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Thursday, October 04, 2012
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 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?
A comment on this post at Orphans of Liberty:
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.
Readers may know that anti-Catholic prejudice still ran pretty strongly in those days, as my late mother-in-law found when as a youngster she spent time in Scotland. And money is often a cause of trouble.