developed by the Supermarine company in the 1930’s with the leading designer being R.J. Mitchell.  It owed much to the work done on the Supermarine entries in the Schneider Trophy air races for seaplanes.  The trophy was won outright by Supermarine in 1931, having also won in 1919 and 1927.

This nearly did not happen because in 1931 during severe government cuts in spending the support for the Supermarine entry and co-operation was withdrawn by the National Government under Ramsay MacDonald.  There was a fine old political row and a major press campaign against the decision.

At the heart of it was Lady Lucy Houston who donated £100,000 of her own money to allow Supermarine to enter and host the race and led the attack on Government short sightedness and meanness of spirit.  That she was somewhat Right Wing and hated MacDonald added spice to the business.

Lady Lucy Houston, see Wikipedia, was quite a girl in her way.  She had done well by her talents, not least marrying Sir Robert Paterson Houston in 1924, also in Wikipedia, she a double divorcee with added income from a previous arrangement and he a bachelor ship owner and Member of Parliament.

The upshot of the marriage and his demise in 1926 was that she picked up £5 million plus on the proceeds of probate, the product of his years of business and effort and so could afford the odd £100,000 for national prestige. 

He was said to be a “hard, ruthless, unpleasant bachelor” echoing John Maynard Keynes comment on the House of Commons in 1919 consisting of “a lot of hard faced men who have done rather well out of the war”.  Houston from 1892 to 1924 had been the Member for the constituency of West Toxteth in Liverpool

In the 1911 Census one name that appears in Toxteth is that of Alois Hitler, albeit listed as Anton, the elder half brother of Adolf Hitler, who would not have had the vote.  He left Liverpool in May 1914 to return to Austria and had a chequered history before running a restaurant in Berlin popular with Nazi Stormtroopers.

His son, William Patrick Hitler, who moved to America in 1934, served with the US Navy and after the war changed his surname to Stewart-Houston.

The world turns.

1 comment:

  1. Beryl Bainbridge wrote a novel (Young Adolf), also a flight of fancy based on the possibility that Adolf visited Alois for a while in Toxteth.