Monday, 21 March 2011

Spying landlords

Sometimes the chummy veneer of a nation pulling as one rubbed off to reveal something more sinister. Like the landlord of your local keeping tabs on your conversation. Just in case you said too much or undermined morale. Nowadays there would be CCTV cameras in the public bar watching out for Fifth Columnists. (Speaking of which, ever wonder what the other four columns were?)

The Brewers' Journal was all for spying landlords:


Suppression of "Chatterbugs."

Fifty thousand inns and other licensed premises in Great Britain are participating in the suppression of "chatterbugs," and are keeping ceaseless watch for Fifth Columnists.

In many cases, it is stated, licensees have already given most useful information to the authorities, with whom they are working in close contact.

Captain A. J. Dyer, chairman ot the London Central Board, in an interview, said that licensees all over the country are being encouraged by the Trade organisations to give every possible help to the Government by informing the authorities of any suspicious conduct on the part of strangers, by discouraging pessimistic talk and the dissemination of rumours, and by doing their utmost to maintain the traditional cheerfulness, friendliness and harmless social intercourse of the inn.

"The inn has always been a real centre of social life in Britain, and as such is an important factor in keeping up the public morale," said Capt. Dyer. "Nevertheless, its friendly atmosphere is open to abuse, and we have enjoined on our members the vital necessity of keeping their eyes and ears open for Quislings and Fifth Columnists who may be attempting to secure information from uniformed customers or those known to be engaged in any kind of war work.

"Every licensee is doing his utmost to quell rumour-mongering and mischievous chatter. Public-house customers as a body are cheerful, well-balanced people, and, as a rule, prefer social contact and the friendly games provided by the public-house to war talk; but the very friendliness of the inn affords Opportunity for mischief-makers, and against this our members are keenly on the alert.

"I have heard of many instances of prompt intervention by the man behind the bar when talk has drifted into directions of possible danger, and of other action where the circumstances point to something more than thoughtless talk.

"The motto of The British licensee for the duration is 'Tails Up.' Undoubtedly the innkeeper, especially in the country, where the atmosphere of the inn is particularly intimate, is proving a great influence in keeping up public morale." — Morning Advertiser.
"The Brewers' Journal 1940" page 479. (Published June 19th, 1940.)

Informing the authorities of suspicious strangers. It reminds of a scene in Private Schulz. Schulz has landed in Britain on a secret mission and drops by a pub. Where he arouses suspicion by not knowing opening times and asking for a coffee. The authorities are duly notified and he's soon captured. That's probably how it was supposed to work. The reality was more likely nosy busybodies grassing up anyone they didn't like the look of.

That said, it does make sense. Where better for foreign agents to do a little discrete spying than down the pub. Get a few of the airmen from the local fighter base pissed and turn the conversation to miltary matters. It must have gone on. Is there a way of finding out how many Nazi spies were caught causing mischief in pubs? I'd love to know more details. But I suspect they wouldn't be easy to chase down.

"Public-house customers as a body are cheerful, well-balanced people" Whoever wrote that clearly never visited Newark. Which reminds me of my favourite ever dream. The one where I went on a pub-crawl in wartime Newark. It was so good, I even got to taste the beer. Mmm, Warwick's Mild. Lovely.


Rod said...

"Fifth Columnist"
Franco is supposed to have said that he had four columns (of infantry presumably) marching on Madrid (I think) and a fifth column within the city

Martyn Cornell said...

Not Franco, but General Emilio Mola, another Nationalist commander in the Spanish Civil War, though he was indeed talking about a "fifth column" of Nationalist sympathisers inside Madrid to back the four columns of his army inside the city.

Craig said...

Hey, that's better than being rounded up and interned for being of Japanese decent.

Martyn Cornell said...

Bah - for "the four columns of his army inside the city" in my comment, read, of course, "the four columns of his army outside the city

Martyn Cornell said...

Craig: Jews who had escaped from Germany (and Austria) in 1938 and 1939, and made it to the UK, but who were still, nominally, citizens of the Reich were rounded up after September 3, 1939 and interned first on the Isle of Man and then in Australia: one shipload was sunk by a Nazi U-boat. fear of fifth-columnists was everywhere.

marquis said...

Craig-people of German origin were rounded up and interned. Most went to the Isle of Man where conditions were better and shortages less severe than the mainland.

Thomas Barnes said...

I'm reminded of the Irish/Welsh joke about "[Jones/Murphy] the spy."

Ron, actually there were very few Nazi spies operating in the UK, especially after the U.S. entered the war (IIRC, from 1939-41 there were some American spies for Germany operating in the UK, although there were more Irish spies - often motivated by IRA sympathies.)

The combination of the Enigma code breaking operation and first rate counterintelligence work by MI6 meant that Nazi infiltrators were usually captured as soon as they entered the country.

Of course, vigilant landlords might have helped with MI6's outstanding record.

Craig said...

Martyn and Marquis,

As deplorable as those actions were, and I'm not condoning them, interning second and third generation Japanese-American citizens, simply because of their heritage and apperance, is on a whole different level than what the British government did at the start of the war. There is no doubt in mind that the US had it's fair share of "fifth columnist", real or imagined, but a state-sanctioned imprisonment of it's own citizens was, understatedly extreme.

Rod said...

Not all Germans/Austrians were interned - my Grandmother spent the whole of the Second World War in her own home in Pokesdown, Dorset. Mind you, she had left Germany well before Hitler came to power, never set foot in the Third Reich, and her husband was killed by a Stuka bomb.
On the other hand, I once had an Austrian colleague who had been on tour with the Vienna Boy's Choir and spent the war as a teenager interned in Australia.

Oh, and by the way, Mr Cornell - I bow to your superior knowledge re the 5th column quote. Actually, I often bow to your superior knowledge.......

Craig said...

As a side note: The U.S. also detained Jewish refugees after it's involvement in the war. Most notably at Fort Ontario in Oswego, NY.