5. The Expulsion of the Jews
After the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed, the Allied nations were quick to condemn what Nazi Germany had done. But what no-one talked about is how anti-semitism ran deep in many of their countries as well – it just hadn’t surfaced in modern times like it had in Germany. But in the Middle Ages in England, it was more widespread and overt. England was the first country to make the Jews wear a special marker, preceding the Nazis by over 700 years. And in 1290, the Jews were banished from England entirely – not through any fault of their own, just as a popularity-winning measure by King Edward I (pictured above). The 2,000 Jews were apparently exiled peacefully, although accounts vary, and weren’t officially allowed to return till 1655.
4. The Malayan Emergency
Another colony, another rebellion – this one took place in Malaya between 1948 and 1960. The rebels called it the “Anti-British National Liberation War”, but the wealthy rubber plantations pushed for it to be referred to as an emergency, for insurance purposes. At the time, the Federation of Malaya was a protectorate of the United Kingdom (it became fully independant in 1957) and the Commonwealth forces stepped in to protect the Malayan people for the MNLA, the communist forces. It’s held up as a model of warfare, with the Commonwealth emerging victorious, unlike the American forces in Vietnam a few years later. However, allegations have emerged about British atrocities in the “emergency”, mostly in a book written by MNLA leader Chin Peng. One of these is an alleged massacre in the village of Batang Kali in 1948. Scots Guards entered the village and separated the men from the women and children. The next morning, all 24 men were dead. No-one knows exactly what happened, and the Batang Kali families are still pursuing the truth but it seems likely that there is another chapter of British shame hidden in Malaya.
3. The Glencoe Tragedy
Now, this is a difficult one to classify. Technically, it was Scots that murdered Scots at Glencoe, and the whole thing was done in the name of a King who was actually Dutch, but it was part of Scotland’s continued resistance to English rule, and so England is ultimately responsible. There had been a history of English oppression of the Scots, as far back as the Middle Ages, when Edward I (yes him again) defeated the renowned warrior William Wallace in what he called “the Scottish Problem”. The two nations had briefly been united under the Stuart Kings, who were Scottish in blood but sat on the English throne. However, when the last Stuart King was driven into exile (James II) and replaced by the Dutch William III, he needed to bring the Scottish Chiefs into line. So his “man in Scotland”, John Dalrymple, Master of Stair was despatched to make the clan Chiefs swear an oath to William. Chief McDonald was late to swear the oath, having been sent to the wrong place, and in revenge Dalrymple instructed another clan – the Campbells – and their allies to murder the whole McDonald clan. And they did – 38 of them, including women and children. What’s worse is the cowardice of the attack – at 5 in the morning, when the Campbells had been staying with the McDonalds for two weeks, feasting and partying. A shocking story of Scottish violence against one another, but motivated and orchestrated by the English government.
2. The English Slave Trade
Another rarely-mentioned historical fact is Britain’s complicity in the slave trade. Whenever a film about slavery comes out (“Django Unchained”, “The Butler”) it focusses on the American plantations and the conditions that were suffered there. However, without Britain there would have been no plantations. It was Britain that supplied the goods that were sent to Africa to be traded for slaves. These slaves then crossed the Atlantic to America, which then sent back goods from the plantations. It was known as “the triangular trade”. Britain abolished the slave trade, with the Slave Trade Act of 1807, and after that became a campaigner for emancipation in America. But the uncomfortable truth is that without Britain’s help, no-one would have needed to be emancipated.
1. The Settlement of Australia
Everything on this list is horrendous, but none of it quite compares to the British actions in Australia against the aboriginal peoples. It was the sustained campaign of genocide that made this chapter more horrific than any other. The British arrived on this “uninhabited land” and proceeded to treat it like their own, disrespecting the sacred aboriginal relationship with the land and killing the unarmed native people in massacres like the one at Myall Creek, where 28 men, women and children were rounded up and shot. And then there were the diseases the settlers brought with them, to which the Aboriginals had no immunity. Lastly, the settlers (by this time Australians) removed thousands of aboriginal children from their families to stop the growth of the race. An altogether disgraceful way to treat a group of people which is still now being atoned for.