'Lord Haw-Haw' hanged

Wandsworth, London The 3rd of January 1946 AD

Though the name Lord Haw-Haw became synonymous with Nazi broadcaster and propagandist William Joyce, originally it referred to one or more of his colleagues in German Radio. The term was coined by Daily Express writer Jonah Barrington, borrowing the nickname given to the Earl of Cardigan who led the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade . He used it to describe the upper class mocking tone of either Wolf Mitler, a wealthy German educated in Britain, or Norman Baillie-Stewart, a disgraced former officer in the Seaforth Highlanders.

But the name Lord Haw-Haw came to be associated by the British public with William Joyce, who broadcast from 1939 to 1945, first from Berlin, then when bombing forced a move away from the German capital from Luxembourg, and finally from Hamburg.

Joyce was born in Brooklyn, New York, his father an Irish Catholic who became an American citizen, his mother an English Protestant. They moved to Galway where father and son became strong Unionists, fleeing to London when Joyce was in his teens and had already been the target of death threats. William Joyce espoused fascism, rising to be deputy to Oswald Mosley in the British Union of Fascists. He was a notoriously vitriolic speaker, and gained fame as a fighter, happy to step off the podium and brawl with anyone who opposed his views, and was rabidly anti-Semitic until his dying day.

In August 1939, when the outbreak of WWII was imminent, he fled to Germany, alerted that he would be interned as an enemy sympathiser and danger to the state. Contacts helped him audition for work in propaganda broadcasting, a role to which his speech writing abilities and undoubted oratorical power suited him.

Joyce’s broadcasts were a mixture of comedy, poison and information. He would mock Churchill ruthlessly. His programme was the source for British civilians and service personnel alike of news about downed aircraft and sunk ships, with wartime restrictions in Britain meaning bad news was kept from the public. He was also vehemently anti-Jewish. At the height of his ‘fame’ his broadcasts were heard by perhaps six million British listeners.

With the war ending Joyce and his wife Margaret, who lived near Flensburg in North Germany while he was broadcasting from Hamburg, attempted to blend in as German civilians. The British were alerted to the existence of the couple, and checked them out. Joyce was betrayed by his own voice, instantly recognized by the Military Police who had come to see him.

Joyce was returned to Britain, spending time in the Tower of London awaiting trial. His conviction was in fact legally dubious: as an American citizen who had then taken German nationality he should arguably have been exempt from trial by the British for treason against the crown. But while living in Britain he had lied about his nationality to obtain a British passport, and the prosecution argued that therefore while in Germany he had enjoyed the potential protection provided by British diplomatic resources and as such owed a duty to the crown, even though not in fact a British citizen.

When his appeal against conviction was lost on November 1 1945 he took it to the Law Lords, losing there by 4 – 1 (the split vote perhaps reflecting that even in those times when, perfectly understandably, the British public was baying for revenge against the Nazis, the legal arguments were somewhat fragile) on December 13 1945.

William Joyce was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint at Wandsworth Prison on January 3 1946, defiant to the last, regurgitating his endless mindless hatred for Jews, and warning against the threat from Stalin and Soviet Russia.

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