National Army Museum

Lord Haw-Haw’s first broadcast

William Brooke Joyce took to the airwaves on September 14th, 1939.

His master's voice: Joyce satirised on a British postcard of 1942
His master's voice: Joyce satirised on a British postcard of 1942

William Brooke Joyce was born in 1906 in the United States to an Irish family, which settled in England in 1921, when he was 15. He was soon enmeshed in far-right British politics. In 1933 he joined Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, but Mosley was not antisemitic enough for him and in 1937 Joyce founded his own National Socialist League.

In August 1939, with war looming, Joyce and his wife Margaret fled Britain for Berlin, where he joined the German English-language propaganda broadcasting service. In September a Daily Express journalist coined the nickname Lord Haw-Haw for the broadcasters in ‘English of the haw-haw, dammit-get-out-of-my-way variety’. Joyce liked it and soon made it his own personal property. 

Very few people in Britain believed a word Lord Haw-Haw said and his effect on British morale was virtually nil, but there were many who enjoyed listening to him. As Mary Kenny explained in her brilliant biography Germany Calling (2004), Haw-Haw had an engaging sense of humour, which was a commodity in rare supply on the BBC of those grim and anxious days. BBC broadcasting was ponderously boring, but Joyce came across as a striking personality and Joseph Goebbels, in charge of the German propaganda effort, described him as ‘the best horse in my stable’. Margaret Joyce also gave pro-Nazi talks in English on the wireless.

With the war lost, Joyce and Margaret tried to hide, but his popularity in Britain proved to be his undoing and he was arrested by British soldiers when one of them recognised his voice. Taken back to England, he was tried for high treason in London in September 1945. The trial was over in three days and the jury found him guilty. Margaret was not prosecuted, perhaps because to protect her Joyce had gallantly made a deal with the authorities not to reveal certain matters that could have embarrassed British intelligence. He was hanged in Wandsworth Prison on January 3rd, 1946 at the age of 39.

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