Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929) was Prime Minister of France 1907-1909 for the first time and then again, critically, from 1917 to 1920 when, during the very dark days for the Allies, being spoken of as a new Joan of Arc, he rallied and led the French and also stiffened the faltering British resolve. He then held a key role alongside David Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson in the post-war settlement, the Treaty of Versailles, surviving an assassination attempt on 19 February 1919. His famous nickname was ‘The Tiger’. His broad and flamboyantly moustachioed face was widely well-known and instantly recognisable to people of his time across the world.
This article is about the very deep and enduring friendship between Clemenceau and the Maxse family of Effingham before, during and after World War I. The Maxse family believed, with some justification, that this friendship was the real origin of cross-channel discussions which resulted eventually in the Entente Cordiale, an important Anglo-French agreement to co-operate signed in 1904 which ended roughly 1,000 years of greater or lesser hostility between the two nations.
The Maxses in Effingham
It is not fully known how early the connection of the Maxses with this area of Surrey began, but in Surrey History Centre there are conveyances between James Maxse (1792 – 1864) and the Earl of Lovelace in 1840, and in 1850-55. Maxse’s widow Lady Caroline Fitzhardinge Maxse, eldest daughter of Frederick Augustus Berkeley 5thEarl of Berkeley, settled in Effingham in 1869. Lady Caroline had married James, ‘a wealthy landowner, hunting man and yachtsman’ [see footnote i] in 1829. In 1832, their son Henry Berkeley Fitzharding Maxse was born, and a year later another son, Frederick Augustus Maxse (1833-1900). In due course both brothers entered the armed services. Aged about 17, in 1849 Henry joined the army as a Lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards. Shortly afterwards Frederick entered the Royal Navy. Both saw action during the Crimean War (1853-56) and Frederick became an acknowledged war hero. At the end of the war he was the youngest captain in the Navy. A firm Francophile, after retirement from active service he pursued a not-very-successful career in politics as a ‘democratic aristocrat’: an atheist radical who despite his own background hated privilege and social inequality.
James Maxse died in 1864. In 1869, in other words after her sons were grown up, Caroline purchased the lordship and Manor of Effingham East Court from Miles Stringer III. The grand manor house where she took up residence was Effingham Hill House, now St Teresa’s School, on Critten Lane in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The property was ‘a modest place on the high ridge between Dorking and Guildford, nine hundred acres and a Jane Austen sort of house of medium size, but able to contain her family and a few old friends who visited her regularly’. The author George Meredith, a close friend of Frederick since 1859 (and who since 1868 had lived nearby at Box Hill), described its gloriously eminent position with access to miles of beautiful countryside in admiring terms. It had attractions that would have strong appeal for Frederick as a country house within easy reach of London. He was extremely fond of countryside pursuits such as walking, horse-riding and hunting (and of course sailing – throughout his life he regularly sailed his yacht across to France).
Henry Maxse may have visited Effingham Hill House, but he never lived there. He spent many years overseas as a governor of colonial provinces and died in 1883, predeceasing his mother (1886). Frederick on the other hand remained based in London and with his children did visit his mother in Effingham.
Frederick had married Cecilia (née Steel) in 1861. They had two sons and two daughters. In due course all four children were destined for distinguished and influential lives: (Frederick) Ivor Maxse (1862–1958) had a military career and became a leading First World War general; Leopold (Leo) James Maxse (1864–1932) had a prominent career in political journalism with special interest in Britain’s foreign relations and defence; Olive Hermione Maxse (1866-1955) was a friend and model for Sir Edward Burne-Jones; Violet Georgina (1872–1958) married first Lord Edward Cecil and second Alfred, Viscount Milner, and also took a lifelong active interest in international political and military affairs.
Sadly by 1877 Frederick and Cecilia’s marriage had failed and they separated. Frederick was not an absentee parent and took a large part in bringing up the two girls. Violet, who was five when the separation occurred, writes of the many happy times she spent with her father at her grandmother’s house. In later life she shared her father’s delight in outdoor pursuits, and sometimes hunted on horseback with the local pack, the Surrey Union. Violet does not mention whether she was at Effingham Hill on the day of the visit there by HRH Prince Albert Victor of Wales (known to friends and family as ‘Eddy’) in 1885. Eddy was second in line to the throne, being grandson to Queen Victoria and eldest son of Edward, the then Prince of Wales (future King Edward VII) and Princess Alexandra of Denmark [ii]. The Prince of Wales and Frederick were comfortable acquaintances; and so were their sons. In 1883-85 Eddy had spent some time at Trinity College, Cambridge. This coincided with the undergraduate years of Leo, who was at King’s studying history between 1883-86. Leo was said to have been a lively and exciting presence at the university; he was President of the Cambridge Union for a term in 1886. Perhaps it was this connection that drew the young Prince on his day-trip to Effingham, but as Eddy’s education since age 16 had already included five years in the Navy including extensive world voyages, he and the Admiral would have had plenty to talk about at the dinner-table.
When his mother died in 1886, Frederick inherited the Lordship of the Manor of Effingham East Court. He kept his connection with Effingham, but not his mother’s house. This he sold, with much of the land and also the title, to Mr Julius Caesar Czarnikow [iii]. On the land he retained, on the site of the former Hill Lodge he built himself a fine new house, Dunley Hill House (now known as Ranmore Manor [iv]) into which he moved in 1887.
British perceptions of ‘Germany’ and the Mole Valley Gap
Only two years after Caroline’s purchase of Effingham Hill House, that area of Surrey was thrown rather shockingly into the spotlight of national consciousness as, militarily speaking, a focus for great anxiety about the imminent threat from Germany. It is not impossible that the shock of this impending threat, apparently in their own immediate neighbourhood, coloured the Maxse family’s outlook down the years.
Since the arrival of Prince-Elector George of Hanover to take up the British throne in 1714 there had been strong, if not always comfortable, connections between Britons and Germans. At Waterloo (1815) Marshall Blücher’s actions with Prussian forces strengthened the link with that particular state and he was much celebrated in Britain – for example, the Black Horse public house in Effingham was renamed the Prince Blucher, along with many others up and down the land. Later, the marriage of Queen Victoria to Albert created a tie with the state of Saxe-Coburg. The point to be noticed is that at this time, there was a very large territory occupied by German-speaking peoples, but no such sovereign state as ‘Germany’. Instead there were a myriad independent tiny states each ruled by its Prince, Elector, Landgrave, Margrave, Count or the like. In the British consciousness, it was an almost fairytale country of romantic medieval castles, remote enchanted forests, knights and ladies, pretty little antiquated market towns and so on – almost a Disney image.
The image began to change in the 1860s, when under Chancellor Bismarck the state of Prussia began to exercise greater and greater influence over its neighbours, and slowly to create a unified Germany. It also began to try to create a colonial presence overseas. The neighbouring major powers, France and Austria-Hungary, viewed all this with dislike and a great preference for the continuation of the old, disunited Germany. Their royal families had ties and influence over many small German states, and Bismarck realized that to achieve unification, Austria and France would each have to be taught a lesson about strength and power and minding their own business. In 1866, a brief military campaign defeated Austria’s army. In 1870, Prussia fomented a diplomatic argument and then administered a truly massive shock to the French. Prussia launched a sudden and frighteningly rapid armed attack on France itself. Superior planning and training crushed the French armies, who were forced to a humiliating surrender, followed by a siege of Paris’s civilians. In January 1871 from the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles itself the German King Wilhelm I, surrounded by his officers and soldiers, announced the beginning of the Second Reich (Empire) and that from now on he would be Emperor, not King. A so-called Peace Treaty was made later in 1871 which gave Alsace and Lorraine to Prussia, and crystallised the concept of Prussian victory and French defeat. This new and horrible experience for France of defeat on her own territory rankled terribly, could never be forgotten, and as Prussia continued to arm and to expand, France (and Britain) would never relax again.
Concurrently with these international affairs, in 1871 in England George Tomkyns Chesney published a profoundly shocking novella called The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer, ‘which started the genre of invasion literature’ [v]. It is a fictional account describing the aftermath of a sudden attack on Britain by German-speakers (the actual nation is never named), in which enemy forces had surged up through the ‘Mole gap’, the River Mole valley between Dorking and Leatherhead which runs north-south through the Downs. Failure to defend the heights of Box Hill and Ranmore [vi] on either side allowed the enemy to pass through. The invaders then succeeded in taking London and in a very short time the British had became a subject nation. The action of the story was set in 1875 (ie at the time of publication, this was the near future), to enhance its power as a timely warning. The point was of course to try to stimulate interest in a review of national defence before it was too late and the same should happen to England as to France. It was a best-seller and it must have had a powerful resonance in Effingham, such a small distance from Dorking.
Strong and growing anti-German / anti-Prussian feeling was regularly expressed by sections of the French and British press in the 1880s, ‘90s, and onwards. From 1893 right on through World War I Frederick’s eldest son Leo was due to play a large part in this.
Frederick Maxse and Clemenceau
In one biography, Clemenceau [vii] is quoted as saying that ‘The best friend of his life was the Englishman Maxse’. This friendship had been firmly founded long before Clemenceau became so internationally famous.
Georges Clemenceau was an immensely colourful, charismatic and energetic individual. He was a writer as well as a public servant, and when he became a leading politician he was one of those people who by the end of their careers had fully earned the honourable description of ‘statesman’. His political position is not easy to describe. He was ‘anti’ the French monarchy and the Second French Empire of Napoleon III, but equally quite ready to excoriate Republican politicians. He was left-wing wishing to improve social justice, but definitely anti-socialist and violently anti-communist. He was radical but also a believer in stability, not anarchy. He was a sort of political activist-cum-national gadfly, always demanding and expecting the highest standards in political life and trying to generate informed, rational, patriotic engagement by the populace.
In his early years he graduated as a doctor whilst writing for and founding various political newspapers. When as a result it got too hot for him in France, he left to practice medicine in New York. In 1869 he married an American, Mary Eliza Plummer (1848-1922) [viii], but then almost immediately in 1870 returned to France for those dreadful days after the sudden defeat of the French on their own territory by the Prussians. In 1871 he tried to negotiate between the left wing ‘Commune’ group which barricaded part of Paris and unsuccessfully tried to defend itself, and the government – a terrible episode in French domestic history. From this time forward, like so many others across Europe, he had an enduring opposition to German power and expansionism, and a grim determination to reclaim Alsace-Lorraine for France from Prussia.
He also began steadily (but not inexorably – there were gaps where he held no seat) to rise up through the levels from municipal politics into government. In the later 1880s along with Émile Zola he began first to suspect and then energetically to challenge pervasive, high-level corruption that had allowed the Jewish Captain Alfred Dreyfus to be tried and falsely imprisoned for a treason he could not possibly have committed: it was a newspaper of which Clemenceau was himself owner and editor which published Zola’s famous J’accuse article in 1898.
Clemenceau had a deep and lasting friendship not only with Admiral Maxse but also, independently, with all Maxse’s children, who were taught to be fluent in French and like their father all admired French culture and were at ease in that country. Clemenceau was particularly fond of Violet – Violet Georgina, to give her full name. Violet published an autobiography in 1951 [ix] in which she mentions Clemenceau a great deal – she devotes a whole chapter to him and much of what we know about this is via her reminiscences. For example, explaining about Clemenceau’s friendship with her father, Violet wrote [x]:
‘My father collected wonderful friends, finding them in all sorts of places. The two he loved best were George Meredith and Georges Clemenceau. Clemenceau he acquired in 1872 when he was introduced to him by Louis Blanc’ [xi].
As luck would have it, by the time of this introduction, Maxse had already very visibly and singularly attached himself to a cause dear to Clemenceau’s heart. Violet again:
‘I am always proud to remember that of the three Englishmen who made a public protest in 1871 when Alsace and Lorraine were torn from France, my father was one.’
Thus the introduction was almost guaranteed to succeed, and it did. They were not far apart in age, Maxse some 8 years older than Clemenceau. It turned out that as well as having identical political views, they both loved the company of particular individuals but abhorred ‘society’ and society events. They both loved the countryside and energetic country pursuits (Effingham being ideal for this). They were both estranged from their wives. They both loved cultural events, museums and the like. Some biographies of Clemenceau state that he made an annual visit to stay at Maxse’s London home in Onslow Square, South Kensington.
It was here in July 1891 that at Clemenceau’s request Maxse set up a meeting for this great French Radical with the equally great English Radical Unionist MP, Joseph Chamberlain [xii], so that they could explore the possibilities for joint Anglo-French understandings. ‘It is a family tradition that the seed of the Entente was sown in the Admiral’s house when he gave a dinner to introduce Clemenceau to Chamberlain’ [xiii]. In January 1886, when Maxse’s near-neighbour and acquaintance, the eminent poet and critic Mathew Arnold, who lived at Pains Hill Cottage, Cobham, was planning to visit Paris, Admiral Maxse provided him with a letter of introduction to Clemenceau, although unfortunately in the event they were unable to meet up [xiv].
Clemenceau and Leo Maxse
Clemenceau and Frederick Maxse remained united throughout their lives in their implacable opposition to German colonial expansionism. This communicated itself to the next generation and was strongly supported again, throughout their lives, not only by Violet but also her brothers Ivor and Leopold. In August 1893 Leo acquired and became editor of a right-wing political journal, the National Review, which powerfully and remorselessly publicised the danger of this to Britain. Another persistent theme of the National Review in the years before World War I, helping in fact to make this a national obsession, was the extent to which Germany was building up its armed forces and whether Britain would be able to defend itself should it become necessary. To support Leo, Clemenceau wrote and contributed material for the journal.
Between September 1917 and 1921 Leo was also the editor of a daily evening paper, The Globe. He entered on a trial basis but was so successful he doubled its readership in nine months. He resigned when The Globe was absorbed by the Pall Mall Gazette.
Clemenceau and Violet Maxse
Despite an age difference of 30 years, Clemenceau was also a great and lifelong friend to Violet. She found him stimulating, charming, chivalrous, exciting, attractive with his flashing dark eyes and impressive moustache. Her autobiography explains how this friendship developed naturally as a consequence of her being so much with her father during her childhood, after her parents’ separation. Violet remained on very good terms with both but her father arranged her education and she spent a great deal of her youth in his care, which did not displease her:
‘The years slipped by and presently I was more with him and less with her… With my father I led a much more countrified existence [than with her London-based mother], … a great deal of riding, walking, and a lot of teaching in serious subjects. But my father, like my mother, believed in having me with him in all company. I have sometimes wondered what his men friends must have thought of his perpetual accompaniment by a small girl, and later by a girl in the awkward age. He was quite relentless and always took me.’
It is easy to see how it came about that the Admiral’s two most intimate friends –Meredith and Clemenceau – also became Violet’s own. She remembers having first met Clemenceau when she was nine or ten and he was staying with her and her father at their London house. But the Maxses also spent a great deal of time with Clemenceau in France.
The Maxses in France
As mentioned, Frederick was a great admirer of French culture, spoke French fluently, and was very happy to sail his yacht frequently across to France. Violet accompanied him on many of these expeditions. When Frederick’s mother died he was more free to go where he would but of his four children, 14-year-old Violet was still needing his active input to her care and education. Violet’s older sister Olive was:
‘putting in some very hard work at her music in Paris and showed no desire to stop. This being so my father thought it would be better for us three – myself, my sister and he – to be all together, so in the autumn of 1887 he took a flat on the fifth floor of a house in the Boulevard St Germain and we stayed there for rather over two years, coming home for the summer’.
This period for which they were abroad coincided with the construction of the Admiral’s new house at Dunley Hill.
Violet enrolled for drawing lessons in Paris but on the whole found this experience a poor second to the level of contact she had previously had with great artists practising in London – her mother’s social sphere. On the other hand, the lists of plays, operas, artists, writers, politicians and eminent thinkers Violet saw, met or was introduced to well before she was 18 is astounding: from Whistler and Degas to Monet and Rodin, from Oscar Wilde to Joseph Chamberlain.
She reports that while in Paris
‘I also worked at French and at the violin, but perhaps the major part of my education at this time came from the plays I saw at the Comédie Française… It was an unparalleled education, especially as we generally went to the play with M. Clemenceau, who was a superb and ruthless critic, and, as we saw a great deal of him in other ways, my letters to my mother are also full of him and have something about politics too. … For exercise my father and I rode nearly every fine morning – driving up to the Bois [de Boulogne] and mounting there; we were nearly always with M. Clemenceau and, very often, with Miss Cassatt, the painter. Politics ran very high at this time in Paris … and once or twice we were greeted with cries of “À bas Clemenceau” [Down with Clemenceau] as we cantered up the Avenue du Bois du Boulogne (now Avenue Foch). That was a real “thrill”. … No one ever was such fun as he was. We hung upon his every word, and while we laughed and joked – being with him seemed to make us all witty – we leaned upon his judgment, and, above all, upon his glowing affection and constant kindness’.
Clemenceau was in his late forties during these years Violet was in Paris. As mentioned, his marriage was unsuccessful and in 1891 ended in an acrimonious divorce. In 1893, now aged 21, Violet returned to Paris ‘to work at drawing’ again and stayed for another extended period. Clemenceau invited her to live with him and his unmarried daughter, Thérèse, but ‘Admiral Maxse refused this kind invitation; he thought I should be more independent if I were on my own, and that if I was working hard it would be more restful for me to be by myself’. And perhaps he thought other things too. Either way, ‘M. Clemenceau I saw nearly every evening for a few minutes. His flat was opposite my Pension and I used to run across and see him and his daughter after dinner’. She was very at home in Paris. A small, pretty, dark-haired woman she was famous throughout her life for her chic Parisian elegance. Buckets of Gallic charm fill Violet’s reported conversations with him. There is never the faintest suggestion of any impropriety, but there is no doubt about a powerful mutual attraction, though they did not agree on everything. Violet, for instance believed in capital punishment, at least for the anarchists who in the 1890s were terrorizing Paris. Clemenceau wrote to her:
‘I should like to scold you for your “speech” on capital punishment. Even if you were right, you would be wrong. It is not toward that side that one should lean at your age’.
When, back in London, Violet announced her engagement in March 1894, Clemenceau managed a complicated congratulation combining his sadness that it had finally come to this, his vast happiness, his worries that no fiancé could ever be good enough for her, and the fact that his own failure in marriage was not to make her draw back from it [xv]. He gave her a ‘lovely writing-table’ as a wedding present … It was intended for the London house Violet was setting up with her husband, but as a present with a ‘message’ attached, it was right on the mark. When Violet and her new husband gave their first dinner party the guests were her father, Clemenceau and John Morley – ‘The talk was first rate’ – and her very orthodox Conservative husband was much entertained by the radicals’ political disputation between themselves.
We can be confident that Clemenceau would have been at Effingham with Maxse [xvi] on several occasions [xvii]. Curiously, a recorded instance of Clemenceau being at Dunley Hill involves a writing table belonging to Violet. On 3 January 1900 Clemenceau wrote from there to the Danish author Georg Brandes, mentioning that he was convalescing after ‘an influenza crisis’. He was still there on 5 January, as we learn from Violet in My Picture Gallery. At that particular moment she herself was in South Africa where her husband Lord Edward Cecil and her brother Ivor Maxse were on campaign in the grim Boer War [xviii]. Violet reports:
‘Clemenceau wrote regularly [ie to her in South Africa] and his letters were a joy and a comfort. One that brought me a picture of home life was very precious. It was written at Dunley on January 5, 1900. He was in my room, writing on my writing table. He said that they talked of little but the war, that all my family [xix] were well’.
In fact Clemenceau’s underlying health was never good, and this particular episode marked the start of a longer bout of ill health. He recovered enough to go back to France, but in July he sadly returned to London for his friend the Admiral’s funeral. In early 1900 Maxse, then aged 67, had set off for a trip to South Africa to see Violet and Ivor. (He travelled with, and became friends of, the Kiplings, whom Violet already knew.) When he left them to come back to England in May he seemed to be well, but unbeknownst to his children he had caught typhoid, which was to be fatal. He died in London on 25 June.
After his death the contents of Dunley Hill were sold and the house was let. Violet records her immense sorrow at this, for instance the dismissal of some faithful and good-hearted servants. The great house itself was finally sold in 1919 but Leo and his wife Katherine ‘Kitty’ (nee Lushington, whom he married in 1890) seem to have retained a local interest in part of the estate for a little longer: the Electoral Rolls for Effingham of 1918-24 list them at Dunley Hill Cottage.
Had he lived into the new century, the Admiral would doubtless (like Leo) have been vociferous about the growing threat of Germany years before the actual outbreak of conflict. He never saw Clemenceau’s rise to the highest position in the French state and his masterly, even Churchillian, leadership of the French during the War. But Violet did. After the Admiral’s death, her friendship with Clemenceau remained extremely close and endured until his death in 1929. It is hard not to speculate over whether this private example of Anglo-French closeness had any international consequences.
After the break-up of Dunley Hill Violet’s life made a major change. Following his service in South Africa, her husband Edward served as a colonial administrator first in Sudan and then in Egypt. Violet had been with him in South Africa but found she could not continue this overseas life with their two small children, and rather than send these away, she came back to England with them. Edward and Violet spent very little time together after about 1901 and their marriage was effectively suspended, but with no hint of either of them having other relationships.
At first Violet lived a somewhat nomadic existence with her children, staying either in rented houses, with friends, or with her in-laws the Cecils at Hatfield or at other Cecil-owned houses. Clemenceau came to stay with her while she was at the Cecil residence Walmer Castle in Kent in 1901, and here he first made the acquaintance of another guest who was, as it happened, already extremely important to Violet but also to Britain’s empire and, later, in the international sphere during and after World War I. This was the colonial administrator Sir Alfred Milner, later Viscount Milner (1854-1925). Violet and Alfred had known each other in England for some years. They realized they had strong feelings for each other when both were in South Africa – Milner was British High Commissioner there. They were in love for many years before they finally married in 1921, but so discreetly that this was not publicly suspected. In December 1916 Milner became one of Lloyd George’s 5-person War Cabinet, and from then on was at the centre of policies, delegations and decision making throughout the war and at the peace-making afterwards.
In 1906 in search of a permanent home for her children, Violet bought and beautifully refurbished a semi-ruined seventeenth-century manor house called Great Wigsell, near Hawkhurst on the Sussex-Kent border. (Her friends the Kiplings were only eight miles away at Bateman’s, Burwash.) Amongst her arrangements she created a main guest bedroom, decorated with French furniture, called the Clemenceau Room where the man himself, a regular visitor, could stay.
Clemenceau, the Maxses and World War I
‘The thought of Alsace-Lorraine was always with M. Clemenceau, though he was essentially a man of peace, and would never have provoked a war even to recover a lost province. Still, from time to time, the wound bled. “Ah”, he said to me ten years before the War, “if I could see England and France march together against Germany, I think I should die of pure joy!” ‘
When England did declare war on Germany on 4 August 1914, Clemenceau was delighted and anxious to see the arrival of an army. He wrote to Violet and urged her to tell the Secretary for War that ‘if he sends only three men, with a flag, to the Continent, it will have a good effect’. As we know, England and France did march together to save their civilization from Germanism, and Clemenceau lived not only to see in the British people the Allies he had always hoped for and dreamed of, but himself to guide both armies to victory. When the Germans invaded Belgium Milner too was one of those strongly pressing for an army to be sent to have the thing over with once and for all. From December 1916 to November 1918, as one of the five members of David Lloyd George’s ‘national government’ War Cabinet, his role was to see to crises in the domestic situation and sort them out – continuing his reputation for calm efficiency in the face of great pressure. Violet’s closest friends and immediate family were operating at the top level of this conflict, and the relief when the Armistice was signed was immense.
In their hopes to sort out Germany, little could they all have foreseen, however, how life would change so irreversibly for Violet within days of Britain entering the war. Edward, who had literally just returned from Egypt on leave, was sent straight back there and never made it back to England again, so Violet was on her own throughout the war. Edward died in a Swiss sanatorium in December 1918.
Ivor, as a serving soldier, went immediately to the front. Now General Sir Ivor Maxse aged 52, a very senior army officer, he was in the field practically from the first day in 1914 as a Division Commander, then a Corps Commander. In June 1918 he was entrusted with training and reorganization, and regarded as very successful. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes him as ‘One of the ablest officers of his generation, a man of originality and drive, and a formidable personality’. He first served under Haig as his commanding officer in 1914 and formed a high opinion of him.
Ivor and Clemenceau met in France on several occasions during the war, for instance on 9 January 1916 when Ivor took him and Generals Mangin, Haig, Robertson and Lord Cavan forward to where they could see the enemy lines. Shelling began, too close for comfort, and Ivor told Clemenceau he should take cover. Clemenceau demurred: ‘But remember, I am a soldier’. Ivor told him that was all the more reason for him to obey, and he did’ [xx]. Witnessing the mutual respect of Maxse and Clemenceau was a great influence on other French and British officers to do likewise. There could be hiccups: in August 1915 Ivor wrote to his wife Mary including some very critical comments about the armaments available to the British army, and suggested showing it to Leo. Leo showed it to Violet for her to see, she forwarded it to Clemenceau, and he published in his French newspaper, L’Homme Libre. It was then picked up by The Times. This caused Ivor considerable embarrassment and he gave Violet a great telling-off, but fortunately there were no worse official rebukes [xxi].
Most tragically however, someone who also entered the fighting within days of the declaration of war was Violet and Edward’s only son George Cecil, then aged 18 and not really fully trained. ‘In many ways George was the unsophisticated model schoolboy, cheerful and sociable, a keen cricketer, fresh and simple, but also serious and keen to do well. His aesthetic responses, however, were more mature than those of an average schoolboy: life at Hatfield and Wigsell had sharpened his eye for beautiful buildings’ [xxii]. From early childhood he was interested in the military. At Winchester School he was part of the Officer Training Corps, a system established in 1907-8 as part of army reforms designed to extend basic military education into the civilian population. It was virtually obligatory at that time for all boys over 15 in school and university. In 1912 he became a cadet at Sandhurst. He joined the prestigious 2ndBattalion Grenadier Guards in January 1914.
As part of the First Army Corps of the British Expeditionary Force to France, George left for France on 12 August. He was killed on 1 September, in a confused running battle through woodland near Villers-Cotterêts. On 8 September a letter informed Violet George was missing believed wounded. Desperate to find out more, she set off to London to find out. As was later to happen to her close friends the Kiplings, the situation remained ambiguous – George could have been wounded, he could be lost, he could have been taken prisoner. It was not absolutely clear that he was dead and she could not believe in this possibility. Distraught, on 19 September she went immediately to France to look for him. Clemenceau for his part had been trying to establish the situation, sending enquiries to every hospital and ambulance depot. He personally arranged for her to have a pass and an escort so she could search the area where George had been fighting but only contradictory and inconclusive information was forthcoming. She went back to England. Milner and the Kiplings tried to support her during this dreadful time, the latter unaware that their own turn in this nightmare was to come. In the absence of reliable information Violet began to trust in her belief that George must have been taken prisoner. After a month of this the truth was known. On 19 November arrived the news that his body had been identified. The place in which George had been quickly buried, with others who fell at the same time, had been located.
As stated above, Clemenceau’s great role at the helm of this conflict began in November 1917 when he was elected Prime Minister and refused to let France desert the Allies by making a separate peace with Germany. In 1918 Violet met Clemenceau three times: the first in London when he came on a visit to Lloyd George, and the other two times in Paris when he arranged for her first to travel to visit Edward in the Swiss sanatorium, and in September to visit George’s grave. She arranged for George’s body to be transferred to a nearby cemetery. She visited every year for the rest of her life, until she was too old to travel.
Leo Maxse, Effingham and The Blucher public house
The mention of Haig above brings us to Leo and back to Effingham, specifically to the fate of the village’s ‘Prince Blucher’ hotel and public house, which was reported nationally. Leo’s contribution to the war effort was in the field of stimulating patriotic feeling and keeping anti-German feeling high through the press.
On 27 June 1917, a very famous cartoon called A Good Riddance by artist Leonard Raven Hill was published in Punch, showing King George V vigorously sweeping away a great cloud of dust in amongst which there are crowns and helmets labelled ‘Made in Germany’. The cartoon is subtitled ‘The King has done a popular act in abolishing the German titles held by members of His Majesty’s family.’ This is about the Titles Deprivation Act of 1917 reaching the conclusion of its legislative journey at that time. The purpose of the Act was to remove British titles from persons serving in enemy forces, and also to provide as unembarrassing a vehicle as possible for George V to divest his family of their German connections. By Royal Warrant, on 25 June (in sympathy as it were, with the Parliamentary will, but not in any way compelled by it) George V renounced for himself and other members of the royal family any German titles they held. He adopted the surname ‘Windsor’ instead of Saxe-Coburg Gotha.
That same week in late June 1917 saw newspaper articles [xxiii] reporting the renaming of Effingham’s Prince Blücher pub as The Sir Douglas Haig.
Rather surprisingly, this news was first available to newspaper readers not in Surrey but in both London and Liverpool, on Thursday 21 June. In a snippet under the heading A Sign of The Times, the Daily Express reported that ‘The “Blucher Hotel” at Effingham is, it is understood, conforming to the spirit of the times, and is about to change its name to “Sir Douglas Haig.”” In a column of snippets called Echoes Of The Day: Gossip from Here, There and Everywhere, the Liverpool Echo tried out a gentle joke, reporting in an article headed ‘Peace Delegates to The Haig – Rather’ [xxiv] simply and without hesitation that ‘The “Blucher Hotel”, at Effingham, is about to change its name to the “Sir Douglas Haig””.
To Staffordshire readers of The Burton Daily Mail the next day, Friday 22 June, the Blücher was a ‘well-known hotel’, so it may somehow already have been a more famous establishment than just any village pub. A day later on Saturday 23 June 1917, a tiny little announcement in the Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser finally let the locals know about their local. But the news had been picked up and was continuing to spread nationally. It seems to have been functioning something like the light, topical item used to round off the 10 o’clock News. It featured in the Evening Express, Aberdeen edition, for 26 June, in their column Sidelights on The War – Brevities. And we can round this off with Punch, or The London Charivari for 27 June, which chuckled that
‘A well-known inn at Effingham having changed its name from the Blücher to the Sir Douglas Haig, it is further suggested that the name of the village should be changed to Biffingham.’
Having once entered the national consciousness, this instance of patriotic re-naming stuck and intermittently surfaced again for some time. Two years later, it was in The Yorkshire Post for 14 August 1919, again in a Gossip of the Day column; and another two years later, in The Derby Daily Telegraph for 11 June 1921, in a column called By The Way (and NB the Telegraph acknowledged that it had picked up this article from the Manchester Guardian).
Leo’s connection with this episode was not explicitly revealed until three months after the news first broke, ie in September 1917. The next extract quotes a reader from Shere who wrote in to The Surrey Advertiser and County Times. His letter was published on 8 September 1917 (page 2). He signs himself ‘Viator’, which means ‘wayfarer’ or similar. It is quoted in full, because it presents a wonderful vignette:
‘FOOD WASTE AND FOLLY IN SURREY.
TO THE EDITOR
Sir.- Yesterday, about 3 pm [xxv], I was footing it with my knapsack on the road between London and Shere when I turned into the Plough Inn, Effingham, for some tea. Outside was a board: “Tea gardens, teas and luncheons.” Inside the following dialogue took place: –
Myself: Can you, please, give me a pot of tea and two pieces of bread and butter?
Landlady: We only serve full teas.
Myself: What is that?
Landlady: Tea, bread, butter, cake, for 1s 3d.
Myself: But I only want bread and butter.
Landlady: It’s not worth serving that. We only serve full teas here.
The landlord then came on the scene, and, being applied to by his wife, corroborated her, saying, that it was too much trouble to serve anything but full teas. So I thanked them, saying, I would not trouble them, but would try elsewhere.
Now, sir, when we ought all to be saving food why should I eat cake I don’t want? Or why should I be made to pay for what I don’t want to waste? What folly, too, of an innkeeper to discourage custom by his disobliging policy.
So I went across to the Prince Blucher, where I was served cheerfully with a pot of good tea and three slices of excellent bread and butter for ninepence. I was sorry to see the famous old sign with its memories of Waterloo days was changed to the name of a modern English General, and I asked the reason. The good woman who waited on me said everyone was sorry, and thought it silly. Many customers told her that without Blucher we might not have won the battle of Waterloo, which was what I said too. But the fact was Mr. Maxse, the great writer, had written to the brewers and said the sign was a disgrace to them. I said Mr Maxse was a friend of mine, but I did not know he was a great writer, and I for one was sorry the old sign was gone with its historic memories. Now, Sir, could narrowminded folly go further? And what a want of sense of proportion! – Yours, etc,
Like ‘Viator’ the Editor of the Surrey Advertiser and County Times was also clearly affected by Blücher’s dismissal. In the same edition, in his editorial column on page 5, he wrote:
‘We may depose him from his place of honour on the sign board of a Surrey village inn, but we cannot blot him out of our national history. Nor can we blot out that picture of Wellington and Blucher meeting by moonlight after Waterloo had been fought and won, and “the Prussian, after the continental fashion, kissing his friend on both cheeks.” ‘
Perhaps there exists among either Friary Holroyd Meux’s archive or Leo’s own papers evidence that the pub was renamed at his instigation, or even, perhaps, to discover whether it was him who suggested ‘The Sir Douglas Haig’ as the replacement. There is probably also much still to be found out about whether Leo’s position and/or contacts within the Press were playing a role in syndicating the news nationally.
At the same time as this episode, on 29 August 1917 the Surrey Advertiser mentioned Leo in a different capacity, ie supporting the war effort at Effingham. The Women’s War Agricultural Committee reported directly to the Board of Agriculture. The Surrey branch had a well-developed organisation for interviewing young women who appeared interested in working on the land, and if they proved suitable, sending them off for training. For this they needed opportunities, and several local landowners or farmers provided accommodation for the girls while they were learning. Amongst these, it is reported that Mr Leo Maxse had made available a cottage at Dunley Hill – ‘the training was partly on his farm and in the garden, under the supervision of two trained lady gardeners. Four recruits were trained each month, and there was a working housekeeper in charge.’
The sense of relief for Clemenceau, Milner and Violet when the Armistice was signed can hardly be overstated. All three were able to meet up in London – where Clemenceau was easily recognized and cheered – and also in Paris. After the ‘khaki election’ of December 1918, Milner was appointed Colonial Secretary. For him and Clemenceau a period of yet more gruelling work was to follow, trying to draw up the peace, during which their two nations now often jostled over details [xxvi]. Clemenceau, Woodrow Wilson and Lloyd George were each having to represent so many different views in their search to find a compromise, and the trickiest, of course, was over whether Germany was ‘to blame’ for the war or not, and whether Germany should pay only to repair physical war damage caused to the Allies, or something on top of that as well in the nature of a fine or punishment for being the loser, for instance pensions to wounded soldiers or widows/families, loss of colonies, loss of territory. Britain’s view and France’s were no longer so aligned, and the tension was often excruciating. Clemenceau and Milner were often on ‘opposite’ sides during this, but their rapport based on an underlying common bond was acknowledged by them both and was perhaps of great significance in smoothing the way to this peace. The bond was Violet. In 1916 Clemenceau had told the French President ‘I like him [Milner] a lot. He is an old friend of mine. We admired and loved the same woman. That’s an indissoluble bond’ [xxvii]. On behalf of their nations, both men were signatories to the 1919 Treaty of Versailles.
Leo and Ivor Maxse were of a like mind about the Germans. Experiences and feelings during the War among those trying to win had inevitably to be channelled and uncompromising. During negotiations about the Armistice, Ivor expressed views which were widely held at the time but may seem shocking today:
‘The Hun is only wishful for peace in order to recover military power and be ready to launch a more successful attack at some opportune moment in the dim future. His heart is by no means altered. That is his nature. Recognise it. It is no use blaming him for his natural temperament, but it is wicked not to recognize what it is. His history during four wars proves it – i.e. 1864, 1866, 1870, 1914 – covering altogether a period of 64 years, two generations! He had but one objective and said so – world power … To prevent it we must crush and humiliate his Army which means his motive … let no sentimental gush be expended on the dirty Hun [xxviii].’
Milner died in 1925, and Clemenceau in 1929. During the post-war years Violet often visited Clemenceau at his simple home at Bel-Ebat on the Brittany coast. She was there just a week before his death. Leo Maxse died in 1932, and now Violet not only moved into the spotlight in her own right, but was to play a very public role in World War II. When Leo died Violet took over the editorship of the National Review, a publication somewhat faltering by that time, and she very successfully revived it. Her absolute determination to get every issue out even during the Blitz became an image of endurance. Ed Murrow, the Director of Talks for the Columbia Broadcasting Service, reporting from London during the Blitz to awaken American awareness of the threat to their freedom, wrote in later years that for him the indomitable spirit of wartime London was represented not by Churchill – but by Violet.
[ii] Eddy never married and he never became King. He died of influenza aged only 28 in 1892. ‘Tabloid’ historians have frequently raised queries about supposed defects of intellect and character and his fitness to be King.
[xi] Blanc was another French political radical and activist. He had had to escape from France in 1850 and he lived in London in exile until 1870, which could very possibly be where Maxse met him. Maxse himself was following a career of political activism, of a radical and campaigning sort – energetic, but it has to be said, not particularly successful. Interestingly, it seems that in 1886 Maxse tried to make an introduction of his own. He provided a letter of introduction to Clemenceau for his friend Matthew Arnold of Cobham who was visiting France in February 1886. Arnold wrote from Paris to Maxse ‘Clemenceau has not come off: I left your letter with my card, and he called, but I was out; since then I have called twice without finding him at home; I daresay he is very busy’.
[xiv] On 20 January 1886 Arnold wrote ‘A thousand thanks for the letter of introduction to Clemenceau. In Paris we shall be at the Hotel St Romain, rue St Roch, and we hope by all means to see your daughter,—and yourself too, if things go well, as I hope they will, at Effingham,—in the course of our three weeks’ stay.’ The ‘things going well’ was a wish for improvement in the health of Maxse’s mother, who as it turned out was in her final illness. On 8 February Arnold wrote to Maxse from the Hotel St Romain, Paris ‘Clemenceau has not come off: I left your letter with my card, and he called, but I was out; since that I have called twice without finding him at home; I daresay he is very busy’.
[xv] In fact Violet’s marriage was not a great success; she lived largely apart from her husband from c1900 until his death from tuberculosis in 1918. In 1921 she very happily married Sir Alfred Milner, with whom she had been having an extremely discreet affair since 1899. Sadly Milner died in 1925. Much information is provided by Imperial Marriage: an Edwardian War and Peace, by Hugh and Mirabel Cecil, pub. John Murray, 2002.
‘Miss Margot Tennant [future wife of Mr. Asquith] … came to stay with us at Dunley Hill for a weekend’
‘Mr. Asquith stayed with us once or twice’
‘Mr. Alfred Austin [Poet Laureate after Tennyson]…’
[xvii] Clemenceau destroyed the vast majority of his personal papers in 1928 – he did not want them to fall into the hands of biographers. But Violet presented a collection of 165 of his letters to the Musée Clemenceau in Paris and this would be worth study.
[xxiv] The heading, Peace Delegates to The Haig – Rather seems odd, but Jeremy persuasively divined that it is intended to be a humorous play on the idea that it would be more appealing to hold a peace conference in The Haig (pub), rather than The Hague! The Hague had already embarked on its reputation as the world centre for international relations: ‘The foundation of The Hague as an “international city of peace and justice” was laid in 1899, when the world’s first Peace Conference took place [there] … followed by a second in 1907. A direct result of [the first of] these meetings was the establishment of the world’s first organisation for the settlement of international disputes: the Permanent Court of Arbitration.’ [Wikipedia]. To house the PCA the ‘Peace Palace’ was specially built and opened in 1913.
[xxvi] The way this herculean task was tackled by Clemenceau, Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson, and the far-reaching consequences of their decisions, is fully described in Paris 1919: Six months that changed the World, by Margaret Macmillan, 2003, Random House.
[xxviii] John Baynes, op cit p. 216.
Based on research by Sue Morris and Jeremy Palmer