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William Joyce (24 April 1906 – 3 January 1946), nicknamed "Lord Haw-Haw", was a fascist politician and Nazi propaganda broadcaster to the United Kingdommarker during World War II. He was executed for treason by the British government as a result of his wartime activities.

Early life

Joyce was born at Herkimer Street in Brooklynmarker, New York Citymarker, to an English Protestant mother and an Irish Catholic father who had taken United Statesmarker citizenship. A few years after his birth the family returned to Galwaymarker, Irelandmarker. He attended the Jesuit St Ignatius College in Galway from 1915 to 1921. Unusually for Irish Roman Catholics, both Joyce and his father were strongly Unionist. Joyce later said that he aided the Black and Tans during the Irish War for Independence and became a target of the Irish Republican Army.

Following what he alleged to be an assassination attempt in 1921, (which supposedly failed because he took a different route home from school) he left for England where he briefly attended King's College Schoolmarker, Wimbledonmarker on a foreign exchange, followed two years later by his family. Joyce had relatives who lived in Birkenhead, Merseysidemarker, whom he visited on a few occasions. He applied to Birkbeck Collegemarker of the University of London and to enter the Officer Training Corps. At Birkbeck he developed an interest in fascism, and he worked with (but never joined) the British Fascisti of Rotha Lintorn-Orman.

In 1924, while stewarding a Conservative Party meeting, Joyce was attacked and received a deep razor slash that ran across his right cheek. It left a permanent scar which ran from the earlobe to the corner of the mouth. Joyce was convinced that his attackers were "Jewish communists". It was an incident that had a marked bearing on his outlook.

British Union of Fascists

In 1932 Joyce joined the British Union of Fascists (BUF) under Sir Oswald Mosley, and swiftly became a leading speaker, praised for his power of oratory. The journalist and novelist Cecil Roberts described a speech given by Joyce:

In 1934 Joyce was promoted to the BUF's director of propaganda and later appointed deputy leader. As well as being a gifted speaker, Joyce gained the reputation of a savage brawler. His violent rhetoric and willingness to physically confront anti-fascist elements head-on played no small part in further marginalizing the BUF. After the bloody debacle of the June 1934 Olympiamarker rally, Joyce spearheaded the BUF's policy shift from campaigning for economic revival through corporatism to antisemitism. He was instrumental in changing the name of the BUF to "British Union of Fascists and National Socialists" in 1936, and stood as a party candidate in the 1937 elections to London County Council. In 1936 Joyce lived for a year in Whitstablemarker, where he owned a radio and electrical shop.

Joyce was sacked from his paid position when Mosley drastically reduced the BUF staff shortly after the elections, and Joyce went on to form a breakaway organisation, the National Socialist League. Unlike Joyce, Mosley was never a committed antisemite, preferring to exploit antisemitic sentiment only for political gain. After 1937, the party turned its focus away from antisemitism and towards activism, opposing a war with Nazi Germany. Although Joyce had been deputy leader of the BUF from 1933 and an effective fighter and orator, Mosley snubbed him in his autobiography and later denounced him as a traitor because of his wartime activities.

Lord Haw-Haw

In late August 1939, shortly before war was declared, Joyce and his wife Margaret fled to Germanymarker. Joyce had been tipped off that the British authorities intended to detain him under Defence Regulation 18B. Joyce became a naturalised German in 1940.

In Berlinmarker, Joyce could not find employment until a chance meeting with fellow Mosleyite Dorothy Eckersley (former wife (or second wife) of the Chief Engineer of the British Broadcasting Corporation, Peter Eckersley) got him an audition at the Rundfunkhaus (radio centre). Despite having a heavy cold and almost losing his voice, he was recruited immediately for radio announcements and script writing at German radio's English service.

The name "Lord Haw-Haw of Zeesenmarker" was coined by the pseudonymous Daily Express radio critic Jonah Barrington in 1939, but this referred initially to Wolf Mitler (or possibly Norman Baillie-Stewart). When Joyce became the best-known propaganda broadcaster, the nickname was transferred to him. Joyce's broadcasts initially came from studios in Berlinmarker, later transferring (due to heavy Allied bombing) to Luxembourgmarker and finally to Apen near Hamburgmarker, and were relayed over a network of German-controlled radio stations that included Hamburgmarker, Bremenmarker, Luxembourg, Hilversummarker, Calaismarker, Oslomarker and Zeesen. Joyce also broadcast on and wrote scripts for the German Büro Concordia organisation, which ran several black propaganda stations, many of which pretended to broadcast illegally from within Britain.

Although listening to his broadcasts was officially discouraged (but not illegal), they became very popular with the British public. The German broadcasts always began with the announcer's words "Germany calling, Germany calling, Germany calling" (because of a nasal drawl this sounded like: Jairmany calling). These broadcasts urged the British people to surrender, and were well known for their jeering, sarcastic and menacing tone. There was also a desire by listeners to hear what the other side was saying, since information during wartime was severely censored and restricted and at the start of the war it was possible for German broadcasts to be more informative than those of the BBC. This was a scenario which reversed towards the middle of the war, with some German high command officers tuning to the BBC.
Joyce recorded his final broadcast on 30 April 1945, during the Battle of Berlin. He chided Britain for its role in Germany's imminent defeat and warned that the war would leave Britain poor and barren. (There are conflicting accounts as to whether this last programme was actually transmitted, despite a tape being found in the Radio Hamburg studios.) He signed off with a final defiant "Heil Hitler". The next day Radio Hamburg was seized by British forces, who on May 4 used it to make a mock "Germany calling" broadcast denouncing Joyce.

Besides broadcasting, Joyce's duties included distributing propaganda among British prisoners of war, whom he tried to recruit into the British Free Corps. He wrote a book Twilight Over England promoted by the German Ministry of Propaganda, which unfavourably compared the evils of allegedly Jewish-dominated capitalist Britain with the wonders of National Socialist Germany. Adolf Hitler awarded Joyce the War Merit Cross (First and Second Class) for his broadcasts, although they never met.

Scripts and the microphone used by Joyce were seized by soldier Cyril Millwood and have now come to light following the ex-soldier's death.

Capture and trial

At the end of the war, Joyce was captured by British forces at Flensburgmarker near the Germany-Denmarkmarker border. Spotting a dishevelled figure, resting intelligence soldiers, including a Jewish German who had left Germany before the war, engaged him in conversation in French and English. After they asked if he was Joyce, he reached for his pocket (actually reaching for a false passport), and they shot him through the buttocks, leaving four wounds.

Two intelligence officers then drove him to a border post, and handed him to British military police. Joyce was tried at the Old Baileymarker, London on three counts of high treason:

  • William Joyce, on the 18th of September, 1939, and on other days between that day and the 29th of May, 1945, being a person owing allegiance to our Lord the King, and while a war was being carried on by the German Realm against our King, did traitorously adhere to the King's enemies in Germany, by broadcasting propaganda.
  • William Joyce, on the 26th of September, 1940, being a person who owed allegiance as in the other count, adhered to the King's enemies by purporting to become naturalized as a subject of Germany.
  • William Joyce, on the 18th of September, 1939, and on other days between that day and the 2nd of July, 1940, being a person owing allegiance to our Lord the King, and while a war was being carried on by the German Realm against our King, did traitorously adhere to the King's enemies in Germany, by broadcasting propaganda.

The only evidence offered that he had begun broadcasting from Germany while his British passport was valid was the testimony of a London police inspector who had questioned him before the war while he was an active member of the British Union of Fascists and claimed to have recognised his voice on a propaganda broadcast in the early weeks of the war (Joyce had previous convictions for assault and riotous assembly in the 1930s).

During the processing of the charges Joyce's American nationality came to light, and it seemed that he would have to be acquitted, based upon a lack of jurisdiction; he could not be convicted of betraying a country that was not his own. He was acquitted of the first and second charges. However, the Attorney General, Sir Hartley Shawcross, successfully argued that Joyce's possession of a British passport, even though he had mis-stated his nationality to get it, entitled him (until it expired) to British diplomatic protection in Germany and therefore he owed allegiance to the King at the time he commenced working for the Germans. It was on this technicality that Joyce was convicted of the third charge and sentenced to death on 19 September 1945. His conviction was upheld by the Court of Appealmarker on 1 November, and by the House of Lords (on a 4-1 vote) on 13 December.


In his appeal to the House of Lordsmarker, Joyce argued that possession of a passport did not entitle him to the protection of the Crown, and therefore did not perpetuate his duty of allegiance once he left the country, but the House unanimously rejected this argument. Lord Porter's dissenting opinion was based on his belief that whether Joyce's duty of allegiance had terminated or not was a question of fact for the jury to decide, rather than a purely legal question for the judge.

Joyce also argued that jurisdiction had been wrongly assumed by the court in electing to try an alien for offences committed in a foreign country. This argument was also rejected, on the basis that a state may exercise such jurisdiction in the interests of its own security.


He went to his death unrepentant and defiant.

Joyce was executed on 3 January 1946 at Wandsworth Prisonmarker, aged 39. He was the second-to-last person to be hanged for a crime other than murder in the United Kingdom. The last was Theodore Schurch, executed for treachery the following day at Pentonvillemarker. In both cases the hangman was Albert Pierrepoint.

It is said that the scar on Joyce's face split wide open due to the pressure applied to his head upon his drop from the gallows.

As was customary for executed criminals, Joyce's remains were buried in an unmarked grave within the walls of HMP Wandsworth. In 1976 they were exhumed and reinterred at the New Cemetery in Bohermore in County Galway, Irelandmarker.

Joyce's family

The Crown considered trying his wife Margaret as well. It is not entirely clear why no trial took place. A straightforward explanation is that her nationality status was much more complex and a conviction thought unlikely. Some also consider a deal for clemency was made on her behalf, perhaps recorded in a secret memo. Margaret Joyce died in Sohomarker in 1972, reportedly from alcohol abuse.

Joyce had two daughters by his first wife, Hazel, who went on to marry Oswald Mosley's bodyguard, Eric Piercey. One daughter, Heather Piercey (m. Vincenzo Iandolo 1959-1972), has spoken publicly of her father.

Artistic works based on the life of William Joyce

Joyce was the inspiration for the character Howard W. Campbell in Kurt Vonnegut's novels Mother Night and Slaughterhouse Five. As black comedy antihero Lord Horror, Joyce appeared in the highly controversial works of British novelist and comic scriptwriter David Britton. The British government banned the novel Lord Horror and Britton served a jail sentence following a trial deciding that the comic Meng and Ecker, in which Lord Horror appears, violated the Obscene Publications Act.

See also

Dämmerung über England (Twilight over England), 3rd edition, Berlin 1942


  1. Lord Haw-Haw and the Black and Tans, Axis History Forum.
  2. 45/25728/244. CAB 98/18. Simpson 135-6. Thurlow, the 'Mosley Papers' and the Secret History of British Fascism 1939-1940, K/L, 175. Reporting statement from the Mail on 14.3.40
  3. "Chapter 4: The Trial and Death of Lord Haw-Haw"
  4. Beckett, Francis. "'My father was a traitor but he was kind and loving to me'", The Guardian, December 5, 2005.
  • The Trial of William Joyce ed. by C.E. Bechhofer Roberts [Old Bailey Trials series] (Jarrolds, London, 1946) *''The Trial of William Joyce'' ed. by J.W. Hall [Notable British Trials series] (William Hodge and Company, London, 1946)
  • The Meaning of Treason by Dame Rebecca West (Macmillan, London, 1949)
  • Lord Haw-Haw and William Joyce by William Cole (Faber and Faber, London, 1964)
  • Hitler's Englishman by Francis Selwyn (Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, London, 1987)
  • Renegades: Hitler's Englishmen by Adrian Weale (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1994)
  • Germany Calling — a personal biography of William Joyce by Mary Kenny (New Island Books, Dublin, 2003)
  • Haw-Haw: the tragedy of William and Margaret Joyce by Nigel Farndale (Macmillan, London, 2005)

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