Chapter 2

From National Conference 1937, to International Conflict 1939

THE OPENING OF THE Table’s second year was marked by the resignation of Singer on his removal to Warwick. His enthusiasm and hard secretarial work had done a great deal towards building a firm foundation for the Table, and he was ably succeeded by H. T. Jackson.

Almost the first task of 1936 was preparation for the 1937 Conference. A strong Conference Committee was set up, with appropriate sub-committees, and the whole strength of the Table was deployed. Yet the domestic work of the Table also had to go on, and the result was that for more than twelve months heavy calls were made on virtually the whole of the Table membership in one capacity or another.

On the home front the first major activity of the New Year was the first Dance, arranged at the Pavilion Hotel on Friday, 7th February but, owing to the death of H.M. King George V, postponed until Tuesday, 25th February. It is interesting to reflect that the hotel provided band and running buffet at an inclusive charge of 5/-, the Table to guarantee a minimum attendance of 6o. The attendance was in fact 58.

Then, in addition to the Fraternity, Membership and Speakers’ Committees, a Community Service Committee was formed (27th April 1936).* Requests for assistance began to come in. The first big job, in which the Table enlisted the assistance of the ladies, was to organise a Rose [10] Day in Pickering for Scarborough Hospital. This was so successful that before the end of the year ‘next year’s Hospital collection’ was already being discussed. It became an annual event until it was cancelled in 1939 on the outbreak of war. The conveyance of crippled Scouts was continuing on a rota basis. The Table became represented (3rd December 1936) on the committee of the Scarborough Boys’ Club, and later H. D. Tesseyman represented the Table on the Basque Children’s Relief Fund.

[*The Vocational Service Committee was set up a year later (20th April 1937). Each of these five sub-committees submitted half-yearly reports to the Council and Table, where comments and criticism were forthcoming. Late in 1938, for instance, the Table felt that greater latitude should be given to the Speakers’ Committee with regard to political subjects.]

The Donations Box, which had now become the Charity Box, found a continuing outlet. The decision was taken to create a Round Table annual Scholarship, or Grant, of £5 for award on the recommendation of the Director of Education ‘to help a boy who, after obtaining his County Scholar ship, cannot afford the necessary school caps and sports clothing.’

This continued to be awarded until 1942, when, in circumstances beyond control of the Table, it was suspended.

At the First Annual General Meeting of the Table, held on 17th April 1936, Mr. W. E. Harland was elected President in succession to Mr. G. H. Fawcett. Whether or not he considered existing methods of calling the membership to order unsatisfactory or outmoded is not clear, but at the end of his year of office he presented the bell on which subsequent chairmen have performed with varying degrees of expertise.

The disciplinary function of a bell is transient, but not that of the Council, which learned that it had a continuing disciplinary function of its own. It had to hold the balance between liberty and licence. It was at the 1935 Hastings Conference that Lord Eustace Percy said:

The salvation of the world lies not in politicians or politics, or negotiations, or societies, or administrations; but simply on the fundamental constitution of democracy – men living together and, out of that joint life and joint service, evolving a way of life that is worth living.

This concept applies as surely to an organisation as to the world. That is perhaps why so very much of the time of Round Table, nationally and locally, has been taken up by the discussion and formulation of rules.

A recurring item at Council meetings was the occasional submission of the names of those members whose attendances [11] fell below the 50 % mark. After suitable reminders and in the absence of reasonable excuse, the offending member was advised that he was disqualified from membership under the Attendance Rule.

By the end of 1938 two further disciplinary matters had, in the end, to be dealt with by the Council. The first was by no means peculiar to Scarborough. The chronic reluctance of the rank and file membership to occupy vacant seats at the top table is a peculiarity of human nature by no means confined to Round Table itself.

The second matter was one not uncommon in a membership that meets for a function on licensed premises, and is of considerable importance if a strict timetable has to be observed.

The matters were eventually dealt with on 4th April 1939 when the Fraternity Committee was requested ‘to appoint two members to be on duty at each luncheon – one to see the top table is filled, and the other to round up members from sundry rendezvous’.

The 1937 Conference
There is no question that the first Scarborough Conference, coming as it did so soon after the Table’s formation, contributed more than anything else to the Table’s maturity. High standards had been set at previous conferences, and national membership was growing from year to year.

The Conference committees appointed early in 1936 were:
Conference Committee, 1937
G. E. Pearson, Chairman
S. D. McCloy; G. S. Hazell; R. K. Rowntree: H. D. Tesseyman;
J. C. Whitfield ; N. L. King; H. I. Dennis
H. T. Jackson (Assistant Secretary)
F. Winn (Secretary)
Chairman, Secretary and Assistant Secretary Ex-officio

S. D. McCloy, Chairman
H. I Dennis
J. Johnson
M. L. T. Plows
W. E. Hopwood
W. C. Sloan
G. S. Hazell, Chairman
J. C. Whitfield
N. L. King
E, P. Evans
J. Sinclair
W. Nockels [12]
R. K. Rowntree, Chairman
E. Gibson
C. N. Mountford
W. L. Woodcock
E. Webb
H. D. Tesseyman, Chairman
J. A. T. Hanlon
J. C. Newsome
J. Newton
A. deG. Elliott
N. W. Pearson

These committees promptly got to work, and within six months were arranging for an overdraft on Conference Account at the Bank, for which four members of the Table stood as guarantors. It is pleasing to relate that they were not called upon.

At this point the Council had little idea that the Conference was to be a historic one for the National movement. It had become apparent that Round Table had outgrown its organisational strength, and Conference accepted a report from a Special Committee which aimed at ‘putting Round Table on a sound basis as a National Organisation. The fact that the Committee had been set up is a true indication of the movement’s internal weakness at the time.’

‘That year at the Scarborough Conference,’ wrote John Creasey, ‘the Report “was considered”. There were 29 recommendations, and among them the suggestion that there should be:
A central headquarters.
A paid Secretary.
A proper allowance for National Officers.
Travelling expenses for National Councillors.
A general readjustment of finance, including the setting up of a central register of members.
An increase of Capitation fees to 6/6.

‘And, if this were not enough, the National Executive briskly announced that it had set up a Special Committee to overhaul administration.

‘Seldom has there been more vigorous argument against any proposals. Delegates jumped to their feet to protest, prophecies of suicide and bankruptcy were thrown at the top table, some suggested that it would put the Movement into the hands of a salaried individual who was not a member. Let the work be carried on as before, they cried, by voluntary officers; otherwise, ruin.

‘The Executive was adamant and received sufficient support from the less vociferous delegates to have all the [13] recommendations approved. Soon afterwards a small office was opened at Ludgate Hill and Captain Chambers, a retired Regular Army officer, was installed as a salaried Organising Secretary. Another thing happened which to have great significance later; Cyril Marsh, of the Wimbledon Table, was appointed to the National Executive “to keep an eye on things”.”

The later significance was that it was very largely due to Cyril Marsh, National Secretary during the war, that there was a strong National Movement still in being at the end of it.

He was elected afterwards the second of Round Table’s National Honorary Members. The first was Louis Marchesi, the Movement’s founder.

At the time of the 1937 Scarborough Conference the membership of the Table was 36. There were 118 Tables in existence, and the national membership was 4,000. The total numbers attending the Conference were approximately 360.

The highlight, as usual, was the Conference Banquet at the Royal Hotel at which the Mayor and Mayoress, Alderman and Mrs. J. W. Butler, attended as official guests. The cabaret, ably compered by Alan Forward of the Scarborough Table, included the popular Leonard Henry as its star and a trio of acrobatic dancers. Although the function officially ended at 1.30 a.m., it was not until nearly 3 a.m. that the subsequent fun and games came to an end and the Mayor and his Lady went home.

It is pleasing to reflect that the Conference made a profit which was distributed early the following year as follows:
National Funds £5 5s 0d
Hull Table £5 5s 0d
York Table £5 5s 0d
Bridlington Table £5 5s 0d
Scarborough Table £14 15s 9d

Total £35 15s 9d

The Cardiff Conference followed in 1938, and subsequently the National Conference Sub-committee circularised all Tables asking for suggestions for the improvement of the National Conference in order to make it more popular and useful.

Scarborough, in the light of its own experiences of the [14] many problems involved, suggested:
a Centralisation of headquarters and accommodation
b Expenses to be kept as low as possible.
c A seaside or inland spa should be the venue
d Too much should not be attempted in the time available
e In addition to the Annual Conference, Area Conferences should be held.

The 3rd September 1939 caught the Table in the full spate of seasonal activity. There had been the continuing Social Service activities, the usual summer events including an evening meeting at Ravenscar in July, and the usual Area meetings. There had been a much overdue reprint of the rules, representation at the Cardiff Conference, discussion on the question of endowing a hospital cot and a paternal interest in the Scholarship boy; Geoffrey Hazell had been appointed Area Vice-Chairman, John Jaram was busy arranging teams for an Area golf tournament, and arrange ments were well advanced for a Rally to be held at Ravenscar later in the month.

At the Table luncheon on the 8th September the Chairman, the late Howard Tonks Jackson, announced that he had considered it advisable to cancel the scheduled talk so that the Table could discuss the situation. It was already known that in the event of war certain members would have civil or military commitments and as time went on active membership would inevitably dwindle. Bert Dennis had already gone. The National President, Rodney Lillicrap, had lost no time in writing to all Tables, hoping that they would carry on as far as possible, and wishing every member success in whatever he might be called upon to undertake. He himself later went into the R.A.F. and resumed National Council work on his demobilisation.

A year earlier, as Munich approached and it was obvious that war would follow sooner or later, the Chief Constable was anxious to build up his Special Constabulary.

‘I. E. Thomas, the Weights and Measures Superintendent, was a member of the Table,’ writes Maurice Plows, ‘and when war was nearing us before Munich he began to [15] re-form the Special Constabulary in Scarborough, as we were then the Borough Police. It was through Round Table members that this was commenced, and we had many members sworn in. Unfortunately there are none ere are none now except myself.’

Maurice Plows, joining the force from the Table, remained in it for thirty years, retiring shortly after he wrote these words.

The first Table activity to suffer in 1939 was the Hospital collection at Pickering, then imminent, which had to be cancelled, as were all ‘existing arrangements and recommendations’. It was agreed that fortnightly luncheons be continued, but that no speakers be engaged and the time utilised for discussion.

War conditions made it impossible to hold Area meetings, and any Area business was thereafter conducted by correspondence. An invitation to the Table luncheons was issued through News & Views to any Table member of H.M. Forces who might find himself in Scarborough.

The Secretary wrote to H. I. Dennis, then a Lieutenant in the 5th Bn. Green Howards, to ask what would be most useful and acceptable as Christmas gifts to his men, ‘Scarborough men preferably’. As a result 24 vests and 24 pairs of shorts were sent to France. Dennis, now Captain, received them safely.

Numbers were dwindling. At the first wartime A.G.M. (the Table’s fifth) on 19th April 1940, 18 members were present. At the 1939 A.G.M. there had been 31. The Council and sub-committees were still nominally functioning, but circumstances made it necessary at the next ensuing Council meeting a few weeks later to resolve that ‘in view of the constant withdrawal from active membership of the Table on account of the war, no sub-committees be appointed’. Individual Council members undertook responsibility in their place.

At this meeting, quorum or no quorum, only three members were present. It is worthy of note that at the infrequent Council meetings an attendance of five was usually possible, though they were not always the same five.

Attendance at meetings had dwindled drastically, and even those who did attend did not find it easy to do so. Early [16] in 1941 the Chairman, Ralph Rowntree, joined H.M. Forces, and Nockels took over. ‘In this year £25 was invested in Defence Bonds during War Weapons Week.’ In 1942 the Secretary, H. W. Moss, resigned for the same reason, and there was nobody to take over. At a Special General Meeting of the whole Table on 16th October 1942 seven members managed to attend, and passed this curiously moving resolution:

“That as from today the activities of the Round Table be suspended until the signature of the Armistice or such other time as is deemed desirable by the members, when a meeting of all available members shall be convened for the Friday next following, to consider the resumption of activities, the books in the meantime to be deposited with W. Nockels for safe custody.’

This resolution immediately followed the last item of Table business to be transacted for four years, which was to approve the 1942 Scholarship grant of £5. It visualised a termination of hostilities on 1918 lines, in which it was wrong. It assumed, with inherent optimism, that at some time in the years to come there would be somebody who would be able and willing to call a meeting, in which it was right. [17]

Note: as discussed at the February 2020 meeting, if you would like to receive email updates directly to your inbox for all articles as soon as they appear on the Scarborough 41 Club website, please subscribe to the site. The subscription box is on the upper right of every page, just below the Search. Techy hint: check your spam inbox if you don’t see the subscription email immediately.