12 SEPTEMBER 1940, Page 9



IN his statement made to the House of Commons on August 22nd the Home Secretary went some distance to meet the clamour of criticism provoked by the wholesale internment of " enemy aliens." But he still abides by the policy of intern- ment as the rule, and release as the exception. He is unmoved, apparently, by the argument that this is manifestly not a war of nations in the old sense but a " European civil war." What- ever journalists and scribes may write or Members may affirm in the House, for the authorities the only relevant fact, apparently, is the technical one of a person's nationality. All male foreighers bearing certain " national " labels must be put into safe custody or subjected to drastic restrictions. (Women, presumably, as Miss Eleanor Rathbone observed in an earlier House of Commons debate, are regarded as too stupid to be dangerous, so that, with certain exceptions, they are left alone.) What we are up against, I fear, is the administrative mind, which insists on neat classification and is not concerned about the human aspect—which takes account of forms rather than realities. While ordinary intelligent members of the public have tumbled to the idea that many of these alien guests can be of the greatest assistance in the strategy of ideas by which alone we shall win this war, the representatives of the higher bumbledom are still moving majestically along their nineteenth- century grooves.

As it happens, these inhibitions imposed in the name of the security of the State have not stopped at foreigners. A num- ber of blameless English women are affected—blameless, I say, unless it be considered blameworthy to marry outside the British tribe.

The Married Women's Nationality Law lays it down that an English woman on marriage takes to herself—and must take— the nationality of her husband. (For years the women's societies have been up in arms against this man-made law.) But the Act was amended in 1933 to permit British-born women to apply for restoration of their British citizenship in the event of a war with the State of their husband's origin. This position was re-affirmed by a special Order last November. And, as has recently been stated in the Press, hundreds of British women who are married to " enemy aliens " are now having their cases reviewed: they may hope for reinstatement In their birthright, however, only if that husband is free from restrictions—or if wife and husband are separated. In any event it is a terribly slow process. That Married Women's Nationality Act has already stood in the way of the lawful wed- lock of utterly respectable English women: now a premium is placed on separation! Taken in conjunction with the panic measures about " enemy aliens " it has led to the most extra- ordinary anomalies. Another crusade on behalf of these de- nationalised wives is surely overdue. Take the case of Miss X—. For years she had been engaged to a German of unimpeachable character and antece- dents (except that there was a non-Aryan ancestor somewhere) with no sort of " political " record: an architect of no mean repute who had worked with Gropius and who, since the war, had been doing a job, on the administrative side, on the staff of a well-known British radio firm. He had lived here for more than six years—and in the normal course of events would have been naturalised this year. He had, of course, been passed Category " C " by his Aliens Tribunal.

Miss X—, who is a neighbour of mine in an isolated corner of Bucks—in the early part of this year contrived to combine her own trade of lamp-shade-designing with " house- keeping " for me. Not unnaturally her fiancé came to think that if she was going to do any housekeeping it might as well be for him. So m February he bought a house near where he was working, and they were married. But Miss X— was no innocent in this matter of relations with " enemy aliens." She took up with the appropriate authorities (the special Naturalisation Branch of the Home Office) the question of her status, claiming to avail herself of the new ordinance, which made it possible for a woman to reclaim British nationality immediately upon marrying. She was told that, when she had signed all the necessary forms and declarations, she could be sure of getting the certificate re-affirming her British nationality within a period of two months. Whereupon she " took the plunge." She waited ten or eleven weeks—and heard nothing. Then, having found someone to whom to address her protest, she was sternly told that no time-limit could possibly be set to the revolution of bureaucratic wheels and that no official had any authority to talk of a two months' period. On the occasion of her next visit, some weeks later, Miss X— happened to remark that her husband meanwhile had been interned, with all the other Category "C" men. The official, with a characteristic gleam in his eye, observed that this, of course, changed the whole situation, and that her status was now indubitably that of " enemy alien " herself.

So there she is. She may not visit " protected areas "—and therefore cannot go to her own cottage, which is just on the fringe; she is subjected to the curfew restriction; she may not have in her possession a map or a wireless set; she may not, without special permission, use a motor-car or a bicycle—or leave her place of residence even for one night, so that she cannot go and stay the night with her mother who lives five miles away. And now she is told that, so long as her husband is interned, there is no hope of being freed from these restric- tions. The husband, needless to say, does not come into any of the categories so far recognised as justifying a request for release.

I relate this sad tale sans commentaire. It needs none. It is just one more instance of the blunderings of bumbledom.