New Details Emerge in the Story of the British WW II Cabinet Minister Whose Son Was Hanged for Pro-Nazi Treason

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Leo Amery (1873-1955), Secretary of State for India in Churchill’s wartime Cabinet, had a Jewish ancestry which was not publicly known despite his strong pro-Zionism. Through the war years, however, he suffered a personal and political tragedy, as his son John allowed himself to be used as a propaganda tool by the Nazis and was finally hanged for treason in December 1945. Details of Leo’s attempts to do his best for his son over this difficult period have just come to light.

Amery’s eldest son John (1912-45), a staunch anti-Communist, was stranded in Vichy France in 1940. He felt some sympathy with Nazism, and as the son of a British Cabinet minister, was recognized by the Nazis as a valuable propaganda tool. In 1942 they took him to Berlin where he broadcast to Britain, recruited for the British division of the SS, and wrote anti-semitic propaganda.

John Amery’s story has been told in Adrian Weale’s book Patriot Traitors (2001). But there have been two mysteries. First, to what lengths did Leo Amery go in seeking clemency for his son? Second, did Sir Samuel Hoare, the British Ambassador in Madrid, help Leo and his wife (Florence, known as ‘Bryddie’) keep in touch with John.

Answers are offered by personal letters contained in Leo Amery’s newly opened private archive at Churchill College, Cambridge. In nearly 400 boxes there is much to interest political historians researching the years from the 1890s to the 1950s. Yet it is the story of Leo Amery’s relationship with his son John (or ‘Jack’) that touches on a human level.

The Papers show how Sir Samuel Hoare helped the Amerys stay in touch with John by letter when France was occupied.

The second revelation relates to Leo’s attempts to secure clemency for John after he was captured by partisans in Italy and handed over to the British in 1945. We already know that Leo secured an ameliorating psychiatric report from his friend, Lord Horder. We also know that he made a personal plea to the Home Secretary (Chuter Ede) and other Cabinet ministers, that John’s anti-Communism was based on ‘a sincere belief that he was acting in the best interests of his country’. However, the Amery Papers show that Leo made a third effort to save his son after the trial in which he admitted his guilt.

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