Secrets of Crewe House/Chapter 2

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1669393Secrets of Crewe House — Chapter 2Campbell Stuart



Viscount Northcliffe's appointment: The Formation of an Advisory Committee: Other Government Departments' Co-operation.

In February, 1918, Viscount Northcliffe accepted the Prime Minister's invitation to become Director of Propaganda in Enemy Countries. Only a few weeks earlier, Lord Northcliffe had concluded his mission to the United States, where he had undertaken the co-ordination and supervision of the multiplex British missions engaged in purchasing food and munitions and in other vitally important operations. Upon his return to England, he had become Chairman of the London headquarters of the British War Mission to the United States of America, after having declined a seat in the Cabinet. Despite the importance of his new duties, he elected to retain his connection with the British War Mission to the United States.




Photo: Russell, London

Lord Northcliffe's name bore in itself a propaganda value in enemy countries. None knew better than the Germans with what assiduity and tenacity he had striven to awaken the British nation to the extent and significance of the war preparations of German militarism. From the time of his entry into this office he and his work were the subjects of continual reference in the German Press. The vehemence of their attacks showed the depth of their apprehension.

The direction and organisation of propaganda abroad, and especially against enemy countries, required a personnel deeply versed in foreign politics, with an intimate understanding of enemy psychology, and with professional knowledge of the art of presenting facts plainly and forcefully. The work was of a highly specialised character, designed to reveal to the enemy the hopelessness of their cause and case and the inevitability of Allied victory. This called for continuity of policy and persevering effort. But the problems of the penetration of propaganda into enemy countries were as exacting as the definition of policy and the presentation of the facts of the situation.

In order to bring as wide a knowledge as possible to bear upon the conduct of this campaign of education and enhghtenment of enemy peoples, Lord Northcliffe invited and obtained the enthusiastic co-operation of a committee of well-known men of affairs and publicists. Each had won distinction in some sphere of public service which rendered his aid in this work valuable.

Lord Northcliffe appointed me as Deputy-Director of the department and Deputy-Chairman of the Committee.

The members of the Committee were:—

Colonel the Earl of Denbigh, C.V.O.
Mr. Robert Donald (then Editor of the Daily Chronicle).
Sir Roderick Jones, K.B.E. (Managing Director of Reuter's Agency).
Sir Sidney Low.
Sir Charles Nicholson, Bt., M.P
Mr. James O'Grady, M.P.
Mr. H. Wickham Steed (Foreign Editor and later Editor-in-Chief of The Times).
Mr. H. G. Wells.
Secretary, Mr. H. K. Hudson, C.B.E.

It was an advisory committee of wide knowledge and many talents, with a strong representation of authors and journalists of distinction. Regular fortnightly meetings were held, at which each section of the department reported progress and submitted programmes of future activities for approval.

The headquarters of the department were established at Crewe House, the town mansion of the Marquis of Crewe, who had, with characteristic public spirit, placed it at the disposal of the Government for war purposes. The department was divided into two main branches, the one for production, and the other for distribution, of propaganda material. In its turn the production branch was divided into German, Austro-Hungarian, and Bulgarian sections.

For reasons which will be given in the next chapter, the Austro-Hungarian section was the first to begin operations. Mr. Steed and Dr R. W. Seton-Watson were co-directors of this section. They were an admirable choice. As Foreign Editor (as he then was) of The Times, author of "The Hapsburg Monarchy," and with experience from 1902 to 1913 as correspondent of The Times at Vienna, Mr. Steed had intimate and authoritative knowledge of the peoples and conditions of the Dual Monarchy. Dr. Seton-Watson was also a distinguished authority on Austro-Hungarian and Balkan history and politics, to which he had devoted many years of study.

After determination of the policy to be pursued against Austria-Hungary, Lord Northchffe entrusted to them the important mission to Italy which initiated the campaign against the Dual Monarchy, resulting in such far-reaching and remarkable consequences. In the course of this mission they attended the historic Rome Congress of the Oppressed Hapsburg Nationalities and they took a prominent part in the establishment of the inter-Allied commission which waged propaganda warfare against Austria-Hungary. The subsequent conduct of this campaign necessitated keeping in close touch with the different national organisations of the oppressed Hapsburg races—Poles, Czechoslovaks, Southern Slavs, Rumanes—throughout 1918, and they were able to render signal services to these peoples as well as to the Allies.

When operations began against Germany, Mr. H. G. Wells accepted Lord Northcliffe's invitation to take charge of the German Section. Mr. Wells made an exhaustive study of the conditions affecting Germany from a propaganda point of view, with the co-operation of Dr. J. W. Headlam-Morley, and his memorandum (which is published in Chapter IV of this book) is a noteworthy document of exceptional interest. When, in July, 1918, he found himself unable to continue the direction of the German Section (although retaining membership of the Committee) he had collected a mass of valuable data for the use of his successor, Mr. Hamilton Fyfe, the well-known journalist. To Mr. Fyfe and his colleagues of the German Section fell the organisation of the "intensive" propaganda activities of the last three months of the war.

There thus remained the work against Turkey and Bulgaria. By arrangement between Lord Northcliffe and Lord Beaverbrook, propaganda against Turkey was ably conducted by the Near East section of the Ministry of Information, in charge of Mr. (now Sir Hugo) Cunliffe-Owen. This was obviously wise in the interests of economy and efficiency. Propaganda in Bulgaria, however, was directed from Crewe House.

The production of propaganda literature and its distribution were different functions and were performed by separate sections of the department, but, of course, in the closest co-operation. So far as enemy troops were concerned, the distribution for Germans and Bulgarians was undertaken by the British mihtary authorities. For Austro-Hungarian troops, the work was placed on an inter-Allied basis, distribution being organised by the Italian Army.

Distribution through civil channels, a difficult task, was in the hands of Mr. S. A. Guest, who, alone of British propagandists against the enemy, had been constantly engaged in that work since the early days of the war. He built up a series of organisations in different parts of Europe by which news and views could be introduced into all the enemy countries. Great ingenuity and perseverance were required, but no little measure of success crowned his efforts.

Co-ordination of these activities was a vital necessity, and this was effectively ensured by a daily meeting of those in charge of the different sections, the liaison officers between Crewe House and other departments, and the heads of the administrative branches of Crewe House. At this meeting, held usually under my chairmanship, the general details of policy and operations of all sections were systematically discussed. Each section knew what the other was doing, and uniformity of policy and action was secured. In addition, the consideration of the problems which arose, whether in the general work of Crewe House or in the work of one particular section, benefited from the collective attention of a combination of enthusiastic minds. Mr. Hudson, the able secretary of the advisory committee, also acted as secretary of these daily meetings.

All at Crewe House were profoundly grateful for the cordiality with which the many other Government departments, with whom they were brought into contact, lent their co-operation. In this respect the Foreign Office, War Office, Admiralty, Treasury, Ministry of Information, and Stationery Office, all contributed materially to the success attained, although this list by no means exhausts the departments which willingly placed their resources at the disposal of Crewe House. It is pleasing to be able to record this as a recollection of and tribute to the service rendered by these departments in this phase of war activity.

The liaison officers' duties were extremely important. Mr. C. J. Phillips, a distinguished Civil Servant, who had been transferred from the Board of Education for special work in the Foreign Office, was the connecting link between the latter department and Crewe House. To him fell the task of keeping Crewe House informed of foreign developments which affected the work of propaganda in enemy countries and of keeping the Foreign Office au courant with Crewe House activities. His assistance and judgment were of immense value in dealing with the questions affecting foreign affairs which were constantly arising.

For a few months after Lord Northcliffe's appointment, the Military Intelligence Directorate of the War Office continued the production of literature for propaganda work against the Germans, and during this period Major the Earl of Kerry, M.P., acted as liaison officer between the two departments. Each department was able to complement and supplement the other's work with good effect, and the co-operation was carried out most harmoniously. When production was subsequently centralised at Crewe House, Captain Chalmers Mitchell became liaison officer with the War Office and with the Air Ministry. No greater tribute can be paid to his work than the record in the pages that follow.

Most cordial, too, were the relations maintained with the Admiralty, and especially


Photo: Russell, London


Photo: M. S. Kay, Bolton.

with Rear-Admiral Sir Reginald Hall (Director of Naval Intelligence), through Commander (now Sir Guy) Standing, R.N.V.R. Crewe House was rightly grateful for constant co-operation of a confidential character through the exercise on its behalf of naval resources.

Most valuable assistance was readily given to Crewe House by the Ministry of Information, so efficiently organised by Lord Beaverbrook. Close consultation was maintained between heads of sections of the two departments wherever co-operation could be advantageous. In certain European countries, for instance, the same agents acted for both departments—an arrangement which proved effective as well as economical. Invaluable service for Crewe House was performed by one agent of the Ministry in regard to Bulgarian affairs in which he displayed high competence and discretion. Crewe House was also indebted to the Ministry for the use of its wireless service in sending out matter for the enlightenment of the enemy by that means, and for many similar facilities, too numerous to mention, willingly offered and gladly accepted.

With the Treasury—bête noire to so many temporary war departments—Crewe House had the smoothest working arrangements through Mr. C. S. Kent, who acted as Financial Controller and Accounting Officer in addition to other duties connected with the general administration of Crewe House. At no time was Treasury sanction withheld or delayed in regard to any expenditure proposed in connection with enemy propaganda.

The enemy leaders frequently alleged that Lord Northcliffe expended huge sums of money on his propaganda work. According to the report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General, the expenditure for the four months from September 1 to December 31, 1918—which was the period of the "intensive" campaign and consequently the most expensive—was £31,360 4s. 9d., which included expenses borne by the Office of Works, the Stationery Office, and the War Office on behalf of Crewe House. Only £7,946 2s. 7d. of this amount was incurred directly by Crewe House, one reason for the smallness of the amount being that many members of the department worked without remuneration for their services. The Auditor-General made a complimentary reference to the manner in which the accounts were rendered.

Last, but not least, the Stationery Office which undertook all the printing arrangements for the millions of leaflets and other publications required in German, Croat, Bulgarian, and other languages, rendered great assistance by the promptness and efficiency with which they met Crewe House requirements which, from their very nature, generally necessitated working against time.

It is particularly pleasing to look back and remember all the help so willingly given by other Government departments and to record the unfailing courtesy with which it was proffered and the zeal displayed. Crewe House gladly recognised the value of such loyal co-operation, of which those who were concerned in its work still retain grateful memories.