William Norman Ewer

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William Norman Ewer (1885–1976) was a British journalist, remembered mostly now for a few lines of verse. He was known as William or Norman, and by the nickname Trilby. He was prominent writing on foreign affairs for the London Daily Herald. It is now increasingly well established that he spied for the Soviet Union during the 1920s.

Often quoted is

I gave my life for freedom - this I know:
For those who bade me fight had told me so.

This is the refrain of his anti-war poem Five Souls, which Ewer contributed to the British Nation on 3 October 1914.

Also attributed to him is the epigram

How odd of God/To choose the Jews.

This is often taken, perhaps with some justification, to be anti-Semitic in intent, though it would have passed at the time as wit. It provoked at least three capping replies.

Not odd of God. / Goyim annoy 'im

is attributed to Leo Rosten.

But not so odd
As those who choose
A Jewish God
Yet spurn the Jews

is given as Cecil Brown's or Ogden Nash's.

Another runs, "Not so odd / The Jews chose God."

Even more effective is the anonymous

How strange of man
To change the plan

Then again, there is Jim Sleeper's riposte:

"Moses, Jesus, Marx, Einstein, and Freud; No wonder the goyim are annoyed."

Ewer was writing in support of guild socialism and the National Guilds League during World War I (in A. R. Orage's The New Age). He became a Fabian socialist, and then apparently a communist, shortly. From 1919 he was writing in the Daily Herald.

There is evidence to show that he was an active and well-connected Soviet agent from the early 1920s, and that this was well known to MI5, who kept him under surveillance. He has been mentioned in connection with Clare Frewen Sheridan (1885-1970), writer and sculptor, who passed on comments of Winston Churchill, her relative. Archival material is becoming available, documenting Ewer's success in running an infiltration operation in the United Kingdom.

At this period Ewer was a well-known writer in left-wing publications. He was an early opponent of Trotsky, and may have followed instructions from Moscow. It appears that MI5 chose in 1929 not to prosecute, possibly to avoid embarrassment on the government side, but to keep him in place as a biddable journalist. He continued to write on foreign affairs into the Cold War years, taking an anti-Soviet line.

References[edit]

  • Victor Madeira, "Moscow’s interwar infiltration of British Intelligence", The Historical Journal (2003), 1919-1929. [1]