We can only assume but I am certain that most Governments, on most days would surely like to be able to bang someone up in jail at the drop of a hat. On the 1st September 1939, Defence Regulation 18B became the law of this land and the Government was able to jail anyone it suspected of being Nazi sympathisers. We could do with a similar law now regarding EU sympathisers but it ain’t gonna happen.
The full title of this law was Regulation 18B of the Defence (General) Regulations 1939. It effectively suspended the right of the individual to habeas corpus, granted to us by the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679.
After World War 1 the British Government thought long and hard about what kind of laws it might need if another war started. This was the origin of the Defence Regulations. It takes time to bring in an Act of Parliament so these Regulations were constantly revised until the day came to make them law. On the 24th August 1939, Parliament was recalled from its summer recess to pass the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act. This Act allowed the Government to implement the Defence Regulations. Code A was effected on that day and Code B followed on 1st September. The Code B regulations were enacted rather craftily. The Clauses in Code A were just numbered consecutively with no indication that more were to follow. Hence there was an 18A and an 18B. Regardless of the draconian nature of these laws, the public were wholeheartedly behind an early “lock them up” program.
Enemy Aliens were detained using powers under the Royal Prerogative while Regulation 18B was mainly used for British nationals. Now I wonder if that little ruse is still available for Enemy Aliens, can anyone think of a suitable use for it in our times?
In a tribute to our times, or is it the other way round, a group of Labour and Liberal MPs attempted to have code B annulled on 31 October 1939 but were convinced to withdraw their motion in favour of consultation. There we have it, Labour and Liberals and 31/10. It’s all a bit déja vu but now we also have Tories joining in as well even though they are Tories in name only. The Letwins, Hammonds and Grieves of our time. Traitors one and all.
Initially 18B traffic was limited, by 14 September only 14 people had been interned. In May 1940 after the fall of the low countries, the Tyler Kent case and Quisling taking over in Norway, the Government was worried about fifth columnists who might try to seize power. On 22 May 1940 the Cabinet decided on widespread detentions, including MPs who could use Parliamentary privilege to air information that could be embarrassing. For example Churchill plotting with FDR, as uncovered by Tyler Kent, was not public knowledge. The expansion of internment required an amended version of the Regulation and it was known as Regulation 18B (1A). Regulation 1A basically said that anyone the Home Secretary didn’t like, he could lock up. It was at this point that William Joyce, later famous as Lord Haw Haw, fled to Germany. There are allegations that Maxwell Knight of MI5 was the one who gave him the nod. This would be sensational if true and would indicate that Joyce was a kind of stool pigeon who was informing on his fellow Nazis. I was always puzzled by the amateurish quality of his broadcasts, they were a kind of parody.
One of the first to be arrested at this point was Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists closely followed by his wife, Diana Mitford mother of Max Mosely. By December more than a thousand people had been detained in custody. Those arrested were given no warning. The men were put in Wandsworth prison and the women in Holloway prison. As space became tighter the men were moved to Brixton prison. With more and more detainees, camps were set up at Ascot racecourse and an unfinished council housing project at Huyton.
If you were detained under Regulation 18B you could appeal to an Advisory Committee whose head was Norman Birkett. MI5 drew up a list of reasons why you had been detained but you were not allowed to see it. The Committee could recommend:
- continued detention
- release under conditions
- unconditional release
This recommendation went to the Home Secretary who was not required to accept them and MI5 would often lobby him not to accept the recommendation. Some internees applied to the courts on the basis of habeas corpus but seeing as everything was secret it had to be assumed the Home Secretary had acted reasonably. Imagine the FFRC having that kind of power over you, ye Gods. I find the 1940s legal procedures here all a bit Kafkaesque.
Archibald Maule Ramsay MP, mentioned in a previous article, was interned and eventually applied to the House of Commons Committee on Privileges as to whether his detention was a breach of Parliamentary Privilege. The House Committee decided it wasn’t.
On 23 November 1943, Oswald Mosely was released. He was said to be suffering from phlebitis. In a wild twist on these days, the Council for Civil Liberties demanded his continued internment. One of the more recent Directors of said council was Shami Chuckusabutty. The Council was formed in 1934.
Finally nearly all were moved to the Isle of Man using the Isle of Man (Detention) Act 1941. There was a men’s camp and a women’s camp though internees seen as leaders were kept at Wandsworth.
After the Battle of Britain, invasion fears subsided and the number of 18B internees slowly went down as lesser ones were released. By the summer of 1943 there were less than 500 and by the end of 1944 only 65 remained. By VE day there was only 1.
There is a website with the list of British Union of Fascists members who were detained, there were getting on for one thousand.
Many of those who were detained longer were naturalised former German and Austrian citizens. Often these people were Jewish but nobody was sure what pressure could be brought to bear on them. Later in the war, as they were gradually released they were allowed to join the military and many served with distinction in SOE and the Jewish Battalion but a few were interned for most of the war.
One of the tragic episodes in this story is the sinking of the SS Arandora Star by a German U-boat on 2nd July 1940. The ship was loaded with Italian and German internees and some prisoners of war who were being transported to Canada. 865 people lost their lives including the Captain.
The enemy aliens interned under the Royal Prerogative, including the father of actor Tom Conti, were generally held at camps on the Isle of Man. Originally segregated by gender, imagine that these days, there was eventually a mixed camp where married couples could live together.
When the US entered the war they interned over 100,000 Japanese without question. Again there was fear that the Japanese Americans could betray the country and there were some Japanese in Pearl Harbour scouting it out before the day of infamy. I think the better safe than sorry attitude those days was better than treating each case individually. They could be freed individually later on but on day 1, they needed to be locked up.
If they tried this in 2019, there would be uproar but in the 1940s it was accepted as necessary. What a difference 80 years makes.
© well_chuffed 2019
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file