History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1941-1951 - Vol. 4

By Noreen Branson | Go to book overview

7
FRIENDS OR ENEMIES? 1943–4

Despite their efforts to increase war production and to improve fighting capacity in the armed forces, communists were habitually portrayed as ‘the enemy’ by those on high. In this connection, much use was made of what became known as the ‘Springhall case’. It was on 28 July 1943 that ‘Dave’ Springhall (his actual name was Douglas Frank Springhall) was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment after a trial held in secret at the Old Bailey.

Springhall – formerly a seaman – had been on the Central Committee of the party since 1932. He had acted as full-time London District Secretary; had served as a Political Commissar to the British Battalion of the International Brigade in Spain; in 1938, he was for a brief period editor of the Daily Worker, and in 1939, had been in Moscow as British representative at Comintern headquarters. At the time of his arrest on 17 June 1943 he was working as national organiser at the Communist Party headquarters at 16 King Street.

The charge against him was ‘of obtaining from Olive Sheehan, an Air Ministry employee, information in respect to munitions of war, and obtaining from her, for a purpose prejudicial to the interests and safety of the state, information calculated to be useful to the enemy’.1

What Springhall had in fact been involved in at the time of his arrest was handing over to the Russians technical information arising from research into jet engines.2 This was not made public at the time; had it been, Springhall might well have received more public support. For the affair would have demonstrated something that government circles were trying to hide: their desire to avoid any close relationship with the Soviet Union. The Russians were, after all, allies of Britain; they were engaged in destroying the German army and so preventing a German invasion of Britain. The British were busy handing over scientific and technical information of all kinds to the Americans; yet to give anything to the country which was saving their future was classed as ‘prejudicial to the interests and safety of the state.’ Indeed,

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