Wednesday 10 January 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 2) Rebellion

Previously : 1) Sir Noël Coward (1899-1973), when a tennage, became an unofficial mascot of the Sherwood Foresters regiment through his relationship with 2) Philip Streatfeild (1879-1915), whose regiment took part in the Irish rebellion led by 3) Sir Roger Casement (1964-1916).

The Easter Rising in Dublin 1916, at which the Sherwood Foresters were a major British force against the rebels, was organised mainly by a more militant group of Irish nationalists than 3) Sir Roger Casement’s own Irish Volunteers. Sir Roger knew about the uprising but may not have been fully aware of the militants’ plans to use the Easter assembly of the Volunteers as the date to start an armed rebellion. The Irish Volunteers tried to cancel their assembly but the militants decided to go ahead anyway. Sir Roger has expected to be involved in the rising but the militants thought they could manage without him.

In the lead up to the Easter Rising Sir Roger was in Germany arranging for arms shipments to be smuggled into Ireland by sea. He was uncertain about Germany being serious enough to send enough arms to be of any significant use. The arms and ammunition Germany offered was less than he had asked for, and he had to proceed without the assistance of the German military.

I have written several articles on Sir Roger Casement in the past and his activities are described in more detailed here. The ship carrying German arms to Ireland was intercepted by the Royal Navy just a few days before the Easter Rising. Sir Roger was captured and put on trial for treason. He was executed in 1916.

The smuggling plan was first discussed by Sir Roger in 1914 shortly after World War I broke out. He had gone to America to meet the German ambassador to the US Count Johan Heinrich von Bernstorff. Bernstorff was sympathetic to Sir Roger’s plan and he was himself placed in America to gather anti-British intelligence. The count was involved in many plots against the British, although he denied it at the time.

Another member of the Bernstorff family was a German diplomat at the time of the 1916 Easter Rising, Count Johan Heinrich’s nephew 4) Count Albrecht von Bernstorff (1890-1945). When Germany began to increase their submarine warfare in the Atlantic in 1917 Count Albrecht contacted his uncle in America to get his view. Albrecht himself was opposed to the action because, like many other Germans, he feared it would bring the USA into the war on the British side. They were right to have such fears. President Woodrow Wilson cut off all diplomatic relations with Germany and Ambassador Bernstorff was sent home.

Count Albrecht was horrified at the large number of casualties on both sides as World War I progressed, unlike his uncle. Although Albrecht can not be described as a pacifist he was certainly anti-war. That made his diplomatic roles even more important to him. During the Easter Rising and his uncle’s expulsion from America Albrecht was an attaché at the German embassy in Vienna. Later in 1917 he served in the German Foreign Office in Berlin. After that he assisted in peace negotiations with Romania. Between 1923 and 1933 Count Albrecht was appointed to the German embassy in London.
Count Albrecht von Bernstorff
It was during the formation of a government after the fall of the German monarchy in 1917 that Count Albrecht got to know the new Foreign Secretary, Wilhelm Solf. It is through this connection that Count Albrecht became a kind of German Scarlet Pimpernel during World War II. I gave a brief description of his wartime activities several years ago on Holocaust Memorial Day. Here I recount the circumstances of his arrest.

After Solf’s death his widow formed an informal resistance organisation called the Solf Circle to which Count Albrecht von Bernstorff belonged. Members of the Solf Circle met in September 1943 to celebrate a birthday. One guest was actually an undercover Gestapo agent and he encouraged an anti-Nazi discussion during the party. He reported what was said, and in some cases written down, to the Gestapo. The party guests were rounded up and sent to the Ravensbruck Concentration camp, one of whom was Count Albrecht.

Albrecht’s contribution to anti-Nazi resistance is commemorated with plaques in both London and Berlin. He is also commemorated with a memorial cross at his ancestral palace in Stintenburg.

Count Albrecht von Bernstorff’s diplomatic leanings began long before his appointment to Vienna in 1916. In 1909 he had been granted a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. There he helped to form an Anglo-German debating society which was created with the intention of increasing ties between the two countries. Albrecht led the first debate, and at the end of his studies he gave a speech on behalf of the German Rhodes Scholars to Alfred Milner, 1st Viscount Milner. Milner was Governor of Cape Colony and knew personally the man after whom the Rhodes Scholarships are named, 5) Rt. Hon. Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902).

Next time we see how Cecil Rhodes has a link to ancient India.

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