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BOOK REVIEW 

Black Shirt and Smoking Beagles 

by J L Risdon

The biography of Wilfred Risdon: an unconventional campaigner

Wilfred Books

www.wilfredbooks.co.uk

699 pages - published 2013

 

Jon Risdon first made contact with European Action in February 2007 after seeing our page, British Union and animal welfare, on our website. At that time he had only really begun research on the life of his grand uncle, Wilfred “Bill” Risdon, and was gathering information from people like Jeffrey Wallder of the Friends of Oswald Mosley.

Jon was to tell me, in an email, of an alleged meeting post-war when Bill Risdon met Robert Row, Jeffrey Hamm and ’Mac’ in a pub near Pimlico, Central London, one lunchtime. Mac (probably Hector McKechnie, Mosley’s secretary) had tried to recruit Bill for Oswald Mosley’s post-war movement, Union Movement, but the offer was declined. Bill had more pressing tasks that involved the welfare of animals, a noble cause at the hearts of many former Blackshirts.

This substantial book gives us the complete picture of a man who was much more than a Mosley Blackshirt and whose life traversed several disparate causes over the decades, all of them dealt with in great detail by Jon Risdon. The subject is referred to as Wilfred (‘Bill Risdon’ in British Union publications) throughout. There are copious notes, demonstrating that Jon had done his research thoroughly. In the introduction, Jon explains that he first encountered Wilfred as a result of family history research in middle years ... “thanks to the prevalence of online archives and websites geared to family history research”. He says, “The name of Oswald Mosley, which was mentioned in connection with Wilfred, did not mean a huge amount to me at the time”.

The early life of Wilfred is extremely detailed and we learn the names of several relatives. The subject was a bit of a “religious zealot” in his youth. He joined up in 1914 under-aged, as many recruits were; a stretcher bearer attached to the First Black Watch. He was later a miner and became interested in politics in the 1920s. Oswald Mosley had been a recent convert to socialism and Wilfred was “still at heart, an evangelist for socialism”. Wilfred went with Mosley into the New Party, he was a regional organiser for it, remaining a staunch trade unionist ... and then into the British Union of Fascists where Wilfred became a propagandist and author of many fascist publications of a socialistic nature. He was Director of Propaganda. The author reproduces many of the booklets and pamphlets associated with Wilfred’s prolific output. He organised the 1934 Albert Hall meeting and was an accomplished public speaker for British Union. Interestingly, he refused to wear the Action Press uniform, to his credit; the uniform that Mosley described as “a mistake” in his autobiography My Life. It resembled the black uniform of the Allgemeine SS. He also preferred the name British Union to the BUF.

His leaving of British Union in 1940 was done quietly, simply walking out on his last day of work and not renewing his subscriptions. He did not go back.

He was detained, without charge or trial, under Defence Regulation 18B in 1940 with over a thousand other Blackshirts. There is a chapter titled 12: Prisoner Number 2205. Again, enormous, detailed research and a fascinating, absorbing read.

I think Wilfred’s greatest achievement in his life was his involvement in animal welfare organisations including the British Union Against Vivisection (no connection with Mosley’s British Union), hence the title of this worthy book.

Previously, he was involved in the now-defunct London & Provincial Anti-Vivisection Society (LPAVS) and the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS), at one time a member of its Council.

Wilfred was a deeply religious man and this shines through in every phase of his life. In British Union, he stood up for the ordinary worker, as much as he did when in the Labour Party. All the articles that Jon reproduces on the pages of this enthralling book demonstrates this so clearly. This book is completely different to the plethora of books on the Mosley movement in the last ten or so years. This book drives deeper and gives us the full picture without judgements. Wilfred ‘Bill’ Risdon would be intensely proud of his grand nephew.

copyright© Robert Edwards 2014

European Socialist Action No 51

British Union and animal welfare

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