In any war propaganda is a useful weapon. In World War II both the Allies, and the combined Axis powers used broadcasting, leaflet dropping, false information contained in dead men’s briefcases, diaries, fake military manoeuvres, or through clever counter espionage, to discourage and demoralise the enemy. There were many spectacular successes; but the one that really annoyed the British was the voice of William Joyce, broadcasting almost nightly from Reichssender Hamburg radio. He became known as Lord Haw Haw, a much hated figure.
At a time when the British authorities were anxious to play down war-time losses, Lord Haw Haw sneeringly reported the shooting down of Allied aircraft, the sinking of her ships; and presented disturbing reports of big losses and casualities among the Allied armies. The broadcasts started in September 1939 and continued until April 30 1945 when Hamburg was finally over-run by the British army.
At first no one knew the identity of Lord Haw Haw but in Galway several people immediately recognised that the voice belonged to William Joyce, who was a student at Coláiste Iognáid from 1915 until 1921. Then he suddenly left Galway.
A former classmate of his Billy Naughton, instantly recognised Joyce’s voice. Billy described him as a precocious and boastful boy, who had an untidy appearance. ‘He had a strong, and an aggressive voice, and breathed nasally, almost snorting. He was fond of using big and strange words. He was a member of the Holy Angels Sodality, and was known as Willie. He was very pro-British, and when the Great War was on, he had frequent rows with boys who had Sinn Féin sympathies.’
The nasal voice was probably due to a fight he had with another boy who called him an Orangeman.
Joyce’s nightly ‘news’ programme began with ‘Germany calling... Germany calling’ but his nasal voice made it sound like ‘Gairmany calling’. He reported the progress of the German armed forces, and greatly exaggerated their successes. Strict censorship limited war information to the British people, so Joyce became almost compulsory listening. ‘He was very well informed’, I read in a new history of the Jes,* ‘and often came out with extraordinary local details. Some German planes returning to base, but running low on fuel, and thinking they were still over the sea, offloaded their bombs over fields in west Mayo. Joyce, apologising for the accident, actually named the town lands affected.
At one stage when the war was going well for Germany, he boasted that Adolf Hitler would be in the stand in Ballybrit at the next Galway races.’
The young Joyce’s fascination with military matters probably led him to choose the life that would eventually lead to his death at 39 years of age. He was born in Brooklyn in 1906, and came to Galway as a small boy. His father worked on the Galway-Salthill tram. The family lived at Rutledge Terrace, Rockbarton. As the War of Independence developed here he was friendly with some of the Black and Tans, even seen riding in the cab of their tenders. On one occasion he produced a gun at school, and was immediately expelled. He was probably a marked man by the IRA as his association with British soldiers was generally known. He was warned to keep away.
He went to London, and joined Oswald Mosley’s fascist movement. He was involved in street thuggery, and anti Jewish rallies. He received a deep scar on the right side of his face in a brawl. At he beginning of the war, he went to Germany on a British passport which he somehow managed to secure. This was to prove his undoing.
He was captured after the collapse of Germany, and brought to England to face trial. Despite Britain’s trauma during six years of war, it exacted little retribution from its enemies. But Joyce was an exception. He was deeply hated. After a controversial trial, he was hanged as a traitor to Britain, at Wandsworth prison on January 3 1946. America could have intervened, as Joyce was an American citizen; but in the climate of the day, America did not object. **
Next week: William Joyce remarked : “ The Jesuits, with whom I had many differences, gave me the benefit of their splendid education system.” I will look at this new book, and try to see what that benefit was.
NOTES: *The Jes - 150 years of the Jesuits in Galway 1862-2012, is a very handsome book of articles and photographs, compiled by my colleague on this page, Tom Kenny. It is beautifully printed by Castle Print, and is on sale at all Galway bookshops €30.
** In 1976 Joyce was reburied at the New Cemetery, Bohermore.
The Humbug of Hamburg
William Joyce adopted an upper-class accent for his initial broadcasts, which infuriated the British even more. As Germany faced ruin, and advancing armies threatened Hamburg, his final broadcasts were often given in a slurred voice, clearly the evidence of alcohol. You can detect an Irish accent in these broadcasts. This music hall song, which became very popular throughout the war, was written and sung, also in a mock posh voice, by the Western Brothers, Ken and Alfred.
Who is the chap who hits the high spot?
The greatest comedian now of the lot?
The definite radio star now number one?
The life of the party, the bundle of fun?
Lord Haw Haw the humbug of Hamburg
The bloke with the tonsils and tone,
His homburg he raises in Hamburg
His top lip is quite over grown.
Lord Haw Haw the humbug of Hamburg!
Where was his school, was it Eton or Stowe?
Heidelberg borstal we really don’t know,
He’s all rather county
And very well off
This Oxford or Cambridge,
This Teutonic toff!
Lord Haw Haw the humbug from Hamburg
He thinks that the war will be won
By his petulant patter from Hamburg
That we’re all going to run rabbit run.
The ladies all love him
He picks only the purer
And all the merry war widows
He gets from the Fuhrer!
Lord Haw Haw the humbug from Hamburg
This hee-hawing highbrow Hun!