Expressions of Discontent and Delight

Not everyone was happy with the city’s efforts to rebuild Lidice. An article, written anonymously under the pseudonym “The Calcutta Statesman and published in the Evening Sentinel on Wednesday October the 21st 1942, was keen to point out Britain’s lack of obligation towards the Czech people and the terrible burden of sacrifice helping those in need would bring to a desperate city like Arnold Bennett’s Stoke-on-Trent. This was how this contributor saw the Five Towns and the miners’ decision to help rebuild Lidice:

“Hanley is the least dingy of that industrial region of Britain popularised by Arnold Bennett as the Five Towns. But nobody would regard it as the best home for shining ideals-nobody that is to say, who does not share the intense local loyalty of the people of the Five Towns or Potteries, for to them anything in the Potteries is better than everything elsewhere. We have it on his own authority that in 1931 a Parliamentary candidate for Hanley said in an election address: “You see that glorious blue sky above you.” He paused, then added: “It should be covered with smoke”. He was elected.

A fine day in early 20th century Stoke-on-Trent

The people of the Potteries are proud of their smoke: anywhere else, smoke abatement would be practised: “Mugs” and “Potters” believe smoke is healthy. There was not much smoke in 1931 because of the depression. The depression in the pottery trade was attributed to imports from abroad. This imported pottery, equivalent to two years’ production of Stoke-on-Trent according to one estimate was believed to be dumped and some of it undoubtedly came from Czecho-Slovakia. The Potteries, as a whole, therefore, have no special call to love Czecho-Slovakia or the Czechs Rebuilding Lidice.

Housing conditions in the Potteries are poor, although improving in an uninspired fashion. Most of the working classes of the Potteries still live amid surroundings and in conditions which would make fastidious Czechs shudder. Up to a few years ago, at any rate, the typical Potteries man was pasty-faced a very different type from the Czech Sokol and, if he was a coal miner, when he left the pits, his face was black as a nigger minstrel’s.

He was interested in football and football pools, and maybe in dog-racing. Yet the Hanley miners have undertaken to rebuild Lidice, the Czech village destroyed by the Germans as a reprisal for the shooting of Heydrich, and Dr Beneš has accepted their offer. The faces which should now be blackened are those of Hitler and Himmler. From the clay and the coal and the steel and the smoke of the Potteries emerges the spirit of human brotherhood.”

It has been difficult to trace the inward-looking author of the letter. It seems likely that they could have been a former disciple of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, disgruntled at the fact that his hero was now doing time in Holloway; or just a member of the public fearful of antagonising the Third Reich at a time when the outcome of the war was still uncertain.

Notwithstanding the odd letter of complaint, Dr Barnett Stross, the Czecho-Slovak – British Friendship Club and the North Staffordshire Miners’ Federation – in particular Hugh Leese, Fred Hancock, George Jones, Arthur Baddeley, Frank Hampl, Jan Strasser and other campaigners had turned relations on their head by creating a tangible expression of Britons’ solidarity with other nations. The Czechoslovak Government-in-exile was solidly behind it and had an office in London to help coordinate national events. The movement was gaining in momentum and expanding in terms of coverage.

A couple of weeks after the launch, a tribute to the “hard heads and soft hearts” of the North Staffordshire miners was paid in an article about the Lidice Shall Live movement in the Central European Observer. The article also described Barnett Stross as the “spiritual father of the movement”. The legend was much deserved, for Stross took on a personal responsibility for driving forward the momentum of the campaign for the rest of the war and beyond. Broadcasting the Lidice Shall Live fund as the “Week’s Good Cause” on the BBC’s Home Service on Sunday evenings was just one way he led by example in ensuring the movement was a success.

The warmth between the peoples of Czecho-Slovakia and Stoke-on-Trent was clear at a schedule of events to celebrate Czech Independence Day at Wellington Road Senior School in Hanley, on the evening of Saturday the 14th of November. There, the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Stoke-on-Trent, Alderman and Mrs Charles Austin Brook, attended what was a very successful and well attended presentation put on by the North Staffordshire Branch of the Czecho-Slovak – British Friendship Club, the Czech Children’s Committee and Young Czecho-Slovakia. The Evening Sentinel reported:

“The Lord Mayor expressed his pleasure at being able to attend the celebration of the 24th anniversary of the formation of the Czechoslovak Republic. He said that about four and a half years ago he had the privilege of visiting the beautiful city of Prague and was delighted to find a people who loved freedom – a people as democratic and liberty-loving as the best of Englishmen.”

Dr Joseph Winternitz, from the Czech headquarters in London, said Stoke-on-Trent had a splendid record of friendship with the Czechoslovakian people, shown not in words alone, but in deeds. Winternitz spoke of the history of Czechoslovakia, its struggle for freedom, and the birth of the Republic, which he said was not an artificial design of the victorious powers of that time but was the result of many years’ striving by the Czech and Slovak people. He added that as long as Russia and Great Britain – the two most powerful nations in Europe – stood together, it would assure future peace and freedom for the continent.

Mr Edwin Dutton, Chairman of the Stoke-on-Trent Czech Children’s Committee outlined the formation and work of the committee. On behalf of the committee, he expressed thanks to all those people and organisations which had helped.

Two films were shown – Eternal Prague, showing the beautiful city before the occupation, and Czech Army Marches with humorous commentary by the motorcycle racer Eric Oliver. The programme also included a poem, Lidice spoken by child refugee Ruben Auerbach; and Mrs Mautner, a dramatic play depicting how the Germans are haunted by the victims of their atrocities; a song written by Dr Stross called Lidice Shall Live Again sung by Czech children from the Penkhull Homes; a song recital by Miss F. Hewson; and a Czech poem, October 28th, spoken by Mr F. Kisch. Finally, a “colourful and pleasing display” of the Beseda, the traditional Czechoslovak national dance, concluded the entertainment.

Ruben Auerbach top left, with other Czech refugee children outside their home at the Penkhull Homes in Stoke-on-Trent. The homes were sustained with the help of the Czech Children’s Committee, the Czech-Slovak – British Friendship Club, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, trade unions, the Co-operative and other charitable donations

For more information about the reaction to the Lidice atrocity in Stoke-on-Trent and the fundraising campaigns for a new Lidice that took place across Great Britain between 1942 and 1947, read The Path to Lidice – the definitive account of the Lidice Shall Live campaign.
Available now, online from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and in ebook formats – free with Amazon Unlimited.

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