Sunday, January 10, 2016
Lord Haw-Haw: The traitor executed for helping the Nazis
William Joyce, better known as Lord Haw-Haw, was a notorious broadcaster of Nazi propaganda to the UK during World War II. His announcement 'Germany calling, Germany calling' was a familiar sound across the airwaves, introducing threats and misinformation which he broadcast from his Hamburg base. Joyce was originally an American citizen and lived in Britain before becoming a naturalised German citizen in 1940. He was hanged in London on January 3 1946 for betraying Britain. In this article originally published in 2005, Selina Hastings reviewed Haw-Haw: The Tragedy of William and Margaret Joyce by Nigel Farndale.
Lord Haw-Haw: The traitor executed for helping the Nazis
It was Jonah Barrington in the Daily Express who coined the name "Lord Haw-Haw", by which William Joyce became known worldwide during his notorious broadcasts from Germany during the war. Designed to demoralise and depress, Joyce's nightly programme of propaganda, Germany Calling, was initially treated by the British as a huge joke.
It became immensely popular, welcomed as an hilarious alternative to the BBC's more sedate offerings, including a regular 10 dreary hours of Sandy Macpherson at the organ. By contrast, Joyce's electrifying speeches were considered premium entertainment, his voice, with that of Churchill, Hitler and the comedian Tommy Handley, quickly becoming the best known on radio, with more than nine million a day listening in. Naturally enough Dr Goebbels could hardly believe his luck, noting in his diary: "I tell the Führer about Lord Haw-Haw's success, which is really astonishing."
Joyce was given a big pay rise, promoted to Chief Commentator of the English Language Service and generally made a great fuss of at the Funkhaus (the equivalent of Broadcasting House) in Berlin. By the time the Phoney War had ended and the real war had begun, the British public, in an atmosphere of increasing paranoia, were no longer finding Lord Haw-Haw so funny. And because of a BBC policy in applying a time-lag to the reporting of news, Joyce was sometimes able to pull off a scoop – he was the first, for instance, to announce the resignation of Hore-Belisha as War Minister on January 5, 1940. This unnerved audiences at home and led to a series of widely-believed myths, favourite among them that Lord Haw-Haw regularly forecast Luftwaffe bombing targets and that he was uncannily well-informed as to which town-hall clocks were running slow.
As Nigel Farndale makes clear in his excellent biography, one of the ironies of Joyce's situation was that his career as a traitor directly resulted from the man' s fanatical patriotism. A passionate anti-communist, he believed that an alliance between Britain and Germany was the best protection against the Red Menace. "From my earliest days," he wrote, "I was taught to love England and her Empire. Patriotism was the highest virtue I knew." Furthermore, although Joyce was hanged as a traitor, there is a considerable doubt as to whether technically this judgment was legal: Joyce was an American, born in the United States of Irish parents, and during the war in Germany, where he was granted citizenship, his status was that of an alien outside the King's dominions, owing no allegiance, therefore, to the Crown.
But the turning point, or peripeteia, as Nigel Farndale describes it in terms of Greek tragedy, came before this, in 1933, when Joyce, having long been settled in England, falsely claimed British nationality in order to get a passport. As the author puts it, "Joyce had unwittingly signed his own death warrant. From this moment on, he was a condemned man." In this vivid and intelligent account the extraordinary complexities of Joyce's character are made clear: on the one hand the political extremist and maniacal demagogue, on the other the linguist and scholar with a passionate love of language (James Joyce was a distant cousin).
Lord Haw-Haw at a meeting of British fascists in Chiswick
In private William Joyce was an amiable, amusing man of immense courage and conviction, like one of those slightly barmy schoolmasters with a crazy bee in his bonnet who is none the less a genius in the classroom. Having left America as a small boy, he spent his childhood in Ireland, came to England at 15, and was swept up by Sir Oswald Mosley into the British Union of Fascists. With war imminent he was threatened with internment, warned just in time by that mysterious, ambidextrous figure, Maxwell Knight, on whom Ian Fleming modelled James Bond's boss, "M".
On August 26, 1939, only a week before the outbreak of war, Joyce and his second wife, Margaret, left London openly for the German capital, one-way tickets in hand, luggage clearly labelled. "Berlin! That's a rum place to be going right now," their porter at Victoria Station chattily remarked. But nobody tried to stop them. Joyce's marriage to Margaret Cairns White, or "Lady Haw-Haw", as she became known, was turbulent in the extreme.
Politically at one with her husband and in Berlin a celebrity propagandist in her own right, Margaret was beautiful, sexy, compulsively unfaithful, and like Joyce regularly drank to excess. They had stupendous rows, even divorced once, but then remarried as neither could live without the other, she loving his jokes and looking up to him as a father-figure, he sexually enslaved by her.
In their letters, as a term of affection they referred to each other as sheep: "Yp -Baa!" Joyce would sign himself off; and after his eventual arrest, at night on the German-Danish border, Margaret was picked up wandering through the forest bleating for him like a lost ewe. Nigel Farndale shows both sympathy and understanding for his difficult subject. He is good, too, on the historical context, making admirable use of a daunting variety of sources. Particularly memorable is his portrait of the Joyces' Berlin: in the early days of the war the well-paid couple lived high on the hog, enjoying a ceaseless round of expensive restaurants and cocktail- and dinner-parties with their Funkhaus colleagues; by the end, in a city of smoking ruins and amid hordes of desperate refugees, they were facing starvation, and taking shelter where they could from the nightly bombing raids carried out by the RAF.
No wonder Wandsworth Prison proved a welcome contrast, with Joyce proving himself a model prisoner, liked and respected by warders and police. Despite the harrowing experience of being sentenced to death, Joyce never flinched, never showed fear, even at the arrival of the hangman, Albert Pierrepoint – who, as he pinioned the condemned man's arms behind his back, said reassuringly: "Follow me, sir, it'll be all right."
PN: William Joyce is buried at the New Cemetery in Galway City, Ireland