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Digging into a dark family secret or not?

Tom Winnifrith
Monday 2 October 2023

I have, on these pages, discussed a number of “issues” in my family: the vicar struck off for perjury and sent to jail, the illegitimacy of my great great grandmother, a matter still unresolved, a great great Aunt so hideously deformed she was locked up in a Derbyshire vicarage until she died aged almost 60, and more. One day I shall tire of writing about stockmarket villainy and become a goat farmer and turn my attention to my family history.

There are, of course, many things of which we can be proud: the Ilbert Bill, great uncle Alfred bowling out WG Grace, the war records of Douglas Winnifrith (WW1) and Michael Booker (WW2), the works of Chris Booker and of my father’s father in Churchill’s War rooms, at the National Trust and in standing next to Tony Benn against the evil EEC. My father’s scholarly works which ignite in me such an interest in Balkan history. There is so much more to discuss in the goat farming years. But then there are “the issues” and there might just be another.

I spent much of the weekend reading a sort of autobiographical novel about being in Hungary in the second war as a Jewish boy. Make no mistake, the Hungarians were complete bastards who were Hitler’s more than willing accomplices.  The author Janos Nyiri was a great friend of my father’s and one of the funniest and most eccentric individuals I have ever met. His son, D, is my father’s Godson and we swapped a few emails on the matter and on life in general.

Naturally D was rather rude about the Hungarians. After all his father spent the war (as a boy) hiding in a barn in the countryside to avoid a one way trip to Poland. His grandfather was sent to a camp in Yugoslavia from which he escaped to hook up with Tito’s partisans. But then he opined:

The Hungarians and Croats being Catholic were more ardently Nazi than any other nation in Europe including Germany. Sadly, so were most English and Irish aristocrats and Christians, including some of your dear mother’s family, I believe.”

This, as you might imagine came as rather a shock. I am not sure about “most” but Mosley certainly did have far too many posh English supporters. Apparently D’s belief  was gleaned from a fairly brief conversation with my parents which had made D even more fond of my parents as they chatted to a young Jewish boy despite these revolting anti-semites in my mother’s family past, folks who apparently supported Moseley even after the start of the war.

But could it possibly be true? I have not researched my mothers family as I have my father’s but I know that Uncle Chris Booker and his son N have and nothing of this sort has ever been mentioned.  We talked of an alleged murderer and of plutocratic Bishops plundering the public purse but not of this.

My mother’s maternal side were certainly not aristocrats.   The Westons were of humble stock though my granny would not have let you think it. Her father was the son of a gardener on a Worcestershire estate but was the first of his family to go to University and then headed to India for his entire career. He was a methodist and a pacifist and those traditions were strong in that family and so I just can’t see that it is likely for them to have been posh Mosleyites for a whole range of reasons. I have asked my mother’s cousin C if she has any idea about this. But I just cannot see anyone in that family wandering down that path.  

The Bookers were posher, coming from a minor stately home in Worcestershire but they were Liberals and a tolerant bunch. Uncle Michael had a distinguished war and married the daughter of a Wing Commander. Great Aunt Eleanor would not have been working in the Foreign Office as a press officer if she was a Nazi. My grandparents founded a prep school in the sticks and flat footed Grandpa served in the Home Guard.  Where on earth could these hidden Mosleyites backing Germany be? I tried to imagine my formidable Great Aunt Mary who was like some character from an old black and white movie and had founded a girl’s prep school, marching down Cable Street at the weekend but it just rings utterly hollow. In fact nothing could be more preposterous.

I don’t want to think that I am in denial, if it is true it is true and when the time comes I shall write about it just as I have on the illegitimate great great grandmother and the vicar in the slammer. But I just cannot see how.

I know that my mother’s parents did refer to “the chosen people” which my parents told me as a young boy was wrong and is wrong. But I am not sure that talking as folks might have done in 1935 is the same as supporting Mosely which my grandparents and all the family members of that era that I knew clearly did not.

I have asked various cousins and cousins of my mother. I’d like to know the truth however terrible it is but I really just cannot see it. We shall see.


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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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