The Kate Sharpley Library has re-published Albert Meltzer’s autobiography I Couldn’t Paint Golden Angels: Sixty Years of Commonplace Life and Anarchist Agitation.
The one in the Freedom Group most in touch with Bohemia was Charles Lahr, a German anarchist who had come to London to avoid military service and stayed forty years. At first there was a suspicion by the police that he had come to shoot the Kaiser, who had unwittingly decided to pay England a visit at the same time, though he did not stay so long. Charlie was shadowed by Special Branch until one cold night he took pity on the detective staying outside the bakery where he worked, and came out to explain to him that the baker himself took sufficient precautions to see none of his nightworkers got away before time either to go playing cards or shoot visiting potentates according to their taste. A few years later the war broke out and he was interned in Alexandra Palace as an enemy alien and was interviewed by the same detective. ‘You thought I’d come to shoot the Kaiser,’ chuckled Charlie. ‘Pity you didn’t,’ said the detective in a decided change of position.
In his Bloomsbury bookshop in the twenties and thirties, Charlie had been a focus point for the literary set, a few of whom lingered on when I first met him. Charles Duff was one of them. I think he worked in the Foreign Office at the time but he was an authority on the Castilian (and possibly the Catalan) language, like Allison Peers. Both of them had written school textbooks I was using. He was intrigued at my passing on my Castilian lessons to Billy Campbell so he could talk with his Basque girl friend in her own tongue without either of us realising it was a separate language.
In those days newsbills used to announce the startling events of the day more prominently than they do now and they were mass printed. Charlie had a trick of slicing them in the middle and sticking them together again — to make up some such headline as Pope to Abdicate or The King to Marry Mae West. On the 20th anniversary of the Zeppelin shot down at Cuffley, there was to be a memorial service to which distinguished local German residents were invited. Some less than knowledgeable or perhaps cynical Embassy official had sent an invitation to Charlie. He turned up as the herrenvolk had solemnly entered the church, top hats on arms, and set up a soapbox newsstand with a saucer full of coppers, and the banner headline Hitler Assassinated — needless to say, with no papers to back it.
As the procession solemnly came out, von Ribbentrop among them, they looked at the bill and dashed helter skelter for the railway station. When the train came in with the evening paper every copy was grabbed by Embassy officials to the protests of the station master, while indignant shouts came from people pulled out of telephone booths by impatient Nazis wanting to use the phone, but the news of that happy event did not appear for another ten years or so.