The BNP are facing embarrassing questions over the authenticity of a D-Day veteran featured on their website pledging his support and acting as a recruiting sergeant
Bob Head, 85, who describes himself as a hero and Normandy veteran, issued a statement last week calling on his “fellow patriots” to “fight against the destruction of our beloved Britain”. But since then apparent inaccuracies in Mr Head’s account of his involvement in the Second World War have come to light.
Last night the BNP were accused by anti-fascism campaigners and Second World War veterans’ associations of using the British armed forces to promote their own extremist politics, and of duping the public in advance of the General Election. Despite repeated requests, the far-right party refused to answer any questions about Mr Head’s wartime career, or to allow him to be interviewed.
The Sunday Herald repeatedly asked BNP communications officers to put us in touch with Mr Head. However, the party – despite promoting him online and putting him on posters as part of their election campaign – refused to put us in contact. Nick Griffin, the party’s leader, also refused to answer any questions about Mr Head’s military claims.
The questions are about:
Mr Head’s service
In his message of support to the BNP, Mr Head says he was “attached to the 51st Highland Division” and that “at just 20 years old I was involved in the Normandy invasion”. But there is confusion over the precise nature of Mr Head’s role in D-Day, and whether he took part in the initial invasion or arrived in France some time later. The 51st Highland Division only landed in France in the second wave of fighting in Normandy, after D-Day.
Mr Head also claims his division took part in Operation Market Garden, which included the attempt to take the Rhine bridges at Arnhem. But this was not the case: the 51st division was not involved.
George Batts, the national secretary of the Normandy Veterans Association, said the BNP should be “treated with the contempt they deserve” if untruths had been told about Mr Head’s role.
Mr Batts, 89, said: “A few of my fellow veterans had seen Mr Head on the BNP website and asked me if I knew of him, as they had never heard of him. There are thousands of veterans but it is odd that not one person remembers him or knows who he is. If he does exist, he is an idiot and he will not get much support from any Normandy veterans I know. I really would rather not see this kind of thing from one of our own. We could all now be tarred with the same brush.”
Mr Batts served with the Royal Engineers and landed in France on D-Day in June 1944. He said no “decent, legitimate party” would knowingly deceive the public over such an important event. “The best thing we can do is ignore both Mr Head and the BNP,” he added.
Mr Head’s medals
A photograph of Mr Head on the BNP website, which is also being used on billboard posters, shows him wearing nine medals. However, doubts have been raised about the way they are being worn. Military historians claim the top three medals are recognised as from the Second World War. However, there is confusion about the provenance of the lower set and how he is wearing them.
Maurice Cousins, a researcher for the campaign group Nothing British, which opposes the BNP, was one of a number of critics of the party who raised concern about the medals. James Bethell, director of Nothing British, added his voice to the concerns. “Time and time again the BNP seeks to hijack the memory of our military values and fallen heroes to promote their racist and extremist agenda,” he said. “Veterans up and down the country are revolted by the BNP’s tactics.
“No self-respecting soldier who fought the Nazis would lend their name to a party which promotes racism, homophobia, misogyny and anti-semitism. Griffin should sack any BNP member who masquerades with medals they do not deserve.”
Mr Head’s commander
Mr Head’s online message of support says he was “under the command of the legendary General Bernard Montgomery, or Monty as he was affectionately known”. However, General Montgomery was the overall British commander of the 21st Army Group. The 51st Highland Division was commanded firstly by Major-General Charles Bullen-Smith and then by Maj-Gen Tom Rennie.
Referring to concerns about Mr Head, Diana M Henderson, research director of the Scots At War Trust, said: “To be honest, the whole thing is just a bit sad. Many veterans are still here today and will no doubt be disappointed by this. But most will just shake their heads – after all, they were actually there.”
The source of Mr Head’s words
Last week, another Second World War veteran, Kenneth Riley, appealed for people to sign up to the Hope Not Hate campaign, which fights against the BNP and their policies. Hope Not Hate claim that, within hours, some of Mr Riley’s words were put into the mouth of Mr Head.
Such phrases as “Today, the war isn’t being fought on the battlefield – but in the ballot box” and “If I had my health I would be out there with them. But I can’t – so I’m writing to ask you to volunteer for me” appear in both of the men’s statements.
A statement on the Hope Not Hate website said Mr Riley was “furious when he was told that the BNP had taken his own words … and used them in a fundraising email”. It continued: “Ken fought the Nazis … He continues to fight the Nazis, in the guise of the BNP, today.”
After refusing to offer any information about Mr Head’s record and refusing the Sunday Herald the right to interview him, Paul Golding, communications officer for the BNP, said: “Unfortunately Mr Head is approaching 90 years old and I think it would be unfair on him to pester him with media interviews.”