History In The Making - Memoir Of Europe in 1930's
Geoffrey Cox nearly got himself killed on his first day as a war correspondent in the Spanish Civil War.
Challenged by a patrol near the front, he reached for a white handkerchief to show his neutrality. Thinking he was reaching for a gun, the patrol leader fired. Fortunately, the shot missed and the New Zealander survived to tell the tale. Sixty years on he has written a book about this and other experiences titled Eyewitness: A Memoir of Europe in the 1930s.
In his memoir Sir Geoffrey Cox describes the first eight years of his life in Europe, his OE. In 1932 he travelled from Otago to Oxford to take up a Rhodes Scholarship. He writes of his years at Oxford, his struggle to gain a foothold in the highly competitive world of Fleet Street, and his swift rise to success as a foreign correspondent in Europe.
Journalism was not seen as an appropriate career for a Rhodes Scholar to take up on graduation. However, Cox studied history at Oxford and was interested in journalism as a 'history of the now'. "I wanted to be at the sharp end, where history was in the making," he writes.
First as a student, then as a professional journalist, Cox became an eyewitness to events which have since become history. On a tour of the Soviet Union, he saw peasants being marched off under armed guard, and the mass migration of peasant families - evidence (though this was not clear at the time) of Stalin's brutal collectivisation of agriculture.
When Hitler came to power in Germany, Cox, instinctively hostile to dictatorship, set out to explore the new regime from within. As a student, he enlisted in the Nazi Youth Labour Service, and spent three weeks draining marshes near Hanover. He wrote articles about his experiences for the New York Times, Spectator and other newspapers - his first scoop.
A chance meeting with a fervently pro-Nazi bookseller brought him a privileged view of the 1934 Nazi Rally at Nuremberg from the bookshop window. That evening he heard Hitler speak to a huge meeting of the Party faithful. All of this hardened rather than weakened Geoffrey Cox's hostility to Nazism - an attitude reinforced when, late at night in Berlin, he was beaten up by Storm Troopers for failing to salute.
The student had to work hard to secure a position on a Fleet Street newspaper. Cox's first big job was as a war correspondent in the Spanish Civil War. There he witnessed the first mass air attack on a civilian target since World War I - Franco's onslaught on the centre of Madrid. Later, in 1938, he was in Vienna to watch Hitler enter the city, after Austria had been taken over by Germany in the Anschluss.
Pen pictures of Cox's contemporaries are a feature of this book. He portrays John Mulgan and James Bertram at Oxford, and the young English don Bill Williams, who was to become Montgomery's Chief Intelligence Officer and end the war as Brigadier Williams, DSO. In London, he writes of two prominent New Zealanders, R.M. Campbell, Official Secretary at New Zealand House, and the great cartoonist David Low, both of whom became his close personal friends.
Eyewitness is rich on many levels - it offers a ringside seat to major twentieth-century events, it lays out the ideals and hopes of a young man on his 'Overseas Experience', it reflects on the art, craft and personalities of journalism in the days before television, and it invites the reader to enjoy informative, entertaining, intelligent and elegantly written prose.
About the Author
Sir Geoffrey Cox was born in Palmerston North in 1910. He attended Southland Boys High School and the University of Otago, graduating with an MA in History in 1931. Awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, he studied at Oriel College, Oxford, from 1932-1935. He then became a successful foreign correspondent in Europe for British newspapers, covering many of the main events leading to the Second World War. In 1940, he enlisted with the New Zealand Army and served with 2 NZ Division in Greece, Crete, North Africa and Italy, becoming Chief Intelligence Officer to General Freyberg. He also served for a period as First Secretary of the New Zealand Legation in Washington. After the war Cox returned to newspaper journalism in Britain. In 1956 he moved to television, becoming news editor of the new commercial channel, Independent Television News. Under his editorship ITN pioneered the development of this new journalistic medium. In 1967 he founded News at Ten, the first half-hour news on British television. He was knighted in 1966 for services to journalism and later held a number of other top posts in television and radio. Since his retirement in 1976 he has lived in Gloucestershire. Eyewitness is his ninth published book.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Eyewitness A Memoir of Europe in the 1930s
Sir Geoffrey Cox
ISBN 1 877133 70 1 $39.95 August 1999