On February 23rd 1933 Gareth Jones, then only 27, secured one of the journalistic scoops of the 20th century, when he travelled with Hitler in his private plane during his election campaign to win total power through the democratic process.
He, and a colleague from the Daily Express, were the first journalists to accompany Hitler in his new aeroplane since he became Chancellor.
His piece deserves to be counted as one of the great “I was there” articles in journalism.
Jones was a prolific and adventurous journalist who was murdered one day short of his 30th birthday by bandits in China. In his brief career he filed more international scoops than most of his contemporaries would deliver in a lifetime, following a path closer to Indiana Jones, with an additional touch of Zelig, a fictional character who had the knack of turning up in important places – until he found himself in the wrong, last place.
During the flight Jones jotted in his notebook the following momentous line: “If this plane were to crash, the history of the world would be different.” It became the opening line in his account of this flight, which appeared a few days later in the Western Mail.
The world was able to read one of the earliest eyewitness accounts of a monster of depravity, whom Jones describes as “like a middle-class grocer”, setting off to work.
Jones, unremarkable, non-conformist linguist with pebble spectacles, a perfectly buttoned up overcoat and trilby – in an age when foreign correspondents were self publicist, drink sodden bar-flies -, was setting up the first of many big stories he was to write in 1933.
Even in those days, with far fewer journalists, much less competition for stories, and more opportunities to dig out big news from less protective sources, few newspaper writers would enjoy such an annus mirabilis.
First came his prescient reporting in Germany. Within weeks he was to uncover a human catastrophe in Russia, which ranks among the most heinous crimes of the 20th century. Later in the year he met the main players in troubled Ireland, including the new Irish leader Eamonn de Valera.
This is an extract from my e-book, So wise, so young – Gareth Jones, Journalist:
February 23rd, 1933, on a snowy runway at Tempelhof Airport in Berlin. A young Welsh reporter is in place for the first of a series of remarkable scoops. His articles will be read around the world and will illuminate the last two years of his short life, before he becomes, according to some, the first casualty of the coming Second World War.
The man, the trim, sharply intelligent and journalistically mature beyond his years Gareth Jones, stands alongside the Richthofen, the fastest passenger aeroplane in Germany, capable of the then astonishing speed of 150 miles an hour. He is waiting for Adolf Hitler to arrive.
The leader is just three weeks into his destiny job as Chancellor of Germany. He is about to make a quick dash to Frankfurt, part of a whirlwind electioneering programme that will hurtle him like a human shuttlecock around Germany in his bid to win total power through the democratic process. Among the assembled Nazi party aides awaiting his arrival is Hitler’s image maker, the indifferent novelist with a Ph.D. in 18th-century romantic drama, Joseph Goebbels.
Jones writes: “Somebody gave a cry: ‘The Leader is coming.’ A car drives through the snow. Out steps a very ordinary looking man…a slight figure in a shapeless black hat, wearing an ordinary greyish brown mackintosh. He looks like a middle-class grocer. His hair is fairly dark and brushed. Hitler surprised me by his smile. He was more natural and less of a poseur than I had expected.
“When he raised his arm flabbily to greet those who had assembled to see him, I was mystified. How had this ordinary-looking man succeeded in becoming deified by fourteen million people?”
In a later age of cleverly crafted media moments, what happened next would have been expertly choreographed and carefully rehearsed as a photo opportunity. But here it seems to have been entirely spontaneous.
Jones reports on the laddish diversion that might have come from a contemporary “Top Gear”: “Hitler sees Goebbels’ new brown motor-car and immediately displayed a great interest in it. He gets inside. He wants to learn all about it. A few minutes later, with Hitler inside, the car is driving through the snow, hooting. Hitler comes out – there was something boyish about him.”
Jones is one of only two outsiders, non-German observers present that day. The other is Sefton Delmer of the Daily Express. Together they are the first journalists to accompany Hitler in his new aeroplane since he became Chancellor.
Jones is introduced [to Hitler]. “His handshake was firm, but his large, outstanding eyes seemed emotionless as he greeted me.” He notes that Hitler is not closely protected. “The Bodyguard just chats around; one gives his photo as a boxer to [Jones’s colleague] Delmer.”
Jones was no tame sycophant. He had recently written the following in the Western Mail, the national newspaper of his native Wales: “The personality of Hitler arouses no confidence in the calm observer. It is hard to reconcile his shrieking hatred of the Jews with any balanced judgment. It is hard to think that a telegram he sent congratulating certain Nazis who had brutally murdered a Communist before the eyes of the murdered man’s family reveals any spirit of justice. Hitler’s neurotic behaviour in a December meeting of Nazis, when he burst into tears and wept without control, was not that of a Bismark.”
Airborne, Jones jotted in his notebook the following momentous line: “If this plane were to crash, the history of the world would be different.” It became the opening line in his account of this flight, which appeared a few days later in the Western Mail. It deserves to be counted as one of the great “I was there” articles in journalism.
“A few feet away [from me] sits Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany and leader of the most volcanic nationalist awakening which the world has seen. Six thousand feet beneath us, hidden by a sea of rolling white clouds, is the land which he has roused to a frenzy.”
Jones was setting up the first of many big stories he was to write in 1933. Even in those days, with were far fewer journalists, much less competition for stories, and more opportunities to dig out big news from less protective sources, few newspaper writers would enjoy such an annus mirabilis. First came his prescient reporting in Germany. Within weeks he was to uncover a human catastrophe in Russia, which ranks among the most heinous crimes of the 20th century. Later in the year he met the main players in troubled Ireland, including the new Irish leader Eamonn de Valera.
Gareth Jones was already a well-established investigative journalist. He was generally pictured in an ample overcoat and a trilby, a mild-mannered man behind thick round Harry Potter-esque glasses. To describe him as a temperate version of Indiana Jones is not so wide of the mark. This Jones, too, was on an urgent quest – for information. He had the style, if not the look, of the adventurer. When he made his final journey into the Gobi desert, he was following roughly in the footsteps of the James Bond author Ian Fleming.
Jones had worked as a personal secretary to David Lloyd George before taking up work as a freelance journalist. He may not have shared the facility with words of his more famous, and similarly short-lived countryman Dylan Thomas, who was recognized in his own lifetime as one of the greatest poets in the English language. Reportage was not then, quite so much as it today, about eloquent, elegant picture painting. Yet just as Dylan Thomas worked, with relentless application at every word, so did Jones diligently set up interview after interview to prise out that essential kernel of truth.
In the days before strictly ordered press accreditation, and with a lot less competition, Jones managed to meet many important figures of the day. He conformed to the model of the foreign correspondent who travelled fast and light with a battered contacts book, only up to a point. Jones was teetotal, a departure from the common stereotype of the drink-sodden barfly. He sent long, dutiful letters home to his family, full of tender familiarity, and the constant craving for Auntie Betty’s cake.
Jones’s ultimate misfortune may have been to stray too deeply into the murky world of international power politics. He lost his life in 1935, on his last big assignment, to try to make sense of the shady political picture in the Far East, dominated by the tension between between China and Japan, with Russia pulling the strings in the background.
The world, sliding towards another great conflict, had no time to spare for solitary victims such as him, the small, brave people on the edge of the action.
So wise, so young – Gareth Jones, Journalist. https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/178693#longdescr