2nd June 2007
Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick was head of chancery at the British embassy in Berlin before the Second World War, head of the German Section at the Foreign Office from 1947 to 1949 and High Commissioner in Germany from 1950 to 1953, before following in the footsteps of Sir William Strang, to become Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign Office from 1953-7.
'The Inner Circle', published in 1959, is the title of his autobiography. Originally I thought the title implied a group of people - senior politicians, diplomats, administrators and army officers - who effectively governed the country. In fact it means nothing of the kind. As the introduction to the book explains, the 'Inner Circle' is a reference to the London Underground railway, and refers to a Foreign Office saying that "once a man was launched on the Inner Circle (London, Paris, Berlin, Rome) it was impossible to leave the track." This shows how, despite the Empire, British diplomats between the wars still saw Europe as the centre of the world. Ivone Kirkpatrick worked in London, Rome and Berlin, though not in Paris.
He was born in India in 1897 and spent the first 7 years of his life there. His family were catholic Irish from Limerick, and he was related to Lord Hardinge, who was his cousin and Permanent Undersecretary at the Foreign Office in 1918. He joined the army in the First World War and was wounded in Gallipoli. He then joined the Foreign Office and after postings in Brazil and Rome, joined the British embassy in Berlin in September 1933. He attended many of the meetings between Chamberlain and Hitler, which took place before the war, including Munich, as a British observer and record taker.
In 1944 he worked for the embryonic Control Commission for Germany and Austria, where he "was responsible for the constitution and preparation of the British element in Austria" (At the time Major General Kirby was his counterpart for Germany).
In an interesting aside, he says that he declined to accompany the Control Commission to Germany in 1945 (for reasons that are not explained) and "Sir William Strang was appointed to take my place." Strang's post was political advisor to the Military Governor, Field Marshal Montgomery. Other sources suggest that Kirkpatrick was himself considered for the top post, before a decision was taken to appoint Montgomery, a soldier rather than a diplomat, as Military Governor of the British Zone.
Instead, Kirkpatrick was appointed as the British political advisor to General Eisenhower at SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) in Frankfurt for a brief period, until SHAEF was dissolved in July 1945.
It is interesting to see how themes I've seen in other memoirs and contemporary accounts re-occur. Here are some examples:
Firstly, another case of someone who was influenced by early experiences in Germany. Yvone Kirkpatrick relates how, in 1910 as a thirteen year old boy, he spent the summer holidays with his mother in the Black Forest in Germany. For Sunday lunch: "the meal was adorned by a Sunday menu which depicted German troops advancing to the attack on a French position, whilst Zeppelins hovering in the air showered bombs on the defeated enemy. The unpleasant impression produced by this weekly manifestation was reinforced by the remarks which the German children staying in the hotel let fall from time to time. They told us with the frank malice of the young that England was decadent and that Germany would be obliged within a short time to strip us of our overseas possessions."
Secondly, Kirkpatrick's first impressions of Germany after the war, which show the same combination revealed in other contemporary accounts, of astonishment at the scale of destruction, and the idyllic, even luxurious, existence for many of the occupying forces:
"I flew to British headquarters at Bad Oeynhausen with Strang. There we parted, he to go to Berlin and I to Frankfurt. Germany was then an astonishing sight. Everything which modern man considers necessary to the maintenance of life in a civilised society had disappeared. There was no governmental authority, no police. No trains, trams or cars; no factories working, no postal service, no telephones, no newspapers, no banks. No shop was open and it would have been impossible to buy a loaf of bread, a glass of beer or an aspirin. Every bridge was blown and the available rolling-stock could be seen marooned between the ruins. In the Rhine hundreds of sunken craft shown their upper works whilst the giant bridges lay collapsed in the river-bed. In the countryside the sudden departure of the foreign labourers had halted agricultural work. I saw one aged women trying to cut an enormous cornfield with a hand sickle. The only sign of life was provided by hundreds of thousands of Germans on foot trekking in all directions. It was as if a giant ant-heap had suddenly been disturbed. Motoring from Bad Oeynhausen to Frankfurt, I stopped at the side of the autobahn to lunch with my driver off a K-ration. As we were sitting in the shade, I beheld the approach of a sad little procession, A middle-aged man was pushing a perambulator laden with suitcases and household effects. Behind him limped a footsore woman and two children. I walked down the road and asked him who he was and where he was going. He told me that he was a bank manager at Paderborn and that he had taken refuge near the Chiemsee on the Austrian border. He had, however, heard that although his bank had been destroyed, the cellar was habitable. So he was walking back from the Chiemsee to Paderborn. At the point at which I met him he had completed three-quarters of his 500-mile walk. It was fortunate that this great migration was blessed by abnormally fine weather.
At Frankfurt I lodged with Air Marshal Tedder in a charming villa in the Taunus mountains overlooking the city. After the turmoil of war it was an idyllic existence. In the morning I drove down to the giant I.G. Farben building which had been fitted out as General Eisenhower's headquarters. We all lunched in the Mess at Frankfurt and in the evening returned to the fresh, almost Alpine air of our mountain retreat. There was very little social life, which was a blessing, but a number of interesting people came to stay. Amongst these was Prince Bernadotte, who gave me an account of Himmler's efforts during the closing months of the war to use him as an intermediary for the conclusion of a separate peace with the Western Allies."
Thirdly and lastly, an interesting comment on the impact of the Korean War in 1950:
"The impact of this event on Germany was tremendous. It was felt that the Korean war was only a curtain raiser to a Russian-sponsored war of unification in Germany. There was a wave of panic and many sought to re-insure with the Russians. Some Ruhr industrialists, for example, began to place advertisements in the Communist newspapers. In North-Rhine-Westphalia, the Minister of the Interior removed the numbers from police uniforms because experience showed that policemen were unwilling to act against Communists for fear of identification.
It is difficult now to recapture the atmosphere of those days. Only 4 weak Anglo-American divisions and practically no air force stood between the Channel ports and the 22 Soviet divisions poised a few miles from our zonal boundary. I can remember an experienced American correspondent telling me that he was convinced that it was only a matter of weeks or even days before the Russians struck. In Berlin and in frontier towns like Hamburg the attitude of the public was robust, but elsewhere foodstuffs were hoarded and preparations made for flight. Any unusual noise was thought to be the sound of approaching Russian artillery fire."