A few weeks ago I wrote about the way that the 1930s has become a ubiquitous metaphor for people who want to make a point about modern politics. Not just any 1930s but the Hitler/Mussolini version. Simon Sharma, who knows better, referred to Trump as a “Yankee Duce” in this weekends FT.
I made the off hand remark that Newcastle was a more fertile ground for Fascism in the 30s than Wearside. I’ll admit that this was based partly on historical fact – the BUF offices were in Newcastle, and lasted a lot longer than they did in Durham. It’s also based partly on my own recollections of the NF skins who followed Newcastle United in the 1970s.
I decided to test how accurate my views on Newcastle fascists were, and came up with the story of George Johnson Armstrong, a marine engineer from Newcastle, which was too good not to write about.
Armstrong had become radicalised by the BUF in the 1930s, and had strong Nazi sympathies. He was probably recruited by a German agent Dr Carl Klein some time before the outbreak of war.
Armstrong travelled to the still neutral USA during 1940. Here he approached the German consul in Boston and offered his services as a spy. His mission seems to have been to betray shipping movements between the US and the UK to the Germans, and also to try and support US neutrality.
He was arrested by the US Immigration Service and held pending deportation. Apparently British authorities were tipped off by their American counterparts, because Armstrong was arrested on his return to Britain on the 23rd of February 1941.
Armstrong was tried on 8th of May 1941, before Mr. Justice Lewis, at the Old Bailey. The proceedings were held “in camera”. He was charged with the following offence under the newly enacted Treachery Act 1940:
“On or about 19 November 1940, being a British subject in the U.S.A, with intent to help the enemy, did an act designed or likely to give assistance to the Naval, Military or Air operations of the enemy or to endanger life, to wit did write and endeavour to send a letter to Dr. Herbert Scholz, German Consul at Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A, offering his services, information and assistance to the said Dr. Herbert Scholz.”
Armstrong was found guilty.
He appealed his conviction at the Court of Criminal Appeal 23rd of June 1941 and lost.
The story of what happens next is pretty grim, but given that today’s Sunday Express includes a call to bring back the death penalty it seems appropriate to give the details, so we are under no illusions what the death penalty means.
He was hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint, who kept meticulous records of everyone he executed. Pierrepoints’ records show that Armstrong weighed 154 lbs and was thus given a drop of 7’ 3”. British bureaucracy has a form for every eventuality, and form LPC4 was used to authorise and record executions.
Armstrong’s LPC4 records:
“Separation of the medulla from spinal cord. Fracture of hyoid and thyroid. Extensive injury to the medulla and brain stem. Spine dislocated between 5th and 6th vertebrae.”
He was the first traitor to be executed in World War 2.
If this is too bleak and ending for a Sunday morning cheer yourself up with this great bit of Anti-fascist doo-wop.
In the previous blog I made some jokes about daft Hitler documentaries on the History Channel. This of course, is a real documentary broadcast last week: