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The struggle on the outside

While most of the upper echelons of the British fascist movement were imprisoned following the extension of Defence Regulation 18B in 1940 it was only ever a fraction of those sympathetic to fascism and Mosley' before the war. In July 1939

Mosley had addressed a crowd at Earls Court of just over 20,000 people,68 yet at the height of internment only around 800 BUF members were detained. Some areas were hardly affected, with fewer than 40 fascists arrested in Manchester, just six in Hull and only four in Kent.69 In addition, as Stephen Dorril points out, the arrests were carried out indiscriminately and in a haphazard way meaning that it was not unusual for non-active members to be interned while some of the most active were not.70 While many British fascists would have been conscripted, thereby severely curtailing their opportunities to engage in politics, and others no doubt may have changed their minds with the commencement of hostilities, a great many of Britain’s interwar fascists remained at large even after June 1940. Disproportionately high among those who avoided detainment were fascists of aristocratic background, chief among them the Duke of Bedford. Thus, even after the expansion of 18B resulting in further arrests, there were sufficient numbers of non-interned fascists who were able to continue their activities.

One manner in which non-interned fascists continued their activism was through a widespread national campaign of fascist and antisemitic chalking and graffiti across the country, primarily perpetrated under the cover of the blackout. Found in Derby, Manchester, Newcastle, Ramsgate, Glasgow, Leeds and London, the graffiti included everything from standard BUF graffiti such as ‘Read Action-Britain First’ through to more elaborate antisemitic slogans such as ‘Jewish Refugees feed on the fat of the land whilst British unemployed starve’; ‘The Jew Fills the Pocket- Britain Fills the Grave’ and simply ‘PJ’. for Perish Judah.71 The Board of Deputies Defence Committee organised a clean-up operation that between March and June of 1940 cleared nearly 500 antisemitic slogans and despite persistent repainting effectively eradicated the problem.72

In addition to graffiti a whispering campaign was orchestrated by antisemites. For example, within a few hours of the Bethnal Green disaster in 1943, when 173 people were crushed in a stampede during an air raid, a rumour spread that it had been caused by Jews. In reality the shelter was not used by Jews as their community was on the other side of Bethnal Green.73 There was also a persistent slur that Jews were black market profiteers, a rumour that continued to be held against them even after the war. In 1947 a speaker on Clapham Common claimed that Jews were: ‘Filthy lice, underhanded swine, black marketers corrupting the children of the country’.74 The irony of the claims that Jews profited from the black market is that there is evidence of fascists being prosecuted for the same crime. Peter Forster, a member of the Kensington Branch of the UM who translated fascist material into French, was sentenced for obtaining coupons for 77,000 gallons of petrol and selling them on.7

However, recently released MI5 documents have revealed how far many of those fascists who avoided internment were willing to go in engaging in fifth column activity. In addition to the Tyler Kent Affair, it has now been revealed that, in the words of MI5, the number of possible Nazi sympathisers willing to pass information onto the Germans during the war years amounted ‘certainly to scores and probably to hundreds’.76 An MI5 agent, alias Jack King, acting as a Gestapo agent, infiltrated pro-German networks, primarily in the South-East of England, and gathered a wealth of information on individuals ‘ready to assist the enemy by supplying information, committing sabotage and spreading pro-Nazi propaganda’.77 The extremely successful operation began as a limited investigation into the German company Siemens Schlickert and expanded when surveillance drew attention to the wife of an interned former member of the BUF, Marita Perigoe. King, posing as a Gestapo agent, then used Perigoe to find out information on and build a network among her contacts who were sympathetic to the Nazis.

There are examples such as the BUF sympathiser Hilda Leech who despite being described as ‘unstable and neurotic’ was willing to pass on information about the top-secret development of propeller-less jet propulsion aeroplanes.78 There was also Edgar Whitehead, another former BUF member, who was attempting to pass on secret information about amphibian tank trials to the Spanish Embassy79 and Eileen Gleave, a BUF member since 1936, who ‘volunteered to provide food and hiding for Germans in time of invasion’.80 Furthermore, there are examples of former 18B detainees and relations of detainees also seeking to engage in pro-Nazi activities such as Ernest Fare-Prescott who had been interned in 1940 but was released by the Advisory Committee. Ena Blunk, the wife of internee Freddie Blunk, explained how she was willing to commit sabotage at a munitions factory that she worked in.81 This newly released information has revealed how extensive the possible fifth column threat was and the number of domestic fascists involved.

In addition to the actively pro-German activity of some British fascists was the less subversive desire to continue to organise and express their political beliefs. This was done by entering and influencing existing political organisations and by creating new and overtly far-right groups. Some gravitated towards the Social Credit Movement. Social Credit was an inter-disciplinary reform programme formed by C.H. Douglas in the 1920s and was essentially a monetary reform idea based on an alleged ‘Christian economic democracy’82 with a view to dispersing economic and political power to the individual. Another outlet for Britain’s fascist diaspora during the war years was Robert J. Scrutton’s People’s Common Law Parliament, which was formed in 1940 and held its first National Assembly in London in November 1942.83 The organisation struggled to grow for the first two years of its existence; however this changed in 1942 with an influx of fascists and former BUF members.84 Only weeks after the Assembly on 17 December 1942 the PCLP was described as ‘fascist and defeatist’ and was accused of‘seditious activity’ by an MP.85 The headquarters of the group were paid for by the long term supporter of Britain’s far right, the Duke of Bedford,86 though he felt it best to remain a silent supporter as ‘There are, of course, still some people in the peace movement who, while keen on ending the war, are suspicious of me being a “pro-Fascist”’.87 Others were less cautious, with an array of ex-BUF members attending meetings at which support for those in internment was expressed and Jew-bating was reported.

However, for some non-interned fascists, bit part involvement in non-fascist organisations failed to quench their political thirst, meaning some found outlets for their continued commitment to the movement via a number of groups that emerged during the war years. The most prominent of these wartime organisations where those linked to the prewar British Union. The 18B Detainees (British) Aid Fund was ostensibly a charitable organisation, registered under the 1940 War Charities Act, designed to help the families of those fascists who were detained and former detainees upon their release. The group was organised and managed entirely by former BU members but went to great lengths to avoid all illegal activity that could result in it being shut down. That said, as MI5 pointed out at the time, the fund was a useful means of consolidating the remaining fascist ranks and keeping in contact with the former BU membership.88 More openly political was the 18B Publicity Council, an organisation from which the Aid Fund was careful to distance itself.89 Formed in October 1942" and holding its first public meeting on 6 December 1942,91 the Publicity Council was designed to ‘actively campaign for the rehabilitation of fascist detainees whose reputations lay in tatters’.92 The first public meeting, attended by around 700 people, was made up overwhelmingly of members, associates and sympathisers of the BU, and reports indicate that fascist salutes and cries were seen and heard, including one cry of Perish Judah.93 In the absence of their now illegal BU, the Publicity Council provided both a cause around which to rally and a fascist political organisation with which to affiliate.

The Publicity Council was by no means the only option for malcontent and frustrated British fascists with a desire to maintain their political activism. Edward Godfrey’s British National Party (BNP), formed slightly earlier than the Council in August 1942, provided an alternative. Perhaps the largest difference was the BNP’s refusal to accept Oswald Mosley as the leader of the movement. However, the numerous policy similarities were striking, including calls for a negotiated peace with Hitler.94 This led Mr Ivor Thomas, Labour MP for Keighley, to ask the Home Secretary if he was aware of the BNP as ‘this Party appeared to be a revival of the British Union of Fascists’.9’ Confined almost entirely to London and the Home Counties96 the BNP’s activity amounted to little more than the distribution of a handful of leaflets and public meetings. However, with the war still raging this was enough to cause a significant public outcry.97 So vocal was the opposition that on 23 April 1943 Godfrey closed the party and attributed its demise to the attacks made on it and ‘the way in which we have been identified with the British Union of Fascists’.98 In its place Godfrey launched the English Nationalist Alliance (ENA) with the former BPP member Ben Greene as Vice Governor with an inaugural luncheon on 15 June 1943. However, despite financial support from the Duke of Bedford99 the ENA was stillborn, and when Godfrey fought the Acton by-election in December 1943 he received just 258 votes.

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