Sharing Arcadia




In the summer of 1946 Maxwell Fyfe wrote to Sylvia:


'Norman Birkett went to immense trouble to get me a copy of "The Northern Muse" a selection of Scottish poetry made by John Buchan.  Incidentally he put in it an inscription of which I am very proud. “From his friend Norman Birkett. To commemorate days at Nuremberg and some superb examples of the great art of Cross-Examination.”


Why I really mentioned it (I swear - you believe me - thousands wouldn't) is for Norman's favourite poem which rather expresses our mood just now:-


It’s no aye rainin’ on the misty Achils,

   It’s no aye white wi’ winter on Nigour ;

The winds are no’ sae mony sorrowin’ Rachels,

   That grieve, and o’ their grief will no’ gie owre.


Comes round a time, comes round at last tho’ creepin’,

   And green and glad again stand buss an’ tree ;

E’en tender gowans, thro’ the young gress peepin’,

   Rise in their weakness, and owre-rin the lea.


Thus Nature sorrows, and forgets her sorrow ;

   And Reason soberly approves her way :

Why should we shut oor een against to-morrow

   Because our sky was clouded yesterday ?



It had been a very long year (emphasised by his note that ‘it does creep though").  And even in Nuremberg

Maxwell Fyfe was aware that the interest in the trial was waning, and perhaps the initial wave of enthusiasm for change and growth more widely was under threat.


‘I have had a ridiculous day.  The tribunal was not sitting and everyone else was out shooting so I got up at 11 and sat in the sun.  I read To-morrow and To-morrow by Stephen McKenna which was rather too much as it was all about disillusion after the last war.  All the zip had gone out of the characters.  Moreover I think that they had been de-zipped by McKenna and not merely in my mind.  As they were all considerably younger than I am, I shall have to look out. The readiness for disillusionment is with us again.'


On the other hand he was considering his opportunity to formally address the Tribunal for the first time.

This was an opportunity for reflection and drawing some conclusions


‘We have finished our work on the organisation including the speech.  It is not, as I said, a publicity finder but it covers the ground. Airey suggested that I take the afternoon off so I did so, and as my car did not come at once, I walked by myself along the main street outside the courts. It was a most eerie sensation having nothing to do. Moreover, it was the second time that I had walked aimlessly in  Nuremberg, and the first time that I had done it alone.  Last November Harry and walked down to the Pegnitz and back at lunch time.’


Rupert Brooke’s War Sonnet V The Soldier


If I should die, think only this of me:

That there's some corner of a foreign field

That is for ever England. There shall be

In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;

A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,

Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,

A body of England's, breathing English air,

Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.


And think, this heart, all evil shed away,

A pulse in the eternal mind, no less

Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;

Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;

And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,

In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.


By  August 1946 David Maxwell Fyfe had spent the past ten months in Nuremberg. He had led the British prosecution, had triumphed in his cross- examination of Goering and Ribbentrop, but had not had the opportunity to speak.


The opening and closing speeches for the UK at Nuremberg were given by Hartley Shawcross, the Attorney General in the Labour government. Shawcross’ adviser in writing his speeches was Hersch Lauterpacht.  


Lauterpacht was a true international lawyer. He was born in a corner of Galicia which is often cited as the wellspring of human rights. In 1946 he was Professor of International Law at Cambridge, but as a member of the British War Crimes Executive he spent time in Nuremberg preparing Shawcross’ speech and talking to many, including Maxwell Fyfe.


In August 1946 Maxwell Fyfe was at last given his chance to speak. Many of the leading players had already left the scene, because the prosecution had moved on from the individual defendants and were seeking to prove the guilt of the organisations that supported the Nazi regime. This tricky prosecution would have a great impact on the trials of the members of the organisations in the years ahead.


After 10 months of forensic examination of Nazi atrocities, as Maxwell Fyfe strove to conjure what might be built on the foundations of the Nazi armageddon, he was inspired by the Rupert Brooke sonnet, The Soldier.  


This was a poem of sacrifice and reverie. The sacrifice was real, as the multiple massacres between 1914 and1945 held testimony. In the words of Allen Packwood, the Director of the Churchill Archives who own Maxwell Fyfe’s papers, the reverie touched a communal memory of an England of legend – a place of peace, gentleness and laughter, an English heaven. That heaven is a reflection of a life led in England.


There was never such an England, but the idea that England should stand for such qualities was immensely powerful.


Maxwell Fyfe was a Scot.


Recently discussing this with another Scottish lawyer, a present judge at the Scottish Supreme Court, he assured me that he shared some of Maxwell Fyfe’s passion for Arcadian qualities of Englishness.


It is the passion of a foreigner, for in this respect the Scots are foreign – passionate, idealistic, reforming. Arcadia the play could only years later be written by Czech playwright Sir Tom Stoppard.


Only the outsider can embrace the myth. The English themselves cannot see it – they see the faults not the dream. Brooke himself was exceptional and cast himself as an outsider in being able to stand and proclaim the English dream. Perhaps he had a foreboding of the 30 years to come, and the solace that would be needed.


At the other end of the 30 years of upheaval, Maxwell Fyfe wanted to offer the world a vision of what could be, and so he stated that the heaven was ‘not the prerogative of any one country. It was’, he said, ‘the inalienable heritage of mankind.’ It was a heaven for all. Brooke, in his War Sonnet I - Peace, was concerned that ‘mankind should come into his heritage.’


Maxwell Fyfe’s ambition was not, I think, simply a statement of British greatness, though he had a healthy conceit of British capabilities and leadership – for he was in many respects  a post–imperial politician unlike many of his  colleagues. He yearned for the dream. And this is why he concluded his speech at Nuremberg in the way he did and then repeated that conclusion in speech after speech on his return:


‘The law is a living thing. It is not rigid and unalterable. Its’ purpose is to serve mankind and it must grow and change to meet the changing needs of society. The needs of Europe today have no parallel in history....It might be presumptuous of lawyers who did not claim to be more than the cement of society to speculate or even dream of what we wish to see in place of the Nazi spirit, but I give you the faith of a lawyer some things are surely universal: tolerance, decency, kindliness. When such qualities have been given the chance to flourish in the ground that you have cleared, a great step will have been taken.  It will be a step towards the universal recognition that:


‘sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;

And laughter learnt of friends; and gentleness,

In hearts at peace.’


Are not the prerogative of any one country.  They are the inalienable heritage of mankind.'



Sharing-Arcadia x

Click above to view a short film on Maxwell Fyfe's speech at IMT Nuremberg.