On this day in 1945, William Joyce – better known as ‘Lord Haw-Haw’ – was convicted of high treason and sentenced to death.
As one of the most infamous and hated men in Britain, it was perhaps only a matter of time before Lord Haw-Haw got his comeuppance.
On 19 September 1945, the notorious Nazi propagandist was given the death sentence after being found guilty of high treason.
Born as William Joyce in 1906, the anglo-Irish broadcaster is ultimately remembered as having betrayed his country during the Second World War.
Moving from his birthplace of New York to Galway as a young child, Joyce was recruited in 1921 by the British Army during the Irish War of Independence. Early on, he was suspected of being involved in a murder as well as being a possible informant for the Black and Tans.
As a result, he was moved to the Worcestershire Regiment in England but was soon discharged after being discovered to be underage.
Returning to school and then enrolling at Birkbeck College in London, Joyce became entranced with fascism and got heavily involved in right wing politics.
Following his stewardship of a meeting for Conservative party candidate Jack Lazarus, Joyce was slashed across the face, apparently by communists, which left a permanent scar from his earlobe to the corner of his mouth.
The incident was said to have cemented Joyce’s hatred of communism and his dedication to the fascist movement.
After the attack, he joined Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists in 1932, immediately distinguishing himself as a talented orator.
He was an active figure until Mosley sacked him following the 1937 London County Council elections.
Joyce immediately founded his own organisation – the National Socialist League (NSL).
Significantly more anti-Semitic than the BUF, the NSL’s aim was to integrate German Nazism into British society in an attempt to create a new form of British fascism.
As war broke out in 1939, though, Joyce fled to Germany with his wife Margaret.
After initially struggling to find work in Berlin, he quickly got recruited by Joseph Goebbels’ Reich Ministry of Propaganda and was given his own radio show ‘Germany Calling’.
Goebbels, the chief propagandist for the Nazi Party and Minister of Propaganda, was in need of foreign fascists to spread Nazi propaganda to Allied countries – and Joyce was the ideal candidate.
His broadcasts tried to increase distrust amongst the British people about their government and claimed that the British working class were being oppressed by the middle classes and Jewish businessmen, who allegedly controlled government ministers.
The birth of ‘Lord Haw-Haw’
In Britain, listening to ‘Germany Calling’ was discouraged but not illegal.
It was a popular broadcast, with an estimated six million regular and 18 million occasional listeners by 1940.
Information was strictly censored by the British government during wartime, so many civilian listeners tuned in to see what was being said by the enemy.
Joyce’s dramatic and fiery delivery was considered to be far more entertaining than the sombre, rather dull programming offered by the BBC.
In September 1939, Daily Express radio critic Jonah Barrington described Joyce as “moaning periodically from Zeesen [a wartime facility for longwave broadcasting]” who “speaks English of the haw-haw, damit-get-out-of-my-way variety”.
While the moniker was given to several British announcers on Nazi radio, Barrington gave Joyce the nickname ‘Lord Haw-Haw’ – and it stuck.
By 1941, Joyce himself began to trade on the notoriety of the nickname and he began to introduce himself as “William Joyce, otherwise known as Lord Haw-Haw”.
Throughout the war, his propaganda-heavy broadcast became even more concerning and British authorities and citizens alike came to see the radio shows as part of increasingly legitimate threats to Britain and its Allies.
Joyce recorded his final broadcast on 30 April 1945, as the Battle of Berlin rage and Germany were losing the war. Thought to be drunk, he blamed the UK for taking the war “too far” against Germany and warned about the apparent “menace” of the Soviet Union.
Joyce signed off with a final defiant, “Heil Hitler and farewell”.
A month later, on 28 May, Joyce was captured by British forces at Flensburg, near the German border with Denmark – the last capital of the Third Reich.
He was transported to England and put on trial at the Old Bailey on three counts of high treason.
Lawyers argued that he was not a real British citizen, having been born in the United States but that point was refuted, with prosecution saying he had briefly been in possession of a British passport.
In the end, the court concluded that he had betrayed his country and therefore had committed high treason.
After the guilty verdict, Joyce was taken to Wandsworth Prison and was hanged on 3 January 1946 at age 39.
He was the penultimate person to be hanged for a crime other than murder in the UK. The last was Theodore Schurch, who was executed for treachery the following day at nearby Pentonville Prison.
At the gallows, Joyce was unrepentant.
He is alleged to have said: “In death as in life, I defy the Jews who caused this last war, and I defy the power of darkness which they represent. I warn the British people against the crushing imperialism of the Soviet Union. May Britain be great once again and in the hour of the greatest danger in the West may the standard be raised from the dust, crowned with the words – ‘You have conquered nevertheless’.”