Memoir Of A Fascist Childhood

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‘Brought up by parents who were fanatical supporters of Oswald Mosley, Trevor Grundy became the youngest public speaker for the Union Movement, giving a speech in Trafalgar Square at the age of seventeen. Soon after, Trevor began to question his family and their beliefs. He discovered a new moral framework – and the shocking secret that his mother, an anti-Semitic Fascist, was Jewish.’

Memoir Of A Fascist Childhood was first published in 1998 and written by journalist Trevor Grundy. My paperback copy is just over two hundred pages long and the book is very readable and accessible with much humour despite the sometimes disturbing themes. The heart of the book is Grundy’s relationship with his mother but it also serves as an interesting and authentic glimpse into ordinary working class London life in immediate post-war Britain. As Nicholas Mosley, Oswald’s oldest son, says in a quote inside the cover, Memoir Of A Fascist Childhood is a story of survival that tells of British fascism as farce. Despite Oswald Mosely’s grand posturing and speeches, his post-war movement consisted of a small rag-bag collection of (mostly working class) losers and bigots all looking for someone to blame for life’s frequent disappointments. A motley collection of delusional dreams and nutty views, egged on and exploited by an ageing Mosley for the purposes of his own ego.

The book begins with a prologue. The author is at his father’s funeral in 1991 and looking to say a peaceful goodbye after what has been a difficult relationship. Grundy has been a journalist in Zimbabwe for years and has to fly to London for the funeral, a place which rekindles many memories of his youth – most notably his brief tenure as the rising star of Mosley’s Union Movement and his fascist parents who were both big fans of Mosley, Hitler, and Mussolini. It’s all ancient history but Grundy meets a few old members at the funeral who aren’t quite ready to let those days slip past forever and like to give the fascist salute when no one is looking. They seem unaware that Grundy realised they were all mad a long, long time ago.

‘Eleven years earlier,’ writes Grundy. ‘Mosley’s death in Paris had intruded abruptly on my life in Zimbabwe. Sir Oswald Mosely was eighty-four when he died in his home outside Paris, in a house called Temple de la Gloire, which had been built in 1800 for General Moreau, who was one of Napoleon’s marshals.’ The contrast between his father’s life and death in a council flat and Mosley’s rather grander existence in France is stark indeed. The book then takes us back to 1948. Grundy is eight and lives with his working class parents and sister in London. They are, especially his mother, fanatical supporters of Oswald Mosley who they always call The Leader. Any day now, they always tell Grundy, Britain will turn to The Leader and he will take control of the country. In their eyes he is a great hero who tried to prevent Britain from going to war with Germany. Grundy’s mother Edna keeps a photograph of Mosley in dashing fencing garb over the fireplace and tells him how Mosley was interned during the war by the authorities, making it sound like the most heartbreaking injustice in human history.

“Mosley comes off in the book as a charismatic but pompous old fossil, an offensive upper class idiot completely out of touch with ordinary life in Britain.”

When Grundy leaves home each morning for school his mother gives him the facist salute. He was not even allowed to attend the World War 2 Victory celebration in his street because there was a dummy of Hitler there awaiting a bonfire. ‘During the reliving of the massive victory over the Communists at Cable Street,’ writes Grundy. ‘I’d climb onto a chair and place a record on the wind-up gramophone. We had two very precious records, one from Germany of a band playing the Horst Wessel song on one side and an Italian marching song called ‘Giovenzza’ on the other. Horst Wessel was the Nazi hero who was beaten to death by the Communists.’ Grundy’s book is especially interesting when outside influences come in. The local Vicar has endless debates with Grundy’s mother but it merely serves to make her more stubborn in her beliefs. The fact that these beliefs are so bizarre gives the book a very morbid air of fascination.

Mosley is an interesting presence in the book with his sporadic post-war activities. ‘He was a giant of a man, or so it seemed to me,’ writes Grundy recalling a Mosley speech. ‘He pawed the air, a lion in a grey suit.’ The interesting thing about the extreme right here is that despite the ramshackle nature of their organisation they always seem to believe some great breakthrough is just around the corner. It’s a small bunch of deluded people plugging away for a day that will never arrive. Grundy’s handful of encounters with Mosley are quite fascinating. Mosley has a snooty butler and calls everyone by their surnames in military style. ‘Mosley had grown quite heavy. He was wearing his familiar grey suit, but there was no large silver flash and circle in his lapel. He looked at me with small, button-like eyes. He’s trying to hypnotize me, I thought.’

Grundy becomes the youngest speaker for the Union and regurgitates all the nonsense he’s absorbed from his parents and nutty Union Movement organiser Jeffrey Hamm in public speeches, barracked by Communists and gobsmacked bystanders who have recently fought a war to stop Hitler. Grundy’s recollections of these events are extraordinary to read about. He sets up a youth wing at Mosley’s request but it eventually dawns on him these aren’t nice people. There are violent thugs and disturbed people in the ranks, including the tragic Derek who believes Hitler’s ghost is the real Union leader. A schoolgirl, who accidently attends one of Grundy’s youth meetings in his house, leaves him a note afterwards: ‘How on earth can you be involved in something that supported Hitler? You’re far too young to know what you pretend to be talking about.’

Memoir Of A Fascist Childhood is a very readable and fascinating book and Grundy’s story is an extraordinary and very strange one.”

Visitors to the eccentric Grundy house include Waltraut Skorzeny (daughter of Otto Skorzeny, Hitler’s favourite Commando and the man who rescued Mussolini from partisans in a glider raid), Gertrude Himmler and Mosley’s teenage sons Max and Alexander. Max and Alexander are odious, smug privileged young gits who treat life as one big joke and lurk around Grundy and the Union Movement finding it all very amusing, especially Trevor Grundy who they clearly mock and patronise, bewildered that anyone should worship their dusty old father. At one point Grundy and Alexander attend a Union rally in Trafalgar Square and Grundy notices a bored Alexander slope off to join a CND march instead! The penny begins to drop when Alexander tells a crestfallen Mrs Grundy that the birthday card they painstakingly select and send to the Mosleys in Paris each year is chucked on a fire with countless others by their housekeeper.

There’s a tragic/comic account of the 1959 general election where Mosley returns to fight for a seat in the wake of immigration and racial strife. ‘Notting Hill Gate gave the sixty-three-year-old Oswald Mosley his final chance to shine,’ writes Grundy. ‘Like Don Quixote, an earlier legend who also found it hard to live in his own century, Mosley turned up in the race-torn London borough on a clapped-out horse with a collection of Sanchos who were prepared to walk, ride or slide with him to the edge of British Fascism’s last cliff.’ Mosley is convinced he will win but even his maddest supporters are astonished when he starts talking about immigrants eating dog food and keeping white women locked in cellars. He loses his deposit but takes legal action, convinced he actually won. Mosley comes off in the book as a charismatic but pompous old fossil, an offensive upper class idiot completely out of touch with ordinary life in Britain.

When Grundy is invited to visit Mosley and his wife Diana in Paris, Lady Mosley (one of the ‘Mitford sillies’) is bewildered by Grundy’s comment that the winter in Britain has been bitter and the price of paraffin has made it difficult for people to run oil heaters. ‘What is an oil heater?’ asks a perplexed Lady Mosley. You get the sense the whole thing was just an amusing game to the idle rich Mosleys, inbetween trips to Venice and cocktail parties in French mansions.

Memoir Of A Fascist Childhood is a very readable and fascinating book and Grundy’s story is an extraordinary and very strange one. It’s written in a simple but effective understated style and also includes a number of black and white photographs of the young Grundy, his parents and Mosley.

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Memoir of a Fascist Childhood: A Boy in Mosley's Britain
by Trevor Grundy

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