In his self-appointed role as enforcer of harbour fees in 1930s Mevagissey, Councillor Wright Harris was fond of recording the comings and goings of fishing vessels from a vantage point at the top of the Cornish village.
It was a habit which did little to endear the imperious Mr Harris to his fellow residents, who readily likened his officious zeal to the behaviour of a fast-emerging German politician of the era. It was not long before the councillor’s route to his viewing station became known among locals as “Hitler’s Walk”.
But what was once evidence of a healthy pre-war Cornish disdain for authority has of late become a source of disbelief and division after Mevagissey’s parish council announced it wanted to reinstate a sign advertising the small park where Mr Harris once stood as “Hitlers Walk”.
The timing of could hardly have been more inauspicious. As the parish councillors were last week declaring their intent to put up a sign carrying the name of the Nazi leader, the rest of the world was preparing to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Cornish Jews expressed their outrage at the proposal, asking just how such a step could be considered appropriate and calling for a boycott of Mevagissey if the sign was ever put up.
Harvey Kurzfield, chairman of Kehillat Kernow, which represents Cornwall’s Jews, said: “You put up a sign to honour someone. Putting up a sign for Hitler is offensive to all people, not just to Jewish people. British soldiers died in the Second World War fighting Hitler and I find it hard to believe anyone would think this is appropriate.
“It is completely and utterly ludicrous. It would be a shame and it would bring shame on Mevagissey.”
The outcry, which has seen complaints from within the village as well as across the country, seemed to have prompted a rethink after it emerged that the parish council is to reconsider its position at its next meeting later this month.
James Mustoe, who sits on the Cornwall Council unitary authority for the town, told The Independent: “The timing of the whole thing was very poor. I spoke to the parish council and strongly advised them to reconsider this issue and I understand they will now do so. It is not for me to make any decision for them.
“From my own perspective anything that would attract negative publicity and harm the tourism industry in Mevagissey is a bad thing.”
Any U-turn on the issue of the sign would first have to overcome opposition from some within the community who point out that the name “Hitlers Walk” for the spot remains commonly used in town, near St Austell, and feel that local tradition should trump wider historical considerations.
John Daniel, a parish councillor who supported the erection of the sign, said: “The name goes back to a time before the war when whoever was in the charged of the park was a bit authoritarian. It’s not offensive, it’s just what local people call it.”
It is not the first time that the issue of Mr Harris’s nickname has hit the headlines. A previous sign advertising Hitlers Walk was taken down in 2005, once more provoking debate about whether Mevagissey’s backhanded tribute to one of its denizen could ever be successfully divorced from association with the Nazi leader.
One outraged homeowner at the time said: “What next? Stalin Street? Pol Pot Place? It’s offensive to the memory of those who died in the war.”
While it remains to be seen what decision will be taken by Mevagissey Parish Council, it seems doubtful the signs could return. It is understood that the park sits on land belonging to Cornwall Council which would have to grant planning permission for any new signage and any such consent would be unlikely to be given.Reuse content