Bikinis & Bombs, Tennis, Flogging & Snobbery – What Happened in London on July 5th, 1946

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

Here’s your London fix for July 5th. Compliments of London Walks.

Story time. History time.

Today we’ve hopscotched from 1776 to 1946.

July 5th, 1946.

What happened in London on July 5th, 1946?

Dear me, it’s a little embarrassing, this.

The French were making all the running, that’s what was happening.

It was the biggest day in British sport since 1939 and our lot – I use that pronoun advisedly – our lot, Brits, were nowhere to be seen. A Frenchman, the shame of it, won the men’s Wimbledon lawn tennis singles. And we – we Brits – yes, believe it or not, I am one these days… she who must be obeyed, my little English rose Mary, had her wicked way with me a few years ago – and in consequence, to my unending amazement, I, David, am a Brit. A Brit who’s the proud possessor of the chewiest dipthongs in the British isles – or, if you prefer, this side of the Outer Banks (see how I look after you, the Outer Banks are a string of barrier islands and spits off the coast of North Carolina and southeastern Virginia) – anyway, yes, we Brits didn’t even get a chance to be a good loser: the other man in the Men’s Wimbledon finals was an Australian, Geoff Brown. And it wasn’t just Wimbledon. What made today – July 5th, 1946 – the biggest day in British sport since 1939 – was two international championships climaxing, and alas both of the titles going to Johnny Foreigner. Competitors from abroad. Ok, the Open Golf championship wasn’t in London – it was in St Andrews – but London felt the pain all the same. The Open was won by Sam Snead. An American.

But why do I say the French were making all the running on July 5th, 1946? Over here, on our hallowed ground, our grass, Wimbledon, a Frenchman is winning the championship. And over there – Paris – the French, on this day, have introduced the bikini to the world. That’s why I say it. Look where you will Johnny Frenchman is dazzling the world, making us look like, well, rosbifs – or gammon, if you prefer.

The papers are full of stories about those atomic bomb tests on that coral reef in the Pacific called the Bikini Atoll. So what do those crafty, full of hauteur, very-pleased-with themselves French do – they create the skimpiest, sexiest swimming costume the world has ever seen and they call it Le Bikini. Why couldn’t we think of that? Because we’re rosbifs, that’s why. And for insult to injury, they win Wimbledon.

Aside here. I learn from these 77-year-old newspaper accounts – learn, to my considerable satisfaction – that the next atomic bomb test will take place on my birthday, July 25th, 1946. That’s a debut, a spectacular entry, I’ll take every time – in bed with a naked woman and an atom bomb going off on the other side of the world by way of accompaniment.

But back to London. And I’m afraid there’s just not much joie de vivre. By way of example, July 5th wasn’t much fun for 48-year-old Mrs Violet Kilbourne of Woodford Green. She was sentenced to two months in prison. Her crime: stealing four ration books and a clothing coupon book.


And that’s just small change. The big news – the front page news – was another trial.

On July 5th, 1946 – while Paris was rejoicing in the bikini – the best thing since French bread – London was treating itself to the laws of jungle warfare. What fun and games.

The scene is an army court-martial in London. Our setting: a drab third floor room in Mayfair. The matter at hand: “outside-the-law” punishments ordered by the late, legendary General Wingate of the Chindits in Burma.

Turns out the General had empowered his officers to 1. Flog the men; 2) Turn them loose in the jungle with five days’ rations, a rifle, and ammunition; And 3) In exceptional cases, shoot them. So Major Graves-Morris – notice that double-barrelled name – is being court-martialed for having flogged Private Ernest Dexter. The private’s crime: falling asleep at his post. But Major Graves-Morris has a get-out-of-jail card – he was just following orders. Admittedly, they were illegal orders. But never mind. As Major Graves-Morris’s counsel, Mr Russell Vick, KC – King’s Counsel – put it: “Men were beaten across the back with something a little thicker than a schoolmaster’s cane. It was not a brutal act. In fact, it was a very humane beating.”

You can’t make this stuff up.

In the event, the Major was acquitted.

But you know something, if a great artist were painting this picture he’d backdrop it with a London event that took place exactly a hundred years earlier.

The summer of 1846. The flogging of Frederick John White, a private in the British army’s 7th Hussars. Private White’s crime: he’d touched a sergeant on the chest with a metal bar during a drunken argument.

Private White’s punishment: 150 lashes with a cat-o-nine tails. A cat of nine tails is a whip with nine flails at the end. So 150 lashes is actually 1350 strokes. The punishment was carried out in front of the Cavalry Barracks in Hounslow. They stripped Private White to the waist and tied him to a ladder. The date was June 15th, 1846. Twenty six days later  Private White dies from his injuries. The Colonel who ordered the flogging was cashiered. He subsequently committed suicide. The doctor who witnessed the punishment shot himself. It’s practically a circular firing squad, that episode in British military history. The Duke of Wellington got in on the act. He ordered that flogging sentences were not to exceed 50 lashes. A step in the right direction, I suppose. But it took a while for the British army to outlaw “very humane beatings.” Flogging remained available to the army until 1881. Famously, Wingate of the Chindits was a law unto himself – so it seems that it didn’t apply in Burma. But since Private Ernest Dexter’s flogging was a very humane beating…well, an acquittal was called for. And delivered.

Footnote: Private White’s tombstone is in Heston. Out in Hounslow, west London. The tombstone reads:

Private Frederick John White

7th Queen’s Own Hussars

Who Died 11th July 1846

Aged 27 Years

This stone is erected by his comrades as a testimony of their sympathy for his fate and their respect for his memory.

And that’s pretty much the noblest thing you’re going to meet up with in this podcast.

London. England. Great Britain. The United Kingdom. The British Empire. 1946. Pretty martial. Pretty macho. You read stuff like this in the papers… well, it’s the world view, the outlook of the Alec Guinness character, Colonel Nicholson in the great David Lean film The Bridge on the River Kwai.

There’s no respite, really. I suppose we’ll just have to make do with the sense of wonder that the next item gives rise to. Court-crawling, I dropped in on the London Divorce Court. I was just in time to hear that a wife was given a divorce because her husband preferred the company of the pigman.

Mind you, it’s not just the Brits. It looks as though it might be a character defect in the mind’s construction – as Shakespeare put it – of the genus Anglo-Saxon. I say that because the Americans are getting in on the act as well. And remember, this is while the French are inventing and rejoicing in the bikini. The French: l’amour, l’amour, l’amour – and vive le difference – the Anglo-Saxons: punish, punish, punish. So what did the Americans bring to the party on July 5th, 1946? Try this little cultural thumb-screw for size. The headline: Gaol – If They Read.  The sentence, so to speak: “Anyone in Massachusetts USA found reading Forever Amber is now liable to two years’ imprisonment, fines up to £250, or both, because the state banned it as “obscene, indecent, and impure.”

Help! Paris here I come.

Anyway, that’s the way things look – and feel – from the very centre of the Anglo-Saxon world on this day, July 5th, 1946.

But not so fast. You’re not getting off the hook yet.

The day wouldn’t be complete without a dash of good old-fashioned English snobbery. Let us go then, you and I, to Mayfair. To a garage in Brick Street. Fruit barrows have been parked there overnight for a few weeks now. Parked there because they’re a better-paying proposition than cars. You can get eight barrows in a space that will only hold three cars. In the morning the barrows are pushed out to hawk peaches and apricots along West End streets. All eminently sensible. But then the landlord got wind of the arrangement. Put a stop to it instanta. Mr R.M. Scott, who sublet the garages, was carpeted. “You’re parking hawkers’ barrows in that garage. Don’t you realise this is Mayfair? You’re to stop that immediately.”


My god, the sense of glumness in this country at that period in its history. Pettiness and punishment, the patriarchy’s performing ponies. It feels oppressive reading about it. What must it have been like to experience it?

To hit the brick wall, for example, of the British Army order which forbade any allied officer from taking part in any musical concert, opera or ballet before a German audience or even to perform if there were even one or two Germans present.



Badly in need of something to cheer us up, aren’t we? Help is at hand. After a fashion. The final stop on our July 5th itinerary is the Royal Institution where hundreds of men and women and young girls and boys, reprieved from death, give their deliverer, Professor Charles Best, a tremendous reception. The occasion, the Silver Jubilee of the discovery of insulin. Professor Best, of Toronto University, was the scientist who, along with the late Sir Frederic Banting, made the discovery. Professor Best was the guest of honour of the Diabetic Association.

Turns out there’s another party that deserves credit as well. No, let’s make that plural – parties. The discovery was made as a result of investigations of diabetic dogs.

Experimenting on diabetic dogs. And on that cheery note…

You’ve been listening to the Today in London History podcast for the 5th of July. Emanating from – home of London Walks, London’s signature walking tour company. London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size walking tour company. And as long as we’re at it, London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative.

That’s the key to everything. It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science: you get what you pay for. And just as surely, you also get what you don’t pay for.

Back in 1968 when we got started we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question: Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world? You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world you do whatever you have to do to attract and keep the best guides in London – you want them guiding for you, not for somebody else. Bears repeating: the way we’re structured – a guides’ cooperative – is the key to the whole thing. It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following, a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely –

to front our walks with distinguished

professionals. By way of example,

Stewart Purvis, the former Editor (and

subsequently CEO) of Independent

Television News. And Lisa Honan

who had a distinguished career as

diplomat (Lisa was the Governor of

St Helena, the island where Napoleon

breathed his last and, some say, had

his penis amputated – Napoleon

didn’t feel a thing – if thing’s the mot

juste – he was dead.)

Stewart and Lisa – both of them

CBEs – are just a couple of our

headline acts.

The London Walks All-Star team of

guides includes a former London

Mayor, it includes barristers (one of

them an MBE); it includes doctors,

geologists, museum curators,

archaeologists, historians, criminal

defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare

Company actors, a bevy of MVPs,

Oscar winners (people who’ve won

the Guide of the Year Award)… well,

you get the idea. As that travel writer

famously put it, “if this were a golf

tournament, every name on the

Leader Board would be a London

Walks guide.”

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases distinguished professionals: barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, archaeologists, historians, criminal defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the Guide of the Year Award)… well, you get the idea.

As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament, every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”

And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks. And that’s by way of saying, Good Londoning one and all. Nothing to add except… See ya soon.

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