Across the free world, shock at the news of the Lidice atrocity was tempered by the announcement by Moscow Radio on Thursday, June 11th, of the signing of an Anglo-Soviet Mutual Assistance Agreement, a significant action that would see the two nations support each other in real terms for the next twenty years.
The Treaty had been signed in London on May 26th by Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov, the Soviet Union’s People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, and Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Secretary. As Molotov flew out to the United States, news of the agreement was kept secret in the hope that an accord could be secured between the two superpowers in Washington. It could.
The implications for the Allies meant a consolidation of efforts and the opening up of a second front, with a subsequent commitment from the Americans to enter the European theatre of war.
The buoyancy people felt at the news of the Anglo-Soviet Alliance led to national celebrations taking place over the weekend of the 19th to the 21st of June. Parades, flag days, fetes, and demonstrations with Anglo-Soviet themes were organised at remarkably short notice with the prospect of a return to some semblance of normality.
The atmosphere amongst the population was one of joy and togetherness, admiration for Britain’s Soviet allies, commemoration for the heroes of Moscow and Leningrad, and support for the work of the partisans who continued to face death to undermine the Nazis on a daily basis.
This sense of camaraderie gave new hope, renewed strength, and resilience to millions of British people. At the thought of some light at the end of a dark, arduous road, many towns and cities revelled in the summer sun of 1942, such that the overall effect on communities across Great Britain was a much-welcomed boost to morale. This was felt most readily by Britain’s Czecho-Slovak and Polish populations in particular, who, for the first time, could see some hope for liberation on the horizon.
Staffordshire’s Evening Sentinel reported on an event that took place in Hanley Park, Stoke-on-Trent, on Sunday the 21st of June:
“Stoke-on-Trent made a worthy and notable contribution to the nationwide celebrations, which have taken place this weekend, to commemorate the anniversary of the British – Soviet Alliance, and to mark the new Treaty of Alliance between the two countries. The event also served to celebrate the first anniversary of the German attack on Russia on June 22nd.
“Through the media of a mile-and-a-half long procession in Hanley yesterday afternoon, decorated tableaux, a mass meeting in Hanley Park, and messages of friendship and goodwill sent to the Prime Minister and to Mr Maisky, Soviet Ambassador to Great Britain, North Staffordshire gave an inspiring demonstration of its admiration of the heroic Soviet resistance to German aggression and reaffirmed deep and lasting friendship with the Russian peoples.”
According to reports, the event was organised by Stoke-on-Trent’s Anglo-Soviet Friendship Committee. It featured representations from all sections of the city’s political spectrum, trade unions, and wartime services of the district, in addition to many thousand members of the general public. Symbolic of the unity of Britain and the Soviet Union were tableaux depicting the two countries marching hand-in-hand to victory under the banners of the Union Jack and the Red Flag.
The procession was devised and arranged by Mr Gordon Forsyth, Superintendent of Art Instruction for Stoke-on-Trent, and formed in the square before Hanley Town Hall before proceeding to Hanley Park via the marketplace, Stoke Road, and Park Avenue. A solid wall of spectators lined the route of the procession, which was marshalled by the Deputy Chief Constable and was headed by a symbolic tableau depicting the partnership between Britain and Russia. Standards of St George, Britain, and Russia were held aloft by respected members of the community, while local women wearing traditional costumes represented the figures of Britannia and Russia.
Workers from a local factory provided an effective wartime tableau, showing the production of aeroplane armament, while 25 pupils of Podmore’s School of Dancing, Burslem, dressed in traditional costume, presented a tableau dealing with the contribution to civilisation that has been made by famous men of the arts and sciences of Britain and Russia.
Inspired by Lidice and the other reprisals taking place in Czecho-Slovakia was a tableau created by Czech adult refugees depicting a Nazi SS man with a revolver drawn standing against a background of a large Swastika, to which was pinioned a blind-folded woman. Another effective tableau was that of the Burslem School of Art, depicting the four Pillars of Freedom: Peace, Justice, Security, and Stability. Other refugee children provided a “Fight for Freedom” tableau with a strong patriotic appeal.
Dr Barnett Stross, GP and Cllr for the Stoke-on-Trent district of Shelton, made an appeal for funds to supply from North Staffordshire a mobile X-ray unit for the Red Army. Mr Karl Kreibich, a member of the Czecho-Slovak State Council, said that the Anglo-Soviet Alliance gave great and new hope to the oppressed countries of Europe. He believed that, without such a union, Nazi Germany would never be defeated. Hitler, on the other hand, could never defeat the new alliance.