During World War II the most famous of people who committed treason against Britain was Lord Haw Haw, American born Briton William Joyce. But there was another less well known treasonist, one John Amery.
Amery, born in 1912, was the elder of two children of British MP (Member of Parliament) and Conservative government minister Leo Amery. As a child Amery was known to be difficult to handle. As an adult his difficulties continued as he embarked on a career in film and set up multiple independent companies which failed one by one. After being declared bankrupt in 1936, Amery left Britain and moved to France. A staunch anti-communist he turned to fascism, which he saw to be the only political alternative to communism.
In Paris Amery met and was befriended by French fascist Jacques Doriot. Doriot took Amery on a tour of Austria, Italy and Germany where he witnessed the effects of fascism in those countries.
At the outbreak of World War II Amery stayed in France, even when Germany invaded and conquered France in 1940. He resided in neutral Vichy France which was a German puppet government led by Marshal Philippe Pétain.
In September 1942 Amery was allowed to visit Germany, because it was recognised Amery my be useful in the Nazi propaganda machine due to his British family connections. In Berlin he managed to speak to the influential German English Committee. In a misguided attempt to speak directly to the British people to encourage them to join the fight against communism, Amery made a series of pro-German propaganda radio broadcasts to Britain. Amery also suggested to the German leader, Adolf Hitler, that he should consider forming a British volunteer force. Originally named the British Legion of St. George, Hitler liked the idea and eventually the unit became the British Free Corps. The BFC were deployed in 1945 with a similar Scandinavian volunteer force. The BFC was a small unit that never exceeded 30 men at any one time.
Amery attempted to recruit members to his new unit from British POWs in a camp outside Paris, but the effort failed. However, Amery persisted and eventually he persuaded one man to join his fledgling unit. But the Waffen SS had lost interest in Amery and decided his services were no longer needed. Amery continued to write and broadcast propaganda for the Nazis and in 1944 he travelled to Italy to lend support to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s Republic. While in Italy in 1945 Amery was arrested by Italian partisans near Como in northern Italy. Eventually Amery was transferred to the British army where he was formerly arrested and moved to Britain.
Amery was tried for treason and made several abortive attempts to defend his behaviour on behalf of Nazi Germany by declaring he was a Spanish citizen and arguing that he had never attacked Britain. His own father weighed in and questioned his son’s sanity, but all attempts to avoid the inevitable were thwarted. The trial lasted a few minutes and John Amery was found guilty on eight counts of treason. The Judge sentenced Amery to death by hanging. On the 19th December 1945 John Amery was hanged in Wandsworth Prison and buried in the prison cemetery.
Copyright © Tom Kane 2019