Ten years ago
an item was for sale online, said to be an etching made in 1910 of Lenin and
Hitler playing chess together in a room. What worried me was the etching. This
is skilled, expensive, and takes time and trouble. Anyone recording this event
would have been more likely to make a quick sketch of one sort or another.
must have been many more interesting people in Vienna playing chess or talking
together at the time. Hitler was an unsuccessful artist, just turned 20, and
going nowhere. Lenin was just another middle aged political thinker and
activist on the run from Tsarist Russia, ageing and seemingly with no real
The other tale
about the travels of Adolf that had attention in the past is the one about his
supposed visit to Liverpool between November 1912 and April 1913. Based on a
suspect memoir by his sister-in-law, Bridget (born Dowling) known as Cissie,
whose husband Alois Hitler; half brother of The Fuhrer, was working as a waiter
in Liverpool at the time.
In the 1911
Census they are listed as Anton and Cissie, with their new born child William.
The idea of a visit by Adolf became the plot of an imaginative and readable
novel by Beryl Bainbridge that was turned into a TV drama. As ever the myth
overtook the truth.
research in Vienna suggests that such a visit was never made, and that Bridget
was making up an Irish whimsy later in life to help sell the copies of her life
story. It is a great pity, at that time both my parents and their hordes of
families were roaming the streets in which Alois and Bridget Hitler lived and
the local RC Church was Our Lady's of Mount Carmel whose Elementary School
headmaster was a grand uncle I once met. He had been a major figure in
Liverpool's football circles and one of the founders of the Liverpool team.
I could have
come up with all sorts of wild fantasies. A much better prospect for men who
might have met and talked is a pairing that many would feel very unlikely. It
is Lenin and Hook, one of the 13 men who won the Victoria Cross at Rorke’s
Drift in 1879 when just over 100 men held off and defeated a Zulu Impi with a
force of up to 4,500. They were certainly in the same place at the same time
and for a year, and with interests in common.
In April 1902
Lenin, born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, was in London under the name of Jacob Richter,
to avoid the attentions of the Paris agents of the Okhrana, the Tsarist Secret
Police of Imperial Russia, and he stayed until May 1903. At the British Museum
he was issued with ticket number A72453 to give him access to the Library with
its vast resources of books, and he spent a great deal of time there
researching and writing.
speculation is where he preferred to sit, perhaps seats G7, H9, R7, R8, but the
favourite is L13 because of its nearness to the reference shelves. Of the many
attendants around, one would have stood out.
Hook, who had dropped the Alfred early in life, known as Harry, was by then
around 50, and perhaps already affected by the TB that was to end his life in
1905. He had been employed there since the 1880’s.
his VC in 1879, and with permanent injuries he had bought out, and in 1881 was
working as a groom to a General Practitioner in Monmouth named George Willis.
Not long after he was employed at the British Museum as an attendant, and
signed up additionally with the Royal Fusiliers, The London Regiment, 1st
Volunteer Battalion as an instructor, rising to be Sergeant. The Volunteers
were the predecessors of the Territorial Army, and often functioned as feeder
units to the regular Army.
reasons for Lenin to check Hook out. One was that as a figure of authority he
was more likely than most to be asked his opinion about this “Mr. Richter” if
the Special Branch had been alerted by the Okhrana and were seeking
would have been to test the possibility. Intellectually, however, would anyone
with such an searching mind and intelligence of Lenin, miss the opportunity to
have an occasional conversation with a man of this experience?
It would not
have been difficult, because Hook was temperance, and as busy men both may well
have used one of the cheap tea rooms in the vicinity before going on to
meetings, as Lenin would, or the Drill
Hall, as Hook would. Even fifty years later, it was surprising who you could
just bump into when going into a Bloomsbury tearoom for a quick cuppa and a
foreigner with little income, but with a trained legal mind, high academic
qualifications, and a great breadth of knowledge, asking plain reasonable
questions to an older man to help him towards an understanding of this or that
in the news in Britain. The end of the war in South Africa, a new Prime
Minister, the crowning of the new King, the British in Somaliland and West
Africa, the troubles of agriculture in the Atlantic Isles and more.
Hook was a
countryman by birth, one of the many who joined the Army for employment and
training. As for Empire, Hook had experienced the full reality of it at the end
of his bayonet, and had been involved with many men since who had seen its
further shores. He would have been able to make informed and incisive comments
about the South African War of 1899-1902 and the business in Nigeria.
speculation, and no more, but what might Lenin have learned from Hook? Lenin at
the time was interested in agrarian issues, colonialism, political structures,
and the extent of financial interests. In military terms, it would have been
organisation, discipline, tactics, the ability of a small well trained group
with the motivation and leadership to withstand and overcome what was in theory
a vastly superior force.
In 1914 the
Old Contemptibles, the small regular
British army, stopped the might of the German Kaiser’s Imperial Army by its
rifle skills, discipline, and bayonets. To understand Hook you need to forget
the film “Zulu” and totally clear it from your mind. It is “Hollywood History”,
not as bad or idiotic as most, but certainly with many adjustments to the facts
and in particular the portrayal of personalities.
Hook of the
film is a travesty, as are other characters, notably Dalton, but to a lesser
extent Chard and Bromhead, both highly professional soldiers who at the end of
the battle shared a bottle of beer found in a burned out wagon. Hook was a
sober, capable man, probably with a West Country accent, literate and able to
communicate well enough.
He would have been a good man to talk to. I believe he
always remained a country man, because he returned to his home village,
Churcham in Gloucestershire, to die. There is no statue to him anywhere; he has
only a simple grave in a country churchyard.
If Lenin and
Hook did meet and talk a time or two, it might have been this quality and a
direct sense of purpose that may have impressed Lenin most of all.