Mud Thicker than Blood: Nancy Mitford

Nancy Mitford spied on sisters

By Paul Reynolds, BBC News, 2003/11/14

The writer Nancy Mitford spied on her sisters because of their sympathies with Hitler, documents released by the National Archives reveal.

The latest batch of files from the security service MI5 includes a report from January 1941 which says the writer “personally informed the authorities of her sister’s (Lady Mosley’s) treasonable sympathies. The information was given with very good will and is thoroughly reliable.”

Lady Diana Mosley married the British blackshirt leader Sir Oswald Mosley and was a friend of Hitler.

A search of her luggage at Croydon airport on one occasion, the files state, turned up a newly signed photograph of him. She was interned in late 1940.

In a file named “Persons considered dangerous by Mrs Peter Rodd” (Nancy Mitford’s married name), Diana is said to have expressed “the hope, in front of her governess and eldest son, that the British army would be successfully cut off and destroyed at Dunquerque”.

Secret marriage in Berlin

The file gives Nancy’s view of Lady Mosley: “She is a ruthless and shrewd egotist, a devoted fascist and admirer of Hitler and sincerely desires the downfall of England and democracy in general.”

Another file reveals that MI5 knew about Diana’s secret marriage to Mosley not long after it took place in 1936.

It was two years before the marriage was publicly acknowledged.

A report from “our man in Berlin” says that he was told of the marriage by another Mitford sister Unity. It was held in propaganda minister Josef Goebbels’ office and attended by Hitler.

Nancy Mitford, whose books include Noblesse Oblige, about the behaviour of the British aristocracy, also informed on her sister Pamela.

She and her husband Derek Jackson “had been heard to declare a) that all Jews in England should be killed and b) that the war should be stopped now ‘before we lose any more money’”, the files show.

In a further file, Mitford speaks of her sister Unity’s attempted suicide.

Unity was also close to Hitler, but Mitford said she had “recanted on the subject of anti-semitism”, and that “the motives for her suicide was in a sense patriotic, namely despair at the declaration of war between Germany and England, which Hitler personally promised her would never take place”.

Father-in-law’s wrath

Diana Mosley’s former father-in-law, Lord Moyne, also joined in what appears to have been a family industry of informing.

He wrote a letter to the authorities saying: “It has been on my conscience for some time… that the authorities concerned are aware of the extraordinarily dangerous character of my former daughter-in-law.”

Lady Mosley, he said, “spoke of the destruction of the docks at London and Liverpool and said that by this means it would be possible for England to be starved into submission”.

Diana Mosley had divorced Lord Moyne’s son Bryan Guinness.

Lord Moyne’s letter may have been instrumental in finally persuading the government to intern her.

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Diana Mosley: The MI5 View

Today Programme Report, BBC Radio 4, Friday 14th November 2003

Files just released at the National Archives show that MI5 was concerned about Diana Mosley well before she was publicly identified with the Fascist movement.

As early as 1934, both the Security Service and the Foreign Intelligence Service (MI6), were aware of her foreign trips.

“That’s quite significant,” according to Professor Christopher Andrew, official historian of MI5. “These were very small organisations at the time and if they targeted someone it meant that they regarded him or her as a real priority.”

MI5 learned of Diana’s secret marriage to Mosley, in Germany, in Hitler’s presence, soon after it had taken place in 1936. The wedding was not formally announced for another two years.

They were aware of her regular trips to Germany where, travelling as Mrs Bryan Guinness, she acted as a liaison between Mosley and Hitler.

Once war broke out, the Home Office initially decided to keep Lady Mosley at large, but after a flurry of letters from her extended family, they interned her at Holloway jail.

Her former father in law, Lord Moyne, wrote of her “extremely dangerous character”. The sister of Mosley’s first wife, Baroness Ravensdale, told the Home Secretary himself that she was a “real danger”. Her source was her young niece, Mosley’s daughter. “My niece tells me Diana Mosley goes up every day to run the British Union Office,” she stated. “You may have incarcerated the leader but with this going on … the door still seems to me to be open.”

Anne De Courcy, author of a new biography of Diana Mosley, believes that many of Diana’s extended family bore grudges against her. She doesn’t believe Diana was a real security risk and believes it was cruel of the Home Office to separate Diana from her baby sons (the second, Max, was just 11 weeks old when she was interned in 1940).

“There was this young woman, breastfeeding an 11 week old baby every four hours … even if she’d wanted to she couldn’t have been a particularly valuable conduit passing information to the enemy during the war. So yes I think that was harsh.”

But Professor Andrew agrees with MI5’s assessment. Diana Mosley dazzled almost every man she met – she was described as more beautiful than Botticelli’s Venus – yet he believes she would have done anything she could to help Hitler win the war.

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