British Soldiers Fighting for Hitler: John Amery and the British Free Corps

British Soldiers Fighting for Hitler: John Amery and the British Free Corps

Stephanie Schoppert - March 24, 2017

John Amery was born in 1912 to Leo Amery. His father was half-Jewish and a Conservative government minister, and served as Winston Churchill’s Minster for India. John Amery had all the advantages of a wealthy childhood, with private tutors and schooling at the prestigious Harrow School for Boys. However, he only lasted one year at Harrow, and the headmaster reported that John Amery was the most difficult boy he had ever tried to manage.

Amery struggled to live in his father’s shadow and began working in film production. He set up a number of different companies which failed and left him bankrupt. At 21 he married Una Wing, a former prostitute, but he never made enough money to keep her loyal to him. He constantly appealed to his father for money and became an avid opponent of communism. He supported Nazi Germany because he believed that it was the only way to stop the Bolshevism of Russia.

British Soldiers Fighting for Hitler: John Amery and the British Free Corps
Daily Mail

After being declared bankrupt in 1936, he left England to live in France. He remained in France even after the German occupation, and in 1942 the Germans decided that he could be useful to their propaganda operations. Having the son of a British government minister allied with the Nazi cause could go a long way in convincing not only Germans but other Europeans that the Nazis were on the right side of history.

In Germany in 1942, Amery spoke to the German English Committee. It was here that he gained the attention of Adolf Hitler, who was very impressed with him. Hitler allowed Amery to stay in Germany as guest of the Reich in order to assist with their propaganda machine. He started making pro-German propaganda broadcasts which were meant to convince Britons to join the war on communism.

The Nazis were happy with Amery’s work and decided to increase his role. They sent him back to France in order to make contact with pro-Nazi Frenchmen. It was while in Paris that he met up with some of the Frenchmen who had joined the “Foreign Legions,” a group of non-Germans who fought alongside the SS. This was not enough for Amery, and he had another idea for how he could help the German cause and convince more of his fellow Britons to join him in the fight. It was a plan that would lead to his eventual death for treason against Britain.

British Soldiers Fighting for Hitler: John Amery and the British Free Corps
Nazi Recruitment Poster for the British Free Corps. Pinterest

John Amery decided that he wanted a British version of the French forces in the SS. He believed that he could build a British anti-Bolsehvik force, and he wanted to call it the British Legion of St. George. If he could raise a substantial number of Britons to fight for Germany, it would be a huge propaganda victory. It was was an idea that the Nazis were willing to try. In April 1943 the Nazis gave Amery permission to raise his own brigade of 1,500 men.

Getting started was not an easy task, and therefore Amery figured that the best place to start would be POW camps. He had permission to offer them freedom if they were willing to fight for the British Legion of St. George. Since he was already in France, he started with British POWs that were held in camps there. His campaign was a disaster. The Britons shouted him out of the prisons and verbally abused him for even suggesting the idea. Only one man, an elderly academic from Paris, was willing to fight for Hitler in exchange for his freedom.

After the failure of Amery’s initial attempts, he was quietly brought back to Germany. Even with the initial failure, the Nazis were not quite ready to give up on the idea and therefore they stepped in to help. In May 1943, the Nazis took a much larger role in recruiting, and was able to get the number of men up to 12. By June the number had risen to 30, with each of the men being paid one mark a day.

It was near the end of 1943 that the unit was renamed the British Free Corps and the men were given their own uniforms in German field grey with a Union Jack on the sleeve. The unit was never really useful to the German military, nor was it all that useful as a propaganda machine. When the Allies landed in Normandy in 1944, men in the British Free Corps were worried they might be sent to the French front. They had been promised that they would be fighting Bolsheviks and that they would never have to fight their fellow Britons.

With many of the men in the already small unit refusing to fight the British, the British Free Corps were sent to the Russian front, where they did little if anything at all. In 1945 ten of the men were sent to the SS 11th Volunteer Infantry Division Nordland. However, they were kept in reserve and never fired a shot in battle.

At the end of the war, men who had been in the British Free Corps were arrested. It has been determined that 54 men joined the BFC, but some only remained members for a few days. The men who had joined the British Free Corps were seen as a bit of a joke, as men who had fallen prey to the Nazi propaganda machine. They were all given light sentences if they received a sentence at all.

The same could not be said for John Amery. He was arrested and put on trial for several counts of treason. On the day the trial was to begin, Amery surprised everyone by pleading guilty to 8 counts of treason. There was only one punishment for a man found guilty of treason, and that was death by hanging. Reports of those at the trial and the hanging say that Amery was a brave man who bore his punishment with dignity and accepted the consequences. Amery was executed on December 19, 1945 in London.

British Soldiers Fighting for Hitler: John Amery and the British Free Corps
John Amery shortly after his arrest.