LONDON LETTER

LONDON LETTER

The Baronet and the Blokes

Beverley Baxter December 10 1955
LONDON LETTER

LONDON LETTER

The Baronet and the Blokes

Beverley Baxter December 10 1955

LONDON LETTER

The Baronet and the Blokes

Beverley Baxter

THIS is the story of one man. Dumas might have invented him for he would certainly have become the fourth Musketeer if he had encountered the famous Three.

With some trepidation I must break the news gently to those readers of Maclean’s who brag about the commonhood of man that he is Sir Jocelyn Lucas, the third baronet. Yes sir. What is worse he did not even win his baronetcy he merely inherited it. To complete the sinister dossier he is an MP (Tory of course) who won the MC in World War I and was twice wounded while serving as a volunteer auxiliary fireman during the blitz on London.

Finally, he breeds Sealyhams of such aristocratic lineage that they are full of charm and hardly know what day it is. I know this to be true because when my belligerent Aberdeen terrier Max (named after Beaverbrook) died from a fight with a bulldog, Sir Jocelyn gave me one of his Sealyhams which we named Disraeli.

It was not until 1939 that Sir Jocelyn entered parliament and hardly had he taken his seat when war broke out. He tried to enlist but was over age. Then he had an idea. In fact, Lucas always has an idea.

Something should be done to offer hospitality to allied officers arriving in London. So he got in touch with the Over-seas League and arranged that at regular intervals there would be receptions in London. I think he put me on the committee but you never know with Josh. At any rate I attended as many of the receptions as possible.

These affairs always opened with a speech of welcome by Sir Jocelyn and none of us knew what he would say next. A few days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the Chinese naval attaché was among our guests. Sir Jocelyn said all the right things for once but ended with the remarkable sentence: “In view of the dastardly attack on Pearl Harbor we are particularly glad today to have as one of our most welcome and honored guests the Japanese naval attaché.” The roar of laughter made it rather difficult for us to tell him that he had made a slight error.

Another joyful incident occurred at a similar function when he said at the end of his speech of welcome, “Now I have told you about all the famous and important people who are our guests today. But I must inform you that we also have the prime minister of Canada.”

One last anecdote and we shall move on. Italy had come into the war against us and we were rather surprised to see an Italian flag in a prominent position at the next reception for overseas officers.

“You are probably puzzled,” said Sir Jocelyn to the assembled guests. “Certainly it is an Italian flag but it is Garibaldi’s ñag. And you will all remember his famous utterance, ‘God damn England!’ ” How-

ever we whispered in his ear and he explained

Continued on page 73

London Letter

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 4

that what Garibaldi really said was, "God save England!”

Now we come down to more modern times when, a couple of years ago, Sir Jocelyn gathered a few of us together in the House of Commons and asked us to join him in a great project.

"This is my plan,” he said. 'T want to raise money to erect in St. Paul’s Cathedral a memorial to the empire

fighting men who lost their lives in the Hitler war. We won’t ask for large sums from anyone. In fact we won’t take a large sum from any man or company. We shall collect it in shillings and half crowns from the police, the firemen, the postmen, the miners, the cotton workers, the Boy Scouts, the chaps in the services and so on. Clem Davies, the leader of the Liberal Party, bets agreed to join the committee. So has Anthony Greenwood, for the Labor Party. And we want Alfred Bossom and Beverley Baxter from the Tories.”

It was useless to say "No.” Someone once said that Sir Jocelyn had a whim of iron. That is not at all a bad way of putting it.

We asked him if he had consulted the Dean of St. Paul’s, and Josh assured us that he had. We asked him why the memorial would be erected in St. Paul’s and not in the Abbey. He replied that there was already an em -pire memorial in the Abbey.

The idea had come to him on tha mad Saturday night in the Blitz when, as a volunteer fireman, he watched the flames move nearer and nearer to St.

To every ..e s surprise, shillings from the “little chaps” built a new memorial

Paul’s. Office buildings were crashing into ruins and the whole sky was an angry red. The City of London, with the Guildhall as its centre, had become an inferno but, as if some mystic unseen hand had been raised against them, the flames just failed to reach the cathedral.

"We’ll get the money,” said Jocelyn. "It will be just the ordinary blokes who’ll give it to us.” He further informed us that the committee would meet from time to time to study the progress report and to pool ideas. Meantime, with our permission (whatever that meant), he had secured the services of two or three people outside the political world who would give their services free.

I forget which one of us said, "Let’s hope we raise the money before there’s a third world war to commemorate.” But it expressed our secret doubts.

The months rolled on. Every now and then Sir Jocelyn summoned us to a meeting and, with his volunteer treasurer by his side, would report, "Here’s a cheque for two pounds four shillings from the Beamsville Fire Brigade. The Uplington Police Station has sent us two pounds six shillings. And here's three shillings from an exserviceman with no legs.”

Let the Moguls Pay?

No one could have failed to be touched by this story of little people moved by a great spirit, but when we thought of the thousands of pounds needed to conclude the project it seemed to our mundane minds that we would have to go to more substantial sources. What about a dinner in the Commons? We could invite the chairmen or managing directors of the big industrial companies.

"We don’t want their money,” said Sir Jocelyn. "It must come from the ordinary chaps, in driblets.”

But finally we wore him down and persuaded him to hold the dinner, on the condition that the big boys of the City should only be asked for guarantees. If they would make these it would then be possible to put the construction of the memorial in hand. And anyway, what would it matter where the money came from?

So the seduction dinner took place and the moguls of industry and finance proved friendly and co-operative. The cynic might say that big firms usually have a fund for supporting worthy projects and, in the end, the only loser would be the Chancellor of the Exchequer who would have that much less from income tax.

But their generosity should not be dismissed so cynically. It is an admirable thing that the world of industry and finance should recognize its responsibility to the spiritual realm. In the case of this empire war memorial their guarantees made a certainty of what had only been a dream.

When the dinner had ended and it was time for our guests to depart Sir Jocelyn rose to his feet and expressed our gratitude to the victims. "It was good of you to come,” said Josh, "and we enjoyed having you. But I will tell you here and now that we will not call on you for a single penny of your guarantees. We are going to finance this out of the shillings and half crowns of the people.”

The moguls smiled indulgently. It was not the first time they had heard that old sv/eet song. And I must say

that we who were Sir Jocelyn’s friends felt that we were listening to something pretty close to a false prospectus.

When the guests had gone Clement Davies, like a good Liberal and nonconformist, pointed out that the dinner must have been a pretty costly affair and it would hardly be proper to charge it to the memorial fund.

"Very well,” said Sir Jocelyn, "let’s toss for it.” For once we overruled him and we all shared the cost. Then we went out on the terrace and cooled off in the light of a full moon.

"We received two pounds fifteen shillings today from a home for disabled ex-servicemen,” said Josh, "and they said that they would get up a whist drive and send us some more.”

No one spoke. The only sound was the river murmuring its way to the sea.

THE MONTHS PASSED and from time to time the committee met to hear the progress report. The story was the same each time. The shillings and half crowns were coming in, but it still seemed only a matter of time until the guarantors would have to cough up.

Then one day we received word from Sir Jocelyn that there would be a celebration dinner in which the chief guest would be the Dean of St. Paul’s. I asked him what we were celebrating. "Didn’t I tell you?” he said. "We’ve got the money.”

So we gathered once more in a private dining room at Westminster and Lucas opened the meeting by announcing that the full sum needed— twenty thousand pounds —was now in the hands of the treasurer. Work would start right away. "It is due to you chaps,” he said. "You were simply wonderful. I never could have done this without your support.”

It takes a lot to make a politician blush but something very like it was on the cheeks of Clem Davies, Alfred Bossom, Anthony Greenwood and myself. If we had been oil paintings we could hardly have done less toward raising the money. However each of us had had an opportunity to ease our consciences by making speeches in which we attributed everything to the crazy loon who had dreamed a dream. As for the guarantees of the business moguls, not one penny was called from them.

The Dean of St. Paul’s was in good form and expressed the gratitude of the hierarchy of the cathedral. He even invited us to come some day and climb the steps to the dome, but even Sir Jocelyn showed no enthusiasm for that ordeal.

Instead we fell to discussing the ugly buildings which were rising from the ruins adjoining the cathedral. As a famous architect, Sir Alfred Bossom was particularly scathing about the ugly hand of materialism. A sudden light came into Sir Jocelyn’s eye. "Don’t you think we ought to set up a committee to look into this?”

We were saved by the gong—the division bells of the House started to ring and we had to go up and vote.

And we didn’t return—we knew it wasn’t safe. ★

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