William Joyce, the first of three sons of Michael Francis Joyce and his wife, Gertrude Emily Brooke, was born in New York City on 24th April 1906. His mother was English and his father was a naturalized Irishman who worked as a builder and contractor. According to his biographer, Siân Nicholas: "The family returned to Ireland in 1909, where Joyce was educated in Roman Catholic schools, including the Jesuit St Ignatius Loyola College. The Joyces were, however, ardent loyalists, and Joyce later claimed to have fought as a boy alongside the Black and Tans."
In 1922 he emigrated to England with his family. He attended the University of London where he graduated with a first class honours degree. While he was at university William Joyce became heavily involved in extreme right-wing politics. In 1923 Joyce joined the British Fascisti (BF). Its leader, Miss Rotha Lintorn-Orman later said: "I saw the need for an organization of disinterested patriots, composed of all classes and all Christian creeds, who would be ready to serve their country in any emergency." Members of the British Fascists had been horrified by the Russian Revolution. However, they had gained inspiration from what Benito Mussolini had done it Italy.
The BF were unpopular in some areas and during the 1924 General Election, on 22nd October, William Joyce took part in a scuffle with members of the Communist Party of Great Britain in Lambeth and received a razor cut from the corner of his mouth to behind his right ear.
In 1925 Maxwell Knight, the Director of Intelligence of the British Fascisti, was recruited by MI5. He was placed in charge of B5b, a unit that conducted the monitoring of political subversion. Knight recruited a large number of his agents from right-wing political organizations. It was later discovered that Joyce was one of MI5's agents. Over the next few years Joyce provided Knight with information he had about the activities of the Communist Party and other left-wing groups.
Like other members of the British Fascisti, Joyce had a deep hatred of Jews and Communists. He claimed that his facial wound had been caused by a "Jewish Communist". He also blamed his failure to complete his MA on a Jewish woman tutor. On 30th April 1927 he married Hazel Katherine Barr at Chelsea register office. The couple had two daughters. This seemed to settle Joyce down and in 1928 he joined the Conservative Party.
In early 1933 William Joyce joined the British Union of Fascists (BUF) led by Oswald Mosley. The BUF was strongly anti-communist and argued for a programme of economic revival based on government spending and protectionism. Mary Richardson later commented: "I was first attracted to the Blackshirts because I saw in them the courage, the action, the loyalty, the gift of service, and the ability to serve which I had known in the suffrage movement". Mosley appointed Joyce as the party full-time Propaganda Director and deputy leader of BUF.
Charles Bentinck Budd was elected to the Worthing Town Council as a member of the BUF in October 1933. The national press reported that Worthing was the first town in the country to elect a Fascist councillor. Worthing was now described as the "Munich of the South". Oswald Mosley announced that Budd was the BUF Administration Officer for Sussex . On Friday 1st December 1933, the BUF held its first public meeting in Worthing in the Old Town Hall. According to the author of Storm Tide: Worthing 1933-1939 (2008): "It was crowded to capacity, with the several rows of seats normally reserved for municipal dignitaries and magistrates now occupied by forbidding, youthful men arrived in black Fascist uniforms, in company with several equally young women dressed in black blouses and grey skirts."
On 4th January, 1934, Budd reported that over 150 people in Worthing had joined the British Union of Fascists. He claimed that the greatest intake had come from increasingly disaffected Conservatives. The Weekly Fascist News described the growth in membership as "phenomenal". Budd also announced that local communists had broken into his offices at 27 Marine Parade and stolen 96 BUF badges, together with cigarettes and £2.2s.8d in cash. However, soon afterwards the police arrested Cyril Mitchell of 16 Leigh Road, Broadwater. Mitchell, who admitted the offence, was in fact a young Blackshirt, who had broken into the offices after a night out in the pub. He told the police, "something came over me… I had too much beer".
The mayor of Worthing, Harry Duffield, the leader of the Conservative Party in the town, was most favourably impressed with the Blackshirts and congratulated them on the disciplined way they had marched through the streets of Worthing. He reported that employers in the town had written to him giving their support for the British Union of Fascists. They had "no objection to their employees wearing the black shirt even at work; and such public spirited action on their part was much appreciated."
On 26th January, 1934, William Joyce addressed a public meeting at the Pier Pavilion. Over 900 people turned up to hear Joyce speak. In his speech he pledged to free British industry from foreigners, "be they Hebrew or any other form of alien." Joyce ended his two-hour speech with: "Reclaim what is your own in the fullness of Fascist victory!"
The London Evening News, another newspaper owned by Lord Rothermere, found a more popular and subtle way of supporting the Blackshirts. It obtained 500 seats for a BUF rally at the Royal Albert Hall and offered them as prizes to readers who sent in the most convincing reasons why they liked the Blackshirts. Another title owned by Rothermere, The Sunday Dispatch, even sponsored a Blackshirt beauty competition to find the most attractive BUF supporter. Not enough attractive women entered and the contest was declared void.
By 1934 the British Union of Fascists had 40,000 members and was able to establish its own drinking clubs and football teams. The BUF also gained the support of Lord Rothermere and the Daily Mail. On 7th June, 1934, the BUF held a large rally at Olympia. About 500 anti-fascists including Vera Brittain, Richard Sheppard and Aldous Huxley, managed to get inside the hall. When they began heckling Oswald Mosley they were attacked by 1,000 black-shirted stewards. Several of the protesters were badly beaten by the fascists.
Margaret Storm Jameson pointed out in The Daily Telegraph: "A young woman carried past me by five Blackshirts, her clothes half torn off and her mouth and nose closed by the large hand of one; her head was forced back by the pressure and she must have been in considerable pain. I mention her especially since I have seen a reference to the delicacy with which women interrupters were left to women Blackshirts. This is merely untrue... Why train decent young men to indulge in such peculiarly nasty brutality?"
The Daily Mail continued to give its support to the fascists. George Ward Price wrote about anti-fascist demonstrators at a meeting of the National Union of Fascists on 8th June, 1934: "If the Blackshirts movement had any need of justification, the Red Hooligans who savagely and systematically tried to wreck Sir Oswald Mosley's huge and magnificently successful meeting at Olympia last night would have supplied it. They got what they deserved. Olympia has been the scene of many assemblies and many great fights, but never had it offered the spectacle of so many fights mixed up with a meeting."
Collin Brooks, was a journalist who worked for Lord Rothermere at the The Sunday Dispatch. He also attended the the rally at Olympia. Brooks wrote in his diary: "He mounted to the high platform and gave the salute - a figure so high and so remote in that huge place that he looked like a doll from Marks and Spencer's penny bazaar. He then began - and alas the speakers hadn't properly tuned in and every word was mangled. Not that it mattered - for then began the Roman circus. The first interrupter raised his voice to shout some interjection.The mob of storm troopers hurled itself at him. He was battered and biffed and hashed and dragged out - while the tentative sympathisers all about him, many of whom were rolled down and trodden on, grew sick and began to think of escape. From that moment it was a shambles. Free fights all over the show. The Fascist technique is really the most brutal thing I have ever seen, which is saving something. There is no pause to hear what the interrupter is saying: there is no tap on the shoulder and a request to leave quietly: there is only the mass assault. Once a man's arms are pinioned his face is common property to all adjacent punchers." Brooks also commented that one of his "party had gone there very sympathetic to the fascists and very anti-Red". As they left the meeting he said "My God, if ifs to be a choice between the Reds and these toughs, I'm all for the Reds".
MI5 also reported to the Home Office that the rally would have a negative impact on the future of the National Union of Fascists: "It is becoming increasingly clear that at Olympia Mosley suffered a check which is likely to prove decisive. He suffered it, not at the hands of the Communists who staged the provocations and now claim the victory; but at the hands of Conservative MPs, the Conservative press and all those organs of public opinion which made him abandon the policy of using his Defence Force to overwhelm interrupters."
It was announced that Charles Bentinck Budd had arranged for Sir Oswald Mosley and William Joyce to address a meeting at the Pavilion on 9th October, 1934. The venue was packed with fascist supporters. The meeting was disrupted when a few hecklers were ejected by hefty East End bouncers. Mosley, however, continued his speech undaunted, telling his audience that Britain's enemies would have to be deported: "We were assaulted by the vilest mob you ever saw in the streets of London - little East End Jews, straight from Poland. Are you really going to blame us for throwing them out?"
At the close of the proceedings the main body of uniformed Fascists, led by Joyce, emerged from the Pavilion on to the Esplanade. It was estimated that there were 2,000 people waiting outside. The crowd surged forward and several fights began. A ninety-six-year-old woman, Doreen Hodgkins, was struck on the head by a Blackshirt before being escorted away. When the Blackshirts retreated inside, the crowd began to chant: "Poor old Mosley's got the wind up!"
The author of Storm Tide: Worthing 1933-1939 (2008) has pointed out: "By this time all nineteen available members of the Borough's police force had been called out, and through their combined efforts a lane through the crowd was forced open from the Pavilion steps across the Esplanade to Marine Parade. But as Joyce and his re-formed black-shirted cohort passed along it they were constantly barracked and jostled; while the sudden appearance of Sir Oswald himself, together with the bodyguards of his Defence Force, led to a further outbreak of scuffles on the Esplanade as large numbers of spectators eagerly closed in upon him. One Blackshirt was knocked to the ground and there were shouts for Sir Oswald to be thrown into the sea... Despite such imprecations, however, the mood of the majority remained largely good-natured: most people, prompted by curiosity and awe, simply wanting to get a closer, more proper, look at such a famous yet notorious figure. But Sir Oswald, clearly out of countenance and feeling menaced, at once ordered his tough, battle-hardened bodyguards - all of imposing physique and, like their leader, towering over the policemen on duty - to close ranks and adopt their fighting stance which, unsurprisingly, as all were trained boxers, had been modelled on, and closely resembled, that of a prize fighter."
Chris Hare, the author of Historic Worthing (2008) has argued: "Mosley, accompanied by William Joyce, left the Pavilion and, protected by a large body of blackshirts, crossed over the road to Barnes's cafe in the Arcade. Stones and rotten vegetables were soon crashing through the windows of the cafe. Boys were observed firing peashooters at the beleaguered Fascists, while some youths were taking aim with air rifles. Meanwhile a group of young men climbed onto the roof of the Arcade and dislodged a large piece of masonry, which plummeted to earth through the arcade, landing only feet away from the Fascist leader. Things were getting too hot for the Fascists, who made a run for it, up the Arcade into Montague Street, then into South Street. Their intention was presumably to reach either their headquarters in Ann Street, or The Fountain in South Street, known as a 'Fascist pub', but they were ambushed on the corner of Warwick Street by local youths. Hearing the row, more Fascists hurried down from the Fountain to go to Mosley's aid. Fights broke out, bodies were slung against shop windows, and startled residents threw open their windows to see a seething mass of entangled bodies desperately struggling for control of the junction between South Street and Warwick Street."
Superintendent Bristow later claimed that a crowd of about 400 people attempted to stop the Blackshirts from getting to their headquarters. A series of fights took place and several people were injured. Francis Skilton, a solicitor's clerk who had left his home at 30 Normandy Road to post a letter at the Central Post Office in Chapel Road, and got caught up in the fighting. A witness, John Birts, later told the police that Skilton had been "savagely attacked by at least three Blackshirts." It was not until 11.00 p.m. that the police managed to clear the area.
Under the influence of Joyce the BUP became increasingly anti-Semitic. The verbal attacks on the Jewish community led to violence at meetings and demonstrations. In November 1936 a serious riot took place when left-wing organisations successfully stopped Mosley marching through the Jewish areas of London.
The activities of the BUF was checked by the the passing of the 1936 Public Order Act. This gave the Home Secretary the power to ban marches in the London area and police chief constables could apply to him for bans elsewhere. This legislation also made it an offence to wear political uniforms and to use threatening and abusive words.
The BUP anti-Semitic policy was popular in certain inner-city areas and in 1937 Joyce came close to defeating the Labour Party candidate in the London County Council election in Shoreditch. Joyce argued that the BUP should take a more extreme position on racial issues. Mosley disagreed and began to feel that Joyce posed a threat to his leadership. He therefore decided to sack Joyce as Propaganda Director. In an attempt to save money another 142 staff members also lost their jobs.
Joyce now decided to leave the organization and with the help of John Becket and A. K. Chesterton he founded the National Socialist League. In a pamplet, National Socialism Now, Joyce began to express views similar to those of Adolf Hitler. He wrote: "International Finance is controlled by great Jewish moneylenders and Communism is being propagated by Jewish agitators who are at one fundamentally with the powerful capitalists of their race in desiring an international world order, which would, of course, give universal sovereignty to the only international race in existence."
When Adolf Hitler ordered the invasion of Czechoslovakia Joyce became convinced that war with Germany was inevitable. Unwilling to fight against Hitler's forces, Joyce began to consider leaving the country. This view was reinforced when he was warned by Maxwell Knight of MI5 that the British government was considering the possibility of interning fascist leaders.
On 26th August, 1939, Joyce left for Nazi Germany. Soon after arriving in Berlin he found work with the German Radio Corporation as an English language broadcaster. Joyce joined the 'German Calling' programme. On 14th September, 1939, a report in the Daily Express described the broadcaster as speaking the "English of the haw-haw, damit-get-out-of-my-way variety." It was not long before Joyce became known as Lord Haw-Haw.
Joyce continued to broadcast throughout the Second World War. In 1940 the Daily Mirror organized the Anti Haw Haw League of Loyal Britons and members pledged not to listen to these broadcasts. Other British subjects who took part in these broadcasts included John Amery, Railton Freeman, Norman Baillie-Stewart, Kenneth Lander and William Griffiths.
On 17th June, 1940, William Joyce broadcasted a message to the British public on Winston Churchill: "Mr Churchill said tonight that Britain now stands alone. Did he tell you that on 3rd September, 1939? On the contrary, then he said that Germany stood alone, to be throttled by the British blockade without even the sacrifice of a single British soldier. How many of the BEF, how many of the British Navy and the RAF have already been sacrificed only that your Prime Minister could tell you that you now stand alone? Was it worth it? Surely not. Surely the time has come to meet the bill, the bill that Mr Churchill and his accomplices ran up for you, and which you will be called upon to meet if you do not force your Government to meet it."
The BBC was asked to provide a report on William Joyce's broadcasts: "That picture is of an England where the people are misled by corrupt and irresponsible leaders, where the small wealthy class leaves the masses to misery, unemployment, hunger and exploitation; of an Empire built on brutality and rapacity, now as decadent and as divided as its Mother Country; of an England hated by the world for her selfishness and ruthlessness. The picture in outline resembles the Roman Empire in the Fourth Century AD - itself decrepit and superannuated, but striving to hold its place in the world by playing off one neighbour against another. From such a portrait it follows that in the present war, Germany - a fresh new power - is fighting to free herself and the world from the tyrannous shackles of Britain; or, with greater accuracy, to free herself, the world, and the British masses, from the tyrannous fetters of the British ruling class. Rarely, if ever, do the Hamburg broadcasts make their picture so clear-cut as it has been made here, but every separate news item is selected or twisted, every talk is designed, to take its place as a facet in such a general picture. As in half-tone block the picture is composed dot by dot. If this picture is accepted by the British people, the German aim is achieved."
Joyce was captured by the British Army at Flensburg on 28th May 1945. Three days later Joyce was interrogated by William Scardon, an MI5 officer. Joyce made a full confession but at first the Director of Prosecutions doubted whether he could be tried for treason as he had been born in the United States. However, his broadcasts during the war had made him a hate figure in Britain and the Attorney General, David Maxwell-Fyfe, decided to charge him with high treason.
Joyce's trial for high treason began at the Old Bailey on 17th September, 1945. In court it was stated that although he was United States citizen he had held a British passport during the early stages of the war. It was therefore argued in court by Hartley Shawcross that Joyce had committed treason by broadcasting for Germany between September 1939 and July 1940, when he officially became a German citizen.
William Joyce was found guilty of treason and was executed on 3rd January 1946.