Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Swastika Over Cardiff

Cardiff is hardly the most well-loved of capital cities. To the rest of Wales's aggrieved and embittered populace we are perceived as the Land of Milk and Subsidies. Personally I think we should erect huge signs at all entry points to the city saying 'WE GET EVERYTHING' just to confirm those prejudices. Unfortunately this photograph isn't going to do anything to improve our tarnished image or endear ourselves to anybody. Amazingly it shows a man raising a swastika above the City Hall in Cardiff in 1938.

The flag was hoisted along with those of Britain, France and Italy to celebrate the signing of the Munich Agreement which effectively carved up Czechoslovakia and appeased Hitler. This (the flag raising) was done on the initiative of Cardiff's Lord Mayor, O Cuthbert Purnell. Not at all happy with the sight of the swastika fluttering over the Cardiff skyline, Alderman CH McCale and Councillor Heginbottom took it upon themselves to remove the Nazi banner. They then hid it. The Lord Mayor responded by ordering a replacement swastika to be run up the flag pole (see pic). At a heated council meeting the Mayor was asked why the Czech flag was not awarded a place of honour over the civic buildings. He replied that the Czechoslovakian flag was unavailable.

Lord Mayor Purnell would later offer a more detailed explanation of his actions: "I am making no apology for what I did last week. On the morning the news came through that war had been averted I ordered the flags of the four nations to be flown. This was a gesture of goodwill to the nations concerned. It had no political or religious significance. Cardiff is a port and has to maintain friendly relationship with all nations trading with us, and it was on that ground alone that I flew the flags. Were Cardiff not a great port the necessity would not have arisen." Six months later the Nazis marched into Czechoslovakia.

*The above photograph is ©Getty Images.

UPDATE: Who was OC Purnell? Oliver Cuthbert Purnell was born in Cardiff and educated at a local Catholic school - St Illtyd’s. He was a businessman and at one point MD of a Funeral Directors. In politics he was a staunch Tory and would remain a member of the Conservative party until his death. He was first elected to Cardiff Council in 1921. Later, in 1932, he became a JP for the city; and in 1936 he was created an alderman. He served as Lord Mayor from 1937-38. During WW2 he was ARP (Air Raid Precaution) controller of Cardiff and for his services in this role was awarded a CBE in 1942. After the war he retained an interest in aeronautics becoming chairman of the Aerodrome Owners’ Association. In 1948 he was invested with the third highest honour of the Roman Catholic Church – the Order of the Knighthood of St Gregory (civilian class). He died at Llandough Hospital that same year, aged 60, having been ill for several months. He was married with three sons and one daughter. You can see a photograph of OC Purnell in his mayoral role here. He is pictured with fellow catholic - American ambassador Joseph Kennedy - who was, according to some, an admirer of Hitler.