Accompanied by Madame Beneš and members of the Czechoslovak Government-in-exile, Dr Beneš was met on his arrival in Stoke-on-Trent by the Earl of Harrowby, the Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire. Following a short lunch with him, the party was welcomed in Hanley by Dr Stross and leaders of the new Lidice Shall Live committee before enjoying an enthusiastic reception comprising representatives from business, trade, and industry; the trade unions; the wider civic community; the church; and the general public from across the region. After the playing of the Czechoslovak National anthem, Beneš inspected a guard of honour, including members of the Home Guard, Cadet Corps, personnel of the Civil Defence Services, and a large contingent of North Staffordshire miners – the ardent backers of Dr Stross’s proposal to rebuild Lidice – wearing their pit helmets.
Dr Edvard Beneš, the Czech President-in-exile, officially launched the Lidice Shall Live campaign at the Victoria Hall, Hanley, at 3pm on Sunday the 6th of September 1942:
Beneš, his Ministers and the rest of the Czecho-Slovak attendees saw in the faces of the people they met, not merely a material effort to help their country after the war, but a Statement of Disassociation with any aspect of the Munich Agreement. Although it had been recently annulled by Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden MP, in the face of massive growing support for greater Anglo-Czech relations, interestingly only four weeks before this rally, the vast majority of workers in Stoke-on-Trent had never agreed with it. And they were about to make it clear to Beneš and his party, outside and within the Victoria Hall. It was a message of encouragement and reassurance for all Czechs that most people, at least in the industrial Midlands, Wales, and the North, had felt empathy for the Czech cause all along.
Reporting on the event on the 7th of September, the Evening Sentinel wrote:
The Victoria Hall has been the scene of many noteworthy gatherings and many famous people have spoken from its platform. But never has the hall held an assembly so remarkable in its significance…
…Following a reception by the President in the Lord Mayor’s Parlour there was an impressive procession to the Victoria Hall, led by members of the City Navy League and Army and Air Force Cadet Corps, carrying the flags of the 29 United Nations. They formed a guard of honour down the centre aisle of the Victoria Hall as the President walked to the rostrum, followed by Madame Beneš, the Deputy Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent (Mr A.E. Hewitt), Lord Dudley (Midland Regional Commissioner), the Earl of Harrowby and the Bishop of Stafford (the Right Rev. L. D. Hammond). The representative of His Majesty’s Government, Mr Philip B. B. Nichols, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Czecho-Slovak government was accompanied by M. Vecaslav Vilder, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Czecho-Slovak government, representing the Prime Minister of Jugo-Slavia, and M. A. Bogomoloff, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Czecho-Slovak government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Ministers and representatives of the Czecho-Slovak government were General Ingr (Minister of Defence), Dr H. Ripka (Minister of State), Mr Prokop Maxa (Chairman, State Council), Mr David, M. Uhlir, Mr Majer, Mr Furth, and Mr Nosek (members of the State Council), Dr Drtina (Private Secretary to the President), Captain Veselý (Captain of the President’s Guard), Captain Barták (Adjutant of the Minister of Defence), Professor Nugrin and Dr Tuchacek (Defence Ministry), along with Dr Peres, Mr Pollak, Mr Lobl and Mrs Glasner (Czech-British Friendship Club), and Frank Hampl (Secretary of the Lidice Shall Live movement).
Mr Ellis Smith MP and Sir Joseph Lamb MP were followed by Sir Francis Joseph Bart, Sir Ernest Johnson, Dr Barnett Stross, Mr Will Lawther (President of the Mineworkers’ Federation of Great Britain), Mr E. N. Scott, the Chief Constable of Stoke-on-Trent (Mr F.L. Bunn), Colonel W. Greene, Captain T. Lockett, the Deputy Town Clerk of Stoke-on-Trent (Mr H. Taylor), Alderman C. A. Brook, Alderman G. J. Timmis, Alderman J. Barker, Alderman the Rev. T. Horwood, Alderman J. A. Dale, Mr Hugh Leese and Mr George Jones (Midland Miners’ Federation), Mr G. H. Meir, Miss J. Kimpster and Mr J. T. Garratt. Concluding the procession, the Town Clerk of Stoke-on-Trent (Mr E. B. Sharpley) was accompanied by the Mayors of Rowley Regis, Congleton, Hereford, Rugby, Macclesfield, Oswestry, Buxton, Bilston, Stafford, and Crewe.
After the flags of the United Nations had been grouped around the organ, at which Dr S. Weale (City Organist) had given a recital of Czechoslovak music, the meeting started with the singing of “All Hail the Power” and a song by the Czechoslovak Army Choir. Introducing Lord Dudley, the Deputy Lord Mayor, Mr Hewitt, referred to the strong link which already existed between Czechoslovakia and North Staffordshire by reason of the pottery industry, and expressed the hope that the inauguration of the Lidice Shall Live movement would set alight a flame that would unite the two countries for time immemorial and not just for a few years after the war.
Lord Dudley, welcoming Dr Beneš, said the meeting was likely to prove historic. The outrage of Lidice had profoundly shocked the people of Great Britain, but it had had the effect of cementing the love and friendship which existed between the two nations. It had stimulated the British Empire that nothing should prevent us from obtaining the earliest possible victory so that Czecho-Slovakia and other occupied countries could be returned to their own peoples forever. The Deputy Lord Mayor then read messages of greeting from the American Ambassador, the Chinese Ambassador, the Prime Ministers of Poland, Norway, Belgium and Greece, the High Commissioner of New Zealand to Great Britain, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Free Church Federal Council, and the Czechoslovakian Miners Committee in Great Britain. Similar messages were delivered by M. Vilder for Yugoslavia and by M. Alexander Bogomolov for the USSR.
Mr Philip Nichols said that the Leader of the House of Commons, Mr Anthony Eden had authorised him to tell of the British Government’s greatest measure of moral support for the movement. Mr Eden had sent a message in which he said North Staffordshire had found a practical way of expressing the horror we all felt at German barbarities, and that,
“… the faith and confidence which inspired the movement was the right answer to Nazi tyranny and destruction and would encourage all the suffering populations of Europe.” He said that the British Government had already made it their policy to ensure retribution for these crimes against humanity and they intended that Britain should play its full part in restoring the decencies of civilised life in the territories now overrun by the enemy.
Next, the Bishop of Stafford expressed the hope that many parishes in the diocese would give practical help to the movement.
Will Lawther, President of the Mineworkers’ Federation of Great Britain, then approached the podium on the spacious stage of the capacity filled Victorian amphitheatre. He pledged the determination of all Britain’s miners:
“…to rebuild Lidice and renew that faith and determination, and to see the struggle through to the bitter end. To the goal we have set ourselves with the rest of the United Nations, namely victory for liberty, freedom and democracy and death to Nazism and Fascism.”
Lawther said that when they committed mass murder and arson at Lidice, the Nazis never realised that they had put a match to a fire which would not be put out until those who applied the match were destroyed. Peace would not come to a stricken world until that day arrived. On behalf of British miners, he could give the assurance that in every conceivable way they would do their share to sabotage the Nazi machine…
“Today,” he said, “it is essential to realise in this country that we are saved from the horrors of Lidice and the grim tragedy of the Donbas coalfield by the fact that we can keep on producing the weapons of war. Nothing is more vital than coal for the guns, tanks, and planes to avenge Lidice. It is no use giving our money if tomorrow we withhold, by any action of ours, from those men who are bombing Germany, from those who are “strafing” the foulest system, and most wicked of human scum, the weapons they need in their job.”
There was a great silence around the auditorium as Will Lawther told quietly a personal account, of a sacred pledge given him by one who gave his life against fascism. He was speaking of his younger brother, Clifford, who went out to fight in the Spanish Civil War with the International Brigade:
“…Father and mother had passed away and so my younger brother would write to me. This is one of the things he wrote: “Will, wherever you can, give all your influence all your support, anything, to get men roused to fight this menace of Fascism, the greatest evil that mankind has ever faced. I am going up the line to give my life if necessary, so do what you can.””
“To me,” stated Lawther, “that was a sacred trust which I cannot and will not betray.”
It was proving to be an emotional afternoon as the Czechoslovak Army Choir sang Kde Domov Můj (Where My Home Is) – the Czech national anthem, heralding the exiled Czech President, Dr Edvard Beneš to take to the rostrum. After expressing his appreciation and gratitude on behalf of the Czechoslovak Government-in-exile for the inauguration of the Lidice Shall Live movement, there was a pause before he took the microphone.
Then, in an emotional speech he emphasised that Lidice was only one of many victims of Nazi Germany’s cruelty and oppression. He said:
“In the matter of fact there have undoubtedly been a number of similar crimes committed by the agents of the Herronvolk throughout occupied Europe. Villages have been exterminated in Norway, Poland, in Yugoslavia, in Russia and in other countries under German rule. But in all these other cases the Germans tried to conceal their barbarous action from the outside world. In the case of Lidice, on the other side, the crime was coldly premeditated in all details in the German press with evident joy and satisfaction.”
“Lidice,” he said, “has become a symbol of the terrible suffering of the Czecho-Slovak people in a particularly significant way. It has shown to the whole world the true meaning of the German New Order. It has revealed to civilised mankind the real character of the relationship between the master race and the despised inferior races who they have taken under their protection. I wish to say a few frank words about the justice which we hope to achieve after the war. To ask those who have suffered innocently as the victims of Lidice to forget and forgive, to ask their fellow countrymen to ignore it, it is not human, is not reasonable and is perhaps madness.
We want to see, we must see, this war through victoriously, whatever sacrifices it may cost us, in order to see a legal order reconstituted and all inhuman acts of the Germans, wherever committed, really punished. This is, in my opinion, the only way of reckoning with the Fascist tyrants wherever they appear. Only a hard lesson, not of revenge but of retributive justice, will teach the Germans that it does not pay to attack other nations.
I repeat I am not for revenge: I am for real justice; it is more than revenge. Only in this way will the German nation be convinced that they must not start a third world war within two generations.”
Dr Beneš spoke of the grand alliance of the United Nations and forecast that it would swing from the defensive to a powerful offensive:
“Czecho-Slovakia,” he said, “fights on and stands firmly on the side of the British Empire and of the United Nations. The evident manifestation of this active resistance to German domination is our Army and our Air Force, both here in Great Britain, in the Middle East and in Soviet Russia. They are fighting with their comrades, as in the last war, on all battle fronts. But the whole people of Czecho-Slovakia are engaged in this war of liberation. Our people at home are until now primarily concentrating on acts of sabotage which slow down the military machine of Nazi Germany. The day will come when the whole Czecho-Slovak nation will rise up to burst the bonds of tyranny.”
He ended in addressing the people of Stoke-on-Trent by echoing the rallying cry of Dr Barnett Stross:
“With your generous help and our collaboration, Lidice, God willing, shall really live again. And we must all stand together in order to prepare, after victory has been achieved, a peace in Europe of which we could already have today solemnly declare that all we are passing through, now, today, in this war, will never happen again.”
The audience of 3,000 men and women heard Dr Beneš’s concluding remarks:
“This meeting has made it clear that Lidice has not died: it lives on in the hearts of the people of Stoke-on-Trent at least. From now on, Stoke-on-Trent will live forever in the heart of every Czech citizen.”
At the conclusion of his address, Dr Beneš was presented with a buttonhole and Mrs Beneš with a bouquet, both handmade by Czechoslovak refugee children. The proceedings were fully recorded for broadcasting purposes. Before the meeting closed a vote of thanks was proposed by Dr Stross to Dr Beneš and those who had taken part. Finally, the President recorded a message in his own language to his countrymen serving with the Allied Forces or enslaved in Czecho-Slovakia.
For more information about the launch of the Lidice Shall Live movement, and the subsequent national and international reaction to it, read The Path to Lidice – the definitive account of the Lidice Shall Live campaign, and its legacy.
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