Table of Contents:
Organised groups in the immediate postwar period
Broadly speaking one can split fascist and far-right groups active in the immediate postwar years into three groups. One is the extreme and Nazi people and parties often, though not always, grouped around Arnold Leese. The second are those grouped around Oswald Mosley, many of whom were later subsumed by his Union Movement. The third is the handful of parties and groups that do not fit into the previous two categories but were still within the milieu of postwar fascistic politics.
Arnold Leese and extreme far right
The most fanatical fascists of the immediate postwar period gathered around the notorious prewar fascist Arnold Leese.42 This group who remained in loose touch have been called the ‘SS of British fascism’,43 and in the words of G.R. Mitchell, who monitored British fascism in this period: ‘They scarcely have any political ideal beyond the pogrom’.44 Chief among this disparate band of like-minded extremists was Leese, the former camel veterinarian and pro-Nazi antisemite. He first rose to prominence as a world-renowned expert on camels and 1910 and was rewarded with a genus of nematode worms being named Thelazia leesei in his honour. In 1927 he published A treatise on the one-humped camel in health and in disease, which is said to have remained the seminal work on the topic in India for many years to come.4’ Slightly earlier in 1924, along with his friend Harry Simpson, he had been elected as a councillor in Stamford and later proudly boasted in his autobiography that he was ‘the first constitutionally elected Fascist in England’.46 In 1929, he formed the Imperial Fascist League (IFL), which was one of the most pro-Nazi political groups in British history. Despite numbering no more than 500 members, their emblem - which consisted of a Union Flag embossed with a Swastika - and their funding from the Nazis provided the organisation with notoriety disproportionate to their size.47
Unsurprisingly Leese spent much of the war behind bars as a detainee, and by the time it came to an end he was showing his age. After the war, he sat at the centre of a loose web of extreme fascist supporters and pumped out antisemitic literature via his Anti-Jeudsh Information Bureau. However, he soon found himself imprisoned again in March 1947 for being engaged in a conspiracy to assist P.O.W.s in the UK escape to Germany but was released again in January 1948.48 While he did not relaunch his prewar IFL or any other new organisation, he remained a central organising figure on the extreme right, and as well as producing his own virulently antisemitic newspaper titled Gothic Ripples, he encouraged his supporters to engage in entryism. As he explained, ‘I am 67 and too old to run an activist movement. But I am in touch with all sound people of our way of thinking. They are all busy, our aim now being penetration of every other “near” movement to teach the people met in them’.49 His aim was to make far-right organisations more openly antisemitic, and he was damning about anyone who failed to agree with his tactics. As Salomon from the Board of Deputies explained at the time, ‘Everyone whose policy did not agree with Leese was de facto a Jew’.’11 This is confirmed by a letter Leese wrote to an American, which explained that, ‘If, for instance, you were a Mosleyite, like Burgess, you wld [sic] have to unlearn everything that the Jew Raven-Thompson taught you’.’1 It is clear that Leese’s hatred of Mosley and his ‘kosher fascists’ was another thing that survived the war.
Unsurprisingly, in the wake of the Holocaust Leese’s commitment to vocal and open antisemitism was not shared by most other postwar fascists, but that is not to say he was completely alone. Also in this vein was G.F. Green of the Independent Nationalists. Green himself was described as:
a short, pudgy, red-faced man, dressed in a worn and wrinkled dark suit, and he had about him the air of an energetic door-to-door salesman. What teeth he possessed were irregular and brown-stained. A goodly number were missing, giving his mouth an empty look.’2
Similarly to Leese, Green wrote to an undercover anti-fascist explaining that,
I have only one word - JEW. I am not prepared ... to join any activities which are not fully, openly and efficiently directed against all the activities of world-jewery. Racial, political, social, economic - in fact a spiritual and material war on jewery. Race is first, fundamental; next comes nationalism. ... I am tightly fixed in a jewish concentration camp called “England”.53
So extreme was Green that like Leese, he too had been in contact with Goering’s defence team at the Nuremberg Trial, and he even claimed to have obtained a letter purportedly written by Goering to Winston Churchill in the final days before his suicide.’4 The group that he ran, the Independent Nationalists - that he described as ‘a radical and revolutionary party’ who were for ‘a Briton’s Britain’’5 - certainly stuck to his principle of vocal and open Jew-hatred. In terms of ideology Salomon explained how it ‘closely conforms to the policy of the old Imperial Fascist League’ and how it endeavoured to form links with the re-launched British People’s Party (BPP).56
Originally formed in 1939 the BPP sprung back into action in 1945 after an imposed hiatus during the war years. Its stated aims were the re-orientation
of foreign policy, based on a recognition of national needs, as the only real road to lasting peace; a complete change of monetary system in order to release for the country the abundance provided by the scientific and mechanical progress; and reconstruction of our agricultural life, with particular attention to the evil of land erosion.57
With Mosley’s Union Movement not being launched until 1948 it experienced a modicum of success in its efforts to unite the disparate and scattered remnants of Britain’s fascist movement. Writing in 1946 Douglas Hyde of the Daily Worker explained that:
Most active and successful of organisations with which former Fascists are associated is the Duke of Bedford’s British People’s Party. In addition to reforming this organisation and restarting his paper, the Duke is steadily uniting a variety of individuals and organisations of similar kidney.58
However, the group’s limited success was short-lived as it was soon eclipsed by Mosleys return to active politics in 1948.
Other prewar fascist activists of the extreme and revolutionary variety who remained active in the postwar period included Captain Gordon-Canning and Maule Ramsay. In 1951 John Roy Carlson described Gordon-Canning as:
a towering, well-proportioned man with a ruddy complexion, Much larger than normal, his face was set in a large head with a bald dome, and gave him a massive appearance. His eyes were blue, puffy, and encased in deep wrinkles, but when he smiled they twinkled pleasantly. His very long upper lip, heavy drawling voice, and full but formless mouth gave the impression of a distant and self contained man.59
Canning hit the headlines in 1945 when for £500, a substantial sum at the time, he purchased a bust of Hitler formerly owned by the German embassy. He did so ‘To challenge the Jews. To prevent purchase by them. To return [it] to Germany at a suitable time’.60 Meanwhile Ramsay, whom Carlson described as ‘an unusually tall and gangling Scot, with a pronounced eagle nose’,61 also remained active but made little impact after the war, though he did release his autobiography The Nameless War in the early 1950s, which remains in print to this day. Joining Ramsay and Canning in the old guard of the postwar antisemitic milieus were characters such as Admiral Domvile who also published his autobiography, From Admiral to Cabin Boy, in the postwar period, yet despite later getting involved with the League of Empire Loyalists and the National Front he failed to make any real impact in the postwar period.
Within the orbit of these extreme antisemites was a number of small but extreme political groupuscules. One was the British Protestant League led by Alexander Ratcliffe of Glasgow who also produced The blmgnard. As is discussed in the chapter on Holocaust denial, Ratcliffe was one of the very first Holocaust deniers in the country and perhaps even the world. On the more esoteric end of the antisemitic spectrum was the League of Christian Reformers led by Captain TG. St Barbe Baker and James Larrat Battersby who produced the monthly journal Kingdom Herald. Battersby and his associates were vocally pro-Hitler, believing that ‘his only enemy was International Jewish Finance’.62 Fervent believers in the Jewish world conspiracy, they were convinced that Jews started the war, ‘because he [Hitler] had broken the Bonds of the Financiers in his own country’.63 However, they went well beyond just defending him and actually deified Hitler, believing that he and his mission against the Jews were divinely ordained.64
The most violent of these postwar fascist groupuscules was the tiny North-West Task Group, headed by John Gaster and based in Burnt Oak, near Edgware in London. Lionel Rose’s 1948 factual survey described them as ‘a small amorphous body, headed by one John Gaster’:
It is the most violent of all anti-Semitic groups, though fortunately the least important. Its card of membership gives the motto “Wir kommen wieder,” and it boasts in its article of membership of being fanatically anti-democratic and fanatically anti-Jewish.65
The group was also closely tied to the Union of British Freedom, though they did not acknowledge the tie too openly.“
Other tiny groupuscules active during the period included the Bath and West Nationalist Crusade that produced Bridgehead, which was edited by Edwin Bassett Morton. There was also the National and Empire Unity Party that produced The Nationalist under the editorship of A. McCarthy and the National Workers Movement of Anthony EX. Baron, an accountant who lived in Suffolk who was a protege of Leese. It was also during this period that Colin Jordan, later to become the leading British Nazi of the postwar period, set up the Birmingham Nationalist Club after graduating from Cambridge.67