In which local historian Chris Sams digs into the past to find a parallel with the present..
In recent weeks the Medway political scene has been rocked by the discovery of Councillor Franklin’s suspension from his post and even the Conservative party for the Retweeting of Islamophobic posts but he is not the first person to be thrown out of somewhere for overtly or subtly racist propaganda during a social and racially divisive period.
The 1930s were a very volatile period of history in Europe. A giant unifying political body had irrevocably split with one section voting to leave the union which caused a large swathe of the continent in turmoil and instability (The break of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918). Russia was on everybody’s mind as Stalin played political games with the West and his agents tried to subvert European democracies and an old distrust bordering on hatred for one ethnic group was reignited by a handful of right wingers – all sounding familiar..
Anti-Semitism was nothing new in European history or even in England, where in the reign of Edward I, Jews were first rounded up into ghettos and then deported, but it was now brought to the political fore front. In Germany the rise of Adolf Hitler and the NSDAP saw prominent Jews forced to flee their native homes, the removal of civil liberties and rights, Kristallnacht and the Nacht und Nabel decrees but this was not just limited to Germany.
In Britain, Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists began to similarly become more and more anti-Semitic. The BUF had started with the usual patriotic aims of making Britain Great again on the basis of Protectionism and using Keynesian economics as a basis to tackle unemployment caused by the world-wide economic slump following the great crash of 1929 and were supported by the Daily Mail newspaper group and their head Lord Rothermere. Whereas Mosely modelled himself on Mussolini and Italian fascism some of his more vocal followers aped the beliefs of Hitler and the Nazi regime and Anti-Semitism began to grow alienating many backers and supporters such as Lord Rothermere who pulled funding and media support.
About this time a man was thrown out of the Old Lord Raglan Pub on Chatham hill for handing out Anti-Semitic leaflets for the BUF.
In itself there is not much to this story but this man went on to be of some significance and fairly famous across the whole of the UK and Germany.
William Joyce was born in America to an Irish immigrant family and returned to his family’s native land when he was young. He was forced to move to Britain following the Irish War of Independence as he had been working for the British Army as a courier and had even served, under age, as part of the Worcester regiment.
Having gained a degree in English and got a job as a teacher and began to dabble with fascism. In 1924 he was left with a prominent scar on his face after he was allegedly attacked with a razor by a Jewish Communist though his first wife claimed it was by an Irish woman.
William Joyce joined the BUF in 1932 where his skilled oratory saw him promoted to head of their Propaganda department as well as Deputy leader and dragged them towards a more Nazi stance even going so far as to change the Party name to the British Union of Fascists and National Socialists. As the BUF lost popularity and had to save money Joyce was sacked from his paid position and formed a splinter party called the National Socialist league and under Moseley the BUF began to veer away from racism and towards avoiding war with Germany.
In August 1939 Joyce fled Britain with his wife before the Police could arrest him under the Defence of the Realm act. He was welcomed in Germany and soon became a naturalised citizen and managed to get a job working for Goebbels’ Propaganda ministry as a broadcaster spreading German spin and deception over the airwaves with his broadcasts starting with the familiar “Germany Calling, this is Germany Calling.”
His links to the Medway towns do not end there as in early 1940 HMS Ajax, fresh from her victorious action at the River Plate which cost the German Navy the Pocket battleship Graf Spee, was docked into Chatham dockyard for some much needed repairs and refit. Joyce, now known to the British Public as “Lord Haw-Haw” pronounced that the German Luftwaffe would get revenge for Germany by sinking her in the docks. As his program was listened to by six million regular Britons (and around 18 million casual listeners) steps were immediately taken to disguise the ship. As he had promised a Dornier Do- 215 bomber attacked Ajax diving down low enough for a 14 year Old boy (Marshall Davis) to see the bomb aimer’s face. A stick of bombs fell with most falling harmlessly in the water and a final one striking the dock killing one civilian worker.
Joyce would continue to work for the ministry as well as trying to recruit POWs to join the SS British Freikorps or Legion of St George. His last, drunken rambling broadcast went out from Hamburg on 30th April and can be heard here here.
On the 28th February Joyce was captured by British soldiers in his Pyjamas whilst collecting firewood. When asked to provide papers he reached into his dressing gown and believing that he was armed the two soldiers fired on him shooting him in the buttocks twice. He was taken to hospital under armed guard and later charged with treason.
Despite protestations that he was “Not guilty” combined with the fact that he was born in America he was indeed found guilty as he had had a British passport before the war and that it did not expire until after he began broadcasting for the Nazi regime and despite an appeal he was sentenced to death.
On the 3rd January 1946 Alfred Pierrepoint carried out the sentence at Wandsworth prison. Joyce’s last testimony is reported to have been:
“In death as in life, I defy the Jews who caused this last war and I defy the power of darkness which they represent. I warn the British people against the crushing imperialism of the Soviet Union. May Britain be great once again and in the hour of the greatest danger in the West may the standard be raised from the dust, crowned with the words – “You have conquered nevertheless”. I am proud to die for my ideals and I am sorry for the sons of Britain who have died without knowing why.”
Although I’m sure Councillor Franklin is not about to defect and commit acts of treason in the furtherance of an Islamophobic rhetoric in the style of Lord Haw-Haw, I am drawing a parallel between 1930s racial hatred and that of todays, which is equally abhorrent and the use of the media to spread lies and hatred.