17 November 2018

Worship of Hitler in an English Church, 1945

In Sept 1942, a lone plane dropped three bombs on Petworth in Sussex, one of them falling on a boys’ school. The bomber killed 29 school boys, a headmaster and schoolmistress in this daylight raid. The town was de­vastated so immediate protests were organised to the Lord Lieut of Sussex, the House of Commons and church author­ities.

Why am I discussing Petworth? Kingdom House was a fine C17th grey stone mansion situated in a hamlet named River, consisting of 18 cottages and a public bouse. Near Petworth, one of the most picturesque parts of Sussex, this property was owned by barrister and fascist sympathiser WG Barlow. A church at Kingdom House was set up by a group styl­ing itself the Legion of Christian Reformers/LCR and dedicated to the worship of Adolf Hitler.

During the war Barlow was detained under Regulation 18B of the Defence General Regulations 1939, which enabled the internment of enemy aliens and political dissenters. Most members of the LCR were former 18B detainees so the concept of the Legion probably emerged in late 1944 in the Peveril Internment Camp on the Isle of Man.

The Custodian of Kingdom House, Arthur Schneider, spent the summer preparing Kingdom House for the Legion following his release in April 1945. Other members arrived in Sept, including the two Schneider's sisters, James Battersby and another notorious fascist, Capt Thomas Baker.

Baker and Battersby were involved in the Militant Christian Patriots before the war, an organisation closely linked to other fascist groups like the Nordic League and the Britons Society. Deeply anti-Semitic, the pair developed their pol­itical ideology into a religion centred around the divinity of Hitler. Battersby wrote and published a manifesto in 1943 from the Isle of Man: We Englishmen, true to God and to England, declare the Judgement, the final struggle between God and Mammon, and the God-appointed mission of Adolf Hitler as God’s Judge, from our prison camp to the leaders of our country.

Kingdom House Petworth,
Photo credit: James Battersby, Heirs of the Kingdom. Kingdom Press, 1948


Arthur Schneider, son of an Aust­rian immigrant, was closely watched by Special Branch from the moment he joined the British Union of Fascists/BUF in 1939. Schneider had joined the army at the outbreak of war but requested to transfer to a non-combatant role in early 1940. He held strong pro-Nazi views, so he was discharged from military service and interned. Baker had converted the enthusiastic Schneider to his ideas of Hitler-as-Messiah while they were interned. Lieutenant Paget, the senior Intelligence Officer who interviewed Schneider at Peveril descr­ibed him as a mean, vindictive Nazi thug, crudely and spitefully antisemitic.

Schneider was the last 18B detainee to be released from Peveril in 1945. Even then, he was watched by MI5. His brother Robert was refused entry to the Royal Air Force.

The Schneider sisters moved to Kingdom House from their Women’s Land Army hostel in Sept 1945. In a document dated Nov 1945, Chief Constable of Sussex Police Captain WJ Hutchinson wrote: The sis­t­ers’ letters to their brother made it clear that the “final victory of good over evil refers to the victory of national socialism over democracy and that home means Germany”. Dangerous women!

The residents of Kingdom House said they wanted a quiet, self-sufficient life and were not planning to evangelise. The security services were aware of their existence, not least because Schneider still had to report to the police once a month, but did nothing.

Hitler Bust up for auction
at the German Embassy in Britain, Nov 1945
Photo credit: Getty Images

It might be supposed that in 1945, with war with Nazi Germany re­cently concluded, supporters of Nazism would not have been tol­er­ated in Britain at all. Yet the British government’s gen­eral policy was merely to watch them.

Then in Nov 1945, while reports of the Belsen trial were making news, another story hit the national news­papers. It began with the controversial auction of the contents of the German embassy in London. Among the items sold was a granite bust of Hit­ler, purchased for £500 by Captain Robert Gordon-Canning, a leading member of the BUF before the war. If Gordon-Canning could not consign Hit­ler's bust to Kingdom House, the bust would be presented to Sir Oswald Mosley, head of the League of British Fascists instead.

The villagers of River were horrified to learn that the Legion had settled in their midst. The Home Secretary shared revulsion against the LCR which, in the guise of religion, sought to make a cult of Hitler and of the forces of evil so recently successfully defeated. But unless the Legion broke the law, nothing could be done.

I would ask why could nothing be done? What about treason in war time? What about brutality to families who lost a son or husband fighting against Germany?

In Parliament Labour MP for Gravesend Garry Allighan asked the Home Secretary to 'cause an investigation to be made into the membership & operations of the Christian Reform Legion, with headquarters at Kingdom House ... whose objects are the veneration of Hitler and the perpetuation of his memory. They believe Hitler is the second Jesus Christ’. Two pastors arrived at the gates of Kingdom House to lead hymn-singing local protestors.

In mid-Dec 1945 10 masked men arrived in two large saloon cars, to raid Kingdom House. The residents opened the back kitchen door and were beaten up and cut on the face and head. Only the women were treated courteously. Expressing Christian values, Capt Baker emphasised that they did not want the police to press charges. The raiders fled, leaving a note: We, a party of young officers in HM services, carried out the operation at Kingdom House because the authorities seemed to be doing nothing about this setting up of a Hitler cult in England. All of us have served overseas.

Battersby published The Holy Book of Adolf Hitler
in English in 1951

It was the end for Kingdom House. At first the Legion’s members dispersed, although they tried to create a similar community in South Africa later on. Battersby was deported as an undesirable immigrant, returning home to continue publishing pro-Nazi literature. In 1955 he suicided by jumping from the Mersey Ferry. In Feb 1963 Arthur Schneider disappeared. Baker returned to live in Jersey, where he was visited by neo-Nazi admirers, until his death in 1966.







19 comments:

Andrew said...

Perhaps the government's policy was correct, wait them out and monitor them rather than making them martyrs of sorts. Whatever, few will openly approve of Hitler now.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, It makes me ill to read about these people. At least it shows that all the crazies don't come from America! What is especially disturbing is the easy way that people (especially evil ones) can go from being political figures to religious ones.
--Jim

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hels - well this was interesting ... I knew nothing about them or the organisation. When I travel via the A272 in future ... I'll remember your post - cheers Hilary

Sue Bursztynski said...

Goodness, this is bizarre! I knew about the British Fascists, of course, and Oswald Mosley, but I’d never heard of this before! Shudder!

Joseph said...

I don't think Defence Regulation 18B protected Britain from pro-Nazi beliefs or behaviours.

Hels said...

Andrew

Before the war was declared (September 1939) and after the surrender was signed (May 1945), I think you are correct. Carefully watching suspects and documenting their activities and contacts would have been enough.

But once Britain was formally at war, it would have been treasonable for the Militant Christian Patriots and the British Union of Fascists etc to gather funds, intelligence and publicity for the Nazis.

Hels said...

Parnassus

yes, there were many supporters of the Nazi Party in the USA before and during WW2, working very hard to keep America out of the war against Germany! But I think the British crazies were more upper class and more influential than the American crazies - barons, politicians, barristers, writers and military officers. No wonder they had so much influence.

Hels said...

Hilary and Sue,

I too knew a great deal about Sir Oswald Mosley, Capt Ramsay and the Right Club, William Joyce Lord Haw Haw etc. But I had never heard of Arthur Schneider, James Battersby, Capt Thomas Baker and other Fascists who became particularly important from April 1945 onwards. Even finding a photo of Kingdom House was almost impossible.

Hels said...

Joseph

Regulation 18B was an impossible piece of legislation to get right.

Implementation of the regulation came with fear of a German invasion of Britain in May 1940 following the collapse of Allied forces in France. Under the legislation the Home Secretary of the day was free to detain and imprison as he saw fit anyone against whom evidence of potential disloyalty was presented by the security services. The normal safeguards against abuse of executive power traditionally available to British citizens, such as the provisions of Habeas Corpus and trial by jury, were suspended.

Most of the British citizens detained were members of Fascist parties, yet I would still argue that the implementation of a non-democratic measure inevitably raised serious civil rights issues, and was justified only by the hideousness of WW2. Undemocratic, without charge, trial or set term, on the ground that this was necessary for national security.

jorjorbeth said...


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Hels said...

jorjorbeth

history blogs unearth amazing stuff, agreed. But this information seems to be well hidden. I first found the Legion of Christian Reformers, dedicated to the worship of Adolf Hitler, in a 1945 Australian newspaper article!!!

https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/48679706

bazza said...

I too am shocked by this story and I'm interested in what happened to these people after the war. There was clearly no contrition; they mainly seem to have faded into some kind of oblivion...

Hels, I think jorjorbeth's, posts above are trawling posts and I should delete if I were you.
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s heuristic Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Hels said...

bazza

there was a lot known about those British citizens who were working for a German victory _during_ WW2. In 1940 the Treachery Act, which outlawed conduct designed or likely to give assistance to the naval, military or air operations of the enemy had passed through parliament and received royal assent. But this Act only covered military support for Germany, not religious, political or propaganda support.

The Independent wrote: By 1944, Jack King (a real MI5 officer) had compiled such a daunting list of Hitler admirers in Britain that MI5 admitted the faith of many within the intelligence services and beyond that Britons were largely immune to the ideology and methods of the Nazi Party had been severely shaken.

Unfortunately for us, the papers, books and newspaper articles seemed to have disappeared after the war ended.

Hels said...

bazza

re unwanted comments, I don't mind vacuous, inane comments that waste a bit of space but add nothing to the conversation. However I resent racist, anti-Semitic or vicious comments, and delete them straight away. Except for a response to "Did Germany really make a serious peace proposal in Dec 1916?" And I may yet delete that one as well.

http://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com/2016/01/did-germany-really-make-serious-peace.html

bazza said...

I just read the comments of 'Anon' that you referenced. It presents a real dilemma and I think you were brave to leave the comment standing. I'm not sure I would have done the same!
Incidentally, jorjorbeths two links lead to gambling etc sites...

CherryPie said...

A fascinating but deeply disturbing story. I had no idea of this part of our history.

Hels said...

CherryPie

I almost understand the motives of pro-German Fascists in Britain before the war. And during the war, 18B detainees were interned in the Peveril Camp on the Isle of Man and other secure locations.

But once the war was over, British citizens finally understood how many of their young men had been tragically killed or damaged fighting the enemy, and how many British cities had been bombed. For some Brits to support Hitler and the Nazis _after_ May 1945 was horrific.

Student of History said...

Hels

I can also understand the thinking of the pro-German Fascists in Britain in the late 1930s. They were very much committed to avoiding war against their like-minded brethren in Germany.

But something else. Throughout the late 1930s, both the prime minster Neville Chamberlain and the foreign secretary Lord Halifax were determined to avoid war in Europe, at any cost! Chamberlain negotiated away anything that Hitler demanded (especially Czechoslovakia), in order to achieve "peace for our time". The British Fascists believed they were supported by both Chamberlain and Lord Halifax.

Hels said...

Student

my only problem is knowing what was the majority view in Cabinet.

Halifax and Chamberlain, who both met Hitler, were criticised by the rest of the ministers for being TOO close to the cause of appeasement. In May 1940, Chamberlain resigned and Winston Churchill became the new prime minister.

The British Fascists may have believed they were supported by both Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, but Chamberlain died a few weeks after he left office. And Churchill ensured that Lord Halifax was rapidly moved out the Foreign Office altogether! So by mid 1940, the Fascists must have felt they were on their own.