Memoir of a Fascist Childhood by Trevor Grundy
Given my own political leanings, over the years I must have racked-up a good many biographies and auto-biographies of Leftist artists, activists, trade unionists and politicians. So it’s always a salutary experience to set sail on more discomforting and choppy waters and Trevor Grundy’s brutally honest Memoir of a Fascist Childhood – subtitled A Boy In Moseley’s Britain – covers territory totally alien to me.
Born in 1940, Grundy grew up in a rabidly pro-Hitler, pro-Fascist London family. His parents were unapologetically racist and anti-Semite and were keen to indoctrinate their children in the idea that Hitler was right and that some day his ideas would win out over what they characterised as the limp, liberal or leftist dogma that defaced their idea of what Great Britain should be.
Keen to please his mother in particular, Trevor found himself at the centre of the raggle-taggle groupings that gathered around the aging Oswald Moseley and the fantasy that he might win a Parliamentary seat in the 1959 and 1966 elections. He was, of course, humiliated in both.
At the very heart of this book though isn’t really Trevor at all but his domineering, virulently racist, angry and complex mother. It was she who would press home the messages of hate – sending the young Trevor to school with PJ (Perish Judah) embroidered on his clothes. Like the good son he wanted to be, he repeated the hatred in the school playground and grew up not questioning the torrent of abuse that flowed from his mother and father.
But almost unknowingly to himself Trevor like many adolescents was actually on a journey to a different head-space – a way of thinking that challenged and excluded his parents’ beliefs. But Grundy is very honest about it – he doesn’t find some blinding or sudden epiphany but rather a gradual sense of perplexed discomfort where too many things just didn’t add up. Probably the most striking being his mother’s seemingly casual confession that she herself was a Jew.
Quite what the roots were of his mother’s virulent hatred for Jews and minority ethnic groups in general is never really clearly explained or fully explored. There is a suggestion that her attitudes lay deeply embedded in her own childhood traumas – she was almost certainly abused and may even have been forced by her family into prostitution. But that remains only a hint or suggestion and her life-long commitment to Fascism seems to have been unshakable. His father, on the other hand, came from a much more recognisable racist working class tradition – one I myself often witnessed as a young boy in inner city Birmingham.
Thankfully however the memoir is not all doom and gloom. Grundy does break free through becoming a journalist and spending time as an African correspondent. He married a woman of mixed heritage, had a child and divorced without coming back under the influence of his mother – who died while he is abroad. He does, however, return for the funeral of his father and finds the old habits hard to break – almost by reflex giving a Nazi salute as the coffin is lowered. It’s a salutary lesson about how deeply ingrained the childhood experience can become..
Grundy also does a pretty good line in the absurd – of which there seemed to be plenty of examples in his teenage years. He tells a wry story of his attempt to lose his virginity and finding himself naked with a girl wearing a Star of David necklace. He’s forced to flee the scene before consummating the relationship so as not to compromise his ideological position. Or there’s the meeting he calls to organise some right wing thuggery but the fact that the group have to meet next to the toilet means he becomes fixated on the smells and sounds associated with that room – the fact that this is a metaphor for his activities is clearly not lost on him.
Despite the parade of odious characters the book is a remarkably easy read and makes some important points about the indoctrination of the young and it has given me some invaluable insights into a frame of mind I would find hard to imagine or, god forbid, empathise with. It’s a journey to the dark side but one I think it’s sometimes necessary to make.
( This review was originally published on The Letterpress Project website.)