"Never apologies; say it again
and be ruder the second time!" was the advice the elder
statesman Lloyd George gave to the young Oswald Mosley, Conservative,
Labour M.P. and junior Minister before founding the British Union
of Fascists. Many years later Mosley passed this piece of homespun
advice on to me. I
trust I have never been unduly rude, but I have certainly never apologised for my
membership of British Union and of the
post-war Union Movement, nor for being
private secretary to Mosley up to his death in December 1980. This book will
examine the facts as distinct from the
myths and the reader may well agree with me
that my life has been a source of modest pride rather than regret.
A holiday in London in 1934 changed
my whole life. One Saturday evening I came
across a Blackshirt speaker shouting above the din of a howling mob on the corner of
and Kilburn High Road. I naively asked a particularly noisy
interrupter why he did not keep quiet and listen to the speaker.
He gave me a reply
that set me thinking: "We haven't come to listen to the meeting. We've come to smash
it!" At the end of the meeting
the Blackshirts marched away to their local
headquarters, and I fell in behind them. That was the beginning of a long march which
led me to some
very strange places: to prison without any charge or trial, and to
hospital when I forgot the golden rule of any sport— never
to take your eye off the
ball. On that occasion the ball was a brick which struck my head and laid me low for
At the end of my holiday I returned
to my home in Pontypool in South Wales and
subscribed to all the current British Union publications, which I devoured avidly. In
one of them I
read the striking challenge— 'Those who are not for us are against us'
— and I had to decide on which side of the fence I stood.
I have never been a
mugwump, which has been defined as someone who sits with his mug on one side of
the fence and his wump on the other.
So in March 1935 I filled in an application form
to join the British Union of Fascists, which Sir Oswald Mosley had launched in
October 1932 in the hope of creating
a modern movement that would achieve— as
the old political parties seemed powerless to do— the economic reconstruction that
the country so
badly needed, through a great programme of economic measures on
Keynsian lines, which would solve the unemployment problem through
of public works. A number of well-known and respected names in British
politics were thinking along these lines and it was not until the
later years of pre-war
and wartime propaganda that a man or woman holding 'fascist' opinions was generally
assumed to be a villain.
What was Fascism?
As it was an intensely nationalistic creed it varied considerably
from one country to another, and I shall concern myself primarily
with the British
variety to which I subscribed. Some years ago I was invited to lecture at Sunderland
Polytechnic on the origins and development
of this 'British' Fascism. It was necessary
to discuss Fascist movements in Britain which had preceded the British Union of
Fascists. In 1923 a Miss Rotha Lintorn-Orman
had founded the British Fascists,
joined a year later by the late Arnold Leese, who in 1929 had broken away to form his
League. So in chronological terms these were the forerunners of
British Union, but to what degree did the Mosley movement owe its
origins to them?
The British Fascists gained some strength during the General Strike of 1926, to which
they were strongly opposed, in that
age when it was fashionable for Oxbridge
undergraduates to drive buses and lorries in strike-breaking activities. But what was
Mosley doing during
that strike? Leading the Labour Party in Birmingham and
addressing innumerable meetings in support of the miners, justifiably striking in
protest against cuts in their then miserable
wages. This is the first answer to the myth
that Fascism was a right-wing movement. It was in fact a movement of protest against
the gross injustices
of the capitalist system, and against that communism which
attacked it only to substitute its own state capitalism for that of private enterprise.
Arnold Leese certainly
had no influence on Mosley, whom he detested. I shall later
examine the allegations of anti-semitism, but Leese had no doubt
on the matter: he
always referred to Mosley and to those of us who followed him as "kosher Fascists",
we were paid by Jewish interests to propagate a false brand of Fascism,
while he personified its pure and undiluted form !
What of the allegation
that Mosley's Fascism was copied from Mussolini and Hitler?
Mosley's first election address, as a Conservative candidate for
Harrow in 1918,
the extraordinary phrase 'socialistic imperialism', years before anyone had
heard of Hitler's 'national socialism.' But if either of these
European Fascists had
exercised any influence over Mosley, would it have been from the right or from the
left? Mussolini had been Editor of a
socialist newspaper, and what does the dreaded
word 'Nazi' mean? It is, of course, an abbreviation of the long and cumbersome name
of the German
party, translated into English as 'The National Socialist German
Workers' Party'. Nothing very right-wing about that!
But where did
British Fascism originate? I profoundly believe the answer I gave the
Sunderland students: in the trenches of the first World War. Mosley
had served with
there and in the air, in the Royal Flying Corps which later became the
Royal Air Force. He lost most of his dearest friends in that holocaust
rest of his life to attempt to save a future generation from the horrors which he had
experienced. He was later joined in British
Union by men typical of that flower of
British manhood who had not waited for conscription to be introduced, but had
volunteered to fight in the war to 'make
the world safe for democracy'.
His comrades included the distinguished author HenryWilliamson, who wrote so
vividly of his war experiences, which
left their mark upon him for life. He had taken
part in that Christmas Day truce of 1914, when British and German soldiers had
cautiously ventured out of their respective
trenches, to chat in broken versions of their
kindred languages, and to play football, before such dangerous fraternisation was
sternly forbidden by the brass-hats
in both of the High Commands. On another
occasion he had heard a voice crying weakly from a muddy shell-hole and had
crawled down to investigate. There he
had found a young German soldier, a mere boy,
dying of his wounds and in his delirum crying for his mother. Henry had put a
comforting arm around the lad, and in
halting German had assured him that his
mother was there.
These were the soldiers who had been assured by the old men of the Establishment
that they would return to 'a land fit
for heroes', only to find that they had been cheated
and betrayed. The returning ex-serviceman was thrown on to the scrap-heap of
unemployment, and officers joined with
the men they had commanded in selling matches
and bootlaces in the streets of an ungrateful country. In bitterness and
cynicism they declared that the promised
'land fit for heroes' had become one in
which you had to be a hero to survive. In later years many of them turned to Fascism,
in Britain and
all over Europe.
I do not propose to set out here a detailed exposition of the pre-war or post-war
policies to which I gave my support.
These policies have been explained by Mosley in
a series of books readily obtainable from public libraries, of which the most notable
perhaps, is his autobiography My Life, published in 1968 and
currently still in print. This should be supplemented by Professor
biography Oswald Mosley, in the main a very fair and objective study.
However, at a time when it is still fashionable
to condone the crimes of Communism
and the treacherous antics of its adherents and fellow-travellers within the
Establishment, while condemning Fascism
and all its works, it is probably necessary
that I should explain briefly why I joined Mosley in British Union, and what this
cause meant to me personally.
public meetings I have spoken in personal terms, relating my political
ideas to my early experiences. For instance, as a young student-teacher
in Pontypool I
the heartbreaking task of teaching children who had never seen their fathers in
work. My friends and neighbours had been abandoned by the old political
to rot away their lives on street-corners, so that James Maxton, the great socialist
and leader of the Independent Labour Party,
could justly describe them as "the legions
of the lost and the cohorts of the damned."
I used to go every Saturday morning to the weekly session of the
magistrates' court in
Pontypool, where I listened to the most extraordinary cases. Man after man would
shuffle into the dock, to hear the charge
read out to him by the clerk of the court:
"Stealing a quantity of coal, to the value of one shilling." The 'criminal' was an
who had gone to a railway siding where hundreds of rusting trucks
were standing, piled high with coal for which there was no market.
He had taken a
of coal, and was running home with it, to light a fire in his empty grate for his
wife and children, when he had been arrested.
Ridiculous fines would be imposed on
these unhappy men, which of course they could not pay. In default, they trooped off to
week after week.
In the same period of this shameful betrayal of Britain by the Conservative Party—
thinly disguised in 1931 as the 'National'
Government — I used to attend Labour
Party meetings, and listen to our M.P., Arthur Jenkins, denounce the evils of life in
Hitler, or later in Spain under Franco, while only the previous Sunday
he had read in chapel the lesson which advised us to cast out the
mote in our own eye
before examining the beam in others. (While I was at school in Pontypool Arthur
Jenkins's son, Roy, was at his school
in neighbouring Aberscychan. He did not then
speak with the accent and lisp he acquired and carefully cultivated in later years).
Before I examine
those childhood years, let me emphasise that it was in revolt against
this state of things that I became 'an angry young man', some twenty
years before the
phrase was thought of, and turned to Fascism, which was to me, as to so many others,
basically an economic creed. Policies
made sense to me which advocated forbidding
the export of capital from the City of London, which in the thirties was investing its
money in countries
where wages were lowest and hours of work longest, so as to draw
a high rate of interest.
Successive British governments allowed the
good produced in the Far East by
sweated labour to flood back into Britain, undercutting British industry and causing
I saw the tragic absurdity of that system in South Wales,
and also in Lancashire, where the unemployed textile worker went off with the dole in
his pocket to
the corner shop, there to buy a Japanese shirt. Fascism was to me simply
a revolt against that system, advancing the alternative policy
of compelling the City to
invest in British industry and to re-equip it with modern machinery, while forbidding
of any goods which could be produced in Britain. The policy of
British Union was summarised in such slogans as 'Britain First!'
and 'Britain for the
British!' Should I now apologise for having embraced such a patriotic, nationalist
creed? I shall never offer any apology,
for none is due. "Never apologise; say it again
and be ruder the second time!"