Norman Ebbutt was born in London on 26th January 1894. His father was William Arthur Ebbutt, a journalist on the staff of the Daily News and the Daily Chronicle. His mother, Blanche Berry Ebbutt was the author of marriage advice books.
Ebbutt was educated at Willaston School in Nantwich. After leaving school in 1909 he spent the next few years in Europe learning languages. In 1914 he joined The Times but during the First World War he served as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy. (1)
In 1925 he was sent to Berlin and in 1927 he became the newspaper's chief correspondent in Germany. He became friends with several politicians serving in the Reichstag and was a personal friend of Chancellor Heinrich Brüning, the leader of the Catholic Centre Party. As Louis L. Snyder has pointed out that "From 1930 to 1932 Brüning struggled unsuccessfully to resolve the deepening economic crisis. Unemployment rose to more than 6 million, and he was attacked bitterly by the Communists on the left and the National Socialists on the right." (2)
In the General Election of November 1932, the Nazi Party won 196 seats. This did not give them an overall majority as the opposition also did well: Social Democratic Party (121), German Communist Party (100), Catholic Centre Party (90) and German National People's Party (52). Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor, in January 1933, but the Nazis only had a third of the seats in Parliament. (3)
On 23rd March, 1933, the German Reichstag passed the Enabling Bill. This banned the German Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party from taking part in future election campaigns. This was followed by Nazi officials being put in charge of all local government in the provinces (7th April), trades unions being abolished, their funds taken and their leaders put in prison (2nd May), and a law passed making the Nazi Party the only legal political party in Germany (14th July). (4)
According to his biographer, Markus Huttner: "Because of his excellent knowledge of German affairs and his long-standing contacts Ebbutt was better able than most of his fellow correspondents to cope with the serious restrictions on news gathering imposed immediately after Hitler became chancellor on 30 January 1933. As Hitler consolidated his power Ebbutt reported events with deep seriousness and dispassionate accuracy. He had a special sense for the latent antagonisms hidden behind the seemingly monolithic façade of the Führer state. In one field Ebbutt's dispatches were particularly full and reliable: for more than four years he recorded the disputes within the German protestant church and the growing tensions between confessing Christians and the Nazi regime in precise detail." (5)
During this period he was described as "one of the foremost journalists of all time". He was a good source of information for other journalists based in Berlin: "At such times he could sit back: a man squarely built, looking out quizzically and expectantly through his thick spectacles, striking matches as he repeatedly lit his pipe, smiling delightedly when anyone made a telling point in discussion". (6)
Douglas Reed worked with Ebbutt and considered him to be the best British journalist working in Nazi Germany: "Norman Ebbutt's dispatches were paid the greatest of all compliments - they were read by his own colleagues all over the world. A man with a profound admiration for Germany, who in pre-Hitler days was often held up by the German Press as a model foreign correspondent." (7)
Ebbutt's problem was that his anti-Nazi views were not shared by his editor, Geoffrey Dawson, at The Times. In a 1935 speech the Prince of Wales had called for a closer understanding of Hitler in order to safeguard peace in Europe. On the suggestion of Joachim von Ribbentrop, Dawson agreed with this idea and joined Admiral Sir Barry Domvile, Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, Montague Norman, Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster, Charles Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 7th Marquess of Londonderry, Ronald Nall-Cain, 2nd Baron Brocket, Sir Thomas Moore, Frank Cyril Tiarks, Ernest Bennett, Duncan Sandys and Norman Hulbert in forming the Anglo-German Fellowship. (8)
Dawson was also a member of the Cliveden Set. Dawson was a regular weekend guest at Cliveden, the home of Lord Waldorf Astor and his wife, Lady Nancy Astor. Other members included Philip Henry Kerr (Lord Lothian), Edward Wood (Lord Halifax), William Montagu, 9th Duke of Manchester and Robert Brand. (9)
As Jim Wilson, the author of Nazi Princess: Hitler, Lord Rothermere and Princess Stephanie Von Hohenlohe (2011) has pointed out: "The Astors' house parties became notorious for attracting members of aristocratic society supportive of Hitler and his policies, and for enthusiasts of appeasement. Lord Astor owned both The Observer and The Times, Geoffrey Dawson, editor of The Times, was another of Princess Stephanie's acquaintances and also regularly attended at Cliveden.The house parties were therefore fruitful occasions for Stephanie to work her brand of subtle propaganda: persuasive, clever conversation which traded heavily on her personal contacts with Hitler." (10)
It has been claimed by Stanley Morison, the author of The History of The Times (1952) that Dawson had censored the reports sent by Norman Ebbutt. Another correspondent in the city, William Shirer commented: “The trouble for Ebbutt was that his newspaper, the most esteemed in England, would not publish much of what he reported. The Times in those days was doing its best to appease Hitler and to induce the British government to do likewise. The unpleasant truths that Ebbutt telephones nightly to London from Berlin were often kept out of the great newspaper”. (11)
In a letter Geoffrey Dawson sent to H. G. Daniels of 23rd May 1937 he said that he did his utmost "to keep out of the paper anything that might hurt their (Nazi German) susceptibilities". (12) Even though his articles were censored, Adolf Hitler still objected to them and in August 1937 Joseph Goebbels demanded that Ebbutt should leave the country. On 21st August he left Berlin, "seen off at the station by a large gathering of his colleagues". Ebbutt later complained "that the half-hearted support he got from his London superiors did not facilitate his difficult task in the capital of the Third Reich". (13)
Soon after arriving back in London, Ebbutt suffered a severe stroke which left him heavily paralysed and with limited speech. Unable to write, for the next thirty-one years he was looked after by his second wife, Gladys Holms Ebburt.
Norman Ebbutt died at his home in Midhurst on 17th October 1968.
Ebbutt was better able than most of his fellow correspondents to cope with the serious restrictions on news gathering imposed immediately after Hitler became chancellor on 30 January 1933. As Hitler consolidated his power Ebbutt reported events with deep seriousness and dispassionate accuracy. He had a special sense for the latent antagonisms hidden behind the seemingly monolithic façade of the Führer state.
In one field Ebbutt's dispatches were particularly full and reliable: for more than four years he recorded the disputes within the German protestant church and the growing tensions between confessing Christians and the Nazi regime in precise detail. This was due to a unique source close to the inner ranks of the German protestant church leadership. In February 1933 Ebbutt had been introduced by the former chancellor Brüning to Dr Horst Michael, a trained historian, who was prepared to undertake the risky job of a confidential contact in order to keep the outside world informed about what was going to happen in Germany. As a member of the Berlin brethren council of the confessing church Michael had access to inside news about the church conflict but could also provide authentic material on other aspects of Nazi policy, such as massive rearmament. This co-operation between Michael and the Berlin office of The Times, which lasted until March 1939, did much to make the London paper one of the most important sources of serious information about Nazi Germany.