British Anti-Semitists (1): Arnold Spencer Leese

Arnold Spencer Leese was a veterinary surgeon and a highly respected authority on camels. He is known for two books – Out of Step: Events in the Two Lives of an Anti-Jewish Camel Doctor and The One-Humped Camel in Health and Disease. The latter was for a long-time the authoritative work on the subject – and even today the book is required reading for those in the field. Richard Bulleit, Professor of History at Columbia University, makes the following comment on Leese:

From my particular standpoint as a one-time specialist (and, for want of competition, still an authority) in the history of camel-saddle design, I have often reflected upon a lesson of Leese’s career that I saw borne out, in lesser degree, in the lives of certain other camel specialists I learned about in my research: Do not put too much trust in camel scholars when they stray into areas of important human concern.

Leese’s eternal problem –the cause of an inferiority complex that continuously fed his prejudice – was that he never made the grade as Britain’s leading fascist. Having founded and single-handedly run the Imperial Fascist League in the Twenties, in the Thirties he found himself effortlessly out-run by the young, glamorous, rich and ambitious Oswald Mosley. His relegation to the second desk was a setback from which he never fully recovered.

The following extract from Leese’s autobiography Out of Step: Events in the Two Lives of an Anti-Jewish Camel Doctor, gives a disturbing picture of the relentless and unhinged tenor of his beliefs.

Let me close this record, however, on an animal note. After the loss of my St. Bernard, and after my first antiJewish conviction in 1936, I decided not to acquire another dog. I foresaw that the Jews would try and get me back into prison, in which case I felt that to have a dog at home would add to my own distress in prison, and would not be fair on the dog. But, in 1935, we adopted a ginger male kitten, and Nandy II has been a constant source of entertainment to us for over 15 years; it was through him that I became aware of a sense which some animals (of species not too far removed from the feral) possess which gives them some sort of radar-like warning, presumably vague, of coming calamity. It may be that some humans of primitive type may share this sense with them. As has been narrated, I was arrested in 1940 under 18B and taken away for over three years; and in 1947, I was imprisoned for eight months. During the two days before these events, Nandy would hardly leave me; he followed me about all over the house and garden, and it was so marked that on the second of these occasions, my wife became convinced that I was in for a stiff term of imprisonment. Nandy was right both times! It is all the more interesting to record that in 1950, when the Government tried to silence me by a criminal libel charge, Nandy took no special notice of me when I departed for the Old Bailey; and this actually gave us some encouragement! And he was right again, because I was acquitted; he was about the only one who expected that result! As I write, he sleeps, soundly, beside me; in his 16th year, not just a Cat, but One of Us!

It should be noted that at about the time of Nandy’s adoption, Leese was running the Imperial Fascist League and its newspaper, The Fascist, from premises at 33 Craven Street, WC1. In one editorial he wrote: “It must be admitted that the most certain and most permanent way of disposing of the Jews would be to exterminate them by some humane method such as the lethal chamber.” Leese also nurtured a burning single-issue, the question of Jewish ritual slaughter. He sensed enormous mileage in the perennial British loathing for cruelty to animals and as a highly respected veterinary surgeon, he was ideally placed to exploit this. He therefore published an inflammatory pamphlet entitled ‘The Legalised Cruelty of Shechita – the Jewish method of Cattle Slaughter’. In it he proposed an ingenious strategy for having ritual slaughter banned under the Slaughter of Animals Act 1933, but ultimately the issue was seen as so unsavoury that Leese’s public simply lost interest.

Further reading on this site: A. K. Chesterton and C. G. Grey

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