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BRITISH FASCISM – Girl Guides from Hell, Fascist Vets, and the Blackshirt Baronet.


Even before the General Strike of 1926 the more militant members of Rotha Lintorn-Orman’s British Fascisti party (see previous post) had broken away to form the National Fascisti, a far more anti-Semitic outfit focused on street-fighting and “smashing the reds”. One of the more interesting members of the National Fascisti was Valerie Arkell-Smith, a transvestite who spent many years masquerading as “Sir Victor Barker”, “Colonel Ivor Barker” and “Captain Barker”. Having been well schooled in manly pursuits by her father, the pipe-smoking Valerie joined the Voluntary Aid Detachments in order to drive ambulances in France during WWI. Later, as “Sir Victor Barker”, she married a Miss Elfrida Hayward in Hove (where she’d set herself up as an actor) – unsurprisingly (this being the 1920s) the marriage was later exposed as illegal.

Still posing as a man, Arkell-Smith joined the National Fascisti in 1926, where she was duly employed by the party to teach the recruits fencing and boxing and was quite happy to go with them to Hyde Park to “scrap with the Communists”.

In 1927 (as her alter-ego Colonel Barker) she was brought to trial at the Old Bailey after being charged with possessing a forged firearms certificate—her gun had been drawn by a fellow National Fascist during a dispute over party funding. She was later acquitted owing to the fact that she’d been tried as a man. She left the party soon after.

Arkell-Smith had further brushes with the Law. In 1929, as “Victor Barker”, she was arrested for bankruptcy and also convicted of making a false statement on her marriage certificate. In 1934, this time posing as “John Hill”, she was arrested for theft. Her last incarnation was as “Geoffrey Norton”, the name she was using when she finally died, destitute, in 1960.

Valerie Arkell-Smith





Arkell-Smith from the cover of Rose Collis’ “Colonel Barker's Monstrous Regiment: A Tale of Female Husbandry” - Virago Press 2002


The two early British fascist organizations that we’ve looked at so far—the British Fascisti and the National Fascisti—may appear slightly ridiculous, but in 1929 things turned a shade darker when the fascist vet Arnold Leese founded the Imperial Fascist League. Yes, a fascist vet! Up until then Leese had been notable for being a worldwide authority on camels; his autobiography was entitled “Out of Step: Events in the Two Lives of an Anti-Jewish Camel Doctor”. You couldn’t make this stuff up!

Leese was an extremist proper and would later condemn Mosely’s British Union of Fascists for being insufficiently anti-Semitic; he was also convinced that the Church had become warped by dubious “Judaic” doctrines including pacifism and the brotherhood of man. The Imperial Fascist League were certainly closer to our contemporary idea of an extremist party—their uniformed members wore armbands with a swastika superimposed on the union flag and used the greeting “PJ”—perish Judah!—in their correspondence (something that I’ve borrowed for Mask of the Verdoy). During the war Leese was interned under Defence Regulation 18B (with other signed-up members of British fascist groups) on the outskirts of Ascot, in a makeshift confinement camp fashioned from the winter quarters of the Bertram Mills Circus – tents and all.

This strengthening of extremist views continued on in other manifestations of British fascism during the early 1930s; organizations such as English Mistry (sic) and English Array, two groups whose doctrine strove to return the English nation to some kind of former ‘purity’ by banning the mixing of races (I’m not sure how far they thought you’d have to go back to achieve this—before the Normans? The Anglo-Saxons? The Romans?). Distrusting of liberal democracy their ultimate goal was to return the nation to a medieval feudal society with a strict hierarchy spanning from peasant to King.

As worrying as some of these early extremist groups were, none of them achieved anywhere near the popularity needed to pose any kind of a threat to the democratic system. However, they did help set the stage for the most popular British fascist party of the interwar years: Sir Oswald Mosley and his BUF …


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