The sexual indeterminates at Oxford, how Randolph Churchill got pants’d, and the White Rajahs of Sarawak: a Wikipedia journeyPosted: August 6, 2012
If you read much about England between the world wars, sooner or later you’ll start hearing about the “King And Country Debate.” So I went to reading about it on Wikipedia:
The King and Country debate was a discussion at the Oxford Union debating society on 9 February 1933 on the motion: “That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country”. It was passed by 275 votes to 153, and became one of the most famous and notorious debates conducted in the Union.
Here’s a picture of the Oxford Union debate chamber:
C. E. M. Joad argued on the side of the ayes:
Joad delivered what was described as a “tour de force of pacifist rhetoric”. He claimed that the motion really meant “that this House will never commit murder on a huge scale whenever the Government decided it should do so”, and argued that although limited wars might have been justified in the past, the scale of destruction now possible with modern weapons meant that war had become unthinkable.
And this apparently carried the day:
When the motion was put, President Frank Hardie declared it carried by 275 votes to 153.
Hard to imagine a college debate being a big deal, but this one was:
A Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford at the time, R. B. McCallum, claimed that the “sensation created when this resolution was passed was tremendous. It received world-wide publicity…. Throughout England people, especially elderly people, were thoroughly shocked.”
The Daily Express said of it: “There is no question but that the woozy-minded Communists, the practical jokers, and the sexual indeterminates of Oxford have scored a great success in the publicity that has followed this victory…. Even the plea of immaturity, or the irresistible passion of the undergraduate for posing, cannot excuse such a contemptible and indecent action as the passing of that resolution”.
A Daily Express reporter claimed to have found the Mayor of Oxford, Alderman C. H. Brown, and his wife sitting in front of the fire reading their bibles, with Brown claiming “I say that as mayor of a city that fathers a university of such foreign communistic sentiments, I am ashamed”. Cambridge University was reported to have threatened to pull out of that year’s Boat Race because of “incompatibility of temperament.”
Winston Churchill condemned the motion in a speech on 17 February, 1933 to the Anti-Socialist and Anti-Communist Union as “That abject, squalid, shameless avowal… It is a very disquieting and disgusting symptom”:
My mind turns across the narrow waters of Channel and the North Sea, where great nations stand determined to defend their national glories or national existence with their lives. I think of Germany, with its splendid clear-eyed youths marching forward on all the roads of the Reich singing their ancient songs, demanding to be conscripted into an army; eagerly seeking the most terrible weapons of war; burning to suffer and die for their fatherland. I think of Italy, with her ardent Fascisti, her renowned Chief, and stern sense of national duty. I think of France, anxious, peace-loving, pacifist to the core, but armed to the teeth and determined to survive as a great nation in the world. One can almost feel the curl of contempt upon the lips of the manhood of all these people when they read this message sent out by Oxford University in the name of young England.
Particularly upset over the King and Country debate was Winston Churchill’s son, young Randolph (seen here on the left, with his father and son):
Three weeks after the associated pacifist resolution was passed, [Randolph] Churchill proposed a resolution at the Oxford Union to delete the “King and Country” motion from the Union’s records but this was defeated by 750 votes to 138 in a rowdy debate (one which was better attended than the original debate), where Churchill was met by a barrage of hisses and stink bombs. A bodyguard of Oxford Conservatives and police escorted Churchill back to his hotel after the debate. Sir Edward Heath records in his memoirs that Churchill was then chased around Oxford by undergraduates who intended to debag him (i.e. humiliate him by removing his trousers), and was then fined by the police for being illegally parked.
Possible these guys weren’t entirely overreacting:
Benito Mussolini was particularly struck by the sentiment expressed by the undergraduates and became convinced that the Joad declaration proved that Britain was a “frightened, flabby old woman”. While considering whether to take British threats seriously while embarking on his Abyssinia adventure Mussolini often referred to Joad declaration on why he didn’t cave into British demands. Sir Winston Churchill would after the war write how Japan and Germany too took note of the Joad resolution which altered their way of thinking about Britain as a “decadent, degenerate … and swayed many [of their] calculations.”
Anyway. It all made me curious about who had done the debating.
The proposer of the resolution at the King and Country debate was one Kenelm H. Digby, and how could anyone fail to be curious about what became of him? Well, it turns out he moved to Sarawak in Borneo, where he worked for the White Rajah as a legal advisor.
“Who were the White Rajahs of Sarawak?” you sensibly ask.
Side trip: The White Rajahs of Sarawak
The first one was James Brooke:
who bought himself a ship, helped kill some rebels who were bothering the Sultan of Brunei, and was awarded in return the province of Sarawak.
Brooke spent his career fighting pirates and local warlords. Wikipedia offers some insight into his love life:
Throughout his life, Brooke’s principal emotional bonds were with adolescent boys, though his biographer and contemporary Spenser St. John gives an account of his love for and brief engagement to the daughter of a Bath clergyman.
And he got a plant named in his honor:
His son Charles took over after him, and then his grandson Vyner:
The Daily Telegraph described him as “a cloud-living Old Wykehamist, … one of the few monarchs left in the world who could still say l’Etat, c’est moi.” Similarly, his Who’s Who entry read thus: “Has led several expeditions into the far interior of the country to punish headhunters; understands the management of natives; rules over a population of 500,000 souls and a country” 40,000 square miles (100,000 km2) in extent.
That was Kenelm Digby’s boss.
Back to Kenelm Digby:
When the Japanese invaded Sarawak, they interned everybody. Digby survived three and half years at the Lingang internment camp, which was no easy place:
Plus he was separated from the woman he loved:
Digby met his wife-to-be Mutal Fielding on a P&O liner on the way back to Kuching in 1940, and they became engaged in Singapore in 1941. Mutal lived in Hong Kong, and before they could be married the war intervened. Mutal was interned at Stanley Internment Camp… Digby and Mutal were finally reunited in November 1945 in Southampton, when Digby arrived home on HMS Ranchi…The Digbys were married on 21 February 1946 at Sherfield English near Romsey in Hampshire, before returning to Sarawak.
Sounds like a touching story. Someone wrote a book about it:
Digby looks like he got the better end of the deal, if you ask me.
The end of Digby’s wikipedia page is poignant:
For Digby, the fall-out from the Oxford debate of 1933 lasted through many decades. A lifelong socialist but never a communist, Digby’s suspected communism made him unpopular with the authorities in Sarawak and brought his career there to a premature end, and he was rarely briefed by solicitors when working as a lawyer in the UK. After his death, [his wife] Mutal commented: “That Oxford Union motion haunted him. It dogged him wherever he went.”