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Worship of Hitler in an English Church, 1945

In Sept 1942, a lone plane dropped three bombs on Petworth in Sussex, one of them falling on a boys’ school. The bomber killed 29 school boys, a headmaster and schoolmistress in this daylight raid. The town was de­vastated so immediate protests were organised to the Lord Lieut of Sussex, the House of Commons and church author­ities.

Why am I discussing Petworth? Kingdom House was a fine C17th grey stone mansion situated in a hamlet named River, consisting of 18 cottages and a public bouse. Near Petworth, one of the most picturesque parts of Sussex, this property was owned by barrister and fascist sympathiser WG Barlow. A church at Kingdom House was set up by a group styl­ing itself the Legion of Christian Reformers/LCR and dedicated to the worship of Adolf Hitler.

During the war Barlow was detained under Regulation 18B of the Defence General Regulations 1939, which enabled the internment of enemy aliens and political dissenters. Most members of the LCR were former 18B detainees so the concept of the Legion probably emerged in late 1944 in the Peveril Internment Camp on the Isle of Man.

The Custodian of Kingdom House, Arthur Schneider, spent the summer preparing Kingdom House for the Legion following his release in April 1945. Other members arrived in Sept, including the two Schneider's sisters, James Battersby and another notorious fascist, Capt Thomas Baker.

Baker and Battersby were involved in the Militant Christian Patriots before the war, an organisation closely linked to other fascist groups like the Nordic League and the Britons Society. Deeply anti-Semitic, the pair developed their pol­itical ideology into a religion centred around the divinity of Hitler. Battersby wrote and published a manifesto in 1943 from the Isle of Man: We Englishmen, true to God and to England, declare the Judgement, the final struggle between God and Mammon, and the God-appointed mission of Adolf Hitler as God’s Judge, from our prison camp to the leaders of our country.

Kingdom House Petworth,
Photo credit: James Battersby, Heirs of the Kingdom. Kingdom Press, 1948

Arthur Schneider, son of an Aust­rian immigrant, was closely watched by Special Branch from the moment he joined the British Union of Fascists/BUF in 1939. Schneider had joined the army at the outbreak of war but requested to transfer to a non-combatant role in early 1940. He held strong pro-Nazi views, so he was discharged from military service and interned. Baker had converted the enthusiastic Schneider to his ideas of Hitler-as-Messiah while they were interned. Lieutenant Paget, the senior Intelligence Officer who interviewed Schneider at Peveril descr­ibed him as a mean, vindictive Nazi thug, crudely and spitefully antisemitic.

Schneider was the last 18B detainee to be released from Peveril in 1945. Even then, he was watched by MI5. His brother Robert was refused entry to the Royal Air Force.

The Schneider sisters moved to Kingdom House from their Women’s Land Army hostel in Sept 1945. In a document dated Nov 1945, Chief Constable of Sussex Police Captain WJ Hutchinson wrote: The sis­t­ers’ letters to their brother made it clear that the “final victory of good over evil refers to the victory of national socialism over democracy and that home means Germany”. Dangerous women!

The residents of Kingdom House said they wanted a quiet, self-sufficient life and were not planning to evangelise. The security services were aware of their existence, not least because Schneider still had to report to the police once a month, but did nothing.

Hitler Bust up for auction
at the German Embassy in Britain, Nov 1945
Photo credit: Getty Images

It might be supposed that in 1945, with war with Nazi Germany re­cently concluded, supporters of Nazism would not have been tol­er­ated in Britain at all. Yet the British government’s gen­eral policy was merely to watch them.

Then in Nov 1945, while reports of the Belsen trial were making news, another story hit the national news­papers. It began with the controversial auction of the contents of the German embassy in London. Among the items sold was a granite bust of Hit­ler, purchased for £500 by Captain Robert Gordon-Canning, a leading member of the BUF before the war. If Gordon-Canning could not consign Hit­ler's bust to Kingdom House, the bust would be presented to Sir Oswald Mosley, head of the League of British Fascists instead.

The villagers of River were horrified to learn that the Legion had settled in their midst. The Home Secretary shared revulsion against the LCR which, in the guise of religion, sought to make a cult of Hitler and of the forces of evil so recently successfully defeated. But unless the Legion broke the law, nothing could be done.

I would ask why could nothing be done? What about treason in war time? What about brutality to families who lost a son or husband fighting against Germany?

In Parliament Labour MP for Gravesend Garry Allighan asked the Home Secretary to 'cause an investigation to be made into the membership & operations of the Christian Reform Legion, with headquarters at Kingdom House ... whose objects are the veneration of Hitler and the perpetuation of his memory. They believe Hitler is the second Jesus Christ’. Two pastors arrived at the gates of Kingdom House to lead hymn-singing local protestors.

In mid-Dec 1945 10 masked men arrived in two large saloon cars, to raid Kingdom House. The residents opened the back kitchen door and were beaten up and cut on the face and head. Only the women were treated courteously. Expressing Christian values, Capt Baker emphasised that they did not want the police to press charges. The raiders fled, leaving a note: We, a party of young officers in HM services, carried out the operation at Kingdom House because the authorities seemed to be doing nothing about this setting up of a Hitler cult in England. All of us have served overseas.

Battersby published The Holy Book of Adolf Hitler
in English in 1951

It was the end for Kingdom House. At first the Legion’s members dispersed, although they tried to create a similar community in South Africa later on. Battersby was deported as an undesirable immigrant, returning home to continue publishing pro-Nazi literature. In 1955 he suicided by jumping from the Mersey Ferry. In Feb 1963 Arthur Schneider disappeared. Baker returned to live in Jersey, where he was visited by neo-Nazi admirers, until his death in 1966.


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