Thursday, 14 June 2018

Spotlight on Ask a Policeman 2

The Real Smugglers of 1939

Much of the fun in ‘Ask a Policeman’ is based around smuggling. The proper old fashioned smuggling that abounds in Cornish legend and the like – barrels of rum left in caves, mysterious lights and tunnels, villagers that clam up when a stranger is within earshot. I wanted to know if this kind of smuggling did still go on in 1939, or if Will and the gang were just taking us back in time to distract from the imminent world war.

I only came across one newspaper report from 1939 that was anything like the old smuggling stories – and this smacked more of ‘Whisky Galore’. In July of that year, ‘The Cornishman’ newspaper reported that casks of wine from a recent shipwreck were being washed up on Cornish beaches, and that the locals were rolling them home and getting drunk on the contents, making themselves “insensible”. As you would. But the more upright members of society were discussing whether the smuggling laws applied to this case because the intoxication was untaxed. So dry were the legal points being discussed in this case, I couldn’t be bothered to find out what the upshot was. Sorry.

Beware of toothless old men offering sweets
But taking a more serious turn, a search for the keyword of smuggling in the newspaper reports of 1939 turned up something else entirely. The biggest smuggling operation of that year involved people. Here are two sobering reports:

Birmingham Daily Post, May 1939
“A 28 year old former Austrian, now without a country, who was smuggled into England for £5 and started a greengrocery business in Birmingham pleaded guilty at police court of landing in the UK without permission.”

Sunderland Echo, March 1939
“An ex-sergeant of the Vienna police who was said to have been smuggled into England after being in a concentration camp pleaded guilty at Hove to having landed without permission.”

None of the reports say what happened next….

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