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Strasbourg : Past and Present

Having seen the beautiful old city centre with ancient beamed buildings and a vast cathedral, it was a shock to travel by tram out to the much newer European Quarter where these important institutions are housed.

The European Convention on Human Rights was signed in Rome 70 years ago this year. However, Strasbourg is where the Convention was drafted and houses many of the buildings essential to its function alongside European parliamentary institutions. Lily visited the capital of Europe in 2013 and here she describes her impressions alongside the photos she took...

We first visited Strasbourg in 2013 when there was barely a murmur about the UK removing itself from the European Union. Having grown up with Maxwell Fyfe’s story, it has been difficult for me to understand why people want to take us out of a union that has given us 70 years of peace, prosperity and freedom for all its members. The capital of Europe, Strasbourg is home to the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights.

European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg

Having seen the beautiful old city centre with ancient beamed buildings and a vast cathedral, it was a shock to travel by tram out to the much newer European Quarter where these important institutions are housed. Each of the buildings, though geographically close to one another, have a different character, as reflects their individual role within the European Union, and are a celebration of its rich modern architectural heritage.

Wandering amongst these imposing edifices of metal and glass in the brisk November air, symbols of openness and inclusiveness across borders, it made me wonder why they come across as impenetrable to a curious visitor anticipating a warm welcome. It seemed to me there was a lost opportunity for understanding the part these institutions play in the stability of our post-war peace.

Palais de l’Europe, Strasbourg, home of the Council of Europe

When the first Europeans came together in 1949, there was a sense of shared purpose in the need to stop the horrors that happened during WWII repeating themselves. When the ties that bind us are being stretched to breaking point, it is important that we, as the next generation, remember and understand the meaning behind these buildings that house so much of what we value – if we could only see it.

The Humans in the Telling

Intentionally or not, we all bring our own talents and interpretation to a telling. In performing our story as a family, singing Fyfe’s favourite poetry, adding projections of photos – both our own and from an archive, and introducing his great grandson to stand up and speak his words we have made our personal histories part of the way we tell David Maxwell Fyfe’s story.

If our histories shape the person we become, how do those histories shape the individual ways we tell a story? In this companion to last week’s blog, Sue Casson explores how the histories of the newest generation of David Maxwell Fyfe’s family have defined the development of Dreams of Peace & Freedom: The Human’s in the Telling.

Our performance at St Luke’s had explored how the histories of Maxwell Fyfe shaped the man he became, centring on three separate histories that mark our difference: our educational and study history, personal and family history and the historical times in which we live, and these subtly altered our final draft of Dreams of Peace & Freedom. But if we are each the product of our little histories, how do those histories affect the way the storyteller presents a history?

For history is no straight factual account, but a series of accounts, facets to the fact. The words we use, the words of others we choose, what we leave out, where the emphasis falls – all of these are part of building a story. When we began to tell Maxwell Fyfe’s story by weaving Tom’s selection of his inspirational words, through my musical settings of poetry that had
inspired him, our shaping of his story was dictated by inclusion, exclusion and my melody.

And intentionally or not, we all bring our own talents and interpretation to a telling. In performing our story as a family, singing Fyfe’s favourite poetry, adding projections of photos – both our own and from an archive, and introducing his great grandson to stand up and speak his words we have made our personal histories part of the way we tell David Maxwell Fyfe’s story.

But other histories Tom identified that evening have also influenced the way our project has developed. The technological times in which we live have contributed immensely, for with history, even history in the making, the availability of information at the time a story is told is key. Tom began with the gift of letters exchanged during the Nuremberg Trials, and he read widely to put these into the context of events at the Trial.

The Tack found amongst Maxwell Fyfe’s possessions

Over years of research however, more source material emerged. With our trips to the north of Scotland we discovered the significance of some of the other papers amongst those letters, notably the copy of the Tack of Tain, which led to research into The Napier Commission. The evidence given at Bonar Bridge of the injustice served on Fyfe’s great uncle, given by his uncle Hugh Fraser only became readily available online in 2015 – fifteen years after the letters were discovered.

Whilst the song Fyfe quotes in his Brussels speech, ‘to which we used to listen in more carefree days’ Ne Dis Pas, Tom discovered after years of searching, uploaded to YouTube in 2016.

We have drawn on our own educational histories to embellish our
storytelling. At school Fyfe found the poetry of Rupert Brooke ‘trumped’ Wordsworth. But for Tom and me, the poet who ‘trumped’ all others was T S Eliot. We were both entranced by The Four Quartets, and I found the words of 13th century mystic Julian of Norwich which he quoted in the climax to Little Gidding so comforting, it became my private mantra whenever things were difficult.

‘All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’

Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love
Four Quartets by TS Eliot

There seemed no better way to us than setting these peaceful, hopeful words, written whilst the Second World War was still raging, to follow a statement of Fyfe’s personal credo. There was no evidence that he found the solace we did in Eliot’s Little Gidding, but to us they seemed a fitting close to a story exploring the rebuilding of Europe after its’ destruction.

When we were looking for a way of expressing Natural Law and how Maxwell Fyfe’s dedication to the idea had grown, we could find no poem to set, so gathering images from the Shakespeare he loved and the atmosphere of the Waverley storybook, I plainly imposed the voice of the storyteller, blending them with lines from John Donne (with which he may or may not have been familiar) in an unaccompanied three voice anthem, breathing Maxwell Fyfe’s romantic Celtic spirit.

Later, behind the words, in the projections that now accompany the song cycle, we introduced the landscape of his childhood that flows through his instinctive love of natural law.

As Dreams of Peace & Freedom grew to The Human’s in the Telling, Sylvia and David Maxwell Fyfe’s story became part of our family story. We have spent time together exploring and recording the places they lived, interpreting them in strings of images, until the generations have gradually intertwined to blur the lines between subject and storyteller. Our story is one of a man who championed humanity out of the embers of inhumanity. And in relating it in our own way, we have become the humans in the telling.

The History that Shapes us

Here was a perfect opportunity to explore David Maxwell Fyfe’s difference – the history within him that inspired his passion to embark on creating a living law that would keep Europe safe after the war.

David Maxwell Fyfe is one of the architects of the post-war world. But although we all live with his legacy, he is now largely forgotten. How do you introduce him to a modern audience? Sue Casson describes how she and Tom Blackmore, the writers of Dreams of Peace & Freedom, found the answer lay in bringing the history that shaped him to life.

‘So while the light fails on a winter’s afternoon in a secluded chapel 

History is now and in England’ 

TS Eliot – Little Gidding 

Tom Blackmore introduced a performance of Dreams of Peace & Freedom for the patronal festival of St Luke’s, Sevenoaks at the end of 2015 with these words, and a question – ‘What history is within us that shapes us and makes us different?’  

Poster for St Luke’s Patronal Festival 2015

Following our Big Year for Freedom tour, we were looking at ways to introduce David Maxwell Fyfe, a man who is now all but forgotten, but who played such an important role in post war peace, to a larger audience. This invitation offered a perfect opportunity to explore his difference – the history within him that inspired his passion to embark on creating a living law that would keep Europe safe after the war. 

It had been suggested that a short programme of songs and readings before the main performance was a good way to acquaint the audience with David Maxwell Fyfe and the period in which he lived. What we discovered in putting this together, nourished the development of our show in surprising ways.  

Complete Works of Shakespeare

In a short preamble, Tom identified three separate histories that shape us, and these were the basis of our introduction. The first was educational history. The books Maxwell Fyfe read with his English master HJ included Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Brooke, and quotations from them peppered speeches throughout his lifeHe even says in his autobiography that ‘any power of speaking would have been infinitely weaker’ had he not been taught by him, and over and over we saw him draw on his wide reading at school and university, in his speeches. His time at Oxford studying the ‘Greats’ fed his knowledge of natural law. He quoted Horace in his speech to The American Bar Association, which gave a context to the inclusion of Magna Carta in the song cycle. 

It was in presenting the second, personal history – where the circumstances of our birth and early life feed into the person we become – that the song cycle changed into the piece it was to become. We knew that Fyfe’s mother had been a huge influence in his life, and that in turn her history, as part of a family affected by the Highland Clearances, had fed into her only son, shaping his life-long commitment to human rights, and our title reflected this.  

But Tom had just discovered Hugh Fraser’s account of the clearance of Migdale in the transcript of the Napier Commission (established in 1883 to explore eviction injustice across the Highlands), from which he was able to choose excerpts. That evening, we threaded these through the haunting traditional Scottish melody ‘Mist covered Mountains’ alongside Jim McLean’s lyrics of protest. When we later included the song in the cycle, at a stroke the words ‘Dreams of peace and freedom’ were voiced within it, and with them the unspoken message that these dreams began at Fyfe’s grandmother’s knee.  

We’d taken time to consider whether to include music that wasn’t original in the cycle, but it opened the door to Ne Dis Pas when it became known to us a couple of years later.  

Wartime sheet music

This evening also came to mind as we were developing the projections that were to become a central part of our performance. In exploring what Tom had called the ‘third history to shape us’, we had put together a medley of wartime songs to evoke the historical background to Maxwell Fyfe’s life. Until he was forty-five this was one of world war and Depression. As we devised a picture show to illustrate how his life changed over those years, we put aside the wartime tunes and chose instead to stay true to the emerging Scottish spirit we were depicting. It was a dialect poem from the evening – Sergeant o’ Pikes by Neil Munro, quoted by Fyfe in an introduction to the autobiography of the Duke of Sutherland, that I finally chose to set.  

Munro’s lines on the warlike clansmen echoed the ‘brave spirits’ of the past that set alight Fyfe’s romantic imagination. For them ‘the Hielan’s’ were forever at their back driving them on, keeping them true to Scots tradition wherever they were fighting. And so it was with David Maxwell Fyfe. He remained true to his Scottish heart and history as he went out to try to change the world. 

Listen to Dreams of Peace & Freedom now at http://thehumansinthetelling.org/song-cycle/

David Maxwell Fyfe’s closing against Nazi organisations

It is not merely the quantity of horrors – although these organizations have been the instruments of death for 22,000,000 people, it is the quality of cruelty which produced the gas chambers of Auschwitz or the routine shooting of Jewish children throughout a continent claiming to be civilized. There is not one of these organizations which is not directly connected with the sorry trade of murder in a brutal form.

On 28th August 1946, David Maxwell Fyfe gave his first speech on behalf of the UK prosecution against the Nazi organisations at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. It is now recognized as a classic of its kind and a textbook example for student lawyers. It lasted over 4 hours – below are extracts from his closing.

In 1938 Hitler spoke in the Reichstag, and I quote his words:  

“National Socialism has given the German people that leadership which, as a party, not only mobilizes the nation but also organizes it. National Socialism possesses Germany entirely and completely…. There is no institution in this State which is not National Socialist.”  

Adolf Hitler 1938

We know now the kind of leadership that National Socialism did give the German people. We know how and for what purposes the Nazi Party mobilized and organized the German nation – for world dominion at the cost of war and murder. The entire and complete possession of Germany by National Socialism meant the possession of the people, body and soul, by the organizations of the National Socialist Party and Government… 

…we do not seek to convict the people of Germany. Our purpose now is to protect them and to give them an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves in the esteem and friendship of the world. But how can this be done if we leave amongst them unpunished and uncondemned those elements of Nazidom which were most responsible for the Nazi tyranny and crimes and which, as this Tribunal may well believe, are beyond conversion to the ways of freedom and righteousness? Nor is it only the German people that we seek to protect. All Europe needs protection… 

The law is a living thing.  It is not rigid and unalterable. Its purpose is to serve mankind, and it must grow and change to meet the changing needs of society. The needs of Europe today have no parallel in history.  

Never before has the society of Europe faced the problem or the danger of having in their midst millions of ruthless, fanatical men, trained and educated in murder and racial hatred – and in war 

The principle on which their condemnation is asked for is clear. It is a practical application of the sound theory of punishment which we learnt in our youth – from, among others, that great German thinker, Kant. If men use society merely as a means to their own ends, then society is justified in putting them outside society. The immensity of the problem does not excuse its nonsolution. The failure to perform this legal duty may well spell terror and racial persecution throughout a continent and, for the third time in our adult lives, world war.  

 My Lord, I am deeply conscious that one of the greatest difficulties, and not the least of the dangers, of this Trial is that those of us who have been engaged day in and day out for 9 months have reached the saturation point of horror. Shakespeare attempted to picture that saturation point in the memorable lines:  

“Blood and destruction shall be so in use 

And dreadful objects so familiar

That mothers shall but smile when they behold

Their infants quartered with the hands of war;

All pity chok’d through custom of fell deeds.”  

Julius Caesar, Act 3 Scene 1 by William Shakespeare

It is only when we stand a little apart from what has been our daily companion for 40 weeks that we realize that the “domestic fury and fierce civil strife,” the results of which Mark Anthony was prophesying, are an inconsiderable bagatelle beside the facts which we have had to consider.  

It is not merely the quantity of horrors – although these organizations have been the instruments of death for 22,000,000 people, it is the quality of cruelty which produced the gas chambers of Auschwitz or the routine shooting of Jewish children throughout a continent claiming to be civilized. There is not one of these organizations which is not directly connected with the sorry trade of murder in a brutal form.  

If Europe is to be cleansed of Nazi evil it is indispensable that you and the world should know these organizations for what they are.  

It has been our sombre task to assist you to this knowledge; having done so, we sometimes wonder if the stench of death will ever wholly pass from our nostrils. But we are determined to do our utmost to see that it will pass from Germany, and that the spirit which produced it will be exorcised.  

It may be presumptuous for lawyers, who do not claim to be more than the cement of society, to speculate or even dream of what we wish to see in its place. But I give you the faith of a lawyer. Some things are surely universal: tolerance, decency, kindliness. It is because we believe that there must be a clearance before such qualities will flourish in peace that we ask you to condemn this organization of evil.  

When such qualities have been given the chance to flourish in the ground that you have cleared, a great step will have been taken. It will be a step towards the universal recognition that  

“…sights and sounds all happy as her day,

And laughter learnt of friends, and gentleness,

And hearts at peace….”  

From Rupert Brooke’s War Sonnet V, The Soldier

are not the prerogative of any one nation. They are the inalienable heritage of mankind.  

Dreams of Peace & Freedom

Having regularly performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the obvious next step for us was to take the show there the next summer. Being the birthplace of David Maxwell Fyfe, it seemed right. Taking him home.

Dreams of Peace & Freedom premiered at C South on the Edinburgh Fringe 2014. It would have returned this year, to launch a series of commemorative performances marking the anniversaries of the Nuremberg Trials and the signing of the European Convention. A week away from what would have been the first performance, composer Sue Casson reflects on why Scotland is the show’s natural home.

The performance of Under an English Heaven at the launch of Kilmuir
Papers in December 2013, with Robert reading the words of his great
grandfather, was really the birth of Dreams of Peace & Freedom. It was
so well received as a live performance, it seemed odd to leave it there, and
having regularly performed shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the
obvious next step for us was to take it there the next summer. Being the
birthplace of David Maxwell Fyfe, it seemed right. Taking him home.

C South, St Peter’s, Lutton Place

At the same time, the song cycle was moving beyond an English heaven to a Scottish one. It would be expanded and changed for the festival, so we began to look around for a new name.

Our research into the origin of the title he chose when he was ennobled, Viscount Kilmuir, had taken us to the very north of Scotland that
autumn, and during our trip we had stumbled across a CD of Celtic
women singing traditional folk songs, which seeped into our bones along
with the dreek mist as we drove through the Highlands. One of those
songs, Jim McLean’s evocative ‘Smile in your sleep’ included the
repeated refrain

‘dreams o’ peace and o’ freedom’

The lyrics tell of the Highland Clearances, the time when crofters who
had spent generations on the land had been summarily evicted.
We discovered during those same travels how Maxwell Fyfe’s family was
directly affected by this.

‘The old tales were very close’ Fyfe writes in his autobiography, remembering not only how his great uncle took his own life under the threat of eviction from the family home in Creich during the late Clearances, but how his grandmother provided the blankets to construct a tent for the first service of the Free Church of Scotland in Sutherland.

These events related to him at his grandmother’s knee shaped his
lifelong hunger for justice. At the same time, the refrain resonated
with a life spent pursuing dreams of maintaining peace after the
Second World War and striving for fundamental freedoms.

At this stage we were committed to the song cycle remaining
original, so all we took of Jim MacClean’s song was the refrain, but
adopting a Scottish title was just the beginning of grounding our
extended story of Maxwell Fyfe into the land of his childhood. We
included Non Semper Imbres, by Scots dialect poet James Logie
Robertson in Under an English Heaven, as Fyfe had copied out
this poem about the cycle of renewal in nature, in a letter to Sylvia
from Nuremberg, saying that it ‘rather expresses our mood just now.’

With its implicit message of hope – ‘not always raining’ it looked
forward to better times to come. Now I extended the folk inspired
music to set further verses. Their language conjures Fyfe’s familiar
landscape; trees, mountains and lochs that dramatically reinforce
his Scottish heritage, as well as poetically expressing his belief in
Natural Law.

View from Croich Church

For our Scottish performances the sound changed subtly as well. With a three week performance commitment, the choir we had
hoped to assemble proved tricky to pin down. So the singing, by default but perhaps appropriately, took on a Celtic feel, sparse, misty, minimalist, as it the spirit of Maxwell Fyfe’s forefathers breathed through the settings.

This virtue born out of necessity created a balance in the developing piece. The very formal English sonnets of Rupert Brooke had been the point of inspiration for music. Informal folk inspired settings, expressing Maxwell Fyfe’s personal history seemed a perfect foil to round out a telling of the seminal early events his life. The more intimate, less choral, altogether dreamier atmosphere of the performance garnered some splendid reviews, but also influenced the further development of the show.

Listen to Dreams of Peace & Freedom on SoundCloud now at https://soundcloud.com/english-cabaret/sets/dreams-of-peace-and-freedom


A Simple and Safe Insurance Policy

I argued that the convention should set out a short list of basic personal rights, to be acknowledged by all governments, and a minimum standard of democratic conduct for all members. This would provide a moral basis for the activities of the Council.

In the 70th anniversary year of the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights, we are sharing extracts from the autobiography of David Maxwell Fyfe, one of two of its artisans with Pierre-Henri Teitgen, describing how it came to be. In this second extract, he describes the controversy leading up to its final signing in Rome, November 1950.

The President of the European Assembly was M. Spaak, a former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Belgium…

I was elected chairman of the legal and administrative committee, to which the question of human rights was referred. I am proud of being the first British chairman of one of the principal committees of the Assembly, especially as … it contained most of the leading figures of Free Europe.

Original Flag of United Europe

… I made a speech in the main meeting on August 19th in which I asked my colleagues to accept a system of collective security against tyranny and oppression. I argued that the convention should set out a short list of basic personal rights, to be acknowledged by all governments, and a minimum standard of democratic conduct for all members. This would provide a moral basis for the activities of the Council… I said that there was nothing in all this which the States concerned were not pledged to work for. The difference was that they were now asked to take action at once and put an international sanction behind a scheme so simple and practical that it could take effect immediately. It was, I said, a simple and safe insurance policy.

I was supported in a speech of great emotional and rhetorical power by Teitgen. The matter was then referred to my Legal Committee and we had many sittings right up to the end of the session. Most of the articles of the draft convention went through fairly easily… The real difficulty arose with regard to the rights of parents in regard to their children’s education and right of property…

When we got back to the Assembly from the Committee I was faced with the position that all the Socialists would vote against the convention if these rights were included, and all the Catholics would vote against the convention if they were left out…

Winston Churchill addresses the people of Strasbourg in Platz Kleber in August 1949

The most moving and exciting occasion of that August was a great meeting on the Platz Kleber. All around every building flew two flags, the tricolour of France and the green and white flag of United Europe. In the square the people were so packed that it seemed you could hardly have placed a walking stick between any two. From a balcony came the sturdy and invigorating Churchillian French. ‘Mesdames et Messieurs les Strasbourgeois, prenez garde. Je parlerai en Francais.’ Mesdames et Messieurs adored it… Winston’s speech on the need for unity in Europe was received with roars of applause.

…In the year between the first and second meetings of the Assembly I went to a number of meetings of various committees… The Committee of Ministers had taken our Convention of Human Rights seriously and appointed a committee of experts to advise them…This committee did an admirable job… They had, however, left out the rights of free elections, property, parent’s choice, and of petitions from individuals. I pointed this out in introducing the draft Convention in its new form to the Assembly, and when the matter was referred to the legal committee they were reinserted. The Committee then decided on a new approach to the Ministers and (on) August 26th 1950 it was unanimously adopted by the Consultative Assembly…

The Committee of Ministers did ultimately meet our points and the convention was signed in Rome in October at the Palazzo Barbarini. I am sorry to say that my good friend M. Spaak was still rather sour at the Ministers’ interference – like myself, he was still in opposition – announced the signing in these dry words, ‘The Convention of Human Rights will be signed by 15 countries at 3pm at the Palazzo Barbarini. It is not a very good Convention, but it is a lovely Palace.’… Whether he was right or wrong we had succeeded in doing what the United Nations had failed to do, namely, to create an enforceable convention guaranteeing democratic rights.

Extract from A Political Adventure, Chapter 11, A Gleam in Alsace, by David Maxwell Fyfe

Published 1964 Weidenfeld & Nicolson

A Gleam in Alsace

The United Europe Movement was really the result of Churchill’s speech in Zurich, in which he had developed the theme and thundered the slogan ‘Europe Unite’

In August 1949, David Maxwell Fyfe, who became one of the two artisans of the European Convention on Human Rights, went to Strasbourg for the first of two annual visits, which finally resulted in the signing of the Convention by 12 European countries on 4th November 1950 – 70 years ago this year. In the first of two extracts from his autobiography, he describes the events leading up to the convention’s first draft.

One day in 1947 Winston called me across the smoking room of the House of Commons and asked me if I would join the committee of the United Europe Movement, of which he was chairman. I had always been anxious to do something positive after the part I had played in destroying Nazi ideology, and I accepted with enthusiasm. The movement was really the result of his speech in Zurich, in which he had developed the theme and thundered the slogan ‘Europe Unite’…

The five powers of the Brussels Treaty – Britain, France, Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg… had brought out a suggestion that there should be a Council of Ministers of the 5 countries and an Assembly to be made up of members of the National Parliaments.

Congress of Europe at the Hague, 1948

There was a general feeling that feet were being dragged by governments when the unofficial international committee convened a Congress of Europe at the Hague in May 1948, which was attended by some 730 persons of nearly every European nationality, including several former Prime Ministers, and innumerable ex-Ministers of lower rank, with indeed some in office. The central figure was of course Churchill. It is a remarkable commentary on Britain 3 years after the end of the war that those of us who attended from Britain, like Sylvia and myself, were allowed practically no currency and had to take most of our meals by food tickets provided by our European friends. Apart from politicians, there were a great number of distinguished men and women in letters, music and other walks of life…

The Conference was divided into three committees, political, economic, and cultural. I went into the cultural because I wanted to say something on human rights… Winston concluded with a wonderful speech, during which there was a tremendous thunderstorm…

Manuscript of A Political Adventure

The Congress resolved that the proposed European Assembly should be convened as soon as possible, and this was done in the following year – 1949. In the intervening period between the Congress at the Hague and the first meeting of the Assembly of the Council of Europe at Strasbourg, I devoted considerable further study to a European Convention on Human Rights. The European Movement set up an International Judicial Section under the chairmanship of M. Pierre-Henri Teitgen, a former Minister of Justice of France, with M. Dehousse the Belgian jurist, and myself as rapporteurs…

The Judicial Section set about preparing a draft Convention. At home I had the invaluable aid of Professor Arthur Goodhart of Oxford and Professor Lauterpacht of Cambridge, later a Judge of the International Court… Eventually our draft was submitted by the European Movement to the committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in the summer of 1949. Our draft had as its basis security for life and limb, freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom from slavery and compulsory labour, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of marriage, the sanctity of the family, equality before the law, and freedom from arbitrary deprivation of property. I was very anxious that we should get an international sanction in Europe behind the maintenance of these basic decencies of life.

In the next extract, David Maxwell Fyfe describes the controversies arising from the draft convention and how it came to be signed.

Extract from A Political Adventure, Chapter 11, A Gleam in Alsace, by David Maxwell Fyfe

Published 1964 Weidenfeld & Nicolson

The Stream of Natural Law

Springing up in Dornoch, the Stream of Natural Law symbolically flows all the way down from the Highlands of Scotland to Strasbourg, and out into the wider continent after the Second World War through the 47 signatory states of the European Convention.

This week marks the start of a 100 day countdown to the 70th anniversary of the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights. In this blog, English Cabaret describe their symbolic Stream of Natural Law that charts the different stages of David Maxwell Fyfe’s journey from Nuremberg to Strasbourg.

The song cycle Dreams of Peace & Freedom, is at the heart of our telling of David Maxwell Fyfe’s journey from Nuremberg, where he was British deputy chief prosecutor, to Strasbourg, where at the Council of Europe, he chaired the committee responsible for drafting the European Convention on Human Rights. It fuses the poetry in Fyfe’s mind as a true Romantic of the Law, with the music in the landscape along his way.  

The Stream of Natura Law – Image realized by Lily Casson

The refrain, ‘There are waters’ taken from Rupert Brooke’s War Sonnet IV – The Dead, blows through the cycle to introduce different stages along that journey. In turn, these changing waters have inspired the idea of a mythical stream of Natural Law.  Springing up in Dornoch, it symbolically flows all the way down from the Highlands of Scotland to Strasbourg, and out into the wider continent after the Second World War through the 47 signatory states of the European Convention.

In this way, those same Human Rights represent a renaissance of the ‘Camelot’ values of natural law, requiring Fyfe’s ‘faith of a romantic’ as well as cold calculating legislation.

For us, the source of that stream is history, remembered and forgotten, and for Maxwell Fyfe it sprang up amid the wild natural history and beauty of Dornoch in the Scottish Highlands. This was the childhood home of his mother Isabel, and the setting of a family tragedy during the late Highland Clearances. ‘Tome the old tales were very close’ he writes in his autobiography of the stories of his family that were a feature of youthful summer holidays, and his admiration for the astonishing beauty of this corner of Sutherland seeped into his soul and kindled a lifelong interest in justice and the law of nature. 

If the source of the Stream of Natural Law is Dornoch, it flows down country to the city of Edinburgh, heart of the Scottish Enlightenment, where David Maxwell Fyfe was born and educated at George Watson’s College. His recollections of his childhood ‘are all etched indelibly’ on his memory, firing him with the romance of Walter Scott and the enlightened natural law of James Wilson and John Witherspoon, both founding fathers of the USA. 

Maxwell Fyfe left Edinburgh in 1917. With him, the trickling stream gathers momentum, as natural justice carries dreams of a law that will bring justice to the world at war, still raging. It flows through Liverpool where Fyfe spent the first 15 years of his adult professional life working as a lawyer on the Northern Circuit before being elected Conservative MP for Liverpool West Derby, a seat he held until 1954. For Fyfe, Liverpool was law in action, bolstered by ‘two great traditions, the Liverpool Bar and the Northern Circuit.’ Most importantly, it was the place where he met his muse, lifelong partner and wife Sylvia Harrison, who was born and brought up in the city. 

A tributary of the Stream of Natural Law is Natural Justice, which runs for many miles underground and unseen. Just as the Classics that he studied at Balliol College, Oxford strengthened and deepened Maxwell Fyfe’s commitment to the law of nature described by Greek and Roman scholars, so this fount of knowledge runs below the surface, informing and feeding into the stream as it flows towards the sea of human consciousness. 

In London, the seat of Government under the law, the Stream of Natural Law becomes a river that bursts out into the sunlight once more.  Here David and Sylvia made their home and brought up their family in and around Westminster, whilst Fyfe worked in the House of Commons for 20 years. 

 Across the sea, in the city where the war crimes trials take place,this river emerges again, to wash and rewrite human freedoms.In Nuremberg,after WWII, natural justice was re-awakened after the years of barbarity. Describing the ambition the Allies had for the war crimes trials David Maxwell Fyfe writes ‘Natural justice demanded that we should inform (those on trial)  clearly what charges were against them, produce to them the evidence in which these charges were based, and give them a full opportunity of answering them.‘  

David Maxwell Fyfe’s year in the bombed city was a pivot point in his life. At the Trials he created a record of Nazi atrocities, and confronted the perpetrators. But his time there also allowed for a period of reflection which nurtured his subsequent championing of human rights. 

After his year prosecuting the Nazis in Nuremberg, David Maxwell Fyfe was ‘very anxious that we should get an international sanction in Europe behind the maintenance of …basic decencies of life.‘  Invited by Winston Churchill to take part in the Congress of Europe at the Hague in May 1948 he became a member of the inaugural Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe the following year, attending their meetings in August 1949 and 1950 which were held in Strasbourg. It was here that he chaired the committee that negotiated a draft of a Convention on Human Rights that was adopted by the Assembly of the Council of Europe and signed in November 1950. 

And so it is at Strasbourg that the river of natural law gathers momentum as it finally flows towards the sea of human consciousness, and the human rights and freedoms that were ignored during the war, are enshrined in a European Convention that tries to prevent crimes against humanity being committed again. A European Court is later established there – at the water’s edge. 

Listen to our brand new mastered recording of Dreams of Peace & Freedom at http://thehumansinthetelling.org/song-cycle/

A Multi – Layered Story

When there are so many ingredients to a film this poses the question – what should be more prominent? The archive footage? The beautiful landscape? Both?

Robert Blackmore is editing Dreams of Peace & Freedom : The Human’s in the Telling. Here he looks at the film technique that enables him to fill the frame with pictures from the past as well as the present for storytelling that is truly multi-layered.

Dreams of Peace & Freedom: The Human’s in the Telling is a film about one man’s pursuit of natural law across Europe after WWII. David Maxwell Fyfe played a key role as prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, and subsequently becoming part of the team who drafted the European Convention on Human Rights to ensure the horrors and atrocities of the two world wars could not happen again.

At the film’s heart we have a musical performance which weaves David Maxwell Fyfe’s words with songs. These are spoken and sung in many locations to tell the story of his journey from Nuremberg to Strasbourg, so this film also has an important sense of place, with scenes filmed in beautiful locations in Scotland, England, Germany, and France – landscapes filled with the history we wish to tell.

One of the main intentions the director set out from the beginning was to make sure that the letters and archive material were also a key feature of the film.

With all these components editing this film is complex. How does one piece them together?

Normally a shot comprises a character or object in the foreground. This is in focus and directs the eye to what is most important in telling the story. The background is the surrounding area that is less often in focus but is essential to being able to show the audience where a person or the object stands in relation to the story.

When there are so many ingredients to a film this poses the question – what should be more prominent? The archive footage? The beautiful landscape? Both?

I wanted to create a film canvas to paint on so that the past could be brought into the present. It needed to be multipurpose to enable the audience to watch archive footage integrated into the background landscape as if it forms one large piece of a jigsaw.

Courtroom 600, Nuremberg – a still from Dreams of Peace & Freedom : The Human’s in the Telling

I will give you an example. We filmed in the Courtroom 600 in Nuremberg where the Nuremberg Trials were held, and where both the prosecutors, defendants, and judges all watched the evidence of Auschwitz. We filmed some static shots in the direction from which they saw them projected onto a screen, and so I thought about using the archive footage as the foreground, making it part of the background which was the courtroom.

To do this I used a technique called masking, or matte, where documents or archive footage can be shaped to superimpose onto part of the landscape. The opacity, or the colour of the letter or old film can be adjusted to mix with the brightness or indeed darkness of the landscape of the original shot. It needs to complement the colour of the frame and change of colour in the background. Of course, there is trial and error in creating these effects, and sometimes it does not link well with the storytelling aspect of the film. So, with the director, we review and try again.

Lily Casson speaks the words of Sylvia Maxwell Fyfe – a still from Dreams of Peace & Freedom : The Human’s in the Telling

In outside shots we had the thought that we could have the letters or documents masked around David Maxwell Fyfe or Sylvia (his wife) when they were sending letters to one another so when their words were spoken they wafted in the landscape as a ghostly effect.

The use of masking in this way is steeped in history, going back to the early 20th century. I first saw it on a YouTube video in 2010 where the person who had made the video had imposed another video on a building, and what struck me as amazing at the time was the fact that the background was moving but the video that had been put on the building did not move from its original position. Discovering this technique has been a huge influence on the was we’ve made this film, as it allows the viewer to take in the physical history while at the same time we are able to illustrate the importance of the landscape in the telling of the story.

And I very much hope you will watch to see what I mean for yourself!

The film will be releasing on 27th August. Find out more at www.thehumansinthetelling.org/film

Why Kilmuir?

As we continued on our journey of discovery, we managed to connect some dots to understand my great grandfather’s history and the history surrounding his love for the area, while marvelling at the places where he was inspired and capturing them through the lens of my camera. It was magical.

Lily Casson has been researching the life of her great-grandparents, Sylvia and David Maxwell Fyfe with her family for the last decade. Here, she uncovers clues surrounding the mystery of her great grandfather’s chosen title, Viscount Kilmuir.

“I had thought of calling myself Creich from the little place in Sutherland with the ruined chapel, the graveyard of which contains the bones of my forebears. Sylvia said that she was not going to spend her declining years spelling her name to butcher’s assistants, so I called myself Kilmuir of Creich –the ‘of Creich’ not being part of the title.”

A Political Adventure – The Memoirs of the Earl of Kilmuir, Chapter 13

Of the places that are associated with the life of my great grandfather, the Highlands is shrouded in mystery, like the mist that circles the peaks. The reason why he chose the name Kilmuir when he became an Earl is not known among the family. It was obviously a deeply personal choice, not related to any place he was living at the time – in London or Sussex – or had lived, as far as we knew, so setting off on a Scottish road trip in the autumn of 2012, it felt like we were on a detective hunt for clues that might lead us to discover more.

What did we have to go on? We knew that his mother, Isobel, had been born and brought up in Dornoch, in Sutherland, north of the Highlands. David was her only child, born when she was forty, and she clearly instilled in her son the memories of her childhood world, when they visited regularly for summer holidays.

“To me, the old tales were very close.”

he writes in his autobiography. What’s more, this wild country of lochs, set against the heather and the hills enchanted him.

“To the imagination of my boyhood the countryside … had a magic of its own.”

View from Bonar Bridge

In an introduction he was invited to write for a book written by a fellow Scotsman, George Sutherland-Levenson-Gower, 5th Duke of Sutherland, in 1957, he tells the story of

“A friend of mine, who … once told me that as a child she had always felt that crossing the Dornoch Firth was passing out of the Highlands into a strange country… I had an uneasy feeling that I knew what she meant. The very name Sutherland, the “southern land” looks north to the Viking settlements of Orkney and Shetland.”

Preface to Looking Back : The Autobiography of the Duke of Sutherland

Visiting places that he had known well, and getting to know them, gradually combined his memories with memories we created. We went to Dornoch, where Maxwell Fyfe was made a freeman in 1962, locating the house of his grandmother, which is now a B & B, and exploring its 13th century cathedral ‘built by the last Scot enrolled in the Calendar of Scottish Saints’ and dedicated to St Mary, before warming ourselves by a roaring fire in Dornoch Castle which it faces across the square.

Dornoch Jail

We came across Dornoch Jail, now an up-market shop selling beautiful jumpers and jewellery, and discovered a book telling the story of the late Clearances, where crofters were evicted off the land, in favour of more profitable sheep farming.

In one of the ‘cells’ we picked out a CD of ‘Celtic women’ which we used as a soundtrack to our travels. It was one of the traditional songs on that album, with words by Jim McLean describing the Clearances, that gave us the name for our show.

‘Dreams o’ peace and o’ freedom
So smile in your sleep, bonnie babe’

Jim McLean

For Maxwell Fyfe had a copy of an agreement (a Tack) dated 1798 amongst his private papers. Drawn up by William Dempster, it ensured security for his tenants on the Skibo estate in perpetuity. That Tack was overturned 80 years later, and among those who suffered in the subsequent clearance, we later discovered, was Maxwell Fyfe’s great uncle, who ‘died, heartbroken’ on the day he was due to be taken from his family home and livelihood.

Maxwell Fyfe’s mother, Isobel, was just 17 at the time, and the injustice must have been shocking to her. The story was told as evidence at Gladstone’s Napier Commission in 1883 – which was held further down the Dornoch Firth at Bonar Bridge, which we also visited. Bonar Bridge has now all but subsumed Creich – within which former parish is the area where Isobel’s family were tenants in the mill from which they were later evicted, but the picturesque ‘ruined chapel, (and) graveyard’ containing the bones of his forebears remains. Travelling around in the car, listening to music inspired by the sweeping landscape and
mirrored lochs, brought the East Highlands to life. As we continued on our journey of discovery, we managed to connect some dots to understand my great grandfather’s history and the history surrounding his love for the area, while marvelling at the places where he was inspired and capturing them through the lens of my camera. It was magical.

Dornoch Cathedral dedicated to St Mary

Driving north from Inverness, we found not one but two Kilmuirs – one on the Black Isle, overlooking the Moray Firth, and another in Easter Ross, overlooking the Firth of Cromarty. Maxwell Fyfe gives no indication as to which it might be. Although, as it was firmly pointed out to us at a museum in Tain, there are not two or even three Kilmuirs in the Highlands of Scotland – but many. Translated from the Gaelic, Kilmuir means Church of St Mary, and
there are many of these in the north – and as we now knew, a cathedral in Dornoch.

Returning from our adventures, we have got to know Maxwell Fyfe a little better, having walked the landscape that shaped his beliefs. A member of a cleared family, a freeman of Dornoch, it is easy to understand his connection with this astoundingly beautiful place, and why the law of the land and natural justice had such an impact on his life – fostering his passion to confront evil and protect the innocent. Maybe the importance of the name he chose wasn’t finally in the places that we explored, but in the thoughts and feelings they
evoked.