2010 was the 60th anniversary of the European Convention of Human Rights.
To celebrate the ECHR, and the contribution of David Maxwell Fyfe, Hersch Lauterpacht and Hartley Shawcross the Human Rights Lawyers Association and the Slynn Foundation
in association with Gray’s Inn, hosted a dinner at The Hall, Gray’s Inn.
Extracts of the letters were read.
2010 also saw the launch of a permanent exhibition at the Palace of Justice, Nuremberg, commemorating the war crimes trials, and the establishment of ties between the curators and Kilmuir’s family.
In November 2010 a setting of Brooke’s War Sonnets by Sue Casson was recorded by the Phoenix Choir at Casterton School. This setting was inspired by Maxwell Fyfe’s admiration of the sonnets and his use of a quotation from The Soldier at the conclusion of his speech summarising the case against the Nazi Organisations.
Between 2010 and 2013 Tom Blackmore’s family visited and filmed a number of the key locations in Kilmuir’s life including Creich, Edinburgh, Oxford, Liverpool, London and Nuremberg. They were also able to film at the Archive Centre.
An Intimate History of Freedom: a portrait of the journey from Nuremberg to Strasbourg, the inaugural project of kilmuirpapers.org, is the result of this work.
The project is woven around Sue Casson’s War Sonnet settings.
To review the Kilmuir catalogue online,
go to the Janus website.
To visit the Churchill Archive website, click here
There is something inexplicably mysterious about a story lost that is subsequently found. The time capsule, the buried treasure, the search for lost truth – all are the stuff of epic humanity.
The rediscovery of the Maxwell Fyfe letters hardly falls into the same category – albeit that they were indeed stored in the vaults of the City solicitors Allen and Overy. The contact was mundane, a brief letter describing boxes of material left by David Maxwell Fyfe, a surprisingly large number of boxes as I discovered as I stacked them into the London cab.
As a family we had known of these letters for some time. Without my having any real knowledge of the subject, the failure to find them had registered as a disappointment when my grandmother died in 1992. The assumption was that she might have thrown them away. For a woman who had spent her life close to public office, she seemed to have little desire to record for posterity. Or perhaps this was because she had spent her life close to public office.
Dying as she did when I was in my early thirties I had known her well, loved and admired her deeply. When I was nine years old she had collected me after my first sports day at preparatory boarding school, and had raced another family down the M1, and had won.
This race was run only a couple of years after Maxwell Fyfe had died, so I hardly knew him at all, and have no coherent memories. Throughout my life I only knew that he had achieved greatly, and that, as his oldest grandson, I inherited not just the paraphernalia of his office but also an unspoken and little understood responsibility to follow. He seemed stern, and gazed sternly down from his portrait by Henry Knight, bedecked in his Lord Chancellors robes, garters and all.
Over the years my grandmother spoke of the need for following the courage of your convictions, although she spoke with a sigh. And she was not interested in the stories of her past, but in the present. Not what had been but what could be achieved.
The traffic was grim as the taxi edged its way across London from the City; it took a couple of hours to make the journey. There was time enough to open boxes and glance at their contents. And I shook.
The letters were there, and within them was a story of a time, a place and two lovers separated for a year, discovering a purpose, fame and a moment of definition. I knew little enough about Nuremberg (the Oxford history degree of 1982 saw the post war period as current affairs), but the names of Goering, Ribbentrop and Doenitz were familiar, and here they were discussed in familiar terms.
It seemed to me at once that here was the discovery of something extraordinary, a little mysterious and if not an epic tale then an intimate tale of an epic event.
Sorting, Typing, putting into context
Actually, there were two things I did know about Nuremberg, over and above the fact that it was a trial held of the major war criminals after the Second World War. First I knew that Maxwell Fyfe had conducted a successful cross examination of Goering, the second was that Albert Speer used to give my grandmother the eye when she visited the tribunal.
Maxwell Fyfe had started the task of sorting the letters out and had had the first two letters (those he later used in his autobiography) typed up on House of Lords headed paper. However the sorting was only half done, and only his letters had been touched. Sylvia’s exchanges of letters were thrown into boxes in their envelopes. A brief glance at the letters revealed the obstacles of handwriting, a lack of dating (many of the letters are identified only by the day of the week), and the uncertainty of postal delivery. This last problem meant that replies to points raised in letters could not be dealt with until some weeks later. Other problems were caused by Maxwell Fyfe’s three visits home and Sylvia’s two visits to Nuremberg, and their occasional telephone calls that became more regular as time went on. The whole story is not in the letters and this can be frustrating. However their year is described in some detail.
Before embarking at all on the sorting and typing of the letters I read the Ann and John Tusas' excellent general history of the tribunal – The Nuremberg Trial. This provided a sufficient description of events to create a framework in which to try and place the letters. As I worked on the letters I took the opportunity to read other histories as well as the transcripts of the tribunal.
With this grounding I started to type up the letters of Maxwell Fyfe. Early on during his ten month stint he was quite meticulous in his descriptions, as though aware of the gravity of his mission. However, events of course prevented his letters from being a perfect record, the most obvious of which was the extension of the trial from its anticipated three months to ten, and the exasperation of daily living. And the letters are all the richer for the spontaneity that followed.
Maxwell Fyfe was alone during the ten months separated from his family, while Sylvia continued to manage the house and much more. He had time to write at length, although this time diminished when he was busy. The key period of the cross examination of Goering and Ribbentrop is only lightly covered, whilst Sylvia was present for the cross examination of von Papen.
After sorting and typing the letters of Maxwell Fyfe, I turned to Sylvia’s exchange. These letters are more spontaneous, but also reflective and compelling. Not only did Sylvia run the house (with a lodger, Melvyn Stevenson) but also the constituency in Liverpool, acting for the MP, and remained in touch with the Conservative Party leaders like Rab Butler. Later Sylvia was to become the first woman vice-chairman of the Conservative Party, and clearly much of her groundwork was laid over this year.
The jigsaw of the letters began to form a picture of a year of loneliness and yearning matched by drive and determination to do something important. But above all they painted a picture of two people very much in love well into their forties, and for their grandson that was marvellous.
Exploring other materials: The Wishing Doll, Speeches, Articles, Transcripts
In the boxes, alongside the letters were other records of Nuremberg: Maxwell Fyfe’s speech concluding for the prosecution in the case against the Nazi organisations, other speeches and notes for speeches given about the tribunal on his return, articles covering the progress of the trial, and a Christmas supplement to the Liverpool Evening Post, which included chapters of a children’s story he had written for his seven year old daughter Miranda.
This story, The Wishing Doll, figured quite prominently in the letters as it was being written, read and giving delight. Also it caught the attention of the press quite early on, and its existence was quite widely reported.
Some other records of this period were stored at Churchill College Cambridge as part of the Maxwell Fyfe archives.
Taken all together, an archive of strange merit had been bequeathed to our family.
Papers comprising diaries, correspondence, speeches, articles, personal papers, press cuttings and photographs were deposited on loan in Churchill Archives Centre by Lord Kilmuir's trustees after his death in 1968.
In 1998 further personal papers were unearthed in the vaults of Allen and Overy, including the letters exchanged with his wife Sylvia during the Nuremberg Trials, and subsequently while negotiating the European Convention of Human Rights.
These letters were transcribed by his grandson, Tom Blackmore, between 1998 and 2003, and dramatized as Making History for performance for the 60th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials.
The decision to deposit these papers at the Churchill Achive was taken by his daughters Pamela and Miranda in 2008. In 2009 Lord Kilmuir's family donated his papers to the Archives Centre.
This aroused a measure of press interest.
Click any newspaper
for a link to the