Jutland conspiracy

I’ve recorded the Dan Snow documentary about the Battle of Jutland that was on BBC4 yesterday evening. I assume it will up to his usual clear and informative standard, and when I watch it, it will be with a special interest, because I have just been exploring a very different, and frankly nasty, account of the Battle.
I came across it more or less by chance. I was doing some light research on Rose Allatini’s husband, Cyril Scott. I knew that in 1921 a book of his, The Autobiography of a Child, had been banned by the courts, and I’d gathered that this was at the bequest of Lord Alfred Douglas (Oscar Wilde’s lovely Bosie, now grown middle-aged and vicious) who at the time was editing the magazine Plain English. I googled to find out more, and discovered that the 1921 volume of the magazine is online at archive.com. I found the review of Scott’s book (denouncing ‘its odour of filth’), but found much more beside.
The magazine is horrible – mostly made up of conspiracy theories, anti-Semitism and denunciations of the modern age’s corruption. This front page advertising books from the same publisher gives you an idea of the general tone.plain english
In 1921, the magazine ran a series of articles about the Battle of Jutland, the gist of which is that a traitor in the Admiralty had been  in radio contact with the German fleet during the battle, and manipulated events so that the German Fleet was allowed to get away. What is more, this person, or his confederates, spread the news early that the British were suffering losses and losing the battle. These reports caused British stocks in America to fall.

But within a week the truth was well known, and British stock in America rose again. It may be of interest to the public to know that as a result of this fall and rise in the stock a certain financial group of Jews cleared a net profit of £18,000,000.

The initial report suggesting that the British Navy had been beaten was signed by Balfour. But, Plain English declares:

Mr Balfour was a pawn in Mr Churchill’s game; but Mr Churchill was a puppet in the game of Sir Ernest Cassel and the rest of the Jewish plotters.

Like most conspiracy theorists, Douglas finds that every possible piece of evidence confirms his worst suspicions. The rest of the British press treat this with contempt and refuse to repeat his allegations? That proves they are controlled by the Jews.
Readers of the magazine are offered sensation and horror, and the empowering sensation that they alone are in the know:

[T]hose who are acquainted with the movements of the Hidden Hand realise that blackmail and murder are its favourite weapons. When these fail it resorts to the ingenious device of having a man certified as a lunatic. The public has not forgotten the murder of Lord Kitchener.

The magazine’s readership was tiny, and I’m sure most intelligent people treated it with scorn, but this sort of rumour has a knack of spreading (as we know from the internet today). At a time when many in Britain shared a mild prejudice against the Jews, even Douglas’s craziest allegations might have had an appeal.
The Jutland story is interesting, because it provides an answer to a question many must have asked: How could the great British Navy come close to losing a battle against mere Germans? A conspiracy theory saves the pride of the navy, even while it blackens the reputations of politicians and others.
In Germany in the twenties, the ‘stab in the back’ theory was taken as gospel among those convinced the German army should never have lost. If Britain had lost (and a hundred years ago this month we were damn close to losing) there would have been a much stronger demand for consolatory fables. And you can bet that here too the Jews would have been candidates for blame.
Thirty years ago I had thought that anti-Semitism was dead in Britain; certainly among my (perhaps limited) social circle, nobody I knew would have thought of uttering anti-Jewish comments. I remember my shock in the early nineties, when I was in New York. A black guy was offering a table-full of radical literature for sale in the street. I looked at them with interest. Most of them were Black Power sort of stuff – but among them was the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I shuddered.
Still, I thought, that sort of thing is not believed in England. But now, it seems, anti-Semitism has once more gained a hold, and (thirty years ago I would definitely never have believed this) among the rank and file members of the once tolerant and humane Labour Party. We live in strange times.


  1. Tom Deveson
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    This is at a slight tangent to the above, but I hope it might be of interest.

    I brought a strange book away from the free bring-and-take shelves in our local station:

    THE FIRST STONE: T.W.H. Crosland on Reading the Unpublished Parts of ‘De Profundis


    I’d read about it before but not seen it.

    Crosland befriended Lord Alfred Douglas after Wilde was imprisoned. Both of them took violently against Wilde’s loyal friend Robbie Ross and Crosland was almost unbelievably hostile to Wilde himself. The story, involving multiple libel actions and pamphlets and accusations and counter-accusations, is complicated but can be read in the biographies.

    This book purports to be a poem. It begins in something almost like vers libre – this is 1912, after all – but like none I’ve read before:

    The complete mountebank,
    The scented posturer,
    The flabby Pharisee,
    The King of Life,
    The Lord of Language
    With the bad teeth ;
    The whining convict
    And Prince of Hypocrites,
    That slouchest
    Out of the shameless slime.
    To the prison penitent form,
    Licking pious chops,
    And saying texts
    For the pleasuring
    And sweet approval
    Of tract-distributors…’

    It’s all like that, for thirty pages:

    ‘…So, where thou lurkest
    Drenched in stale tears
    And very sorry for thyself,
    ‘In the lowest mire
    Of Malebolge
    Between Gilles de Retz
    And the Marquis de Sade ‘
    (Of a verity
    Thou knewest thy destined place!)
    So, where thou lurkest
    Playing gracefully with ideas
    In the delicious
    Impudent Oxford manner
    (Albeit still damp
    With the aforesaid sour tears),
    Or nobly regretting
    ‘The clear turtle soup.
    The luscious ortolans
    In crinkled Sicilian vine leaves,
    The wonderful pâtés
    Procured directly from Strasbourg,
    The Perrier Jouet,
    The Dagonet 1880,
    And the marvellous liqueur brandy
    Served always
    At the bottom
    Of great bell-shaped glasses,’
    Not to mention
    Certain fine feather-beds ;
    Or steeping the gew-gaw pearl
    Of thy indecent soul
    In the elegant Brummagem cup
    Which thy schoolfellow with the brogue
    Rather put out of shape
    At the Central Criminal Court,
    Here’s for thee!…’

    If you know the story of the trials, you can just about work that out.

    Then we reach the peroration:

    ‘…O Treachery ! O damned
    And furtive Plotter ! Thou
    Of whom the filthiest fiend
    Might wish to wash his hands.
    By whom lago pales
    Into a gentleman
    And Wainwright shines snow-white
    If any echo or hail
    Of this world reaches thee
    Deep in thy lampless lair
    Harken ! The dubious dust
    Hidden in Père La Chaise [sic TD]
    Beneath the Epstein stone
    Is not thou ; and that stone
    Is not thy monument,
    Nor for thy memory :
    But on a Rock called Shame
    Sunken in letters of lead
    Which may not be effaced
    Till the slow clocks of Time
    Shall strike the ages out,

    Men read : —



    Oscar, you just got dissed.

    I see the book sells on Amazon for £35.

    I’m keeping it.

    • Posted May 1, 2018 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Plain English advertises Douglas’s poem ‘The Rossiad’, an attack on Robbie Ross in, I imagine, much the same vein as the book you found. So much anger and resentment.

  2. Tom Deveson
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Thank you, as ever, George, for sharing your wide-ranging and painstaking and fascinating researches. The page from Bosie’s magazine speaks volumes. I don’t know whether I can bring myself to download the rest….

  3. Steve Paradis
    Posted May 24, 2018 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    And at the very bottom of the page: “Don’t Miss The Christmas Number.”
    Which brings up the cheery image of Christmas morning with Bosie.
    What do you they ran out of first, the whiskey, the brandy or the soda?

  4. Liza McAlister Willi
    Posted May 31, 2018 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    Horrifying. But it’s true, the “we VS. they” way of thinking seems to be the human default setting. A 5th grade teacher of mine (about a hundred years ago) explained to her class of 11-year-olds that there will never be peaceful cooperation in the world until Martians invade.

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