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Great Lives/Harry Hopkins

Radio 4’s Great Lives can can be very variable.

As often as not the subject is some female trail-blazer of whom I have never heard.

Yesterday Matthew Parris presented an episode on Harry Hopkins advocated by Jonathan Dimbleby a respected historian of World War Two.

Harry Hopkins was the trusted advisor and envoy of President Roosevelt who was despatched in 1941 to assess how well Britain was facing up to the might of the Nazis.

Hopkins was impressed and told Roosevelt so.

In just 30 minutes the programme could not cover all the issues of a complex subject.

On one hand Roosevelt had huge personal sympathy for Britain but on the other he was a canny politician and the German lobbyists, the isolationist led by Senator Burton Wheeler and the mothers who had lost sons in the first conflict comprised a formidable counter group.

In the end it was the bombing of Pearl Harbour and Hitler’s declaration of war that comprehensively tilted the balance to joining the conflict.

Harry Hopkins played his part, as did the broadcast on the rooftops during the Blitz of Ed Murrow, the film Mrs Miniver and the admiration for the resolve of the British people fortified by Winston Churchill’s oratory which were significant factors too.

The remarkable thing about Harry Hopkins is that he had severe stomach cancer and that both he and polio-afflicted Roosevelt (both had died by 1946) still had the stamina to make big decisions and defeat Nazism.

The programme had archive recordings of Harry Hopkins ‘speeches and he was a fine orator.

His biographer David Roll appeared as an expert witness.

He offered the controversial view that the Allies should have opened up a second front earlier and the North African campaign was an irrelevant distraction.

Jonathan Dimbleby disagreed with this  and so do I.

There was the unsuccessful Dieppe raid of 1943 that cost the lives of 3,000 soldiers mainly Canadians.

Dimbleby, in his own book on the convoys, could attest to the perilous journeys made to Archangel to deliver supplies and materiel.

The relentless bombing of Germany committed the Luftwaffe.

Overreaching all of this is that, during the Molotov/Ribbentrop pact, Russia was no ally anyway. Hopkins met Josef Stalin after his visit to Britain and was impressed by him.

Here is a link to the programme – BBC RADIO 4 – GREAT LIVES – HARRY HOPKINS





About Henry Elkins

A keen researcher of family ancestors, Henry will be reporting on the centenary of World War One. More Posts