Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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Galway, 1920. As the Crossley-Tender powered north from Salthill to Taylor’s Hill, the American-born teenager sat up front pointing at buildings and chattering to the British Auxiliary officer seated alongside him. The truck passed some of his fellow classmates from St Ignatius School who regarded him with mounting revulsion. ‘We were very shocked,’ recalled one of his former best friends. ‘It was a terrible thing to consort with the British forces.’

While he awaited the hangman’s noose in London some 26 years later, William Joyce, aka the infamous ‘Lord Haw-Haw’, would look back on his Galway childhood with immense nostalgia. In his final letter to his wife Margaret, he listed off the predominant features of the Galway landscape with an apology that he had never managed ‘my cherished dream’ to show her such sights himself. It would be another thirty years again before his body was reinterred in his beloved Galway.

William Joyce’s father Michael was born on a farm near Ballinrobe, County Mayo, in 1868 and raised as a Catholic. At the age of 20, he emigrated to New York to work on the Pennsylvanian Railroad, becoming a naturalized American in 1894. During a return trip to Ireland, he befriended Emily Brooke, the daughter of a Protestant doctor from Lancashire. They corresponded by post until 1905 when he proposed marriage.[i] Emily sailed for New York, married Michael and they moved into 377 Herkimer Street in Brooklyn.

That was the house where their son William was born on 24th April 1906. By 1911, the Joyces were back in Ireland where Michael ran a pub in Westport, County Mayo, as well as a farm at Toorbuck, 8km east. [ii] The family later relocated to Galway, settling at 1 Rutledge Terrace in Rockbarton Park, Salthill.

From Rutledge Terrace, young Willie Joyce, as he was called then, walked to St Ignatius College on Galway’s Sea Road. His Jesuit teachers can be credited with developing his considerable intellect, not least with language - fluent German, commendable French – and maths. He learned the piano by ear, quoted Virgil and Horace at ease and spent much of his time with his head buried in books.

His parents, one Catholic, one Protestant, were both devoted Unionists. However, one suspects that even they may have baulked when their 14-year-old son so publicly befriended the dastardly Black and Tans during the Irish War of Independence. On one occasion, he even lunched at Lenaboy Castle where the Tans were based. Just weeks after he was spotted riding up front with the Tans, the threats to the Joyce family became so intense that Michael sold up and the family relocated to England.[iii]

By early 1924, the 18-year-old was working closely with the British Fascisti party. During a Conservative party election rally that same year, a Communist leapt on his back and slashed him from mouth to earlobe with an open razor. Joyce always maintained his attacker was Jewish and would ever after regard his facial scar as a grim reminder of ‘the evils of international Jewry’.

Over the ensuing years, he became an adamant fascist and was a tremendous admirer of Hitler. He joined Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF) shortly after its foundation in 1932. Among those with whom he worked at this time was the radical Dublin-born feminist Norah Elam, whose father had been an Irish nationalist.

The thin, pale and intense young Irishman soon became one of the BUF’s keynote speakers. His oratory was immense, putting him on a par with Churchill himself. When the novelist Cecil Roberts attended a rally at which Joyce spoke, he recalled how ‘he had not been speaking many minutes before we were electrified by this man ... so terrifying in its dynamic force, so vituperative, so vitriolic.’

Mosley was so impressed that he appointed him Director of Propaganda and later made him deputy leader of the BUF. For his part, Joyce praised Mosley as ‘the greatest Englishman I have ever known.’ The duo planned to visit Hitler in Berlin, a project that involved Joyce falsifying his birth records to state that he was born in Galway rather than the USA so that he could obtain a British passport. As it happened, the Berlin trip fell through but his false passport would ultimately serve as Joyce’s death warrant.

Joyce’s first marriage collapsed when his wife tired of his extremist activities. In 1937, he was married secondly to Margaret Cairns White, a beautiful Fascist from Manchester with whom he had a tempestuous, alcohol-fuelled relationship. Mosley was by now finding Joyce’s combination of alcohol and rabid anti-Semitism too distasteful for the BUF and, with his party coffers running on empty, gave him the sack.

Joyce promptly co-founded the National Socialist League, an organization that became so pro-German that, by 1939, he was wrapping up meetings with an impassioned shot of ‘Sieg Heil!’

With the inevitable approach of war in the summer of 1939, it became clear that the Joyces were on the short-list to be incarcerated. They briefly considered running away to Ireland but ran out of time at the end of August when Maxwell Knight, a friend at MI5, tipped them off that their arrest was imminent. Knight would go on to become a major British spymaster and, more obscurely, a BBC naturalist, as well as the reputed role model for 'M' in the James Bond movies.

By the time the British police raided their apartment, the Joyces were in Berlin. Their arrival coincided with Hitler’s invasion of Poland and the outbreak of the Second World War.

After some weeks struggling to find employment, Joyce found work at Berlin’s Rundfunkhaus ("broadcasting house") under Dr. Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s notorious Minister of Propaganda. Although radio was still in its relative infancy, Goebbels had a deft understanding of how to make use of the world’s most powerful mass media tool. To this end, he recruited Joyce to work in the English language section of the German radio. [iv]

Joyce’s meticulously enunciated Shakespearian voice was soon crackling through the airwaves of Western Europe with extraordinary effect. Although nobody yet knew his name, ‘Germany Calling, Germany Calling’ became his introductory catchphrase as more and more household across Britain and Ireland tuned in to his evening broadcast of carefully scripted news updates, often convinced that every word he said was the truth.

Many Irish listeners were particularly stirred when he bashed British ‘warmongers’ like Churchill or spoke of places they knew well. On one occasion, he sent his greetings to his old friends in Salthill. On another, he apparently remarked, ‘When the Reich's Panzers roll through the Irish Free State, De Valera will have no more power to resist them than the tinkers of the Ballygaddy Road in Tuam.’ [v] It was certainly a lot livelier than traditional broadcasts on Radio Athlone.

However, his sardonic talks of Britain’s ‘precipitous and disastrous retreat’ from Dunkirk and the ‘military liquidation’ of the Allied army also caused widespread fear amongst an audience that averaged at six million but, at its peak, sometimes surpassed 16 million. Although the two never met, the German Führer awarded him the War Merit Cross (First and Second Class) for his broadcasts. He and Margaret also became German citizens.

Churchill’s government were forced to counteract his influence. They opted to ridicule him. The anonymous broadcaster was rechristened ‘Lord Haw-Haw of Zeesen’ and became the butt of musical hall parodies for the remainder of the war.[vi]

He continued to broadcast right up until 30th April 1945 when he spoke in a state of considerable intoxication. ‘You may not hear from me again for some months,’ he concluded. ‘I say, ich liebe Deutschland. Heil Hitler. And farewell.’ [vii] That same day, Hitler killed himself.

It is said that Goebbels enquired on the Joyces’ behalf as to whether a submarine might be able to take them back to Galway. Instead they were provided with false papers and made a dash for the Danish border. Joyce was captured in the birch woods of Flensburg when he inadvertently struck up conversation with two British officers, one of whom recognised his voice. Margaret last saw him being carried through a frontier post on a stretcher and she rather incongruously shouted "Erin go Bragh" (Ireland forever) after him.[viii]

He was brought back to London to stand trial for High Treason in what he described as ‘the most flagrant hoax in the history of British Justice.’ As an American-born German citizen, many argue he should not have been tried in a British court.[ix] However, his false British identity served as reason enough to try him for aiding the King’s enemy in a time of war. He was sentenced to death under a law that was nearly 600 years old.[x]

At 9am on 3rd January 1946, the 39-year-old Lord Haw-Haw became the last man to be hanged in Britain for High Treason. He was buried in the prison yard at Wandsworth but in August 1976 his daughter Heather Rose had his remains reinterred beneath a simple white cross at the New Cemetery in Bohermore, County Galway.


Mary Kenny, ‘Lord Haw-Haw and Ireland's dilemma over the War’, Irish Independent, 24 November 2012 via http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/lord-hawhaw-and-irelands-dilemma-over-the-war-25983856.html

Listen to podcast at http://www.rte.ie/podcasts/2009/pc/pod-v-150999-42m31s-daddy-doconone.mp3 or http://www.rte.ie/radio1/doconone/hawhaw.html

‘Haw-Haw: The Tragedy of William and Margaret Joyce’ by Nigel Farndale.

Watch YouTube film at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7bPhYIOIqo

Read: ‘The Martyrdom of William Joyce’ by Michael Walsh (2000) (euroman_uk@yahoo.co.uk) via http://www.nazi-lauck-nsdapao.com/eng-uk-026.htm


[i] Gertrude Emily Brooke was on a fishing holiday in Ireland with her father, a Protestant doctor from Shaw, Lancashire. She had Ulster relations, possibly via Brookeborough? They began a correspondence that lasted when he returned to New York. He proposed by post and she went over with her brother Edgar and they were married at 129th St. and Madison Avenue, N. Y., by Roman Catholic rites in May 1905.

[ii] According to RTE Radio Doc, business was going well in New York but Emily thought it too far from England and Michael felt he had made enough to go back to Ireland. Michael shipped back first, Emily and William came back later, 1909.

For the Joyce family’s 1911 census results see http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1911/Mayo/Aghagower__North/Toorbuck/745268/

William had four younger siblings, Frank, Quentin, Joan and Robert.

William’s memories of the Westport pub were that it was full of dust and scary spiders.

[iii] At the age of 16, he lied about his age to enlist in the British Army. He was discovered and kicked out but later joined the Officer Training Corps where he impressed his superiors with his intelligence.

[iv] William Joyce and his wife became a naturalized German citizens on 28th September, 1940.

[v] Mary Kenny recalled the effect as follows: ‘In the west of Ireland, I was told, notably around the coasts of Mayo and Donegal, fishermen gathered around a single radio set would emit whoops of joy when Haw-Haw announced that another British submarine had been sunk in the Atlantic by a German U-boat.’

He loathed Winston Churchill, who had been within a hair's breadth of invading Ireland in 1941.

[vi] Some say he was nicknamed Lord Haw-Haw because of his "haw-haw, get-out-my-way" manner of speaking. A Jewish secretary for Beaverbook said the name was invented to belittle him and reduce the power of his speeches … possibly also because of his name … Others say he was given nom-de-plume by Daily Express journalist, Jonah Barrington, who had mistaken Joyce’s broadcast for that of Norman Baillie-Stewart, a Seaforth Highland Regiment veteran who like many others had decided to fight for the triumph of European interests rather than Capitalism and international Jewry.

[vii] I think this was the same talk where he spoke of Germany’s unbroken spirit of unity and strength when in fact hundreds of thousands were poisoning themselves as the Russians swept in.

[viii] He ran into Captain Alexander Adrian Lickorish of the Reconnaissance Regiment, and Lieutenant Perry, an interpreter. He was shot in the thigh while reaching for papers. Held at frontier post, while Margaret was also arrested.

Margaret kept in a Belgian jail and then transferred to Holloway, the woman’s gaol in London, where he wrote to her a nostalgic letter on Christmas Day 1945 urging her to visit Galway, Taylor’s Hill, etc. and listing off all the places they should visit. … my cherished dream was to take you there myself … ‘to see the Aran Islands and draw in the Atlantic air’. He felt very close to his boyhood again in his last days.

[ix] Ironically he saw himself as an ultra-Englishman (despite being Irish-American-German!) and, like Hitler, hoped for a major bond between England and Germany.

[x] Although ‘painfully aware’ of his own failings, he wrote that he could not ‘restrain my contempt for those who would hang me for treason … Had I robbed the public and impeded the war effort by profiteering on ammunitions, a peerage would now be within my reach if I were willing to buy it.’