I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
The Nazi propagandist William Joyce was born in New York in 1906 of an Irish father and English mother. He was taken to Ireland by his parents when he was still a child. The family later moved to England.
Joyce Attracted to Fascism as a Student
While studying at the University of London, England, Joyce became interested in the newly developing political philosophy of fascism. He was quite involved politically and was acting as a steward at a Conservative political rally in London in 1924. Some left-wing opponents of the Conservative Party showed up and Joyce, who seems to have enjoyed a good brawl, got into a fight.
A razor appeared and says heretical.com “Joyce received the famous scar that ran down the right side of his face from the lobe of his ear to the corner of his mouth … Joyce had no doubt that the perpetrators were ‘Jewish Communists.’ ”
Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists
A bit of a political gadfly, Sir Oswald Mosley had been a minister in the socialist government of Ramsay MacDonald in the 1920s. As the Great Depression tightened its grip, Mosley formed the New Party and started to flirt with fascism. He became more and more attracted to the ideas of Benito Mussolini and began to model himself after the Italian fascist dictator.
In October 1932 he formed the British Union of Fascists (BUF) and William Joyce was an early recruit. Within two years, Joyce was the party’s director of propaganda and then deputy leader. He has been described as a powerful public speaker, with his oratory thickly infused with anti-Semitism. He could rouse a rabble with the best of them, and, rabbles got roused quite frequently at BUF rallies with Joyce in the midst of any fracas that was going.
At a conference in London in June 1934 he and Mosley stirred up an audience of 10,000. A reporter with The Guardian described the scene “Almost at once a chorus of interrupters began chanting in one of the galleries. Blackshirts began stumbling and leaping over chairs to get at the source of the noise. There was a wild scrummage, women screamed, black-shirted arms rose and fell, blows were dealt, and then above the noise came the chorus chanted by rough voices, ‘We want Mosley.’ ”
At other rallies, Joyce could move the crowd to ecstatic fury and turn them loose on protesters who showed up with sticks, brass knuckles, and potatoes with razors embedded in them. The effect was to destroy the peaceful and respectable image the BUF was hoping to create for itself.
British Nazis and their Adversaries Clash
William Joyce Flees to Germany
With the drums of war beating louder, Joyce left with his family for Germany knowing that if he stayed in Britain he would certainly be interned. He was, apparently, warned to get out by the mysterious spymaster Maxwell Knight, the man upon whom Ian Fleming modeled his character “M” in his James Bond novels.
Through connections Joyce got a job with Germany’s English radio service as a script writer and announcer.
The Mail on Sunday reported that, “With detailed knowledge of Britain and current events, he whipped up anger and loathing in Brits and delivered his broadcasts with his distinctive nasal drawl.”
He started each broadcast with “the words ‘Germany calling,’ but with his strange voice it sounded like ‘Jairmany calling.’ ”
German Propaganda Backfired
Early on, The Daily Express newspaper gave Joyce the unflattering title “Lord Haw Haw.”
Joyce exhorted the English to surrender but he soon became a figure of ridicule. “Joyce’s broadcasts were anti-Semitic and poked fun at the British war leader Winston Churchill,” writes historylearningsite.co. “It is thought that on average six million people listened to Joyce each broadcast. Many found the broadcasts so absurd that they were seen as a way of relieving the tedium of life in Britain during the war.” Others suggest he may have attracted nine million listeners in a population of about 47 million.
The German high command completely misread the vast audience Joyce had. The Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary: “I tell the Führer about Lord Haw-Haw’s success, which is really astonishing.”
They rewarded their hero handsomely and Joyce and his wife enjoyed an opulent lifestyle with rich food and heavy drinking.
A lot of what Joyce broadcast was rubbish, and known to be so, and probably lifted the spirits of the British and their will to resist rather than demoralizing them. But, some of Joyce’s information was uncannily accurate and, because the BBC followed a policy of delaying its broadcasts, he sometimes was first to break a story.
William Joyce’s Last Broadcast
As Berlin was being reduced to rubble by the combined onslaught of the Soviet Union and British and American forces, Joyce gave his last radio talk on May 1, 1945. Sounding drunk and tired, he criticized Britain for its role in the destruction of Germany and signed off with a defiant “Heil Hitler.”
In late May 1945, he and his wife Margaret were hiding out in a forest near the Danish border. A couple of British soldiers stumbled on him but paid him no heed until he spoke to them. They immediately recognized his voice.
When Lieutenant Geoffrey Perry asked him if he was William Joyce he reached into his trouser pocket to produce his false papers. Perry, thinking Joyce was going for a gun, fired first. The wound had four bullet holes; through and through both cheeks of Joyce’s buttocks.
In one of those delicious ironies that make life seem right from time to time Geoffrey Perry had another identity. He had been born in Germany and moved to Britain before the war. He had changed his name from Horst Pinschewer to “something pronounceable.” The man who captured one of the Nazi’s worst anti-Semites was himself a Jew.
Joyce was taken to England, tried for treason, and sentenced to death.
He stuck to his distorted views to end, scratching a swastika on the wall of his cell. As his execution approached, he was reported by the BBC to have said “In death as in life, I defy the Jews who caused this last war, and I defy the powers of darkness they represent.”
He never flinched as the sentence was carried out by the official executioner Albert Pierrepoint.
With Jingoistic Commentary Typical of the Time Movietone News Reports Joyce's Execution
Technically, the execution of William Joyce may not have been legal. He was born in the United States and so could claim citizenship of that country and, therefore, he was under no obligation to be loyal to Britain. However, he falsely claimed British nationality in order to get a British passport. In this sense, he signed his own death warrant.
The Irish novelist James Joyce was a distant cousin of William Joyce.
- “William Joyce alias Lord Haw-Haw.” Alex Softly, heretical.uk.co, undated.
- “Oswald Mosley’s Circus.” The Guardian, June 8, 1934.
- “Lord Haw Haw: The Traitor Executed for Helping the Nazis.” The Telegraph, January 6, 2016.
- “Microphone Used by Nazi Traitor Lord Haw Haw to Broadcast Propaganda Found 64 Years after he Was Hanged for Treason.” Mail on Sunday, August 26, 2009.
- “Lord Haw Haw.” C.N. Trueman, historylearningsite.co, undated.
- “Geoffrey Perry: Soldier who Captured Lord Haw-Haw by Shooting him in the Backside then Forged a Noted Publishing Empire.” Anne Keleny, The Independent, October 17, 2014.
© 2016 Rupert Taylor
Robert Sacchi on May 05, 2016:
A very interesting read about the infamous Lord Haw Haw. Thank you.
David Hunt from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on May 05, 2016:
Very nice article, Rupert, and effective use of videos as well.
Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on May 04, 2016:
Fabulous historical story-telling. I've never heard of any of this. So I now do appreciate it.