Leo Amery

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The Right Honourable
Leo Amery
CH
Leo Amery 1917.jpg
First Lord of the Admiralty
In office
31 October 1922 – 28 January 1924
Monarch George V
Prime Minister Andrew Bonar Law, Stanley Baldwin
Preceded by The Lord Lee of Fareham
Succeeded by The Lord Chelmsford
Secretary of State for the Colonies
In office
6 November 1924 – 4 June 1929
Monarch George V
Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin
Preceded by James Henry Thomas
Succeeded by The Lord Passfield
Secretary of State for India and Burma
In office
13 May 1940 – 26 July 1945
Monarch George VI
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by The Lord Zetland
Succeeded by The Lord Pethick-Lawrence
Personal details
Born Leopold Charles Maurice Stennett Amery
(1873-11-22)22 November 1873
Gorakhpur, British India
Died 16 September 1955(1955-09-16) (aged 81)
London, England
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Alma mater Harrow School
Balliol College, Oxford
All Souls College, Oxford
Profession Politician

Leopold Charles Maurice[1] Stennett Amery CH (22 November 1873 – 16 September 1955), usually known as Leo Amery or L. S. Amery, was a British Conservative Party politician and journalist, noted for his interest in military preparedness, India, and the British Empire.

Early life and education[edit]

Leopold Amery was born in Gorakhpur, India, to an English father and a Hungarian Jewish mother. His father was Charles Frederick Amery (1833–1901), of Lustleigh, Devon, an officer in the Indian Forestry Commission.[2] His mother Elisabeth Johanna Saphir (c. 1841–1908),[3] who was the sister of the orientalist Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner,[4] had come to India from England, where her parents had settled and converted to Protestantism. In 1877 his mother moved back to England from India and in 1885 divorced Charles.[2]

In 1887 Amery went to Harrow, where he was a contemporary of Winston Churchill. Amery represented Harrow at gymnastics and held the top position in examinations for a number of years, also winning prizes and scholarships.[2]

After Harrow Amery went to Balliol College, Oxford, where he performed well: he gained a First at in classical moderations in 1894; in literae humaniores in 1896; he was proxime accessit (runner-up) to the Craven scholar in 1894 and Ouseley scholar in Turkish in 1896, also winning a half-blue in cross-country running.[2]

He was elected a fellow of All Souls College. Undoubtedly bright, he could speak Hindi at the age of three—Amery was born in India and he would naturally have acquired the language of his ayah (nanny)—and could converse in French, German, Italian, Bulgarian, Turkish, Serbian, and Hungarian.

Early career[edit]

Journalism[edit]

During the Second Boer War Amery was a correspondent for The Times. In 1901, in his articles on the conduct of the war, he attacked the British commander, Sir Redvers Henry Buller, which contributed to Buller's sacking. Amery was the only correspondent to visit Boer forces and was nearly captured with Winston Churchill.[2] Amery later edited and largely wrote The Times History of the South African War (seven volumes; 1899–1909).

The Boer War had exposed deficiencies in the British Army and in 1903 Amery wrote The Problem of the Army in which he advocated its reorganisation. In The Times he penned articles attacking free trade using the pseudonym "Tariff Reformer" and in 1906 he wrote The Fundamental Fallacies of Free Trade. Amery described this as "a theoretical blast of economic heresy" because he argued that the total volume of British trade was less important than the question of whether British trade was making up for the nation's lack of raw materials and food through exporting surplus manufactured goods, shipping, and financial acumen.[2]

He was a member of the Coefficients dining club of social reformers set up in 1902 by the Fabian campaigners Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

Politics[edit]

Amery turned down the chance to be editor of The Observer in 1908 and The Times in 1912 in order to concentrate on politics.[2]

He narrowly failed to win a by-election in Wolverhampton East in 1908 by eight votes. In May 1911 he was elected unopposed as a Liberal Unionist Member of Parliament (MP) for Birmingham South, a seat he would hold until 1945. One reason why Amery agreed to stand there under the Liberal Unionist label (they were to fully merge with the Conservatives the following year) was that he had been a long-time political admirer of Joseph Chamberlain and was an ardent supporter of Tariff Reform and imperial federation.

First World War[edit]

During the First World War, Amery's knowledge of Hungarian led to his employment as an Intelligence Officer in the Balkans campaign. Later, as a parliamentary under-secretary in Lloyd George's national government, he helped draft the Balfour Declaration (1917). He also encouraged Ze'ev Jabotinsky in the formation of the Jewish Legion for the British Army in Palestine.

Amery was opposed to the constitution of the League of Nations because he believed that the world was not equal and thus a League of Nations that granted all states equal voting rights was absurd. He instead believed that the world was tending towards larger and larger states, making up a balanced world of inherently stable units. He contrasted this idea favourably with what he called President Woodrow Wilson's "facile slogan of self-determination".[5]

First Lord of the Admiralty[edit]

He was First Lord of the Admiralty (1922–1924) under Andrew Bonar Law and Stanley Baldwin. The Washington Naval Conference of 1921-1922 resulted in the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty, which reduced the strength of the Royal Navy and the naval estimates from over £83,000,000 to £58,000,000. Amery defended the financing of the Singapore Naval Base against Liberal and Labour attacks.[6]

Colonial Secretary[edit]

Amery was Colonial Secretary in Baldwin's government from 1924 to 1929. Amery expanded the role of the Commercial Adviser into the Economic and Financial Advisership under Sir George Schuster. He also created the post of Chief Medical Adviser under Sir Thomas Stanton and a range of advisers on education (Sir Hanns Visscher for Tropical Africa), agriculture (Sir Frank Stockdale), a Veterinary Adviser, and a Fisheries Adviser.[7] He also set up the Empire Marketing Board.[8]

Wilderness years[edit]

Amery was not invited to join the National Government formed in 1931. He remained in Parliament, but joined the boards of several prominent corporations. This was necessary as he had no independent means and had depleted his savings during the First World War and when he was a cabinet minister during the 1920s. Among his directorships were the boards of several German metal fabrication companies (representing British capital invested in the companies), of the British Southern Railway, the Gloucester Wagon Company, Marks and Spencer, the famous shipbuilding firm Cammell Laird, and the Trust and Loan of Canada. He was also chairman of the Iraq Currency Board.

In the course of his duties as a director of German metal fabrication companies, Amery gained a good understanding of German military potential. Adolf Hitler became alarmed at this situation and ordered a halt to non-German directors. Amery spent a lot of time in Germany during the 1930s in connection with his work. He was not allowed to send his director's fees out of the country, so he took his family on holiday in the Bavarian Alps. He had a lengthy meeting with Hitler on at least one occasion, and he met at length with the Czech leader, Edvard Beneš, the Austrian leaders Engelbert Dollfuss and Kurt von Schuschnigg, and Italy's Benito Mussolini.

Later career[edit]

Rearmament and appeasement[edit]

In the debates on the need for an increased effort to rearm British forces, Amery tended to focus on army affairs, with Churchill speaking more about air defence and Roger Keyes talking about naval affairs. Austen Chamberlain was, until his death, a member of this group as well. While there was no question that Churchill was the most prominent and effective, Amery's work was not insignificant. He was a driving force behind the creation of the Army League, a pressure group designed to keep the needs of the British Army before the public.

In the 1930s, Amery, along with Winston Churchill, was a bitter critic of the appeasement of Germany, often openly attacking his own party. Being a former Colonial and Dominions Secretary, he was very aware of the views of the dominions and strongly opposed giving Germany back her colonies, a proposal seriously considered by Neville Chamberlain.

On the rearmament question, Amery was consistent. He advocated a higher level of expenditure, but also a reappraisal of priorities through the creation of a top-level cabinet position to develop overall defence strategy, so that the increased expenditures could be spent wisely. He thought that either he or Churchill should be given the post. When a ministry for the coordination of defence was finally created under a political lightweight, Sir Thomas Inskip, he regarded it as a joke.

When the war came, Amery was one of the few anti-appeasers who was opposed to cooperation with the Soviet Union in order to defeat Nazi Germany. This came from a lifelong fear of Communism.

It is commonly believed that, when Neville Chamberlain announced his flight to Munich to the cheers of the House, Amery was one of only four members who remained seated (the others were Churchill, Anthony Eden, and Harold Nicolson).[9]

Amery differed from Churchill in hoping throughout the 1930s to foster an alliance with Italy to counter the rising strength of Nazi Germany. A united front of Britain, France, and Italy would, he felt, have prevented a Nazi takeover of Austria, especially with Czechoslovakia's support. For this reason he was in favour of appeasing Italy, by tacitly conceding her claims to Ethiopia. A start in this direction was made in the so-called Stresa Front of 1935, but he felt that Britain's decision to impose economic sanctions on Italy for invading Ethiopia in 1936, drove Italy into the arms of Germany.

Another feature of Amery's outlook was a significant distrust of the administration of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This stemmed from the thrust of the United States Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, to use all his influence to pressure Canada to oppose Empire Free Trade, perhaps Amery's most cherished project. While the pressure was unsuccessful with Canadian Conservative Prime Minister Richard Bedford Bennett, his Liberal successor William Lyon Mackenzie King adopted a more pro-American stance.

Second World War[edit]

Amery is famous for two moments of high drama in the House of Commons early in the Second World War. On 2 September 1939, Neville Chamberlain spoke in a Commons debate and said (in effect) that he was not declaring war on Germany immediately for having invaded Poland. This greatly angered Amery and was felt by many present to be out of touch with the temper of the British people. As Labour Party leader Clement Attlee was absent, Arthur Greenwood stood up in his place and announced that he was speaking for Labour. Amery called out to him across the floor, "Speak for England!"—which carried the undeniable implication that Chamberlain was not.[10]

The second incident occurred during the Norway Debate in 1940. After a string of military and naval disasters had been announced, Amery famously attacked Chamberlain's government, quoting Oliver Cromwell:

You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go![11]

Lloyd George afterwards told Amery that in fifty years he had heard few speeches that matched his in sustained power and none with so dramatic a climax.[12] This debate led to 42 Conservative Members of Parliament voting against Chamberlain and 36 abstaining, leading to the downfall of the Conservative government and the formation of a national government under Churchill's premiership. Amery himself noted in his diary that he believed that his speech was one of his best received in the House, and that he had made a difference to the outcome of the debate.

Secretary of State for India and Burma[edit]

During the war Amery was Secretary of State for India, despite the fact that Churchill and Amery had long disagreed on the fate of India. Amery was disappointed not to be given a post in the War Cabinet, but he was determined to do all he could in the position he was offered. He was continually frustrated by Churchill's intransigence, and in his memoirs recorded that Churchill knew "as much of the Indian problem as George III did of the American colonies".

Last years[edit]

At the 1945 general election, Amery lost his seat to Labour's Percy Shurmer, a Post Office worker. He was offered but refused a peerage because this might, when he died, have cut short his son Julian's political career in the House of Commons. However, he was made a Companion of Honour. In retirement, Amery published a three-volume autobiography My Political Life (1953–55).

Legacy[edit]

Throughout his political career, Amery was an exponent of Imperial unity, as he saw the British Empire as a force for justice and progress in the world. He strongly supported the evolution of the dominions into independent nations bound to Britain by ties of kinship, trade, defence, and a common pride in the Empire. He also supported the gradual evolution of the colonies, particularly India, to the same status. In this he differed from Churchill, a free trader, who was less interested in the Empire as such, and more in Britain itself as a great power. Amery felt that Britain was too weak by itself to maintain its great power position.

Amery was very active in imperial affairs during the 1920s and 1930s. He was in charge of colonial affairs and relations with the dominions from 1924 to 1929. In the 1930s he was a member of the Empire Industries Association and a chief organizer of the huge rally celebrating the Empire at the Royal Albert Hall in 1936 marking the centenary of Joseph Chamberlain's birth. Amery maintained a very busy speaking schedule, with almost 200 engagements between 1936 and 1938, many of them devoted to imperial topics, especially Imperial Preference.

Personal life[edit]

Amery was a noted sportsman, especially famous as a mountaineer. He continued to climb well into his sixties, especially in the Swiss Alps, but also in Bavaria, Austria, Yugoslavia, Italy, and the Canadian Rockies, where Mount Amery is named after him. He enjoyed skiing as well. He was a member of the Alpine Club (serving as its President, 1943–1945) and of the Athenaeum and Carlton clubs. He was a Senior Knight Vice President of the Knights of the Round Table.[13]

On 16 November 1910, Amery married Florence Greenwood (1885-1975), daughter of the Canadian barrister John Hamar Greenwood.[14] Together they had two sons.

Their elder son, John Amery (1912–1945), had a troubled early life, and became an open Nazi sympathizer. During the Second World War, he made propaganda broadcasts from Germany and induced a few British prisoners of war to join the German-controlled "British Free Corps"; after the war he was hanged for treason, and Leo Amery amended his entry in Who's Who to read "one s[on]".[15] The playwright Ronald Harwood, who explores the relationship between Leo and John Amery in his play An English Tragedy (2008), considers it significant to John Amery's story that Leo Amery had apparently concealed his partly Jewish ancestry.

Amery's younger son, Julian Amery (1919–1996), became a Conservative politician; he served in the cabinets of Harold Macmillan and Sir Alec Douglas-Home as Minister for Aviation (1962–64) and also held junior ministerial office under Edward Heath.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ At some stage in his youth, Amery began using the name Maurice in place of his previous name Moritz. He did this so consistently that almost all sources give his name as Maurice. Rubinstein, p. 181.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Deborah Lavin, ‘Amery, Leopold Charles Maurice Stennett (1873–1955)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2011, accessed 2 June 2011.
  3. ^ Rubinstein, p. 177.
  4. ^ Elisabeth and Gottlieb's father Leopold Saphir died when they were young and their mother married Johann Moritz Leitner. Rubinstein, p.177.
  5. ^ Amery, Volume Two, pp. 162-163.
  6. ^ Amery, Volume Two, pp. 253-254.
  7. ^ Amery, Volume Two, p. 338.
  8. ^ Amery, Volume Two, p. 347.
  9. ^ David Faber (1 September 2009). Munich, 1938: Appeasement and World War II. Simon & Schuster. p. 398. ISBN 978-1-4391-4992-8. 
  10. ^ Amery, Volume Three, p. 324.
  11. ^ Amery, Volume Three, p. 365.
  12. ^ Amery, Volume Three, p. 365, n. 1.
  13. ^ Manual of the Knights of the Round Table Club. 1927. 
  14. ^ "Leopold Stennett Amery; Lady Florence Amery (née Greenwood)". National Portrait Gallery, London. 
  15. ^ AMERY, Rt Hon. Leopold Stennett at Who Was Who 1997-2006 online (accessed 11 January 2008)

References[edit]

  • L. S. Amery, My Political Life. Volume One: England Before the Storm. 1896-1914 (London: Hutchinson, 1953)
  • L. S. Amery, My Political Life. Volume Two: War and Peace. 1914–1929 (London: Hutchinson, 1953)
  • L. S. Amery, My Political Life. Volume Three: The Unforgiving Years. 1929–1940 (London: Hutchinson, 1955)
  • L. S. Amery, "Days of Fresh Air, Being Reminiscences of Outdoor Life" (London: Hutchinson Universal Book Club, 1940)
  • David Faber Speaking for England: Leo, Julian and John Amery: The Tragedy of a Political Family (Free Press, 2005) ISBN 0-7432-5688-3
  • Deborah Lavin, ‘Amery, Leopold Charles Maurice Stennett (1873–1955)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2011, accessed 2 June 2011
  • Nigel Nicolson (ed.), The Diaries and Letters of Harold Nicolson. Volume II: The War Years, 1939-1945 (New York: Atheneum, 1967)
  • William Rubinstein, ‘The secret of Leopold Amery’, Historical Research, vol. 73, no. 181 (June 2000), pp. 175–196

Further reading[edit]

  • John Barnes and David Nicolson (eds.), The Leo Amery Diaries. 1896-1929 (London: Hutchinson, 1980)
  • John Barnes and David Nicolson (eds.), The Empire at Bay. The Leo Amery Diaries. 1929-1945 (London: Hutchinson, 1987)
  • Stephen Constantine, The Making of British Colonial Development Policy (London: Routledge, 1984)
  • David Goldsworthy, Colonial Issues in British Politics, 1945–1961 (Oxford University Press, 1971)
  • W. R. Louis, In the name of God, go! Leo Amery and the British empire in the age of Churchill (W. W. Norton & Co., 1992)
  • W. R. Louis, ‘Leo Amery and the post-war world, 1945–55’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 30 (2002), pp. 71–90
  • Philip Williamson, National Crisis and National Government: British Politics, the Economy and Empire, 1926–1932 (Cambridge University Press, 1992)

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Viscount Morpeth
Member of Parliament for Birmingham South
19111918
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Birmingham Sparkbrook
19181945
Succeeded by
Percy Shurmer
Political offices
Preceded by
William Hewins
Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies
1919–1921
Succeeded by
Edward Wood
Preceded by
The Lord Lee of Fareham
First Lord of the Admiralty
1922–1924
Succeeded by
The Viscount Chelmsford
Preceded by
James Henry Thomas
Secretary of State for the Colonies
1924–1929
Succeeded by
The Lord Passfield
New title Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs
1925–1929
Preceded by
The Marquess of Zetland
Secretary of State for India and Burma
1940–1945
Succeeded by
The Lord Pethick-Lawrence