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

Justice Robert Jackson’s Opening Statement

That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.

The International Military Tribunal (IMT) which is now known more widely as the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, opened on the 20th November 1945, just over 6 months after VE day. Here are excerpts from the opening speech of Justice Robert Jackson, Chief Prosecutor for the American delegation. As he emphasises to the Court, the uniqueness of the Trials lie not only in holding war criminals to account for the first time, but in bringing together the Allies to arrange evidence and create a case in such a short space of time. 

The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world  imposes a grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate  their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated. 

That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of  vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason. 

This Tribunal, while it is novel and experimental, is not the product of abstract speculations nor is it created to vindicate legalistic theories. This inquest represents the practical effort of four of the most mighty of nations, with the support of seventeen more, to utilize international law to meet the greatest menace of our times – aggressive war. It is a cause of that magnitude that the United Nations will lay before Your Honors. 

In the prisoner’s dock sit twenty-odd broken men… It is hard now to perceive these men as captives, the power by which as Nazi leaders they once dominated much of the world and terrified most of it… 

What makes this inquest significant is that these prisoners represent sinister influences that will lurk in the world long after their bodies have returned to dust. We will show them to be living symbols of racial hatreds, of terrorism and violence, and of arrogance and cruelty of power. They are symbols of fierce nationalisms and of militarism, of intrigue and war-making which have embroiled Europe generation after generation, crushing its manhood, destroying its homes, and impoverishing its life… 

What these men stand for we will patiently and temperately disclose. We will give you undeniable proofs of incredible events. The catalog of crimes will omit nothing that could be conceived by a pathological pride, cruelty and lust for power. These men created in Germany… a National Socialist despotism… They took from the German people all those dignities and freedoms that we hold natural and inalienable rights in every human being. Against their opponents, including Jews, Catholics, free labor, the Nazis directed such a campaign of arrogance, brutality and annihilation as the world has not witnessed since the pre-Christian ages… the struggles has left Europe a liberated yet prostrate land where a demoralized society struggles to survive. These are the fruits of the sinister forces that sit with these defendants in the prisoner’s dock. 

In justice to the nations and the men associated in this prosecution, I must remind you of certain difficulties which may leave their mark on this case. Never before in legal history has an effort been made to bring within the scope of a single litigation the developments of a decade, covering a whole continent, and involving a score of nations, countless individuals and innumerable events. Despite the magnitude of the task, the world has demanded immediate action. This demand has had to be met, though perhaps at the cost of finished craftsmanship. 

To my country, established courts, following familiar procedures, applying well-thumbed precedents, and dealing with the legal consequences of local and limited events, seldom commence a trial within a year of the event in litigation. Yet less than 8 months ago today the courtroom in which you sit was an enemy fortress in the hands of German SS troops. Less than 8 months ago nearly all our witnesses and documents were in enemy hands. I should be the last to deny that the case may well suffer from incomplete researches and quite likely will not be the example of professional work which any of the prosecuting nations would normally wish to sponsor. It is, however, a completely adequate case to the judgement we shall ask you to render, and its full development we shall be obliged to leave to historians. 

Full transcript of the opening statement is published online as part of the record of the proceedings before the IMT, through the Avalon Project at Yale Law School – https://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/11-21-45.asp 

An intimate tale of an epic event

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 Human’s in the Telling has grown out of detailed research into the private papers of David Maxwell Fyfe over the last twenty years. Here his grandson Tom Blackmore remembers the moment the cache first came to light.

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.

Sylvia Maxwell Fyfe
The Viscountess Kilmuir, D.B.E
by Anna Zinkeisen 1901 – 1976

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.

David Patrick Maxwell Fyfe
Earl of Kilmuir
Painted in his Lord Chancellor robes
by Harold Knight
1874 – 1961

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 Harold Knight, bedecked in his Lord Chancellors robes, garters and all.

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.

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, and the second was that Albert Speer used to give my grandmother the eye when she visited the tribunal.

Envelope addressed to David Maxwell Fyfe

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 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 to the chronology were caused by Maxwell Fyfe’s three visits home and Sylvia’s two visits to Nuremberg, as well as 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 of the letters I read Ann and John Tusas’ excellent general history – The Nuremberg Trial. This provided a sufficient description of events to create a framework in which to try and place them. As time went on, I read transcripts of the tribunal as well as other histories. Early on Maxwell Fyfe was quite meticulous in his descriptions, as though aware of the gravity of his mission. However, the pressures of daily obligations and
events prevented his letters from being a perfect record, and as the trial extended from its originally anticipated three months to ten, his exasperation flows into the letters, which become all the richer for their spontaneity.

Letters at Churchill Archives

During the ten months Maxwell Fyfe was separated from his family and alone, while Sylvia continued to manage the house and much more. He sometimes had
time to write at length, although this time diminished when he was busy. The key period of the crossexaminations of Goering and Ribbentrop is only lightly
covered, whilst Sylvia was present for his crossexamination of von Papen.

After sorting and typing the letters of Maxwell Fyfe, I turned to Sylvia’s exchange. These letters are more spontaneous, reflective and compelling. Not only did Sylvia run the house (with a lodger, Melford Stevenson, a barrister and judge advocate general for the armed forces) but the constituency in Liverpool, acting for the MP, and remaining in touch with Conservative Party leaders like Rab Butler. Later she was to become the first woman vice-chair of the Conservative Party, and clearly much of that groundwork was laid over this year.

The jigsaw of the letters began to form a picture of a year of loneliness and yearning on both sides, 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. 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 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 widely reported. Taken all together, an archive of strange merit had been bequeathed to our family.

WATCH, READ, LISTEN to the story at www.thehumansinthetelling.org

The personal papers of David Maxwell Fyfe are now permanently held at the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge. Find out more at https://www.chu.cam.ac.uk/archives/

2 anniversaries, 2 stories

It is extraordinary the way the great events of our world today have bounced back through time to shake up the story we are telling.

November 2020 marks TWO historic anniversaries in which David Maxwell Fyfe, a twentieth century British politician and lawyer played a significant role. To commemorate, a new generation of his family set out to share his story, only to find that it wasn’t an easy tale to tell. Here they take up the tale.

We were delighted when the then head of the Oxford History Faculty, Martin Conway wrote in 2017:

‘The more serious business of History too dances to the rhythms of anniversaries’

And we became determined to make our story dance.

For November 2020 marks the rhythm of TWO significant interwoven anniversaries linked by shared endeavour but separated by a period of 5 years. November 4th is the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Human Rights forged in Strasbourg and signed in Rome. November 20th is the 75th anniversary of the opening of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, better known as the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials.

These two anniversaries sit either side of the Armistice, and both events form important landmarks as the world recovered after the Second World War. They share the expression of a deep desire to make things right.

David Maxwell Fyfe

Some characters took part in both events. One was David Maxwell Fyfe, and it is through his eyes that we see these anniversaries.

Dreams of Peace & Freedom : The Human’s in the Telling is the product of two decades of exploration of the papers of David Maxwell Fyfe. Fifteen years ago we staged Making History, a play based on the letters he had exchanged with his wife Sylvia from Nuremberg. Ten years ago we launched Kilmuir Papers with Under an English Heaven, a first pass at telling the story of Maxwell Fyfe’s journey from Nuremberg to Strasbourg.

Every step taken to relate our tale over this time has proved far more difficult than you might expect: everything from the prevailing political climate, Maxwell Fyfe’s comparative obscurity, enthusiasm for Europe, and later social conservatism hampered progress and any chance of getting support. The argument about Brexit in the House of Commons was heating up as we began working on plans for our joyful dance of commemoration, and we are telling the story of a Conservative who wholeheartedly supported the European Project.

In fact we have been led on a merry dance. For as well as the canvas of Brexit, this story has now unexpectedly been told against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic. Like so many others, we have been denied the opportunity to fulfil our planned tour of performances, the centrepiece to our dance.

Perhaps more importantly, we are now living in a world where the rights and freedoms that had been enshrined in law post war, that David Maxwell Fyfe had championed and many of us have taken for granted, were summarily suspended at a stroke. The right to freedom of assembly, the right to a free trial, the right to worship, the right to marry, many would say the right to freedom of expression. All were removed so that we could protect ourselves from the virus.

Suddenly there were now two stories to match the two anniversaries.

It is extraordinary the way the great events of our world today have bounced back through time to shake up the story we are telling. We don’t know how our story will play out, but we are sure that Maxwell Fyfe’s story should be widely shared and remembered as we deal with the present missteps and misdemeanours and move forward into a post-Covid world.

Discover our commemoration for #ECHR70 and #NurembergTrials75 at www.thehumansinthetelling.org.

Why Nuremberg?

On October 24th, I flew to Nuremberg. I did not think it would be nearly a year before I finally returned.

In the latest excerpt from his autobiography, A Political Adventure, David Maxwell Fyfe describes the immediate events leading up to the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, which opened in November 75 years ago this year, and looks at the reasons why Nuremberg, rather than Berlin or Munich was the chosen city for the trials. 


The indictment was signed in Berlin on October 6th 1945 – that is 2 months after the Charter (setting out the composition, jurisdiction powers, and procedure of the Tribunal). Considering the immense scale and length of period of the crimes charged, and the difficulties of language and nationality, it was a considerable achievement. 

Volume I Record of the Nuremberg Trials

The defendants  were to be served with a copy of the indictment in their own language, and entitled to conduct their own defence or have the assistance of counsel, to cross-examine witnesses and give or call evidence in their own defence.  

The judgement of the Tribunal as to the guilt or innocence of any defendants was to be final. The Tribunal was empowered to impose sentences of death or such punishment as it deemed on persons convicted… 


The final matter was where the seat of the Tribunal should be and where the trials should be held. I think that the Russians first wanted both seat and trial in Berlin… The rest of us did not want to be shut up in Berlin, where the destruction had been such as to make court accommodation doubtful and prison and billeting arrangements almost impossible. We also wanted one trial of the major defendants.  

I had made a tentative suggestion of Munich, but (Robert) Jackson, after a preliminary tour and advice from General Lucius Clay, was strongly of the opinion that Nuremberg was the most suitable place. He very fairly invited us all to come out in his plane on July 21st … 

Nuremberg 1945

Although I had been through most of the bombing in London, it was only on that flight and when we arrived in Nuremberg that I realized what Germany had received in return… On each side of the main roads there were banks of rubble containing – so General Clay informed me – so many corpses that he feared for his water supply. The old walled town was a heap of ruins. Machine-gun cartridges littered the streets where a couple of SS divisions had made a stand. There were even some in the precincts of the courthouse and the adjacent prison. People peeped at us from bunkers under partly shattered houses, apathetic and wretched. The only sign of civilization was a succession of shabby, noisy, and crowded trams, which were still running. 

Preparing the Courtroom

For our purpose, however, the Palace of Justice, with numerous rooms in addition to the Court itself, and the adjacent prison, was obviously suitable. It meant that the prisoners and such witnesses as were in Allied custody could be brought to the court each day under cover, and it made the guarding and security arrangements much easier… On practical grounds, as well as from the ideological standpoint of being the place where the Nazis had held their Party Rallies, Nuremberg seemed a good choice…  

The Palace of Justice had received some bomb damage and required fairly extensive repairs. A more difficult problem was, however, the Court itself. There was a dark, solemn, and old-fashioned court room which had been big enough for local cases but was quite insufficient for this trial… The Americans found a radical solution to the problem. One wall was ripped out of the court room, and galleries (for the Press and public) were placed in the adjoining room… 


Interpretation presented an acute problem…  at Nuremberg… every question and answer – as every document – had to be rendered in German, English, French, and Russian. To counter this the system of simultaneous translation was inaugurated. IBM provided the equipment, which they installed without charge. 

Interpreters at the Nuremberg Trials

Simultaneous translation is now so familiar and widely used that no description of it is necessary…  but in 1945 it was a wonder. Such was the speed of translation during a cross-examination that I have stopped Goering getting away with answering a question I had not asked before he had got out a dozen words. Without this system it is difficult to see how the trial could have been held. It had the disadvantage of inducing a certain slowness of diction in us all, and putting a premium on speeches prepared in advance… At Nuremberg this was not a heavy price to pay for what was called a justice in four voices.  

On October 24th, I flew to Nuremberg. I did not think it would be nearly a year before I finally returned.

Extract from A Political Adventure, Chapter 8, Prologue to Nuremberg, by David Maxwell Fyfe

Published 1964 Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Read more excerpts from A Political Adventure here.

Who is so safe as we?

In the light of the fact that many people now believe that the terror of world war is confined to history and could never happen again, there is an unacknowledged fragility to the peaceful bucolic picture Brooke paints.

In the last of her blogs describing how Dreams of Peace & Freedom developed, Sue Casson looks at the inspiration behind her setting of Rupert Brooke’s Sonnet II – Safety which was specially written for Human Rights Day 2013, and asks – ‘are we as safe as we think?’

When the Kilmuir Papers website was launched in the Conference Centre at St Matthew’s Church Westminster in 2013, the afternoon was given over to a series of talks and showings of the films that made up Under an English Heaven. With the beautiful Oxford movement church just next door it was decided that a fitting end to the afternoon, like a secular evensong, would be a short performance of the pieces that formed a soundtrack to the films, interspersed with readings from David Maxwell Fyfe. As the songs had originally been inspired by the sound of the Southwark Girls Choir, I was thrilled that its Director, Stephen Disley, ‘lent’ me a group of his singers, led by Lily, for this performance.

The Freedom Choir at St Matthews Church, Westminster

The event was held on International Human Rights Day, so I added a setting especially written to celebrate. It was to follow Maxwell Fyfe’s words describing how the concept of human rights had evolved and taken shape during the Nuremberg Trials.

I looked to Rupert Brooke, with whom I already knew he had an affinity, for inspiration, and his War Sonnet II – Safety seemed a good place to start, as Fyfe describes The European Convention on Human Rights, as

‘a simple, and safe, insurance policy’

For me these words of Brooke’s –

‘We have found safety with all things undying,
The winds, and morning, tears of men and mirth,
The deep night, and birds singing, and clouds flying…’

Rupert Brooke’s War Sonnet II, Peace

evoked a musical setting akin to a hymn of thanks. They summoned a carefree natural world, where peace reigned, birds sang.

In Maxwell Fyfe’s story, after six years of wartime fear and uncertainty, they served as a paean of praise and relief that those years were over, and perhaps begged the question – how can such ‘blest’ peace be preserved?

I set the first four lines of his sonnet aside, (including the opening My Dear! which I wasn’t sure what to do with) and plunged straight in. ‘We have found safety’ – we’ve enjoyed it ever since the Second World War ended, and we don’t even stop to appreciate our luck. In Brooke’s sonnet his soldiers are dead – released from worldly cares. We’re living the dream. Brooke continues –

We have built a house that is not for Time’s throwing.’

Sadly, in my reading this was much less certain. This ‘house of safety’, embodied by the ECHR, may very well be built on sand. Intended by Maxwell Fyfe and his team after the war to prevent, in so far as they could, such suffering every happening again, since the Conservatives had returned to
power in 2010, the Human Rights Act, incorporating the ECHR into British law, had been under threat of repeal. Ironic really, given that Maxwell Fyfe was a Conservative politician, and the ECHR was drafted and signed under a
Conservative government.

‘War knows no power.’

Rupert Brooke writes in the second half of the sonnet – a line that I had borrowed for There are Waters. In the light of the fact that many people now believe that the terror of world war is confined to history and could never happen again, there is an unacknowledged fragility to the peaceful bucolic picture Brooke paints.

‘Who is so safe as we?’

he asks, voicing the complacency of the dead. But what of the living? There is an unresolved tension at the heart of this celebration of a life that, as a generation so far from war, we have come to take for granted. As the verse closes, I literally introduce a questioning note, an unresolved cadence. To finish, it is resolved to perfection. Everything’s fine now. But I hope it leaves an underlying unease. Are we as safe as we think?

You can hear ‘Part IX – Safety’ from the new recording of Dreams of Peace & Freedom here – http://thehumansinthetelling.org/part-ix/4594760796

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