Thursday 25 April 2013

Murder Will Out

One of the joys of the web is that it is possible to pick up on something and then go on the chase using a wide variety of sources.  You can do some things in minutes that once might have taken days, if not weeks and involve traipsing and tracking round libraries to find the information.

Last night rather than the football on vision with music on sound there was time to look at the Channel 4 documentary on King Edward VIII in the period before he met Wallis Simpson and especially his liaison with the major Parisian courtesan, Marquerite Meller; purely out of historical interest, of course.

She, also called Maggie, was a Triple A Plus gold digger who enticed some of the richest and best connected men around at the time.  When, aged 22, Edward was introduced to her he was smitten.  She became his mistress and showed him the way around Paris, if you know what I mean.

The programme concerned itself with, let us say, the basics.  But what struck me was the date when the affaire began.  It was April 1917.  As it happens I know exactly what my grandfather was doing in France at the time.  While Edward was wining, dining and squiring her around town there was a major battle going on that was crucial to the British strategy on the Western Front. 

It was the British storming of the Hindenburg Line outside Arras, see Wikipedia “Battle of Arras 1917”.  It was one of the many major battles now dwarfed by other bigger ones in the histories but it was a long, bloody and horrific business with very many casualties.   It lasted from 9 April to 16 May.  In his then battalion, the 13th Kings Liverpool, my grandfather was one of the fifty left standing.

When Edward returned from his leave he was writing long letters to her and others whinging about the “bloody war” and sniping at others in his family and around him.  But he was supposed to be a staff officer.  Admittedly, it seems that he was used much more as a public relations and media celebrity to be trotted out now and again but why wasn’t he doing any real work?

It was understandable that he was kept out of harms way, perhaps against his own wishes.  But there was still a great deal of hard relentless work to be done.  It was the junior staff officers who carried the brunt of the immense amount to be done in managing the movements of troops and supplies.  Was it that he was disinclined to do it or that he could not be trusted to do a decent job? 

His whole record does suggest that when it came to the basic grind of any task he was neither interested nor up to it or to taking responsibility.  When he became King in 1936 he simply took off to the French Riviera for the summer regardless of all the business to be done.

Eventually, after the War, Edward and Maggie drifted apart, she married a rich Prince who was not quite a Prince and during a stay at the Savoy Hotel in 1923 murdered him but managed to get off at the trial.  The TV programme takes the line that because of Edward’s letters, her blackmail and the huge problems it might cause the trial was “fixed”.

By the 1930’s when Wallis Simpson had turned up and taken Edward over he was taking a good deal of trouble to stay out of the limelight.  His Private Secretary, Lord Brownlow had his seat at Belton Hall just north of Grantham, close to good hunting country but otherwise out of the way.  Edward and Wallis were often there together.

As well as being a courtier, Brownlow was also a country squire and important in the County.  In 1934 to 1935 at the height of the relationship between Edward and Wallis he was Mayor of Grantham.  It is likely his appearances were restricted to the formal occasions and he was not involved in town politics.

Quite what he did and when might only be quarried from the archives of the borough.  It may not be very much because I cannot see him chairing committees or attending many council meetings.  He may have been an Alderman, if only for honorary reasons.

Another Alderman of Grantham, and later Mayor himself in 1945 to 1946 was Alfred Roberts, shopkeeper and “Independent”.  He had two daughters, one a nice girl called Muriel and later another with a bit of a temper, called Margaret.  Her married name was Thatcher and we now recall her from the distant past as Prime Minister.

When King Edward VIII abdicated in December 1936 to keep up with Wallis and dumping the job on his younger brother who deserved better than that one effect was that at court there was a brutal clear out of all those who had been close to Edward. 

Brownlow read in the Court Circular that he had lost his job.  When telephoning to suggest that there might have been a mistake he was told he had resigned.  He did not recall writing any letter to that effect but took the heavy hint.  It was almost as if an Iron Curtain, to borrow a phrase, had come down between the Georgians and the Edwardians.

So when in 1979, Her Majesty received Margaret Thatcher to give her the seals of office as Prime Minister and the Golden Girl of Grantham, it was almost as though a ghost of the past had come back to haunt the monarchy to remind it of unsuitable marriages of the past. 

In the meantime the National Trust, who had taken over Belton House were doing their best to airbrush history.  One thing was the outbuildings many of which had the initials and names of First War soldiers etched into the walls.  They were sanded over and almost fully erased.

In the house itself it has become almost a shrine to Edward and Wallis.  Its First World War history is not mentioned apart from a passing reference to the Machine Gun Corps, there in 1917 and 1918.  There is not a trace of any or anything of the men of the King’s Liverpool Regiment, there from 1914 to 1916 in training.

Marguerite Meller lived to a good age and died rich on the fortune she had acquired.

A lesson for our times?

1 comment:

  1. My late father mentioned Edward being on a ship he served on between the wars - he did not appear to have much appreciation of his general attitudes. Dad revered his successor and his daughter. There should be something more fitting at Belton - WW1 was so very tragic. So many young men - my uncle among them, only 17. So many young women who went through life without husbands as there were too few left. I knew three.