One of the joys of doing research is the serendipitous process of discovery of things one didn’t know one wanted to know. I say joy, of course, but naturally some restraint is necessary as, so often, the stuff you didn’t know you wanted to know is a great deal more interesting than the stuff one was tediously searching for, perhaps for some time.
One such piece of information had exactly this effect. For a forthcoming book I was trying to establish the kind of things Sir Albert Stanley got involved with whilst he ran the Board of Trade (some readers will know Sir Albert better as Lord Ashfield, his title from 1920). It seems that we may have been fortunate he was in a position to undertake this task as a story told some years later in a particularly obscure newspaper explains.
Stanley did not like holidays and it was unusual during his early time with the Underground for him to be off for more than a day at a time. Whether or not he had misgivings we may never know, but it seems that he was definitely having more than one day off when he found himself in Germany on 1st August 1914, a Saturday, presumably not unduly concerned about world events. This was, apparently, his ever first ‘proper’ holiday. He was, for reasons we do not know, in Baden (which I think means the state of that name). Whilst he was in conversation with a German officer during the morning the officer warned him to ‘get out’ and go home that same afternoon, a message which Stanley was induced to take rather seriously.
Stanley first considered leaving by train but discovered that (already) he was not permitted to travel. With a friend, he then purchased two motor cars, costing the equivalent of £1500, and proceeded to get away by road. They were stopped in Freyberg, so the story goes, but this must surely be Freiberg which is at least in Baden. At any rate, the cars were confiscated.
In desperation Stanley and friend managed to get themselves on board what was described as a luggage train, though the train was also heavily occupied by soldiers (sadly we are not told whose). He managed to reach Holland in due course and succeeded in getting back to England on the evening of 3rd August, the eve of Britain declaring war on Germany.
Germany had in fact declared war against Russia on the evening of 1st August and invaded Luxembourg the following day, so troop movements and travel restrictions would have been very evident already. Although Germany was a great deal more relaxed about foreign travellers and residents on its soil than Britain was when war broke out (the British rather liked locking people up) there were restrictions and foreigners were at first subject to curfew and various other deprivations and it would have got increasingly more difficult to get away. Foreign nationals were eventually subject to internment, but more as a matter of principle as German nationals in Britain were interned and treated shamefully even for just having a Germanic-sounding name (such as Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the family name of Britain’s monarch and diplomatically changed to Windsor in 1917!).
Indeed, the Underground’s chairman Sir Edgar Speyer, a music-loving philanthropist and pillar of respectability and about as British as one can get, was treated shamefully by the country as his reward for funding and later helping to rescue the Underground’s finances, and all because of his name. He was eventually hounded out and went to America. Even more shamefully he was later stripped of his British citizenship and branded a traitor. But the problem was that his name was not Jones (or Saxe-Coburg, or Battenberg, another example of a hasty rebranding).
Anyway, that is the tale for what it is worth of Sir Albert Stanley’s first holiday! Perhaps he thought all holidays were like this: perhaps that’s what had put him off. So Many questions are generated. Many Britains and certainly the Cabinet (which was meeting while Stanley was chatting to the German officer) had felt for days that war could break out and certainly knew several countries were mobilizing troops. An interesting place to choose for a holiday, one might think, but then Stanley was an interesting chap. Such a pity he is remembered only by the obsessives for the relatively unimportant fiddling about with signage he was associated with and not some of the truly crucial stuff he did. We do need a proper biography of the man.
One wonders how things would have panned out if he hadn’t been resourceful enough to get the luggage train.
I wonder if he spoke German.