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John Amery

Portrait from 1932
Born 14 March 1912(1912-03-14)
Chelsea, London
Died 19 December 1945 (aged 33)
Wandsworth Prison, London, England
Cause of death Executed (hanging)
Occupation Activist, Member of British Free Corps
Parents Leo Amery

John Amery (14 March 1912 Chelsea, London [1] – 19 December 1945) was an English fascist who proposed to the Wehrmacht the formation of a British volunteer force (subsequently to become the British Free Corps), made recruitment efforts and propaganda broadcasts for Nazi Germany. He was executed for treason after the war.


Early activities

John Amery was the son of Leo Amery and brother of Julian Amery, both Members of Parliament and Conservative cabinet ministers.

John Amery was a problem child[2], who ran through a succession of private tutors. Like his father, John 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 under 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, Jack married Una Wing, a former prostitute, but was never able to earn enough to keep her or himself, and was constantly appealing to his father for money[3]. A staunch anti-Communist, Jack 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, Czechoslovakia, Italy, and Germany to witness the effects of fascism in those countries.

Amery claimed to his family that he joined 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, although the lie achieved wide circulation; in fact Amery first visited Spain in 1939 after the civil war had ended and only stayed for a few weeks before returning to France, where he remained even after the German invasion and the creation of Vichy rule.

In Europe during World War II

Amery soon fell foul of the Vichy government and made several attempts to leave the area but was rebuffed. German armistice commissioner Graf Ceschi offered Amery the chance to leave France and go to Germany to work in the political arena, but Ceschi was unable to get Amery out of France.

In September 1942, Hauptmann Werner Plack got Amery what he wanted and in October, Plack and Amery went 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. In this period, Amery made a series of pro-German propaganda broadcasts over the radio, attempting to appeal to Britons.

The British Free Corps

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 (Legion 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 also 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.

Amery's first recruiting drive for what was initially to be called The British Legion of St George took him to the St 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 Kenneth Berry would join what was later called the BFC. Amery's link to the unit ended in October 1943, when the Waffen SS decided Amery's 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 by partisans in the last weeks of the war.


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 Amery attempted to show that he had taken out Spanish citizenship by producing fraudulent documents, and thus would have been incapable of committing treason against the UK. His counsel tried to show that he was mentally ill.

However, these attempts at a defence were suddenly abandoned on the day of his trial, 28 November 1945, when to general astonishment Amery pleaded guilty to eight charges of treason and was immediately sentenced to death. The entire proceedings lasted just 8 minutes.

Before accepting Amery's guilty plea the judge, Mr Justice Humphreys, made certain that Amery realised the consequences, i.e., that it would immediately result in a death sentence. After satisfying himself that Amery did fully understand 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.

This is believed to be one of only two cases of a man pleading guilty to a charge of treason in the UK, the other being Summerset Fox in May 1654. It is speculated that Amery pleaded guilty in the hope of sparing his family and the wider establishment the embarrassment of a trial and that, as in Fox's case, his inevitable death sentence might be commuted. After the discovery of fresh documentary evidence, the playwright Ronald Harwood concluded that the reason Amery's family would have been embarrassed was because his father had hidden the fact that the family was part Jewish (antisemitism was strong in Britain during the 1930s) in order to advance in the Conservative Party.[4]


Amery was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint, assisted by Henry Critchell, in Wandsworth Prison on 19 December the same year, 1945. In an article which was to be published in the Empire News and Sunday Chronicle but which was suppressed as the result of pressure from the Home Office, Pierrepoint described him as "the bravest man I ever hanged". Greeting the hangman at the appointed hour, Amery reportedly quipped: "Mr Pierrepoint, I've always wanted to meet you, but not, of course, under these circumstances...". A proof copy of this article is in the Prison Commission files at the United Kingdom National Archives but it is contradicted by another archive file: the Prison Commission official who wrote this stated that "Amery did extend his hand and said 'Oh! Pierrepoint.' Upon which Pierrepoint took his hand and placed it behind his back for pinioning and that the conversation was entirely limited to that remark".[5] However Albert Pierrepoint himself described the meeting in a filmed interview he gave and admitted that he did shake Amery's hand and did indeed like him, in fact he said he spoke to Amery at length and felt "as if I had known him all my life".


  1. ^ GRO Register of Births: JUN 1912 1a 719 CHELSEA - John Amery, mmn = Greenwood
  2. ^ Faber, David (2005). Speaking for England. Simon & Schuster.  
  3. ^ ibid
  4. ^ Thorpe, Vanessa (17 February 2008). "Oscar winner reveals the secret of pro-Nazi traitor". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-08-18.  
  5. ^ Casciani (2006)


  • Amery, John (1943) L'Angleterre et l'Europe [England and Europe], Documents et Témoignages: collection d'essais politiques 1, Paris, 48 p.
  • Casciani, Dominic (2006) How Britain made its executioners, BBC News online 1 June [accessed 22 July 2007]
  • Faber, David (2005) Speaking for England : Leo, Julian and John Amery, the tragedy of a political family, London ; New York : Free Press, ISBN 0-7432-5688-3
  • Weale, Adrian (2001) Patriot traitors : Roger Casement, John Amery and the real meaning of treason, London : Viking, ISBN 0-670-88498-7
  • West, Rebecca (2000) The meaning of treason, New ed., London : Phoenix, ISBN 1-84212-023-9

External links

See also

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