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


Sir Oswald Mosley

And so we come to Mosley and his British Union of Fascists.

Sir Oswald Mosley 6th Bt by Glyn Warren PhilpotSir Oswald Ernald Mosley, 6th Baronet of Ancoats, was born in Mayfair, London, in 1896. He was educated at Winchester College and at 18 was enrolled in the Royal Military College at Sandhurst—but was soon expelled following a violent altercation with a fellow student.

During WWI Mosley fought on the Western Front as an officer in the 16th The Queen’s Lancers. He then transferred to the Royal Flying Corps but suffered serious injury when he crashed his plane (allegedly whilst showing off in front of his mother and sister); the accident left him with a permanent limp.

This Blackshirt baronet certainly had an authentic aristocratic pedigree. His father—the 5th Baronet of Ancoats—was a third cousin to the Earl of Strathmore, father of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (the late Queen Mother). The celebration of Sir Oswald’s marriage to his first wife, Lady Cynthia Curzon, was held at St James’ palace and was attended by European Royalty including King George V and Queen Mary.

During this first marriage Mosley had affairs with both his wife’s younger sister and her stepmother. When Lady Cynthia died of peritonitis in 1933 the philandering aristocrat married another of his mistresses – Diana Guinness, née Mitford, one of the celebrated sisters (by this stage Mosley was an avid fan of both the Italian and German fascist parties and the wedding took place in the Berlin home of Goebbels with the Fuhrer himself attending as one of the guests).

Oswald  Cynthia Mosley 1920

Reeling back a few years, at the end of the Great War the young Mosley decided to go into politics and was elected as a Conservative Member of Parliament for Harrow at the tender age of 21. However, he subsequently disagreed with the party’s policy on Ireland and decided to cross the floor and take up a seat on the opposition side of the house as an independent. Even at this early age he was already honing his exceptional oratory skills and his presence in the commons was notable for his supreme confidence in speaking without notes.

By 1924 Mosley was becoming increasingly attracted to the left and decided to join the Labour Party, which had just formed its first government. He was returned as the Labour MP for Smethwick in 1926. Always ferociously ambitious the baronet now had his eye on a cabinet position, but was disappointed when he was only appointed to the post of Minister Without Portfolio. He resigned in 1930.

Sir Oswald now founded his own political organization, the New Party, but after his candidates performed disappointingly in the 1931 election, he began to turn to European fascism for inspiration. He visited Italy in the same year, for a tour of a fully functioning fascist state, and had first-hand instruction from Il Duce himself (not for the last time). Returning to Britain, Sir Oswald formed the British Union of Fascists (BUF).

But Sir Oswald’s fascist dabblings didn’t go unchallenged by the left, and after suffering continual disruptions of his party meetings by opponents, Mosley formed a squad of uniformed, jack-booted paramilitary stewards to keep order at BUF gatherings—the British Blackshirts had arrived.

At its height the BUF claimed to have a membership of up to 50,000, and for a while enjoyed the support of both the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail (the latter famously sporting the front page headline “Hurrah for the Blackshirts”).

There was no doubt that Mosley was a charismatic orator, and his public appearances at the party rallies borrowed heavily from the theatrics of his friend Her Hitler’s Nuremberg performances, including standard bearers, fascist banners and dramatic lighting. The following link is to a YouTube clip of Mosley speaking to the faithful at the height of his popularity.

However, when the violent removal of hecklers by Blackshirt stewards during a BUF rally at Olympia led to a mass brawl, the subsequent negative press coverage resulted in a serious decline of popular support for the party.

In 1936 Mosley provocatively planned to lead a BUF march through London’s East End— an area which at the time had a large proportion of Jewish residents. The counter-protest led to violent clashes between the anti-fascist contingent and the police; the ensuing full-scale riot becoming known as the “Battle of Cable Street” (more of this in a future post). Heavily outnumbered (there were 3,000 or so Blackshirts to an estimated 100,000 antifascists) Mosley agreed to abandon the march. In the aftermath of the “Battle of Cable Street” the Public Order Act 1936 was passed, which required police consent for political marches and banned the wearing of political uniforms in public.

Oswald Mosleytroops2

During the build-up to WWII Mosley was (unsurprisingly) a vociferous supporter of the policy of appeasement with Nazi Germany; even after war had been declared he continued to campaign for a negotiated peace with Hitler, a stance which was to meet with hostility from the British public.

In 1940 the British government—perhaps fearing that he might one day try to emulate the kind of Nazi-backed coup d’état that Vidkun Quisling had just achieved in Norway—interned Mosley as a Nazi sympathizer under Defence Regulation 18B. Along with his wife Diana, Mosley spent the majority of the war confined to a house in the grounds of Holloway prison. Incidentally, shortly before their internment, Lady Diana gave birth to their son Max, who went on to become the president of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (the governing body for Formula One) and who famously won a privacy case against the News of the World, brought against them for claiming he had (allegedly) taken part in a “Nazi-style orgy” with prostitutes.

Following the war the Blackshirt baronet attempted to get back into politics, forming the Union Movement, which called for a single nation-state covering the continent of Europe. He also tried to cash in on the growing concerns over immigration and fought a campaign for the 1959 general election in Kensington North (which followed shortly after the Notting Hill race riots). But he could never regain the popularity that he’d enjoyed at the height of his fascist career and he eventually left Britain to live abroad, stating that "You don't clear up a dung heap from underneath it."

Mosley made a number of television appearances before retiring from public life. The link below is to a YouTube clip of a particularly interesting appearance on a David Frost show—note the way Frost handles the old fascist aristocrat (I particularly like the way he alludes to Chaplin’s The Great Dictator), a slightly more subtle technique than today’s interviewers—but no less affective for it. Also of note in the clip are the moments when Mosley lets the mask slip, revealing his bitterness … and perhaps just a glimmer of the innate sense of entitlement of the British aristocracy.


Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley, 6th Baronet of Ancoats and Fascists Blackshirt leader, died aged 84 of natural causes in his home in the suburbs of Paris.

If you’d like to learn more about the history of British Fascism I highly recommend Martin Pugh’s excellent book – "Hurrah for the Blackshirts!"


6th Baronet of Ancoats image via Wikimedia commons

Oswald & Cynthia Mosley image via Wikimedia commons

Blackshirts image via


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