William Joyce’s notorious broadcasts to Britain, which continued throughout the six years of World War II, initially came from the studios in Berlin, later transferred to Luxembourg city, due to heavy Allied bombing, and finally from Apen, near Hamburg. The broadcasts were relayed over a wide network of German controlled radio stations in Zeesen, Hamburg, Bremen, Luxembourg, Hilversum, Calais, and Oslo. It had a huge potential audience, and was seen as a vital propaganda tool for Nazi Germany.
Listening to Joyce's broadcasts was officially discouraged but was not illegal, and many Britons listened. There was a natural curiosity to hear what the other side was up to. These broadcasts which regularly urged the British people to surrender, were delivered in a jeering, sarcastic and menacing tone. A typical message was that people of England ‘will curse themselves for having preferred ruin from Churchill, to peace from Hitler’. It was a far cry from the heavily censored BBC.
In a newspaper article of September 14 1939, the radio critic of the Daily Express wrote of hearing a gent ‘moaning periodically from Zeesen who ‘speaks English of the haw-haw, damit-get-out-of-my-way variety’. Four days later he gave him the nickname ‘Lord Haw-Haw, which Joyce liked and used it to identify himself in other talks and lectures.
His reports could be chillingly accurate. His practice of naming newly captured prisoners was also a compelling motive for listening. By 1940 it was estimated that his ‘Germany Calling’ broadcast had six million regular listeners, and 18 million occasional listeners in Britain alone. Joseph Goebbles, the chief propagandist for the Nazi Party, wrote in his diary: ‘I tell the Fuhrer about Lord Haw-Haw’s success, which is really astonishing’.
Power of speaking
In November 1933 William Joyce abandoned his Ph D studies to work for Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF ). Mosley was an aristocratic odd-ball, and one of many British aristocrats who had a sneaking admiration for Hitler and his burgeoning industrial Germany. Mosley, however, was one of the worst of the lot, with his anti semite, and anti emigrant rhetoric, delivered in a passionate voice that could, and did, get large audiences to their feet wildly applauding.
There were other extraordinary examples of this kind of admiration among the British upper classes, none more outstanding that the ex-king, Edward, the Duke of Windsor, and his wife, the American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. In 1937 they visited Germany. Windsor believed that Germany’s industrial success should be studied, but what he really wanted was for his wife, rejected by the people of Britain, to share a state visit as his consort. The British government was furious, and advised against the visit. Of course Hitler was delighted and charming, while exalting in a stunning propaganda coup, captured by photographers across the world.
Disillusioned by mainstream politics Mosley turned to fascism, and quickly built up a huge following. His large meetings were regularly interrupted by hecklers and objectors, which became such a nuisance that Mosley instituted a corps of black-uniformed paramilitary stewards, nicknamed ‘Blackshirts’, which patrolled meetings and physically had hecklers thrown out.
Joyce fitted into this scheme of things perfectly. He became its paid publicity director, travelling throughout Britain to organise meetings. He was a powerful, rabble-rousing speaker, nicknamed ‘The Mighty Atom’ (after a famous bantamweight boxer ), and ‘The Professor’. He loved the power of speaking to a crowd, and it followed his words with applause and cheers. MI5 saw him as a compelling, though deranged, personality. On February 8 1937, Joyce married Margaret Cairns White, a BUF activist from Lancashire, with whom he had cohabited for some years.
Battle of Cable Street
As the months went by and most people saw how Germany was planning on expanding its borders, and its treatment of Jews became common knowledge, disruption at BUF meetings became more violent. At a large Mosley rally at Olympia, London, his Blackshirt bodyguard got out of control and seriously injured Communist and Jewish supporters. This resulted in a wave of bad publicity for the BUF, and as violence against the Jews in Germany escalated, (Kristallnacht November 8 1938 ), support for the BUF began to wane.
Despite all the publicity, however, Mosley continued espousing anti-Semitic bile. At one of his meetings in Leicester he said: ‘For the first time I openly and publicly challenge the Jewish interests of this country, commanding commerce, commanding the Press, commanding the cinema, dominating the City of London, killing industry with their sweat-shops. These great interests are not intimidating, and will not intimidate, the Fascist movement of the modern age.’
On one occasion the Blackshirts publicised a mass march through the East End of London where Cockney Londoners, Irish and Jewish emigrants had lived in harmony for generations. At Cable Street, the Blackshirts were met by an outraged population who fought, and refused to let pass the invading blackshirts. Initially the police backed the Mosley gang who ‘had the right to walk along the King’s highway’, but the opposition was so fierce, the police eventually cancelled the march.
Witnesses on the day recall seeing young Irish dockworkers fighting elbow to elbow with the old Jewish men in Hasidic hats and coats. It was a great victory for the ordinary Londoner, fed up with ‘the likes of Mosley’. The event is marked today, with a sign proudly stating: ‘The people of East London rallied to Cable Street, on October 4 1936, and forced back the march of the fascist Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts through the streets of the East End. They shall not pass.’
While Europe sleep-walked towards war in 1939, Mosley saw Joyce as a bit of a threat. In February 1937 Joyce was the BUF candidate for the London county council in Shoreditch. He did not win, but scored 14 per cent of the vote. The following month Mosley fired Joyce as his publicity director, and kicked him out of the Blackshirt movement. It has been suggested that Joyce’s dismissal reflected Mosley’s awareness that his obsessive rhetoric repelled ‘respectable’ recruits, and that he was no longer a biddable, slavish admirer of ‘the leader’, whom Joyce now called ‘The Bleeder’.
Joyce later falsely claimed near-exclusively credit for the BUF’s escalating anti-Semitism, a view that Mosley eventually found convenient to adopt in order to evade his own responsibility.
A master of his own destiny at last, Joyce, with two other former BUF members, founded the National Socialist League (which never had more than 50 members ), and attacked Mosley for his interest only in personal glory, whereas they were ‘only instruments of a great policy’. Joyce secured the financial backing from a stockbroker, and soon the NSL was able to publish its own newspaper, The Helmsman. It published the party’s philosophy was based on Joyce’s book entitled ‘National Socialism Now’, in which they declared strong admiration for Hitler, but added that what was needed was British Nazism. The National Socialist League collapsed from lack of public interest.
By the time of the Munich crisis in 1938 (a settlement reached by Germany, Britain, France and Italy which permitted German annexation of Sudetenland, in western Czechoslovakia ), Joyce and Margaret decided that should war come, they would seek refuge in Germany.
Fatally he renewed his British passport, which he had originally obtained in July 1933, falsely claiming to have been born in Galway. It would be his final undoing.
Next week: Joyce’s German broadcasting career comes crashing down.
NOTES: MI5 had deep concerns about the leadership of the BUF, and had penetrated its ranks sufficiently to know that Mosley’s noted oratory could convince the public to provide sufficient financial support to challenge the political establishment. After the collapse of France Mosley was considered too dangerous. He was imprisoned for the duration of the war, in comfortable quarters in the grounds of Holloway prison. His wife Diana Mitford (one of the famed socialite Mitford sisters, one of whom, Unity, was actually in love with Hitler ), and their two sons Alexander and Max, shared his incarceration. Max Mosley, the racing driver, won a famous libel case against ‘The News of the World’ 2008.
Sources this week include ‘The Irish Times’, ( Martin McNamara, Feb 26 2018 ), and the Dictionary of Irish Biography.
Would you like unlimited FREE access to all that the Galway Advertiser has to offer? Find out more here!