On this day in history : 26th June 1939 – Private Rupert Alexander, Service No. 10000001, signs up to the Middlesex Regiment, as Britain’s first National Serviceman….
The Spring of 1939 saw the deterioration of international relations and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had to consider necessary preparations in case Britain found itself at war with Nazi Germany…. Parliament approved the Military Training Act which required men to undertake 6 months military training…. In the beginning this was limited to men between the ages of 20 to 22…. Some 240,000 registered for service….
War was declared on the 3rd of September 1939 and the National Service (Armed Forces) Act came in…. Now all men between 18 to 41 had to register…. There were some exemptions, such as those medically unfit and some key professionals, including farmers, engineers, bakers, doctors and the clergy…. Tribunals were held for conscientious objectors – who were usually assigned essential non-combat tasks it their hearings were successful….
In December 1941 a second National Service Act was passed…. The age was extended for men, up to the age of 60…. It meant all men up to this age were expected to do some sort of war effort work, such as police and civilian defence – those under the age of 51 were required to be available for military service….
All unmarried women, or widows without children, between the ages of 20 to 30 were liable to be called up to do work related to the war…. Pregnant women were not exempt but were generally not called up….
On this day in history : 15th April 1941 – Over 900 people are killed and a further 1500 injured during the Belfast Blitz – when 200 Luftwaffe bombers strike military and manufacturing targets in the city….
It was Easter Tuesday night, at around 10.40pm, when the air raid sirens sounded…. Many had believed that Belfast was out of reach of the Luftwaffe – and so the city was unprepared…. A smaller attack had taken place a few days before – possibly as a test of Belfast’s defences…. A cryptic warning had come across the airwaves from the traitor William Joyce, otherwise known as ‘Lord Haw-Haw’, when he announced in a radio broadcast from Hamburg, that there would be “Easter eggs for Belfast”….
The city played a great part in the war effort – with its large shipyard, aircraft manufacturing facilities and munition factories…. 200 Luftwaffe bombers had taken off from bases in occupied Northern France and the Netherlands…. The six hours of horror, death and destruction they were to unleash on Belfast resulted in the greatest loss of life in a single night’s raid – apart from London….
Visibility on the night was poor – which may account for the heavy civilian loss…. Over 55,000, half of Belfast City’s houses, were hit by bombs…. Streets were wiped away, all their occupants killed….over 100,000 were left homeless…. Many public buildings were destroyed , including the Ulster Hospital for Women and Children, the Strand Public Elementary School, the Belfast City Hall’s Banqueting Hall, countless of churches, railway stations, hotels….all obliterated….
Few children had been evacuated from the city – some 80,000 still remained….
Mortuary services only had the capacity to deal with 200 bodies…. A further 150 corpses were buried in a mass grave, 123 of which remained unidentified…. St. George’s Market became a temporary mortuary for 255 of the dead…. Many more bodies and body parts were unidentifiable and were buried in mass graves in the city’s cemeteries….
Haw-Haw was later to announce…. “The Fuhrer will give you time to bury your dead before the next attack…. Tuesday was only a sample….”
A second massive air raid took place three weeks later…. A further 150 people lost their lives….
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’….
‘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….
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….
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….
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….
On this day in history : 30th September 1938 – Neville Chamberlain arrives back in the UK with an agreement signed by Hitler…. He claims “I believe it is peace for our time” – he could not have been more misguided….
The Prime Minister had met with the German leader three times in the last two weeks of September…. This last meeting had been at the Munich Conference – which involved talks between Britain, Germany, France and Italy, to decide the future of Sudetenland, part of Western Czechoslovakia…. The Czech government had been hoping Britain and France would come to its aid in the event of a German invasion…. However, it was Chamberlain’s main priority to avert war – British people were terrified of another conflict within Europe…. It was agreed that Germany would annex a large part of Czechoslovakia and Britain and France would not support any resistance put up by Czechoslovakia; in return a non-aggression pact was signed with Germany…. Czechoslovakia was forced to hand over Sudetenland, though it had not even been present at the conference….
Chamberlain arrives in Munich, September 1938 – Courtesy : Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H12967 CC BY-SA 3.0
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (left) and German Chancellor Adolf Hitler leave their meeting at Bad Godesberg, 23rd September 1938 – Courtesy: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H12751/CC BY-SA 3.0
Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, Mussolini and Italian Foreign Minister Count Galeazzo Ciano as they prepare to sign the Munich Agreement – CC BY-SA 3.0 de
Chamberlain arrived back at Heston Airport, West London, where a large crowd greeted him, eager to hear him read out the signed agreement…. He then went on to Buckingham Palace, where he appeared on the balcony with the King and Queen – and then went on to hold a further audience outside No.10 Downing Street…. The crowds were jubilant….but there were also many who believed Chamberlain had given in to the demands of Hitler….
Needless to say, Hitler did not adhere to his promise…. A year later he dismissed the agreement as a ‘scrap of paper’ and on the 1st of September 1939 Germany invaded Poland…. World War 2 was declared two days later…. Chamberlain was succeeded by Winston Churchill after being forced to resign in May 1940; he died the following November….
On this day in history : 4th September 1939 – The first 200 Citizen’s Advice Bureau establishments open across Britain – the day after the outbreak of World War 2….
The Government had begun to consider the need for an information service in 1935…. By 1938 World War 2 was looming, so the National Council of Social Services formed a group to study and understand how to meet the needs of the civilian population during war time…. Their recommendations being :- “Citizen Advice Bureaux should be established throughout the country, particularly in the large cities and industrial areas where social disorganisation may be acute”….
On the 3rd of September 1939 World War 2 was declared; the following day the first 200 Citizen’s Advice Bureaux opened…. Initially volunteers ran the service from private houses or sometimes public buildings – dealing with problems such as lost ration books, evacuation and homelessness….
Godalming Citizen’s Advice Bureau, 2013 – Juan J Martinez via Flickr