Fifth Column

Fifth Column

During the 1930s Maxwell Knight of MI5 recruited agents with the idea of infiltrating political groups. This included Tom Driberg, who was a member of the Labour Party. Another agent, Joan Miller, joined the Right-Club, a neo-fascist group founded by the Conservative Party MP, Archibald Ramsay. She also joined The Link, an Anglo-German friendship organization led by Admiral Barry Domville, a former chief of Naval Intelligence.

MI5was especially concerned by attempts by extremists to recruit "schoolteachers and those in teachers' training courses." On 16th September, 1939, the British Union of Fascists inserted an advertisement in its newspaper, Action, calling for teachers to contact them.

Agents reported that although many of the far-right groups had officially ceased to operate, former members were now meeting secretely. The most dangerous of these organizations was the Right-Club. This secret society was established by Archibald Ramsay in May 1939. This 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."

In 1939 the German Radio Corporation began broadcasting the 'German Calling' programme. The main presenter of this propaganda was William Joyce, a former member of the British Union of Fascists. On 14th September, 1939, a report in the Daily Express described Joyce 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.

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, Edward Bowlby, Kenneth Lander and William Griffiths.

On 22nd May 1940 the British government announced the imposition of Defence Regulation 18B. This legislation gave the Home Secretary the right to imprison without trial anybody he believed likely to "endanger the safety of the realm". The following day, Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) was arrested.

Over the next few days other prominent figures in the BUF were imprisoned including John Becket. On the 30th May the BUF was dissolved and its publications were banned. Other political figures were arrested an imprisoned under these regulations. Evidence provided by Joan Miller led to the arrests of Archibald Ramsay and Admiral Barry Domville.

Miller remained active in right-wing circles and she provided information that Anna Wolkoff, a member of the Right Club, and Tyler Kent, a cypher clerk from the American Embassy, were spies. Ambassador Joseph Kennedy agreed to waive Kent's diplomatic immunity and on 20th May, 1940, Special Branch raided his flat. Inside they found the copies of over 1,500 classified documents. While being interviewed Kent admitted that he had been allowing Archibald Ramsay to read these documents. Kent was also found in possession of Ramsay's Red Book. This book had details of the supporters of the Right-Club and had been given to Kent for safe keeping.

Tyler Kent and Anna Wolkoff were tried separately. Kent was found guilty and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment. Wolkoff, because she was a British citizen, was treated more harshly and received ten years. Later it was revealed that Wolkoff's father, a former admiral in the Russian Navy, was working for MI5. Ramsay was never charged with spying. The government also refused to publish the contents of the Red Book.

People like Archibald Ramsay and Barry Domville were described as members of the Fifth Column (a group within a nation or faction that sympathizes with and works secretly for the enemy). During the Blitz the government began to arrest more and more people they considered to be supporting the enemy. By August 1940 there were over 1,600 people had been arrested and were being held in detention without trial.

People were also persecuted for Fifth Column offences. In June 1940 a school teacher who was imprisoned for "advancing defeatist theories" to his pupils. It was reported that he told his pupils that the Germans would land in Ireland and blockade the United Kingdom, and that the children would be reduced to eating cats and dogs.

In 1940 William Saxon-Steer, a member of the British Union of Fascists, was caught posting details of a Nazi 'New British Broadcasting Station' in a telephone kiosk. He was found guilty and sentenced at the Old Bailey to seven years in prison.

MI5 also infiltrated pacifist groups such as the Peace Pledge Union. In June 1940 six members of the PPU were arrested and charged with causing disaffection by publishing the poster, 'War will cease when men refuse to fight. What are you going to do about it?' The six, Alexander Wood, Morris Rowntree, Stuart Morris, John Barclay, Ronald Smith and Sidney Todd, were defended by John Platts-Mills and he managed to save them from going to prison.

In July 1940 a 25 year old aircraftwoman was arrested for starting false rumours about a German invasion. A man claimed he heard her say in a cafe that German parachutists had landed in England. The woman was guilty and sentenced to three months in prison.

That month also saw the arrest of Marie Louise Ingram and William Swift in Southsea. Ingram, the wife of a senior officer in the Royal Navy, was accused of persuading Swift to recruit Nazi sympathizers into the Home Guard. Ingram and Swift, both members of the British Union of Fascists, were both found guilty of various Defence Regulations charges. Swift was sentenced to fourteen years' imprisonment. Ingram, who had been born in Germany, received ten years.

By the summer of 1941 only 400 people were still being detained under Defence Regulation 18B. In November, 1943, Herbert Morrison controversially decided to order the release of Oswald Mosley from prison. There were large-scale protests and even his sister-in-law, Jessica Mitford, described the decision as "a slap in the face of anti-fascists in every country and a direct betrayal of those who have died for the cause of anti-fascism."

At the end of the Second World War, two prominent supporters of the British Union of Fascists who had fled to Nazi Germany were arrested and tried for treason. John Amery (December, 1945) and William Joyce (January, 1946) were both executed.

Primary Sources

(1) Defence Regulation 18N (1939)

If the Secretary of State has reasonable cause to believe any person to be of hostile origin or associations or to have been recently concerned in acts prejudicial to the public safety or the defence of the realm or in the preparation or instigation of such acts and that by reason thereof it is necessary to exercise control over him, he may make an order against that person directing that he be detained.

(2) A MI5 agent attended a meeting of the Militant Christian Patriots at Caxton Hall on 23rd May, 1939.

Captain Ramsay rose to terminate the meeting. We have heard, he said, a most inspiring speech from Mr Chesterton. I am not an apostle of violence, he went on, but the time has arrived for action, and I solemnly state (with slow deliberation) that if our present method fails I will not hesitate to use another. The Jewish menace is a real menace. The time at our disposal is getting short. Take with you, said the Captain dramatically, a resolution in your hearts to remove the Jew menace from our land.

(3) Fred Pateman wrote about the Nordic League in The Daily Worker on 12th July, 1939.

At the last meeting, the audience of rabid Jew-baiters was addressed by Captain A. Ramsay, M.P. for Peebles and Southern, who spoke on the alleged Jewish control of the Press. After a long and wearisome diatribe against Jews in general this elected Member of Parliament said:-

'We must change the present state of things (meaning the so-called Jewish control) and if we don't do it constitutionally we'll do it with steel. (Wild applause).

A serious inquiry into Captain Ramsay's activities is urgently needed.

(4) Archibald Ramsay, The Nameless War (1955)

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. There were no other and secret purposes. Our hope was to avert war, which we considered to be mainly the work of Jewish intrigue centred in New York.

(5) Report by an MI5 agent on Archibald Ramsay and the Nordic League (September, 1939)

These individuals are agreed in their hatred of Jewry and their conviction that Jews are responsible for the 'misunderstanding' between Germany and Britain, and are the instigators of the present war. There is, however, a wide range of views among them as to their own action now that the country is actually at war. Whilst very few are willing to bear arms against Germany, the majority feel that nothing should be done which might prejudice this country's interests and that they should play their part in civilian defence and humanitarian work, striving at the same time to enlighten those with whom they come into contact as to the 'real' nature of the factors which brought about the war.

Captain Ramsay MP has expressed himself as willing to continue his anti-Jewish propaganda and has enlisted the support of the above- mentioned.

He intends to proceed on two lines:

(a) The distribution among MPs; in clubs; in the Services, of a carefully prepared memorandum or leaflet aimed at refuting the Prime Minister's statement that Hitler cannot be trusted, dealing with the issues of Austria, Bohemia and Poland and designed throughout to show that World Jewry are the instigators of the war.

(b) Leaflets and adhesive labels bearing purely anti-Semitic propaganda. It is intended that these latter shall be printed secretly and distributed during the night.

Captain Ramsay has been in touch with Sir Oswald Mosley with a view to arriving at a basis for cooperation, and it is reliably reported that the two have reached agreement. In this connection two articles which appeared in the current issue [16 September] of 'Action', headed 'Peace Aims' and 'War Aims' respectively, may be significant - they are framed on very similar lines to those of Ramsay's proposed memorandum.

(6) Instructions given to members of the Right Club about how to distribute 'stickback' leaflets.

Walk on the dark side of the road. Prepare your sticker in advance; it will stick the better and you will not miss your object. Don't stop walking while sticking if possible. Look out for dark doorways; police usually stand in them at night. Stick on Belisha Beacons, lamp posts. Church boards, hoardings, bus stops, phone kiosks. Don't stick on walls as the glue is not strong enough for rough surfaces.

As danger signal talk of the weather, for instance. Colder from the East means someone is approaching from the right. Read your road indication by torch-light and memorise at least two streets in advance.

Take turns in sticking, lookout and route reading. As we leave this house we do so in pairs at a few seconds' interval and are strangers until we meet at midnight at Paradise Walk.

(7) Joan Miller, One Girl's War (1970)

How did these people (members of the Right Club) set about obstructing the war effort? They used to sneak about late at night in the blackout, groping for smooth surfaces on which to paste the pro-German, anti-Semitic notices they carried. There were certain precautions one could take to lessen the likelihood of being arrested. Anna instructed her helpers to keep to the dark side of the road, paying particular attention to shadowy doorways where an alert policeman or air-raid warden might lurk, and to carry out the sticking while continuing to walk. These guidelines were issued to each member in the form of a printed sheet. Passersby who observed the Right Club's papers adhering to lamp posts, telephone kiosks, belisha beacons, church boards and so on, were informed that the war was a Jews' war. This was the Right Club's famous 'sticky-back' campaign. They also used greasepaint to deface ARP and casualty station posters. Jeering at Winston Churchill when he appeared on cinema newsreels was another of their practices. None of this could be said to constitute a serious threat to Londoners' morale; but there were, as it turned out, more sinister aspects to the organization.

(8) On the outbreak of the Second World War J. F. Rushbrook, sent a circular to all members of the Militant Christian Patriots and to all subscribers to the Free Press (September, 1939)

The conclusion of the Russo-German Non-Aggression Pact bears out the standpoint towards the Nazi movement which the Militant Christian Patriots have consistently adopted.

The 'Free Press' has stated time and time again that the fight against Communism and Freemasonry must be made on a Christian basis.

The failure of the National Socialists to recognise this cardinal fact has led them into the trap of anti-Christian nationalism. As a result the Nazi regime now appears as the old familiar Prussianism in a new guise.

The Militant Christian Patriots believe that Mr Chamberlain has made a brilliant stance for peace and sanity, and continue to support him. The Editor of the 'Free Press' is serving with HM Forces and appeals to readers to join some form of national service. Publication of the paper is therefore unavoidably suspended.

(9) William Joyce, Germany Calling (30th September, 1939)

Lack of confidence in German intentions has already lead the English people into an undesirable position. Why has Chamberlain allowed anti-German politicians to make him break faith with the spirit of Munich? Why did the British Government not listen to the German complaints about Polish brutality instead of giving Poland that unfortunate guarantee? Hitler has insisted that Germany has no territorial claims in Western Europe and as Eastern Europe is now safeguarded by the Soviet-German agreement a lasting peace can be established for the benefit of civilisation.

My dear listeners, if you were in Germany now you would see how little antagonism there is against the British people. The Germans know that the British people are not in favour of permanent hostilities; perhaps their politicians think it might be difficult to change their anti-German policy.

(10) The BBC was commissioned to write a report in February 1940 about the content of William Joyce's broadcasts from Germany.

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.

(11) In March 1940 the government decided to carry out an investigation into why people listened to William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) on the radio. The results were as follows:

Because his (Lord Haw-Haw's) version of the news is so fantastic that it is funny. (58%)

Because so many other people listen to him and talk about it. (50%)

Because people are amused at his voice and manner (38%)

Because they like to hear the German point of view (29%)

Because they hope to get more news (26%)

Because his anecdotes make people laugh (26%)

Because he is a good broadcaster (15%)

Because the BBC news is so dull (9%)

Because he is so clever (6%)

(12) William Joyce, Germany Calling (16th May, 1940)

Within six weeks after the British Government declared war on Germany, Hitler offered peace. His terms could have easily been accepted, and they would have left Germany far weaker than she is today. He did not make his offer abruptly and withdraw it before there was time for consideration. Night after night we broadcast his proposals until the whole world knew them by heart. When the warmongers of Downing Street intimated that there could be no terms of peace with the present German Government, we knew that the war must be fought out to the bitter end. Britain appealed from negotiation to force. Force then it had to be, and force it shall be until German victory is total.

(13) William Joyce, Germany Calling (21st August, 1940)

Winston Churchill was one of those who did most to procure England's declaration of war last September. And we now have his admission that nearly a year later his country is neither properly equipped nor has it properly started. Surely the time to think of proper equipment was before the war was launched! One day the British people will have cause to remember this confession of the chief warmonger - that he drove them into this disastrous conflict well knowing, as he did, that they were not prepared to wage it. Out of his mouth, Churchill stands convicted as a traitor to England. But this much the people of England have failed to realise. It was, until very recently, that their war was fought by proxy. They had not heard the roar of those engines of destruction, which, thanks to Churchill, descended on their cities, towns, factories, docks and railways.

It will not be long before Britain has to yield to the invincible might of German arms, for Germany started when the war began, and was equipped before that. But this also I feel, that short as the time may be, every day will have the length of a year for the people whom Churchill has condemned to ruin in his crazy and fantastic plan to blockade Europe, the dictator of this little island showed the depths of his immoral malice.

(14) William Joyce, Germany Calling (29th August, 1940)

We have learned with horror and disgust that while London was suffering all the nightmares of aerial bombardment a few nights ago, there was a contrast between the situation of the rich and the poor which we hardly know how to describe. There were two Londons that night. Down by the docks and in the poor districts and the suburbs, people lay dead, or dying in agony from their wounds; but, while their counterparts were suffering only a little distance away, the plutocrats and the favoured lords of creation were making the raid an excuse for their drunken orgies and debaucheries in the saloons of Piccadilly and in the Cafe de Paris. Spending on champagne in one night what they would consider enough for a soldier's wife for a month these monied fools shouted and sang in the streets, crying, as the son of a profiteer baron put it, 'They won't bomb this part of the town! They want the docks! Fill up boys!'

(15) William Joyce, Germany Calling (17th October, 1940)

All our daily social relationships are overthrown; people are deprived of sleep, and in many cases of food. Gas, electricity and water supplies are interrupted. We are being reduced to a primitive and nomad condition of subsistence. It is expected that pestilence and plague will break out. We have not seen nearly the worst ... if this continues, every one of our cities will be wiped out. Existence in this country is bound up with industry. The land cannot feed one quarter of the population. For better or worse, we are linked up with industrial production, and if that goes, we all come to grief. Our means of life are being literally destroyed every hour, and there will be left in this island nothing but a destitute population, unless the process is stopped. Do you intend to wait until our last machinery has been put out of action, before considering whether it would not be wiser to make peace, more especially as the Government will not tell us why we are supposed to be fighting? This great population of 50 millions will find itself without means of subsistence. People will starve by the million. Pestilence will creep through the land, and no means will remain of creating order out of chaos. Unless we want this to be the fate of our country, we must summon up both courage and common sense, dismiss from office the corrupt and incompetent politicians, and save ourselves by demanding peace, as a whole people, which has been governed too long by rulers without conscience.

(16) Joan Miller, One Girl's War (1970)

By now (1940), things were going badly for England. France had fallen; Mussolini had brought Italy into the war; the Luftwaffe had established its supremacy in the air. As a consequence the Right Club was becoming increasingly incautious about expressing its views. With a German invasion expected at any moment, those who had all along supported Germany's claims believed themselves to be in a strong position. The society was engaged in compiling a list of prominent opponents to the Axis cause: if your name got on to this list you could expect to be strung up from a lamppost once the country was in German hands. I was consulted, I remember, over the question of who was to be classed as a fit candidate for lynching. I don't think I made any very sensible suggestion, but they kept pressing me to name the most vociferous anti-Nazis I had come across. They were adamant that an example must be made of these people to give the rest of the country a foretaste of the strong measures it could expect.

(17) John Amery, Nazi radio broadcast on 19th November, 1942.

Listeners will wonder what an Englishman is doing on the German radio tonight. You can imagine that before taking this step I hoped that someone better qualified than me would come forward. I dared to believe that some ray of common sense, some appreciation of our priceless civilization would guide the counsels of Mr Churchill's Government. Unfortunately this has not been the case! For two years living in a neutral country I have been able to see through the haze of propaganda to reach something which my conscience tells me is the truth. That is why I come forward tonight without any political label, without any bias, but just simply as an Englishman to say to you: a crime is being committed against civilization. Not only the priceless heritage of our fathers, of our seamen, of our Empire builders is being thrown away in a war that serves no British interests - but our alliance leader Stalin dreams of nothing but the destruction of that heritage of our fathers? Morally this is a stain on our honour, practically it can only lead sooner or later to disaster and Communism in Great Britain, to a disintegration of all the values we cherish most.

It is not the Government, the members of Parliament to whom the ultimate decision belongs, it is up to you to go forward sure of your sacred right of free opinion, sure of your patriotism. It is up to you to decide that this has lasted long enough, that our boys are dying to serve no British interest but for the interests of a small clique of utterly unscrupulous men. There is more than enough room in the world for Germany and Britain. Your leaders say Germany seeks world domination. Did it ever enter your mind that this is but another trick of that long-planned strategy of Jewish propaganda, expected to thwart Germany's commanding position on the continent, to which she is, after all, entitled? However fantastic it may sound, the German Army is at this moment the only thing that stands between Communism and you, the only protection that exists for private property. If that rampart collapsed your liberties would be a vague souvenir of a happy past.

(18) Edward Bowby, Germany Calling (20th June, 1944)

The terrific casualties suffered by the Allied Forces in the first ten days of the invasion, which show that the British Government has not the slightest regard for the life of its soldiers, have been compared by the highest German military experts with the useless mass slaughter of the British troops at Paschendaele, in the last war. British troops have been forced into tank traps when storming bridges, in such numbers that literally mountains of dead bodies have to be climbed over by those who are following behind. There is no need for me to give details of this terrible and useless massacre because those of you who are now taking part in the fighting are fully aware of what is going on.

(19) William Joyce, Germany Calling (24th June, 1944)

London and southern England have now been under bombardment for more than a week. For nine days, with very little interruption, the V-1 projectiles have been descending on the British capital. May I remind you, the name V-1 has been given to them officially. 'V is the capital letter of the German word 'Vergeltung', which means 'retaliation', and its use to denote the concept of victory must be familiar to nearly all of my listeners. The very term V-1 implies, of course, that Germany has other new weapons which have not as yet been employed against the enemy. That is a fact, and is a fact which even the British Government is beginning to realise.

The emergence of V-1 has provided a surprise for Germany's enemies and I believe they will have several other surprises 'before the autumn leaves fall', if I may borrow a phrase which Mr Churchill used on a certain occasion. Germany's military policy in this war is based not on slogging and on squandering but upon a scientific economy and application of energy, but this is the kind of policy the details of which must never be disclosed before the right time. It can reasonably be assumed that the battle in the East against the Bolshevik foes of civilisation will be hard and fierce and there is every reason to believe that the battle in the West against the capitalist agents of Jewish international finance will attain a climax of violence possibly without precedence. But in the closing rounds of this war it will be seen that Germany has conserved her strength to a degree that will confound her enemies.