|Born||16 Nov 1896|
|Died||3 Dec 1980|
Contributor: Alan Chanter
ww2dbaseIn October 1932 Sir Oswald Ernald, 6th Baronet, Mosley founded the British Union of Fascists (BUF), uniting many of the unorganised small Fascist groups that existed in Great Britain at the time, with himself as its self-appointed leader.
ww2dbaseMosley was born in 1896 and educated at Winchester College and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. After World War I (in which he had been injured in an air crash) Mosley entered the British Parliament as the Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Harrow and quickly began to make a name for himself as a gifted political speaker. But in 1922 he found himself in opposition to the Government's policies in Ireland and "crossed the floor" to sit on the opposition benches as an Independent MP.
ww2dbaseIn 1924, Mosley switched his allegiance to the Labour Party which had just formed a government, but within months the government collapsed and Mosley, knowing that Harrow would not re-elect him as a Labour candidate, opted to oppose the popular future prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, at Birmingham Ladywood, but after an energetic campaign he was narrowly defeated at the poll. He returned to Parliament in December 1926 having successfully won the Labour seat of Smethwick in a by-election, but his political ambitions were thwarted when, following the Labour victory in the 1929 elections; he was given only the non-cabinet position as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, with responsibility for solving the unemployment problem.
ww2dbaseIncreasingly frustrated that his radical proposals were continually being blocked by his superior, James Henry Thomas, or by the Cabinet, in December 1930 Mosley issued a manifesto, in which he warned the Government of the need to develop a policy for dealing with the economic crisis, and in the early part of 1931 he and a band of followers seceded and formed The New Party. The New Party soon gained support from many Labour and Conservative MPs, who agreed with his Economic policies, and gained the endorsement of Lord Rothermere's Daily Mail newspaper which for six months published frequent admiring profiles, until it was leant on by Jewish advertisers concerned over the parties increasing inclination towards the Fascist policies of Mussolini's Italy, and when the 1931 general election was called the New Party failed to win a single seat - indeed twenty-two of the twenty four candidates fielded lost their deposits.
ww2dbaseThis humiliating defeat would lead to Mosley creating the BUF in October 1932. From the start the BUF was anti-communist and protectionist. At one time the Party claimed membership as high as 50,000, and was covertly received funds from Mussolini's Italy. This money would become vital to the Party for it allowed Mosley to open up his own headquarters and employ his own private army of black-uniformed thugs (the Blackshirts), to keep order (with violence when required) at party rallies.
ww2dbaseFollowing the death of his first wife, Cynthia, in 1933, Mosley secretly married his mistress Diana Mitford at the Berlin home of the Nazi German Minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. Adolf Hitler was one of the guests and presented the newlyweds with a portrait of himself in a gilt frame. Mosley had spent a large amount of his private fortune on the BUF and tried to establish it on a firm financial footing by negotiating, through Diana, with Hitler (newly established as Germany's Chancellor) for permission to broadcast a commercial radio to Britain from Germany. He also solicited support from right-wing aristocrats, intelligence officers, ex-military people and from the fragmentary British fascist groups. Lord Rothermere tried to start a cigarette making company with Blackshirts to distribute them, and also tried to run a beauty contest for Blackshirt women. But such initial support was soon about to fade away.
ww2dbaseAt a large BUF rally at Olympia on 7 June 1934, Communist infiltrators heckled to the point where open mass brawling with the Blackshirts broke out. This resulted in such bad publicity that the party lost support from many of its influential supporters. By 1935 membership had crashed to about a tenth of the 50,000 members that the party had enjoyed the year before, and even Lord Rothermere deserted Mosley's cause which, influenced by Hitler, was moving in an ever more Anti-Semitic and violent direction.
ww2dbaseThe violence escalated as Blackshirt speakers began to whip up anti-Jewish feeling in London areas like Rotherhithe, Bethnal Green, Stepney and Shoreditch. Blackshirts began daubing Anti-Semitic slogans on walls, desecrated Jewish cemeteries and attacking synagogues and Jewish shops. But London's East End was a Labour and Communist stronghold, and the Fascists thugs soon found themselves coming under violent attack from anti-fascist gangs armed with razors and truncheons.
ww2dbaseMosley decided on direct confrontation. On 4 October 1936 he led around 2,000 uniformed BU (the party had dropped the F for Fascist from its title in 1936) members in a march through the East End in an attempt to intimidate local Jews and rally fascists sympathisers. This was a fatal mistake, for waiting for him in Cable Street were around 100,000 counter-demonstrators who had overturned a lorry and piled up bricks as a barricade. The police seeing what was about to happen ordered Mosley and his men to turn away, which they did. The police then turned on the anti-fascist demonstrators and in the ensuing fracas more than a hundred people were injured and eighty arrested. This confrontation was just as disastrous to the BUF as the Olympia rally had been. Moderate supporters deserted in droves.
ww2dbaseMosley continued to organize demonstrations, policed by the Blackshirts, but the government had become sufficiently concerned about the violence that it introduced the Public Order Act (1936) which, amongst other things, banned the wearing of political uniforms.
ww2dbaseWhen war broke out in September 1939 the authorities considered the BU to be little more than a nuisance rather than a danger. Most other fascist and pro-Nazi parties in Britain had closed down immediately at the outbreak of hostilities as Defence Regulation 18B promulgated on September 1, 1939, allowed the authorities to detain without trial those they had reason to believe were capable of prejudicial acts against the state. The BU however continued its "Peace Campaign" activities, organising well-attended but hardly influential meetings in London and Manchester throughout the "Phoney War".
ww2dbaseThe collapse of Norway and the German blitzkrieg into France and the Low Countries in the spring of 1940 changed everything. The Home Secretary, Sir John Anderson, whilst reluctant to embark on the wholesale internment of Fascists (only some thirty-six British citizens had so far been detained under the powers granted by Regulation 18B) became concerned over the activities of the fanatically Anti-Semitic Right Club; one of whose members, Tyler Kent, a cipher clerk at the US Embassy, was suspected of intercepting messages between "A naval Person" (Winston Churchill) and President Franklin Roosevelt. This was clearly a grave matter with potential implications to both the security of the United Kingdom and to the US President's chances of re-election. On 23 May 1940, Mosley and 747 other BU members were arrested (including ninety-six women including Lady Diana) and interned without charge. A number of Fascists were eventually moved to camps on the Isle of Man where they were housed in segregated camps, separate from those interned as "enemy aliens", but Mosley remained in Brixton prison, as the authorities were concerned that his oratory might whip up disaffection on the Isle of Man.
ww2dbaseIn July 1940, Mosley appeared before the Advisory committee with a plea that his campaign for peace was a legitimate expression of political opinion and that he had never expressed a wish to see Germany defeat Britain. He maintained that, in fact, in the interwar years he had pressed for rearmament and had only heard of the Tyler Kent affair after being sent to prison. The committee, chaired by Norman Birkett KC., turned down Mosley's appeal but, in their report to the Home Office, made the point that they had found no evidence of treasonable activity, although Mosley's anti-Semitic policies (which he did not deny) and his attempt to set up a radio station in Germany were sufficiently damming to continue his confinement.
ww2dbaseLady Mosley's appeal was not successful either. She had never been a member of the BU but she was a dedicated Fascist. In 1933 she had gone with her sister, Unity, to Germany and attended the first Parteitag (party congress) held in Nuremberg after the Nazis' seizure of power. Unity returned to Munich, Germany in 1934 to study German and set about her self-appointed task of engineering a meeting with Hitler, which she finally achieved after many months by positioning herself at a table near to the one he habitually occupied in the Astoria Bavaria. Excitedly, Unity urged Diana to come to Germany to meet the Nazi leader too, and over the next few years Diana met Hitler fairly often (though nothing like as much as Unity) and soon adopted the whole creed of the National Socialists with uncritical enthusiasm.
ww2dbaseWhen Herbert Morrison succeeded Sir John Anderson as Home Secretary in October 1943 he reluctantly agreed to Mosley's release on medical grounds and to Diana's release on humanitarian grounds. The couple were released on the morning of 20 November 1943, and spent the rest of the war under house arrest. On his release from prison they stayed with his sister-in-law, Pamela Mitford, followed shortly after by a stay at the Shaven Crown Hotel in Shipton-under-Wychwood. He then purchased Crux Easton, near Newbury, England, with Diana. He and his wife now became the subject of much media attention, but the war had ended what remained of his political reputation.
ww2dbaseAfter the war Mosley was contacted by some of his former supporters and persuaded to rejoin active politics. He formed the Union Movement in 1948, calling for a single European wide nation-state covering the continent, and later attempted to launch a National Party of Europe to this end, but the Union Movement's meetings were often physically disrupted, as Mosley's meetings had been before the war, and largely by the same opponents. This led to Mosley's decision, in 1951, to leave Britain and live in Ireland. He later moved to Paris, France. Of his decision to leave, he said, "You don't clear up a dungheap from underneath it". Notwithstanding Mosley continued to contest British elections with little success until 1966.
ww2dbaseHe wrote his autobiography "My Answers" (1946), "Mosley - Right or Wrong?" (1961) and "My Life" (1968). In 1977, by which time he was suffering from Parkinson's disease, he was nominated for the post of Rector of the University of Glasgow. In the subsequent election he polled over 100 votes but finished bottom of the poll. Oswald Mosley died of natural causes on 3 December 1980 in France in his Orsay home, aged 84, and was cremated in Paris. His ashes were scattered on the pond at Orsay. Today his papers are housed at the University of Birmingham Special Collections.
Andrew Marr, The Making of Modern Britain (Macmillan, 2009)
Juliet Gardiner, Wartime Britain 1939-45 (Review-Headline Book Publishing, 2004)
Everyman's Encyclopedia Vol. 8
The Wordsworth Dictionary of British History (Wordsworth Reference, 1994)
Last Major Revision: Aug 2012
Oswald Mosley Timeline
|16 Nov 1896||Oswald Mosley was born at 47 Hill Street, Mayfair, London, England, United Kingdom.|
|11 May 1920||Oswald Mosley married Lady Cynthia Curzon, the daughter of British Foreign Secretary George Curzon, at St James's Palace in London, England, United Kingdom. Their guests included King George V of the United Kingdom and King Leopold III of Belgium.|
|25 Feb 1921||Oswald Mosley's daughter Vivien Elizabeth Mosley was born.|
|25 Jun 1923||Oswald Mosley's son Nicholas Mosley was born.|
|7 Jun 1929||Oswald Mosley was made the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.|
|19 May 1930||Oswald Mosley stepped down as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.|
|25 Apr 1932||Oswald Mosley's son Michael Mosley was born.|
|1 Oct 1932||Oswald Mosley founded the British Union of Fascists.|
|7 Jun 1934||At a large British Union of Fascists rally, attended by 15,000 people who had come to hear Oswald Mosley speak, including some 2,000 Blackshirts acting as stewards, at the Olympia Stadium in London, England, United Kingdom a couple of thousand communist infiltrators heckled to the point where open mass brawling broke out when hecklers were removed by the stewards. This resulted in such bad publicity that the party lost support from many of its influential supporters, who defected away in protest of Mosley's ever more radical and authoritarian methods.|
|4 Oct 1936||Battle of Cable Street: In Britain, Sir Oswald Ernald, 6th Baronet, Mosley, led around 2,000 BUF members in uniform in a march through the East End (an area of London known to have a high proportion of Jewish residents and much poverty) in an attempt designed to intimidate local Jews and rally fascist sympathisers. This was a fatal mistake, for waiting for him in Cable Street were around 100,000 counter-demonstrators who had overturned a lorry and piled up bricks as a barricade. The police seeing what was about to happen ordered Moseley and his men to turn away. They did. The police then turned on the anti-fascist demonstrators and in the ensuing fracas more than a hundred people were injured and eighty arrested. This confrontation was just as disastrous to the BUF as the Olympia rally had been. Moderates deserted in droves.|
|6 Oct 1936||Oswald Mosley married Diana Mitford in secret at the home of Joseph Goebbels in Berlin, Germany. Their guests included Adolf Hitler.|
|26 Nov 1938||Oswald Mosley's son Oswald Alexander Mosley was born.|
|13 Apr 1940||Oswald Mosley's son Max Rufus Mosley was born.|
|23 May 1940||Oswald Mosley and 747 other British Union members were arrested (including ninety-six women including Lady Diana) and interned without charge.|
|18 Mar 1943||Oswald Mosley and Diana Mosley received Norah Elam and Dudley Elam while in imprisonment in London, England, United Kingdom.|
|17 Nov 1943||The British government announced that Sir Oswald Mosley, well-known British fascist, was to be released from imprisonment due to health reasons, to public protest.|
|20 Nov 1943||British Fascist Sir Oswald Mosley and Lady Diana Mosley were released from imprisonment. They would stay with Lady Diana's sister Pamela Mitford after their release, followed shortly after by a stay at the Shaven Crown Hotel in Shipton-under-Wychwood. He then purchased Crux Easton, near Newbury, England, United Kingdom, with Diana. He and his wife became the subject of much media attention, but the war had ended what remained of his political reputation.|
|3 Dec 1980||Oswald Mosley passed away in Orsay, France.|
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Thomas Dodd, late 1945