Julius Streicher, who was executed at Nuremburg in 1946, had given himself the title “Jew-Baiter Number 1.” If there was ever a figure in British politics who deserved the title it was William Joyce, alias Lord Haw-Haw. Dismissed by many historians as a comical, almost pathetic, figure in reality his life was far more complex.
Joyce was born in New York of an Irish father and an English mother on 24 April 1906, but when he was only three the family moved to Ireland, settling in County Mayo. Joyce was educated at a convent school in Galway – the College of St. Ignatius Layola. It was here that during a fist fight with another boy that Joyce had his nose broken. He kept quiet about the injury and his nose never properly set – giving him the nasal broken drawl so familiar in his later broadcasts from Germany.
The Joyce family were in Ireland at the time of the Sinn Fein insurrections and because they were Conservative and pro-Union they were very unpopular with the rebels. Joyce’s early life was marked by violence, including an attack on his father’s business and attacks on the family home by Sinn Feiners. When the British Prime Minister Lloyd George announced the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and the creation of the Irish State the Joyce family left for England. Joyce was then 15 years old.
Far from being the puny figure described by the press during World War II, William Joyce was of average height and strongly built. During his youth he excelled at boxing, swimming and fencing. This was to hold him in good stead later when he was involved in many street battles.
In 1923 at the age of 17, the same year as Hitler’s attempted putsch in Munich and 9 years before Mosley formed the BUF, Joyce joined the ‘British Fascisti Ltd’ – a movement based on its Italian big brother. At a Conservative meeting at Lambeth’s Bath Hall the following year a squad of fascists under the control of William Joyce became involved in a fracas with left-wing agitators. It was here that 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. The scar was received during fighting in the meeting and Joyce had no doubt that the perpetrators were “Jewish Communists.” This incident had a marked bearing on his outlook. He was reminded of his hatred of “the enemy” every time he looked in the mirror until the day he died.
Joyce left British Fascisti Ltd in 1925 seeing no way forward through their policies. He joined the Conservative Party, but left after a short period in 1931. He called the old men of the Conservative Party weak, grasping and dishonest men, who were betraying the nation to the agents of International Finance.
When Sir Oswald Mosley launched the British Union of Fascists on 1 October 1932, Joyce was quick to join. He made a name for himself as a dedicated activist and a good speaker very quickly. A. K. Chesterton described Joyce as a “brilliant writer, speaker who addressed hundreds of meetings... always revealing the iron spirit of Fascism.” In 1934 Joyce was promoted to the BUF’s Director of Propoganda. With his savage anti-semitism and shrill voice at meetings Joyce began to alarm some members of the BUF. When asked about Jewish involvement in class war in 1934 Joyce snapped “I don’t regard the Jews as a class I regard them as a privileged misfortune.” It was during this time that the numbers protesting at major BUF meetings increased from a few dozen to a few thousand. Some of the enemies of the BUF came equipped with knuckle-dusters, metal bars and potatoes encrusted with razor blades.
William Joyce gained the reputation of a savage fighter and was always the first to dive into a fracas with knuckle-duster at the ready.† The image of “Jewish Communists” who scarred his face was always in the back of his mind and he wanted revenge. Standing on his soapbox in Blackshirt battledress – a buttoned black suit with a high-necked pullover – his left hand in his pocket and his right clutching the microphone – he fed on the tension and heckling like a drug. The June 1934 Olympia conference which turned into a bloody fight and the violent rhetoric of Joyce destroyed the image of respectability that Mosley and the BUF were striving for. But this did not prevent Joyce from being appointed Deputy Leader of the BUF.
Mosley and Joyce were completely different in character. Mosley was relaxed, humorous and charming whereas Joyce was impatient, intense and bad-tempered. Joyce’s departure from the BUF in April 1937 came as a result of Joyce being dismissed from the salaried staff of the BUF. Bad election results, falling support and lack of money led to a BUF staff reduction of 143 to approximately 30. This and Joyce’s personal differences with Mosley led Joyce to form the British National Socialist League. Despite Joyce having been Deputy Leader of the BUF between 1933 and 1937 and a brave fighter and powerful orator, Mosley snubbed him in his autobiography and denounced him as a traitor because of his wartime activities.
When Joyce left the BUF in April 1937 he took approximately 60 members with him; the numbers dwindled quickly to about 20. Although the membership was very small they were loyal and worked extremely hard, and the League survived. It held many street-corner meetings, which resulted in many fights – fights which Joyce never shrunk from. Joyce made no effort to hide his admiration for Adolf Hitler and praised him whenever possible. Joyce had made up his mind long before World War II that it was the result of provocation by Jewry and International Finance.
On 26 August 1939, approximately a week before the outbreak of war, Joyce and his family fled to Berlin after a tip-off that, under the soon to be introduced emergency powers, he would be interned for the duration of the war. It was an act that would lead eventually to his death and denouncement by many, including Mosley, as a traitor. Rightly or wrongly Joyce was adamant that Britain was being led into another pointless war and Neville Chamberlain’s, and subsequently Winston Churchill’s, governments were betraying their people.
Friends in Germany put Joyce in contact with Dr. Erich Hetzler – Private Secretary to Germany’s Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop. Two weeks after the outbreak of war he was appointed Editor and speaker for the German transmitters for Europe at Berlin’s Charlottenburg. Joyce was still only 33 years old. His wartime broadcasts to England became infamous – he was nicknamed ‘Lord Haw-Haw’ by a Daily Express journalist because of his aristocratic nasal drawl. Unknown to the public at this time, his image was very different from the scar-faced fascist thug he was usually portrayed as.
Although it was illegal to listen to his broadcasts in Britain they became very popular with British listeners. They always began with the words “Germany calling Germany calling,” which because of Joyce’s broken nose sounded like: “Jarmany calling, Jarmany calling.” During his heyday Joyce had almost as many listeners as the BBC – and he caused alarm with his tales of a Fifth Column in Britain and his talks on how to treat bombing wounds. He caused panic with his apparently accurate descriptions of Town Hall clocks that had stopped and how many steps there were in a particular church steeple.
After the Battle of Britain and the invasion of Russia, Joyce’s broadcasts lost more and more listeners in Britain – but he still remained the number one broadcaster in Berlin and his anti-semitism never faded in its virulence – continuing to blame the war on “Jewish International Finance.” For his efforts Joyce continued to live a comfortable life in Berlin and in September 1944 was awarded the Cross of War Merit 1st Class with a certificate signed by Adolf Hitler. As the war worsened he began to drink heavily and his marriage became a joke with both his wife and he having numerous affairs.
During the final stages of the war, with the Red Army approaching Berlin, Joyce moved to Hamburg. He made a final broadcast on 30 April 1945 – warning that the war would leave Britain poor and barren now that she had lost all her wealth and power in 6 years of war, leaving the Russians in control of most of Europe. He signed off with a final defiant “Heil Hitler.”
Joyce was captured while going through a wood near Flensburg after the war; he received a bullet wound to the leg in the process. Joyce’s fate at the gallows was then merely a formality and the British press whipped up all the hysteria they could – reminding people that he was a snarling traitor. The British Government passed the Treason Act 1945 the day before Joyce was flown back to Britain.
Although Joyce was born in the USA, brought up in Ireland and took German nationality on 26 September 1939, he was charged with treason from 3 September 1939 to 2 July 1940, the date his British passport ran out, and sentenced to death. Joyce was confined in a death cell at London’s Wandsworth Prison. In the cell next door was John Amery, the son of a British lord and the man who had tried to form British expatriates and sympathetic British POW’s into a Freicorp to fight on the German side. Joyce was executed five days after Amery on 3 January 1946. He was adamant and defiant to the end. He showed no emotion when confronted by news and scenes from the concentration camps, blaming the deaths on starvation and disease caused by Allied bombing of communication lines. He also scratched a swastika on the wall of his cell whilst awaiting sentence. His last public message reported by the BBC was “In death as in life, I defy the Jews who caused this last war, and I defy the powers of darkness they represent.” He was not yet 40 years old when executed. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the grounds of the prison.