John Amery

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John Amery in 1932

John Amery (b. 14 March 1912 in Chelsea, London; d. 19 December 1945 in London) was a British fascist and later a collaborator with the National Socialists. In 1942, while in Germany during the Second World War, he proposed the formation of a British volunteer force made up from former prisoners of war to fight Soviet Communist forces. The idea became the British Free Corps, a small volunteer unit of the Waffen-SS.

Life

John's parents, Leopold Stennett Amery and his wife Florence
At 21 John Amery married Una Wing
Leaflet written by John Amery

Born in Chelsea, London, John Amery was the elder of two children of British statesman Leo Amery (1873–1955), a member of parliament and later Conservative government minister, whose mother was a Hungarian Jew who had converted to Protestantism. His younger brother, Julian (1919–1996), also became an MP and served in a Conservative government.

John strove to make his own way by embarking on a career in film production. Over a period, he set up a number of independent companies, all of which failed. He left Britain to live in France after going bankrupt in his early 20s in 1933 following a diamond deal in Athens which went wrong. In Paris, he met the French fascist leader Jacques Doriot, with whom he travelled to Austria, Italy, and Germany to witness the effects of fascism in those countries.

World War II

Amery was in France following the German campaign in June 1940. On 22 June, the Second Armistice at Compiègne was signed between France and Germany. Amery resided in the non-militarily occupied part of the neutral French State led by Marshal Philippe Pétain. He made several attempts to leave but was not allowed. The head of the German Armistice Commission offered Amery a chance to live in Germany to work in the political arena but he was unable to get Amery out of France.

In September of 1942, Hauptmann Werner Plack gained Amery the French travel permit he needed, and in October, Plack and Amery travelled to Berlin to speak to the German-English Committee. It was at this time that Amery suggested that the Germans consider forming a British anti-Bolshevik legion. Adolf Hitler was impressed by Amery and allowed him to remain in Germany as a guest of the Reich. During this period, Amery made a series of pro-German propaganda radio broadcasts, attempting to appeal to the British people to join the war on communism.

The idea of a British force to fight the Communists languished until Amery encountered Jacques Doriot during a visit to France in January of 1943. Doriot was part of the Légion des volontaires français contre le bolchevisme (Legion of French Volunteers against Bolshevism), a French volunteer force fighting alongside the Germans on the eastern front.

Amery rekindled his idea of British unit and aimed to recruit 50 to 100 men and also to seek out a core base of men with which to gain additional members from British prisoners of war. Amery's first recruiting drive for what was initially to be called The British Legion of St George took him to the St Denis POW camp outside Paris[1]. He ended up with two men, of which only Kenneth Berry would join what was later called the BFC.

Amery's link to the BFC ended in late, 1943. Amery continued to broadcast and write propaganda in Berlin while living in the suburb of Gatow. In September 1944 he travelled to Northern Italy to meet up with Mussolini and lend support to Italian leader's Salò Republic. Amery gave speeches, in Italian, in Genoa, Turin and Milan.

At the end of February 1945 he travelled to Mengen, a town in the district of Sigmaringen, in Germany, for the funeral of his friend Jacques Doriot, who had been murdered on 22 February 1945 while traveling from Mainau to Sigmaringen, when his car was machine-gunned by Allied fighter planes.

He returned to see Mussolini in Milan in April 1945 but was captured by communist terrorists on April 25 while he was driving on the autostrada with his wife to Lake Como. He was regarded by Britain's intelligence services as one of the most high-profile targets on their wanted lists.[2]

Post war

After the war, Amery, being a British Subject, was tried for treason in London (his father had wanted him tried in Italy!); in a preliminary hearing, he argued that he had never said anything against Britain but was an anti-Communist who believed in the crusade against Bolshevism.[3]

Death

On 28 November 1945, after an only eight minute trial, Amery pleaded guilty to eight counts of treason. He was hanged in Wandsworth Prison, London, on 19 December 1945 by the famous executioner Albert Pierrepoint. It was later claimed that Amery admitted his guilt in order to save his family the pain of a long trial. On 22 April 1948, J.M. Wilmot Brooke wrote a letter requesting permission for Mrs. F. Amery to visit the grave of her son. The Home Office refused permission for the visit.

In his autobiography, Pierrepoint described Amery as the "bravest man that he had to execute".[4]

Family

John Amery was the oldest son of Leopold "Leo" Charles Moritz (later changed to Maurice) Stennett Amery and his wife Florence "Bryddie", née Greenwood (1885–1975). His younger brother was Harold Julian Amery, Baron Amery of Lustleigh (1919–1996).

His grandfather was Charles Frederick Amery (1833–1901), of Lustleigh, Devon, an officer in the Indian Forestry Commission, his grandmother, the linguist Elisabeth Johanna Leitner, née Saphir (c. 1841–1908), who was the sister of the orientalist Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner (1840–1899), Leo's uncle (who had partly financed Leo's education), was of Hungarian Jewish descent.

Quotes

  • "If we all wanted it together, we could make a better world." – John Amery, Oslo, Norway in 1944

External links

Sources

  • Patriot Traitors by Adrian Weale, London, 2001, ISBN 0-670-88498-7
  • Letting The Side Down - British traitors of the Second World War, by Sean Murphy, U.K., 2003/5. ISBN 0-7509-4176-6
  • Speaking for England by David Faber, London, 2005, ISBN 0-7432-56883

References

  1. Faber, 2005, p.465-7.
  2. Faber, 2005, p.473-5.
  3. Faber, 2005, 478-9.
  4. John Amery, British Executions