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The day Mussolini fought for space with Cardiff council officials; Time traveler Take a trip down memory lane looking back.

Byline: Dan O'Neill

AS we slipped over the midnight border into 1939, criminal dictators who would bring chaos to the world before year's end were stalking Europe.

But villains stalking our own streets worried us more - we reported that Cardiff (like Liverpool) was a place where "professional garrotters plied their violent trade".

And the news in the first Echo of 1939 that the Home Secretary planned to abolish flogging outraged some top lawyers, who claimed that "garrotters would only be encouraged to go on garrotting".

They reckoned it was a mini-version of the appeasement encouraging Hitler to plan his conquests.

Most citizens, though, weren't too concerned about Adolf in that new year.

If war came it would be between Russia and Japan, sparring on the Manchurian border after the Soviets were accused of kidnapping Japanese citizens and executing them.

But to paraphrase Chamberlain's famous announcement, this fight was happening between faraway countries of which we knew little.

We were more interested in Inspector Hornleigh fighting crime on Monday Night At Seven, the most popular BBC wireless programme.

Or in going to "the pictures"-maybe the Olympia where Humphrey Bogart was trying to tame the Dead End Kids in Crime School, or the Capitol to see Tommy Kelly (Tommy Who?) as Tom Sawyer.

The Pathe News showed Italy and France squabbling, Franco on his way to victory in Spain, fighting between Czechs and Hungarians on their borders and trouble, as usual, in Palestine.

Of more pressing concern to those cinema-goers was the four inches of snow paralysing South Wales.

Chamberlain stepped into 1939 still preaching peace but Franklin D Roosevelt, 4,000 miles away from Europe, seemed more alert to the threat of war.

He pushed through huge increases in defence spending, bringing from Germany the sneering comment that he was simply "a puppet of the Jews".

Meanwhile, Jewish children were finding refuge in Britain even as Neville (and his brolly) flew off to Rome where he was welcomed by British residents singing For He's a Jolly Good Fellow.

This song accompanied him throughout his visit and to complement coverage of his trip, the Echo was serialising Mussolini's life story.

Italy's Il Duce seems to have been taken more seriously than Hitler, who was speaking of peace at his traditional new year's reception.

At the same time he was ordering more war preparations with "training in bomb-throwing for all over-17s".

But the bombs that mattered in that first month of 1939 were exploding in Britain and it was "terrorists" (Irish this time) planting them.

They hit Manchester and Liverpool bringing, said our headline, "Big Roundup Of Irish Suspects", with "every Irish colony in Britain visited".

By the end of the month, Timothy Dacey, tenant of a Metal Street shop, was among 14 people arrested after gelignite was found on his premises.

Some military experts like Liddel Hart saw Germany as a bigger threat than the IRA and called for Britain to strengthen its defences.

Cardiff did - increasing the production of air raid shelters. But most believed that peace was permanent: there were even calls for Chamberlain to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Again, proving that some things never change, the Echo wasn't too happy at hefty pay rises for city officials.

The Town Clerk got pounds 2,000 a year - about 10 times the pay of the average workman - with the City Engineer on pounds 1,600 and the Director of Education just four pounds a week less.

"Even the Lord Mayor's secretary," we spluttered, "will get pounds 450 a year".

And bringing a reminder that war might be on the way after all, we reported that Captain G V Jones, of Connaught Road, had been appointed Cardiff's first full time ARP officer at pounds 10 per week.

We also carried a story confirming readers' opinion that them Yanks were odd. Among names of America's new year's babies was Petty Larceny - "This indicates a weakness on the part of the child's father" we judged - and Filthy McNasty, along with Seven Times Shalt Thou Walk Around Jericho, "Thou" for short.

In that last season before the war, City lost 4-1 to Newcastle in the fourth round of the Cup, England beat Wales 3-0 at Twickers, and although Tommy Farr lost to Clarence Burman - who preferred to be called "Red" for obvious reasons - we headlined our account of the fight "Another Triumph For Tommy Farr In Defeat."

And just like us, Mr Chamberlain, as usual, could look on the bright side.

On the last day of the month, despite Hitler's ever more-manic threats, he announced that "We can welcome the Fuhrer's desire for mutual confidence and cooperation between Germany and Great Britain".

So January, 1939, ended. There were seven months to go.

CAPTION(S):

MAKING HEADLINES: Benito Mussolini and, left, Welsh boxing legend Tommy Farr
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 6, 2009
Words:804
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