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George V Member of Parliament’s Despatch Box, 1935
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George V Member of Parliament’s Despatch Box, 1935

Measurements: 46cm (18in) x 31cm (12in) x 15cm (6in)

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Following the 1860‘s design of a ministerial despatch box, the present example is constructed of pine and covered red leather embossed with the GVR cypher of King George V and ‘Commander A.R.P. Southby, R.N., M.P.’ to the hinged lid. Fitted with a Bramah lock at base and brass swing handle at the top to guarantee that the box is locked before being carried, the interior stamped with the maker’s details of John Peck & Son, 7 Nelson Square, Southwark, S.E.1, manufacturers to H.M. Stationery Office’.

Commander Sir Archibald Richard James Southby, 1st Baronet, R.N. (1886-1969), was a Chamberlainite Tory M.P. for Epsom, Surrey and a vociferous critic of Winston Churchill during the early years of the Second World War.  His support for Neville Chamberlain in May 1940 was made clear in the famous Narvik Debate in the House of Commons in the momentous month of May 1940. Widely held to be one of the most important parliamentary debates of the 20th century, it quickly brought to a head widespread dissatisfaction with the overall conduct of the war by Chamberlain’s Conservative-dominated National Government.  In reply to Leo Amery, one of Churchill’s longstanding anti-appeasement supporters, Southby defended the Government’s too-little, too-late intervention in Norway, by suggesting that if going in to Norway was a correct decision, then Amery and his ilk must think British forces in France should risk advancing in to neutral Holland and Belgium. Forty-eight hours later the Phoney War came to abrupt end as Nazi forces Blitzkreig-ed through those countries, by-passing France’s Maginot line. On that same day Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister handing power to Churchill’s broadly-based coalition government that ruled the United Kingdom until the end of the war in Europe in May 1945.

In 1942 with the war going badly for Britain, Southby was among the Tory M.Ps who tabled the first of two votes of confidence in Churchill’s leadership. During this debate Southby called Churchill a ‘dictator’ and the Government a ‘one-man band’ (Worthing Gazette 4.2.1942). Before entering politics Southby served in the Royal Navy from 1902 to the 1920s. In April 1945 he travelled as part of the British parliamentary delegation to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. He described the journey as one, ‘which I felt it was my duty to undertake and which I shall never regret’.
 

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