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Secretary of State for War: Leslie Hore-Belisha

Discussion in 'General Chatter' started by Jim, Jan 9, 2010.

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  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Having succeeded at the Ministry of Transport, in 1937 he was controversially appointed by Neville Chamberlain as Secretary of State for War replacing the popular Alfred Duff Cooper, who later resigned from the government over Chamberlain's policy of appeasement. There were voices within the Conservative majority that such a high-profile appointment should not have gone to a Liberal National, although it is also likely that Hore-Belisha's Jewish faith aroused anti-Semitism amongst his Conservative colleagues, who labelled him a warmonger and a Bolshevik. Even those who were not strongly opposed to him took to nicknaming him "Horeb" or "Horeb-Elisha" as a pun on his race: Horeb is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as the place where the golden calf was made and to which Elijah fled. Pressure mounted on Chamberlain to remove Hore-Belisha from the Cabinet at the earliest opportunity.

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    With the knowledge that war was looming, Hore-Belisha sought permission to introduce conscription in 1938 but was rebuffed by Chamberlain, who would not agree to increased defence spending. Senior Conservatives believed that Hore-Belisha was more concerned about the fate of Jewish people abroad than of Britain itself, such that he wanted Britain to wage war against Germany with the sole intention of protecting European Jews. Undeterred, Hore-Belisha sought to reshape the armed forces with modernising programmes similar to those he had implemented at the Ministry of Transport, improving pay, pensions and promotion prospects for working-class soldiers, whose advancement could often be blocked by nepotism amongst the upper classes. He improved barrack room conditions, installing showers and recreation facilities and giving married soldiers the right to live with their families. In early 1939, he was finally allowed to introduce conscription to meet the threat of Nazi Germany.

    As part of his modernisation of the British armed forces, he sacked three prominent members of the Imperial General Staff, replacing them with fresher minds. His attitude alienated seasoned campaigners such as Field Marshals John Dill and Lord Gort, the latter of whom, it was reported, could not bear to be in the same room with the Minister. Hore-Belisha's changes infuriated the military establishment and this sentiment was passed down to the lower ranks. In the early months of World War II, he banned a popular yet anti-semitic song which had been widely sung by the armed forces, to the tune of "Onward, Christian Soldiers":

    Onward Christian Soldiers,
    You have nought to fear.
    Israel Hore-Belisha
    Will lead you from the rear.
    Clothed by Monty Burton,
    fed on Lyons pies;
    Die for Jewish freedom
    As a Briton always dies.
     

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