Monthly Archives: May 2015

Edward VIII and the Nazis – Background to a Novel

Edward VIII and the Nazis – Background to a Novel
It is at first sight the very stuff of romance: the King who gave up his throne for the woman he loved. Growing up in England in the 1960s it was still a tale on the lips of the older generation, the Abdication of Edward VIII in December 1936, so that he might marry the American socialite Mrs Wallis Simpson. Had it not happened we may never have had Edward’s brother King George VI on the English throne during World War Two, or the present Queen reigning to this day.

In my youth there was still a feeling of distaste amongst older people that a popular monarch had been forced from the throne by a po-faced Establishment. Although a lot of the people detested Mrs Simpson, they were equally uneasy about the role played by other members of the royal family. I suspect I could have asked at random a number of people who were alive at the time and there would still be a feeling of betrayal. The affair with Mrs Simpson was kept from the British people until the last moment. Although it was widely reported in the American press, the British press barons made a “gentlemen’s agreement” with Buckingham Palace to keep the intrigue under wraps in Britain.

That was the story as I heard it as a child. But it is a mere percentage of the whole truth. Only in recent years has more of the background to the Abdication come out. And a lot more about the character of King Edward VIII, who became the Duke of Windsor after his abdication.

I have recently published an historical thriller, Balmoral Kill, which is set several months after the Abdication. In my book my characters have to deal with the very real crisis that overhung Britain in the period between the Abdication and the outbreak of World War Two in 1939.

The idea for the novel occurred to me several years ago when I saw a television interview with an elderly gentleman who had served as a British army officer in the events leading up to the fall of France in 1940, and the evacuation of the British army from Dunkirk. After arriving safely in England he had been billeted with an aristocratic family in southern England during the period of the Battle of Britain. He had said in the interview that he had been quite shocked when he found out that a number of landowning families thought that Britain should surrender to Hitler so that they might preserve their landholdings.

I was aware, of course, that there was a great deal of sympathy for Hitler in the British Establishment during the 1930s. This was in many cases quite overt. Even mainstream British newspapers such as the Daily Mail regularly heaped paeans of praise on the Third Reich, and published membership forms for Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists so that their readers might have the opportunity to join.

There was also a strong pacifist belief. Britain was still shocked by the slaughter in the trenches of the First World War. Many people thought that almost any accommodation with Nazi Germany was well worthwhile if it prevented another war. These individuals genuinely believed that Hitler would not interfere with Britain and its Empire if he was left alone. So deep was the fear of war that many chose to turn a blind eye to what Hitler as doing in Europe.

And while the majority of the British people were wise enough to have no truck with fascism and Hitlerism, there were elements of the British Establishment who thought that Hitler should be either appeased – the majority – or embraced – a very substantial minority. Indeed, appeasement was the policy of the British government, firstly under Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and then his successor Neville Chamberlain. Well-meaning politicians both who simply couldn’t accept that anyone could be as evil and devious as Hitler. Former Prime Minister David Lloyd George visited Hitler in 1936 and was full of praise, considering him the “George Washington of Germany”. Newspaper barons Lord Northcliffe and Lord Rothermere, who were to be instrumental in hushing up King Edward’s affair with Wallis Simpson, were lavishly entertained by Hitler and subsequently praised him in their newspapers.

Even as late as May 1940, the British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, an arch appeaser himself, said that he had been “deluged with letters from a number of the nation’s greatest aristocrats imploring him to propose a policy of surrender and appeasement to Hitler, so that they might keep their great estates.” At the time King George VI favoured Halifax as Prime Minister instead of Churchill.

As a writer, I was interested in just how far people would go to keep Britain out of the war or to try and bring Nazism to Britain. I was fascinated with the notion that Winston Churchill, grandson of a duke, and a fully paid-up member of the British Establishment, was prepared to jeopardise his own political career to put forward a contrary point of view. To warn the British people of the dangers of Hitler right from the beginning. For much of the 1930s Churchill was a voice crying in the wilderness, unheeded and even laughed at. But history was to prove that his minority voice was wiser that of the cacophonous roaring of the appeasers and fellow-travellers of the Nazi regime. Researching further, I was surprised to find just how deep the roots of Nazism went into the very depths of the British Establishment.

Edward and the Nazis

Edward VIII, or the duke of Windsor as he became after the Abdication, does not actually appear at all in my novel Balmoral Kill, though his shadow drifts across, and is the motivation for, much of the plot. His brother and successor George VI does make a brief appearance.

The British royal family had had an uncomfortable twentieth century in many ways. In World War One, following air raids on London, they had been obliged to change their surname from the Germanic Saxe-Coburg -Gotha to Windsor, at a time when shops and businesses with German names were being attacked by mobs in the street. For two hundred years, from the accession of King George I, the family had been essentially German, considering German their first language over English. World War One had brought along the embarrassment of finding their country at war with King George V’s cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II. As the 1930s progressed a number of their other German cousins were very obviously embracing the policies of Hitler’s Third Reich, at least one of their relatives even being an officer in Heinrich Himmler’s dreaded SS.

Given the British government’s policy of appeasing Hitler in the 1930s this didn’t actually present a problem to the royal family. Before the outbreak of World War Two, Nazism was a subject open for discussion – as far as the royal family were concerned. Edward VIII’s brother, the duke of Kent, made many visits to Germany and professed a fascination for all things Nazi. His Nazi relative in Germany, Prince Ludwig von Hessen-Damstadt noted “Duke of Kent. Very German friendly. Clearly against France. Not especially clever, but well informed. Entirely for strengthening German-English ties. His wife is equally anti-French.” (The duke of Kent’s opinion changed when Hitler started dropping bombs on London in 1940.)

All through the 1930s Edward VIII, both as Prince of Wales and King, entertained many Nazis on their visits to Britain, including von Mecklenburg – a notorious member of the SS – in 1933. Edward took great pains to excise any mention of the visit from the official Court Circular. He was on friendly terms with Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Nazi ambassador to London. Wallis Simpson may well have been on even friendlier terms with Ribbentrop. The talk of London was that she was having a sexual relationship with the ambassador at the same time that she was courting King Edward. Ribbentrop sent her seventeen red roses every morning during their time together in the British capital.

Edward hated the very concept of democratic monarchy. He wanted to be a king who ruled as well as reigned. He spoke on many occasions as to his regret that Britain and its people couldn’t be “controlled” by one ruler in the way that Hitler led Nazi Germany. Even in the pro-appeasement British Establishment the alarm bells were beginning to ring.

In December 1936, King Edward VIII, who had reigned for less than a year, abdicated, when the Church of England made it quite clear that no British king could marry a divorcee. It was sold in the newspapers that were sympathetic to him as a touching and very moving love story, the very essence of tragic romance. How far the church and other elements of the establishment were pressured to jettison a king who had become a political liability, using his romance as an excuse, is still open to debate.

But there were elements in British Intelligence, already contemplating the need to fight Hitler, who were thrilled to bits. His successor, his brother Albert, became King George VI. As it happened the new king also favoured a rapprochement with Germany, though not to the pro-Hitler extent that Edward had favoured. But, as far as British Intelligence was concerned, the removal of a solidly pro-Nazi king like Edward was a step in the right direction.

Winston Churchill despaired of Edward, or the duke of Windsor, as I shall call him from now on. He had loathed the very idea of the Abdication and was personally fond of the duke. There is little doubt that he thought that the duke should have kept the throne and, initially, viewed his extreme politics and sympathy with the Third Reich as a fad that he might grow out of. In the years that followed he changed his mind.

In 1937, the duke and duchess of Windsor made a visit to Germany that acquired considerable notoriety. To Churchill’s dismay they sailed to the country on the German liner Bremen, giving the Nazis a propaganda coup. During their time in Germany the pair visited a Nazi training school, inspected the already murderous SS and had tea with Hermann Goering. A few days later they dined with Hitler’s propaganda chief Dr Josef Goebbels. On 22 October 1937, the duke and duchess had a private and reportedly very friendly meeting with Adolf Hitler. On several occasions during the tour, the duke was to be seen making the infamous Nazi salute.

The duke and duchess settled to live in France and stayed there after the outbreak of World War Two. As a serving British army officer, the duke carried out inspections of France’s defensive Maginot Line. The suggestion has been made (see Martin Allen’s book Hidden Agenda) that he sent classified information about France’s defences to the Nazis, care of his friend Charles Bedaux, an American businessman who was spying for Hitler. The truth regarding this alleged treachery may never be known. Bedaux committed suicide in 1944 after being arrested by the FBI.

The Windsors were hastily moved to Lisbon when France fell to the Nazis in 1940. But even in neutral Portugal, the duke of Windsor was thought to be in contact with well-known Nazi officials and the Abwehr, German military intelligence. In despair, the British government decided to ship the couple off to the haven of the Bahamas, a British colony where they could be kept from German influence. At first the duke refused to go. A despairing Churchill reminded the duke that he was a serving British officer and that he would be court martialled if he refused to obey this direct order.

It was around this time that J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, on the direct order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, ordered surveillance on the couple, noting that the duchess in particular, still an American citizen, “was exceedingly pro-German in her sympathies and connections.” FBI files noted a great many links between the couple and the Nazis.

My own researches suggest that there is little doubt that the Third Reich favoured the return of the duke of Windsor to the British throne, almost from the time of the Abdication and his visit to Hitler in 1937. The duke of Windsor himself almost certainly considered such a possibility. How far he would have gone, if the circumstances had allowed it, is debatable. I doubt, for instance, that he would have tolerated the assassination of his brother and successor George VI, though had anything removed King George from the throne in any other way, there is a possibility that he might have returned either as king or regent.

I based the plot of Balmoral Kill, and I must stress that my book is an historical thriller and not a history volume, on the possibility that certain elements of the British Establishment contemplated such a scenario. Although in reality matters never went as far as I have imagined in my pages, there is little doubt that the idea behind it was given much serious consideration amid less patriotic elements of the British elite. It was only after doing further research into the period after I had finished writing that I realised how close I had got to some sort of truth.

Joachim von Ribbentrop certainly proposed that the duke of Windsor should become a puppet king if Britain fell to invasion in 1940, and King George VI and his family fled to Canada. Buckingham Palace was bombed no fewer than nine times during the London blitz. At the Nuremburg Trials, Ribbentrop said that he had personally offered the duke 50 million Swiss francs if he would make a claim on the British throne. The duke of Windsor denied that any such sum had been offered.


King George VI, overcame his shyness and his stammer and became a considerable figurehead for British resistance during World War Two. On his premature death in 1952 his daughter Princess Elizabeth became the present Queen. The duke and duchess of Windsor lived quietly in Paris, the duke dying in 1972 and the duchess in 1986. Their connections with Hitler’s Germany were skated over in their respective memoirs.

But at the end of the war, a military intelligence officer, Anthony Blunt, later Sir Anthony Blunt, subsequently Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, was sent to Germany by officials at Buckingham Palace with the task of seeking out and removing from the Nazi archives any documents that might incriminate members of the royal family. Any papers he found were probably secreted in the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle. Many years later, Blunt was discovered to be a spy for Soviet Russia. His only real punishment for treachery was the removal of his knighthood. The British public were amazed at this mild treatment of a traitor. Suggestions were made at the time, and have been since, that he was protected because he knew too much.
If we are ever to know the absolute truth about the relationship between the duke and duchess of Windsor and the Nazis, then the relevant files are probably in the archives of the United States. As late as 1953, Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister for the second time, asked President Dwight D. Eisenhower to suppress any FBI documents that might suggest that the duke and duchess of Windsor were sympathetic – or even worse complicit – in the activities of the Nazi regime.

Sometimes when you write a work of fiction based on real events, you find that the events themselves are more astonishing that anything that could possibly be imagined.

John Bainbridge

John Bainbridge read history and literature at the University of East Anglia. Apart from Balmoral Kill he has written the Victorian thriller The Shadow of William Quest, the historical novel Loxley – The Chronicles of Robin Hood and several books about the British countryside. He has contributed to a great many newspapers and magazines. As a writing team with his wife he writes the Inspector Abbs historical mysteries, so far A Seaside Mourning and A Christmas Malice.

Balmoral Kill is available in paperback and on Kindle, Kobo and Nook eBooks.

Balmoral Kill is at:


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The Country of The Hound of the Baskervilles

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s longest Sherlock Holmes story is undoubtedly the most famous novel with a Dartmoor setting. It is well known, so I won’t look too closely at the plot. It was written by Doyle after he had “killed off” the famous detective at the Reichenbach Falls in ‘The Final Problem’ and before he brought Holmes back in ‘The Empty House’. It was said to be an episode from Holmes’ earlier career.

But here I want to talk about some of the settings of the Hound on Dartmoor. It’s a place I know rather well, having walked every inch of the Moor over forty years and having been a walks guide there, as well as spending nine years as chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association in the days when it was a proper campaigning organisation.

The murder of Sir Charles Baskerville takes place at his home of Baskerville Hall. In point of fact, Doyle took his inspiration for the legend of the giant hound from legends in the Welsh Marches and the Black Shuck in Norfolk. Though it has to be added that Dartmoor has a considerable number of hound legends.

In particular, Doyle was probably thinking of the legend of Richard Cabell of Brook Manor, near Buckfastleigh, who led – tradition relates – an evil life before his death in 1677. He was buried in a particularly ornate tomb in Buckfastleigh churchyard, a tomb within a tomb within a tomb. He was often said to be accompanied on his hunts by a very vicious hound. Some have suggested, with no real evidence, that the hound tore his throat out. A whole pack of hounds are said to have rampaged across the Moor on the night of his death. A local legend says that if you walk seven times around his tomb and then put your finger in the keyhole of the door, Cabell, now a vampire will bite you! Some say his hound does the chore for him. I have to say I’ve tried it. And nothing happened. Or if it did I didn’t notice.

Brook Manor certainly fits the description of Baskerville Hall, though the location is too far off the high moorland to correspond to Doyle’s description. I would personally set the house somewhere in the vicinity of Prince Hall, on the Dartmeet to Two Bridges road. Not far away are Bellever and Merripit – the home of Stapleton the naturalist – which are mentioned in the book. The convict prison at Princetown, from which the prisoner Seldon has escaped, is just a few miles away.

A few miles into the Moor from Prince Hall is Fox Tor Mire, undoubtedly the setting for the Great Grimpen Mire of the story. In reality Fox Tor Mire is nowhere near as treacherous as its fictional counterpart. I have crossed it more times than I can count, and suffered little more damage than muddy feet. Though, I should add, it is not a risk to be taken by the inexperienced moor-walker. The mire was partially drained by mining operations over a century ago and may have been more difficult to traverse in earlier times. There are now more treacherous valley mires on Dartmoor, such as Raybarrow Pool, above Chagford, where I once went in up to my chest.

The village of Coombe Tracey in the novel, where lives the mistreated Laura Lyons is based on Bovey Tracey on the eastern side of Dartmoor.

The idea for the Hound was given to Doyle by his friend Fletcher Robinson of Ipplepen. Robinson took Doyle on tours of the Moor (his coachman’s name was Baskerville). Doyle also stayed at the Old Duchy Hotel at Princetown. Interestingly, the room he used became my office when I was chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, though the internal space had been somewhat adjusted by that point.

At one point in the story Holmes hides in a prehistoric hut on the Moor. This was based on the Bronze Age village of Grimspound, North-West of Widecombe, which Doyle visited during his moorland tour. Some of the huts in the old village were restored at around the same time. A few miles to the north is Fernworthy (not a village as suggested, but now a reservoir on the River Teign surrounded by some dull conifer forest and splendid antiquities). It is here that the litigious Mr Frankland is burned in effigy for closing a footpath.

Conan Doyle didn’t have a great knowledge of Dartmoor, despite being at one point a doctor in Plymouth. In fact in his Dartmoor short story “Silver Blaze” he puts Tavistock into the centre of Dartmoor, rather than on its western borders.
But there is no doubt that “The Hound of the Baskervilles” captures the spirit of Dartmoor, particularly the moorland of October. It is a story now completely associated with Dartmoor, though it is in only recent years that much has been made of it locally. Interestingly the only film version that was mostly filmed on Dartmoor was the version for BBC Television featuring Peter Cushing as the detective and Nigel Stock as Dr Watson – a fairly faithful adaptation.

The Hound is a good book to read if you are visiting the old Moor for the first time, even though the author does play fast and loose with Dartmoor geography.


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Ripper Street

Ripper Street first aired on BBC television in 2012-13 to considerable applause, gaining a second series later in 2013. At the end of that year the BBC announced that they had dropped the show. But a third series was commissioned by Amazon Prime, with an intended later showing on the BBC later this year.

The first series of Ripper Street was set in 1889 in Victorian Whitechapel in London’s East End, just a few months after the last killing of Jack the Ripper. The horror of the Ripper crimes still haunts the Leman Street police station, though the actual incidents are not dealt with directly.

The real life Ripper investigator Inspector Fred Abberline (Clive Russell) appears occasionally as a rather sad and lonely character obsessed with the killer who got away. But the three leads are Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen), his sergeant Drake Bennett (a mind-blowing performance by Jerome Flynn) an ex-soldier and bare-knuckle fighter, and an American surgeon and ex-Pinkerton man Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenburg), who handles the forensics, has a mysterious past, and is handy with a revolver. Rather like with Doc Holliday’s relationship with Wyatt Earp in the Wild West, Jackson sometimes comes out to join the others in a shoot-up.

Many of the staples of Victorian low-life crime are here, including pornography, white slavery, illicit boxing, prostitution and vicious murders. The programme deals with Victorian social problems very graphically and with considerable fidelity; hunger and destitution, worker’s strikes, the exploitation of women and children, outbreaks of cholera. All gritty stuff. Ripper Street occasionally falls down in its depiction of women and in particular prostitutes, who don’t always have the same depths of character as the male leads.

The programme was filmed in and around Dublin where so many Victorian buildings remain. Sadly, London’s East End was butchered almost out of recognition, first by Hitler’s Luftwaffe and the careless planners of subsequent decades.
Ripper Street as a television series improves as it goes on as the characters are allowed to develop. Although it may on occasion juggle history, show incidents out of their actual time, it does give a flavour of the period – a far cry from the Victorian values that certain British politicians ignorant of real history, are always harking back to.

As a writer of Victorian crime fiction, I tend to ignore the errors and just enjoy the Ripper Street experience. My own William Quest character roams the same street some forty years earlier and I have a kind of professional interest in how these matters are handled. Some years ago I investigated the original locations of the Ripper crimes myself, often walking the streets of Whitechapel by day and by night. Watching Ripper Street reminds me of a great deal that had slipped my mind from these fascinating excursions.

The differences between the period of William Quest and Ripper Street are very obvious. London was much better policed in 1889 than it was in 1854. We tend to think of the Victorian period as one long era of similar styles and values. In reality, each decade was very different from the one before.

I have been re-watching Ripper Street on the Drama Channel, the second series starts tonight. If you haven’t seen it it’s worth seeking out, either on DVD or on view-on-demand.

I’m currently writing the second William Quest novel, so my mind is very much in Victorian London. Exciting, fascinating, but – on reflection – not a period we should yearn for.

If you haven’t yet entered the mysterious world of William Quest do click on the link and take a look:


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Frank Parrish and Dan Mallett

Dan Mallett is the amateur sleuth in a series of rural detective novels by the late Frank Parrish (1929-2000). They seem to be, very sadly, out of print, though second-hand copies are easy to come by.

A little about Dan Mallett in a moment, but first a few remarks on his creator, Frank Parrish – a prolific writer who produced a great deal of fiction under a number of pseudonyms. The real name of this author was Roger Longrigg, and he published a few volumes under his own name. But he also wrote as – wait for it – Rosalind Erskine, Laura Black, Ivor Drummond, Frank Parrish, Domini Taylor, Megan Barker and Grania Beckford – there are probably others I’ve missed out.

He wrote in most genres, including crime, historical, mild erotica, family dramas and spy stories. He scored something of a hit with the erotic novel The Passion Flower Hotel, which became a stage musical and a film, and the television series Mother Love.
If all of these writing names suggest that Roger Longrigg was a bit of a hack, then think again. He was a consummate professional, very good indeed at his craft, and particularly skilled at writing detective novels.

His character Dan Mallett lives with his ailing mother in a cottage in the middle of a wood, near to a village in Dorset. Officially, Dan is the village odd-job man. He is also the local poacher, occasional burglar – though he only tends to target the patronising members of the nouveau riche who have moved into the locality – and lover of beautiful women. As the village odd-job man he mows lawns and tends flower-beds, putting on a broad Dorset accent (straight out of Thomas Hardy) to impress the newcomers.

In truth he is well-educated, well-spoken and has abandoned a safe job as a clerk in a bank so that he isn’t constrained by the boredom of working hours, giving him more time to enjoy roaming the countryside.

He breaks the law only to fund an operation for his arthritic mother, a countrywoman with an acerbic tongue, who is continually urging him to go back to working at the bank, so that he might become more respectable.

Because of his more nefarious activities, Dan is high on the wanted list at the local police station whenever anything goes wrong – and usually the prime suspect when someone is murdered.

Which they often are in Dan’s idyllic village. For Medwell Fratrorum has a death rate that would do justice to one of those idyllic habitations in Midsomer Murders. And, not being St Mary Mead, with Miss Marple at hand, Dan is often forced to solve the mystery and bring the murderer to book himself, if only to clear his own name.

Frank Parrish writes quite beautifully about the English countryside. His knowledge of natural history and rural life can hardly be bettered, for Roger Longrigg was an old-fashioned countryman in every sense of the word. It is as if you melded Bates or Coppard with a touch of Christie.

Dan Mallett makes his first appearance in Fire in the Barley, which won a best first novel award, embarrassing for Longrigg who had already published nineteen novels at that point!

Cleverly, Parrish portrays the English countryside of the last half of the 20th century as it really was; the landowners, once rich, are now on their uppers and being replaced by incomers, the big houses are being turned into schools and businesses, there is little employment for ordinary people, the ancient inns are now catering more for the tourist trade than the locals, the nature of farming itself is changing. It really is well-perceived and accurate.

But the wilder places, the rivers and heaths, woodlands and meadows remain as they always were, a fitting backdrop for Parrish’s likeable country detective.

The Dan Mallett novels deserve a wider readership. They are extremely well-written and Dan himself is a delight. Some enterprising publisher should bring them back into print.

And they would make a wonderful television series.

The Dan Mallett Novels are:
Fire in the Barley 1977
Sting of the Honeybee 1978
Snare in the Dark 1982
Bait on the Hook 1983
Face at the Window (US Title: Death in the Rain) 1984
Fly in the Cobweb 1986
Caught in the Birdlime (US Title: Bird in the Net) 1987
Voices in the Dark

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Ruth Rendell R.I.P

We are very sad to hear of the death of Ruth Rendell. Our thoughts and prayers are with her friends and family.

Together with the recent loss of her close friend P.D James, this feels like the end of a second golden age in the world of crime fiction.

Ian Rankin said of Ruth Rendell, ‘She is probably the greatest living crime writer in the world.’

Like millions of fans, we feel immensely grateful for the pleasure her books have given us and always will.

We shall not look upon her like again.


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