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Despatch Box

Finest Hour 139, Summer 2008

Page 4

LEOPOLD III

Congratulations to Richard Langworth for his excellent article. It will do much to set the record straight.
SIR MARTIN GILBERT CBE, LONDON

As a Belgian who was in France and Belgium in May and June 1940, I was deeply interested in Richard Langworth’s “Feeding the Crocodile: Was Leopold Guilty?” (pages 42-46). He fully and convincingly shows that Leopold was justified in concluding that further Belgian Army resistance was impossible, and that he had given timely warning to the British and French Allies of its inevitability.

I believe Churchill misspoke in his first reference to the King’s capitulation because at that time (mid-May 1940), he was preoccupied in making common cause with the French, whose will to fight was waning. The first public announcement of King Leopold’s capitulation was made in a speech by Paul Reynaud, French Prime Minister on 28 May, when he attempted to blame the Belgians for the French military debacle. For Churchill to have publicly distanced himself from Reynaud would have been injurious to what remained of the Allied war effort.

Another aspect of the King’s action on that day has remained a festering debate for Belgians ever since, albeit of relatively little concern to Finest Hour: Leopold’s decision, against the advice of his government, to become a “prisoner“ of the Germans, in effect abandoning the fight against the invader. His decision not to fulfill his constitutional responsibility as Head of State, to follow the advice of his government to continue the war, was wrong in the opinion of many Belgians. On that charge I believe the verdict is “guilty.”
FRANCIS DE MARNEFFE, CAMBRIDGE, MASS

In the summer of 1940, ninety percent of the Belgian people were in favour of the King. The plebiscite of 12 March 1950 showed the split that had developed. I believe Hitler’s decision to incarcerate the Walloon troops for five years, and the King’s subsequent marriage to a Flemish commoner, rather than his refusal to follow his government to London, turned Belgians against him.

As former soldiers we understand the King’s loyalty to his troops. He believed his pledge of 24 May, to remain no matter what happened, superseded his obligation to follow his ministers. The battle of the Lys, on 24-27 May, stunned the Germans, who could not believe how much fight was left in the Belgians. According to Liddell Hart, were it not for the stubborn resistance at Lys, the Dunkirk evacuation would not have been possible: “If King Leopold III had left Belgium on May 25th, as his ministers and Churchill had urged him to do, the Belgian army would have surrendered immediately, instead of fighting on until early morning of May 28th. If so, the British would have had very little chance of escaping encirclement, so it could very reasonably be claimed that they were saved by King Leopold III, who was then violently abused by Britain and France.”

For us, we honor our troops and our King for their valor and their courage. Wethank Dr. de Marneffe and respect his opinion.
DANIELWYBO, TORONTO, ONT.

I was so interested to read your thoughtful article about King Leopold III. I thought you might like to see my father Oscar Nemon’s bust of King Leopold and Paul-Henri Spaak. He sculpted a great many of Belgium’s royalty and leading statesmen in the Thirties. His bust of Spaak is at the European Parliament in Brussels. (I’m giving a “Nemon in Brussels” talk at the Royal Anglo-Belgian Club in London on 7 October.) Paul-Henri Spaak’s second wife, Simone, was one of Oscar Nemon’s lifelong friends. When she was a teenage heiress, she rescued Nemon from his dingy cellar in Brussels and introduced him into the world of the Belgian Royal family.
LADYYOUNG, ANDOVER, HANTS.

INTELLIGENCE CORPS

With the greatest respect, Danny Mander is mistaken in believing the Field Security Police (page 20) to be “our own secret branch of the Military Police.” It was precisely to avoid confusion regarding its function that the name was changed in 1940 to the Field Security Service—a branch of the Intelligence Corps. Having had the privilege of serving in Field Security, however, I would certainly accept that his description of us as “nondescript” is pretty accurate.
PETER TRAY, LONDON

POOR NEVILLE

My take on Munich is that Chamberlain gets blamed for the outcome of a crisis for which there may not have been any solution. So it was gratifying to find in the latest FH two analogous situations: Singapore and Leopold III. Once is an anecdote; but three times suggest aprinciple: Some problems have no answers. We have a word for it— ”tragic.” The other principle is, we all need a scapegoat. Poor Neville.
PROF. MANFRED WEIDHORNYESHIV AUNIVERSITY,NEW YORK

WINSTON & JACK

What a defensive and dull review of Celia and John Lee’s five years of research and writing from a trove of private family letters and documents never before read outside the immediate family (pages 47-48). Ted Hutchinson might not like the facts, but these authors expose them with sympathetic delicacy and exquisite tact. At the same time, they assassinate a number of untruths that to this day line the pockets of moremercenary authors. Even the Lees have not given Jack (and later his son Peregrine) enough credit for trying to keep the family financially solvent.
ELIZABETH C. SNELL, HALIFAX, NOVASCOTIA

BOWELS NOT TOWELS

Help me stop laughing about the slip of the finger (left index) that turned “Keep Your Bowels Open…” into “Keep your Towels Open…” (page 48). Can I be the first to notice that? Reviewing Stansky is a perfect example of what I have suggested to you often: the context within which Churchill operated is where Finest Hour can, I believe, contribute to knowledge: “…understanding Churchill’s leadership requires an understanding of the London Blitz, not the other way round.”
PROF. WARREN F. KIMBALL, JOHN ISLAND, S.C.

WFB, RIP

I wanted to tell you how much Ienjoyed your tribute to William F. Buckley, Jr. (pages16-18). I have always admired him, although I have really never known much about him. When I first began to read Churchill, I was struck by the literary quality of WFB’s eulogies for friends and public figures. Like Lincoln, whom Buckley mentioned at our conference, Churchill was able to distill into a few words the essence and significance of a life or event. You seem to have that gift.
STEVE GOLDFIEN, SAN FRANCISCO

A quick but appreciative note about your reminiscence of William F. Buckley, Jr. It was nicely done. I also enjoyed your essay about Leopold III. I have run across this controversy during my work on Herbert Hoover. It was a subject that interested Hoover and his Belgian Relief entourage. GEORGE H. NASH, JR., SOUTH HADLEY, MASS.

Dr. Nash is the distinguished biographer of President Hoover.

ERRATA, FH 138

Page 11. The photo shows the Ministry of Defence main building, which remains in business. It is the Old War Office building next door that is being dispensed with.

Page 20, column 2: for “branch of Military Police” read “branch of Intelligence Corps.” (See left.)

Page 43: Arrgh! The soldiers pictured are German, not Belgian! The photo was mislabeled. Thanks to Paul Courtenay and Francis de Marneffe, who writes: “The shape of the helmet, the insignia on the collar and the marking on the sleeve all confirm it. The Belgian helmet was the same shape as the French.

”Our apologies, to Belgian readers in particular.

Page 48. The most amusing gaffe in months is the title, which should read “Keep Your Bowels Open” not “Keep Your Towels Open,” though the latter has a kind of wry appeal. (See left.)

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