Carlton House Terrace, in the heart of London, has had a major impact on the city’s environment and on world history. Soul City Wanderer invites you to read more of its fascinating story in the third instalment of a five-part article running this week.
In 1937, after all hopes of a pro-German king & queen on the British throne were lost, things quickly turned sour at the Carlton House Terrace German embassy. The main problem for the ambassador Ribbentrop was that with his allies at the very top of British Society gone, he had been neutralised politically. Now he began to feel the cold shoulder. But if Whitehall believed an unpleasant thorn had been plucked from its side, it was in for a rude awakening.
Diplomatic relations nosedived (as if things could get any worse), and Ribbentrop’s actions became increasingly provocative.
When he was introduced to the new King George VI, he crassly marched across the floor, came to a sudden halt in front of the king, sharply clicked his heels, brought his arm stiffly to his chest, then threw an exaggerated Nazi salute into the air shouting ‘Heil Hitler!’ The king was expecting a hand-shake.
Ribbentrop later issued a directive that all German diplomats were to greet foreign politicians and heads of state with the Nazi salute, insisting that it should be expected in return.
Rather like Peter Sellers’ Dr Strangelove character, Ribbentrop could hardly restrain himself from doing the Nazi salute. Even in the most mundane situations, such as exiting a gentleman’s outfitters in St James’s, his arm had to be grabbed by one of his aides. If Hitler phoned him at the Carlton House Terrace Embassy, he would immediately stand to attention with the phone in his left hand while giving the Nazi salute with his right. Even if he was in the bath! It would be comical if it wasn’t so indicative of his Nazi zeal. Many believed he had become so Nazified, he out-Hitlered Hitler.
His 15-year-old son Rudolf was enrolled at the exclusive Westminster School. His father insisted he be taken each morning in a Mercedes-Benz limousine with a swastika flag flying from the front of the bonnet. On arrival, the chauffeur was ordered to give the Nazi salute and shout ‘Heil Hitler!’ as he opened the passenger door. The boy was made to wear a swastika lapel badge on his blazer, and his father also requested that he be allowed to wear a German military uniform for certain activities. These revelations were made by his classmate, the famous actor Peter Ustinov.
New Prime Minster Neville Chamberlain tried to accommodate Ribbentrop’s behaviour, as did the rest of the cabinet including Lord Halifax and Anthony Eden. But Ribbentrop had come to despise Britain, denouncing it in at every opportunity, and becoming obsessed with its destruction. Indeed, he emerged as the loudest anti-British voice in the Reich government, presenting every political move in London in the worse possible light to Hitler. The Carlton House Terrace embassy became the headquarters of a vicious anti-British campaign, feeding a constant diet of outright lies and poisonous propaganda to Berlin in order to provoke conflict. Ribbentrop literally went on the war path.
He reported to Berlin that the abdication was all part of a Jewish anti-German plot. Then he tried to take make a pact with a fellow ‘supporter’ of Edward VIII, the backbench MP Winston Churchill. Like some kind of mobster, he crassly offered ‘protection’ for Britain in exchange for a German ‘free hand’ in eastern Europe. Churchill rejected the notion. Ribbentrop lost his temper, shouting: “In that case, war is inevitable.” Churchill is said to have replied: “If you start another war you will bring the whole world against you.” Ribbentrop marked Churchill’s card. Churchill reciprocated.
Ribbentrop maintained his relationship with Edward and Wallis, now the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. It was all in the vainglorious hope that he could one day replace King George VI on the British throne with a puppet king and queen. In October 1937, he arranged their visit to Germany where they were entertained by high-ranking Nazi officials, including Göebbels, Göering, Hess, and of course, Hitler.
By the end of 1937, Ribbentrop had chosen to spend as little time as possible in London and took every opportunity to rush back to spread lies and gossip about the British to his beloved Führer.
In February 1938, Ribbentrop was officially recalled from Carlton House Terrace to be appointed Foreign Minister of Nazi Germany, a role which he held until 1945. There may have been a massive sigh of relief in Whitehall, but the damage had already been done.
The new German ambassador at Carlton House Terrace was to be Herbert von Dirksen.
Part 4 of Soul City Wanderer’s ‘The Carlton Conspiracy’ tomorrow.
Blakeway, Denys. The Last Dance. John Murray, 2010
Clow, Don. ‘From Macadam to Asphalt’ (part 1). Accessed online May 2018: glias.org.uk/journals/8-a.html
Lukacs, John. Five Days in London – May 1940. Yale, 1999.
Shepley, Nick. Hitler, Ribbentrop and Britain. Andrews UK, 2013.