On this day in history : 3rd January 1946 – The execution for treason of William Joyce – the Nazi propaganda broadcaster, known to the British public as ‘Lord Haw-Haw’….

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Photograph of Joyce taken some time between 1939 & 45 – No known copyright restrictions – Archives of the Law Society via Flickr

‘Haw-Haw’ was a term first coined by Jonah Barrington of the Daily Express…. It actually referred to a number of announcers, with their exaggerated English accents, broadcasting during WW2 to the United Kingdom from the German radio station ‘Reichssender’, in Hamburg…. However, in time the name was to become primarily associated with Joyce….

Broadcasts would always start with “Germany calling, Germany calling”…. The aim was to attempt to break the morale and spirit of the British people – along with that of the allied troops…. Inaccurate reports of the sinking of ships and the shooting down of aircraft…. Urging the British to surrender – attacking the government and the British way of life…. Of course, most people knew it was propaganda – but at a time of heavy censorship it was often used as a way to try and find out information as to what may have become of a missing loved one…. Whilst not illegal to listen to the broadcasts it was discouraged – despite this some 18 million people in Britain are believed to have listened on occasion….

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From the collections of the Imperial War Museums

So, how did the likes of Joyce come to be working for the Germans during the war? To understand this it is necessary to learn more about the background of the man….

William Brooke Joyce was born on the 24th of April 1906, in Brooklyn, New York…. He was the son of immigrants – his father was Irish and his mother Anglo-Irish…. When Joyce was 3-years-old the family returned to live in Galway, Ireland….

In 1921, during the Irish War of Independence, Joyce was recruited as a courier by Captain Keating of British Army Intelligence, in the fight against the IRA…. After an attempted assassination on him Joyce was taken to England for his safety…. He was recruited into the Worcester Regiment – but soon discharged after it was discovered he was underage….

Joyce remained in England and finished his education at Kings College School, Wimbledon…. He then studied at Birkbeck College – part of the University of London – graduating with a first-class honours in English…. After being turned down for a position with the Foreign Office he took a job as a teacher….

He began to take a keen interest in Fascism…. It was on the 22nd of October 1924, whilst attending a meeting for Jack Lazarus, Conservative candidate for North Lambeth, that Joyce was attacked by Communists…. He received a deep razor slash across his right cheek, leaving him with a prominent scar from his ear lobe to his jaw….

Joyce took a paid job in the British Union of Fascists (BUF), under Sir Oswald Mosley – and in 1934 he was made Director of Propaganda…. It was after being sacked by Mosley in 1937 that he joined a splinter group, the National Socialist League…. On learning that the British authorities intended to arrest him Joyce fled with his wife in August 1939 to Germany – just before the outbreak of WW2…. He became a naturalised German citizen in 1940 and managed to get a job at the Rundfunkhaus (the German equivalent of Broadcasting House)…. Here he made radio announcements and wrote scripts – but he was to go on to become the best-known of the propaganda broadcasters….

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Still frame from 1943 – Allied propaganda cartoon – ‘Tokio Jokio’ – depicting Joyce as Lord Haw-Haw – ‘Lord Hee-Haw, Chief Windbag’

His final broadcast was made on the 30th of April 1945, during the Battle of Berlin…. He finished the broadcast with “Heil Hitler and farewell” – the following day Radio Hamburg was seized by the British – but Joyce had managed to make his escape….

Nearly a month later, on the 28th of May, Joyce was captured at the German/Danish border by British intelligence officers…. During his arrest he was shot through the buttocks – as he had gone to his pocket to produce his false passport but the officers had believed him to be armed….

THE CAPTURE OF WILLIAM JOYCE, GERMANY, 1945
THE CAPTURE OF WILLIAM JOYCE, GERMANY, 1945 (BU 6910) William Joyce lies in an ambulance under armed guard before being taken from British 2nd Army Headquarters to hospital. He had been shot in the thigh at the time of his arrest. Copyright: � IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205192927

Initially it was thought that due to his American nationality Joyce would have to be acquitted – it was reasoned that he could not be convicted of treason against a country that was not his own…. However, at his trial it was successfully argued that since he had obtained a British passport, by not revealing his true nationality, he had in fact had allegiance to the King and country whilst the passport was valid – and this happened to be the period of time during which he was working for Germany…. Joyce was convicted and sentenced to death on the 19th of September 1945….

The sentence was upheld on the 1st of November 1945 after an appeal – and he was executed at Wandsworth Prison on the 3rd of January 1946 by hangman Albert Pierrepoint…. As he went to the gallows Joyce was unrepentant – as he fell the pressure from the drop split the old scar on his face wide open….

Joyce was buried in an unmarked grave within the prison walls but – after a long campaign by his daughter – in 1979 his body was reinterred in Galway, Ireland….

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