Beverley Nichols December 1 1933


Beverley Nichols December 1 1933


Beverley Nichols

In the first installment, published in Maclean's November 15, Mr. Nichols described his visit to a British armament factory from which war materials were being shipped to all parts of the world. The following chapter opens with the author en route to visit the Schneider armament factory at Le Creusot.

yOU MIGHT have thought that after the visit to Armsville, I had seen enough of armament factories. In some ways that is true, but it seemed to me very necessary to give the reader an impression of the way in which these firms spread their tentacles over Europe, and France was the obvious starting-point. France is quite literally governed by the Comité des Forges . . . that sinister association of ironmasters whose influence is the more poisonous for being so secret. The French press is largely in the grip of the armament manufacturers, and criticism is silenced, so that even the most appalling accusations against the Comité receive little publicity. As an example of this conspiracy I may quote the accusation of that great socialist deputy Barthé, as reported in a fine article by the Daily Herald's Paris correspondent on March 31st, 1933: “Barthé explained to a hushed House how the Comité des Forges wilfully limited the development of the production of iron and steel before 1914, so that when the war came it might exploit the scarcity with profit. In this way Germany was favored and France imperilled.

“T affirm,’” he added, “‘that certain members of the Comité des Forges furnished raw material to Germany during the war and that in order to conceal the affair the Comité hindered the investigations of justice.

“ T affirm that either through the international solidarity of the great metallurgical industry or in order to safeguard private interests, an order was given to our military chiefs not to bombard the Briey Valley factories which were operated by the enemy during the war.’ ”

Immune from attack, the Briey region furnished material for guns which slaughtered French and British troops. Germany would have capitulated in 1915. its ironmasters have since admitted, if Briey had been bombarded.

These accusations have never been refuted. People don't even seem to care. Why? I can only conclude that it is because they do not realize what men like Barthé are talking about. These things are merely vague generalizations to them. They do not visualize these factories, nor smell them, nor hear the sound of their whirling wheels. They cannot form a picture of endless crates of arms and shells, labelled with destinations that cover the face of the globe.

I found it difficult to realize these things myself. And that is why I went to Le Creusot.

In order to obtain permission to visit this factory I had been forced to go first to Geneva, and to spend a fairly long time there, pulling strings. However, the strings had eventually responded, and one day. I was informed that the French War Office had telegraphed to Geneva, saying that I had only to present myself at the faetón' to be shown anything I cared to see. Whereupon I took the first train to Dijon, slept at the famous Hôtel de la Cloche, and set out. on the following morning, to Le Creusot, which lies about fifty miles to the southwest.

As we sped through the wine country, I asked myself, once again, a question which had been perturbing me ever since I left Geneva. Why had Schneider-Creusot apparently thrown open it-s doors in this disarming fashion? Why had the War Office in Paris apparently given me its blessing? Schneider-Creusot were presumably averse to meddling strangers. Their works, which were scattered all over France, were supposed to be difficult to enter. Whether you went to Le Creusot itself or Havre or Londe-les-Maures or Bordeaux, or any of the other factories, you might well be met with a polite refusal. Armament makers shun publicity, for reasons too obvious to enumerate. Why, then, was I to be allowed to wander about as I pleased? 1 had a sudden presentiment that things were not going to be as easy as they had seemed at Geneva. Therefore I sat up in the car, and began to take notes of any little detail which might be of assistance.

Suddenly, the vine country ceased. We climbed a wooded hill. Soon I saw a ball of smoke on the horizon. “Le Creusot,” said the driver, jerking his thumb in the direction of the smoke. I nodded. We sped on, until the long straggly town loomed before us.

And here, right on the outskirts, was one detail which was extremely significant. Or rather, hundreds upon hundreds of details, in the shape of new workmen’s dwellings, which had sprung up in the valley like mushrooms. They

Why this very exceptional state of affairs at Le Creusot? Why was Le Creusot so flourishing, in an otherwise stagnant world? The reader who remembers the similar prosperity of Armsville in the last chapter, who recalls that it was a comparative oasis of activity on a desert coast, will not find it difficult to supply the answer.

We pulled up at a charming house, built of soft grey stone, and standing somewhat inconspicuously in a quiet courtyard.

“You are sure that this is the headquarters of the factory?” I asked the driver as I got out.

looked as if they had been only a few months ago. And this, in a time of unparalleled industrial depression, when every ordinary factory, all over the world, had been laying off workmen, shutting up plants, and, of sheer necessity, allowing employees to fend for themselves.

But yes. He was quite certain. He had often taken other gentlemen to Le Creusot. “Foreign gentlemen,” he added.

I looked again at this house, which was more like a country vicarage than the chief office of an armament factor}'. Compared with the vast factories which stretched behind it, it seemed asleep, untroubled by the roar of distant furnaces, untarnished by the sullen cloud of smoke that hung above it.

I walked through the courtyard, and opened the door. I found myself in a lofty hall, thickly carpeted. And here, straight in front of me, were proofs that this was neither a vicarage nor a quiet country house, but a grimly utilitarian building. The proofs were in the shape of a row of shells, brightly painted in blues and reds and yellows. They had evidently been placed there for purposes of decoration. They were, indeed, so ven' decorative that no pangs of conscience could possibly assail the heart of any foreign minister who happened to visit Le Creusot with the object of giving an order. How could the citizens of his country possibly object to having their money s|x-nt on such charming looking things? It would be almost a pleasure to be killed by them.

An attendant with one eye missing rose from the table and advanced toward me. I began to explain the object of my visit. He did not listen to me, nor did he look at me. He only walked slowly toward a door, opened it, and motioned me inside. 1 went in. The d(x>r shut, and I waited.

1 waited and waited. How long, 1 do not know, but it seemed nearly half an hour. Suddenly, the door opened again, and another attendant ap|x»ared. 1 told him why 1 had come. He listened, gravely and respectfully, and then he departed. Another long wait. The walls were hung with photographs of shells, anti-aircraft guns, and other less objectionable objects, such as turbines and dynamos. On the wall opposite me hung a calendar, with little historical titbits under each date. I walked over to it, and at the titbit for the day.

"Friday 18th.

"1814. Victory of Napoleon at Montereau.”

That was very appropriate, I felt. Victory of Napoleon at Montereau. And a lot of good it had done him. or anybody else.

What was the titbit for tomorrow? “Saturday 19th.

"l()f)8. The Prince of Condé achieves the conquest of la FrancheComte.”

Thus does mankind look forward! There was something extremely irritating in this calendar of tarnished glories, hanging underneath photographs showing factories stacked with shells, and guns of incredible power. I tore off those two dates, so that the calendar now informed all and sundry that it was the Sabbath, and 1 had a petulant and childish hope that some armament maker might kx)k at it, think he had mis-

his horrid activities for at least one extra day.

Mr. Nichols then tells how. after being sidetracked by various officials, he was finally per milled to see only a fournir y.

1 drove back to Dijon cursing. Somebody had made me look a pretty fool. However I liad not finished with them yet. Even if they would not allow me into their confidence, there were plenty of other sources of information available. For some days I busied myself with an examination of these sources. Here are a few facts about this firm which may interest the reader.

The factory' at Le Creusot, from the point of view of war material, is, strangely enough, the least important. The chief war factory Ls at Havre. It was acquired by Schneider’s in 1897 and has since been enormously developed. However there is also considerable activity at the workshops of Châlons-sur-Saône, and also at Londe-les-Maures. At Creux-Saint-Georges, near Toulon, they make submarines, at Bordeaux artillery parts. Nor is this all.

For the Schneider web is not woven only over France. Mr. Nichols goes on to describe the Shearer case, already covered by Lieut.ColonelGeorge A. Drew in his articles in Maclean's. He makes the point that so-called “observers” were employed by makers of armaments to spread "preparedness” propaganda.

Continued on page 28

Cry Havoc!

Continued from page 13

There is one point which must be shown more clearly, and that is the close connection between armament firms and governments -between these private enterprises and the executives of the states in which they work.

This requires a little explanation. Every government today has a paper scheme of its whole country mapped out as a vast arsenal, a scheme which is necessarily largely familiar to the armament firms, who are ready to go full steam ahead, w hen the hour comes. Even the pacific United States Government, for example, has gone to the length of preparing contracts with armament firms, to the number of some thousands. And the French Act of February, 1928, for the general organization of the country in war-time is so complete and thorough that it would bring tears of pious joy to the eyes of any armament director.

However, the general principle, rather than the array of details, is the most convincing pr(x)f that governments and armament firms are, if not actually married, at least living together. Understand that principle and you understand the w hole.

Since all armaments rapidly grow out of date, and . . .

Since no government can afford to be illequipped and . . .

Since, on the other hand, a constant scrapping of guns, airplanes, etc., would be beyond the budgetary capacity of any government . . .

It is therefore to the interest of any government that its own armament firms are kept as large, as alive, and as up to date as possible, and . . . Armament firms can only do so by developing a large and regular peace-time export trade.

Now do you see what this implies? In case you do not, let us say, do you see what it does not imply? It certainly does not imply that any government in its senses ... (I use the phrase “in its senses” mindful of the fact that I am writing of a lunatic world . . .) will attempt to dissuade any armament firm from exporting arms to any country whatever. The more they export, the better the government concerned is pleased, because it means that their owm firms are keeping their plants up to date, employing skilled workmen, and generally keeping up the high standard of their organizations, to which the government will have to turn when the hour comes. Thus we have the astonishing paradox of governments welcoming the fact that the whole world is being plastered with guns, etc., which have been exported from their own countries. They are apparently oblivious of the fact that these guns may one day explode in their own imbecile faces.

Now—that is untrue. They don’t explode in the faces of the governments, but in the faces of the men who have to obey the governments. It is not unduly rhetorical to say that every time the English or the American or the French Government signs a license for the export of arms to a foreign country it is smashing with its ugly fist, the young bodies of its own finest citizens. In case this sounds bitter. let me quote a speech which Mr. Hugh Dalton made in the House of Commons not long ago. He was speaking on the Naval Estimates, and was explaining how many Australian and British troops had been mow’ed down by British guns in the Dardanelles. In a moving passage, he cried :

"British armament firms have been

supplying the Turkish artillery with

shells w’hich were fired into the Aus-

Six Million Insects on Exhibition

SIX million insects have "moved house” into the new wing built by the Empire Marketing Board at the Natural History Museum, London, England, which was opened December last by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Acute overcrowding in the insect rooms has made necessary a new building for their display

The collection is a sort of “rogues’ gallery” for the use of the men who are policing the Empire’s most destructive and dangerous criminals—the insect pests. If a new insect crook tries to put an Empire crop

"on the spot,” the entomologist’s first act, like the detective’s, is to identify the pest and to get its dossier from the criminal records.

The insect wing will provide room for scientists from overseas who wish to work at the Museum. Nowhere else in the Empire can they find so complete a collection, and the new accommodation should prove another valuable weapon in the war against insect pests, for which the Empire Marketing Board has already allocated some £200,000. —Forest and Outdoors. tralian, New Zealand and British troops as they were scrambling up Anzac Cove and Cape Helles. Did it matter to the directors of these armament firms, so long as they did business and expanded the defense expenditure of Turkey, that their weapons mashed up into bloody pulp all the morning glory that was the flower of Anzac, the youth of Australia and New Zealand, yes and the youth of our own country?”

Apparently, it did not matter then, and it does not matter now. Neither to the armament firms, nor to the governments. For the license is virtually a matter of form. A matter of form ! It is a delicate way of describing the export of death.

Moreover, there appears to be no possibility of making public the number of licenses granted, nor of obtaining particulars as to the countries to which the armaments are going. The League of Nations tried to enforce publicity in this matter, without success. There was a special commission, quite recently, which enquired as to the possibility of forcing governments to publish information as to the activities of their armament factories, by supplying full details, every quarter, to the Secretary-General of the League.

The British delegate gave the show away when, in response to this suggestion, he said:

"We have no power to compel the manufacturers to give this information, and very few governments would have the courage to make them do so.”

The courage! The power! The governments haven’t got it w’hen they are face to face with Death, Ltd. In fact, we have reached the horrible stage where the words of Undershaft, the armament maker, in Shaw’s Major Barbara, are almost literally true. You remember the passage? It will form a fitting close for our chapter. . . .

"The Government of your country!

I am the Government of your country. Do you suppose that you and half a dozen amateurs like you, sitting in a row in that foolish gabble shop, govern Undershaft? No, my friend, you will do what pays us. You will make war when it suits us and keep peace when it doesn’t. . . When I want anything to keep my dividends up, you will discover that my want is a national need. When other people want something to keep my dividends down, you will call out the police and military. InTetum you shall have the support of my newspapers, and the delight of imagining that you are a great statesman.”

In the next installment, Mr. Nichols discusses what is going on in connection with the manufacture of poison gas.