William Norman Ewer
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William Norman Ewer (22 October 1885 – 25 January 1977) 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.
Ewer studied at Merchant Taylors' School, Northwood and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read mathematics for Part I of the Tripos (emerging as fifteenth Wrangler) and history for Part II. He 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 from 1919 he was writing in the Daily Herald.
Ewer was part of a group of National Guilds League members supportive of the October Revolution. Along with Robin Page Arnot, Rajani Palme Dutt, William Holmes, Will Mellor and Ellen Wilkinson, Ewer formed the Guild Communists, which became a founding element of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
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 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.
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.
- 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
Another runs, "Not odd of God / His son was one."
Still another, "Not so odd / The Jews chose God." with its variant "Not odd, you sod /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."
- Victor Madeira, "Moscow’s interwar infiltration of British Intelligence", The Historical Journal (2003), 1919-1929.