The 1940s

In May, 1941, the Security Service discovered that Ralph, who was still living in Mexico City, was working for a paper called Nuevo Orden and a request was passed to the Secret Intelligence Service asking for information about Ralph’s Mexican activities. {1}

The SIS responded with a short memo, dated 22.5.41, saying that they were unable to add anything new about either Ralph or Winifred Bates. However, on 15.1.42, they sent a two page letter documenting what they had discovered about Ralph and Winifred. Most of the material relating to Ralph would have already been known to the Security Service, although there were one or two snippets which may have been new. For example, his 1937 trip to the USA was said to have been sponsored by the “American Society for Technical Aid to Spanish Democracy”, which was said to be, “wholly dominated by communists”, and that his trip to Canada that year had been at the invitation of Tim Buck, the Secretary of the Communist Party of Canada. The report then quoted an article in the Daily Worker, dated 31.1.39, concerning the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Mexico, which opened in Mexico City on 29.1.37. Ralph Bates attended the Congress as a “fraternal delegate”. He spoke on the aid that Mexico was giving to Spanish refugee soldiers, which brought “loud acclaim” from the audience. Finally, mention was made of the fact that on 24.8.40 Ralph boarded a Pan American Airways plane at Mexico, his destination being that of Brownsville, Texas, and that in the same month Ralph’s wife, Winifred, began divorce proceedings against Ralph.
On a slightly different note, mention should  be made of the fact that The Olive Field makes a fleeting appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1942 film “Saboteur”, staring Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane. In one part of the film the leading conspirator Charles Tobin (played by Otto Kruger) points to a book on a bookshelf. A copy of The Olive Field can clearly be seen to the left of the book that Tobin indicates. Was this an early example of “produce placement” or did somebody (Hitchcock?) like the book?
Ralph Bates -The Later Years.
 One reason for not publishing his later works was that (Ralph Bates) never  considered them finished, though they are quite polished. Ralph’s disappointment  with Communism and McCarthyism made him a more private person. There were  many things that silenced him in terms of writing and being a public figure. His  disillusion with the political scene was complete.

                                                                                                                                                                     Eve Bates
I have often wondered whether or not Ralph Bates ever revisited Swindon, once he had left Spain in 1938. Apparently, sometime around 1975, he came very close to doing so. Ralph brought Eve to England on a driving holiday. They approached Swindon but, according to Eve, “Ralph could not bring himself to go into the town which had changed so much since he was a young man.” In the end they circled Swindon for almost an hour before driving away.

In 1996 Ralph Bates made what was possibly his final trip away from New York. I am grateful to Professor H. Gustav Klaus for sending me this personal recollection. 

“I was lucky finally to be able to meet up with Ralph (and Eve and their son Jonathan) in Berlin in July 1996. The occasion was an exhibition, first shown in Britain, “Art and Power in Europe in the Age of Dictatorships 1930-1945”, funded by the EU (Council of Europe), which in Berlin was accompanied by a week of film shows, discussions, readings, radio and television broadcasts. He was one of two contemporaries / survivors, who had been invited. And I remember him remarking on the irony that the country which he had come to associate with Fascism should invite him (not Spain or Britain). It was a great gratification and his talk before a large crowd, as Eve remarked, his “last hurrah”. I wasn’t there when he appeared on the stage (I had to be in Rostock that day). He was wheeled in, but stood up for his talk. I met him the day after in his hotel. We sat together and talked, just the two of us, for an hour and a half, until Jonathan, concerned about his dad’s health, interrupted us and said it was enough.”

Interestingly, I had previously seen this exhibition when it was shown at London’s Hayward Gallery during the period 26th October, 1995 – 21st January, 1996. The exhibition then travelled to Barcelona (26th February – 6th May, 1996), before moving to Berlin. The thing that I remember most about the exhibition was the similarity of both Fascist and Communist state art.

Following Ralph Bates’s death, his papers ended up at Yale University. Apparently, though, Valentine Cunningham, who had written the introduction to the 1986 edition of The Olive Field, tried, unsuccessfully, to interest Oxford University’s Bodleian Library into taking the papers. It now seems that Oxford took too much time making up their mind and so Eve Bates passed the papers onto Yale.

In the early 2000’s a development in Moredon, north Swindon (SN2 area) designated one street “Bates Way”, after a member of the public suggested that Ralph should have some form of commemoration in his home town.