John Amery

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John Amery
John Amery 2.jpg
Amery in 1932
Born(1912-03-14)14 March 1912
Chelsea, London, England, UK
Died19 December 1945(1945-12-19) (aged 33)
Wandsworth Prison, London, England, UK
Cause of deathExecuted (hanging)
OccupationActivist, member of the British Free Corps
Criminal chargeTreason
Criminal penaltyDeath
Spouse(s)Una Wing
RelativesJulian Amery, brother

John Amery (14 March 1912 – 19 December 1945) was a British fascist who, during the Second World War, proposed to the Wehrmacht the formation of a British volunteer force (that subsequently became the British Free Corps), as well as making recruitment efforts and propaganda broadcasts for Nazi Germany. Because of such activities, he was executed for treason after the war.

Early life[edit]

Born in Chelsea, London,[1] John Amery was the elder of two children of Leo Amery (1873–1955), a member of parliament and later Conservative government minister, whose mother was a Hungarian Jew. John's younger brother, Julian (1919–1996) also became an MP and served in a Conservative government.

Amery was a problem child who ran through a succession of private tutors.[2] Like his father, he was sent to Harrow, but left after only a year, being described by his housemaster as "without doubt, the most difficult boy I have ever tried to manage". Living in his father's shadow, he 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; these endeavours rapidly led to bankruptcy.

At the age of 21, Amery married Una Wing, a former prostitute, but was never able to earn enough to keep her for himself. He was constantly appealing to his father for money.[2] A staunch anti-Communist, he came to embrace the fascist National Socialist doctrines of Nazi Germany on the grounds that they were the only alternative to Bolshevism. He left Britain permanently to live in France after being declared bankrupt in 1936. 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.

Amery claimed to his family that he joined Francisco Franco's Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and was awarded a medal of honour while serving as an intelligence officer with Italian volunteer forces. This was untrue[citation needed] although the lie achieved wide circulation[citation needed].

Amery first visited Spain in 1939 after the civil war had ended and stayed for only a few weeks before returning to France, where he remained after the German invasion and the creation of Vichy rule during the German occupation.

In Europe during the Second World War[edit]

In France, Amery soon fell foul of the Vichy government[why?] and made several attempts to leave the country but was rebuffed. The German armistice commissioner Count Ceschi offered Amery the chance to leave France and live in Germany to work in the political arena, but Ceschi was unable to get Amery out of France.

In September 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 to join the war on communism.

British Free Corps[edit]

The idea of a British force to fight the communists languished until Amery encountered Jacques Doriot during a visit to France in January 1943. Doriot was part of the LVF (Légion des Volontaires Français), a French volunteer force fighting with the Germans on the eastern front.

Amery rekindled his idea of a British unit and aimed to recruit 50 to 100 men for propaganda purposes and to establish a core of men with which to attract additional members from British prisoners of war. He also suggested that such a unit could provide more recruits for the other military units made up of foreign nationals.

Dark-haired unshaven man
John Amery shortly after his arrest by Italian partisans in Milan. The officer with his back to the camera is Alan Whicker.

Amery's first recruiting drive for what was initially to be called the British Legion of St George took him to the Saint-Denis POW camp outside Paris. Amery addressed between 40 and 50 inmates from various British Commonwealth countries and handed out recruiting material. This first effort at recruitment was a complete failure, but he persisted.

Amery ended up with two men, of whom only one, Kenneth Berry, joined what was later called the BFC. Amery's link to the unit ended in October 1943, when the Waffen SS decided his services were no longer needed, and it was officially renamed the British Free Corps.

Amery continued to broadcast and write propaganda in Berlin until late 1944 when he travelled to Northern Italy to lend support to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's Salò Republic. Amery was captured in the last weeks of the war by Italian partisans, who handed him over to British authorities.

The British army officer sent to take him into custody was Captain Alan Whicker, later a prominent British broadcaster.

Trial and execution[edit]

After the war, Amery was tried for treason. In a preliminary hearing, he argued that he had never attacked Britain and was an anti-Communist, not a Nazi. At the same time, his brother Julian attempted to show that John had become a Spanish citizen, and therefore would have been technically incapable of committing treason against the United Kingdom. He found evidence that John had tried to become a Spanish citizen, but that his name had never been inscribed in the Register of Nationalities as a Spaniard.[3]

His counsel, Gerald Osborne Slade KC, meanwhile, tried to show that the accused was mentally ill. Amery's sanity was questioned by his own father, Leo, but all efforts to have the court consider his mental state were unsuccessful.[4] Further attempts at a defence were suddenly abandoned on the first day of his trial, 28 November 1945, when to general astonishment, Amery pleaded guilty to eight charges of treason. He was immediately sentenced to death. The entire trial lasted just eight minutes from start to finish.

Before accepting Amery's guilty plea, the judge, Mr. Justice Humphreys, made certain that Amery realised what the consequences would be; viz., it guaranteed that he would immediately be sentenced to death by hanging because there was no other permissible penalty. After satisfying himself that Amery fully understood the consequences of pleading guilty, the judge announced this verdict:

John Amery ... I am satisfied that you knew what you did and that you did it intentionally and deliberately after you had received warning from ... your fellow countrymen that the course you were pursuing amounted to high treason. They called you a traitor and you heard them; but in spite of that you continued in that course. You now stand a self-confessed traitor to your King and country, and you have forfeited your right to live.[5]

Amery was hanged in Wandsworth Prison on Wednesday, 19 December 1945 and was buried in the prison cemetery. In 1996 Julian Amery had his brother's body exhumed and cremated, scattering his ashes in France.[6]

An epitaph by his father appears in The Empire at Bay. The Leo Amery Diaries. 1929–1945:

At end of wayward days he found a cause –
'Twas not his Country's – Only time can tell
If that defiance of our ancient laws
Was treason or foreknowledge. He sleeps well.

Cultural references[edit]

Ronald Harwood's play An English Tragedy, charting the weeks leading up to Amery's execution following his arrest in Italy and trial in London, adapted for radio by Bert Coules, was broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on 8 May 2010 and 13 April 2012. The cast included Geoffrey Streatfeild as Amery and Sir Derek Jacobi as Leo Amery.

In the British TV crime drama Foyle's War, the finale of series 7 ("The Hide"; 2010) is loosely based on Amery's case. Like Amery, the fictional character of James Deveraux is born to a British establishment family, having MPs and government ministers as relatives. Like Amery, Deveraux pleads guilty and is sentenced to death. However, in the end Deveraux turns out to be a British spy serving MI9 and reporting German troop movements.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ GRO Register of Births: JUN 1912 1a 719 CHELSEA – John Amery, mmn = Greenwood
  2. ^ a b Faber, 2005
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b Colebatch, 2013.
  5. ^ "Amery sentenced to death: "A self-confessed traitor."". The Times (50312). 29 November 1945. p. 2.
  6. ^ Harwood, Ronald (March 5, 2008). "Why the son of a Churchill cabinet minister became a mouthpiece for Hitler". MailOnline. Retrieved June 27, 2018.

External links[edit]