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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Beano, The Dandy and the Nazi Death List

(* As today is Battle of Britain day, Jeremy Briggs returns to Bear Alley with an intriguing wartime question... and an answer! A companion piece to this column can be found over at John Freeman's Down the Tubes.)

Were The Wartime Beano And Dandy Editors On A Nazi Death List?
by Jeremy Briggs

Seventy years ago this year, the Nazi’s were working on the details of Operation Sealion, their planned invasion of mainland Britain. These plans included a list of people who were to be rounded up by, or handed over to, the Nazi security forces once they were in control of the United Kingdom. It has been said that the editors of the Beano and Dandy were included on this list due to the humorous, and therefore disrespectful, attitude that the two comics had towards Adolph Hitler.

It is seems to be one of those now accepted facts about the history of British comics that has been referred to many times, from the flimsiness of The Sun...
Documentation discovered after the war suggested that, had the Nazi invasion of Britain succeeded, The Beano would have been closed immediately and the editor dealt with in the severest possible way for propaganda "crimes".

 ... to the heaviness of The Scotsman...
Beano and Dandy share a distinguished war record, so lampooning Hitler and Mussolini that unearthed documents have since revealed that, in the event of Germany invading Britain, the comics' editors (and the ever-inventive Dudley D) would have figured on a "hit list".

From respected fan publications such as The Beano and Dandy Collectors Club newsletter ...
It was revealed that during 1945 the Americans invaded Germany and found a store containing records relating to the German proposed invasion of Britain in 1940. Present was a list of people to be arrested, and they included the Editor of the Daily Telegraph, the Editor of the Sunday Times, the Editor of the Daily Mail, the Editor of the Beano and the Editor of the Dandy. At the time the Dandy Editor was mightily chuffed to hear the news!
 ... to the ultimate Beano book, The History Of The Beano, published by Waverley Books and authorised by DC Thomson themselves...

Even the product description of Waverley Books' The History Of The Beano on Amazon UK includes this -
The War Years: how The Beano aided the propaganda campaign against Hitler and boosted the morale of a nation's embattled children... leading to its editor and star artist being targeted as potential victims of a Nazi assassination attempt!
What would happen to the editors once they were in Nazi hands is normally left to the imagination but, based on what happened in other occupied countries to those individuals rounded up by the Nazis, it is not a stretch to say that to be included on such a list was effectively a death sentence.

This is one of those comics facts that intrigues me for its inconsistency, after all none of the five different references above tell the story the same way. Since the wartime editors were not credited in the comics and therefore their names where not public knowledge, how would the Nazis have known who they were? For that matter if the editors of the Beano and Dandy were on the list then why not the editor of DC Thomson's third humour title, the Magic? Maybe he was but since the Magic has been forgotten by the general public he just never gets mentioned. If the editors of the humour titles were on the list why not the editors of the boy's adventure titles, the Big Five of Adventure, Wizard, Hotspur, Rover and Skipper? When it comes down to it, just what was this Nazi death list?

Its name is the Sonderfahndungsliste G.B. which translates literally as the Special Search List for Great Britain but today it is better known simply as The Black Book. It was put together by SS-General Walter Schellenberg and it lists 2820 people that the Germans intended to round up once they had control of the country. While it includes the obvious politicians and trade unionists, it also lists other public figures - writers, performers and journalists amongst them - who had spoken out against the Nazi cause including names still famous today such as actor and writer Noël Coward and novelist H G Wells. The most famous quote about the book comes from the feminist writer and critic Rebecca West who described the list to Noël Coward saying, "My dear - the people we should have been seen dead with."

So would Noel Coward have been seen dead with the editors of the Beano and Dandy? For that matter just who were the editors of the Beano and Dandy in 1940?

At that time the editor of The Beano was George Moonie who had been in charge from the comic's beginnings in 1938 and after the war he continued in charge until 1959 when he handed over the reigns to Harold Cramond. His Dandy counterpart was Albert Barnes who began the comic in 1937 and, remarkably, only retired as editor in 1982 when David Torrie took over. So were they really targeted as enemies of the Third Reich?

There have been many books both fictional and factual which deal with the Nazi plans for an occupied Britain but of the Sonderfahndungsliste G.B. itself only two copies survived the war. One of them is in the collection of London's Imperial War Museum and in 1989 they reprinted it as the second of their Facsimile Reprint series. This facsimile book is therefore readily available to the public in many reference libraries throughout the UK. This is not another author's or a translator's view of what was contained in the original book, nor an editor’s view of the interesting parts, but a complete reproduction of the actual book itself, listing in German all the people to be rounded up including, for many of them, their addresses and places of work. If editors George Moonie and Albert Barnes were on the Nazi death list this then is the book in which their names would appear.

Except they are not in it.

The Sonderfahndungsliste G.B., as well as having an alphabetical listing of people, also includes the names and addresses of trade unions, lodges, banks, firms and newspapers. The newspaper section lists some provincial newspapers as well as national ones. No D C Thomson titles appear on the list. Nor does D C Thomson appear on the list of firms. Nor for that matter do any members of the Thomson family appear on the list of people. There is no mention of the publishing firm of D C Thomson or even Thomson-Leng Publications in the book. The other D C Thomson personality who is often associated with the list is artist Dudley D Watkins – he isn’t in it either.

Indeed in the section were the contents are listed in geographical order while Dundee is included, and listed incorrectly as “Dundes-Whitehall”, only the local office of the Transport and General Workers Union at 7 Whitehall Crescent is mentioned. This is not unusual for the book as TGWU offices the length and breadth of the British Isles are listed including those in Jersey, the Isle Of Man, Northern Ireland and even the Irish Free State.

While the D C Thomson staff are not listed in the book there is an example of a cartoonist on the list. David Low, later Sir David, was the political cartoonist of the London Evening Standard and had been producing anti-Nazi cartoons in the paper for many years. He is listed as L137, the 137th name in the alphabetical listing of names beginning with the letter L, and was to be handed over to RSHA IV-B4. RSHA IV was the Geheim Staats Polizei, better known today by its abbreviation – Gestapo. The Gestapo's B4 section that he was to be handed over to was controlled by Adolf Eichmann, the man often referred to as the architect of the Holocaust, who escaped to Argentina after the war only to be captured by Mossad in 1960 and taken to Israel where he was executed in 1962.

In addition to the Sonderfahndungsliste G.B. there is a second Nazi document dealing with the invasion of Britain, the Informationsheft G.B. which translates simply as the Information Booklet For Great Britain. This contains information on the country itself and comes across as something of a geography text book but also includes lists of establishments and institutions which would have been of interest to an invading army. An English translation of the Informationsheft G.B. is included in Invasion 1940: The Nazi Invasion Plan For Britain, a book published in 2000 that also includes the alphabetical listing of people from the Sonderfahndungsliste G.B..

The Informationsheft G.B. contains a section on the British Press which details the country’s daily and Sunday newspapers and their owners. According to the book the seven major conglomerates were: the Harmsworth family’s Rothemere conglomerate;  the Berry conglomerate controlled by Lords Camrose, Kemsley and Iliffe; the Morrel and Rowntree familys’ Westminster Group; Lord Beaverbrook’s conglomerate; William Harrison’s Inveresk Paper Group; the Cadbury family’s conglomerate, and finally Julius Salter Elais’ conglomerate. Again, like the Sonderfahndungsliste G.B., the Informationsheft G.B. does not list D C Thomson or Thomson-Leng Publications in the press section, nor for that matter does it make any reference to any children’s comics or story papers, nor any other children’s publications.

So where did this story of the Beano and Dandy editors being on a death list originate from? They are certainly not mentioned in either of the two German documents drawn up to deal with an occupied Britain. Could someone in the past have simply concocted the information because it made for a good story?

Wherever it originally came from this story appears to have become generally accepted through repetition in books, newspaper articles and fanzines. It would seem that no one was aware that the original source material was relatively accessible and so was available to confirm or deny the truth. It also goes to show just how easily inaccurate information can become the accepted norm.

The idea that the wartime Beano and Dandy editors were on a Nazi death list does make for a good story - it's almost a pity it isn't true.

5 comments:

Garen Ewing said...

Excellent and fascinating. I love a bit of debunking!

Norman Boyd said...

Fantastic article Jeremy (and Steve). I see one German language site says that the UK reprint is 'not even complete' (See http://www.georg-elser-arbeitskreis.de/texts/infheftgb.htm) which is on a site commemorating a Nazi resistance member. Unfortunately they don't explain what they mean!
I can hear strains of Mulder and Scully!

John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

Hi Norman (and Jeremy),

The German website about the “Informationsheft GB” you found merely states that the “Sonderfahndungsliste GB” was partly(!) reprinted in the English version of the book “Invasion 1940, The Nazi Invasion Plan for Britain by SS General Walter Schellenberg” (London, 2000). Thus making the ‘Special Search List for Great Britain’ in this book incomplete.
I presume the reprint of the Black Book by the Imperial War Museum in their Facsimile Reprint series does present all 2820 names…

It makes me wonder which list Jeremy used to check whether George Moonie (The Beano) and Albert Barnes (Dandy) were in it or not. Didn’t he write that “Invasion 1940” ‘also includes the alphabetical listing of people from the Sonderfahndungsliste G.B.’? This gives me the impression that all ‘2820 people that the Germans intended to round up once they had control of the country’ are mentioned. But what if the list of names in this book is incomplete after all, just as the German website states?
And how about Dudley Watkins? Is he in the Imperial War Museum facsimile reprint, or not?

No Mulder nor Scully here, but some random thoughts from The Netherlands.

John Wigmans

Jeremy Briggs said...

The IWM reprint book is a complete and exact replica of the original Nazi publication plus an English introduction. I recommend viewng a copy to appreciate just how exact it is.

The listing in the English language Invasion 1940 book is the full German language alphabetical listing from the IWM reprint book -but only the alphabetical listing, not the rest of the original Nazi book.

Just to make it absolutely clear, Moonie, Barnes and Watkins are listed in neither book.