William Joyce recorded his final broadcast on April 30 1945 as the last great battle of the war raged. Russian troops, after a desperate struggle, finally wrenched Berlin from the grip of the Nazis. The once great city was then little more than streets of rubble. In an iconic World War II photograph Soviet troops fly the Soviet flag over the Reichstag May 2 1945.
In his speech Joyce chided Britain for its relentless pursuit of the war, blaming the Jews for causing the war, and repeatedly warned of the ‘menace’ of the Soviet Union. It was a drunken, rambling and slurred broadcast, signing off with a contemptuous ‘Heil Hitler, and farewell’. Within hours Adolf Hitler committed suicide, and Radio Hamburg was seized by British forces.
Joyce and Margaret fled to Kuffermuille, a small village near Flensburg, on the Danish border. Hitler’s successor, Admiral Karl Donitz, had also taken refuge there. Donitz was a surprise choice as successor. He was not a Nazi, but had progressed through the navy by his zeal and courage, and mastermind a deadly submarine war against the Allies.
At this desperate moment, when Europe was in a turmoil of anxiety, he tried to negotiate a favourable peace. America, however, insisted on ‘unconditional surrender’. Again Donitz prevaricated until Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, threatened to renew the bombing of cities, and handing all German prisoners over to the Soviets. Eisenhower insisted that midnight on May 7 was the final hour for capitulation. That gave German soldiers 48 hours to flee to American lines.
Donitz authorised General Alfred Jodl to sign the document of surrender, which was done at 2.41am on May 7th at Reims, in France. Stalin insisted on another signing ceremony in Berlin, which took place in the early hours of May 9th.
Victory over Europe was declared, and British troops began to search for war criminals. Joyce was on their list.
Recognised his voice
It is not known if Joyce and Margaret knew of the drama being played out in the village where they had sought refuge. Because of the presence of Donitz and all the activity surrounding the surrender, the place was full of Allied soldiers. There were rumours that a ‘quiet English couple’ was living on the edge of the village. Joyce was collecting firewood when he met some curious soldiers, among whom was a Jewish German, Geoffrey Perry, who had left Germany before the war, and adapted an English name. Once Joyce began to speak Perry instantly recognised his voice. When Joyce reached into his pocket for a cigarette, a soldier fearing he was going for a weapon, fired and injured him.
Joyce and Margaret were brought back to England (Joyce on a stretcher ), where there was little chance of forgiveness from a war-weary people. England had grown tired of his constant contempt and sarcasm, and few cared for his future.
‘Proud of my ideals’
Joyce was tried on an ancient charge of High Treason, based on the fact that he had gone to Germany with a British passport, and therefore, it was argued, he had allegiance to Britain. But the court heard that he had never been a British subject, having been born in New York in 1906. He could not be convicted of betraying a country that was not his own.
However, the Attorney General, Sir Hartley Shawcross, successfully argued that Joyce's possession of a British passport, even though he had misstated his nationality to get it, entitled him until it expired to British diplomatic protection in Germany and therefore he owed allegiance to the King at the time he began working for the Germans.
Joyce's conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeal on 1 November 1945. Joyce went to his death unrepentant.
He allegedly said: ‘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. May the swastika be raised from the dust.’
A murky world
The trial and decision to hang Joyce has been regarded by many as a rush to judgement and a ‘blot’ on British justice. The historian AJP Taylor maintained that Joyce was executed for making a false declaration to obtain a passport, ‘a misdemeanour that normally incurred a £2 fine’.
There was no such ambiguity about his wife Margaret Joyce (nee Cairns White ) who was as British as ‘warm beer’, had also broadcast anti-British propaganda from Germany, and it could have been expected that she would have met the same of a similar fate. But no; Margaret was not charged with treason. After a period she appears to have been mysteriously released.
Joyce's biographer, Nigel Farndale,* suggests on the basis of documents made public for the first time between 2000 and 2005, that Joyce made a deal with his prosecutors not to reveal links he had had to MI5. In return, his wife Margaret, known to radio listeners as "Lady Haw-Haw", was spared prosecution for high treason. Of the 32 British renegades and broadcasters caught in Germany at the end of the war, only Margaret Joyce, who died in London in 1972, was not charged with treason.
That Joyce was an MI5 informant is probably no surprise given his character. But in the dangerous murky world of spys and traitors, Farndale suggests that Joyce was the protégé of Maxwell Knight, the spymaster, who is described as a ‘neurotic, anti-Semite, and obsessed with a hatred for communism’, and who may have inspired Ian Fleming to create the Bond character ‘M’.
Farndale writes that Knight had been a regular visitor to the Joyce family home before the war, and it was he who tipped off Joyce that he was about to be arrested and interned on the eve of war, enabling him and Margaret to escape to Berlin.
A lone figure
Joyce’s daughter Heather Iandolo met Margaret once. Margaret had remarried, and gave Heather a pile of her late father’s letters, saying she feared her husband would sell them.** Growing up in London during the war Heather was aware of her father’s voice was on the radio. Other girls teased her about it. When she was 17 she heard he was in prison and sentenced to be hanged. She asked her mother if she and her sister Diana, could visit him in Wandsworth Prison. Her mother cautioned against it.
But as she grew up she began to have dreams and visions about her father. She believed he wanted to return to Galway. After a long campaign, including a guest appearance on Gay Byrne’s Late Late Show - which as a shy person she found an uncomfortable experience - the home secretary at the time, Roy Jenkins, agreed to allow her father’s body to be exhumed from the unconsecrated grounds of Wandsworth Prison, and reinterred in the Bohermore cemetery, Galway. Heather sold her father’s letters to pay for the costs involved.
On August 20 1976 the remains of William Joyce duly arrived in Galway. After a Latin Mass the body, in a white coffin, was buried. About 200 people attended. A large contingent of UK press photographers watched everything closely. If it was feared that neo-Nazis would attend, none showed up.
In 2011 Heather appealed to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, asserting that not only had her father not been British, and therefore not able to be a traitor to the British crown, but also the trial and been compromised by the deal he had allegedly done with the authorities not to reveal his pre-war links with MI5 in return for his wife’s life being spared. The appeal was rejected.
Through the years the lone figure of Heather was seen visiting her father’s grave.
* Haw-Haw - The Tragedy of William and Margaret Joyce, by Nigel Farndale , published 2005.
** The Times states that Margaret ‘drank herself to death 1972.’
In 1955 Heather married Vincenzo Iandolo, a captain in the Italian police force, whom she had met in Italy. In England he opened a hairdressing salon in Gillingham, Kent where the couple settled. Heather was a schoolteacher. They had four children, but they separated after the reinterment. He predeceased her, along with one of their sons, and her sister Diana. Heather died July 8 2022, aged 93.
Joyce had joined Oswald Mosley’s Black Shirt, Fascist movement in 1933. A reader, Dr John Kirby, offers information on Mosley’s Galway sojourn after the war: ‘As you probably know, Oswald Mosley lived in the old Church of Ireland bishop’s palace in 1953 in Clonfert, until it mysteriously burnt down. Following a short time in Lismore, Waterford, he settled in Ileclash House in Fermoy for the next ten years. Accepted by the local and national establishment because of his wealth, the only politician to call him out was Dr Noel Browne in the Dáil. There is a sound only recording of an appearance on the Late Late Show in 1975, where Mosley exhibits his holocaust denier logic, despite the best efforts of a Jewish lady in the audience.’
Sources include The Times’ Obituary (September 8 2022 ), 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!