The shocking story of John Amery
John Amery was a Scottish-born politician and activist who became one of the most notorious traitors in British history. He was the son of Leo Amery, a prominent Conservative MP and Cabinet minister, who had Scottish ancestry and a family estate in Inverness-shireJohn Amery was hanged for treason in 1945 after he collaborated with Nazi Germany and tried to recruit British prisoners of war to fight against their own country.
John Amery had a troubled childhood and a rebellious personality. He was expelled from several schools and ran away from home several times. He developed a fascination with fascism and anti-Semitism, and moved to France in the 1930s, where he became involved with far-right groups. He also had a gambling addiction and a string of affairs, which led him to accumulate huge debts and enemies.
The renegade radio broadcaster
When the Second World War broke out, John Amery fled to Spain, where he hoped to join the fascist regime of General Franco. However, he was arrested by the British authorities and imprisoned in a camp near Madrid. He managed to escape with the help of a German agent, and made his way to Berlin, where he met Adolf Hitler and other Nazi leaders.
John Amery became a propaganda tool for the Nazis, who used him to broadcast radio messages to Britain, urging his fellow countrymen to surrender and join the “New Europe” under Hitler. He also founded the British Free Corps, a unit of the Waffen-SS composed of British and Commonwealth prisoners of war who had defected to the Nazi causeJohn Amery claimed that he was fighting for a “socialist” and “anti-imperialist” Britain, but his speeches were full of racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric.
The trial and execution
John Amery’s activities were a source of shame and anguish for his family, especially his father Leo, who was a loyal supporter of Winston Churchill and the war effort. Leo Amery had to endure the humiliation of hearing his son’s voice on the radio, denouncing him as a “warmonger” and a “traitor”. He also had to face the possibility of having to testify against his son in a treason trial.
John Amery was captured by Italian partisans in April 1945, and handed over to the British authorities. He was flown to London, where he was charged with high treason, a crime punishable by death. He pleaded guilty, and made no attempt to defend himself or appeal for mercy. He said he had acted out of conviction, and was prepared to die for his beliefs.
John Amery was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on December 19, 1945, aged 33. He was the first person to be executed for treason in Britain since the 17th century. His last words were: “I have always been true to my ideals”.
The legacy of a traitor
John Amery’s fate was largely forgotten by the public, but his story has been revived by historians and writers who have tried to understand his motives and actions. Some have portrayed him as a misguided idealist, a victim of mental illness, or a pawn of the Nazis. Others have condemned him as a fanatical traitor, a self-serving opportunist, or a deluded fool.
John Amery’s case also raised legal and moral questions about the definition and punishment of treason, and the role of family loyalty and national identity in wartime. His father Leo, who died in 1955, never disowned his son, but also never spoke of him publicly. He wrote in his diary: “What can I say of John? A tragedy for us all, and a crime against his country”.