By Edward T. O’Donnell
Fifty-five years ago this week, on Jan. 3, 1946, William Joyce was silenced. For nearly six years he’d provided Britain with a steady stream of Nazi propaganda through his regular radio broadcast from Germany. Early on his listeners referred to him as Lord Haw Haw, a derisive reference to his haughty tone and affected upper-class accent that only partially obscured his lower-class Irish roots. Captured in Germany at war’s end, he was taken to London, tried and convicted of treason and executed in early January 1946.
The career of William "Lord Haw Haw" Joyce is one of the most intriguing stories of World War II. Joyce was born in Brooklyn in 1906 to an Irish father and an English mother. For reasons unknown, the family moved to Ireland in 1909 when William was just 3 and settled in Galway. In 1922, the Joyces moved to England. William attended college at Birbeck and graduated in 1927.
Soon thereafter, he joined the British Union of Fascists and rose to become a trusted assistant of its founder, Sir Oswald Mosely. BUF rallies frequently resulted in clashes with police and Joyce was arrested on several occasions for assault. In 1937, he broke with Mosely to found the National Socialist League, a more stridently pro-Hitler fascist organization. When World War II broke out in early September 1939, agents of Britain’s secret service went to arrest Joyce only to find that he’d fled to Germany to offer his services to Josef Goebbel’s propaganda office.
On Sept. 18, 1939, the people of Britain heard for the first time Joyce’s signature opening: "Germany calling! Germany calling!" What followed was the first of hundreds of Nazi propaganda broadcasts touting the unstoppable advance of Hitler’s legions and urging the people of Britain to see the futility of opposing them. The goal of these broadcasts was to undermine the morale of the British people and soldiers in the field. In one typical example, after a massive bombing of Cologne in 1942, Winston Churchill warned Germany that they could expect more of the same hell. Joyce responded by claiming, "The German attitude is, ‘Give us more hell, as much as you can, and we shall repay the hell with interest.’ " One year later he predicted, "German victory is certain. The German people know that while many blows are yet to be struck, the final blow will be struck by Adolph Hitler." For his service to the Third Reich, Joyce was awarded the Cross of War Merit, First Class in August 1944.
When Joyce’s many predictions of German victory proved wrong, he donned a disguise and fled to Denmark. Stopped by British soldiers at the border, he was betrayed by his famous voice. Arrested and transported to London, Joyce was charged with High Treason.
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Joyce denied the charge, noting that he was a citizen of the United States, not Britain. Prosecutors, however, produced a British transport Joyce had received in 1934. Valid during the first 10 months of his Nazi broadcasts, the passport carried with it the obligation of loyalty to the Crown. Interestingly, Joyce had received the passport by lying about the place of his birth, claiming Galway instead of Brooklyn.
Joyce was found guilty of High Treason and sentenced to hang. Appeals by his attorneys, including a final one before the House of the Lords, were all rejected. Appeals to the Truman administration to intervene on behalf of an American citizen were likewise rebuffed.
On Jan. 3, 1946 Joyce was hanged in the yard of London’s Wandsworth prison. No one recorded his last words.
Postscript: William Joyce’s remains were reburied in Galway in 1976.
HIBERNIAN HISTORY WEEK Jan. 5, 1871: The British release 30 Fenian prisoners, including John Devoy, who eventually settles in America and becomes a key figure in the nationalist effort to gain Irish freedom.
Jan. 5, 1888: Hugh O’Brien is sworn in as the first Irish mayor of Boston.
Jan. 7, 1922: The Dail Eireann approves the Anglo-Irish Treaty, creating the Irish Free State.
Jan. 7, 1945: World War II flying ace Major Tommy McGuire is shot down over the Pacific. He is later awarded posthumously the Medal of Honor.
Jan. 5, 1946: Actress Diane Keaton born in Los Angeles.
Jan. 6, 1871: Unionist politician James Craig born in Belfast.
Jan. 6, 1917: Writer M’ve M. Brennan born in Dublin.
Jan. 7, 1899: Writer Elizabeth Bowen born in Dublin.
Jan. 8, 1736: First Bishop and Archbishop of Baltimore John Carroll born in Upper Marlboro, Md.
Readers may reach Edward T. O’Donnell at odonnell@PastWise.com.