1940 • Red October

Early EMW in Rostherne garden

Madeline Wood in her garden, c. 1899

[Madeline Wood is] in her rambling garden beds of Rostherne, on a lonely quartz-and-gravel road in the Blue Mountains, in her once productive, self-sufficient acre of vegetables, raspberry canes and fruit trees, where she would keep goats and chooks, a place of optimistic fruitful order, in 1899—a different century. [RED, page 153]

The Rostherne house at Blackheath was from 1899 the family home of Arnold and Madeline Wood and their children. After 1919 the family moved back to Sydney and the house became a “holiday home” for family and friends.

Rostherne is the scene of this 1940 episode in which Madeline meets Rupert Lockwood, an important influence on Bill Wood’s decision to join the Communist Party.

Bill + Rupert double

New communists (1940): Bill Wood (left), Rupert Lockwood (right)

Madeline is in the room as well .… She’s left to her unsettled thoughts. It’s not [Rupert] Lockwood’s fault, she has decided, it’s just a sort of chemical effect, the product of two elements in close contact for the last few months, and both of them combustible. Bill with Rupert is unlike Bill alone. He has lost a little of the very quality that most defined him, that blithe detachment … [RED, page 159]

emw reading cropped

Madeline Wood, reading, c. 1940s

Rupert Lockwood’s arguments addressed to progressives and (small-L) liberals such as Bill Wood appear in an article he wrote in the Daily News.

Lockwood to Liberals DN 1940-05-09

Daily News, 9 May 1940

Although signed “By a liberal”, the article is by Lockwood, as it also appears in a scrapbook of his own articles (“Rupert Scrapbook 1939–” in “Papers of Rupert Lockwood, 1851-1998”, MS 10121, National Library of Australia). Only six months before, Lockwood was himself not a communist but a liberal progressive, much as described in this article. Written so soon after his own commitment to communism, the piece reveals some of Lockwood’s thinking that led him to join the Party on the day the war was declared:

“The logical steps for liberals, if they were sincere in their principles, would be to throw their weight behind the Labor Movement—the only well-organised force that can safeguard liberal rights.” The strength, as Lockwood saw it, was now with the labour movement and with communism; and this is the same argument he was putting to Bill Wood in mid-1940, arguing that his friend give up Christian Socialism for the Communist Party.

“The world that emerges from these bloody mists,” Lockwood argues, “will not be the same world. Either we move forward to an improved social order, in which the rights of humanity will be respected, or we become lost in Fascist darkness.”

Incidentally, anti-Nazi statements like this, made twelve months before Russia comes into the war, and indeed made almost daily by Lockwood and Wood in the Daily News at this time, reduce to nonsense the claims (still widely believed) that communists ceased to be vigorously anti-Hitler in this period.

More than ten years after his death, Arnold Wood is still a presence in the house:

Wood takes Lockwood on a tour through the house. In the darkness of its deep-stained timber corridors and bedrooms, his friend examines prints and etchings assembled on these walls long before the previous war. … Moving into what was Arnold’s study once, they find a monumental lithograph of Cromwell, “my father’s saint,” … [RED, pages 158–9]

According to Arnold’s son, Bill Wood, Professor Wood saw history in terms of heroes and villains. “Heroes: Cromwell, Milton, Captain Cook, St Francis of Assisi, Gladstone, the convicts, Simon de Montfort, Governor Macquarie, Joan of Arc, John Bunyan, Lloyd George. Villains: Henry V, Charles I & II, James I & II, Georges I to IV inclusive, Disraeli, the transporters of convicts.” (Bill Wood in his newsletter, The View From 28A, 22 September 1975, in item Z557, “W. A. Wood Papers”, Noel Butlin Archives Centre, Australian National University.

Arnold Wood’s biographer, Rex Crawford, is more nuanced on the heroes. “His father and grandfather were both of them cotton-spinners of Manchester, stout members of the congregational church, stout workers for the liberal party. [Richard] Cobden, [John] Bright and the later Gladstone were their nineteenth-century heroes. These close-knit active radical congregational communities derived from the Puritan sects of Bunyan’s time, and were proud of their ancestry.” (R. M. Crawford, “George Arnold Wood”. Lecture in Commonwealth Literary Fund series, 28 June 1946, p. 1) So the “tall youth from Manchester who came ‘dyed in the wool’ with Puritan Nonconformity, Cobdenism, Gladstonian liberalism, the humanitarian ideals of John Bright and the political philosophy of John Morley” (p. 2), Arnold “Wood, always religious, was always distrustful of dogma …”. (pp. 12–13)

A note on the Spanish consul-general, Ricardo Baeza, mentioned in this episode (RED, p. 156):

Madeline Wood gives a vivid account of the Spanish consul’s feelings on learning of British indifference to the civil war in Spain in the late 1930s.

baeza photo 1937 (400)

World Peace, December 1937, p 184

The failure of the Chamberlain government in Britain to come to the aid of the elected republican government of Spain when it was being besieged by the fascist forces of General Franco was a subject of much bitterness and disappointment among many progressives in Sydney at the time and since.

On 5 April 1938, at the height of the Spanish Civil War, Madeline Wood met Ricardo Baeza  at a reception for the International Peace Campaign:

.     Baeza “looked absolutely haggard—I have never seen a face so full of misery and burning resentment. And when I said I had heard him give an admirable address to the LNU [League of Nations Union] at a luncheon and felt ashamed to look him in the face after all that had happened since, he broke forth, ‘We have been three times betrayed. First by our own people, the traitors in our midst. Then by the Great Powers, Germany and Italy—Germany given Austria in return for Mussolini in Spain’ (I think that was his implication, but there was a fearful buzz going on.) ‘And now a third time by moonshine promises that mean nothing. Did you read Chamberlain’s speech in the House today?’ I said I had not read the evening paper. ‘He [Chamberlain] said that the whole nation was with him, and the whole of Europe with the exception perhaps of Russia, and that he would not alter his policy with regard to Non-Intervention.’ And before the look in that man’s eyes I could only gasp feebly, ‘But what lies, there is strong opposition to his policy in England.’”

.     (Letter by Madeline Wood, 12 April 1938, Wood Family Papers, MLMSS 2077, Box 9 Item 2, Mitchell Library)

Nine months later, in May 1939, Madeline writes to Fred Wood: “I cannot forget the expression on Señor Baeza’s face (you remember he was Spanish Consul here) when he spoke of Chamberlain.” (Madeline to Fred Wood, 26 January 1939, MLMSS 2077, Box 9 Item 3)

baeza - rule of the bully

Ricardo Baeza’s article on “non-intervention” in World Peace, 1 December 1937, pp. 184-5

Australia’s government followed Britain’s foreign policy on Spain. Our Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons, declared that his understanding of “strict Non-Intervention in the Spanish War” meant refraining “from taking any action whatsoever”. W. M. Hughes, usually a keen advocate of committing Australia to foreign wars, tried to dissuade a team of Australian nurses from travelling to Spain in 1937. Madeline Wood’s son Bill compared Hughes’ remark to the priest and the Levite who “passed by on the other side, the world’s first Non-Intervention Committee”, adding that nine-tenths of the money to send Sister Mary Lowson’s Spanish Nursing Unit was raised from working people “who could not afford it” in the form of pennies and shillings, and “ninety thousand threepennies” for stamps printed “Defend Spanish Democracy”. (Labor Daily, 2 August 1938, p. 4).

There were several groups raising funds for “Spanish relief” in Sydney during the Spanish Civil War. At a meeting of the Council for the Relief of Spanish Distress, held on 16 July 1938 at the LNU rooms in Sydney, Madeline observed, “Stodgy, uninspiring Archbishop Mowll was in the Chair, and Mr William Cooper read the report. He was evidently feeling very sad that we had raised between £500 and £600, whereas the workers, Trades’ Unions, etc., were responsible for sending nearly £10,000 for medical supplies, ambulances, food, etc. to the Spanish Government. To the Labor people it is vitally important not to allow the Fascists to conquer Spain. I was staggered when a kindly, intelligent woman said to me the other day, ‘But does it really matter which side wins in Spain? They seem to me much the same.’ Of course the Roman Catholics are praying (by order) for Franco’s victory.” (Letter by Madeline Wood, 19 July 1938, in Wood Family Papers, MLMSS 2077, Box 9 Item 3)