Today I want to tell you about a remarkable man, the founder and honourary curator of the Jewish Military Museum, Henry Morris.
After the Second World War and particularly from 1947, Sir Oswald Mosley and the political activities of the Union Movement (formerly the British Union of Fascists) intensified.
To counter this disturbing rise in right-wing politics the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX), alongside the 43 Group (an English anti-fascist group set up by Jewish ex-servicemen after World War II) and the Board of Deputies, began a variety of campaigns. Outdoor speakers against fascism and anti-Semitism were mobilised. Henry Morris was one such speaker and can be seen in the photograph below.
AJEX, the 43 Group and the Board of Deputies trained speakers and every Sunday from 1947 a rota of speakers took the stand at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park and other places such as Notting Hill and Tottenham. Their speeches exposed the activities of the right-wing parties and denounced the fascists as not just enemies of Jews but a threat to all of democracy.
Henry told me that people in the crowd who were in support of the AJEX cause were invited up to speak with them. One day when Henry was speaking he invited a young American student, Walter Mondale, up to state his support. This American student later became the Vice President of the United States under Jimmy Carter, 1977–1981.
Henry explained he only experienced hostility to his speeches once or twice, especially in 1948 when he faced lots of questions about the creation of the State of Israel due to the end of the British mandate. I was surprised that he did not encounter more opposition, especially in the difficult post-war climate.
In 1952 the Union Movement ceased to exist and the economic situation of Britain improved. In response AJEX scaled back their talks at Speakers’ Corner but continued to deliver lectures. Henry continued with defence activities and was chairman of the Jewish Defence Committee from 1980-1986 and represented AJEX as a Deputy of the Board for 50 years.
Henry went on to write three books, publishing two issues of ‘We Will Remember Them’ and ‘The AJEX Chronicles’.
Having collected the stories of Jewish veterans for many years, he founded the Jewish Military Museum in 1996 and is still actively involved in its development and future today.