138. Moseley’s Finger.

by Peter Fraenkel

Sunday afternoon in summer. The year? Probably 1958 or ’59.  I was on the bus, on my way to work at Reuters, the news agency:  An awful job – terrible pay, terrible hours but I was glad to have – at long last –  found a job in England. I would work from 4 p.m. until midnight and then again from 7 a.m. next morning.  The hours between I could spend in a curtainless echoing room in the loft of Reuters’ Fleet Street offices. Sleep was difficult. Heavy lorries thundered past throughout the night, delivering huge rolls of paper. Later they carried away freshly printed newspapers.

Soon after the National Union of Journalists threatened to strike unless the rota was revised. It was.

But before I reached Fleet Street my bus skirted Trafalgar Square. A small crowd had gathered at the foot of Nelson’s Column. On a higher step stood a speaker. I recognised him at once. I had never seen him in the flesh but when he was released from wartime internment the newspapers had carried his photo. During the war years he had been imprisoned as an enemy sympathiser: Sir Oswald Moseley – leader of the British Union of Fascists. But perhaps by then they had already adopted a slightly less provocative name: The Union Movement. And they no longer wore uniforms, though that must have lost them support from some who had joined just for that smart Black Shirt uniform.

I got off my bus. I had a few minutes to spare and to listen, but not too long. The early shift at Reuters could not depart until we – the replacement – had arrived.  I listened. Moseley had a powerful voice but was difficult to hear.  There was a lot of heckling. Some threw missiles but he dodged them well. He obviously had long experience of this.  I heard no denunciation of Jews – which I knew had been his favourite theme in earlier years. Perhaps after those newsreels showing the dead and dying at Auschwitz and Maidanek such crude antisemitism had gone out of fashion – at least for a while.

He paused and placed his hands on his hips, standing defiantly, feet apart, imitating, I think, Mussolini. One gesture, however, was his alone:  that index finger which he pointed at his audience and shook in warning at the fate that would overwhelm Britain. One or two of his listeners laughed and started to imitate his gesture. Before long almost all his listeners were shaking their finger at him. I had to laugh to see so many aping that gesture. He denounced the immigration of foreigners. English stock would be polluted, debased by black migrants. The English would become a bastard race.

My shift was due to start. I had to leave. At Reuters a colleague told me, Moseley was hoping to revive the Union of Fascists. My colleague didn’t think it would work. He was right.

A little later I read that Mosley had gone off to live in France. He owned an estate there.  He was apparently never short of money. None of his property had been confiscated even when he was interned as an enemy sympathiser. He was, they said, back to seducing women.