Secrets of Crewe House/Chapter 6

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1669397Secrets of Crewe House — Chapter 6Campbell Stuart



Peculiar difficulties of propaganda against Bulgaria—Educative work among prisoners of war.

Operations against Bulgaria—the other objective of Crewe House activities—were somewhat dissimilar to those against either Austria-Hungary or Germany. There were complications due to the general state of Balkan affairs and politics, and to the fact that technically the United States was not at war with Bulgaria. The definition of propaganda policy against Bulgaria called for most delicate expression, lest any offence should be given to Serbia, Roumania, or Greece.

Lord Northcliffe, in submitting to the Foreign Office a statement of policy proposed for use against Bulgaria, pointed out that he and his advisers felt that there was need for a definite Allied policy in regard to the Jugo-Slav and Roumanian questions. These, in their turn, were dependent upon Allied policy in regard to Austria-Hungary. On May 25, 1918, Lord Northcliffe wrote to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs:

"After careful consideration, and with the advice of our most competent authorities on Bulgarian and Balkan affairs, I beg to submit to you the following scheme of Allied policy in regard to Balkan countries as the framework within which any propaganda in Bulgaria should be carried out. I would especially direct your attention to the need for a Government decision in regard to the Southern Slav, Greek, and Roumanian questions before any definite proposals from Bulgaria are entertained:

"The adoption of a clear and comprehensive Balkan policy by the British and Allied Governments is an essential condition of any propaganda in Bulgaria.

"Without such a policy any propaganda in Bulgaria would resolve itself into competitive bargaining between the Allies on the one hand and the Austro-Germans on the other.

"This bargaining would tend to estrange and to dishearten the Serbians and the Greeks. In attempting it the Allies would be, moreover, at a disadvantage, inasmuch as Bulgaria already occupies, as a member of the enemy Alliance, considerably more than all the territories that would be the subject of the bargaining.

"The aim of Allied policy in the Balkans should be a lasting territorial and political settlement, framed as nearly as possible on lines of ethnography, with the object of paving the way for a permanent League of the Balkan Nations.

"Bulgaria cannot possess all the territories ethnographically Bulgarian unless she retain at the peace districts held by Serbia, Greece, and Roumania before the war. Serbia, Greece, and Roumania, on the other hand, cannot fairly be asked or compelled to abandon those districts unless they, in their turn, be united with territories ethnographically Serbo-Croatian (Jugo-Slav), Greek, and Roumanian.

"Allied policy should therefore deliberately aim at the solution of the Southern Slav. Hellenic, and Roumanian questions in the sense of the fullest possible racial unity and independence.

"The chief difficulty in defining the just claims of Bulgaria lies in the uncertainty as to the proper delimitation of Bulgarian Macedonia. A purely ethnographical delimitation might involve economic and strategical injustice to Serbia and Greece, unless it were accompanied by due provision, internationally guaranteed, for Serbian and Greek rights of way. Similarly, the retention of ports like Salonika and Kavalla by Greece would involve hardship to Bulgaria unless adequate provision, internationally guaranteed, were made for a Bulgarian right of way to those ports.

"Should it prove impossible to obtain, by persuasion or pressure, the assent of Serbia and Greece to the retention of ethnographical Macedonia by Bulgaria, an autonomous Macedonia might be set up, proper provision being made for the maintenance of order and for the repression of armed Serbian and Greek or Bulgarian 'propaganda' by an international force of gendarmerie. One advantage of an autonomous Macedonia would be that it would meet the wishes of the Macedonian Bulgars themselves, who would prefer autonomy to annexation outright by Bulgaria.

"The Allied policy in the Balkans should be made known to the Bulgarians by the Allies and by the United States. The necessary ethnographical delimitation of Bulgarian, or of autonomous Macedonian territory should be undertaken by a competent Allied Commission, possibly under the presidency of the United States. The announcement of Allied policy should be accompanied by an intimation that only by accepting it can Bulgaria hope to escape economic and political ostracism for an indefinite period; but that acceptance of the Allied policy would, on the contrary, carry with it a claim to financial and economic support.

"Bulgaria should at the same time be told that the Allies would guarantee to her the Enos-Midia line as her minimum frontier on the east, provided that she refrained from further active co-operation with the enemies of the Allies. Active co-operation on the side of the Allies should be rewarded by a frontier yet more favourable to her aspirations, e.g. by the line Midia-Rodosto. The inclusion of Silistria in the future Bulgarian territory should likewise be made contingent upon the behaviour of Bulgaria before the conclusion of peace.

"May I ask you to give me your views on this scheme of policy as early as possible?

"I wish to send to Salonika, without delay, a competent mission to begin propaganda on this, or some similar basis, but cannot authorise its departure unless the ideas it would propagate have the explicit approval of His Majesty's Government."

Mr. Balfour replied on June 6, 1918:

"I have carefully considered your letter of May 25, in which you were so kind as to furnish me with your ideas as to the lines on which we should conduct our propaganda in the Balkans.

"I fully agree with the general ideas underlying your policy.

"I feel, indeed, that it will be of value if our own efforts in this direction, which, for obvious reasons, can at present be only of the most tentative nature, are preceded by discreet and intelligent propaganda, such as will not only appeal to our enemies but enlighten our friends."

It was well-known that influential Bulgarians realised the meaning of the trend of events in the main theatres of war and would have welcomed the opening of negotiations with the Allies. But it was obviously impossible to begin territorial bargaining with Bulgarian representatives of any party, because Bulgaria already possessed more territory than that to which she was ethnographically entitled. On the other hand, strictly to follow the ethnographic principle would raise difficulties to which Lord Northcliffe referred in the foregoing letter. As it would obviously require long and patient negotiations with our Allies to establish a just basis, it was deemed to be strongly advisable to restrict immediate propaganda to telling the Bulgarians the fate which must inevitably befall them and that unless they made a complete and effective reversal of their policy, the Allies would do nothing to save them from that fate or to alleviate their position.

Four preliminary conditions were laid down as essential to the establishment of relations with Bulgaria:

"(a) The expulsion of King Ferdinand and his family;

"(b) A complete rupture with Germany;

"(c) Establishment of a democratic Government;

"(d) The orientation of Bulgarian policy in the direction of a Balkan Confederation under the ægis of the Allied Powers and of the United States."

These lines were suggested as the suitable basis for a reply to secret overtures which had been made by Bulgarian emissaries claiming to speak for the new Premier, M. Malinof.

In due course, Crewe House was authorised to convey an informal message to the effect "that until Bulgaria had given proof that a complete reversal of her policy had actually been brought about, we are not prepared to entertain any suggestions from her." The Bulgarian agents were duly notified in this sense, and it is to be presumed that so firm a message was not without its effect upon the Malinof Government.

Meanwhile propaganda material in this sense was prepared, reinforced by pamphlets, such as, for example, that by Lichnowsky, and another giving full particulars of American preparations. These were translated into Bulgarian, and this was a matter of some difficulty, as was the subsequent arrangement for printing. Distribution was principally arranged through naval and military channels and through secret agencies of the character operating against other enemy countries.

Most painstaking work was undertaken to prepare for the publication of a newspaper in Bulgarian to be smuggled into Bulgaria. When a series of perplexing difficulties had been surmounted and all arrangements were in train for an immediate start, the news came that Bulgaria had surrendered.

In this connection, too, Ludendorff pays tribute to the effect of propaganda. "A few days after the 15th (September, 1918), a secret report of the French General fell into my hands which made it evident that the French no longer expected any resistance from the Bulgarian army. Entente propaganda and money, and the United States representatives who had remained in Sofia, had done their work. In this instance again the Entente had made a thoroughly good job of it." ("My War Memories.")

Besides the work in enemy countries, Crewe House also undertook the enlightenment of prisoners of war in the camps of Great Britain. The first necessity was the eradication of innate ideas of militarism, if it had left them with any illusions which their own experience had failed to shatter. Then the advantages of democratic government would be inculcated. Rightly it was thought that if these men could be taught that government of a country must be by the free will and assent of the governed, a small step at least would have been taken in the right direction. Such beneficent influences as could be brought to bear upon them would affect their compatriots on their return home and might fructify in the expression of changed views in their letters to their friends. There were several Prisoners of War camps scattered about Great Britain, each of them being in charge of a Commandant responsible to the War Office. The late Sir Charles Nicholson, Bt., a valued member of the Enemy Propaganda Committee, took charge of this section of Crewe House work, his usual procedure being to have a personal interview with each of the Commandants, in order to ascertain from them what newspapers and books were allowed inside the camps, and what were the English and German newspapers which were most read by the prisoners. He then submitted to the Commandant a list of books and newspapers which were approved for such purposes, and suggested to them that these should be circulated among the prisoners and added to the library which existed in each of the camps. Among the newspapers in German which were found to be useful for this purpose were the Arbeiter-Zeitung of Vienna, the Vorwärts, the Frankfurter Zeitung, the Berliner Tageszeitung, and the Volkstimme, and such pamphlets as Prince Lichnowsky's "Meine Londoner Mission," Hermann Fernau's "Gerade weil ich Deuischer bin," Dr. Karl Liebknecht's "Brief an das Kotmnandanturgericht," Dr. Muehlon's "Die Schuld der Deutschen Regierung am Kriege" and "Die Verheerung Europas," Dr. Anton Nystroem's "Vor dem Tribunale," and, in addition, German translations of Mr. H. G. Wells's "Mr. Britling Sees it Through," and copies of Mr. James W. Gerard's "My Four Years in Germany."

Letters which were sent out by the prisoners of war to their friends at home were, of course, examined by the postal censor. Sometimes this examination indicated that certain of the prisoners would prove susceptible to

Leaflet No. 13.For translation see Appendix, page 247.


Leaflet No. 14.For translation see Appendix, page 247.



Photo: Russell & Sons.

influence, and a point was made of seeing that such prisoners were specially supplied with literature. The examination of prisoners of war was useful, too, in ascertaining what were the ideas prevalent in the minds of the Germans as to the cause of the war, the progress of events, and the prospect of ultimate success or failure.