Spartacus Blog

The Right Club and the Second World War

Sunday, 6th October 2013

John Simkin

While writing about the political activities of Lord Rothermere I was reminded of the activities of the Right Club. It was founded by Archibald Ramsay, the Tory MP for Peebles and Southern Midlothian, in May, 1939. This secret society was an attempt to unify all the different right-wing groups in Britain. Or in the leader's words of "co-ordinating the work of all the patriotic societies". In his autobiography, The Nameless War, Ramsay argued: "The main object of the Right Club was to oppose and expose the activities of Organized Jewry, in the light of the evidence which came into my possession in 1938. Our first objective was to clear the Conservative Party of Jewish influence, and the character of our membership and meetings were strictly in keeping with this objective."

Members of the Right Club included William Joyce, Anna Wolkoff, Norah Dacre Fox, A. K. Chesterton, Francis Yeats-Brown, E. H. Cole, Lord Redesdale, 5th Duke of Wellington, Duke of Westminster, Aubrey Lees, John Stourton, Thomas Hunter, Samuel Chapman, Ernest Bennett, Charles Kerr, John MacKie, James Edmondson, Mavis Tate, Marquess of Graham, Margaret Bothamley, Lord Sempill, Earl of Galloway, H. T. Mills, Richard Findlay and Serrocold Skeels.

Unknown to Ramsay, MI5 agents had infiltrated the Right Club. This included three women, Joan Miller, Marjorie Amor and Helem de Munck. The British government was therefore kept fully informed about the activities of Ramsay and his right-wing friends. Soon after the outbreak of the Second World War the government passed a Defence Regulation Order. This legislation gave the Home Secretary the right to imprison without trial anybody he believed likely to "endanger the safety of the realm" On 22nd September, 1939, Oliver C. Gilbert and Victor Rowe, became the first members of the Right Club to be arrested. In the House of Commons Ramsay attacked this legislation and on 14th December, 1939, asked: "Is this not the first time for a very long time in British history, that British born subjects have been denied every facility for justice?"

On 20th March, 1940, Archibald Ramsay asked the Minister of Information a question about the New British Broadcasting Service, a radio station broadcasting German propaganda. In doing so he gave full details of the wavelength and the time in the day when it provided programmes. His critics claimed he was trying to give the radio station publicity. Two Labour Party MPs, Ellen Wilkinson and Emanuel Shinwell, made speeches in the House of Commons suggesting that Ramsay was a member of a right-wing secret society. However, unlike MI5, they did not know he was the leader of the Right Club.

By this time Ramsay was being helped in his work by Anna Wolkoff, the daughter of Admiral Nikolai Wolkoff, the former aide-to-camp to the Nicholas II in London. Wolkoff ran the Russian Tea Room in South Kensington and this eventually became the main meeting place for members of the Right Club. In the 1930s Wolkoff had meetings with Hans Frank and Rudolf Hess. In 1935 her actions began to be monitored by MI5. Agents warned that Wolkoff had developed a close relationship with Wallis Simpson (the future wife of Edward VIII) and that the two women might be involved in passing state secrets to the German government.

In February 1940, Wolkoff met Tyler Kent, a cypher clerk from the American Embassy. He soon became a regular visitor to the Russian Tea Room where he met other members of the Right Club including Ramsay. Wolkoff, Kent and Ramsay talked about politics and agreed that they all shared the same views on Jews. Kent was concerned that the American government wanted the United States to join the war against Germany. He said he had evidence of this as he had been making copies of the correspondence between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Kent invited Wolkoff and Ramsay back to his flat to look at these documents. This included secret assurances that the United States would support France if it was invaded by the German Army. Kent later argued that he had shown these documents to Ramsay in the hope that he would pass this information to American politicians hostile to Roosevelt.

On 13th April 1940 Wolkoff went to Kent's flat and made copies of some of these documents. Joan Miller and Marjorie Amor were later to testify that these documents were then passed on to Duco del Monte, Assistant Naval Attaché at the Italian Embassy. Soon afterwards, MI8, the wireless interception service, picked up messages between Rome and Berlin that indicated that Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of German military intelligence (Abwehr), had seen the Roosevelt-Churchill correspondence.

Soon afterwards Anna Wolkoff asked Joan Miller if she would use her contacts at the Italian Embassy to pass a coded letter to William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) in Germany. The letter contained information that he could use in his broadcasts on Radio Hamburg. Before passing the letter to her contacts, Miller showed it to Maxwell Knight, the head of B5b, a unit within MI5 that conducted the monitoring of political subversion.

On 18th May, Knight told Guy Liddell about the Right Club spy ring. Liddell immediately had a meeting with Joseph Kennedy, the American Ambassador in London. Kennedy agreed to waive Kent's diplomatic immunity and on 20th May, 1940, the Special Branch raided his flat. Inside they found the copies of 1,929 classified documents, including the secret correspondence between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Kent was also found in possession of what became known as Ramsay's Red Book. This book had the names and addresses of members of the Right Club and had been given to Kent for safe keeping.

Anna Wolkoff and Tyler Kent were arrested and charged under the Official Secrets Act. The trial took place in secret and on 7th November 1940, Wolkoff was sentenced to ten years. Kent, because he was an American citizen, was treated less harshly and received only seven years.

Archibald Ramsay was surprisingly not charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act. Instead he was interned under Defence Regulation 18B. Ramsay now joined other right-wing extremists such as Oswald Mosley and Admiral Nikolai Wolkoff in Brixton Prison. Some left-wing politicians in the House of Commons began demanding the publication of Ramsay's Red Book. They suspected that several senior members of the Conservative Party and members of the establishment, including Lord Rothermere, had been members of the Right Club. Some took the view that Ramsay had done some sort of deal in order to prevent him being charged with treason.

Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary refused to reveal the contents of Ramsay's Red Book. He claimed that it was impossible to know if the names in the book were really members of the Right Club. If this was the case, the publication of the book would unfairly smear innocent people. The government found it difficult to suppress the story and in 1941 the New York Times claimed that Ramsay had been guilty of spying for Nazi Germany: "Before the war he (Ramsay) was strongly anti-Communist, anti-semitic, and pro-Hitler. Though no specific charges were brought against him - Defence Regulations allow that - informed American sources said that he had sent to the German Legation in Dublin treasonable information given to him by Tyler Kent, clerk to the American Embassy in London."

Archibald Ramsay sued the owners of the New York Times for libel. In court Ramsay argued that if there had been any evidence of him passing secrets to the Germans he would have been tried under the Official Secrets Act alongside Anna Wolkoff and Tyler Kent in 1940. The newspaper owners were found guilty of libel but the case became a disaster for Ramsay when he was awarded a farthing in damages. As well as the extremely damaging publicity he endured, Ramsay was forced to pay the costs of the case.

During the summer of 1944 several Conservative Party MPs in the House of Commons called for Ramsay to be released from prison. William Gallacher, a member of the Communist Party, argued that he should remain in detention. He pointed out that Ramsay was "a rabid anti-Semite" and that "anti-Semitism is an incitement to murder." He asked "if the mothers of this country, whose lads are being sacrificed now, are to be informed by him that their sacrifices have enabled him to release this unspeakable blackguard." When Gallacher refused to withdraw these comments he was suspended from the House of Commons.

Ramsay was released from Brixton Prison on 26th September, 1944. He was defeated in the 1945 General Election and he published his book The Nameless War. Ramsay died in 1955 and it was not until 1989 that the Red Book was found in the safe of Ramsay's former solicitors. The book included the names of 235 people. Unfortunately a lot of the names were in code. However, it did contain the names of several senior Tories including a large number of MPs and peers of the realm. By this time the media was not interested in the story and so it failed to damage the image of the Conservative Party. The right-wing press were too busy trying to find stories of treasonable behaviour of members of the Labour Party.

 

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