From the Brand Historian’s Timeline:
July 1942. The war in Europe is going badly. The U boat wolf packs are enjoying another period of great success against Allied shipping. Convoy PQ17 has just assembled but will lose two thirds of its ships on its voyage to Russia. Rommel’s Afrika Korps has retaken Tobruk, and the Wehrmacht, having captured Sevastopol, is now threatening the Crimean oil fields and Stalingrad. Millions of Europeans are already living in semi-starvation as German forces have cut off the areas in the Ukraine which produce half of all Soviet wheat and pork supplies.
Meanwhile, following the horrendous agenda of the conference at Wannsee, the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews is now underway, as the first group of 6000 from the Warsaw ghetto are killed in the gas chambers of Treblinka on July 23rd.
But even on the darkest of summer days, there can still be an inspiring light and the promise of better things. On July 31st The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief is formed which will become celebrated the world over as Oxfam.
Shortly afterwards, a small group gathered in the Old Library of St Mary’s the Virgin, the University Church in Oxford. This was the inaugural meeting of the committee and it proved to be a perfect balance of personalities. Dick Milford who took the chair, was the Vicar of St Mary’s, Henry Gillett was a former Lord Mayor of the City and a leading Quaker. George Murray was a prominent Greek scholar and humanist, and his wife, the well-connected Lady Mary Howard. The grit in the oyster was provided by Cecil Jackson Cole, one of the most successful social entrepreneurs of the Twentieth century and the committee’s business brain.
Whilst some of the group had already been involved in charitable work including helping with the flood of refugees arriving in Oxford in the late 1930s, what brought this group together in the ancient library overlooking Radcliffe Square was the famine that was now causing so many deaths in Greece and which, at least in part, was caused by Allied war efforts.
At the start of the war, Greece had managed to resist the Italian army, Germany’s ally, but in 1941, Germany intervened and quickly overran the country, dividing it up between themselves, the Italians and Bulgaria, the other European member of Axis. The occupying forces pursued a strategy of plunder and pillage and brutally suppressed resistance. Meanwhile, the Allied naval blockade effectively stopped food supplies getting into Greece which resulted in a long and particularly horrific famine. “Send us food or send us coffins!” was the plea that the Oxford Committee responded to, and thus was started in the middle of all that darkness, a small group which became the global movement of millions of people to end poverty.
Music from 1942:
Fanfare for the Common Man Aaron Copland