The Right Honourable
Arnold Hiller, M.P
By Chris Oakley
Includes material previously posted at Othertimelines.com
For almost a century, one of the most popular topics of speculation among historians has been how the years between the end of World War I in 1918 and the atomic bombing of Madrid in 1945 might have played out if a certain Austrian customs official hadnít made the fateful decision to emigrate to Britain in the spring of 1888. The day Alois Hitler left Vienna on a train that would take him to Zurich and then to Paris, he would set in motion a chain of events that would climax with the British people being subjected to a stern authoritarian rule the likes of which hadnít existed in Great Britain in centuries.
On April 28th, 1889, just over a year after Aloisí dissatisfaction with life in his native Austria drove him to seek a new life in another country, Adolf Hitler was born at Whittington Hospital in Londonís Highgate district. Alois soon changed his name to Alan Hiller and re-christened his new son Arnold Hiller; though the boyís mother protested this decision, the senior Hiller deemed it necessary in order for the family to be fully accepted into British society.
In spite of his relatively ordinary background, young Arnold always always took it for granted that he was destined for greatness. As a boy he devoured books about British military heroes such as Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington, and much of his playtime was spent re-enacting great battles from British history. When he reached his teens he eagerly followed the exploits of Lord Kitchener in the 2nd Boer War, vowing that one day he would win glory on the battlefield just as Kitchener had.
When World War I broke out in 1914, Hilleró by then 25 Ėdefied his motherís wishes and enlisted in the Royal Army. He requested and got an assignment to a front-line infantry unit as a dispatch rider, a post he held until the summer of 1915 when he was transferred to a machine gun platoon. It was while serving with that platoon that he took his first steps along the road that would one day carry him to 10 Downing StreetÖ
On July 1st, 1916 the Battle of the Somme broke out as British and French troops under the command of General Sir Douglas Haig made a suicidal charge across no-manís-land towards the German front lines. Entire divisions were wiped out by murderous German machine gun fire, and before long the offensive had stalled as the Allies sought to regroup.
Hillerís machine gun platoon was among the British units that took massive casualties in the opening hours of the attack; Hiller himself and Hillerís platoon leader were the only survivors of the Germansí fusillade. Despite exhaustion and hunger, Corporal Hiller would not retreat from his positionó he was determined to protect his platoon leader and give his fellow British soldiers a chance to break through the German lines. For four long days Hiller stayed at his post, firing at any German soldier unlucky enough to get in his crosshairs. Only when he himself had been gravely wounded by a lucky shot from a German sniper did he finally (and with considerable reluctance) relinquish his position.
Hillerís stubborn bravery won him the Victoria Cross and a promotion to sergeant. The following year he would accrue further glory by risking mustard gas poisoning to pull a comrade to safety during the Passchendaele offensive in France; during his convalescence after the gas attack he became something of a luminary among his fellow hospital patients as they listened to his fascinating (if somewhat exaggerated) accounts of his experiences on the Western Front.
Sergeant Hiller was mustered out of the Royal Army in September of 1918, less than two months before the Armistice that finally ended the First World War. Returning to civilian life he was confronted with an uncertain future, and as the Versailles peace conference dragged on into the early months of 1919 he worried that Britain was failing to do what needed to be done to ensure its postwar security. In late March of 1919 he befriended a former Royal Flying Corps pilot who shared these concerns, Oswald Mosley, and together they formed the British National Solidarity Party; the BNSPó derisively nicknamed the "Nazzies" by their left-wing opponents Ėespoused a fiercely right-wing ideology at whose core lay fanatic devotion to what Hiller and Mosley deemed traditional British values and a solid determination to crush Britainís perceived enemies both at home and abroad.
The other men who comprised the inner circle of the BNSP were an eclectic lot to put it mildly. To drum up support for the fledgling party among his fellow ex-soldiers Hiller recruited an old friend from his basic training days, Ernest Rome, to head the Servicemenís Association (SA), a group dedicated to championing the partyís ideals among war veterans; as director of party communications, Hiller chose would-be playwright Joseph Gable, a man of questionable writing talent but impressive speaking ability. Mosley, sensing that the party might have trouble in securing police protection from leftist troublemakers at its rallies, founded a security corps called the Special Service (SS) and hired former Scotland Yard inspector and onetime Yorkshire chicken farmer Henry Hamill to run the new unit.
As director of the partyís military affairs office, Hiller and Mosley appointed Herman Geary, a boisterous and renowned fighter ace whose love of flying was equaled only by his zest for the finer things in life. When Hiller first made his acquaintance heíd already been a well-established fixture in the pubs of London, and as Hiller and the BNSP gained greater prominence Geary soon began holding court at his favorite Piccadilly Circus tavern for the partyís most loyal adherents.
Eventually the BNSPís activities attracted the attention of Lord Beaverbrook, a publishing magnate who proved highly sympathetic to Hillerís aims despite the fact that party publications frequently scolded upper class men like himself for supposedly contributing to the misfortunes of British working men in the aftermath of the Great War. Beaverbrook became the partyís main financial backer and Hillerís mentor in dealing with the wealthy; he also arranged what would prove to be the most important meeting of Hillerís early political careeró his introduction to Edward Windsor, the future King Edward VIII.
Hiller had briefly met Windsor shortly before Passchendaele when both men were assigned to the same sector along the Western Front. The BNSP leader hadnít expected Windsor to remember that encounteró but as it turned out, the future King of England remembered the former sergeant vividly. Hiller was further surprised to discover that Windsor had attended a BNSP rally in Kent in the summer of 1920 and even owned three copies of Hillerís recently printed autobiography, My Fight. Realizing that the support of Windsor, one of the royal familyís more prominent members and a holder of the Distinguished Service Order to boot, would enhance the BNSPís prestige, Hiller was quick to accept and reciprocate his friendship overtures.
Though law and tradition prevented Windsor from officially joining the party, unofficially he supported it by every means open to him. His backing, and the relentless propagandizing Joseph Gable did on Hillerís behalf, strengthened the BNSPís claim to legitimacy and in time the party began to win seats in the House of Commons. Hiller himself was elected to represent his old neighborhood of Highgate and quickly set himself apart from the pack with his florid rhetoric. Former naval minister Winston Churchill, no stranger to dramatic oratory in his own right, noticed that when Hiller spoke he seemed to have a nearly hypnotic hold on his listeners.
Yet what may have been Hillerís greatest rhetorical triumph in his pre-Downing Street political career took place not in the halls of Parliament, but in a beer hall in Piccadilly Circus on November 9th, 1923. Dubbed (naturally enough) "the Beer Hall Debate", it pitted the Highgate parliamentarian against a Communist agitator named Walter Albright whoíd confronted Hiller numerous times before; what made the BNSP leaderís success even more remarkable was that for a change he didnít have a prepared text to fall back on when things got rough. He was working strictly off the cuff from start to finish as he and Albright sparred over everything from the gold standard to the Treaty of Versailles.
Marshalling every weapon in his rhetorical arsenal, Hiller shredded Albrightís arguments; though their verbal joust was over in just two hours, its effects would resonate for decades. The impromptu debate made national headlines in Britain; consequently, Hiller began to be seriously considered as a possible contender for the prime ministerís position and the BNSP was confirmed as a bona fide player on the stage of national politics in England.
Over the next five years, the BNSP made incremental gains in the House of Commons and succeeded in getting several of its candidates elected to mayorships in a dozen British cities. But something more, Hiller realized, was needed if he were to achieve his ultimate goal of becoming Britainís prime minister.
Then came October 1929 and the New York stock market crash that touched off the worldwide Great Depression. Unemployment shot skyward, and concern about the stability of the pound sterling morphed into outright panic; the sitting government of then-prime minister Ramsay MacDonald found it hard to cope with the pressures brought on by the unprecedented economic disaster. Realizing that his party had a rare opportunity to expand its influence in the British government, Hiller and Gable embarked on a whirlwind tour of Britain, vigorously pushing the BNSPís seven-point economic revival program; Windsor did his part to encourage their efforts by arranging with the BBC for Hiller to be granted a weekly half-hour radio spot to tout the programís benefits in greater detail.
In late February of 1930 a general election was called to resolve the question of whether MacDonald should remain as prime minister or make way for Hiller. MacDonald narrowly won (thanks in part to a faction in the House of Lords that detested Hiller), but the BNSP had gained a throng of new adherents and Hiller felt confident that next time around the prime ministerís seals of office would be his.
Three months later, the party adopted a newly recorded marching song, "The Flag Raised High", as its official anthem. Originally made to honor a young SA member named Harris Russell whoíd been beaten to death in an alley fight with British Communists, Hiller embraced the anthem as a symbol of the BNSPís aspirations for itself and for Britain. Churchill derided the song as "rubbish", but many of his fellow Englishmen were enraptured by its simple martial notes and lyrics, and within weeks it was being sung as often and with as much fervor as "God Save The Queen".
Within the halls of Parliament, Hiller worked to cultivate allies in the House of Lords in hopes of improving his chances for unseating MacDonald as prime minister in the next general election. He also kept a sharp eye on the escalating financial turmoil in Britain and elsewhere, knowing that the longer it continued the more willing the British masses would become to put a BNSP man in 10 Downing Street.
Sure enough, a year later a second general election was called in the wake of a dramatic surge of unemployment among British laborers. This time, Hillerís enemies in the House of Lords could not stop him; the charismatic BNSP leader defeated Ramsay as a tide of popular resentment towards establishment politicians brought about a dramatic growth in the BNSPís influence at all levels of government in Great Britain.
On March 4th, 1931, Hiller accepted the prime ministerís seals of office from King George V; that afternoon, he addressed a raucously enthusiastic throng of supporters at Londonís Royal Albert Hall. "If anyone believes the golden age of the British Empire is over," he said, "they shall soon be disabused of that notion! Today, we begin a thousand-year march towards the pinnacle of human achievement!"
That march began with the installation of Joseph Gable as head of the BBC, the world's oldest and largest broadcasting service; Henry Hamill as director of the intelligence bureau MI5; Herman Geary as commander-in-chief of the RAF; and Ernest Rome as Minister of Defence. Oswald Mosley became Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, while Mosley's number two man, a New York-born Irishman named William Joyce, was chosen as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Winston Churchill was alarmed by the way millions of his fellow countrymen were embracing the BNSP's ideology, which by then he had come to view as ridiculously old-fashioned at best and dangerously close to tyranny at worst. He warned that unless the British people were vigilant in guarding themselves and their political system against Hiller's more authoritarian tendencies, sooner or later Britain would sink into what the ex-Lord of the Admiralty called "the abyss of a new dark age".
But few people were interested in listening to his warnings just then. The British masses saw Hiller as the man who would lead Great Britain out of the morass of the Depression and into a new golden age of strength and prosperity; foreign leaders like then-President of the United States Herbert Hoover and Italian Fascist premier Benito Mussolini (from whom much of the BNSP's own ideology had been adapted) viewed Hiller as a potential ally in the fight against Soviet Communism; and the elite of British society saw the new prime minister as a valuable point man in the effort to restore the British Empire to its former glory.
With the BNSP firmly entrenched in the halls of power, the Hiller government began a public works program that would soon become the envy of Europe. Pastimes and vacation resorts which had previously been the exclusive preserve of the elite were thrown open to the masses under the prime ministerís "Strength Through Joy" recreation and tourism program. Hillerís Home Secretary, Randolph Heston, ran "Strength Through Joy" while noted London architect Albert Spear served as de facto chief advisor to Hiller on the public works plan.
Another Hiller supporter, Walter Roston, became vice-chancellor at Oxford University; in that capacity, he would work to spread BNSP ideals through the schoolís curriculum. Henry Hamillís chief aide, Ronald Hatcher, assumed the leadership of the London Metropolitan police service. Admiral Eric Raye, a hero of the Battle of Jutland and one of Hillerís earliest advocates within the British military, became Lord of the Admiralty.
Foreign leaders who didnít share Mussoliniís or Hooverís appreciation for the new government at 10 Downing Street reacted with alarm after Rayeís chief of staff, Commodore Charles Dornett, instituted a crash program to bulk up the Royal Navyís submarine fleet. Dornett was quick to assure a nervous world that the program was simply a way to replace obsolete subs with fresh ones, but some outside of Britain regarded it as a warning sign that the Hiller government intended to abrogate the London Naval Treaty which had been signed just a year earlier. These same people were also concerned at the news that Herman Gearyís top fighter commander, Squadron Leader Arnold Gallard, had instituted a new training regimen intended to prep RAF fighter pilots for a future air war in Europe.
However, the first challenge to Hillerís rule came not from any foreign adversary but from employees of his own educational system. In April of 1932, just over a year into his tenure as British prime minister, a mass teachersí strike began in Britainís primary and secondary schools. The strikersí grievance concerned what was seen by non-BNSP educators as an agenda on the BNSPís part to infiltrate the partyís ideology into British schools by both blatant and subtle means; they vowed they would not return to the classroom without a personal guarantee from Hiller that he would put a total and permanent stop to all efforts to impose the BNSP doctrine on them and on their students in the classroom.
Hiller took the strike as a personal insult and vowed to crush it by any means available; two days after it began, he met with Randolph Heston and Ronald Hatcher to weigh the governmentís options for ending the walkout. The results of that meeting would send shock waves across Britain...
To Be Continued