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


The first book in the George Harley Mystery series, MASK OF THE VERDOY, features a British Fascist organization—Sir Pelham Saint Clair’s British Brotherhood of Fascists (BBF). Although the plot is obviously a work of fiction, I was keen to use this theme to drag into the light a dark period of British history that has been conveniently pushed to the back of the closet in the collective memory. Over the first few posts of this blog we’ll examine the rise of British fascism in the 1920s, taking a look at some of the extraordinary characters involved: including aristocratic girl guides from hell, fascist vets, and of course, the Blackshirt Baronet himself—Sir Oswald Mosley.

Nowadays we hear the word “fascist” and we naturally think of some jack-booted villain with a clipped Teutonic accent flicking a riding crop against his leather-gloved palm. But there was a time, during the interwar years, when fascism was regarded by many as an exciting new form of politics, a dynamic cure to rejuvenate a European society which had been left sick and moribund from its punishment in the trenches of the Great War.

Of course, we all know how dangerously misguided that view was now … but it’s easy to think of the Nazis as some aberration of nature, some foreign disease that would “never happen here”. Well, for the record, lest we forget, in the 1920s and 1930s we had our own jack-booted fascists marching on the high streets of the UK—and a very British affair it was too.

The Fasces

The first fascist party proper was launched in Milan in 1919 by Benito Mussolini. The future Il Duce chose as a symbol for his new party the fasces, a bundle of wooden rods. The Romans (and the Etruscans before them) had used the fasces as a symbol of a magistrate’s power and jurisdiction. It went on to become an analogy for strength through unity—a single rod, which is easy to break, gains immense strength when bundled together with others.







A Roman ‘lictor’ (magistrate’s bodyguard) sporting a large fasces with its protruding axe blade






 The Italian National Fascist Party logo


However, Mussolini wasn’t the first to adopt the Roman device as a symbol of power; if you do a Google image search on fasces you might be surprised to find amongst the results images of them displayed above the doorway to the Oval Office, on the official seal of the United States Senate, on the arms of the chair in the Lincoln memorial, and on either side of the American flag behind the podium in the House of Representatives (one for all the conspiracy theorists out there!). But there’s nothing sinister in all of this—the use of the fasces by these American institutions was no doubt influenced by the symbol’s popularity in France following the French Revolution, where it was used to represent the "unity and indivisibility of the Republic".

But back to Milan 1919, where followers of Mussolini—wearing the fasces symbol—became the Fascisti. The former school teacher had ambitious plans to say the least. After forming a private militia and staging a coup d’état, he went on to write the rule book for all totalitarian dictators to follow; the uniform, the theatrical posturing, the state propaganda, the silencing of dissenters … on his journey from "His Excellency, Head of Government, Duce of Fascism, and Founder of the Empire" to a corpse strung up on a meat hook on the roof of an Esso garage in Milan, this Alexi Sayle look-alike attracted many British admirers, including some Conservative journals of the day and the popular tabloids the Daily Mail and the Morning Post.







Il Duce - Mussolini addressing the faithful in 1930

In the next post we’ll look at the early British fascist groups that were spawned from Mussolini’s new Roman Empire.

Lictor image by Cesare Vecellio via Wikimedia commons.

National Fascist Party logo image by Flanker via Wikimedia commons.

Mussolini image from the German Federal Archives via Wikimedia commons.

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