Germany Calling: An Irishman’s Diary on William Joyce, ‘Lord Haw-Haw’
William Joyce: “Lord Haw-Haw” attracted odium for his wartime radio broadcasts from Nazi Germany
Individuals with an Irish background who make a name for themselves internationally are generally regarded with pride in the “old country”. However, this is certainly not the case with William Joyce, better-known as “Lord Haw-Haw”, who attracted odium for his wartime radio broadcasts from Nazi Germany and ended up as the last person to be executed for treason in the United Kingdom. But despite or perhaps because of the notoriety he attracted, Joyce’s name keeps cropping up in public discourse.
William Brooke Joyce, to give him his full name, was born in Brooklyn in 1906 but his Irish family returned home with him in 1909 and he spent most of his youth in the Galway resort of Salthill before moving to England where he joined the British Union of Fascists under Sir Oswald Mosley.
In late August 1939, just before the outbreak of war, he moved to Berlin and, before long, his voice became a regular feature on “the wireless”. His broadcasts from the Third Reich had a huge listenership, although few members of the audience shared his fascist outlook and most would have deplored his anti-Semitism and support for the Nazi cause.
At the end of the war, he was captured and put on trial for treason in London. Joyce was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on January 3rd, 1946, but more than seven decades later his bizarre and extraordinary story continues to attract attention.
The latest manifestation is a chapter in a new book entitled Court Number One: The Old Bailey Trials that Defined Modern Britain by Thomas Grant, published by Hodder & Stoughton. Earlier, in 2017, Searching for Lord Haw-Haw by Colin Holmes was published by Routledge Studies in Fascism and the Far Right. The list goes on, and includes Irish journalist Mary Kenny’s 2004 biography Germany Calling (Joyce’s standard introduction to his broadcasts) published by New Island. Meanwhile, Thomas Kilroy’s 1986 play, Double Cross, where Joyce and Irish-born Brendan Bracken, who became Churchill’s right-hand man, was staged again last year at the Peacock Theatre in Dublin and the Lyric in Belfast.
Ironically, given his ultimate fate, Joyce started out as an ardent British nationalist, although he later went over to the German side.
As a teenager in Galway during the War of Independence, he fraternised with the Black and Tans and narrowly escaped being shot by the IRA after evidence emerged that he was supplying information to the Crown forces.
He was small in stature, with a crescent-shaped scar that extended from his right earlobe to the corner of his mouth. The wound was inflicted during an incident at a right-wing rally in London in 1924 and, although Joyce blamed a “Jewish Communist”, his first wife Hazel is quoted in the aforementioned Colin Holmes book as saying that “He was knifed by an Irish woman”, in a clash between hard-line British and Irish nationalists.
Thomas Grant points out in his volume that, when Joyce was brought to court on treason charges in September 1945, it was “the first contested trial for the most serious offence known to English law since Sir Roger Casement’s prosecution in 1916”.
Like Joyce, Éamon de Valera was born in the US and it has been suggested that may have rescued him from the firing-squad in 1916, although this is questioned by David McCullagh in his recently published biography of Dev where it is also pointed out that Thomas Clarke’s US citizenship did not save him.
In some countries, Joyce would have been shot out of hand or otherwise disposed of, but the British carried out a detailed and formal legal process.
Nevertheless and without accepting any justification or excuses for Joyce’s appalling behaviour one has to wonder at the legal basis on which he was condemned to death. Although he was American-born, the court decided that his British passport, obtained after he lied about his place of birth, entitled him to the protection of the Crown and therefore the Crown was entitled to his allegiance. As the Welsh legal scholar Prof Glanville Williams wrote later, Joyce was hanged on a “pure technicality”. Colin Holmes writes that MI5 officers read his prison correspondence and were otherwise active behind the scenes.
In August 1976, with the permission of then-home secretary Roy Jenkins, Joyce’s remains were transferred from Wandsworth and reburied in Galway.
Lord Haw-Haw is well and truly dead but his ideas unfortunately seem to be coming back to life in some quarters. Ddebre1@aol.com