British League of Ex-Servicemen and Women
BLESMAW had its origins in 1937 when James Taylor set up the group as an alternative to the Royal British Legion. Its main area of concern was the right of military veterans to receive a good pension.
By 1944 Jeffrey Hamm and Victor Burgess, both members of the British Union of Fascists who had been interned under Defence Regulation 18B, had taken control of the group. The League held its first meeting in Hyde Park on 4 November 1944, where it promoted itself as a fascist organisation that endorsed racial purity and "Britain for the British", inspiring a hostile reaction from the crowd. Under Hamm and Burgess the group became active in East London, where it was involved in street violence.
In June 1945 the League was represented at a meeting of the National Front After Victory, an A. K. Chesterton-led initiative aimed at forming a united post-war party, although this group quickly floundered. By 1946 Hamm was in full control, having expelled Propaganda Director Burgess, whom he viewed as a rival for the leadership, as well as John Marston Gaster, the League's public relations officer, whose public displays of Nazism were proving an embarrassment and damaging the League's chances of gaining a following. Nonetheless the League, along with other more minor fascist groups in Britain at the time, worked closely with German POWs held in camps in and around London.
The group was noted for its virulent antisemitism and immediately after the war this policy was publicly criticised by Oswald Mosley. As a result of the group's antisemitism it came into regular conflict with the militant 43 Group, although individual members of this movement such as James Cotter also managed to infiltrate the League. Ultimately the 43 Group proved successful in forcing the League to abandon many of its street parades. However, the League also won support due its antisemitism as anti-Jewish sentiments became widespread around 1947 in response to the situation in the British Mandate for Palestine, with the battle there between the British Army and Zionist groups. Such a growth in antisemitism not only boosted the league but gave renewed impetus for a refoundation of a wider fascist movement.
On 15 November 1947 a meeting was held at the Memorial Hall in London's Farringdon Road where Mosley announced his intention to return to politics. Four main movements were represented at this gathering i.e. Anthony Gannon's Imperial Defence League, Burgess's Union of British Freedom, Horace Gowing's Sons of St George and the League itself. Hamm and the League reacted favourably to this development although some, such as former BUF member Robert Saunders of the Rural Reconstruction Association, were less than enthusiastic about admitting BLESMAW, feeling that they represented the brawling, vulgar, anti-Semitic tendency of the BUF that should be kept out of any new movement. Nevertheless, BLESMAW was one of the constituent groups of the Union Movement upon that group's foundation in 1948, marking the end of the movement.
- Peter Barberis, John McHugh, Mike Tyldesley, Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations: Parties, Groups and Movements of the 20th Century, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000, p. 176
- Graham Macklin, Very Deeply Dyed in Black, I.B. Tauris, 2007, p. 39
- Barberis et al, Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations, pp. 176-177
- Stephen Dorril, Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley & British Fascism, Penguin Books, 2007, p. 542
- Barberis et al, Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations, p. 177
- Dorril, Blackshirt, p. 547
- Macklin, Very Deeply Dyed in Black, p. 86
- Dorril, Blackshirt, p. 558
- Dorril, Blackshirt, p. 569
- Macklin, Very Deeply Dyed in Black, pp. 45-46
- Dorril, Blackshirt, p. 566
- Dorril, Blackshirt, pp. 567-568