Document:The Milner Group in Word War II
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The Second World War, 1939-1945
THE MILNER GROUP played a considerable role in the Second World War, not scattered throughout the various agencies associated with the great struggle, but concentrated in four or five chief fiefs. Among these were:
(1) the Research and Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office;
(2) the British Embassy in Washington;
(3) the Ministry of Information; and
(4) those agencies concerned with economic mobilization and economic reconstruction.
Considering the age of most of the inner core of the Milner Group during the Second World War (the youngest, Lothian, was 57 in 1939; Hichens was 65; Brand was 61; Dawson was 65; and Curtis was 67), they accomplished a great deal. Unable, in most cases, to serve themselves, except in an advisory capacity, they filled their chief fiefs with their younger associates. In most cases, these were recruited from All Souls, but occasionally they were obtained elsewhere.
We have already indicated how the Research and Press Department of Chatham House was made into the Research and Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office, at first unofficially and then officially. This was dominated by Lionel Curtis and Arnold Toynbee, the latter as director of the department for the whole period 1939-1946. Others who were associated with this activity were B. H. Sumner (Warden of All Souls), C. A. Macartney, A. E. Zimmern, J. W. Wheeler-Bennett, and most of the paid staff from Chatham House. Zimmern was deputy director in 1943-1945, and Wheeler-Bennett was deputy director in 1945.
Of even greater significance was the gathering of Milner Group members and their recruits in Washington. The Group had based most of their foreign policy since 1920 on the hope of "closer union" with the United States, and they realized that American intervention in the war was absolutely essential to insure a British victory. Accordingly, more than a dozen members of the Group were in Washington during the war, seeking to carry on this policy.
Lord Lothian was named Ambassador to the United States as soon as the war began. It was felt that his long acquaintance with the country and the personal connections built up during almost fifteen years as Rhodes Secretary more than counteracted his intimate relationship with the notorious Cliveden Set, especially as this latter relationship was unknown to most Americans. On Lothian's unexpected and lamented death in December 1940, the position in Washington was considered to be of such crucial importance that Lord Halifax was shifted to the vacant post from the Foreign Office. He retained his position in the War Cabinet. Thus the post at Washington was raised to a position which no foreign legation had ever had before. Lord Halifax continued to hold the post until 1946, a year after the war was actually finished. During most of the period, he was surrounded by members of the Milner Group, chiefly Fellows of All Souls, so that it was almost impossible to turn around in the British Embassy without running into a member of that select academic circle. The most important of these were Lord Brand, Harold Butler, and Arthur Salter.
Lord Brand was in America from March 1941 to May 1946, as head of the British Food Mission for three years and as representative of the British Treasury for two years. He was also chairman of the British Supply Council in North America in 1942 and again in 1945-1946. He did not resign his position as managing director of Lazard Brothers until May 1944. Closely associated with Brand was his protege, Adam D. Marris, son of Sir William Marris of the Kindergarten, who was employed at Lazard Brothers from 1929 to the outbreak of war, then spent a brief period in the Ministry of Economic Warfare in London. In 1940 he came to the Embassy in Washington, originally as First Secretary, later as Counsellor. After the war he was, for six months, secretary general of the Emergency Economic Committee for Europe. In February 1946 he returned to Lazard Brothers.
Harold Butler (Sir Harold since 1946) came to Washington in 1942 with the rank of minister. He stayed for four years, being chiefly concerned with public relations. Sir Arthur Salter, who married a Washington lady in 1940, came to America in 1941 as head of the British Merchant Shipping Mission. He stayed until UNRRA was set up early in 1944, when he joined the new organization as Senior Deputy Director General. A year later he joined the Cabinet as Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster. Sir Arthur was well qualified as a shipping expert, having been engaged intermittently in government shipping problems since he left Brasenose College in 1904. His close personal relations with Lord Halifax went back to an even earlier period, when they both were students at Oxford.
Among the lesser persons who came to Washington during the war, we should mention four members of All Souls: I. Berlin, J. G. Foster, R. M. Makins, and J. H. A. Sparrow.Isaiah Berlin, one of the newer recruits to the Milner Group, made his way into this select circle by winning a Fellowship to All Souls in 1932, the year after he graduated from Corpus Christi. Through this connection, he became a close friend of Mr. and Mrs. H. A. L. Fisher and has been a Fellow and Tutor of New College since 1938. In 1941 he came to New York to work with J. W. Wheeler-Bennett in the Ministry of Information's American branch but stayed for no more than a year. In 1942 he became First Secretary in the Embassy in Washington, a position but recently vacated by Adam Marris. After the war he went for a brief period of four months to a similar post in the British Embassy in Moscow. In 1949 he came to Harvard University as visiting lecturer on Russia.
John Galway Foster is another recent recruit to the Milner Group and, like Berlin, won his entry by way of All Souls (1924). He is also a graduate of New College and from 1935 to 1939 was lecturer in Private International Law at Oxford. In 1939 he went to the Embassy in Washington as First Secretary and stayed for almost five years. In 1944 he was commissioned a brigadier on special service and the following year gained considerable prestige by winning a Conservative seat in Parliament in the face of the Labour tidal wave. He is still a Fellow of All Souls, after twenty-five years, and this fact alone would indicate he has a position as an important member of the Group.
Roger Mellor Makins, son of a Conservative M.P., was elected a Fellow of All Souls immediately after graduation from Christ Church in 1925. He joined the diplomatic service in 1928 and spent time in London, Washington, and (briefly) Oslo in the next nine years. In 1937 he became assistant adviser on League of Nations affairs to the Foreign Office. He was secretary to the British delegation to the Evian Conference on Refugees from Germany in 1938 and became secretary to the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees set up at that meeting. In 1939 he returned to the Foreign Office as adviser on League of Nations Affairs but soon became a First Secretary; he was adviser to the British delegation at the New York meeting of the International Labour Conference in 1941 and the following year joined the staff of the Resident Minister in West Africa. When the Allied Headquarters in the Mediterranean area was set up in 1943, he joined the staff of the Resident British Minister with that unit. At the end of the war, in 1945, he went to the Embassy in Washington with the rank of Minister. In this post he had the inestimable advantage that his wife, whom he married in 1934, was the daughter of the late Dwight F. Davis, Secretary of War in the Hoover Administration. During this period Makins played an important role at various international organizations. He was the United Kingdom representative on the Interim Commission for Food and Agriculture of the United Nations in 1945; he was adviser to the United Kingdom delegation to the first FAO Conference at Quebec the same year; he was a delegate to the Atlantic City meeting of UNRRA in the following year. In 1947 he left Washington to become Assistant Under Secretary of State in the Foreign Office in London.
Another important member of All Souls who appeared briefly in Washington during the war was John H. A. Sparrow. Graduated from Winchester School and New College by 1927, he became an Eldon Law Scholar and a Fellow of All Souls in 1929. He is still a Fellow of the latter after twenty years. Commissioned in the Coldstream Guards in 1940, he was in Washington on a confidential military mission during most of 1940 and was attached to the War Office from 1942 to the end of the war.
Certain other members of the Group were to be found in the United States during the period under discussion. We have already mentioned the services rendered to the Ministry of Information by J. W. Wheeler-Bennett in New York from 1939 to 1944. Robert J. Stopford was Financial Counsellor to the British Embassy in 1940-1943. We should also mention that F. W. Eggleston, chief Australian member of the Group, was Australian Minister in Washington from 1944 to 1946. And the story of the Milner Group's activities in Washington would not be complete without at least mentioning Percy E. Corbett.
Percy Corbett of Prince Edward Island, Canada, took a M. A. degree at McGill University in 1915 and went to Balliol as a Rhodes Scholar. He was a Fellow of All Souls in 1920-1928 and a member of the staff of the League of Nations in 1920-1924. He was Professor of Roman Law at McGill University from 1924 to 1937 and had been Professor of Government and Jurisprudence and chairman of the Department of Political Science at Yale since 1944. He has always been close to the Milner Group, participating in many of their Canadian activities, such as the Canadian Royal Institute of International Affairs, the unofficial British Commonwealth relations conferences, and the Institute of Pacific Relations. He was chairman of the Pacific Council of the last organization in 1942. During the war he spent much of his time in the United States, especially in Washington, engaged in lobbying activities for the British Embassy, chiefly in Rhodes Scholarship and academic circles but also in government agencies. Since the war ended, he has obtained, by his position at Yale, a place of considerable influence, especially since Yale began, in 1948, to publish its new quarterly review called World Politics. On this review, Professor Corbett is one of the more influential members. At present he must be numbered among the three most important Canadian members of the Milner Group, the other two being Vincent Massey and George Parkin Glazebrook.
In view of the emphasis which the Milner Group has always placed on publicity and the need to control the chief avenues by which the general public obtains information on public affairs, it is not surprising to find that the Ministry of Information was one of the fiefs of the Group from its establishment in 1939.
At the outbreak of war, H. A. L. Fisher had been Governor of the BBC for four years. It was probably as a result of this connection that L. F. Rushbrook Williams, whom we have already mentioned in connection with Indian affairs and as a member of All Souls since 1914, became Eastern Service Director of the BBC. He was later adviser on Middle East affairs to the Ministry of Information but left this, in 1944, to become an editor of The Times. Edward Griggs, now Lord Altrincham, was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Information from its creation to the Cabinet revision of 1940, when he shifted to the War Office. J. W. Wheeler-Bennett and Isaiah Berlin were with the New York office of the Ministry of Information, as we have seen, the former throughout the war and the latter in 1941-1942. H. V. Hodson, Fellow of All Souls and probably the most important of the newer recruits to the Milner Group, was Director of the Empire Division of the Ministry of Information from its creation in 1939 until he went to India as Reforms Commissioner in 1941-1942. And finally, Cyril John Radcliffe (Sir Cyril after 1944), a graduate of New College in 1922 and a Fellow of All Souls for fifteen years (1922-1937), son-in-law of Lord Charnwood since 1939, was in the Ministry of Information for the whole period of the war, more than four years of it as Director General of the whole organization.
In addition to these three great fiefs (the Research and Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office, the Embassy in Washington, and the Ministry of Information), the Milner Group exercised considerable influence in those branches of the administration concerned with emergency economic regulations, although here the highest positions were reserved to those members of the Cecil Bloc closest to the Milner Group. Oliver Lyttelton, whose mother was a member of the Group, was Controller of Non-Ferrous Metals in 1939-1940, was President of the Board of Trade in 1940-1941, and was Minister of Production in 1942-1945. Lord Wolmer (Lord Selborne since 1942) was Director of Cement in the Ministry of Works in 1940-1942 and Minister of Economic Warfare in 1942-1945. In this connection, it should be mentioned that the Milner Group had developed certain economic interests in non-ferrous metals and in cement in the period of the 1920s and 1930s. The former developed both from their interest in colonial mines, which were the source of the ores, and from their control of electrical utilities, which supplied much of the power needed to reduce these ores. The center of these interests was to be found, on the one hand, in the Rhodes Trust and the economic holdings of the associates of Milner and Rhodes like R. S. Holland, Abe Bailey, P. L. Gell, etc., and, on the other hand, in the utility interests of Lazard Brothers and of the Hoare family. The ramifications of these interests are too complicated, and too well concealed, to be described in any detail here, but we might point out that Lord Milner was a director of Rio Tinto, that Dougal Malcolm was a director of Nchanga Consolidated Copper Mines, that Samuel Hoare was a director of Birmingham Aluminum Casting Company until he took public office, that the Hoare family had extensive holdings in Associated Tin Mines of Nigeria, in British-American Tin Corporation, in London Tin Corporation, etc.; that R. S. Holland was an Anglo-Spanish Construction Company, on British Copper Manufacturers, and on the British Metal Corporation; that Lyttelton Gell was a director of Huelva Copper and of the Zinc Corporation; that Oliver Lyttelton was managing director of the British Metal Corporation and a director of Metallgesellschaft, the German light-metals monopoly. The chief member of the Group in the cement industry was Lord Meston, who was placed on many important corporations after his return from India, including the Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers and the British Portland Cement Manufacturers. The third Lord Selborne was chairman of the Cement Makers' Federation from 1934 to 1940, resigning to take charge of the government's cement-regulation program.
In lesser posts in these activities, we might mention the following. Charles R. S. Harris, whom we have already mentioned as an associate of Brand, a Fellow of All Souls for fifteen years, a leader-writer on The Times for ten years, the authority on Duns Scotus who wrote a book on Germany's foreign indebtedness for Chatham House, was in the Ministry of Economic Warfare in 1939-1940. He then spent two years in Iceland for the Foreign Office, and three years with the War Office, ending up in 1944-1945 as a member of the Allied Control Commission for Italy. H. V. Hodson was principal assistant secretary and later head of the Non-Munitions Division of the Ministry of Production from his return from India to the end of the war (1942-1945). Douglas P. T. Jay, a graduate of New College in 1930 and a Fellow of All Souls in the next seven years, was on the staff of The Times and The Economist in the period 1929-1937 and was city editor of The Daily Herald in 1937-1941. He was assistant secretary to the Ministry of Supply in 1941-1943 and principal assistant secretary to the Board of Trade in 1943-1945. After the Labour government came to power in the summer of 1945, he was personal assistant to the Prime Minister (Clement Attlee) until he became a Labour M.P. in 1946. Richard Pares, son of the famous authority on Russia, the late Sir Bernard Pares, and son-in-law of the famous historian Sir Maurice Powicke, was a Fellow of All Souls for twenty-one years after he graduated from Balliol in 1924. He was a lecturer at New College for eleven years, 1929-1940 and then was with the Board of Trade for the duration of the war, 1940-1945. Since the war, he has been Professor of History at Edinburgh. During most of the war his father, Sir Bernard Pares]], lectured in the United States as a pro-Russian propagandist in the pay of the Ministry of Information. We have already mentioned the brief period in which Adam Marris worked for the Ministry of Economic Warfare in 1939-1940.
As the war went on, the Milner Group shifted their attention increasingly to the subject of postwar planning and reconstruction. Much of this was conducted through Chatham House. When the war began, Toynbee wrote a letter to the Council of the BIIA, in which he said: "If we get through the present crisis and are given a further chance to try and put the world in order, we shall then feel a need to take a broader and deeper view of our problems than we were inclined to take after the War of 1914-1918... I believe this possibility has been in Mr. Lionel Curtis's mind since the time when he first conceived the idea of the Institute; his Civitas Dei and my Study of History are two reconnaissances of this historical background to the study of comtemporary international affairs." At the end of 1942 the Group founded a quarterly journal devoted to reconstruction. It was founded technically under the auspices of the London School of Economics, but the editor was G. N. Clark, a member of All Souls since 1912 and Chichele Professor of Economic History from 1931 to 1943. The title of this journal was Agenda, and its editorial offices were in Chatham House. These tentative plans to dominate the postwar reconstruction efforts received a rude jolt in August 1945, when the General Election removed the Conservative government from power and brought to office a Labour government. The influence of the Group in Labour circles has always been rather slight.
Since this blow, the Milner Group has been in eclipse, and it is not clear what has been happening. Its control of The Times, of The Round Table, of Chatham House, of the Rhodes Trust, of All Souls, and of Oxford generally has continued but has been used without centralized purpose or conviction. Most of the original members of the Group have retired from active affairs; the newer recruits have not the experience or the intellectual conviction, or the social contacts, which allowed the older members to wield such great power. The disasters into which the Group directed British policy in the years before 1940 are not such as to allow their prestige to continue undiminished. In imperial affairs, their policies have been largely a failure, with Ireland gone, India divided and going, Burma drifting away, and even South Africa more distant than at any time since 1910. In foreign policy their actions almost destroyed western civilization, or at least the European center of it. The Times has lost its influence; The Round Table seems lifeless. Far worse than this, those parts of Oxford where the Group's influence was strongest have suffered a disastrous decline. The Montague Burton Professorship of International Relations, to which Professor Zimmern and later Professor Woodward brought such great talents, was given in 1948 to a middle-aged spinster, daughter of Sir James Headlam-Morley, with one published work to her credit. The Chichele Professorship of International Law and Diplomacy, held with distinction for twenty-five years by Professor James L. Brierley, was filled in 1947 by a common-law lawyer, a specialist in the law of real property, who, by his own confession, is largely ignorant of international law and whose sole published work, written with the collaboration of a specialist on equity, is a treatise on the Law of Mortgages.
These appointments, which gave a shock to academic circles in the United States, do not allow an outside observer to feel any great optimism for the future either of the Milner Group or of the great institutions which it has influenced. It would seem that the great idealistic adventure which began with Toynbee and Milner in 1875 had slowly ground its way to a finish of bitterness and ashes.
- On the Ministry' of Information during the war, see Great Britain, Central Office of Information, First Annual Report, 1947-1948. This is Cmd. 7567.
- This extract is printed in the Report of the Council of the Royal Institute of International Affairs for 1938-1939.
- The last important public act of the Milner Group was the drawing of the Italo-Yugoslav boundary in 1946. The British Delegate on the Boundary Commission was C. H. Waldock, now a Chichele Professor and Fellow of All Souls, assisted by R. J. Stopford.