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Books: Blackshirts at home

Mosley's young fan loved his mum, and his mum hated Jews. Then the truth emerged... Julia Pascal tells a very English tale
Memoirs of a Fascist Childhood

by Trevor Grundy

Heinemann, pounds 17.99

Trevor Grundy's childhood autobiography is a chilling confession which is bound to cause ripples. It reminds us how the corrosive influence of Fascism dripped through British society from the House of Windsor to the proletariat.

Grundy's early memories are of "everyone going off to fight a Jewish war" while his father is sent to prison and his mother vows never to betray "The Leader", Sir Oswald Mosley. Deeply affected, he declares his Fascist allegiance in primary school. At playtime he calls Vilma Cohen "a Jewish bitch". In history lessons, when Churchill is declared a hero and Stalingrad the most important Nazi defeat, young Trevor stands up to declare the Fascist attacks on Jews and Communists in Cable Street as "the greatest battle in history".

During the Notting Hill riots of 1958, Mosley encourages the adolescent Grundy to graduate as Youth Leader of the British Union of Fascists. Trevor makes his oratorical debut before a meeting of 2000 in Trafalgar Square. His self-description as a spotty teenager, successfully crushing anti- fascist hecklers, is a mixture of triumph and embarrassment.

Most startling is the massive presence of Grundy's mother. Edna Grundy emerges as a complex, contradictory character. She detests Jews but is delighted to be taken for one. She embroiders PJ (Perish Judah) on her son's clothes and teaches him to hate Jews. Yet she admires the Jewish stoical suicide at Masada, muddling it with Fascist self-sacrifice. Trevor, a mother's boy, embraces her Jew-hating frenzy in his need for her unqualified approval. Absent-mindedly, she tells him that she is Jewish and, as the line is matrilineal, so is he. No wonder he was completely bewildered.

In his adult analysis there is no explanation of his mother's psychosis. Sidney Grundy implies that his wife's family pushed her into prostitution. If so, the implication is that her Jew-hatred and conversion to Christianity and Fascism is a daughter's act of revenge.

Whether this is truth or fantasy is difficult to ascertain. Edna Grundy, in a perfect act of Jew-hatred, committed suicide, personally fulfilling the Hitlerite and Mosleyite ideal of a Britain which might be judenrein (Jew-free).

In this disturbing testimony, Grundy exposes a childhood where personal and political lives were intertwined. As a boy, he fanatically embraced his parent's crazed racism. But when he hit adolescence, the rock revolution was starting and his Fascism was increasingly isolating in a liberal teenage culture. Grundy, cut off from the outside world by a network of fascism, brainwashed by a warped view of history, saw no escape.

His mother pushed him towards a career in the Church: Mosley was keen to have Fascists in power at all levels of society. But this ambition collapsed when Edna found her anti-Semitic views were not appreciated by the clergy. Blindly she tried to convert her rector to Fascism, comparing Mosley to Jesus. Grundy's theological career was doomed.

Yet this is not a depressing book; at absurd moments I laughed out loud. With no sense of irony, Edna Grundy borrows teacups from the local CND for her Fascist meetings. Trevor mobilises the local thugs at home, but the only available space is next to the toilet. He spends the meeting worrying about noise and smells that might permeate well-made plans to beat up Jews, blacks or Asians. The subtext is not lost.

As a teenager, burdened by virginity, Trevor is almost seduced by Sophie du Toit, a beautiful French woman. When the moment for action arrives and both are naked, he runs out in horror. Around Sophie's neck is a Star of David. There are also touchingly Oedipal incidents. Sid Grundy, released from prison after refusing to fight the Nazis, returns home. Trevor is glad to see his hero father but furious to hear "the man in bed with my mother making a noise like that".

Among isolated scenes of acid humour are shocking exposes that show how, well into the early 1960s, international Fascist and Nazi conspiracies were rife. Trevor describes the Nazi children who came to stay in Marylebone with his family; the most famous was Heinrich Himmler's daughter.

This startling book begins with Trevor Grundy burying his father. At the Mosleyite memorial Grundy - married, living in Africa and long distanced from this anti-Semitic world - involuntarily raises his hand in the Fascist salute. It is a brave revelation suggesting that the virus of Fascism is impossible to eradicate. The ghosts of Grundy's tragic Jewish mother and wife-beating but uxorious father are tangible. The British Union of Fascists may have changed its name, but Mosley's dreams of a pure white Britain still filter through our society from street-corner bullies to the enduring aristocracy that produced this ignoble Sir.