John Amery was born on 14 March 1912, the son of Rt. Hon. Leo Amery, MP and Florence Amery. His younger brother was Julian Amery.
John Amery pleaded guilty at his treason trial, which meant his court appearance lasted for just eight minutes.
John Amery was captured by Italian Partisans at the end of April 1945. He had been held in British Military Custody since May 1945. He arrived back in this country on 7 July 1945. He was committed at Bow Street Magistrates Court on 9 July 1945 charged with eight counts of High Treason. He was remanded to Brixton Prison to await his trial at the Old Bailey.
Home Office documents (NA HO 45/25773) contain numerous press cuttings, mainly complaining about the delay in bringing John Amery to trial for High Treason. The Daily Worker (the British Communist Party newspaper), in its 21 June 1945 edition, mentioned that Leo Amery was standing for the Conservatives in Birmingham Sparkbrook, and Captain Julian Amery was standing in Preston. According to the article, Conservative Central Office refused to confirm if they would proceed with John Amery’s trial, at the Central Criminal Court, if they won the forthcoming General Election. In the Daily Worker of 29 June 1945, an article asks if the delay is due to the impending General Election, or a lack of evidence.
They reprinted a propaganda leaflet featuring John Amery appealing for British POWs to join the Legion of St. George (available here).
When Amery’s trial opened on 28 November 1945, before Mr. Justice Humphreys, Amery pleaded guilty to eight counts of high treason. Once the judge had satisfied himself that Amery knew the consequences of his actions, he sentenced Amery to death by hanging.
Under the heading “AMERY SENTENCED TO DEATH, A SELF-CONFESSED TRAITOR, EIGHT-MINUTE HEARING”
The Times newspaper had the following report:
John Amery, who pleaded “Guilty” at the Central criminal Court yesterday to indictments alleging high treason and treachery, was sentenced to death within eight minutes of entering the dock.
Amery, who is 33, was described as a politician. He took the sentence with complete composure. He bowed to Mr. Justice Humphreys when he was brought into Court, and also after sentence had been passed.
While the proceedings lasted he appeared most of the time to have half a smile on his face. After sentence had been passed he walked away with bowed head to the cells below the dock. The sudden end of the case was dramatic.
The hearing began nearly an hour late. At one minute to 11 o’clock the counsel and solicitor for the defence, led by Mr. G. O. Slade, KC., went down the clock steps in procession to confer with the accused. While they were out of Court Sir Hartley Shaweross, KC., the Attorney-General, who led for the prosecution, also went out. It was apparent to all present in the crowded Court that something unexpected was happening.
When defending counsel returned to Court shortly before 11.30, Mr. Slade first spoke to the Attorney-General and then to the Clerk of the Court, who immediately sent an usher to the Judge. Mr. Justice Humphreys took his seat, and Amery was brought in. His long black hair, curling up at the back, was carefully brushed. He wore a brown overcoat and a black and yellow scarf, which was knotted at his neck.
The clerk read the long indictment, which contained eight counts charging him with broadcasting, inducing British subjects in captivity (who were named) to light for Germany against Britain and Russia, and with making public speeches on behalf of the enemy in Antwerp, Lyons, and Paris while France and Belgium were under enemy occupation.
Amery stood in the front of the dock and leaned forward, listening intently. His brow puckered, the nervous smile left his face, and he stroked his chin with his forefinger.
He was asked to plead, and after a tense silence he said in a firm voice, which was audible in all parts of The Court, “I plead guilty to all counts.’’
The Judge said he never accepted a plea of “Guilty” on the capital charge without assuring himself that the accused person thoroughly understood what he was doing and what the immediate result must be, and that he was in accord with his legal advisers in the course he was taking.
In reply to the Judge, Mr. Slade said he had explained the position fully to his client and was satisfied that he understood.
The Judge ordered that the plea should he recorded.
The Clerk of the Court then told the prisoner that he stood convicted of high treason. Amery made no reply when he was asked if he had anything to say why judgment of death should not be passed upon him according to law.
The nervous smile returned to his face as the black cap was adjusted. When asked by the Judge if he had anything to say he replied, “No, Sir”.
The Judge then said to him: “John Amery, I have read the depositions and the exhibits in this case, and I am satisfied that you knew what you did and that you did it intentionally and deliberately after you had received warning from more than one of your fellow countrymen that the course you were pursuing amounted to high treason. They called you a traitor and you heard them; but in spite of that you continued in that course. You now stand a self-confessed traitor to your King and country, and you have forfeited your right to live”.
The Judge then passed the only sentence allowed; that of death by hanging.
Amery had kept his eyes on the Judge throughout his remarks and while he passed sentence. Showing no sign of emotion, he bowed with dignity to the Judge and turned to walk down the steps to the cells.
More Home Office documents (NA HO 144/22823) contain numerous reports concerning John Amery’s mental condition.
The main medical report, asked for by Amery’s Father, is reproduced here.
According to the report, it appears that John Amery was pathologically insane. He was rebellious at Harrow, and a bankrupt by the age of 25. According to his Father Leo Amery, he pleaded guilty at his trial to spare his family any more anguish.
There was also a petition signed by 27 people in Birmingham requested that John Amery be reprieved. The Home Office file also contains various letters from Florence, sent during 1948, requesting permission to visit John Amery’s grave and lay some flowers. She also requested to speak to the Prison Chaplain, who attending to John Amery while he was awaiting execution in Wandsworth Prison.
Various people have also stated in various reports, John Amery’s disregard for any authority. John Amery under went a Electro-Encephalogram at The National Hospital, Queen Square, on 14 December 1945. It found no abnormalities.
The Sunday Dispatch of 2 December 1945, reported that John Amery was already dying with Tuberculosis. However, no sign of lung disease was found at the Post Mortem conducted after his execution.
Before Amery’s execution Field Marshal Smuts sent the following letter to Prime Minister Clement Attlee:
Please convey to Mr Attlee a private and personal message from me as soon as possible in connection with the possible execution of Amery’s son. We have had similar cases in South Africa, in none of which execution has been inflicted, as the acts were more of an ideological than of a criminal character. I am deeply moved by consideration for Amery and his wife, both of whom have deserved well of their country.Letter from Jan Smuts to Clement Attlee.
The Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, replied on 15 December 1945, that he had no locus standi. The decision was a matter solely for the Home Secretary, Chuter Ede. The Prime Minister said that he appreciated Smuts’ feeling in the matter, and conveyed his message to the Home Secretary.
The Prison Commissioner’s file on John Amery (NA PCOM 9/1117) records that John Amery requested that four photographs in his possession should be passed to his brother, Captain Julian Amery, after his execution. The prison hospital report on John Amery stated that he was a heavy smoker, usually smoking his daily allowance of 15 small cigarettes.
At his execution, which occurred at 9 am. on 19 December 1945 at Wandsworth Prison, Amery was given a drop of 7 feet 8 inches. His height and weight were recorded as 5 feet 7 inches and 140 lbs. John Amery was described as 33 years old, a spare but a man of muscular build.
The Post Mortem was carried out by Dr. Keith Simpson later that day. John Amery had a fracture dislocation between the 2nd and 3rd cervical vertebrae. There was a 2-inch gap, with complete separation of the spinal cord at that level. He also had multiple fractures of the Hyoid and Thyoid cartilage. John Amery was buried in the prison graveyard later the same day.
The Executioner was Albert Pierrepoint, and his assistant was Mr. H.E. Critchell. In his autobiography, Pierrepoint described Amery as the bravest man that he had to execute.
On 22 April 1948, J.M. Wilmot Brooke wrote a letter requesting permission for Mrs. F. Amery to visit the grave of her son. The Home Office refused permission for the visit.
In 1996, after her death, the family succeeded in their efforts to have his body exhumed and cremated, with the ashes scattered in France