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Caveat Emptor

The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Is there something we are not being told?

Magistrate resigns after paying destitute asylum seeker's court fine. I'm wondering on what grounds the magistrate was suspended? As far as I'm aware it is not an offence to pay somebody's fine for them.Yet again the law shows itself to have two long ears and a tail.

Friday, 25 September 2015

A good use of "big data"

And finally a good example of the use of "big data" to answer social scientific questions that someone actually cares about. This IFS study by Britton, Shephard and Vignoles uses matched HMRC data on earnings and Student Loan Company data on graduates to provide better estimates of the gap between graduate and non-graduate earnings than have heretofore been possible. The full paper is here and very worth reading. 

Now then UCAS, if HMRC and SLC can allow administrative data to be linked and then make it available to academic researchers investigating a matter of clear public interest why can't you do the same with your administrative data?

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Do Academies work?

There is a good piece on Vox by Andrew Eyles and Steve Machin about the performance of the early tranche of academy schools. Unlike a lot of the late switchers these were mainly poorly performing schools. Their research - which has a very nice design  - finds that the KS4 performance of schools which switched to academy status improved  by roughly 0.2 of a SD (it would be nice to know what that means in terms of GCSE points) compared to relevant comparators. What is  intriguing is that this effect was almost entirely driven by improvement in so called community schools - in the UK context essentially non church schools. Also notable is that switching to academy status was quite highly correlated with a change of leadership in the school, which of course raises the question of what exactly the "treatment" was. I particularly liked the fact that Eyles and Machin are at pains to stress that early adopters of academy status are very different from late adopters.

Monday, 21 September 2015

UCAS and their data

My old colleague Vikki Boliver has just just posted a very nice piece about UCAS - the body that has sole responsibility in the UK for handling undergraduate admissions -  and their very odd views about data.

The issue at stake is whether  applicants to "elite" UK  universities who are similar in all relevant respects apart from belonging to different ethnic groups  have the "same" probability of getting an offer of a place. I don't know anyone who has claimed that there is no public interest in devoting resources to getting as good an answer as we can to this question. Indeed one can say exactly the same with regard to gender, social class and a whole bunch of other characteristics - some of which are explicitly the subject of equality legislation.

I'd actually go further and say that the very large proportion of the population that now makes applications to enter higher education have a right, as citizens, to know that the process they are going through is fair and that they can have confidence that they will not be discriminated against. And that right is not merely the right to hear bland assurances from interested parties but a right to actually see the evidence and the right to know that that evidence has been evaluated by parties independent of the admission process.

Though the data that UCAS holds tells only part of the story, it is a crucial part, and without independent scrutiny nobody is in a position to feel assured about anything. We are supposed to be living in an age of open government, but there are still organizations that don't seem to understand this.

UCAS itself is a charity rather than a direct arm of government but what it does is, I assume, supposed to serve the interests of the public. It certainly has an interest in keeping the cost of the application process to the public at a low level, or at least that is their explicit justification for their commercial arm UCAS Media whose profits are cycled back into the charity. 

UCAS Media got itself into a spot of bother with the Information Commissioner's Office earlier this year for failing to give applicants "a clear option to avoid marketing" and being "unfairly faced with the default option of having their details used for commercial purposes". Naturally after getting a slap on the wrist for being a bit lax about the way that applicants' information was used to promote the interests of caffeine fuelled soft drinks companies  the organization is sensitive about any suggestion that its data is used for anything other than pukka purposes. And quite right too.

But there is a world of difference between using applicants' contact details to generate income from the commercial sector - to be clear UCAS "...does not sell, disclose or give access to applicants' personal data for advertising or marketing purposes"  though it does use these data to facilitate communications between commercial clients and the pool of applicants - and providing bona fide researchers with anonymized data for the purposes of auditing the fairness of the university application process. These are not remotely the same thing and shouldn't be thought about in the same way.

It is perfectly consistent for me to not want my personal details  used  to send commercial marketing in my direction while at the same time to want my anonymized data to  be used by suitably  qualified people within an appropriate regulatory framework to monitor whether the admissions process works in the public interest. At the moment UCAS rather bone headedly seems to not to recognize this distinction.

In many ways all this is rather fantastical. UCAS insists that it is right and proper to only release anonymized applications data to researchers for those applicants that have explicitly given permission for their data to be released.  But this is to apply the wrong logic. Administrative data is already released - in a tightly regulated way - to genuine researchers without the explicit permission of those required to provide the data and without - as far as I know - there ever being the slightest danger of the disclosure of the identity of a single individual. The National Pupil Database is one example, the Census Sample of Anonymized Records is another and the ONS Longitudinal Study is a third. Access to UCAS micro data could be granted on exactly the same basis as it is granted to these. It really does no credit to UCAS to pretend that there are difficult technical and legal problems involved. All of these have been solved and are well understood. 

The bottom line is this. Applicants to undergraduate courses in the UK have no choice but to apply through UCAS. They can't go anywhere else if the don't want their data to be used for anything other than the admission process. At the moment nobody is asking them whether they want the data they provide to be used to make sure that the process they have to go though is fair. It's not obvious that there is a public interest case for doing so, but if there was, what would we make of those who refused to allow their data to be used for that purpose?

Thursday, 17 September 2015


It's pretty obvious really; the actual state of the world & what "the public" believe about the world are not necessarily the same. So if you are a politician an obvious strategy is to work on the latter, especially if working on the former is too hard or you don't give a damn about it. Personally I prefer a politics that does give a damn about the  real state of the world  (otherwise we may all just go and look after our own gardens) but at the same time acknowledges that while what people currently believe is of tactical importance, it is of  strategic importance to change it when it is not well aligned with reality.

One of the battlegrounds is simply over the sloppy and (unwittingly?) damaging way that  commentators, the media, etc. are allowed to redefine words to delineate the contours of their story. Given that many (most?) people are uninterested in politics except when put on the spot to give an opinion or make a choice between one or the other  of the horses that are running, they clearly have to rely on the vocabulary and stock of narratives that are easily available to them (just as I do when I'm asked about something I don't know much about - which is more or less everything). So firmly  challenging media vocabulary and media framing is actually very important. 

Historically it seems to me that the political right have been much more successful at doing that than the left - think of Mrs T or even Ronald Reagan. The current lot are also pretty good at it - how else, against all the evidence, is it possible to persuade the great British public that the Tories have a monopoly on economic competence while the Labour Party is single-handedly responsible for the crash of Lehman Bros. and Gordon Brown incompetent in the way he handled the resulting mess.

All of which is a preface to a new occasional series - New(s)speak - what the media says and what it actually means. So our starter for ten is:

Out of touch - anyone with an opinion that differs from the one that me and my mates pulled out of our jacksies this morning at the editorial conference while scoffing cinnamon buns and talking about last night's football. Closely related to:

Not living in the real world - contrary to the line that the owner of my organ told me to take or that I arrived at after several minutes of intensive research with a few unnamed sources ("think-tank" interns, parliamentary wannabees, people I went to school with, people I slept with at Cambridge, people I didn't sleep with at Oxford...) in a  Soho cocktail bar.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Media Advisor

Perhaps Jeremy Corbyn should give  Hans Rosling a call (after he has done his choir practice).

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Secular Hymns

I've always been fascinated by the minor sub-genre of popular songs that have something of the feeling of a spiritual or a hymn about them. Probably the best example is Macca's Let it Be but Chris Wood's Come Down Jehovah gives it a good run for its money. Any other suggestions?

How to win an election

So we got Corbyn. It's not great, it isn't a disaster either. To all those who think Labour can never win with this leader I can only ask: do you honestly think you were going to win with any of the others? Let's face it, they couldn't persuade  a majority in any of the party constituencies, so what hope the electorate? I had high hopes for Yvette Cooper - clearly the smartest of the 4 runners -  but her campaign was abysmal and only came alive in the last week, too little, too late. I think we have to draw the conclusion that she is a good team player (if she can get over her sulk)  but not leadership material.

So, looking on the positive side, at least we are now going to have an opposition that is actually going to oppose. It's also likely that there will be recognizable  alternative policy proposals. Naively, I've always supposed that that was what parliamentary politics was supposed to be about.

Everyone also has to do some growing up and deal with some hard facts. Firstly, it's perfectly reasonable to give your support to a party leader who advocates some policies you don't personally endorse. For G..'s sake, all parties are coalitions and not all policies are worth going to the stake for. Personally I don't think principled egalitarians - or indeed anyone who is aware of the empirical evidence - should be in favour of abolishing university tuition fees, but compared to mounting effective opposition to politically engineered deflationary austerity, the fate of tuition fees is neither here nor there. So I'm in favour of anyone who can do the latter regardless of their views on the former.

The same is true of Trident. We really need a mainstream Westminster party to argue the case that it is the height of foolishness to spend a vast amount of money on an "independent" nuclear deterrent that is er..., actually not independent at all. Can anyone come up with a scenario in which the UK would be launching its nukes without US approval? Can anyone tell me in what way is Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium... less protected from external threats than the UK because they don't have nuclear willy extensions? I'm under no illusions as to how hard this is going to be to sell to the typical Sun/Daily Hate Mail reader, but that doesn't mean it can't be done.

I could go on. Re-nationalization of the railways or anything else for that matter is probably not going to make anything any better - does nobody remember what British Rail was like? But its not obvious that it is a vote loser. The same argument applies to policy on the EU. Personally I think it is bonkers to be even discussing leaving the EU, partly because I believe that a UK cut adrift from the European social democratic and, lets be honest, christian democratic mainstream, is a UK that will march  towards US style market liberalism ie a society completely dominated by the preferences of corporate elites. But the EU is not a party issue and again its not obvious it is a vote loser.

So, what should Corbyn do? Well, like Simon Wren-Lewis  I think one of the major battles  will be about the shaping of the media discourse and that he has to  quickly get a media strategy together and a team of advisers who can help him to aggressively challenge  the framing of the economic agenda that the Tory party has so successfully sold to the newspapers and the BBC. It isn't going to be pretty and it is going to look confrontational at times, but Corbyn is actually pretty good at appearing reasonable and measured (it's pretty amusing to see Dennis Skinner calling out Emily Maitlis over her lazy juvenile cliches, but too much of that will probably backfire).

And they really do need some action here. The Today programme was running a vox pop this morning from "one of Liverpool's most working class districts" in which several  "hard working" citizens expressed some stereotypical views about welfare scallies. No attempt was made to contextualize their opinions with anything like the odd fact or two and the "balance" was provided by Frank Field who was so unfocussed as to be practically incoherent. If Labour are going to provide effective opposition they have to do better than that. It should be  possible, but they need to get the right people in the right places and those people need to well informed about the facts.

Thursday, 10 September 2015


I've been reading Owen Hatherley's A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain. By the time I'd got to the middle of the first chapter I thought I was going to hate it and had to restrain myself from chucking it on one of the piles of unread and possibly unreadable books that litter my office space and are gradually taking over my house (note to myself - it really is time to ring up the carpenter and get those bookshelves installed). What was wrong with it? Convoluted academic architecture prose full of esoteric isms and ists interlarded with gratuitous  and unenlightening  digs at "neo-liberalism". In short the usual blah blah bull of the "sophisticated" metropolitano: all show and no substance. But I'm glad I persevered because the rest of the book is really very enjoyable. Once he clears his throat and drops the pseudo professorial pretense he writes well and, joy of joys, has something to say. 

The book is an account of a sort of road journey - though most of it is by train - around Britain with a photographer friend (one disappointment is that the photographs are so small and grainy that it is difficult to get much out of them) to view the architecture of "regeneration" in a number of cities and urban areas throughout Britain. This is all linked together with a pretty shrewd commentary on the poverty of aspirations that instantiated itself in the built environment created  under New Labour's urban building policies or rather non-policies.

What I liked about the book is that it wasn't uniformly bleak - though a lot of what has been built is. Hatherley sort of likes Milton Keynes - and so do I. Just because you build a town that works for the automobile doesn't mean that you have to neglect public spaces in which people walk about. The edges of the urban planning vision that made Milton Keynes possible  are already being chipped away and Hatherley's account is a sort of elegy for it. He also likes Glasgow, and so do I - at least I did the last time I went there. The Scots, unlike the English, mastered the art of urban living and produced cities that bear some resemblance to the way most modern  Europeans live.

The other places he visits I can't say much about. I've never been to Southampton, Cardiff, Sheffield or  Newcastle and my experience of Manchester  and Liverpool is restricted to little more than rushed day trips. I'm now looking forward to reading his follow up volume A New Kind of Bleak: Journeys Through Urban Britain where he writes  about Coventry and Oxford, two cities that I know very well.

This Summer we upped sticks and took ourselves to London for a month and reading Hatherley focused my mind on why I found it so liberating and refreshing to get out of Oxford and reconnect with a real city. 

The cliches are  about academics recharging their batteries in their Summer houses in Tuscany, on the coast or in the rural boondocks. Delightful as these retreats no doubt are they don't do much for me. I need to go somewhere that is properly urban, that has pavements that are wide enough to pass someone on, roads that have more than one lane in each direction and trains that can take you to endless numbers of places in under 20 minutes. 

But I also appreciate the  urban village thing. Oddbins on the corner where you can buy a decent bottle of beer, the park at the end of the street where you can stroll, have an impromtu game of badminton or just hang out and watch the fitness freaks exercising with their personal trainers. I like the local  Carnegie library with its free internet,  the  art gallery with its cafe where you can always get a seat  (outside too if the weather is good) - no tourists are interested in the exhibitions of largely local interest  - and the walk along  the River Crane -  that most urban of waterways - where one moment you can be collecting blackberries to make jam and the next you stumble on some 1950s low rise public housing. London is all about possibilities in a way that Oxford just isn't.

In fact I've come to the conclusion that Oxford isn't a coherent city at all. At best it's just an amalgamation of different zones with little either socially or geographically to connect them. At worst it currently feels that the powers that be are doing their best to turn it into a sort of  open prison as the endless roadworks on the city's arterial routes make a living hell out of trying to get in or out of the place. 

But perhaps the worst thing is the mean-spirited provision of public space best exemplified by the way Broad Street - right in the centre of town - is used. In most European cities a space like this would be a pedestrianized square. In the Spring, Summer and Autumn ordinary people would sit outside at a pavement cafe or restaurant, drink a beer, meet their friends and just hang out. And what does Oxford do? Use it as a parking lot, strangling the life out of just about the only space in the centre of town  where there is room to let people get off the impossibly crowded and narrow pavements. 

It's actually remarkable how little genuinely open public space there is in the centre of Oxford. Christchurch Meadow, though not strictly speaking public is at least open to the public, but most of it is fenced off and used to graze cattle - as though there weren't any suitable agricultural land in the rest of Oxfordshire. It's pleasant to go for a stroll around it, but it's hardly a place of urban sociability. Nobody says: "I'll meet you in Christchurch Meadow" unless it is some sort of assignation. There is nowhere to sit and nothing particularly to do; it's just an empty space preserving in aspic a "heritage" view. Cross the river to the towpath and you can hardly be said to enjoy a relaxing walk. Most of the time you are minding your back and trying to stop your progeny being mown down by various species of cycling fascist.

As a city for ordinary people to live in Oxford is pretty much a failure. But I suppose that is only to be expected when you realize that its real purpose is to be a playground for ruling class trainees with no lasting stake in the city and when they aren't using it to be an attraction for tourists to gawk at.

Offshore Ownership

Private Eye have produced a neat searchable map of offshore property ownership in England & Wales. Enter your postcode and you can see which properties in your area are owned by legal entities registered outside of the UK. In some cases what turns up is entirely legitimate - why would Lidl not be registered in Germany? In other cases...I'm struggling to think of reasons why so many British properties are owned by companies incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. Surely nothing to do with avoiding UK taxation...

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

In search of...Giles Edward Michael Eyre

One of my "fun" pieces of reading over the Summer was "Somme Harvest: Memories of a P. B. I. in the Summer of 1916" by  Giles E. M. Eyre. It was first published in 1938 and relates Rifleman Eyre's experiences in the 2nd Battalion of the King's Royal Rifle Corps during the prelude to  and first few weeks of the Somme campaign. 

It is in many ways a remarkable book, literate and literary  - Dante is cited in Italian and classical references are liberally sprinkled throughout. It reads like a novel with no doubt a certain amount of poetic license being taken to render into direct speech conversations that took place almost two decades before they were set to paper. Giles Eyre clearly had more literary talent than the average private soldier which makes his account especially interesting as a counterpoint to the standard "Goodbye to all that" type efforts of the  public school subalterns  who managed to survive the slaughter.

Eyre's war came to a rather abrupt end when he was captured at Contalmaison in late July 1916 while, according to his narrative, attempting to get back to the British lines after an unsuccessful raid. And there the book ends, almost as abruptly as it begins. We are told practically nothing about the author except that he had served in France since 1915,  fought at Hooge and copped a blighty at the end of that year.  So who was Giles E. M. Eyre and what became of him after the war?

Here he is in a photograph included at the front of the 1938 edition of his book, probably taken in Schneidemühl camp in Prussian Posen, now Piła in Poland, which is where his POW records say he was taken after spending a brief period in a camp at Dülmen near Munster. He looks rather young, rather dark and rather short - both heals are clearly off the ground. He's wearing the standard German issue POW uniform that you can see in countless images of this sort. Nothing much to go on here.

It turns out that there is a bit of discussion about him in a  WW1 related forum, including some basic biographical information contributed by a descendant. This includes the intriguing revelation that in the 20s and 30s he was a  Fascist (not a BUF Facscist but a member of  the early British crank movements).

 A close reading of his book does  give some clues to his political views. There is a strong sense of  disillusion with contemporary political leadership and several laments about the lack of unity and purpose in the post-war world. There is also a certain amount of moaning about  those who apparently did well out of the war as well as some casual anti-semitism. It's a strand of feeling that was common across Europe in the inter-war period among young men gradually realizing that there were no homes for heroes waiting for them and that the best  (and worst) years of their lives were over. Instead they had to stand on the sidelines and watch those who had "had a good war" help themselves to the spoils while making a bog up of the economy for everyone else. We know what this led to in Italy and Germany. What is remarkable is that the domestic  result in Britain was more farce than tragedy.

Giles Edward Michael Eyre was born in 1896 in Messina Sicily and was in fact Italian both by birth and, at least partly, descent. The family moved to London in 1908 after the Messina earthquake and the 1911 census has them living at 95 Bouverie Road, Stoke Newington. What's left of the contemporary houses on the road seems to indicate that the 15 year old schoolboy lived in lower middle class respectability. The reality might have  been a little different. The 1913 electoral register reveals that they occupied 3 first floor rooms, unfurnished at a rent of  5 shillings a week. His 39 year old father Michael Samuel Frank Eyre-Varnier describes himself as a Professor of Languages but the fact that he worked on his own account suggests that in reality he was a language teacher giving private lessons. His birth place is Patna, India. 

Giles' mother was Henrietta Hopkins. In 1911 she was 56 - considerably older than her husband - and though born in Messina she is described as a British subject by parentage. It is also noted on the Census form that she had been deaf since the age of 15 and was feeble-minded. The Census form dates the marriage to 1895 and Giles appears to have been an only child. It is likely that Henrietta was  the child or more likely the  grandchild of Samuel Hopkins who was Deputy Commissary General to the British forces in Sicily.

There are few traces remaining of Michael Samuel Frank Eyre-Varnier. In the 1920s he lived in Islington. His first wife died in 1925 and he remarried in 1931 and by 1935 was living in New Malden where he died in 1948. One curious fact is that the family name was Varnier not Eyre and on 9th July 1920 he renounced the former by deed poll in favour of the latter. Eyre was in fact Michael's mother's maiden name (she was the daughter of a career soldier who did most of his soldiering in India). She married  John Joseph Varnier, a clergyman, in Allahabad on the 14th February 1860. 

It would seem that name changes ran in the family. John Joseph was born in Sicily, the son of Mariano Varnier and his name is a truncated anglicisation of Michele Giovanni Giuseppe Varnier Miritello. J J was a Roman Catholic priest, sent as a missionary to India to undermine the English Protestant church. The flies and the dust only succeeded in causing him to turn coats and he joined the (English) established church, thereafter becoming chaplain to the Protestant church in his home town of Messina. Like his grandson he had some literary aspirations and wrote an account of his conversion "Why I left the Communion of the Church of Rome; or a narrative of inquiries regarding the grounds of Roman Catholicism" published by SPCK in 1869. He also had some entrepreneurial ambitions. According to an item in a 1872  issue of Californian Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences  J J, described as "...an Italian gentleman residing at Patma", succeeded in making "wine" from the fruit of the Jamun tree which apparently reminded him of Sicilian grape varieties. He must have been serious for the piece goes on to say that with the aid of one of his fellow countrymen hesolved the problem of preserving the wine in India's rather unforgiving climate.

So much for the ancestry, but what of our man Giles? In the first half of the 1920s he is to be found living with his mother and father in Brewery Road, Lower Holloway. And this is when it starts to get interesting. On the 14th October 1924 The Times reports that Giles Edward Eyre, an interpreter,  was charged at Bow St Police Court with insulting behaviour.  He had gone along to a Communist meeting at Trafalgar Square and made a nuisance of himself: "A police sergeant stated that at the conclusion of the meeting Eyre, who was wearing a Fascist badge, was surrounded by a crowd of about 300 persons. He was shouting, "You are a lot of dirty dogs". The crowd became very threatening towards him, and as Eyre refused to go away, to prevent a breach of the peace the witness arrested him."

He was bound over to keep the peace and with studied understatement the magistrate admonished him: "To shout out, "You are a lot of dirty dogs" was not very prudent. There is not very much in this. You should have gone away when you were told..."

As a coda to the piece The Times tells us that: "Brigadier-General R B D Blakeney, President of the British Fascisti, writes that Giles Edward Eyre was informed by letter last week that his name had been removed from the list of members of the British Fascisti...and that Mr Eyre in no sense represents British Fascism...".

Rebecca West in The Meaning of Treason opines that the British Fascisti "...was never numerous and had few links with the influential admirers of Mussolini, having been promoted by an elderly lady, [The Fascisti was founded by the bizarre Rotha Lintorn-Orman who was born in 1895 which actually made her 3 years younger than West, though it was actually bankrolled by her mother's fortune] member of a military family, who was overcome by panic when she read in the newspaper that the British Labour party was sending a delegation to an International Conference in Hamburg. Her creation was patronized by a certain number of retired Army men and a back bench MP and an obscure peer or two; but the great world mocked at it, and it has as aim the organization of amateur resistance to any revolution that might arise. It was a charade representing the word 'barricade'."

Eyre may well have known William Joyce (AKA Lord Haw Haw) another keen street fighter who was briefly a member of the Fascisti before quitting in 1925 to move on to better (and more violent) things. Meanwhile Eyre was still doing silly things. The Gloucester Citizen reports on 27th August 1925 that he was fined 10 shillings at Marylebone Police Court for possessing a revolver without a license. "A police constable said that on the 3rd inst. he saw the defendant in a public lavatory at the junction of the Edgware and Harrow roads. Eyre was attired in the black shirt of the National Fascisti, and in a sash around his waist he had a German revolver." It turned out that the weapon was unloaded.

 In 1926 Eyre was again in trouble with the law  appearing before Marlborough Street Magistrate's Court accused of having made insulting remarks in Oxford Street West. This time he was "at the head of a group of 400/500 blackshirted fascists" leaving Hyde Park at Marble Arch after a Fascist rally. There was fisticuffs with anti-fascist protesters who sung the Red Flag during the national anthem. This time the magistrate discharged him.

As well as making a nuisance of himself on the streets of London, Eyre found time in 1926 to get married to Louise Annette Neal and from then until 1939 they are recorded as living at various addresses in the Battersea/ Wandsworth area, always  houses in multiple occupation, never staying in the same place for more than a couple of years. In 1927 he was back in court, this time as one of the "victims". Eyre and some toughs allegedly went to the National Fascisti headquarters in Hogarth place Kensington and demanded to see the accounts. They were then threatened with a sword and a pistol by Lieut. Colonel Henry Rippon Seymour who claimed that he feared they were going to smash the place up. The story appears in the Gloucester Journal (12/3/1927) and is repeated in a number of regional newspapers. The Wikipedia entry on the National Fascisti reports the incident but mistakenly claims that  Seymour's threats were offered to Charles Eyres the leader of the Croydon branch of the Fascisti. This mistake, which is also made in at least one scholarly paper, probably stems from a typo in Richard Thurlow's  Fascism in Britain 1918-45 (pp36) where Eyre is rendered as Eyres.

For a few years Giles seems to keep himself out of trouble, but then in August 1933 he is back in the news. The Times (31/8/1933) carries the story of a brawl involving 50 or 60 black shirted members of the British Union of Fascists who broke into the offices of British Fascists Limited. This time Eyre is a witness for the prosecution. The incident seems to be nothing more than a turf war between rival fascist groups, but the really interesting thing is what Eyre says under cross-examination.  He claimed that during the war he was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Cross of St George [an Imperial Russian decoration]. The Times report continues: "Defending council Mr Hutchinson said there is no record at the War Office of any such foreign decorations being awarded to you.

Eyre: 'I certainly got them. I was taken prisoner by the Germans. I escaped and was afterwards sent to Russia to fight.'

Hutchinson: 'If the War Office records show you were repatriated from Germany in 1919 and that you never fought in Russia, that would be incorrect?'

Eyre: 'Yes it would'

Hutchinson: 'Have you the usual certificate of permission from the War Office to receive these foreign decorations?'

Eyre: 'I have but I cannot produce it now. It is among my papers which are all in disorder.'

Mr Hutchinson said that there was a War Office official in Court who would give evidence on these matters.

The Magistrate: 'You cannot call evidence on the question of the witness's character. I suppose the War Office official is here as a sort of scarecrow to make the witness careful?'

Hutchinson: 'I should not like to call a War Office official a scarecrow. Say an intimidator.'"

All this is very odd indeed. Was Eyre telling the truth or was he a fantasist? Why would he claim - as reported in a subsequent Times court report that he fought in Russia from September 1917 to June 1918 if it wasn't true? The publicity blurb for the 1938 edition of his book mentions an attempted escape from a German POW camp:

"Giles Edward Eyre, now forty-three, has had a crowded life of breathless adventure. One of the few survivors amongst the British residents of the Messina earthquake of 1908, journalist, wanderer in the far corners of the Empire, sailor before the mast, soldier, nearly drowned in swimming across the Vistula in an attempt to escape a German prison, lecturer and propagandist, supporter of lost causes; in these pages, full of quick action, tragedy, pathos, and comedy, he shows us how very great the humble "Tommy" was, and how fine was the human material of our War Army."

If he did escape the probability of surviving the 350 mile trek East through enemy territory to the Russian front line - notwithstanding his little swim in the Vistula - seems a little unlikely. But if it wasn't true why would a War Office official be present in court to intimidate him over his little Munchausen moment? Fantasists in court are rather common and officials from major Government departments rarely attend the trials in which such trifling and inconsequential stories are regaled,  stories moreover that have no bearing on the substance of the case.

It so happens that we can check at least part of Eyre's tale. His medal records survive. There is no mention in them of any foreign decorations. Moreover there is no record in the London Gazette, which usually recorded the award of foreign decorations or in the French Journal Officiel. What the medal records do reveal however is even stranger. Eyre was not demobilized in 1919. In fact he was issued with a new regimental service number and record that he was awarded the "IGS Medal and Clasp Wazn 1919-21". As it happens his medals came up for auction in  March 2008 at Dix Noonan Webb and sold for £150. The auction blurb is worth quoting in full:

"India General Service 1908-35, 1 clasp, Waziristan 1919-21 (6838190 Pte. G. E. Eyre, K.R.R.C.) contact marks, nearly very fine, rare to regiment £120-140

Private Giles E. Eyre, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, entered the France/Flanders theatre of war on 25 August 1915. The I.G.S. medal with this clasp to the K.R.R.C. is rare as there was no battalion of the regiment present; only a small detachment serving at India at the time qualified. In the 1924 K.R.R. Chronicle, an officer and six men of the 1st Battalion are listed as being presented with the medal and clasp at a church parade on 3 February 1924. Sold with copied m.i.c. confirming the award of the 1914-15 Star, British War and Victory Medal; also with an extract from the rolls which confirms the I.G.S. medal and clasp to Private Eyre as ‘4/K.R.R.C. attached Hd. Qrs. Waziristan Force. Dera Ismail Khan’."

So though Eyre may not have been in Russia the official record places him on the Indian North West Frontier taking part in a campaign against hostile tribesmen. This doesn't sound like the sort of thing that would normally happen to a repatriated POW who would have been  in pretty poor shape after the best part of 3 years in captivity.

After 1933 there are few public traces of Giles Eyre. He does not appear to have been a member of the British Union of Fascists and during World War II he joined the Home Guard. He died in 1971.

Who then was Giles Eyre? An oddball? A fantasist? A misfit? Probably he was all of these and possibly more. What strikes me  is that I thought I was reading a book about three months in 1916 when in fact  I was reading  a book about a structure of feeling created by the disappointments of the inter-war years and probably common to many of the P. B. I.. In other countries this led to tragedy, in Britain merely to oddity.