by Gavin Bowd. This article first appeared in Perspectives 26.
The radical right has been a noisy and sometimes menacing part of the British political spectrum. But as far as Scotland was concerned, hyper-nationalism was always going to have a difficult time in a country that was a sometimes restive part of a multi-national state, and riven by sectarian conflict. The British Union of Fascists (BUF) had only limited success in Scotland. Dumfries was an exception, with upwards of 400 members in 1934. For a time, Motherwell was also considered one of the BUF’s most promising branches. Relatively strong influence in Renfrew could be attributed to Dr Robert Forgan: elected for Labour in 1929, he had resigned over National Government, and was defeated as New Party candidate in 1931.
In Edinburgh, the original BUF leaders broke away to form a Scottish Union of Fascists. This party wore the usual Fascist badge with the addition of a St Andrew’s cross. In February 1935, the security services could report that the movement “has never been popular and now appears to be on the downward grade.” In the local elections of late 1937, in Edinburgh, the two Fascist candidates mustered only 180 votes. This was not Bethnal Green. The travails of indigenous Fascism contrasted with the fortunes of the Italian Fascist Party. In 1936, of 15 branches of Fascist Party, five were in Scotland: Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Greenock. The Italian declaration of war in June 1940 would bring a crackdown on the Fascist presence and a community regarded as the enemy within.
Scottish Fascism never struck roots in the masses, yet Scottish names often figure on the British Far Right of this period. The Duke of Buccleuch was very close to one Captain Bernard Acworth – leader of the Liberty Restoration League – and one Harry Edmonds, who, after the effective suppression of the BUF in 1940, was a leading figure in keeping Fascism in Britain alive. Another acquaintance of the Duke
was Captain Archibald Maule Ramsay, Tory MP for Peebles, and rabidly anti-semitic founder of the Right Club. Let’s not forget that in 1923, a year after Mussolini’s March on Rome, the poet Hugh MacDiarmid declared: “We want a Scottish Fascism which shall be … a lawless believer in law –a rebel believer in authority.”
There were also the traitors: Jessie Wallace Jordan, a Dundee hairdresser imprisoned in 1938 for “entering a prohibited area of Fife”; Norman Baillie-Stewart, the “officer in the Tower” and later collaborator with William Joyce, “Lord Haw Haw”, broadcasting from wartime Berlin; and the main subject of this article, Donald “Derrick” Grant, the man who was Radio Caledonia.
Grant was born in 1907, at Alness, Easter Ross, where his father was a grocer. On leaving school at the age of 16, he secured work at a woollen company in Bradford. He was there for about two years before returning to Alness to help his parents. He then worked as a salesman in Newcastle, County Tipperary, and London. It seems that “Derrick” Grant became sympathetic to fascism during his time in Alness. According to Farquhar Ewen, who knew the Grant family, the mother also worked as a cleaner at the estate of the Bainbridges of Argay, who hosted Fascist seminars attended by William Joyce. “Derrick must have found some books with extreme ideas,” Ewen recalls. He was subsequently told by his father never to return home.
It was while in England in 1934 that Grant moved definitively towards Fascism. In October 1946, he told his MI5 interrogators: “I had taken the average interest in politics and was particularly interested in social welfare. I had the desire to see England a still better place for her people to live in and, being not entirely satisfied with the achievements of the political parties at that time, I became attracted to the Fascist movement.” Grant also began to receive propaganda literature from Nazi Germany.
In 1938, he wrote to H.R. Hoffmann of the Foreign Propaganda department, Munich: “An instructress of the ‘Women’s League of Health and Beauty’ has asked me about the physical training of women in the new Germany. Any literature on this subject will be much appreciated and passed on. By the way I should like to correspond with either a member of the Party or the Hitler Youth. I am Scotch, 31 years of age and a member of the Imperial Fascist League… I would like go to Germany for the first time to see the miracles which Fascism has accomplished there. Best wishes from a British Fascist.” Under this influence, Grant’s connection with the Third Reich deepened. As a result of his “desire for world peace and an understanding between the nations”, Grant joined the Anglo-German Link, which promoted pen-friendships and exchange visits. In 1938, Grant hosted a girl from Magdeburg, and, in the year of the declaration of war, decided to go himself to Nazi Germany.
This was quite a time for a British subject to holiday in the Third Reich. MI5 were sceptical about his motives: “Source said that Grant was believed to have been on some Fascist-Nazi mission just before the war, have been engaged in activities on behalf of the Germans.” Anyway, Grant could later claim:
“Despite the threats of war, the actual declaration came as a surprise to me and I could hardly credit that we had gone to war over the question of Danzig and the Polish Corridor especially in view of the fact that prominent Allied men had declared the existence of the Corridor to be a menace to World Peace. I held the fairly common view that the whole thing would just fizzle out.”
On 11 September 1939, he was arrested and imprisoned. On release, he was given labouring jobs. Thanks to Fraulein Helena Jirka, secretary of the Nazi Party Gauleiter, Grant found lodgings. In June 1940, also thanks to Jirka, Grant received a letter from the radio service in Berlin, inviting him to an interview with one
Dr Erich Hetzler, head of the English section. According to Norman Baillie-Stewart, Hetzler was “a fanatical Nazi who … strutted around the station not merely in his impressive uniform but wearing his sword as well.”
Grant recalled: “The interview took place on the day that Marshall Petain declared that France must lay down arms. It was explained to me in Berlin by Dr Erich Hetzler that the work concerned the effort to secure a mutual peace between Britain and Germany and the promotion of an understanding between the two countries… [Hetzler] suggested that we should start a small short wave radio transmitter to be addressed to Scotland with the aim of advocating a peace and development of understanding between the two people. I agreed for the following reasons:
1) I sincerely wanted to see the Scottish people at peace and devoting their energy to their future welfare. 2) Taking a purely objective view as a Scot, I could not see that the war really concerned Scotland.”
On taking on this work, he surrendered his British passport, for which he received a Freedom Pass under another name, that of Donald Palmer.
Since the fall of France, Britain had become Germany’s main target. Preparations for a landing in the British Isles were accompanied by the stepping up of clandestine broadcasts in English. The Buro Concordia set up a series of secret stations which gave the impression of broadcasting from within the enemy country. It was on 27 June 1940 that the transmitter “Radio Caledonia – The Voice of Scotland” went on the air for half-an-hour daily. Its programmes were aimed at the dockyards on Clydeside, appealing largely to Scottish nationalist sentiment. Although Foreign Ministry officials were dubious about the likely receptivity of the Scots, they approved of the plan.
Grant later told his interrogators: “My own idea of the line this station should adopt will be clear from my previous statements. This course however, could not be definitively because of the interference of the German authorities and particularly Dr Erich Hetzler, chief of our department. On those occasions when I was given a free hand to write and talk, I chiefly devoted talks to the economic betterment
of Scotland and a better future for her people.”
The exact content of these broadcasts remains elusive. There are no surviving recordings or transcriptions, nor are there recollections by Scottish listeners. In October 1945, Herbert Krumbiegel, an electrical engineer, tantalisingly told interrogators: “Whilst Palmer was speaking I could see him in his cubicle and could also hear his voice, as I had a loudspeaker fitted in my room for that purpose. I understood very little
English at that time and therefore cannot say what he was speaking about.”
Radio Caledonia lasted two years. Grant described thus his subsequent wartime activities: “In August 1942, having been long of the opinion that the station was serving no useful purpose, I begged Dr Hetzler that it be discontinued. This was agreed and the last transmission was made a few days later. In the period that followed up to the beginning of April 1945, I remained at the same department and mainly devoted myself to Archive work. This consisted of reading the British papers when received and filing any articles contained in them of interest for the other two stations, the New British Broadcasting Station and Workers Challenge! [of Lord Haw Haw]. I was occasionally asked to write news items for the NBBS and Workers Challenge. Not being in agreement with the line adopted by these stations I did this work most unwillingly and frequently managed to avoid on the excuse that I had too many English language newspapers to read.”
In April 1945, after a period of convalescence for bronchitis, he managed to “make good my escape”.
But Grant certified to his interrogators: “I undertook this work willingly and without any form of coercion.”
It was by intercepting mail from the Red Cross that the British authorities began to take an interest in
Grant. Major Perfect, head of regional security, informed Ross and Cromarty Police that on 16 August
1941 a letter had been sent by him from Hanover to his mother: “Keeping very well. Have everything I
need. Still Golfing? Would enjoy a game’.”
A PC Macdonald of the Ross and Cromarty constabulary, who was asked to make enquiries about Grant in his home village, called on the local doctor, Farquhar Macrae. Grant’s mother, it transpired, had told the doctor that “Derrick was very avid on the German Nazis”. But nothing further was learnt of his activities in Germany until September 1944, when an escaped British POW made a statement concerning a number
of British renegades with whom he had worked for the NBBS.
After the fall of the Third Reich, with Grant still in hiding, MI5 gathered statements concerning him and other renegade broadcasters. POWs forced to collaborate on these programmes were particularly useful.
On 15 May 1945, Pilot Officer Freeman, a Nazi sympathiser recruited for “Germany Calling” but who had nevertheless been at constant loggerheads with the German Foreign Ministry, declared: “This NBBS had the finest collection of poor type Englishmen one could wish to meet, but in passing I should like to record that one, Palmer, was a sincere man. He was deluded and knew it, but had the courage not to say it, he was sincere in his basic beliefs and managed to avoid becoming a hireling in the sense the other men…”
William Griffiths, a POW of the Welsh Guards, who was recruited for Welsh National Radio, had this to say about Palmer: “At first he had a station of his own solely for Scotch listeners. He ran the station himself, but I do not know the name of it. He wrote and broadcast his own work. Afterwards, in the summer of 1942, when the station closed down, he was employed on reading newspapers, and cutting out pieces for reference and propaganda. He was very anti-Jewish.”
In October 1945, MI5 received an interrogation report concerning Vivian Stranders, Sturmbannfuhrer in the SS (British by birth, naturalised German 1932), who was behind the abortive British Free Corps, and served also as a radio commentator called “Mediator”: “Palmer struck Stranders as an idealist who wanted to work for an Anglo-German friendship and they met occasionally. … Originally Palmer had wanted to go and fight the Russians but Stranders persuaded him not to do this.”
On 26 November 1945, MI5 investigators tracked down Fraulein Helena Jirka. Her home in Hanover was standing in an almost completely bombed out street. The name of her recently deceased father architect was still outside the door. She was not very cooperative: “She failed to identify the photograph of
Donald Grant. It was soon clear that she was lying.”
She finally stated that Donald Grant ‘“went to Magdeburg in 1939 to stay with a girl who had visited him in England in 1938.” During this conversation, the mother of Fraulein Jirka appeared: “The mother strongly disapproved of Grant and his treacherous activities and of her daughter’s allowing him to use their address as a post-box.” She accused her daughter of being mitleidig: “soft-hearted”. The MI5 officer was unconvinced: “A tougher and less pleasant specimen of Nazi humanity could hardly be conceived than
Helena Jirka. … She was clearly keen to protect Grant, probably from mixed political and emotional motives, although she professed to regard him as a traitor to his country.”
Donald Grant managed to avoid capture for more than a year despite being number 22 on a “Civilian Renegades Warning List”. Because of an “irresistible” homesickness he eventually surrendered himself to a British liaison officer in Baden Baden, on 31 October 1946. One Major Davies ensured he was given a packet of cigarettes and a meal. In return, he told all. In his report to MI5, Major General Lockhead, chief of the intelligence division, concluded that Grant was “a pathetic figure now reaping the fruits of misguided and illegal actions.” This assessment may explain the lightness of his sentence, especially in comparison with that given to Lord Haw Haw, hanged on 3 January 1946. On 6 February 1947, the voice of Radio Caledonia was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment.
Derrick Grant’s father had died during the war. On release from prison, he returned to Alness to help his mother run the grocer’s shop. Angry villagers stoned the shop and chased the “traitor” out. Grant fled to London, emigrated to apartheid South Africa, then is believed to have died in London in the mid-1980s.
As a form of conclusion, it could be said that Scotland has had its minor yet picturesque brushes with Fascism. We also see that the contradictions which tore at the “Fascist International” in Hitler’s Europe erupted, on a much smaller scale, in Great Britain. Even before the sun had set on Empire, it was difficult to be both a Scottish and British Fascist, something illustrated in the ambiguities of Derrick Grant and Radio Caledonia. In these turbulent times, there was always the temptation of tartan treachery.
_ Gavin Bowd is Lecturer in French at the University of St Andrews and author of books on Scottish, French and Romanian culture and politics.