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Lord Haw Haw returns to the British Airwaves
February 4, 2010 4:00 AM   Subscribe

"Then the prisoner came into the dock. A little man. Pale now, and looking insignficant as he stood there with four warders grouped around him. It seemed hard at that moment to associate with that figure the sardonic venom that once sneered from stations Hamburg and Bremen."

- A 1945 radio report by the BBC's Godfrey Talbot on the dismissal of William Joyce's appeal from his conviction for treason.

The BBC has just released archive material relating to William Joyce - known as Lord Haw Haw - whose anti-semitic, pro-German propaganda was broadcast into Britain during World War II. The archive includes audio clips from Joyce's radio broadcasts, correspondence between the government and the BBC on what to do about the problem, and a 2009 radio interview with his daughter. He was hanged at Pentonville Prison, an unrepentant anti-semite, on the 3rd of January 1946.
posted by tiny crocodile (28 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, this is awesome! I've read so much about Lord Haw-Haw lately, but have never heard any of his broadcasts.
posted by stuck on an island at 5:52 AM on February 4, 2010


Joyce was captured by British forces in northern Germany just as the war ended, tried, and eventually hanged for treason on 3 January 1946. Joyce's defence team, appointed to him by the court, argued that, as an American citizen and naturalised German, Joyce could not have been convicted of treason against the British Crown. However, the prosecution successfully argued on the basis of a technicality that having lied about his nationality to obtain a British passport and to vote, Joyce owed allegiance to the king. (wikipedia (...it must be true)).

History is written by the winners.

I really don't know much about this fellow, but it would seem to me from a few short reads that even if his heart was filled with hate he really didn't deserve to die. It's sad that sometimes our "justice" we deal out in civilization is many times misplaced feelings of vengeance.
posted by zombieApoc at 6:03 AM on February 4, 2010


P.G. Wodehouse came perilously close to this same fate for having made several propaganda broadcasts while a prisoner in a German internment camp. Wodehouse seems to have been genuinely naive about the seriousness of his actions and thought his cooperation might help him get back to Britain, but the British government was as ready to hang him as they were William Joyce. The only thing that saved him was the fondness for his work by a few people in high places. He spent the rest of his life living quietly in "exile" in the U.S.
posted by briank at 6:34 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Speaking of Wodehouse, the Wikipedia article on Lord Haw-Haw notes that others used the pseudonym, including one Wolf Mittler, whose persona is described "as similar to the fictional aristocrat Bertie Wooster". There's something darkly comic about that.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:06 AM on February 4, 2010


I really don't know much about this fellow, but it would seem to me from a few short reads that even if his heart was filled with hate he really didn't deserve to die.

William Shirer met the guy and said some interesting things in his book Berlin Diary. Here's what I remember:

First, that Joyce considered himself a German. Shirer noted that he always said "we" when referring to the Germans. He abandoned England "from whom he could not get enough to eat" and had become a German citizen.

Second, he was an absolutely fanatical Nazi and anti-semite.

Third, he spoke good German.

Shirer tells a story of spending an air-raid drinking with him. Everyone else ran for the shelter and Haw Haw, his wife, and Shirer took less protective shelter to watch the show. I remember Shirer saying he was impressed by his courage and that once he got past his revulsion that Haw-Haw wasn't such a bad chap to have a drink with.

I never really got how a German citizen got convicted of treason against England, but maybe once a subject always a subject?
posted by three blind mice at 7:08 AM on February 4, 2010


Listen to his last broadcast. He's drunk as a... well, Lord.
posted by rusty at 7:25 AM on February 4, 2010


That's really interesting, thanks.

Also, the volume in the BBC Media Player goes to 11. Seriously.
posted by patrick rhett at 8:36 AM on February 4, 2010


I really don't know much about this fellow, but it would seem to me from a few short reads that even if his heart was filled with hate he really didn't deserve to die. It's sad that sometimes our "justice" we deal out in civilization is many times misplaced feelings of vengeance.

Yeah well, there were a hell of a lot of people who didn't deserve to die in World War II. Innocent men, women and children who unlike William Joyce did nothing at all to further the plans of one of the greatest evils in history. The man went to his death an unapologetic supporter of Nazism and antisemitism, so frankly, I consider it no great loss that he died right after the war, rather than lived to continue to spew his hateful rhetoric across the decades.

But there's some people who would prefer to politely ask a cancer to stop metastasizing, so YMMV.
posted by happyroach at 9:00 AM on February 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Growing up in Galway, I always knew he was from there - I even know the family's house. I had always thought he was wrongly hanged because he was Irish, but I see Wikipedia goes a step further and says he was born in Brooklyn (I know, Wikipedia, but still...). How does Britain get to execute an American born, Irish raised asshole?
posted by Sk4n at 9:02 AM on February 4, 2010


happyroach - I'd argue however that had Joyce been an unrepentant Nazi or antisemite, but also a rocket scientist rather than a propagandist, he would have lived to see men walk on the moon.
posted by Sk4n at 9:11 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wrote a paper on the legalities of his trial and execution years ago, the details of which I've forgotten, but if I recall correctly, there was a considerable legal sleight-of-hand involved in getting him declared British, just so he could be a traitor to the Crown (rather than simply an enemy of it). In reality, he was either Irish or American. Ireland was independent since 1922 and a Republic since 1937. Really, despite any passport he might have picked up, he was not a British citizen: would a spy who fraudulently obtained a British passport become a traitor to the Crown? But they wanted to hang him, so they did it that way.

However, he did aid and abet the Third Reich, so it's hard to feel too bad about his fate. The real loser was British justice.
posted by tiny crocodile at 9:14 AM on February 4, 2010


Not to stage manage my own thread, but while I thought that Joyce's own broadcasts were an interesting curiosity, the BBC report on the day his fate was sealed - the first link above - is pure poetry. I can't believe journalism used to be that beautiful.
posted by tiny crocodile at 9:17 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


As an adult William Joyce lived in Britain, voted in Britain, studied in Britain, worked in Britain, campaigned for fascist parties in Britain, and held a British passport. I think you've got to stretch to make out that he was only "technically" British.

Yes, you can say he was really a German since he moved there a couple of months before war broke out; or really American since he was born and spent a couple of years of his life there; or he was really Irish since he moved to England a few months after Irish independence. But I'd say those are the "technical" arguments. I don't think any of those countries are that eager to lay claim to the obnoxious little toerag.

If he was a true American and only technically British, he should have actually gone there and done his work for fascism there. And then like Herbert Haupt he could have been executed there.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:27 AM on February 4, 2010


TheophileEscargot: "As an adult William Joyce lived in Britain, voted in Britain, studied in Britain, worked in Britain, campaigned for fascist parties in Britain, and held a British passport."

Thank you for this checklist, I look forward to using it to obtain citizenship in the UK. Do you have to campaign for fascist parties to get citizenship, or will any political party do?
posted by mullingitover at 9:35 AM on February 4, 2010


I think that holding (and renewing) a passport from a country as well as voting in its elections suggests citizenship of some degree. Maybe the British did things differently in the 40s, though. This doesn't sound like a huge miscarriage of justice.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:47 AM on February 4, 2010


Here's some commentary from a well-known German expert on Haw Haw... and his mother.
posted by markkraft at 9:49 AM on February 4, 2010


P.G. Wodehouse came perilously close to this same fate for having made several propaganda broadcasts while a prisoner in a German internment camp.

And of course there was Ezra Pound, who wasn't naive, but might have been crazy, or at least a famous enough poet to be declared crazy instead of going to the US-ian gallows. Maybe John Hickly got his room.

What I find interesting, and no doubt something of an argument starter is that women propagandists, at least the one's that I know of (Tokyo Rose, Axis Sally) got prison terms but not the death penalty. An interesting side effect of sexism in those days?
posted by xetere at 9:57 AM on February 4, 2010


Thank you for this checklist, I look forward to using it to obtain citizenship in the UK. Do you have to campaign for fascist parties to get citizenship, or will any political party do?

I should start like William Joyce did: by having a parent who is a British citizen. This gives you citizenship, of which the most acceptable form of evidence is a British passport.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:20 AM on February 4, 2010


I think you've got to stretch to make out that he was only "technically" British.

Yes, but the point is treason. He was hanged for treason.

If he rejected Britain, left it for Germany and "went native" in Nazi Germany then he can hardly be called a traitor. A dirty stinking Nazi, but hardly a traitor.

A traitor pretends he is your friend whilst sticking a knife in the back. Whatever his "technical" standing as a citizen might have been, Joyce did not portray himself as a friend of Britain.

I'm guessing the Brits didn't want to have a prominent Nazi and former British fascist alive perhaps stir up trouble among his former friends. Sometimes to kill the cancer you have to kill the cancer.
posted by three blind mice at 12:32 PM on February 4, 2010


If he rejected Britain, left it for Germany and "went native" in Nazi Germany then he can hardly be called a traitor. A dirty stinking Nazi, but hardly a traitor.

If he was still holding a British passport at the end of the war (which the little bit of reading I have done suggests), he didn't really reject England or go native. He was still a British citizen.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:29 PM on February 4, 2010


He also presumably swore allegiance to the king when he joined the British Army after all - so that somewhat goes against my earlier leanings. But, on a pedantic note (and we're nothing if not pedantic here on Metafilter) please stop using the term citizenship when speaking of Britain. There is no such thing. He may have been a Subject, but I'd need someone with a lot more knowledge than I have on the matter to determine the rights that such a status confers. My understanding is that it is not as clear cut as the more republican term Citizen might imply.

And he went to "The Jes" in Galway - the local Jesuit school - an offence worthy of his ultimate fate. **Colaiste Einde alum speaking here..**
posted by Sk4n at 3:14 PM on February 4, 2010


...please stop using the term citizenship when speaking of Britain. There is no such thing.

You appear to disagree with my passport, which says "British Citizen" in big letters under the "Nationality" field. Citizenship is also a compulsory subject on England's National Curriculum, so I think the term does bear some weight.
posted by ZsigE at 5:01 PM on February 4, 2010


...and on reading that back it sounds disgustingly patronising. Sorry about that, not my intention at all.
posted by ZsigE at 5:21 PM on February 4, 2010


"How does Britain get to execute an American born, Irish raised asshole?"

At the time Ireland was part of the UK, so: Same as everybody in Belfast. Big fan of the Tans, it may or may not interest you to know. Got seven kinds of shite beat out of him for hanging out with her Majesty's forces and vocally supporting the Anglo- side of the Anglo-Irish war while a mere schoolboy.

Of course, the Irish always had a soft spot for 'em because Ireland was neutral and thoroughly appreciated a fierce dressing down of Albion at all times....as Mary Harney explains in her really quite excellent biography of the man.

If he rejected Britain, left it for Germany and "went native" in Nazi Germany then he can hardly be called a traitor. A dirty stinking Nazi, but hardly a traitor.

He went there for his summer hols in August, 1939 --- and also to look for work in a more sympathetic environment, as his rabid pro-fascism was harming his prospects back home. Nice bit of timing, really. When the war came he got on as best he could, which was pretty damn well, for a while. And he never hated Britain; his whole schtick, at the start and for a long time after, was to argue they should give up this futile resistance and come in on the Axis side, chipping in the solid Anglo-Saxon stock the Aryan master race.

I'm guessing the Brits didn't want to have a prominent Nazi and former British fascist alive perhaps stir up trouble among his former friends.

Depends. Oswold Mosely did alright, but he was the right sort, don't you know. Joyce was never that.
posted by Diablevert at 5:23 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


ZsigE - Thanks for the correction - I knew someone would chime in who was more informed. Having been born in The County of Middlesex in 1964, none of my papers use the term citizenship - I honestly think it was a much later concept in Britain. But then they abolished Middlesex too, didn't they. Apparently there are a whole number of classes of the Individual's relationship with the state, including both Citizen and Subject, as well as a whole bunch in between. Who would have thought.
posted by Sk4n at 5:27 PM on February 4, 2010


History is written by the winners.

Nah. You just think they're the winners because they wrote the history and tricked you into thinking that they won.
posted by The World Famous at 5:54 PM on February 4, 2010


the British government was as ready to hang him as they were William Joyce

I think that may be a bit of an exaggeration. Anyway, for those interested, Orwell's 1945 defense of Wodehouse is worth a thorough read; it's both a scathing critique of his "Edwardian" writing and a forceful argument for considering the Nazi broadcast episode closed:

The other thing one must remember is that Wodehouse happened to be taken prisoner at just the moment when the war reached its desperate phase. We forget these things now, but until that time feelings about the war had been noticeably tepid. There was hardly any fighting, the Chamberlain Government was unpopular, eminent publicists were hinting that we should make a compromise peace as quickly as possible, trade union and Labour Party branches all over the country were passing anti-war resolutions. Afterwards, of course, things changed. The Army was with difficulty extricated from Dunkirk, France collapsed, Britain was alone, the bombs rained on London, Goebbels announced that Britain was to be "reduced to degradation and poverty." By the middle of 1941 the British people knew what they were up against and feelings against the enemy were far fiercer than before. But Wodehouse had spent the intervening year in internment, and his captors seem to have treated him reasonably well. He had missed the turning-point of the war, and in 1941 he was still reacting in terms of 1939. He was not alone in this...

The whole thing's quite rich in insight; I especially like the last paragraph:

In the desperate circumstances of the time, it was excusable to be angry at what Wodehouse did, but to go on denouncing him three or four years later -- and more, to let an impression remain that he acted with conscious treachery -- is not excusable. Few things in this war have been more morally disgusting than the present hunt after traitors and Quislings. At best it is largely the punishment of the guilty by the guilty. In France, all kinds of petty rats -- police officials, penny-a-lining journalists, women who have slept with German soldiers -- are hunted down while almost without exception the big rats escape. In England the fiercest tirades against Quislings are uttered by Conservatives who were practising appeasement in 1938 and Communists who were advocating it in 1940. I have striven to show how the wretched Wodehouse -- just because success and expatriation had allowed him to remain mentally in the Edwardian age -- became the corpus vile in a propaganda experiment, and I suggest that it is now time to regard the incident as closed. If Ezra Pound is caught and shot by the American authorities, it will have the effect of establishing his reputation as a poet for hundreds of years; and even in the case of Wodehouse, if we drive him to retire to the United States and renounce his British citizenship, we shall end by being horribly ashamed of ourselves. Meanwhile, if we really want to punish the people who weakened national morale at critical moments, there are other culprits who are nearer home and better worth chasing.

Worth noting, too, that Wodehouse was eventually knighted just before his death.
posted by mediareport at 7:44 PM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Okay, y'all made me go look up my old paper. Here is the written judgment of the House of Lords (sitting as the Court of Criminal Appeal) turning down Joyce's appeal. You can see that he was charged with the offence of adhering to the King's enemies, contrary to the Treason Act, 1351 (sic). You can also see that he lied to obtain the British passport - and said he had been born in Galway, not the U.S., which would have made him a British subject by birth, which in reality he was not. You can also see that the judgment describes him as "an alien abroad holding a British passport" - not as a British subject or citizen.

So he wasn't a subject; he was an alien carrying a fraudulently obtained British passport. His legal team argued, unsuccessfully, that a person of his status while living in the UK did owe allegiance to the Crown, but that when he left Britain for Germany, his allegiance was at an end. Remember that in Germany he applied for German citizenship. This was a pretty good argument, in my view, but one which the Lords rejected.

Incidentally, up to the trial of Roger Casement in 1917, it was not a settled point in relation to this 1351 law that even a British subject adhering to the king's enemies outside of the realm was treason at all. Sorry, I can't find a free access copy of that judgment, so you'll have to take my word for it - but this point is referred to in the Joyce judgment, as they had to rely on the Casement decision to convict Joyce, because all of his treasonable actions took place outside the realm.
posted by tiny crocodile at 1:10 AM on February 5, 2010


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