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From Oswald Mosley to nazi King Edward VIII

PETER FROST takes a look back on the dark history of fascism in Britain between the wars

AFTER 1920, unemployment in Britain never dropped below one million for the whole of the inter-war years. It was a time of little hope for the working class.

Oswald Mosley declared he had the answer. He had begun his career as a young maverick Tory MP, but when the Conservative Party threatened to expel him, he left it first as an independent and then as a Labour MP.

Finding no support for his fascist ideas, Mosley resigned from Parliament to start the New Party. The handful of MPs he took with him soon deserted what was obviously a sinking ship and his New Party soon sank.

Early whiffs of fascism from Mosley included calls for a powerful central dictatorship and his youth movement, Nupa, openly copied the nazi Hitler Youth.

After the failure of his New Party, Mosley founded the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in 1932. Mosley really wanted to be a dictator like Mussolini or Hitler.

He soon added anti-semitism to his platform attributing all of society’s ills to the open-door immigration policy and to the influence of Jews in business, culture and entertainment.

Paramilitary marches through Jewish neighbourhoods shouting anti-semitic slogans became Mosley’s style until mass working-class action bought a humiliating defeat in the Battle of Cable Street on Sunday October 4 1936.

Despite his followers’ blackshirt uniforms, brass knuckles and sticks, Mosley blamed the fights at his outdoor meetings entirely on the communists.

Lord Rothermere, Mosley’s greatest media ally with his paper the Daily Mail played a great part in Mosley’s support. The Mail sang the praises of both Mosley and Hitler’s nazis with headlines such as “Hurrah for the Blackshirts.”

Cable Street, however, marked the beginning of the end for Mosley and his fascists. The Public Order Act of 1936 outlawed political uniforms. This blow to the blackshirt image, coupled with internal corruption, infighting and financial problems, eroded Mosley’s political and financial support.

Sir Oswald Mosley announces his plans for a new "Union Movement" to replace his British Union of Fascists, London, 1947
Sir Oswald Mosley announces his plans for a new "Union Movement" to replace his British Union of Fascists, London, 1947

He still believed that, had Britain’s crisis deepened further, he would have become the leader of a fascist Britain, or even supreme leader of an entire Europe united under fascist rule.

In May 1939 just a few months before war would be declared, Scottish Tory MP Archibald Ramsay founded a secret society called the Right Club. It attempted to unify the many right-wing and fascist groups in Britain, many of which were sympathetic to nazi Germany.

Right Club members wore a badge of an eagle killing a snake with the initials PJ — Perish Judah.

While Ramsay was launching the Right Club, he spoke at a private meeting of the Nordic League, an underground grouping of ultra-right pro-German activists that included the White Knights of Britain, the Militant Christian Patriots and the Liberty Restoration League.

Fred Pateman, a brave reporter from the Daily Worker — forerunner of today’s Morning Star — smuggled himself into the Wigmore Hall where the meeting was being held. He reported Ramsay saying that they needed to end Jewish control, “and if we don’t do it constitutionally, we’ll do it with steel.”

Other magazines and newspapers published Pateman’s Daily Worker story and Ramsay had to admit he had made the speech. Ramsay would later say: “The main object of the Right Club was to oppose and expose the activities of Organised Jewry … Our first objective was to clear the Conservative Party of Jewish influence…”

Unknown to Ramsay, MI5 agents had infiltrated the Right Club where they discovered members ranged from William Joyce, who would broadcast from nazi Germany as Lord Haw Haw, to Lord Redesdale, the Duke of Wellington, the Duke of Westminster and many more Tory MPs and Lords.

One important Right Club member was Anna Wolkoff, the daughter of Admiral Nikolai Wolkoff, the former aide to Czar Nicholas II in London.

She and her father held ultra-right-wing, anti-semitic views and were sympathetic to Hitler and his nazis. Anna Wolkoff visited Germany several times in the 1930s where she met Rudolf Hess and other nazi leaders.

From 1935, she was placed under surveillance by British intelligence as a suspected German spy.

A close friend of hers was Wallis Simpson, mistress to Prince Edward, who would become King Edward VIII.

The king was christened Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David. Before his coronation and after his abdication he was known officially as Prince Edward, but as David to his family and his numerous mistresses and lovers.

Edward and Simpson shared Wolkoff’s admiration and support for Hitler and the German nazis. Simpson went further — she had an affair with Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s special commissioner in London. After the war Ribbentrop would be hanged for nazi war crimes.

Simpson would sleep with Prince Edward and no doubt discuss with him what he had read in that day’s secret government papers. Then she would hop into the high-ranking nazi’s bed to pass on the secrets.

MI5 kept her under surveillance but her closeness to the man who would be king made her untouchable.

On September 22 1939 Oliver C Gilbert and Victor Rowe became the first members of the Right Club to be arrested under a new Defence Regulation Order. Ramsay attacked this legislation in the House.

Ramsay also used his position as an MP to promote a radio station broadcasting German propaganda. He gave full details of the wavelength and broadcast times — what today we would call a plug for nazi propaganda.

In February 1940, Anna Wolkoff met Tyler Kent, a US embassy cipher clerk. He soon became a regular visitor to Wolkoff’s Russian Tea Room Restaurant in South Kensington where members of the Right Club, including Ramsay, often met.

Wolkoff, Kent and Ramsay all shared a hatred of Jews. Kent was concerned that the Washington government wanted the United States to join the war against Germany. He said he had evidence of this as he had been making copies of the correspondence between president Roosevelt and Churchill.

Wolkoff went to Kent’s flat and made copies of these documents. She then passed them to the Italian embassy. Soon afterwards, MI8, the wireless interception service, picked up messages between Rome and Berlin showing that German intelligence had seen the Roosevelt-Churchill correspondence.

When Special Branch raided Kent’s flat they found 1,929 classified documents, including the secret correspondence between Roosevelt and Churchill.

Kent also had Ramsay’s Red Book. This book had the names and addresses of members of the Right Club. Wolkoff and Kent were arrested and charged under the Official Secrets Act. Wolkoff got 10 years. Kent, as a US citizen, only seven.

Archibald Ramsay MP was not charged with spying but interned in Brixton Prison, joining other right-wing fascists such as Mosley and Admiral Nikolai Wolkoff.

During the summer of 1944 Tory MPs in the House of Commons called for Ramsay to be released from prison. Communist MP Willie Gallacher disagreed, arguing that Ramsay was “a rabid anti-semite” and that “anti-semitism is an incitement to murder.”

When Gallacher refused to withdraw his comments, he was suspended from the House.

Ramsay died in 1955 and it was not until 1989 that the names in his Red Book were published. They included high-ranking Tories including a large number of MPs and peers.

One name not in that Red Book was that of perhaps the greatest and most surprising fascist and nazi sympathiser in British history.

That person was King Edward VIII. Recently released FBI files have revealed that the king’s marriage to twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson was not the main reason for Edward’s abdication.

It was a convenient excuse for the British government to remove a treacherous monarch who before and even during the second world war, let his nazi sympathies show. He spied for Berlin, mainly through Simpson and Ribbentrop.

In 1937, less than two years before we would be at war with Germany, Edward and Simpson toured Germany. They reviewed ranks of SS troops and visited factories, including those making arms.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor at their controversial meeting with German leader Adolf Hitler in Munich, 1937. Secret documents revealed the state considered the Prince to be pro-Nazi.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor at their controversial meeting with German leader Adolf Hitler in Munich, 1937. Secret documents revealed the state considered the Prince to be pro-Nazi.

Everywhere they were greeted by, and enthusiastically returned, the nazi salute. It was an amazing propaganda coup for the nazis. Amazingly photographs have come to light which show Edward and Simpson back in Britain teaching the nazi salute to our present Queen Elizabeth when she was just a toddler.

In Germany the couple dined regularly with high-ranking nazis such as Joseph Goebbels, Ribbentrop and Albert Speer. The highlight of their tour was time spent with Hitler in Berchtesgaden.

Hitler and the duke had long discussions during which the Führer promised to restore Edward as a puppet nazi king when Hitler’s nazis had conquered Britain.


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