Birmingham Rallies to Support the Lidice Shall Live Campaign 1943

Birmingham, the largest conurbation within the Warwickshire Miners’ Federation Coalfield, was the first city to accept the invitation to join the national Lidice Shall Live campaign. Its citizens demonstrated complete empathy for the struggle of the Czech people as they inaugurated the second Lidice Shall Live committee by having a Lidice Week. It was a popular formula that would be adopted by other Midlands cities.

The Lord Mayor, Cllr Walter Lewis, took on the mantle of Chairman of Birmingham’s Lidice Committee, while Cllr Charles G. Spragg, Secretary of the Birmingham Trades Council, took on Honorary Secretary to the Committee; Mr Frank Packwood JP accepted the job of Honorary Treasurer; and Mr Frank Webster, a member of the Trades Council Executive, volunteered to act as Steward-in-Chief at the launch event.

Birmingham Town Hall, May 30th 1943

The launch at Birmingham Town Hall on Sunday the 30th of May 1943 attracted more people than the Hanley event. It was organised and orchestrated primarily by George Jones of the Warwickshire Miners’ Federation. Jones, as a member of the inaugural Lidice Shall Live committee, was the link between the North Staffordshire Miners’ Federation and Dr Barnett Stross on the one hand and Birmingham City Council and the Warwickshire miners on the other. As the delegate who secured nationwide support for the Lidice Shall Live movement at the national mining conference the previous July, he was leading by example.

This was his mass meeting. It was intended to be a beacon for other areas across the British Coalfield to put on similar events to ensure the breadth and scope of the campaign. He, therefore, felt a deep personal interest in the event’s progress.

Birmingham’s Lidice Week opened with a march past of Czechoslovakian troops. Accompanying them were Lord Mayor Lewis and Jan Masaryk, Czechoslovak Foreign Minister and son of the founder of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Masaryk. Jan had made a name for himself in Britain following his tremendous success as a member of the BBC Brains Trust, a national radio programme popular during the 1940s on which a panel of experts tried to answer questions sent in by the audience. Masaryk was the principal speaker at a pageant and demonstration arranged by the Birmingham Lidice Shall Live Committee in the municipal hall. The Birmingham Post takes on the report:

“The Lord Mayor, Cllr W. Lewis, presided and other speakers included Mr P. J. Noel-Baker, MP Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport; Alderman George Jones, J.P. of the Midlands Miners’ Federation who was chiefly responsible for organising the event and representative of the Lidice Shall Live committee; and Canon Guy Rogers, Rector of Birmingham.

Also present were the Counsellor of the Soviet Embassy, Mr Vasily Valkov; and Colonel Alex Sizon, Military Attaché to the Soviet Embassy; General Fuffrin (from Fighting French headquarters); as well as the following Czech Ministers: for Czecho-Slovak Social Welfare, Mr Jan Becko; State, Dr Hubert Ripka; Industry and Commerce, Dr J. Slavik; and Mr P. Maxa, chairman of the Czechoslovak State Council. Powerful testimony came in the form of the two young men from Lidice who were serving as RAF Flight Lieutenants, X and Y.”

Following their warm reception, the meeting observed a minute’s silence for the oppressed people of Europe. Then, between them, the two airmen (X and Y), in actuality Flight Lieutenants Josef Horák and Josef Stříbrný, read out a pledge to the Czech nation, as follows:

“We the people of Birmingham, the industrial heart of Britain, call to you our friends and brothers on the Continent,

We call to the glorious partisans, gallant fighters for freedom, and heroic underground workers in all occupied countries.

We call to all those of you who lead, in spite of terror, execution squad, atrocities and quislings, an incessant epic struggle against the Nazi monster.

We people of Birmingham who are producing the tanks, planes, guns, and ammunition to smash Hitler.

We, who serve in the armed forces, are united in one desire, to work, fight and prepare even harder in the future: in order to bring to you the help you need so urgently.

We want you to know that we have not forgotten, nor shall we ever forget, your sacrifices, and your suffering.

Lidice, the execution of countless patriots, the extermination of millions of Jews, and the martyrdom of all those living under the Gestapo terror are reminders we shall never forget.

We people of Britain, knowing the degree of your suffering, want you to know we are with you in your ordeal. The spectacular defeats of the German and Axis armies on the Eastern Front and in North Africa are undeniable signs of the fast-approaching doom of Nazi Germany.

We know that you are waiting for us to set foot on your soil, to help you to free your home and country. But we are also sure that when we come, and come we shall, you will be ready to join us in the final battle.

Knowing therefore that, unless your country is free, there can be no free Europe, we recognise that any victory of ours must be also a victory for you.

Together we fight in a world at war. Together, let us build a world of freedom and peace.”

The speech was not overlooked by the Birmingham Post, which wrote:

“Last night those two, wearing the uniform of the RAF, spoke at Birmingham Town Hall, a message of hope from the people of Birmingham to their own people and to all people in the occupied countries. Outside the crowded hall, people in the streets of Birmingham heard it over loudspeakers.

A record of it went out over the air to the people of Europe, across, as one speaker put it, ‘the Atlantic wall of Hitler’s guns and Goebbels’ lies.’ The message was that Lidice should live.”

Prior to the meeting in the Town Hall, there was a parade and march past of units of the British Armed Forces, Civil Defence, Auxiliary Territorial Service and Youth Organisations and the band of the Grenadier Guards played in Victoria Square from 4.15 to 6 p.m. Separately, but in support of the campaign, a garden party and concert were held at Dame Elizabeth Cadbury’s Manor Farm in Northfield. The Birmingham Post continued:

“The Town Hall was filled for the meeting at which the Lord Mayor, who was accompanied by the Lady Mayoress, presided. Flags of the Allies were carried in procession to the platform. After prayers for all sufferers from Nazi aggression, Czech songs were sung by members of the Czechoslovakian Army Choir. The Lord Mayor said the citizens of Birmingham were proud to pay tribute to their gallant Allies – the Czechoslovak Republic.

He hoped that soon they would be restored to their former greatness in Europe. He suggested that the estimated cost of rebuilding Lidice was £1,000,000 and that Lidice would be rebuilt as a model mining village. But, he said, it was more than a question of Lidice. It was a symbol of hope for all the oppressed people of the world: ‘Oppressed Europe is calling for our aid, and Birmingham now answers that we shall help,’ he said.”

Mr Noel-Baker hailed the re-building of a new Lidice as ‘a spiritual guarantee to other oppressed men and women.’ He explained that the Allies did not intend simply to smash the Nazis or restore British power but to revive the Christian civilisation Hitler had tried to destroy. Words would be redeemed by deeds. The criminals who slaughtered Lidice would be punished; but the wish was to seek justice, not revenge. “When we build Europe and the world again,” he concluded,

“I hope we shall wipe away the weaknesses, corruption and folly which in our countries in the West brought down Czecho-Slovakia down in 1938, a world where for all men in all countries the things that made life bitter for us shall be done away with.”

Jan Masaryk, Deputy Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia, said, “I am grateful to this great city for doing this noble thing for us.” He said that Lidice was not a little village but a symbol, and that when he spoke of Lidice, he thought of hundreds of places in China, Poland, and other countries. There was unity among the Allied nations at the moment, and that unity must remain after the war, especially with the Russian people. Alderman George Jones said that when the town was rebuilt, he hoped it would be possible to accept the invitation already given to hold the first international miners’ conference there.

Mr Philip Nichols, HM Ambassador to the Czechoslovak Government-in-exile in London, commented: “The cause you have at heart is a noble one. It will help others and promote friendship between peoples.” In the evening, there was a parade of members of the military, nursing, and Civil Defence Forces, including a contingent of the Czech Army. The salute was taken in Victoria Square by the Lord Mayor, who was accompanied by Jan Masaryk.

Birmingham’s marketing slogan became “Birmingham Will Answer!”—“The Nazis Destroyed Lidice – Help to Destroy the Nazis!”

Following the committee’s launch, a significant driving force behind Birmingham’s campaign became Cllr Spragg. Adverts inviting donations to the Birmingham branch of the Lidice Shall Live Fund were a common sight in the Birmingham Post during the summer and autumn of 1943—space sponsored by the brewery, Mitchells and Butlers.

Birmingham’s Czecho-Slovak – British Friendship Club, near New Street Station, opened in the autumn of 1944 and staged an attractive programme of lectures and parties. According to the press, “its canteen possesses that rare jewel, a cook who loves cooking, and Birmingham people who enjoy continental dishes should persuade a member to invite them to sample her Czech specialities, such as “vepřová pečeně,” “Wiener Schnitzel,” or “knedlíky,” which can be more than warmly recommended.” The exhibition was designed to show the role played by the Czechoslovak Army in the war.

Opened by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, it consisted of photographs and displays from the time of Munich, including Czech soldiers in Britain, France, and North Africa, while another told of the constant “fight against the invader that has gone on inside the Republic since 1939.” Displayed above was the Czechoslovak coat of arms, together with its motto, “Pravda vítězí” (Truth prevails). Lieutenant Colonel Josef Kalla, who was at the launch of the exhibition, said,

“When I was a young man in Czechoslovakia, I was always taught that the word “Englishman” was synonymous with gentleman…Nothing that I have seen or heard since coming here many years ago has caused me to change that view. British and Czech troops are fighting side by side in many parts of the world, and these troops will prove to the world that truth will prevail.” The exhibition was organised in conjunction with the Czechoslovak Ministry of Information.

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