biography of the Mitford sisters
[Sir Oswald and Lady Mosley – ie the former Diana Mitford - were arrested and held without charge during WW2 under emergency legislation - Regulation 18b]
In November 1941 Churchill sent a letter to Herbert Morrison. ‘Feeling against 18b is very strong,’ he wrote. ‘Sir Oswald Mosley’s wife has now been 18 months in prison without the slightest vestige of any charge against her, separated from her husband.’ Morrison felt unable to order the Mosleys’ release, given how strongly the public wanted them to remain in jail. Nevertheless he did what he could: the order was given that the fifteen couples held under 18b be transferred to married accommodation. A separate block at Holloway, formerly the parcels office, was prepared to receive three of the couples, including the Mosleys.
Diana’s husband moved in with her on 20 December. She later wrote that ‘one of the happiest days of my life was spent in prison.’ The two years that they would then spend together in the Parcels House, growing vegetables, occasionally having their children to stay, fused their marriage into indissolubility. Out in the world, Mosley had been a rover and a bounder. Now, in this little island of domesticity within the clutch of Holloway, he was Diana’s only. She had seen off all the competition: the Curzon sisters, the army of Blackshirts. And Mosley was a good companion, full of jokes and kindness towards the woman whose life he had destroyed.
commentary: I took a first look at this new biography of the Mitfords in an entry two weeks ago.
It’s always interesting to look at Diana’s time in prison: few stories make me pro-imprisonment-without-trial, but this is one of the cases where it might be justified. She was taken into custody during WW2 when she and her husband Oswald Mosley were seen as a danger to their country. Of course that is in general a bad thing, but context is everything. Britain was at war, and in danger of invasion. Perhaps you do have to be careful then. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world were being imprisoned without trial: in concentration camps, in POW camps on all sides, and in internment camps. Worrying about Diana Mosley – with her account at Harrods – isn’t rising to the top of anyone’s list. And the question is this: what did she think was happening to people in her situation in Germany? She and her husband fought a libel action against a newspaper while in prison, had their day in court, and were awarded damages. She used the money to buy a fur coat because her cell was cold. Does she really think that would have happened to Hitler’s enemies in Berlin?
And most people were living uncomfortable lives too. People who’d been bombed by her friend Hitler. There’s a to-do about her not having enough baths. There is a much-quoted story from Diana about Miss Davis ‘a wardress I was fond of’ saying ‘Don’t worry… I’m sending sex offenders [into your section]; they are always clean and honest.’ This was – wait for it – to do the cleaning. Apparently Lady Mosley cannot do the cleaning, other prisoners must do it. [The Parcels House, ironically, sounds like a National Trust Holiday cottage, they’re very keen on giving their properties names like that.]
The Mosleys were released in 1943, but faced unpopularity at all social levels. I do find this amusing, a story Nancy relates in a letter to Evelyn Waugh on 1947:
Diana has been in her flat and somebody has written shit & things on the door & D said ‘Of course they think the busy little housewife will clean it off, but really darling I can’t be bothered.’I can only repeat what I said about her before: Her politics were detestable and deluded. There is a way in which she doesn’t add up… She was simultaneously quite transparent and quite incomprehensible – those who knew her say she had great personal warmth and charm, but some of us (without the advantage of knowing her personally) wonder about the ice in her heart.