In recent years several books have been written on this subject, but this was not always the case. 30 years ago I knew nothing about the subject until I started talking to former BUF members during research into the British history leading up to the Second World War period.
Click on the record to hear Sir Oswald Mosley speak (Track1)
Click on the record to hear Sir Oswald Mosley speak (Track2)
BRITISH UNION OF FASCISTS - AN INTRODUCTION
When one hears the word "Fascist" today, one thinks of Anti-semitism etc, it has become a dirty word in the post-war world. The British Union of Fascists rank and file in the thirties were not anti-semitic, although I will grant that some of the speakers were. The Leader of the BUF, Sir Oswald Mosley, had nothing against Jewish people and even had Jews in top Party positions! Sir Oswald was never interested in what a man had for a religion, what mattered, was this man dedicated to the Party? "Our duty was to hold together and develop a multi-racial Empire."
Sir Oswald Mosley was born to an aristocratic background in 1896, and was commissioned in the First World War, joining the 16th Lancers. Transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, becoming one of the first 60 pilots. During a flying accident he was badly injured in the leg, and was returned to the trenches. His leg wound had not healed, when he served in the battle of Loos, staying at his post until he passed out with the pain.
After WW1 Sir Oswald went into politics, serving both Conservative and Labour Parties. Until he formed his own "NEW PARTY" in 1930. Sir Oswald believed Britain was ready for a new modern party with new ideas, and travelled the country trying to gain support, but the NEW PARTY did not do so well at the polls. In 1931 he visited Scotland and addressed a hostile crowd. The crowd shouted "We´ll hang you from the Gallowgate, you traitor!" Things got really bad, there were 50 police in the hall and someone shouted "Send away the police, you dirty dog! Come outside and see what will happen!" Mosley smiled and replied " I never asked for police protection, I never asked for police protection in my life." Sir Oswald took a chair and went outside and sat in front of the angry crowd. He faced them and they respected his courage
It was in Scotland the following year, that an attack by the Jewish-dominated razor gangs of Glasgow´s Gorbals district, that changed Mosley´s political direction. A giant open air meeting was held on Glasgow Green, with a crowd of over 40,000 people. The NEW PARTY and police, were attacked by some 500 communists from Glasgow´s razor gangs.
On returning to London Mosley ordered the NEW PARTY Executive to meet. He had only one thing to say "We need no longer hesitate to create our trained and disiplined force, from today we are Fascist." On 1st October 1932, 32 founder members at an inaugural meeting in Great George Street, London, put on their black shirts for the first time. Sir Oswald Mosley, the Leader, unfolded a black banner with silver fasces, a motive symbolizing strength through unity. The British Union of Fascists was born!
HURRAH FOR THE BLACKSHIRTS
The BUF soon started to grow, and enjoyed the support of newspapers like the Daily Mail, with headlines " Hurrah for the Blackshirts". The BUF had huge rallies some of which were a great success, Albert Hall in 1934 for example, with over 10,000 supporters. Although they did not do so well at Olympia in the same year. Mosley recruited amongst others, Neil Francis Hawkins from the BRITISH FASCISTI, bringing 60% of the party with him to swell the ranks of the BUF. Sir Malcom Cambell, famous for the world land speed record, joined the BUF JANUARY CLUB, and Cambell´s car Bluebird carried the lightning flash and circle, the insignia of the BUF as it´s badge.
A brilliant orator joined the Party called William Joyce and was placed in charge of propaganda. Joyce it should be remembered, broadcast for Nazi Germany in WW2, and became known as Lord Haw-Haw. Joyce left the BUF in 1937 to form-up the NATIONAL SOCIALIST LEAGUE, Joyce thought that Mosley´s BUF were not anti-semitic enough. The NSL did not have much support. Mosley tried to get the leader of the IMPERIAL FASCIST LEAGUE, Arnold Leese, to form a union of parties, but Leese, like Joyce, thought that Mosley´s BUF were too soft on Jews.
1935 saw major changes in the party, with Hawkins becoming Mosley´s second in command. Some of the early high society support had fallen away by this time, but the party could boast a BUF Flying Club, a Womans Drum Corps, Sports groups and even a small childrens group called the "Blackshirt Pippins". The BUF did not take part in the 1935 elections, and went under the slogan "Fascism next time".
STAND BY THE KING!
In the Spring of 1936 the BUF was renamed BRITISH UNION OF FASCISTS AND NATIONAL SOCIALISTS. But the title was not often used, and was shortened to BRITISH UNION or BU. One of many famous people in Mosley´s circle, was King Edward VIII. When he was forced to abdicate, the Blackshirts campaigned and built up support for the King. After the abdication Mosley said " He had no enthusiam for the job and in any case you cannot continue fighting for a man who will not fight for himself." (Hitler said that Mosley missed his greatest chance to take power by force, and demonstrated poor political judgement) But Mosley intended to stay within the law until he was in power and could then change the laws.
CORPORATION FIELDS JULY 1936
The open air meeting was held at Corporation Fields, in Hull. The trouble had developed before the arrival of the Blackshirts, making a meeting almost impossible. Blackshirts were hit by a hail of bricks and Mosley´s car was hit by at least one bullet, smashing a car window. The place was swarming with communists. One of the Blackshirt leaders, Peter Whittam, at the height of the battle shouted " This can´t go on, get your bloody belts off!" which they did, and used them in self defence against the red assailants.
The Chief Constable advised Mosley that the meeting should be brought to a halt. Mosley agreed and jumped off the coal cart he had been using as a speakers platform and arranged for the departure. Many of the younger Blackshirts were frightened, with hundreds screaming for their blood, they were surrounded. Mosley realised this and placed his hand on the shoulder of one of his men, and asked "Which direction do we have to go?" A hand signal pointed the way. "Right" he said "Start marching in that direction and I promise you, that provided you show no fear, that the crowd will open up and let us through. I know that you can do it, and don´t forget that I am behind you." Both men nodded to each other, and Mosley said "Now", and the Blackshirts moved off in ranks of three, and the crowd parted.
There was still one or two minor battles and the marchers had to be reformed, but the worst was behind them. They carried off their wounded, some 21 Blackshirts. They had managed to inflict over 100 of their assailants with injuries. J. Holmes.the police inspector, said "The Fascists were not to blame, as nothing was said or done to provoke the crowd." The police collected the weapons that the communists had left on the field after the battle. They included raw potatoes studded with razor blades, thick socks filled with glass, bicycle chains and wooden clubs with nails.
THE BATTLE OF CABLE STREET 4th OCTOBER 1936.
One of the biggest myths of Cable Street is that the whole of London´s Stepney rose up as one and stopped the Fascists, using the slogan "They shall not pass". In reality the Fascist march was redirected and the clash was between police and communist razor gangs bussed in from all parts of the country for the event. A Jewish criminal gang under Jack Spot was also arrested that day, but not a single Fascist! In fact although there were clashes early in the day with Fascists, none of the Blackshirts were in, or near Cable Street.
Mosley decided to have a massed rally to mark the forth anniversary of the founding of the party, and several previous meetings had gone through with little opposition. In fact the party enjoyed a large amount of support in London´s East End, too much support according to some. Communist supporters arrived very early by bus, some from as far away as Glasgow. The first Fascists assembled at 1.25 p.m. and were attacked by 500 reds, and an hour later there were some 2500 anti-fascists demonstrators in the Aldgate area. The main group of Blackshirts had formed up in Royal Mint Street, and included women and cadet members, and four bands.
The Commisioner of Police, Sir Philip Game, whose headquarters had been set up near Tower Hill, had a force of 6000 police and the entire mounted division. Sir Philip thought the trouble would be so great, and that his men would not be able to keep the communist and fascist groups apart, banned the march from taking the planned route. Some 500 St. John Ambulance men were on duty, and the first Blackshirts had been taken to hospital with head injuries from chair legs wrapped with barbed wire, the wounded were Baily, Higgott and Moore.
The communists barracaded all the streets leading into Cable Street, it looked like a battlefield from the Spanish civil-war. There were running battles with the police all day, with the police making several baton charges, and the situation only came under control when the mounted division charged the crowd pushing them back. Paving stones were torn up and broken into size, to serve as ammunition, broken glass was spread on the roads to injure the police horses. Reds were singing "The Red Flag" and the "International". Police arrested some 70 to 80 anti-fascists.
A former Royal Navy boxer, and Blackshirt Leader, Tommy Moran was one of the early arrivals. He was in the thick of the fighting which had started a few hours before. Tommy went down from a blow on the head with a chair leg wrapped in barbed wire. He got up blood pouring from an open wound, and put down his opponents. With his head bandaged, Moran went to join Mosley who was due to arrive at Royal Mint Street.
Mosley arrived in a black sports car with Blackshirt motorcycle escort. The Blackshirts started shouting out the letters "M.O.S.L.E.Y. we want Mosley" Sir Oswald Mosley reviewed the troops lining the road, with the bands playing the Blackshirt song ( sung to the tune of the Horst Wessel Song). He then had a long talk with his Staff Officer, Tommy Moran. Sir Oswald now met Sir Philip and it was agreed that the Blackshirts would march into the West End, and apart from a few people calling out, not much happened to them.
After the parade on the Embankment, many Blackshirts made their way to the BUF National Headquarters, the Black House, in Great Smith Street. Sir Oswald Mosley spoke to them from an upstairs window. "We never surrender. We shall triumph over the parties of corruption because our faith is stronger tham their faith, our will is stronger than their will, and within us the flame that shall light this country, and shall later light the world." Ten days later the BUF marched through the East End effectively, without any confrontation. In the March 1937 London elections, the BUF polled almost 25% of the East End vote!
There was an unanounced march, but people knew Mosley was coming and the crowd shouted out "Good old Mosley." When on his way to Limehouse he was told he could not march, "Very well" he said "then we will walk" and the crowd followed him.
MOSLEY´S PEACE CAMPAIGN
At the start of 1937 political uniforms were abolished in Britain, which was a shame as it had always increased the appeal to the party. It was designed to damage the Blackshirts, and the Blackshirts alone, be that as it my, the marches and meetings continued. As war came near at the end of the thirties, Mosley campaigned more and more against the coming war. Saying we had no quarrel with Germany, so long as she left our Empire and interests intact. Two months before the war, Mosley held the largest indoor meeting ever held in pre-war Britain. The faithful gathered to hear Sir Oswald speak at Earl´s Court in London, the cry went out "Mosley..Mosley...Mosley" as the standards entered the hall, to the sound of the Drum Corps.
"To the dead heroes of Britain, in sacred union, we say: Like you we give ourselves to England-across the ages that divide us-across the glories of Britain that unite us-we gaze into your eyes and we give you this holy vow-we will be true-today-tomorrow-and for ever-England Lives."
Then a roll on the drums and a searchlight shone down centre of the huge hall, and there stood Sir Oswald in a black shirt and tie. Cheers and shouting, the crowd stood, as Sir Oswald marched alone down the hall towards the front. The man who wanted to take Britain and the Empire to even greater heights than they had ever known, or thought possible. He had to stop speaking because the crowd were cheering too loud for him to be heard. He waited a few minutes, then he could continue. He told the people that a war with Germany would be a "Brothers War", and it would not serve Britains interest to go to war with Germany. It will destroy the Empire, see the end of Britain´s greatness, and see the rise of Communism in a post-war Europe, how right he was.
MOSLEY´S MESSAGE AT THE OUTBREAK OF WAR "To our members my message is plain and clear. Our country is involved in war. Therefore I ask you to do nothing to injure our country, or help any other power. Our members should do what the law requires of them, and if they are members of any of the forces or services of the Crown, they should obey their orders, and, in particular, obey the rules of their service.... We have said a hundred times that if the life of Britain were threatened we would fight again..."
Young Blackshirts fought for their country under the motto "My country, right or wrong". Mosley continued to campaign for a negotiated peace. This was something that Hitler had offered on many occasions. Britain claimed to be fighting for Poland, but this hypocrisy was exposed two weeks later when the Soviet Union attacked eastern Poland, and Britain did nothing against Russia. Mosley opposed the war on the grounds that no British interest was served by intervening in Germany´s quarrel with Poland. Was Poland simply the pretext for having a war with the hated Nazis? Mosley thought so.
MY COUNTRY RIGHT OR WRONG
A week before the war, Britain had given a "blank cheque" guarantee to a provocative Polish government. Britain was sure that a quarrel between Germany and Poland would lead to war. They also thought that the mere threat of war would bring about the collapse of Germany, and that the German people would raise up as one against Adolf Hitler. The newspapers from 1939-1940 were full of "signs" of German collapse, for example, the Germans must be starving because they are forced to eat black bread, they are still eating the same black bread today! When it was clear that the Germans would not overthrow Hitler from within, the government realised it would have to fight a "real" war, but they did not have a war plan! So sure was Britain that Hitler´s own people would overthrow him.
Britain declared war on Germany on 3rd September 1939, without any clear idea of how the war would be fought, the people were not consulted and most did not want war. The French dragged their feet, only joining in six hours later after intense diplomatic pressure from Britain. Sir Oswald Mosley continued to campaign for a negotiated peace, and he had huge support. It was obvious that a "Brothers War" with Germany would lead to national bankruptcy and an end to the British Empire, even in 1938! Mosley said so.
Those Blackshirts in the armed forces or government service, were ordered to continue to do their duty. The first British casualties were ten airmen shot down over the Kiel Canal attacking the German fleet. Two of them were Blackshirts serving as air-gunners. Kenneth Day aged 20, was buried with full military honours by the German Luftwaffe. Whilst the other air-gunner, George Brocking aged 22, has no known grave. Both need not have been on the raid because they were RAF ground crew, but volunteered to be air-gunners for the mission.
Mosley continued to campaign for peace, so long as that included that British interests would remain safe and the Empire left whole. Hitler continued to offer peace with honour, and he said he had no claims on the British Empire, as the Reich was looking eastwards. Now with the Polish Campaign ended, which had never affected British interests, the British government were having trouble building enthusiasm for an unwanted war. The last thing they needed was a group of Blackshirts winning support for a negotiated peace!
Early in 1940 the Labour Party had a conference at Bournmouth, it was decided that a coalition government under Churchill would only be considered if Mosley and his Blackshirts were put in prison. Churchill agreed, and at the same time wished to silence opposition and intimidate peace supporters, now that things were going badly on the War front.
BRITISH CONCENTRATION CAMPS
The government passed Regulation 18b, which was rushed through Parliament, and allowed the Home Secretary to jail anyone he wished, without being convicted of a crime, or even accused of a crime! But no acts of disloyalty could be proved against any member of the British Union of Fascists. Some 1200 British subjects, 800 of them Blackshirts, were arrested and placed in camps and prisons. Some of the special built camps were unknown to the International Red Cross, one example being Camp 020 at Ham Common under MI5 control, used to get information through psychological torture and solitary confinement. Other camps were on the Isle of Man.
The Blackshirts had no contact to family or friends, some of them stayed in the camps until the war ended. Some of the camps housed German and Italian civilians too. One German woman had escaped from Germany before the war and found herself as a refugee in Britain at the start of the war. She was put into a camp as a "hostile alien" and said that the conditions in British camps were far worse than what she had endured in Dachau!
Several Blackshirts were arrested serving in the Home Guard, or returning from Dunkirk as members of the armed forces! One victim returned with his yacht full of soldiers he had rescued on the Dunkirk beaches, with the police waiting for him! Not only were Blackshirts arrested and placed in concentration camps on the Isle of Man, but they were deprived of their pensions during the years of their detentions, without ever being charged with a crime.
The British government had to justify the mass arrests, and this was done by spreading propaganda about "fifth columnists" and German parachutist dressed as nuns looking for contacts once they had landed. The British Union of Fascists and the Party newspaper were banned. Democracy and free speech was dead in Britain for the duration of the war.
GOVERNMENT ADVISORY COMMITTEE
The government set up an advisory committee to consider appeals against internment in a British Concentration Camp. This committee had no real power and was appointed by the government. One of it´s members was a real post-war traitor, Anthony Blunt. It is interesting to note that of the 800 files held on the Blackshirt detainees, only 18 files remain today. The rest were destroyed at the end of the war (at first it was said they were missing), they were considered of no historical interest by the post-war government. It would seem that someone was embarrassed by the internment of innocent Blackshirts.
Sir Oswald Mosley was interviewed by the Chairman of the Committee, Mr Justice Birkett.
SIR OSWALD: "There appear to be two grounds for detaining us- a suggestion that we are traitors who would take up arms and fight with the Germans if they landed, and that our propaganda undermines the civilian morale."
MR. BIRKETT: "Speaking for myself, you can entirely dismiss the first suggestion."
SIR OSWALD: "Then I can only assume that we have been detained because of our campaign in favour of a negotiated peace."
MR.BIRKETT: "Yes, Sir Oswald, that is the case."
WHITE MISCHIEF IN THE EMPIRE The internment was carried out in the Empire too. In Canada Chuck Crate and his Canadian Union of Fascists were put into detention camps, and their newspaper "Thunderbolt" was banned. In the Falkland Islands Jeffrey Hamm was arrested by the Falkland Islands Defence Force, and after a few months detention, was sent to South Africa and placed in a internment camp. Hamm soon made friends with German and Italian civilians in the camp, and took part in digging an escape tunnel, but before the tunnel was complete, he was released by the governor and sent to Britain in April 1941.
The Scotsman, Lord Erroll, lived in Kenya and was a dedicated Blackshirt, who was often in Britain before the war, taking part in Party meetings. Lord Erroll was involved with leading establishment figures, and knew all about a scheme to bring about a negotiated peace with Germany. The British government wanted him silenced and the details to die with him. An S.O.E. group was sent from Cairo for "Operation Highland Clearence". A jealous husband was accused of the murder, but unsurprisingly, Sir Jock Broughton was cleared of the Crime.
BLACKSHIRTS GO UNDERGROUND
Several members of the Blackshirts went underground when the arrests started. In 1941, Claude Duvivier was arrested in Exeter, and William Crowle in Plymouth. At about the same time, William Swift and Marie Ingram were captured in Portsmouth.William Joyce, (who had left the BUF in 1937) escaped to Germany before he could be arrested. A German source states that Mary Allen, the founder of the Womens Volunteer Police and Blackshirt, had escaped to Germany and went to work for Himmler. This is clearly not true as she is on the list of internees in Britain. Arnold Leese, the leader of the Imperial Fascist League, escaped, only to return home and see a policeman bending over, going through a cupboard drawer in Leese´s bedroom, Leese could not resist kicking him in the pants!
About a dozen Blackshirts served Germany during the war, it should be noted that most of them had only been BUF members for a short time, the two longest serving members being MacLardy, who had been a District Secretary, and William Joyce, who had left the party in 1937. Eric Pleasants, who went to the Channel Islands when war broke out as a conscientious objector, and not only served in the British Free Corps, but was the only British subject to be captured by the Russians in Berlin and later find himself in a Soviet Gulag. William Joyce and Francis Maton, were also members of the NSDAP, with Joyce being awarded the War Merit Cross First Class in September 1944, with a signed certificate from Adolf Hitler.
No link between the BFC and the BUF.
I have noticed during my research that some historians have tried to find a link between the pre-war British Union of Fascists and the wartime British Free Corps, I have found none. In fact only four members of the BUF served directly in the British Free Corps, from a total of some 60 volunteers that passed through the unit, making the total less than 7%, when one considers that a large amount of BFC volunteers would have been Labour or Conservative supporters, then the Fascist members would have been nothing other than the national average in pre-war Britain.
Sir Oswald Mosley demanded that "Britons must fight for Britain only", And that they should do nothing to injure their country or help any foreign power. Clearly these former BUF members went against their leaders wishes.
For those interested, I have added a list of BUF Members who served Germany during the Second World War.
William Joyce, BUF NHQ (left BUF in 1937 to form National Socialist League) Broadcaster (Lord Haw Haw) Francis George MacLardy, District Secretary, BUF Formby-Liverpool Branch. British Free Corps- SS Medical Depot Lichtenberg Thomas Haller Cooper, BUF Hammersmith Branch. British Free Corps- LSSAH- Totenkopf- SS Polizei Francis Paul Maton, BUF Coventry Branch. British Free Corps- SS PK Standarte "Kurt Eggars" Railton Freeman, BUF Gloucester Branch. SS PK Standarte "Kurt Eggars" Roy Walter Purdy, BUF Illford Branch. SS PK Standarte "Kurt Eggars" Eric Pleasants , Security Guard, BUF Norwich Branch. British Free Corps Philip Spranklin, BUF. Goebbels Munich Press Office
THE BLACKSHIRT ROLE OF HONOUR IN WORLD WAR TWO
Over one thousand British Union of Fascist members were killed in action during the "Brothers War". The list containing some of them can be found on the Oswald Mosley website.
Many thanks to the "Friends of Oswald Mosley" who helped me with the many questions I had, and allowing me to use some of their images on my website.
Click on their banner below if you wish to view further information on this subject.
Bill Medland at the grave of James Fogg, British Blackshirt and Soldier.