Walter Guinness, 1st Baron Moyne

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Walter Edward Guinness, 1st Baron Moyne

Birthdate: (64)
Death: November 6, 1944 (64)
Cairo, Egypt (assassination)
Immediate Family:

Son of Edward Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh and Adelaide, Countess of Iveagh
Husband of Evelyn Hilda Stuart Guinness (Erskine)
Father of Lord Bryan Walter Guinness, 2nd Baron Moyne; Grania Phipps, Marchioness of Normanby and Murtogh Guinness
Brother of Rupert Guinness, 2nd Earl of Iveagh and Hon. Ernest Guinness

Occupation: politician, anthropologist, 1st Baron Moyne
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Walter Guinness, 1st Baron Moyne,_1st_Baron_Moyne

Walter Edward Guinness, 1st Baron Moyne DSO and Bar PC (29 March 1880 – 6 November 1944) was a British politician and businessman. He was assassinated in Cairo by the Zionist group Lehi, known in the UK as the Stern Gang.

Early life

Walter Guinness was born in Dublin, Ireland, the third son of the 1st Earl of Iveagh. His family homes were at Farmleigh near Dublin, and at Elveden in Suffolk. At Eton, Guinness was elected head of 'Pop', the club for prefects, and was appointed Captain of Boats.[1]

On 24 June 1903, he married Lady Evelyn Hilda Stuart Erskine (1883 - 1939),[2] third daughter of the 14th Earl of Buchan. The Earls of Buchan were an ancient family in the Scottish nobility. They had three children, Bryan, Murtogh and Grania.

Military career

Walter volunteered for service in the Second Boer War, where he was wounded, was mentioned in dispatches and was awarded the Queen's South Africa Medal with four clasps. His unit was the City of London Volunteers within the Imperial Yeomanry. According to Wilson, "they had a devil-may-care ethos and distaste for military discipline...they made lightning raids on Afrikaner positions; they skirmished ahead of advancing columns.". At the end of May 1900, led by Major-General Hamilton, they assaulted the ridge at Doornkop, though Walter was wounded immediately after the battle in mopping-up at Witpoortjie.[3]

During World War I, he served with distinction in the Suffolk Yeomanry in Egypt, and at Gallipoli. In the fighting around Passchendaele, he was awarded the DSO in 1917 and a bar to it in 1918, for personal bravery, which was very rare for an elected politician.[4][5] His laconic war diaries speak for themselves and were published.[6]

Early political career

In 1907, Walter was elected to the London County Council and also to the House of Commons as Conservative member for Bury St Edmunds,[7] which he continued to represent until 1931. He took the conservative line on Home Rule for Ireland,[8] suffragism[9] and reform of the House of Lords.[10] He visited eastern Anatolia in 1913 and reported on the Turkish government’s concerns about Armenians being armed secretly by Russia.[11][12] Whatever tensions lay behind his story, Armenians accuse Turks of a massacre in 1915 which many Turks still deny. In 1912, the editor of his magazine ‘Outlook’ broke the Marconi scandal, accusing Lloyd George and other Liberal ministers of share frauds. Other publications developed the story but it could not be proven after lengthy debate. When his role was debated, Walter explained that he was on safari in Africa at the start, and that his editor’s target was inefficiency, not corruption.[13]

World War I reduced Walter's attendances and opponents accused him of cowardice for being in the House at all.[14] In a heated Armistice speech, he insisted that Germany should pay full war reparations, that no ties should be made with Russian bolshevism, and: “Since the days of Mahomet no prophet has been listened to with more superstitious respect than has President Wilson” (of the USA).[15] Irish political developments after 1916 were a concern as the Guinness business was in Dublin. During the Easter Rebellion the brewery first aid teams helped both sides. The Guinnesses were opposed to the Sinn Féin rebels, who hailed the Central Powers as 'gallant allies'. This had to change and by the time of the Treaty debates in 1922 which established the Irish Free State he said he preferred ‘a slippery slope to a precipice’ and voted in favour.[16] Despite their politics, during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War his family was popular enough to escape loss or injury (although anti-Treaty fighters in the civil war attempted to burn their house in county Kildare). In 1922, the Chanak crisis caused the coalition Prime Minister Lloyd George to step down unexpectedly in favour of Andrew Bonar Law. Walter’s comments on Turkey were a part of the debate; he had come to admire Atatürk, despite serving at Gallipoli and he was appointed Under-Secretary of State for War under Lord Derby. Hereafter, his pronouncements appear less dogmatic. He lost office on the Labour election victory in January 1924, but the following month, Walter was sworn of the Privy Council.

Though they had generally been political opponents in 1907-21, Walter’s working political relationship with Winston Churchill started after the election victory in late 1924, when he was made Financial Secretary under Churchill, the new Chancellor. Together, they put the Pound sterling back on the gold standard; a point of pride, but not a policy that lasted for long. A ministerial vacancy enabled him to join the Cabinet as Minister of Agriculture from November 1925 until June 1929, where his main success was in increasing the sugar beet area. After the Conservative defeat in 1929, he retired from office and was created Baron Moyne of Bury St Edmunds in January 1932.

Business and charitable interests

During his adult life, Moyne was a director of the brewing firm Guinness, established at the St. James's Gate Brewery by his great-great-grandfather Arthur Guinness in 1759.[17] The firm had been listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1886 by his father.[18] Moyne also established British Pacific Properties in Vancouver, Canada.[19] There he commissioned the Lion's Gate Bridge, then the longest bridge in the British Empire, which was opened by King George VI in 1938.[20] He was also a trustee of the two charitable housing trusts set up by his father, the Guinness Trust in London (estd.1888)[21] and the Iveagh Trust in Dublin (estd.1890).[22] In 1927-28, he helped arrange the gift to the nation of Kenwood House which contains his father's art collection.

Voyages on the Rosaura

In 1933, Moyne converted a 700-ton ferry and renamed it the 'Rosaura'. He used this boat for social cruises, including a voyage in September 1934 from Marseille on to Greece and Beirut with the Churchills as his guests of honour.[23] From December 1934, he ventured further to the Pacific, with Clementine Churchill as a guest, and brought the first living Komodo dragon back to Britain. He wrote two books about the cultures that he had encountered in thousands of miles of travel around the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans. They are now quite rare: Walkabout; a Journey between the Pacific and Indian oceans (1936) and Atlantic Circle (1938).

The Rosaura explains Moyne's closer ties to Winston Churchill which were to result in his untimely death. In 1930, they agreed that the government policies of dropping the Pound sterling off the gold standard and de-rating to cope with the Great Depression were inadequate, along with proposals for dominion status for India. When the 1931 coalition government was formed, their criticisms meant that as former ministers they were now out in the political cold. From 1934, they also warned about Hitler's rise to power and German rearmament.[24]

His ties to Churchill were also strengthened through 'The Other Club', an informal dining club for politicians in London that Churchill had founded in 1911, which Moyne later joined. A rule was that members had to freely express their opinions. Moyne was there on 29 September 1938 when the bad news came of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's capitulation to Hitler at Munich. Also present were Brendan Bracken, Lloyd George, Bob Boothby, Duff Cooper, J.L. Garvin, editor of The Observer, and Walter Elliot. "Winston ranted and raved, venting his spleen on the two government ministers present and demanding to know how they could support a policy that was 'sordid, squalid, sub-human and suicidal'."[25] At that time, they still shared the minority view in parliament; the majority agreed with Moyne's cousin-in-law 'Chips' Channon MP, who recorded about Munich that 'the whole world rejoices whilst only a few malcontents jeer.'[26]

Later political career

Though an "elevation" to the Lords ends many political lives, Moyne spent part of 1932 in the then-colony of Kenya overseeing its finances. In 1933, he chaired a parliamentary committee supervising English slum clearances, in light of his experience gained in his family's charitable trusts mentioned above. In 1934, he joined the Royal Commission examining Durham University as well as a 1936 committee investigating the British film industry.[27]

In 1938, Moyne was appointed chairman of the West Indies Royal Commission which was asked to investigate how best the British colonies in the Caribbean should be governed. The Report and notes were published in 1939 and are held by the PRO at Kew, London.[28] Largely as a result of his travels and his work in the West Indies, Lord Moyne was appointed Colonial Secretary from 8 February 1941 to 22 February 1942 by his friend Winston Churchill. Just before he returned from the Caribbean, his wife Evelyn died on 21 July.[29]

From the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Moyne sought the internment of Diana Mosley, his former daughter-in-law, who had left his son Bryan in 1932. She had remarried in 1936 in Berlin to the British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, with Hitler and Goebbels as witnesses. File No KV 2/1363 at the PRO, Kew, is part of a collection released in 2004 on British right wing extremists. The PRO's on-line archivist notes that: “Diana Mosley was not interned on the outbreak of war, and remained at liberty for some time. There is a Home Office letter of May 1940 explaining the Home Secretary's decision not to intern her at that time, and then correspondence from her former father-in-law, Lord Moyne, which seems to have resulted in her detention the following month.” Moyne's friend Churchill had become Prime Minister on 10 May 1940. Moyne's last letter, dated 26 June 1940, is quoted in Anne de Courcy's book on Diana Mosley. Later that day her order of detention was signed by J.S. Hale, a principal Secretary of State.[30]

From September 1939, given the German and Russian assaults on Poland, Moyne chaired the Polish Relief Fund in London and gave over his London house at 11 Grosvenor Place (which is beside Buckingham Palace) for the use of Polish officers.[31] On the elevation of Churchill, Moyne was invited back to serve in the Ministry of Agriculture as a Joint Secretary. In a cabinet reshuffle in February 1941, he took on his post in the Colonial Office and led the Churchill government's business in the House of Lords, with the honorific title of Leader of the House of Lords. [32]

On 9 June 1942, Moyne made a speech in the House of Lords, attacking the Zionist proposal to bring three million Jews to Palestine after the war. He claimed that Palestine was far too small and already overcrowded, and suggested instead that Lebanon, Syria and Transjordan could absorb a large number of Jews without threatening their political independence.

He said that the Arabs of Palestine saw the Jews as foreign in both culture and blood, and that anthropologists believed that the Jews, "pure as they had kept their culture", had much mixed with gentiles during their diaspora.[33] He was much criticised for the latter remark, though historian Bernard Wasserstein established that Moyne (noted as an anthropologist himself) believed that only certain isolated communities such as the tribes of New Guinea were racially uniform.[34]

Moyne was next appointed Deputy Resident Minister of state in Cairo from August 1942 to January 1944, and Resident Minister from then until his death. Within the British system at that time, this meant control over Persia, the Middle East and Africa. The main task was to ensure the defeat of the Axis forces in North Africa, principally the Afrika Korps, who were led by General Rommel.

"Blood for trucks" proposal

Joel Brand, a member of the Jewish-Hungarian Aid and Rescue Committee, approached the British in April 1944 with a proposal from Adolf Eichmann, the SS officer in charge of deporting Hungary's Jews to Auschwitz. Eichmann's so-called "blood for trucks" (Blut Für Ware; literally "blood for goods") proposal was that the Nazis would release up to one million Jews in exchange for 10,000 trucks and other goods from the Western Allies.

Brand was arrested and taken to Cairo, where he was questioned for several months. (See Joel Brand for more information about Eichmann's offer and its fate.) Brand reported that during one of the interrogations an English man he didn't know had asked him about Eichmann's proposal, then replied "What can I do with a million Jews? Where can I put them?". On leaving the room, Brand reported, his military escort had told him that the man who had made that remark was Lord Moyne.[35]. This is Brand's own story as told to Weissberg, first published in 1956. Brand told this story to the Kasztner libel trial in 1953,[36] but in his autobiography published in 1956, he added a caveat "I afterwards heard that the man with whom I spoke was not, in fact, Lord Moyne, but another British statesman. Unfortunately I have no means of verifying this."[37] Brand later testified under oath in the Eichmann trial in 1961 that it was Moyne who said "What should I do with these million Jews?"[38] The story of the remark, attributed to Moyne, is regularly quoted by historians. Historian Bernard Wasserstein believes that "the truth is that Brand almost certainly never met Moyne". [39]

During Brand's incarceration, both Brand and Moyne were interviewed by Ira Hirschmann, who had been appointed by Roosevelt as the World Refugee Board delegate in Turkey. According to Hirschmann, Moyne suggested sending Brand back to Hungary with a noncommittal reply that would enable the Jews there to continue talks.[40] Moyne also supported a proposal to offer money to the Germans instead of trucks.[41] However, the British government did not adopt either proposal.

Derek Wilson has weighed up the matter from the British side: "They concluded that the offer [by Brand] was genuine and reflected the desperation of Hitler's high command. They recommended that it could be safely ignored on the grounds that all the concentration camps would be liberated within weeks and that, in any case, there could be no negotiations with the Nazis."[42]

Those weeks proved to be crucial. Between mid-May and early July, about 437,000 Hungarian Jews boarded the "resettlement trains" that carried them to the Auschwitz death camps, where most were immediately gassed. [1] The first transport of Hungarian Jews to the Auschwitz death camp was on 29 April 1944 (Yehuda Bauer, Freikauf von Juden). Mass transports of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz began on 14 May 1944. The last mass transport of 14,491 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz was on 9 July 1944 where they were gassed upon arrival (Franciszek Piper, Die Zahl der Opfer von Auschwitz.) The British only released Brand in October 1944 and according to Ben Hecht, would not allow him to travel to Hungary. Shortly after his release by the British, about one month before Moyne's assassination, Brand joined the group Lehi which would commit the assassination.[43] Long after the war, Brand commented: "I made a terrible mistake in passing this on to the British. It is now clear to me that Himmler sought to sow suspicion among the Allies as a preparation for his much desired Nazi-Western coalition against Moscow."[44]

While Brand's mission was under way, Rudolf Kastner wrote from Hungary to the Jewish Agency (Sochnut) in Jerusalem for money to be sent urgently to Switzerland by Jewish businessmen to free the deportees. On 15 June he wrote: "In connection with the negotiations conducted by Joel Brand, we have assumed the obligation to deliver to the authorities charged with Jewish affairs certain quantities of goods. These goods are to be repaid with human lives, i.e. the deportations are to be stopped... The payment must be made in Swiss francs, that is also the only way in which goods can be bought. The first instalment should be made over in a very short time, and requires approximately 8,000,000 francs. The lot of the Jews will be alleviated by our partners in proportion to the amount of the goods which we will provide, Many hundreds of thousands have to be saved from deportation and from its consequences, we must accordingly be helped to carry out this operation.
 The JDC [Joint Distribution Committee] is expected to contribute $10,000,000 dollars, a big sum, but small enough if compared with the hopes based on it.
 In both cases, that of the above mentioned 8,000,000 francs and the matter of the dollars, the money could be regarded as a loan, to be repaid after the War out of Jewish property."

The money was not sent, and Kastner's letters (intercepted and copied by the British) can be found in Brand's file at the Public Record Office at Kew. This alternative plan was suggested in case the proposal to the Allies failed, and it also failed.


In the early afternoon of November 6, 1944, Eliyahu Bet-Zuri and Eliyahu Hakim of the Jewish underground group Lehi waited for Moyne near his home in Cairo following a well-planned and much practiced plan of action to assassinate Moyne.

Moyne arrived in his car with his driver and his secretary. When the driver got out to open the door for Moyne, Hakim shot Moyne three times and Bet-Zuri killed the driver. The two assassins fled on their bicycles, pursued by an Egyptian policeman who happened to be nearby. Hakim tried to shoot the policeman but he fired back and Hakim fell, wounded. The two were surrounded by an angry mob until they were extracted by the police. Moyne was rushed to hospital but died of his wounds that evening.[45]

According to Lehi leader Natan Yellin-Mor, the group's founder Ya'ir Stern had considered the possibility of assassinating the British Minister Resident in the Middle East already in 1941 (before Moyne held the position).[46] Moyne's predecessor Richard Casey was deemed unsuitable because he was Australian.[47] When Moyne replaced Casey in 1944, planning for the operation began.

As well as being the highest British official within Lehi's reach, Moyne was regarded as personally responsible for Britain's Palestine policy. In particular, he was regarded as one of the architects of Britain's strict immigration policy (with little justice, though Moyne was severe in implementing the policy), and to have been responsible for the British hand in the Struma disaster.[46] According to Bell, Lord Moyne was known to the underground as an Arabist who had consistently followed an anti-Zionist line.[48]

According to Yaakov Banai (Mazal) who served as the commander of the fighting unit of Lehi, there were 3 purposes in the assassination : [49]

To show the world that this conflict wasn't between a government and its citizens like Britain tried to show but between citizens and a foreign rule.

To prove that the conflict was between the Jewish People and the British Imperialism.

To take the "War of Liberation" out of the Land of Israel and the Yishuv. The trial wasn't planned but the action had to capture a place in the world press and lead political thoughts.

According to Banai [50], Moyne was chosen specifically because he led an anti-Jewish policy. He writes that Moyne used to lecture on the difference between the skull structure of the Sephardi Jew and the Ashkenazi Jew, was a supporter of the White Paper and objected to Zionism, Aliyah, to recruitment of Jews into their own national units, and had suggested the idea of deporting Jews from Europe to Madagascar. Banai also held Moyne responsible for the comment to Joel Brand, and blamed him for holding Brand in Cairo while 12,000 Jews were dying every day. However, Banai's views were largely incorrect as Moyne supported partition and the establishment of a Jewish state, unlike most of the British decision makers, leading Heller to conclude that he was "no worse than other British decision-makers"[51]

After the assassination, Lehi announced:

"We accuse Lord Moyne and the government he represents, with murdering hundreds and thousands of our brethren; we accuse him of seizing our country and looting our possessions... We were forced to do justice and to fight".

Bet-Zuri and Hakim initially gave false names, but their true identities were soon discovered. They were tried in an Egyptian court and found guilty of murder. On January 11, 1945, they were sentenced to death. Their appeals for clemency were dismissed, probably partly in response to pressure from Winston Churchill, who had been Moyne's ally and close personal friend.[52] Ben Zuri and Hakim had the support of local Egyptians, and Bell suggests that Lehi had also attacked Moyne in Cairo to show the Arabs that they were not anti-Arab but only anti-imperialism. They were hanged on March 23. The gun used to shoot Moyne was found to have been used in a sequence of killings in Palestine going back to 1937. Incongruously for people so opposed to the British Empire, while awaiting execution the two asked for (and were given) the poems of Kipling.

Although the group had been targeting British Mandate personnel since 1940, Moyne was the first high-profile British official to be killed by them (several failed attempts had been made to assassinate the British High Commissioner in Palestine, Sir Harold MacMichael). This was therefore the opening shot in the new Lehi campaign.

In 1975, the bodies of Ben Zuri and Hakim were returned to Israel in exchange for twenty prisoners from Gaza and Sinai.[53] They were lain in state in the Jerusalem Hall of Heroism, where they were attended by many dignitaries including Prime Minister Rabin and President Katzir.[54] Then they were buried in the military section of Mount Herzl cemetery in a state funeral.[54].[55] Great Britain lodged a formal protest.[56] In 1982, postage stamps were issued in their honour.[57]

Impact on world events

Moyne's assassination was condemned by the Jewish establishment in Palestine, who began to co-operate with the British authorities in dealing with the Lehi and the Irgun. On the news of Moyne's death, Chaim Weizmann, who later became the first President of Israel, is reported to have said that the death was more painful to him than that of his own son. [52]

Shmuel Katz, historian and former Etzel member, writes that in his opinion Weizmann ignored the fact that his son was killed as a fighter for the freedom of his children, "but Moyne paid with his life for his direct responsibility for the deaths of innocent men, women and children that their only crime was belonging to the same people of Weizmann". Katz also repeats that Moyne avidly objected the notion of Zionism, that he revealed total indifference to the fate of the Jews that could have been saved, and he repeats Moyne's statement of "what should I do with a million Jews?". [58]

British prime minister Winston Churchill, until then the Zionists' main supporter in London, was deeply disillusioned and his further support for Zionism was greatly subdued.[59][60] Moyne had been sent to Cairo because of their long personal and political friendship, and Churchill told the House of Commons:

"If our dreams for Zionism are to end in the smoke of an assassin's pistol, and the labours for its future produce a new set of gangsters worthy of Nazi Germany, then many like myself will have to reconsider the position we have maintained so consistently and so long in the past".[61]

The Times of London quoted Ha'aretz's view that the assassins "have done more by this single reprehensible crime to demolish the edifice erected by three generations of Jewish pioneers than is imaginable."[62]

Moyne's parliamentary friend and cousin-in-law, Henry 'Chips' Channon M.P. told his diary:

"I went to sleep last night with strange emotions. Walter Moyne was an extraordinary man, colossally rich, well-meaning, intelligent, scrupulous, yet a viveur, and the only modern Guinness to play a social or political role... He was careful with his huge fortune, though he had probably about three millions."[63]

In November 1943, a committee of the British Cabinet had proposed a partition of Palestine after the war, based loosely on the 1937 Peel Commission proposal. The plan included a Jewish state, a small residual mandatory area under British control, and an Arab state to be joined in a large Arab federation of Greater Syria. The Cabinet approved the plan in principle in January 1944, but it faced severe opposition from the Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden among others. "Moyne's position differed from that of nearly all the British civil and military officials in the Middle East: the consensus of British official opinion in the area opposed partition and opposed a Jewish state; Moyne supported both."[64] The partition plan was before the Cabinet for final approval in the same week that Moyne was assassinated, but the assassination caused it to be immediately shelved and never resurrected. Moyne's successor in Cairo, Sir Edward Grigg, was opposed to partition.[65] Some historians, such as Wasserstein and Porath, have speculated that a Jewish state soon after the war had been a real possibility.[66][67]

The historian Brenner writes that the purpose of the attack on Moyne was also in order to show the efficacy of armed resistance and to demonstrate to the British that they weren't safe in any place as long as they remained in Palestine. The assassination also seemed to have an impact on the Arab side, particularly in stimulating Egyptian nationalism. Brenner makes a comparison between Moyne’s death and the assassination of pro-British Ahmed Mahir. There were Lehi members who advocated the formation of a "Semitic Bloc" opposing foreign domination, and this made it possible for Arabs to actually join Lehi. [68]

Published books

—— (1936). Walkabout; a Journey between the Pacific and Indian oceans. London: W. Heinemann Ltd., 366 pp. OCLC 5351894.

—— (1938). Atlantic Circle. Glasgow: Blackie & Son, 200 pp incl. 80 photos. OCLC 5509205.

—— (1987). Staff Officer: The Diaries of Walter Guinness (First Lord Moyne), 1914-1918. London: L. Cooper. ISBN 0850520533.

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Walter Guinness, 1st Baron Moyne's Timeline

March 29, 1880
October 27, 1905
Age 25
London, United Kingdom
May 7, 1913
Age 33
London, United Kingdom
April 14, 1920
Age 40
November 6, 1944
Age 64
Cairo, Egypt