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.

Where Nazism Failed

When the leadership of a country has been reduced to this state it is confessed that it lacks inspiration. It is equally evident that it lacks efficiency…

In the summer of 1946, having cross-examined many of the leading Nazis at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, David Maxwell Fyfe wrote this article reflecting on the systematic flaws of Hitler’s regime for his Liverpool constituents.

It is not unusual, although extremely irritating, to meet people who say

“ I quite agree with you that the Nazis were ruthless brutes but they did get results –they were extremely efficient.”

Full text available to view at Churchill Archives

The danger of such a viewpoint is obvious. It is out of such superficial lack of faith  culminating in temporary fits of depression that nations have lost their democratic government and succumbed to some sort of tyranny. It is therefore not without value to study this criticism and to probe its basis in fact.

I myself believe that it is profoundly untrue, and that the more one examines the results of the Nazis’ system and of the expression of Nazi ideology in practise, the more convinced one becomes that the system is bad in itself and has inevitably led to blunders as well as crimes.

…I must emphasize how fortunate the Nazis were in the circumstances of their coming into power. Two things primarily contributed – the world slump of 1930 lighting up the opposition to the Versailles Treaty, and the failure of Parliamentary government in Germany… These circumstances gave Hitlerism the most favourable start…. They had organised that the’ Fuehrer principle’ of implicit obedience to orders coming down the scale from Hitler was supported by their special machinery which at one time had a strength of nearly 6 million, for enforcing speed of government, delation, absence of free thought and speech, internal suppression, external trained and calculated force.

…I am well aware that there used to be criticism during the war of the British system of government by committees and discussion. It was said to lead to a waste of time, to a difficulty in getting decisions and an elaborate system of appeals which were not fitted to the conduct of urgent affairs.

Every government, whether democratic or totalitarian must administer the country through a series of what we call ministries or government departments, and the Germans rather significantly term ‘agencies’… For any efficient government there must be a liaison between departments at all levels. This is carried out by an informal interchange of views and in Britain is an important reality. I believe there was much more in Nazi Germany than was ever admitted,  but the effect of the famous Fuehrer Decree No 1, whose result was the effect that nothing be mentioned except to a person directly concerned with the matter in question, was to discourage such liaison as far as could be done.

When one leaves the departmental level these divergencies become sharp and acute. In Britain new proposals are brought before a committee of the cabinet and fully discussed. They are then placed on the agenda of the cabinet and discussed…  Finally… it is open to criticism in parliament.

Under the Nazi system there was no effective committee… the Reichs cabinet soon ceased to meet and Parliament – the Reichstag – was a rubber stamp. Under the Fuehrer principle, each minister was directly responsible to Hitler… after 1937, and during the whole of the war, the German cabinet never met at all. The decisions as to Germany’s policy in all fields were taken at the Chancellory or Hitler’s HQs… It followed inevitably from this set up that a ‘yes’ man should become the chief of the O.K.W and that the open door to action should be an acceptance of Hitler’s wishes…

The modern world is too complicated to be run without references to a number of experiences and points of view. There is a superficial attraction in the picture of the strong man relentlessly pursuing his aims uninfluenced and never deflected by the views of others. When, however, he has got the people round him into the state when they are afraid to give their views, they are also afraid to give full information, and without full information the discovery of the best plan is impossible. We all suffer from wishful thinking, but a tyrant also suffers from wishful lack of thought. He will not listen to facts from those whose opinions do not coincide with his own…

When the leadership of a country has been reduced to this state it is confessed that it lacks inspiration. It is equally evident that it lacks efficiency…

Free discussion and criticism give to the minds and hearts of men not only that sinewy strength  which produced the British asset of the extra week when others were exhausted. They  produce also   the moments of clear vision and the retention of moral judgement which are still more necessary to the position of the world.

The Law is a Living Thing

The influence of Magna Carta on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was acknowledged by Eleanor Roosevelt, when she described it as the International Magna Carta. While the UDHR defines the rights, The European Convention, as an international treaty under which signatories agree to be bound by its’ requirements was a natural successor to Magna Carta, so it seemed right to commemorate the two – the ancient and modern side by side.

In the week of the anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, Sue Casson looks at the relationship between the Great Charter and the European Convention on Human Rights as she continues her series exploring how her song cycle Dreams of Peace & Freedom developed. 

The subtle, pared down sound of Dreams of Peace & Freedom that by necessity defined our Edinburgh Fringe performances in 2014, made the idea of a pop-up tour to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights the following year more possible, as with a narrator and three singers, one of whom doubles on piano, we could, and did, turn up to sing in as many places with connections to Magna Carta as we could, with very little fuss.

Hold on – Magna Carta? That’s something quite different, surely? But in fact, it was just this happy coincidence that prompted our big idea that 2015 was a Big Year for Freedom

Magna Carta

Magna Carta Libertatum (to give it its’ full name – the Great Charter of Liberties) historically enshrined natural rights and freedoms into British law for the first time. It offered access to swift justice, outlawed illegal imprisonment, limited feudal payments to the king and protected the rights of the church. It has been described as the

foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.

Lord Denning (1899 – 1999)

The influence of Magna Carta on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was acknowledged by Eleanor Roosevelt, when she described it as the International Magna Carta. While the UDHR defines the rights, The European Convention, as an international treaty under which signatories agree to be bound by its’ requirements was a natural successor to Magna Carta, so it seemed right to commemorate the two – the ancient and modern side by side.

65 years since the signing of the ECHR and 800 years since King John signed the Magna Carta

When we laid out our plans for our Big Year for Freedom, we were only vaguely aware of the British government’s decision to make major changes to the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the ECHR. But as the year progressed, what had seemed a historic commemoration gradually took on the guise of political activism.

David Maxwell Fyfe provided a link between Magna Carta and the ECHR. In his speech to The American Bar Association as they unveiled their monument in Runnymede in 1957, he laid out his belief in natural law – law derived from nature or ethical reason, that exists independently of a given political order, that is at the heart of the great Charter. Just as Magna Carta protected rights that existed beyond the King’s jurisdiction, so the European Convention, which Fyfe was instrumental in drafting, provided recourse for citizens beyond the nation state, who believed their human rights were infringed.

We highlighted this when we opened our Edinburgh show with a musical setting of some of the closing lines from Magna Carta translated from the original Latin, sung alongside excerpts from this speech. There are Waters, which closed the show, was accompanied by a draft list of all the fundamental freedoms that made up the European Convention.

However, during our tour, an explicit parallel between the Magna Carta and the modern International Magna Carta, seemed missing from the song cycle. Tom laid down the gauntlet of finding a way to musically mesh the two – by somehow fusing David Maxwell Fyfe’s suggested preamble to the European Convention which he had recently discovered online, with my musical setting of Magna Carta, to make the association between the two musically clear. I came up with the idea of a descant and The International Magna Carta became the grand finale of Dreams of Peace & Freedom.

Now David Maxwell Fyfe’s personal story, and his journey from Nuremberg to Strasbourg, was encased between two great Charters, and the activism, to preserve the rights enshrined within them has become another strand to our story. When Cultural Solidarity Media, as part of a documentary of the Nuremberg Trials for Russia 1,  came to film Dreams of Peace & Freedom in June 2016, we used the film they gave us of our performance of The International Magna Carta for our pro-Remain campaign during the lead up to the referendum. 2015 was the moment our commemoration became a campaign.

Find out more about our Big Year for Freedom tour at www.kilmuirpapers.org.

Inside the Archives

Every stroke of their pen tells a different story, and it is extraordinary to read a letter they wrote so long ago and feel a connection through the paper to my family, whether through a turn of phrase or choice of word.

Lily Casson first visited the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge when she and her family gifted it with the personal papers and official souvenirs of David Maxwell Fyfe. Here she describes how she has grown to know her great grandparents through these materials.

A memorable part of getting to know my great grandparents was through their letters exchanged during the year of the Nuremberg Trials, which we gifted to Churchill Archives in 2010. Every stroke of their pen tells a different story, and it is extraordinary to read a letter they wrote so long ago and feel a connection through the paper to my family, whether through a turn of phrase or choice of word.

On our first visit, an ordinary grey day in 2009, when I was 12 and Robert 9, we felt very important, carrying historical artefacts in our tiny hands down the long path to the centre, through the grounds of Churchill College, Cambridge, feeling the responsibility for the care in our charge. Among them, Maxwell Fyfe’s red boxes of office, containing the letters, along with a copy of the Grand Seal of the United Kingdom.

Allen Packwood, Director of the Churchill Archives Centre shows Lily and Robert how the documents are kept

Since then, we have regularly visited to dig deeper into his story. Early on, we filmed a behind the scenes tour of the archive with its director, Allen Packwood, for Under an English Heaven, and it was eye-opening to discover the care and attention each document gets to conserve them, from the mesh between the papers to the fire safe boxes and rolling doors, saving them for a new generation to discover.

More recently, photographing documents for the Dreams of Peace & Freedom performance I’ve grown increasingly aware of how primary source material brings history alive, as these letters and documents, though now preserved in protective tissue, were written by real people, not just historical figures.

Discover the Churchill Archives Centre at https://www.chu.cam.ac.uk/archives/

Prologue to Nuremberg

It was no simple problem that faced us in our early talks. There were three choices open to us.

In his autobiography, David Maxwell Fyfe writes of his first meetings with Justice Robert Jackson of the U S in early June 1945, barely a month after V E Day, as they discussed how the Allies should deal with the War Criminals from World War 2.

It was no simple problem that faced us in our early talks. There were three choices open to us. The first was to let those whom we believed to be major criminals go. In Jackson’s words this would have been to mock the living and insult the dead. Moreover, as we were already punishing those who had carried out the individual crimes, we should have stepped into the position which my predecessor, F. E. Smith, had described in his opinion to the Cabinet in 1918, in Juvenal’s words :

Dat veniam corvis vexat censura columbas.

Censure acquits the raven but fall foul of the dove.

Juvenal

The second choice was executive action, under which Napoleon had been sent to Elba and then to St Helena. This had two classes of supporters. First there was the large and vocal ‘stick’ ’em up against a wall and shoot ’em school. Others who favoured executive action put forward a much subtler argument. They made the point that political trials were always a failure – from Charles I onwards… They insisted that on the actions of the German leaders everyone had already formed both a moral and a political judgement, and therefore unbiased judges could not be found. So they came to the conclusion that the leaders of the victorious powers must kill or imprison those whom they thought guilty and answer for their actions at the bar of history.

What such people had never considered was how this would be done. Either the Allied political leaders or their generals, if the task were devolved in them, would have had to select those who had been guilty of crimes, which would have to have been specified, and decide whether death of imprisonment was the appropriate punishment. Although they could have had the advice of Jackson and myself, and of the French and Russian colleagues who afterwards joined us, what must have been in the end an essentially judicial function would have been performed in a back room without any attempt of the requirement of judicial fairness. In this context, it must be remembered that after months of work in selecting and prosecuting defendants on what seemed to us overwhelming evidence, the Tribunal at Nuremberg found that we were wrong in three cases and acquitted von Papen, Fritzsche and Schacht.

David Maxwell Fyfe and Robert Jackson

The third choice was to select the defendants and give them a hearing. In such event, natural justice demanded that we should inform them clearly what the charges were against them, produce to them the evidence in which these charges were based, and give them a full opportunity of answering them.

This was the view strongly advocated by Jackson and myself. I held that it would be a deplorable beginning to a world in which everyone was looking for the rule of law if we irresponsibly cast it overboard in our first difficult sea. Moreover , martyrs are easy to make as the years pass, and nothing but a public deployment of impregnable evidence of guilt would prevent this retrospective hagiology.

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

Published 1964 Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Why a song cycle?

If you were telling how facts uncovered during the Nuremberg Trials led directly to the post war impulse across Europe to enshrine protection of human rights in law, music might not be an obvious choice…. though it’s the oldest way in the world.

Songwriter Sue Casson explores why David Maxwell Fyfe’s love of poetry, often quoting his favourites to drive home a legal point, made a song cycle the natural choice for a show that tells the story of his journey from Nuremberg to Strasbourg.

Recently, at a meeting where Tom Blackmore and I were pitching Dreams of Peace & Freedom, which tells the story of Tom’s grandfather, someone asked, ‘why a song cycle?’

It’s a fair question. If you were telling how facts uncovered during the Nuremberg Trials led directly to the post war impulse across Europe to enshrine protection of human rights in law, music might not be an obvious choice.

Although it is the way Tom and I have often chosen to tell a story, and as he would tell you, it’s the oldest way in the world. Troubadors since ancient times have entertained rapt audiences with mythic histories, in verse, in song – often with no more than their voice and whatever instrument was light enough to carry. What’s more, I’m a songwriter, Tom a writer – we write shows like that.

But really, that isn’t the whole story, and neither of us have put together a show quite like this before. For the link between those two important post war events was David Maxwell Fyfe, a well-read Scot, who often turned to poetry in his speeches to illustrate what he wanted to say. 

In his closing at the Nuremberg Trials, David Maxwell Fyfe quoted Rupert Brooke’s War Sonnet V – The Soldier

‘sights and sounds, dreams happy as her day,

And laughter learnt of friends, and gentleness

In hearts at peace’

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

David Maxwell Fyfe quoting Rupert Brooke in his closing at the Nuremberg Trials August 1946

This speech, the first he had made at Nuremberg, and written after he had forensically examined all the evidence and confronted the perpetrators, sets out his commitment to fundamental rights and freedoms, and signals his future involvement in enshrining them in law. It is the fulcrum of his journey from Nuremberg to Strasbourg. And to drive his point home – Maxwell Fyfe, a learned lawyer – quotes a poet: Rupert Brooke. If we were looking for an opportunity to incorporate music directly into his story it was this – poetry that he had chosen, demanding a musical setting.

‘I think that HJ never quite understood why I did, or how I could, prefer the wartime sonnets of Rupert Brooke to those of his hero Wordsworth.’

David Maxwell Fyfe writing about his English teacher at George Watson’s College in his autobiography, A Political Adventure (1964)

With this as our point of inspiration, reading the other four war sonnets in Rupert Brooke’s 1914 collection, published when Fyfe was just fourteen years old, Tom was struck by the way the poetic language expressing Brooke’s idealistic values at the outset of the First World War had filtered through into his grandfather’s speeches.

In his closing at Nuremberg, he not only quotes Brooke directly, but goes on to speak of ‘heritage’, a concept that closes Brooke’s War Sonnet III. As he seeks to create an enforceable treaty to protect human rights after Nuremberg, he champions Safety (War Sonnet II has the same name) and Security, which appears in the same sonnet. Norman Birkett, a British judge at the Nuremberg Trials, goes to considerable trouble to give Fyfe a Scottish poetry collection as a leaving gift, knowing exactly what it will mean to him.

For Maxwell Fyfe delights in finding the imaginative truth through reading, on occasion writing stories and verse himself.

‘romance … is poetry in action. It comes when the inevitable moment finds the inescapable deed,’

David Maxwell Fyfe writing of the tales that defined his childhood in The Watsonion, alumni magazine of George Watson’s College

This almost defines that moment at Nuremberg, when his closing speech expresses an awareness of rights and freedoms for all. A self-confessed romantic of the law, the poetry flows through Fyfe’s conscious and unconscious mind as he expresses what he is seeking to achieve.

In Dreams of Peace & Freedom, inspirational quotations from the speeches, letters and autobiography of David Maxwell Fyfe, naturally thread through musical settings of poetry he found inspiring. The melody infuses his chosen poetic words with another unspoken dimension – emotion to reinforce the story, rather as in his speeches, the poetry heightens the tenor of his legal argument.

Fyfe praised the ‘incomparable songs’ of Scotland, and so musically setting the poetry in his heart beside his spoken words seemed not only effective, but perfectly natural. It represents the imaginative life that informs and reinforces his legal practice. Which is the real reason why his post-war dreams of peace and freedom and how he sought to achieve them, are best brought to life in a song cycle.

Dreams of Peace & Freedom, the fully mastered recording, will be launched in June 2020. Find out more at www.thehumansinthetelling.org.

Under an English Heaven

As an English graduate I wanted to stay true to the original text, as a lyricist, I knew I needed to pluck the words and lines, rather as David Maxwell Fyfe had, to tell his story most effectively.

On the anniversary of his death, Sue Casson describes why the 1914 War Sonnets of Rupert Brooke, a favourite poet of Maxwell Fyfe, are the beating heart of her song cycle Dreams of Peace & Freedom.

Rupert Brooke

Dreams of Peace & Freedom began life as a soundtrack to Under an English Heaven – a film about the life of David Maxwell Fyfe that Tom Blackmore made for the Kilmuir Papers website. It took its’ name from the final line of Rupert Brooke’s famous sonnet The Soldier, which Fyfe had quoted in his closing at Nuremberg, and comprised five songs – musical settings of poetry that inspired him.

Of these, four were settings of the poetry of Rupert Brooke, The Soldier acting as a springboard to our inspiration. At this time, our daughter Lily was a chorister in the Southwark Cathedral Girls Choir, and Tom and I both loved the ethereal effect created in blending two strands of young voices. Inspired by that Southwark sound, I wrote to evoke ‘English music’ of the early 20th century, in 3 rather than 2 parts to enrich the harmony.

The Soldier

At the same time, I experimented with a setting of Brooke’s War Sonnet III – The Dead which ends with the word ‘heritage’, echoed by Fyfe in the same speech when he describes rights for all as the inalienable heritage of mankind. It opens with the lines –

‘Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!
There’s none of these so lonely and poor of old,
 But, dying, has made us rarer gifts than gold.’

Defendants at Nuremberg War Crimes Trials

Brooke was writing about the First World War, but these lines take on a further resonance in a story telling how human rights evolved into law after the Second. The sound of the bugles blowing over the battlefield dead echo on in a musical herald to an unprecedented trial seeking to impose meaning on the waste of life; bringing gold out of the base metal and carnage of WWII – restoring Honour and Order to Chaos.

I began to realise that in attempting to bring out the sentiments in Brooke that had inspired Maxwell Fyfe, the words were likely to be subtly deconstructed. As an English graduate I wanted to stay true to the original text, as a lyricist, I knew I needed to pluck the words and lines, rather as Fyfe had, to tell his story most effectively.

‘These hearts were woven of human thoughts and cares’

Rupert Brooke’s Sonnet IV – The Dead

The Dead begins as a meditation on the humanity of the inert bodies lying on the muddy French battlefields. But it also suggests the obscene waste of life in concentration camps, film of the liberation of which was presented as evidence at Nuremberg. I subtly altered Brooke’s words from the first half of the sonnet to make what became These Hearts and took a line from the second half to ‘blow through’ the cycle thematically and drive the narrative of the story. This motif was ultimately extended to become another song.

There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter,

And lit by the rich skies, all day.

Rupert Brooke’s Sonnet IV – The Dead
David Maxwell Fyfe

These lines to me suggested the winds of change blowing through Europe after the war. Winds of change that David Maxwell Fyfe, as part of the Council of Europe, was very much responsible for fanning. After aggression, reconciliation to restore order and morality.

Using my lyricist’s licence, these lines formed Verse 1 of There are Waters whilst some from Brooke’s Sonnet II – Safety formed verse 2, the imagery of the ‘blown’ waters swelling to ‘dark tides’, before the ‘unshaken’ peace and rest of port. To echo the lack of formality of the setting, the melodic line has echoes of popular 1940s dance band, combined with the folk voice that in Dreams of Peace & Freedom became the other strand to the cycle.

Non Semper Imbres, a poem Maxwell Fyfe mentions in a letter sent to Sylvia from Nuremberg, which also invited a folk setting, completed Under an English Heaven. It was recorded by the Phoenix Singers under the direction of David Chapman in 2010.

But when we came to add to these songs to make Dreams of Peace & Freedom later, we turned again to Brooke looking for lines to express the defining moment of Fyfe’s career – his cross-examination of Hermann Goering at Nuremberg. The opening heartfelt prayer from his War Sonnet I – Peace perfectly expressed the moment when everything comes together – preparation, knowledge, and opportunity:

Now, God be Thanked, who has matched us with his hour’

Rupert Brooke’s War Sonnet I : Peace

Though Brooke was writing of the moment of poise before going into battle, the words catch the spirit of ambitions for that post war trial, and this famous battle of wills. I set it in an antiphonal style with a solo and choir response, suggesting the lawyer and the courtroom reaction, perhaps anticipating that the baritone voice that had been a feature of the Phoenix Singers recording of Under an English Heaven, breezing through the piece singing There are waters might re-appear. We later put that to one side, but what with this song and another I wrote revisiting Sonnet II – Safety, all five of Rupert Brooke’s war sonnets, in six different songs, now formed a solid backbone to Dreams of Peace & Freedom.

To hear the Phoenix Singers’ performance of ‘Under an English Heaven’ click this link – http://suecasson.co.uk/under-an-english-heaven/4579279089

Nuremberg : A Modern Miracle

When David Maxwell Fyfe flew out in October 1945, he described the city saying, ‘The old walled town was a heap of ruins.’ Today, however, Nuremberg is a buzzing, metropolitan centre, full of culture and life.

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 writes her impressions of Nuremberg, which she first visited in April 2009…

Before going to Nuremberg in 2009, I had never been to Germany before. Apart from my patchy school history knowledge of the Second World War, I didn’t have any idea as to what I might discover. It had extra meaning for me, as we were going to find out about my great grandfather, who spent a year there after the war, during the War Crimes Trials as the chief prosecutor of the British team.

Nuremberg, 1945

When Maxwell Fyfe flew out in October 1945, he described the city saying, ‘The old walled town was a heap of ruins.’ Today, however, Nuremberg is a buzzing, metropolitan centre, full of culture and life. It has been rebuilt with care and attention, the buildings have been carefully restored to look new and vibrant. Inside St Sebalds, known as the peace church, an icon of renewal whose towers stayed standing throughout the bombing, the war is remembered with plaques that show the rebuilding process from ruins to the church it is today.

Documentation Centre, Nuremberg, former Nazi Rally Ground

The importance of remembering and confronting the past is at the heart of two museums in the city which tell the story of the Nazis from different perspectives : The Dokumentation Centre, set within the footprint of the Nazi rally ground, which documents the rise of the movement, and Courtroom 600 which brings to life the place where leading Nazis were cross-examined after the war. I, like many of the German schoolchildren who have visited, found it shocking to see the past brought to life where it actually happened.

Market Place, Nuremberg

The willingness of the people of Nuremberg to remember, whilst also moving forward with hope for the future is one of the reasons I love the city so much. Confronting the past with courage and conviction, and learning the lessons of history, it is a testament to the past and an example for the future – truly a modern miracle.