Pre-union movement Mosley-linked groups
By far the leading British fascist of the interwar period was Oswald Mosley who had managed to fill Earls Court with 20,000 people in 1939.68 The end of the war saw a cautious return to politics from Mosley via numerous small front groups that were run by avid followers rather than the ‘The Leader’ himself. Chief among these were the Mosley Book Clubs, of which there were 47. They acted as a channel for the dissemination of his postwar ideas and the distribution of his publications. The nature of the groups varied significantly with some not being openly Mosleyite at all, to the extent that many who joined were unaware that they were anything other than a literary society, while others were clearly political planning cells for the resurrection of Mosley’s career.
In a similar vein to the Book Clubs were the University Corporate Clubs. In 1948 Lionel Rose described these as an ‘important and serious aspect of the fascist revival’.69 They were established at the Oxbridge Universities, as well as others such as the Leeds University Union National Unity Association.7" The groups preached Mosley’s doctrines though they were careful to shun open or obvious antisemitism. Rose stated that Mosley took
some personal interest in these clubs, particularly at Oxford, and that he has addressed more than one meeting of its members in the room provided for the purpose. He is also in the habit of inviting the more socially prominent to his house in Ramsbury.71
Members of the Oxford University Club also wrote for British League Review, the organ of Jeffrey Hamm’s League of Ex-Servicemen.72
As mentioned in the chapter on fascism during the war. Hamm had staged a coup and taken control of the League. Upon his release from detention under 18B he relished the opportunity to re-engage with his prewar politics, and, along with Victor Burgess, another former BUF member and 18B detainee, he set about wrestling the League of Ex-Servicemen away from its founder James Taylor. Once under the control of Hamm and Burgess the term ‘ex-Servicemen’ was loosened to include all former BUF members paving the way for the full radical politicisation of the organisation,73 and Hamm decided to ‘expand both the name and scope of the organisation’.74 While later claiming that it remained a genuine ex-servicemen’s organisation, he did concede that ‘The British League also served to keep the name of Sir Oswald Mosley before the public at a time when he was restricted by the conditions imposed upon him after his release from internment’.75 Hamm built the League with a view to handing control over to Mosley when the time was right.76
Hamm’s League spearheaded the revival of public and open street-level fascism and made waves with its first public meeting in Hyde Park on 5 November 1944. While former BUF members had been publicly speaking against 18B in Hyde Park for some time,77 the likes of the League’s public meetings had not been seen since July 1940. Rose described the propaganda as ‘openly fascist, proNazi and anti-Semitic; considerable attention was devoted to the ‘alien and communist menace’; incitement to violence was often followed by disturbances and police action’.78 An American anti-fascist went undercover to a public meeting and reported the scenes:
“Traitor Churchill, Traitor Attlee. . . . England has been sold down the river to America by Traitor Baruch. . . . Britain First, England for the Englishman. . . . The dirty Jews, those miserable creatures crawling around London.” This sort of baiting delighted the crowd. They roared themselves hoarse. Somebody yelled: “It’s time we wiped them out!” “P J! P J!” some one in the crowd began to chant’. . . . “Mosley! Mosley! We want Mosley! We want Mosley! Heil, Mosley!” All around hands were outstretched in the Nazi salute. It was hard to believe that I was in London.79
The operations of the League were by no means confined to London though. Hamm travelled to Liverpool to address a meeting, and as Daniel Sonabend has shown, they managed to gain “a small foothold” in Brighton due to the work of Leslie Jones, whose own group, The Twentieth Century Socialist Group, was incorporated into the League.80
Spouting similarly hateful language from platforms at street meetings was the Gentile-Christian Front. It was run by F.A. Young who had links with Hamm’s League and even spoke on their platforms, a favour Hamm reciprocated. The group’s propaganda was ultra-nationalist and virulently antisemitic with Young touting the Protocols from the platform.81 Just a few years later it was reported that a women speaker at a Union Movement meeting in Marylebone went as far as to state: ‘Gas chambers are too good for the Jews’.82
Active at the same time as the League was the Union for British Freedom, led and run by Victor Burgess, a former BUF member and co-founder with Hamm of the British League, which he left to set up the new body. The group, specifically named to keep the old initials BUF,8’ produced the newspaper Unity and had three known provincial limbs. They were the British Workers’ Party for National Unity, which was based in Bristol and organised by John Alban Webster. The group set up a paper called Britain Defiant. In conjunction with A.E. Day, Webster also published the periodical Sovereignty, which was then incorporated into the journal TO-MORROW, an organ of the Social Credit Party.84 In July 1947 Webster debated local Communist Party representatives in front of a crowd of 2000 on the motion: ‘That there is no case for discrimination against the Jewish race’ and managed to win.8’ However, in the same year he stood in the Municipal Elections in Avon Ward, Bristol and received just 485 out of 7,149 votes cast. The group was short lived, and in January 1948 he wrote an open letter completely recanting his antisemitic views and stated he was dissolving his party'.8*’ Other provincial limbs of the BUF included The Order of the Sons of St George, a Derby-based group organised by F. Antley and the Manchester-based Imperial Defence League, which was organised by A. Gannon. It emerged from the Manchester Municipal Elections of 1945 in the New Cross Ward and held outdoor meetings in Manchester around Thurloe Street and Wilmslow Road, Rusholme.87
Other postwar groups who moved in Mosleyite circles or were inspired by him included the Britons Action Party (BAP), which was run byJ.C. Preen, a prewar member of the BUF who ran a builders merchants in Paddington and sold Mosleyite literature. The group produced the newspaper Britain Awake.** Like most of the other groups, Preen’s party failed to make any inroads, and when he stood in Harrow Road Ward in May 1947 he came third with just 316 votes out of 4,809.89 BAP grew out of the organised Vigilante Movement, which was an antidemocratic party that called for action instead of parliamentary politics and sought to use the ‘vast heritage of empire’ and the ‘restoration of pride of the British in their own great traditions and sterling qualities of character’.90 Despite forming his own party, Preen was clear that his real ambition lay in the resurrection of Mosley. As he put it, ‘We are hoping hourly for our own great Leader Sir Oswald Mosley to return to lead us on to victory’.91
Another tiny Mosleyite group active in this period was the Anglo-German Youth Contact Club. In 1949 the anti-fascist newspaper On Guard reported that a British ex-P.O.W. named Gerald Seager was running an organisation designed to foster relationships between young German Nazis and young British sympathisers. Seager himself was said to have fallen in love with the Germans while in a prison camp there.
The aim of the group was to ‘oppose Communism and alien influence among British and German youth’. Seager stated he had no differences with the policy of Mosley’s Union Movement and claimed to have 250 members, mainly in the East End of London.92
Many of these groups named previously were little more than collections of Mosleyites biding their time and awaiting the return of their Leader. They played their role in keeping the flame of Mosley’s politics alive during an extremely hostile period, and in 1948 their prayers were answered as he finally decided to emerge from the shadows and relaunch his political career.