Tyranny in the name of freedom: a case history

We”re watching with interest BBC”s “Wartime Farm” series, about efforts to increase food production in Britain in World War Two. Last week”s episode (number 4) included a sadly instructive story about a farmer who ran foul of what seems to have been the stupidity and inflexibility of centralised bureaucracy. Resisting it, he paid with his life.

The incident is covered from 23:19 in the programme, and also described in the online Radio Times. A Hampshire tenant farmer called Ray Walden had been ordered to plough up “roughly half” of his farmland for extra corn production to meet “War Ag.”targets, but according to a contemporary interviewed in the programme, some of that land was too wet and unsuitable for corn. Walden refused and when served with an eviction notice (as some 2,000 farmers were, during the War) barricaded himself in his house and in the ensuing 18-hour siege shot at those trying to remove him, wounding one or two in the process. Walden was shot casino in the head and fatally injured.

The contemporary report by the Hampshire Chronicle, covering the events and the inquest, is here. However, significant extra details are given in this account, which tells us that (a) under wartime regulations the proceedings of the inquest were held in secret, the public and Press being excluded, and (b) no evidence was offered on the late man”s behalf to explain why he had acted as he did. In the latter account the Cultivation Order is also said to have been for only four acres to be ploughed, not half the (62 acre) farm as in the BBC”s version, which raises the possibility that there may have been some falsification in the evidence given at the inquest in order to make the Min of Ag”s demand seem more reasonable.

Only one man, only one death – but that”s all any of us has, despite the BBC”s attempt in the programme to sweeten the bitter pill by reference to “the greater good”. In how many areas does government act like a kind of Juggernaut, rolling over anyone who gets in its single-minded, sometimes simple-minded way?

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13 comments for “Tyranny in the name of freedom: a case history

  1. October 4, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    Interesting post. I had to shake my head to realise that you were referring to Britain rather than nazi Germany.

  2. ptbarnumthe2nd
    October 5, 2012 at 12:45 am

    Well, what a surprising thing to stumble upon. George Walden is an ancestor of mine, on my mother’s side. Family legend has long held that “dark forces” were at work of a more local nature, namely anti-Papism in the form of the vicar and a long-held grudge over disputed debts with a local worthy. In light of these, favours were called in and a ridiculous land demand was drawn up. All rumour and hearsay, of course. The family were most offended by the suggestion that he committed suicide.

    • October 5, 2012 at 7:24 am

      Most interesting, PTB – I have copied your comment and included it in my original post on Bearwatch, if that’s ok – link to here.

      • ptbarnumthe2nd
        October 5, 2012 at 11:36 am

        Absolutely fine, of course. I don’t, actually, disagree with your argument in the original post. I suppose my point was that the cruelty of power, dressed up as something noble, operates at every level where illegitimate authority can claim the power of life and death over any of us. Shoddy, grubby politicking and pocket-filling are the stock in trade of our grand democratic traditions.

        • October 8, 2012 at 6:50 pm

          Professor Brian Short would like to get in touch with you, PTBarnumthe2nd, as he wrote an article about Ray Walden some years ago and would care to know more. Please let me know if you’re happy for me to find a way for you to exchange email addresses.

  3. Greg Tingey
    October 5, 2012 at 8:58 am

    ptb2
    Sounds MUCH more likely, to me – I’ll belive it.

    Some people with petty power can be unbelievably vicios, presenting one face to the outside world, and a lying meanness to those they have taken an unreasoning dislike of.
    Yes, I’ve had this, from, would you believe it the chair of an allotment association, nasty little liar that he is.

  4. Andrew Duffin
    October 5, 2012 at 11:46 am

    “the proceedings of the inquest were held in secret, the public and Press being excluded”

    Exactly as our government now wishes to do, in “cases of national security”, for which read “cases which might be embarassing or annoying to the government, plus any other cases where we wish it”.

    Be afraid.

  5. Derek
    October 5, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    If I remember correctly, instructions on how to use land were not issued by some remote civil servant, but by a top local farmer, appointed by the civil service to tell other farmers how to best use their land. The suggestion of old scores being settled seams to be the most likely reason for this. The BBC would not of course be interested in doing in depth research before putting a “good story” out.
    I have seen lots of things in this series, and previous ones by this team that do not ring true.

  6. Jim
    October 5, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    @Derek: precisely right. The ‘War Ag’ committees were locally based, and consisted mainly of local grandees and larger scale farmers with with powerful connections. They had extensive powers, and as always when people are given such powers, particularly in a small scale local setting, the scope for vindictive demands to settle old scores was rife. My grandfather was a farmer during WW2 and the War Ag committees were almost universally hated.

    • October 5, 2012 at 5:47 pm

      Fascinating. Anyone prepared to do an in-depth retrospective on this case?

  7. October 5, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    FYI, I have sent an email to Laurence Rees of WW2History.com to see whether he could possibly become interested in developing this.

    http://ww2history.com/

  8. Jim
    October 5, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    The Walden case is mentioned in this brief history of the Wag Ag committees:

    http://www.kuleuven.be/icag/files/Brian_Short.pdf

  9. October 6, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    Only one man, only one death – but that’s all any of us has

    True.

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