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After internment

By the middle of 1943 only 429 people remained detained under DR18B. Those who had not been detained had done their job by keeping the flickering flame of fascism alive, and now it was time to ready the movement in preparation for the end of the war. The first major attempt to bring together the disparate remnants of Britain’s fascist movement was headed up by A.K. Chesterton and came to be known as the National Front after Victory (NF after V). Chesterton spent time in East Africa during the war before returning to Britain in 1943 following a collapse that resulted from malaria and gastric illness compounded by a relapse into alcoholism.100 His period in Africa left his enthusiasm for fascism undimmed, and upon his return he began to start again. As early as 12 August 1943 Chesterton was holding meetings with a view to creating a militant anti-Jewish group, which at first was to be called the British Officers Freedom League.101 After many months of meetings and discussions the National Front was finally launched at a meeting on 24 November 1944 with an impressive array of Britain’s interwar fascists present, including the Earl of Portsmouth, Major General J.F.C. Fuller and numerous former detainees. Despite its size and short-lived nature, the group is significant in the career of Chesterton, “as it represented his first real attempt to found a mass political movement following the collapse of the BUF’.102 The group was to spend many months arguing over its programme with some feeling uncomfortable about Chesterton’s radical proposals and his insistence on publicly discussing the ‘Jewish question’. Chesterton intended for the NF to spring into action on the night after victory over Germany and to cover London in chalking reading, ‘Now Germany is Defeated, Hang Churchill and Deal with the Jews’.103 His insistence on such an openly antisemitic programme and his proposed tactics ‘implicit connection to subversion, social upheaval and violence’104 caused many to leave the fledgling organisation, and the group had fewer members after its first year than when it had started, forcing Chesterton to water down his proposed ‘aims and objectives’. LeCras correctly summarises the NF as ‘an exercise in nostalgic fascism, a failed attempt to rekindle the spirit and function of the interwar movement under a different guise’.105

The efforts of Chesterton and the NF were scuppered by the work of the Jewish Board of Deputies who reactivated their mole and infiltrated the organisation. They then blew the whistle on the emerging threat via a question in the House of Lords. Soon after the question by Lord Vansittart, Chesterton called a meeting at which he rightly drew attention to the likelihood of a spy amidst their ranks and called for the National Front to be shut down.106 However, despite its failure, the NF was a firm example that there was a hunger - in certain, small circles - to reorganise and rebuild the movement and that British fascism had indeed survived its darkest days between 1940 and 1942.

Another, perhaps more important organisation that emerged while active hostilities still raged on the continent was Jeffrey Hamm’s British League of Ex-Servicemen and Women. Discussions to amalgamate the League with Chesterton’s NF after V, with a view to exiting the war years with a united movement, failed, but while the NF floundered and then folded the League of Ex-Servicemen survived into the postwar period. Formed in 1937 as a non-fascist ex-servicemen’s organisation, it succumbed to a fascist coup in late 1944 by Jeffrey Hamm, a former BUF member107 who had been detained while working in the colonial service as a travelling teacher in the Falkland Islands. He was eventually returned to England, via South Africa, to take up service in the army. His remaining fascist sympathies resulted in him being transferred four times to make sure he never saw active service, before he was eventually discharged, unbeknown to him for spreading fascist propaganda amongst the ranks.108 Hamm’s resolve had been stiffened by internment and his commitment to Mosley strengthened through a common martyrdom. Once under his control the League became a vehicle for active fascist street politics until Oswald Mosleys Union Movement eventually subsumed it in 1948. So despite what one might presume, outside the high walls of Brixton and Holloway Prisons and the barbed wire of the internment camps, British fascism struggled on and managed to survive. Free fascists, though severely curtailed by circumstance, kept British fascism alive and operational throughout the war years and from 1943 onward seriously began to reorganise, ready for the postwar relaunch.

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