From Ireland To Greece A Policy Of Divide And Conquer

The Irish National Army (Free State Army) bombards the Four Courts using British-supplied artillery and ammunition, the Battle of Dublin, 1922
The Irish National Army (Free State Army) bombards the Four Courts using British-supplied artillery and ammunition, the Battle of Dublin, 1922

Reading this account by Ed Vulliamy and Helena Smith in the Observer newspaper of Britain’s fermenting of the civil war in Greece from 1946 to 1949 I was struck by some parallels with the British government’s instigation of the internecine conflict in Ireland between the established Irish Republic and the usurping Irish Free State in the early 1920s. In both cases the struggle took the form of a counter-revolution by authoritarian forces serving both their own interests and those of imperial Britain. Unsurprisingly there is an even closer reminder in the article of the age-old British strategy of divide and conquer:

“The name of the man in command of the “British Police Mission” to Greece is little known. Sir Charles Wickham had been assigned by Churchill to oversee the new Greek security forces – in effect, to recruit the collaborators. Anthropologist Neni Panourgia describes Wickham as “one of the persons who traversed the empire establishing the infrastructure needed for its survival,” and credits him with the establishment of one of the most vicious camps in which prisoners were tortured and murdered, at Giaros.

From Yorkshire, Wickham was a military man who served in the Boer War, during which concentration camps in the modern sense were invented by the British. He then fought in Russia, as part of the allied Expeditionary Force sent in 1918 to aid White Russian Czarist forces in opposition to the Bolshevik revolution. After Greece, he moved on in 1948 to Palestine. But his qualification for Greece was this: Sir Charles was the first Inspector General of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, from 1922 to 1945.

The RUC was founded in 1922, following what became known as the Belfast pogroms of 1920-22, when Catholic streets were attacked and burned. It was, writes the historian Tim Pat Coogan, “conceived not as a regular police body, but as a counter-insurgency one… The new force contained many recruits who joined up wishing to be ordinary policemen, but it also contained murder gangs headed by men like a head constable who used bayonets on his victims because it prolonged their agonies.”

As the writer Michael Farrell found out when researching his book Arming the Protestants, much material pertaining to Sir Charles’s incorporation of these UVF and Special Constabulary militiamen into the RUC has been destroyed, but enough remains to give a clear indication of what was happening. In a memo written by Wickham in November 1921, before the formation of the RUC, and while the partition treaty of December that year was being negotiated, he had addressed “All County Commanders” as follows: “Owing to the number of reports which has been received as to the growth of unauthorised loyalist defence forces, the government have under consideration the desirability of obtaining the services of the best elements of these organisations.”

Coogan, Ireland’s greatest and veteran historian, stakes no claim to neutrality over matters concerning the Republic and Union, but historical facts are objective and he has a command of those that none can match. We talk at his home outside Dublin over a glass of whiskey appositely called “Writer’s Tears”.

“It’s the narrative of empire,” says Coogan, “and, of course, they applied it to Greece. That same combination of concentration camps, putting the murder gangs in uniform, and calling it the police. That’s colonialism, that’s how it works. You use whatever means are necessary, one of which is terror and collusion with terrorists. It works.

“Wickham organised the RUC as the armed wing of Unionism, which is something it remained thereafter,” he says. “How long was it in the history of this country before the Chris Patten report of 1999, and Wickham’s hands were finally prised off the police? That’s a hell of a long piece of history – and how much suffering, meanwhile?”

The head of MI5 reported in 1940 that “in the personality and experience of Sir Charles Wickham, the fighting services have at their elbow a most valuable friend and counsellor”. When the intelligence services needed to integrate the Greek Security Battalions – the Third Reich’s “Special Constabulary” – into a new police force, they had found their man.”

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11 comments

  1. I don’t know much about Greek 20th century history, but any journalist who describes Tim Pat Coogan as a “historian” clearly does not have much grasp of reality. Dunno how seriously to take the piece after that.

    Incidentally, you could also read Vulliamy’s recent piece on what a warm and wunnerful human being Ian Bailey is, and how as a model citizen he was so howwibly treated by the evil fascist Garda. You can’t believe anything you read in the meeja.

    1. Interesting piece ASF.
      And to John above.
      The history of Greece in this period. You must understand the various conferences between Churchill, Stalin and Rossevelt later Truman.
      Churchill seemed to have the role af a “wheeler dealer” in these conferences with Stalin.
      Roosevelt wanted an end to European imperialism ( a noble aim)
      But the Brits, the Russians and later the French and Dutch weren’t having that.
      But to move my point along. Churchill and Stalin sat down with a map of Europe and they each outlined where each party, would have influence in each State.Carved up in Percentage (%) terms no less.
      They basically carved up the map of Europe between them.
      Poland was given to Stalin..and Stalin was allowed 5% influence on Greece.
      So, again this is the crucial point the Brits were fighting a “cold War ” against the Greeks to keep the Soviets out..
      When Stalin agree to have only a 5% influence in Greece!!!!!!!
      So, the Allies and Brits were Liars or at least misguided in their greek efforts..Stalin had no Interest in Greece.
      Now, I know you will discount Stalin..And Say he wasn’t to be trusted.
      But in actual fact he lived up to his promises at these conferences.If for no other reason that the Soviet Union lay in tatters after WW2 and was in no position to do anything in Greece and they never did.
      Stalin kept his word and didn’t support Greek communists..at all.
      Some of this is covered in Oliver Stones ” Untold history of the USA”
      Worth watching if you haven’t already.
      But no doubt you’ll find fault with these sources too..Just like your disdain for Tim Pat Coogan.
      In my view Tim Pat has sources and quotations from various people to support his views.
      Any book I ever read of his his points were always reinforced by evidence.
      He certainly doesn’t write in a vacumn.

      1. During the Greek Civil War, the Communist forces (whom Vulliamy seems to think were some sort of cuddly Social Democrats) massacred thousands of civilians, employed Communist forces from Bulgaria and Yugoslavia to invade their own country, and kidnapped thousands of Greek children to be brought up by Communist step parents in the Eastern Bloc. Had they actually won, Greece would look like Romania today. What, exactly was Churchill supposed to do? Let the Communists win?

        For all it’s problems, Greece today is free democratic state and not a place which has been destroyed by fifty years of Marxist rule: they’ve got the Brits to thank for that.

        1. No they don’t. It was American money that bought Greece’s path to “democracy.” The Brits were mostly out of there after 1947. Similar to many other such U.S. involvements of the time, a military junta ruled Greece for seven years before it morphed into the usual European semi-socialist, semi-capitalist system.

          1. The USA was forced to intervene to prevent commie puppet governments from forming.

            The commies did not found a single successful state.
            USSR, China (god bless the Brits for saving Hong Kong from that nutjob Mao) , North Korea, East Germany, Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela – all are or were shitholes.
            And nothing has changed now. Russia is supported only by failed states that no one would want to live in given the choice.

  2. i read the guardian frequently. It makes you realise we don’t actually have a quality Irish newspaper.

  3. i read the guardian frequently. It makes you realise we don’t actually have a quality Irish newspaper. (sorry, the above wasn’t a reply)

        1. The point here is this: Vulliamy, like every “journalist” who writes for the Grauniad has this basic prejudice that anyone accused of a serious crime must by definition be innocent cos the cops are, er like evil fascists, man.

          His whitewashing of Ian Bailey’s character is just stomach churning: anyone who lives in England and had no knowledge of the case would probably buy this crap: ie he was some poor innocent whose bohemian lifestyle annoyed the Garda, so they decided to frame him.

          1. Exactly. We simply speaking do not have a quality paper. There is always some part of any publication that has some bias, some political tint, almost always a few “jornos” that are just completely off-base in what ever direction the paper generally flows, and they all skew the facts to suit some ulterior motive. It is funny, when I was growing up, we always laughed at papers like the Sun, the Enquirer (U.S.), Bild (Germany), because of their unabashed, over-the-top, b…s…te. Now, virtually all of the press and the media are like that. News nowadays really is just entertainment. It is as close to facts as any other television show or film.

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