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Anthony J. Camp - FRED and GEBE BATE

Fred and Gebe Bate, friends of King Edward VIII

The thrice married journalist Frederick Blantford Bate who was a friend of King Edward VIII seems likely to have been one of the persons that Cosmo Gordon Lang, Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Church of England, a fierce opponent of divorce and re-marriage, had in mind when, three days after the abdication of King Edward VIII, he broadcast his view that the former King, intent on marrying a woman with two living husbands, had sought his happiness in a manner inconsistent with the Christian principles of marriage, and within a social circle whose standard and way of life are alien to all the best instincts and traditions of his people [Frances Donaldson, Edward VIII (1974) 298].

Bate had been born in Chicago, 13 November 1886 [1900 Census; 1919 Passport Application; 1942 Passenger List] or 13 November 1887 [1916 Passport Application; 1939 Register] and appears in the 1900 Census of Chicago as aged 13, at school, the adopted son of Sadie L. Bate, aged 38, a widow without other children. She rented a house and took in boarders at 3000 Indiana Avenue. Bate seems not to have known anything for certain about his parents. In the 1900 census he and his unnamed parents were all said to have been born in Illinois but in 1910 he said that his father and mother were born in England. In 1916 he swore that his late father had been a naturalised citizen of the USA. On a 1919 Passport Application he said that his father was Perry Bate but on another Application in 1923 he called him Harry B. Bate. On both applications his father was said to have been born in England and was now deceased.

Bate's adoptive mother Sadie L. Bate appeared as Sarah L. Bate in the 1910 census at 1954 Congress Street, Chicago, widow, aged 41. She was then described as the sister-in-law of Alonzo Mills and his wife Isabel. All three came from Canada, Sarah and Isabel saying that they were naturalised in 1893 and Alonzo that he immigrated in 1886. Sadie/Sarah seems also to be the Sarah Bate at 133 & 134 Jackson Blvd, Chicago, aged 55, widow, naturalised in 1900, with 9 lodgers, in the 1920 census. She apparently had sufficient funds to send her adopted child to the University of Chicago, 1907-8, but he was a 'mediocre' student [Derek W. Vaillant, Across the waves: the US and France shaped the international age of radio (University of Illinois Press, 2017) pages 31-50].

As 'Frederick B. Bate' he married firstly in Cook County, Illinois, 7 January 1909, Sally K. Plows (1889-1947), the heiress daughter of Edward Plows (1855-1906), a prominent candy maker in Chicago. In 1910 she and Fred Bate (who had no children together) were living with her mother, Sallie Kinyon Plows, in Ellis Avenue, Chicago, all three being described as confectionery merchants.

However, it was reported on 14 April 1916 that Bate's marriage had been 'dissolved by divorce due to his desertion' [ retrieved 06/10/2019]. In the meantime Sally Plows had married 2ndly in Chicago, 22 July 1915, an architect, Hugh Mackie Gordon Garden (1873-1961) and by him she had an only daughter, Sally Garden, born 27 June 1916, who died in 1977. Hugh Garden's mother-in-law 'Sallie K. Plows', aged 79, was living with him in Chicago in the 1940 Census.

In Bate's passport applications (which included one sworn in Paris on 24 February 1916), he said that he had left his home at 3747 Ellis Avenue, Chicago on 17 February 1912 and had left the USA on 2 March 1912. He had come abroad 'to study art' at the Academie Julian (a private art school in Paris). After about a year and a half he had given up his artistic studies to join the Paris branch of the Ford Automobile Company and in October or November 1913 had gone to work for Ford in Spain, returning to France in July 1914 to report to the Ford headquarters. On the outbreak of War on 4 August 1914 he had joined the staff of the American Ambulance Service in Paris and was with it until 30 April 1916 [1919 passport application]. He said that cousins in Mason City, Iowa, were 'my sole relatives in the US, my immediate family being dead'. He was now following the occupation of 'artist and automobile business' and was temporarily residing at 25 rue de Longchamp, Paris. He claimed to have lost a passport issued in the autumn of 1913 by the Embassy in Paris, but needed one for 'residence in France' for 'artistic purposes in Spain' and for 'automobile business in England and Russia'. He submitted for identification his American Ambulance identity card and a driving licence issued in Paris on 24 April 1915. He also said that he did not pay American Income Tax, his income being insufficient.

Whilst in Paris on 1 May 1916 and as 'of Chicago' Bate had married secondly in the 16th Arrondissement, Vera Arkwright [Passport application 20 May 1916; the marriage was reported as forthcoming in The Times, 8 April 1916, page 11, and the Sunday Mirror, 9 April 1916, page 9], having known her for about eighteen months. Vera, a well known and well connected London socialite and horsewoman, had been born in London, 11 August 1884. She had left England to undertake Relief Work for the American Red Cross and arrived in Paris in September 1914 [her US Passport Application 1919]. As an Auxiliary Nurse at 30 Quai de Bethune, Paris, she had been awarded the UK's WW1 Service Star, 3 October 1914 [WW1 Service Medal and Award Rolls 1914-1920]. The couple had one child, Bridget Pamela Bate, born in Paris, 22 November 1917 [Passenger List of Ile de France, leaving Southampton, 3 September 1939]. Vera later worked in Paris with Coco Chanel from 1920 to 1930 [Wikipedia] and in 1923 she introduced Coco Chanel to the Duke of Westminster with whom Chanel then had a ten year affair. The three were photographed together in Scotland in 1925.

After marriage Bate worked from May 1916 in Paris with the Vacuum Oil Company and did relief work for the American Red Cross until 12 March 1919 when he applied for a passport for himself alone at Paris [issued 22 August 1919]. About January 1919 he had been released from the American Red Cross and in October 1919 he went to Austria as a secretary with the Reparations Commission, returning to France in June 1921 when it was agreed, because of Austria's financial position, that no payments should be made, 'beyond credits for transferred property'. His wife had accompanied him since 1 May 1916. In 1923 he was at 2 Villa de la Tour, Paris, 'for the General Secretariat assigned to US unofficial delegation to the Reparations Commission, Paris', but seems also to have been with the American Red Cross as Director of Motor Transport [Passport Application 1923].

In Paris on 1 November 1926 the Dundee Courier reported (page 10) that the Prince of Wales was playing golf with Fred Bate and that 'Mr and Mrs Bate are close personal friends of the Prince'. However, Fred and Vera were divorced in 1929 and Vera married Alberto Lombardi that year.

Fred Bate, aged 43, married his third wife, Genevieve Gillette, on 21 July 1930 in Cook County, Michigan [FamilySearch]. She had been born at St Paul, Minnesota, 24 September 1900, the daughter of Payson Edward Smith, a lumber dealer at Minneapolis [Family Search] and had only that year been divorced by Earl Perkins Gillette (1900-1951) a broker in that city. When the census was taken on 7 April 1930 she was recorded as living with her husband, their two young children (Jacqueline, aged 6, and Judith, aged 4) and her parents-in-law, at Girard Avenue, Minneapolis [Federal Census, 1930]. Bate had left Europe to meet her, sailing from Cherbourg on the Leviathan, 13 May 1930 and arriving at New York, 19 May 1930, when he gave his address as c/o the Lee Higginson Bank Building. What earlier connection there had been between Genevieve (known to her friends as 'Gebe') and Bate is not apparent. In September 1930 the Prince, on a private visit to Paris, was again reported as motoring alone to the St Cloud Country Club to play golf with Bate, one of its members [Yorkshire Post, 22 September 1930, page 8]. Bate is said to have worked for an American bank in Paris, 1930-32 [Jim Cox, Radio journalism in America (2013) 173]. On 12 May 1933 the new 'Mrs Frederick Bate (of USA)' was presented to Queen Mary in the General Circle by Mrs Atherton [The Times, 15 May 1933, page 21], the latter presumably being the wife of Ray Atherton, Counsellor to the American Embassy [The Royal Blue Book (1937) 684].

Whilst working for the War Reparations Commission Bate had come to know the American industrialist and banker Owen D Young (1874-1962) a prominent member of the Commission who in 1919 had founded and was the first chairman of the Radio Corporation of America which in turn had in 1926 created America's first radio network, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). Bate joined NBC in September 1932 and after four years as its European representative was in 1936 stationed in London as its British representative [Jim Cox, Radio journalism in America (2013) 173], whilst the ubiquitous Max Arthur Jordan (1895-1977) based in Basel, became NBC's full-time European representative. Bate is credited with 'developing international broadcasts into a viable enterprise' ['Networks in France and Europe, 1932-41', pages 31-50, in Derek W. Vaillant, Across the waves: how the United States and France shaped the international age of radio (2017) 31-50].

In London, Bate lived then at 15 Campden Hill Square, W8 [The Royal Blue Book (1937) 710] and his friendship with the Prince of Wales continued. The Duchess of Windsor later recalled that about 1934 or 1935, the Prince of Wales 'wished to ask us [i.e. Mrs Simpson and her husband Ernest] to a dinner party that he was giving at the Dorchester for two old American friends, Fred and 'Gebe' Bate. Fred was the Western European representative of the National Broadcasting Company, and I had met them at the Fort' [Duchess of Windsor, The heart has its reasons: the memoirs of the Duchess of Windsor (1956) 192].

The Bates had become frequent visitors of the Prince of Wales at Fort Belvedere (the castellated private residence bordering Windsor Great Park which the Prince had taken in 1929 and called 'The Fort'), they signing its new guest book - a gift from Mrs Simpson - in 1935, on 1 and 26 January, 9 March, 11 May, 7 June, 25 October and 21 December [Michael Bloch, Wallis and Edward: letters 1931-1937 (New York, 1986) pages 295, 347-355]. They came less frequently after the Prince of Wales became King on 20 January 1936 but were there 'for the weekend' on 14 March, on 18 April and on 25 May 1936. On one occasion Bate had, from the Fort, telephoned Sir John Reith, director-general of the British Broadcasting Corporation, to say that the King would like the BBC dance orchestra to play a certain tune, but the BBC avoided any mention of Mrs Simpson's name until the week of the abdication [Brian Inglis, Abdication (1966) 310]. The Bates sailed for New York on the Queen Mary on 27 May 1936 and returned on the Berengaria, 23 June 1936. She alone signed the visitor's book on 9 October 1936.

On the understanding that the King had no intention of marrying Mrs Simpson the more important British newspapers had agreed in mid-October 1936 not to give publicity to their relationship and her upcoming divorce, a decree nisi being expected on 27 October [Frances Donaldson, Edward VIII (1974) 219-23, 228], but on 26 October the New York Herald, stated unequivocally that the King would marry 'Wally' eight months after the divorce and that after the King's coronation she would be his consort. The British press, however, kept its silence until 5 December when the question of their possible marriage was openly discussed and revealed widespread hostility in the British public and the Commonwealth.

Bate had provided up-to-the-minute radio coverage of the King's relationship with Mrs Simpson to the American public and must therefore take some responsibility for 'all this scandal and vulgarity' and the 'degrading and horrible publicity' which was, as Noel Coward wrote to Lord Mountbatten, circulating in America [Philip Ziegler, Mountbatten: the official biography (1985) 94]. On 23 October 1936 Bate took a two-month holiday and left on the Manhattan for New York. He therefore missed the drama of the King's abdication on 11 December but, on hearing the developing news, he had telephoned Alistair Cooke and asked him to go immediately to Broadcasting House and beam over a news dispatch for NBC before the midnight circuit which the rival network CBS had booked. Cooke did so and for the next ten days of the crisis he broadcast to America six or seven times a day. Bate returned to England on the Queen Mary on 21 December. In April 1937 he sent the first of a long series of special British programmes about the forthcoming coronation of King George VI to America [Daily Herald, 21 April 1937, page 17] and in January 1938 organised the first of a series of 'spelling bees' between colleges in England and the US [Western Daily Press, 25 January 1938, page 9]. In 1939 Bate and his wife were living at 11 Portland Place [1939 Register, The National Archives RG101/0457F/004/44].

On 8 May 1939 the ex-King, living in France as a private citizen but convinced that war as a means of settling disputes was unacceptable, was easily persuaded to accept an offer by Bate to address the world on the anniversary of the Battle of Verdun on the need for world peace. However, the BBC decided not to carry the broadcast and many thought that it should never have been delivered. It followed soon after the Duke's untimely visit to Germany and, as his biographer Frances Donaldson wrote, the Duke's 'unerringly unfortunate sense of timing' was disastrous. In his official biography Philip Ziegler says that it was 'ill-luck' that the new King and Queen were en route to New York for their first goodwill visit to Canada and the United States [Philip Ziegler, King Edward VIII: the official biography (1990) 399], but the Duke's biographer Frances Donaldson thought the ex-King's broadcast and his later appeals for peace, coming as they did from someone who was now merely a private citizen, 'most foolish of all', saying that it 'seems probable' that the Duke had fallen 'a sucker' to Fred Bate who had been trying to persuade him to broadcast ever since the abdication and 'finally devised a scheme the Duke found irresistible' [Frances Donaldson, Edward VIII (1974) 342-43]. The historian Sarah Bradford commented, 'This may be partly so, but it is hard not to suspect that there was a decided intent on the part of the Windsors to upstage the King and Queen before they arrived in America and to draw attention to the Duke as an international figure of equal importance' [Sarah Bradford, George VI (1989) 378]. The Duke's rancour towards his family was at this time deeply embittered [Philip Ziegler, King Edward VIII: the official biography (1990) 397].

On 2 June 1940 Mrs Bate and her two children (then aged 15 and 16) had left from Galway on the President Roosevelt for New York, arriving there 9 June 1940 and heading for 685 Linwood Place in her birthplace St Paul, Minnesota, and later that month it was announced that Bate was to be vice-chairman of the London Committee of the American Red Cross [The Times, 22 June 1940, page 6]. Bate thus remained in England and on 16 July, with Edward Murrow and John Steele, was present when the King and Queen toured Broadcasting House and explained how listeners in the USA got American commentaries from England [The Scotsman, 17 July 1940, page 6]. In June the two networks had jointly installed microphones in suitable air raid shelters across London so that listeners in the USA could hear the sound of the raids [Gloucester Citizen, 26 June 1940, page 4]. Murrow at CBS and Bate at NBC had a friendly rivalry but Bate was never able to overtake Murrow's air dominance [Cox (2013) 173].

Bate was himself wounded by shrapnel when a bomb hit NBC's London offices in December 1940 and he spent ten days in hospital. Having been appointed NBC's director of shortwave broadcasting in New York [Cox (2013) 173], Bate left England on the Jamaica from Liverpool, 10 January 1942, and stayed at the Hotel Sulgrave in New York but did not complete the Draft Registration procedures there until 20 October, saying that he had not registered because of his wife's illness [World War II Draft Registration Cards].

Bate remained in contact with the Duke of Windsor and when, in August-September 1944 the Duchess was in hospital in New York, stories spread of her extravagance (she having moved into a ten-room suite with six full time nurses) [Charles Higham, Mrs Simpson (2005) 417], 'Hermann Rogers of the press censorship and Fred Bate of NBC saw to it that the story was swiftly and publicly corrected' [Michael Bloch, The Duke of Windsor's war (1982) 342]. By this time Bate's former wife, now Signora Lombardi, who had been interned in Italy, had gone to Spain and reported that Coco Chanel was a Nazi agent [Charles Higham, Mrs Simpson (1988) 416; Hal Vaughan, Sleeping with the enemy: Coco Chanel's secret war (2011)].

Bate retired from NBC in 1949 [Cox (2013) 173] and from 1950 to 1954 promoted educational TV with a grant from the Ford Foundation [Cox (2013) 173]. He died at Waterford, Loudon County, Virginia, 24 December 1970, aged 84, and was buried at Lee Crematory, Washington DC, with an inscription as 'Frederick Blandford Bate' [sic], at Waterford, Loudon, Virginia [obituary in New York Times, 30 December 1970, page 28]. Genevieve Bate died 18 December 1984, aged 85, at Palmer House on Main Street, Waterford and was buried at the Metropolitan Cemetery, Alexandria, Virginia [Virginia Death Records 1912-2014].

Anthony J Camp, 2020.