Today in London’s history: Nazi Lord Haw-Haw hanged, Wandsworth Prison, 1946.

William Joyce, later famous for broadcasting pro-Nazi propaganda from Germany during World War 2, was born in New York City in 1906. His family moved to his father’s native Ireland in 1909, where Joyce was educated in Roman Catholic schools, including the Jesuit St Ignatius Loyola College. The Joyce family were ardent loyalists, opposed to Irish independence, and Joyce later claimed to have fought as a boy alongside the Black and Tans.”

In 1922 William Joyce emigrated to England with his family, and became heavily involved in extreme right-wing politics. In 1923 he joined the British Fascisti (BF). Members of the British Fascists were scared by the Russian Revolution, but took inspiration from what Benito Mussolini had done in Italy.

However the British Fascisti were obviously unpopular with anti-fascists and leftwingers generally, and during the 1924 General Election, on 22nd October, William Joyce was cut across his face with a razor during a bundle with members of the Communist Party of Great Britain in Lambeth, leaving him scarred from the corner of his mouth to behind his right ear.

In 1925 Maxwell Knight, the Director of Intelligence of the British Fascisti, was recruited by MI5. He was placed in charge of B5b, a unit that conducted the monitoring of political subversion. Knight recruited a large number of his agents from right-wing political organisations. It was later discovered that Joyce was one of MI5’s agents. Over the next few years Joyce provided Knight with information he had about the activities of the Communist Party and other left-wing groups.

Like other members of the British Fascisti, Joyce had a deep hatred of Jews and Communists. He claimed that his facial wound had been caused by a “Jewish Communist”. He also blamed his failure to complete his MA on a Jewish woman tutor. On 30th April 1927 he married Hazel Katherine Barr at Chelsea register office. The couple had two daughters. At this point Joyce joined the Conservative Party.

However, in early 1933 William Joyce joined the recently formed British Union of Fascists (BUF) led by Oswald Mosley. The BUF was strongly anti-communist and argued for a programme of economic revival based on government spending and protectionism. Mosley appointed Joyce as the party full-time Propaganda Director and deputy leader of BUF.

The London Evening News, another newspaper owned by Lord Rothermere, found a more popular and subtle way of supporting the Blackshirts. It obtained 500 seats for a BUF rally at the Royal Albert Hall and offered them as prizes to readers who sent in the most convincing reasons why they liked the Blackshirts. Another title owned by Rothermere, the Sunday Dispatch, even sponsored a Blackshirt beauty competition to find the most attractive BUF supporter. Not enough attractive women entered and the contest was declared void.

By 1934 the British Union of Fascists had 40,000 members and was able to establish its own drinking clubs and football teams. The BUF also gained the support of Lord Rothermere and the Daily Mail. On 7th June, 1934, the BUF held a large rally at Olympia. About 500 anti-fascists managed to get inside the hall. When they began heckling Oswald Mosley they were attacked by 1,000 black-shirted stewards. Several of the protesters were badly beaten by the fascists.

In October, 1934, Mosley and Joyce spoke at a BUF meeting in Worthing, Sussex, (a BUF stronghold, where a fascist had been elected to the council) where a large crowd heckled, attacked and routed the fascists.

Under the influence of Joyce the BUF became increasingly anti-Semitic. The verbal attacks on the Jewish community led to violence at meetings and demonstrations.

The activities of the BUF was checked by the the passing of the 1936 Public Order Act. This gave the Home Secretary the power to ban marches in the London area and police chief constables could apply to him for bans elsewhere. This legislation also made it an offence to wear political uniforms and to use threatening and abusive words.

The anti-Semitic policy was popular in certain inner-city areas and in 1937 Joyce came close to defeating the Labour Party candidate in the London County Council election in Shoreditch. Joyce argued that the facsists should take a more extreme position on racial issues. Mosley disagreed and began to feel that Joyce posed a threat to his leadership. He therefore decided to sack Joyce as Propaganda Director. In an attempt to save money another 142 staff members also lost their jobs.

Joyce now left the British Union and with the help of John Becket and A. K. Chesterton he founded the National Socialist League. In a pamphlet, National Socialism Now, Joyce began to express views similar to those of Adolf Hitler. He wrote: “International Finance is controlled by great Jewish moneylenders and Communism is being propagated by Jewish agitators who are at one fundamentally with the powerful capitalists of their race in desiring an international world order, which would, of course, give universal sovereignty to the only international race in existence.”

When Adolf Hitler ordered the invasion of Czechoslovakia Joyce became convinced that war with Germany was inevitable. Unwilling to fight against Hitler’s forces, Joyce began to consider leaving the country. This view was reinforced when he was warned by former British Fascisti chum and sometime spymaster Maxwell Knight of MI5 that the British government was thinking of interning fascist leaders if war broke out. Knight, indeed, may have maintained some form of contact with him during the first few months of the war, sending him coded letters and, seemingly, keeping him “on the books” as a potential agent of influence.

Understandably, Knight, the model for M in Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories, was keen that all this should remain a secret between himself and Joyce. Interestingly, the repulsive ‘businessman’, Giovanni Di Stefano, rightwing Italian-English bogus lawyer and friend and appologist of Serbian warlord and murderer Arkan, has claimed that he has proof that Joyce was in fact acting as an MI5 agent in Germany thoughout the war and they let him be hanged anyway. Either way he and MI5 don’t come out of it all well…

On 26th August, 1939, Joyce left for Nazi Germany. Soon after arriving in Berlin he got a job with the German Radio Corporation as an English language broadcaster. Joyce joined the ‘German Calling’ programme. On 14th September, 1939, a report in the Daily Express described the broadcaster as speaking the “English of the haw-haw, damit-get-out-of-my-way variety.” Joyce soon became derogatively known as Lord Haw-Haw.

Joyce continued to broadcast pro-Nazi propaganda throughout the Second World War. In 1940 the Daily Mirror organised the Anti Haw Haw League of Loyal Britons – members pledged not to listen to these broadcasts (the Mirror desperately trying to live down its own stint as supporters of the Blackshirts in the 1930s). Other British subjects who took part in these broadcasts included John Amery, Railton Freeman, Norman Baillie-Stewart, Kenneth Lander and William Griffiths.

Joyce was captured by the British Army at Flensburg on 28th May 1945. Three days later Joyce was interrogated by William Scardon, an MI5 officer. Joyce made a full confession but at first the Director of Prosecutions doubted whether he could be tried for treason as he had been born in the United States. However, his broadcasts during the war had made him a hate figure in Britain and the Attorney General, David Maxwell-Fyfe, decided to charge him with high treason.

Joyce’s trial for high treason began at the Old Bailey on 17th September, 1945. In court it was stated that although he was United States citizen he had held a British passport during the early stages of the war. It was therefore argued in court by Hartley Shawcross that Joyce had committed treason by broadcasting for Germany between September 1939 and July 1940, when he officially became a German citizen.

William Joyce was found guilty of treason and was executed on 3rd January 1946.

Lord Haw-Haw was the last civilian in Britain to be hanged for treason. Yet his wife, who also broadcast Nazi propaganda and was decorated by Hitler, was never brought to trial. It later emerged that a deal was struck between the Joyce and MI5: his silence for his wife’s life.

The day after her husband’s execution, Margaret Joyce, better known as Lady Haw-Haw, was told by the governor of Holloway Prison that she must pack up her belongings. She was to be “returned to the Continent”, he said, though he couldn’t say where exactly. She was relieved, in a way, because this ruled out the possibility of her being tried for high treason at the Old Bailey.

The following morning, feeling ”half loopy” as she put it, she was driven under armed escort to Croydon airport for a 9am flight to the military detention centre in Brussels. Two weeks later, Major J. F. E. Stephenson of MI5 sent a memorandum to the head of the British Intelligence Bureau there.

”It has been decided by the authorities in the UK not to prosecute this woman, in effect on compassionate grounds. There is no lack of evidence implicating her in the treasonable activities of her late husband; but the authorities do not think she need be punished further, and would like her to be returned to Germany as a German subject.” So it was that an American husband was hanged as an Englishman, while his equally “guilty” English wife was freed as a German.

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An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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