In the summer of 1940, the sleepy parish of Teigh denounced their vicar as a traitor and a fascist. The Reverend Henry Stanley Tibbs, who had ministered to his 72-strong flock for 15 years, was sent to prison accused of being a foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Semite who promoted Hitler from the Harvest Festival pulpit.
According to newly declassified National Archive his parishioners accused Reverend Tibbs of being a member of the British Union of Fascists who harboured German spies, denounced Churchill and pledged allegiance to the Fuhrer.
The 63-year-old was not only accused of harbouring two Gestapo agents in the parish rectory - and genially introducing one of them to a local farmer - but of helping the spies draw sketches of a bomb silo at nearby Cottesmore Aerodrome. He was said to have described Germany as "our natural friend" and that a local clergyman caught the Reverend telling his children "that Hitler and Goering were the finest men in the world". One witness said he heard him describe Churchill as "a drug addict and a dictator of the vilest kind, in fact the worst dictator in the world and in the pay of the American Jews".
The charges were extraordinary. But were they true? Writing from his cell in Liverpool Prison, Tibbs admitted he had indeed, years before, belonged to the British Union of Fascists. They had an excellent agricultural policy, he said. He admitted that one of his sons, who had also been imprisoned, had joined the party. But he said it was the uniform, rather than the fascism, that appealed to him. He also conceded he had subscribed to the British Union newspaper, Action.
But, under cross-examination during his appeal, he strenuously denied all other accusations. Had he expressed "Nazi views" to his parishioners? He replied: "I never did. I have never talked politics to my parishioners, and I have never preached a political sermon in my life." Did he admire Hitler? "I think he is a very clever man, but I think he is a most horrible person," he said.
In their report, the appeals panel named another clergyman, from nearby Market Overton, "who had at one time been a great friend of Tibbs, but had some time ago had a quarrel with him "Enquiries have been made locally," the panel added. And Mr Tibbs's former friend "appears to be an ill-natured and vindictive type of man, quite capable of bearing tales about, or putting the worst interpretation on the words of anyone against whom he harboured a grudge". Then there was the local gossip among the farmers and down at the village post office about the German spies hiding out in the village rectory.
But in a parish of 72 souls, could he really have harboured two Gestapo agents? And if so, would he have introduced them to his neighbours? According to the farmer's wife who lived opposite him, he could not. She told the panel there had never been two young men living at the rectory. The appeals panel ordered Mr Tibbs to be released, with the proviso that he remained within his parish, and he returned home in December 1940.
"The committee feel that whilst Tibbs' detention was fully justified, a mass of rumour and some exaggerated reports have been built up," they wrote. "Tibbs has now learned his lesson" Eight months later the restrictions were revoked and a Home Office official described him as "harmless." In another letter, the Bishop of Peterborough wrote: "Mr Tibbs is, in my opinion, a foolish, slippery-tongued fellow, but a harmless one."
The current incumbent Reverend James Saunders said: "There were many people in the 1930s who admired Germany and admired Hitler and most of them were sensible enough to keep their heads down when war broke out." But he added: "There's always a possibility for vicars to fall out with members of the congregation.
Tibbs returned to the village a broken man, slipped into obscurity and died shortly afterwards. The parish was declared vacant in 1943. Whatever Tibbs’s sentiments he was no Archibald Maule Ramsay, the Scottish Tory MP, interned for much of WWII for being a rabid Hitler supporter and anti-Semite. I must do a post about Ramsay, now he was a vile piece of human detritus.