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General Sir Walter Walker was a British army officer and anti-communist who specialised in combatting guerrilla warfare but later in his life developed increasingly extreme right-wing political beliefs.
Walker has been accused of forming a private army with the intention of overthrowing the British government or seizing power if trade unionists rendered the country ungovernable. There are various rumours of different people planning military coups in the 1970s against Edward Heath or Harold Wilson, but little hard evidence. Walker certainly was involved in recruiting potential strikebreakers who would take action in the event of a general strike or other civil emergency, although that is not the same as planning a military coup.
Walker's philosophy of life seems to have been established at school. He wrote: "When I became head of the school's day boys, I found them to be a motley bunch of idle, unpatriotic, unkempt, and 'couldn't care less' type of youths. I decided to straighten them out…"
Walker was a career army officer who served in British India in the 1930s and 1940s and then in Malaya at the time of the so-called Malayan Emergency, a war fought by the UK against a Marxist guerrilla army opposed to British rule; he also advocated for the maintenance of the Gurkhas as part of the British Army. Following the independence of Malaya as Malaysia in 1963 and the resolution of the subsequent confrontation with Indonesia, he moved back to Europe in 1966 where he held senior positions with NATO until his retirement in 1972.
Walker was not happy with British life, seeing communist influences everywhere, particularly in militant British trade unions, which he called "the Communist Trojan horse in our midst, with its fellow travellers wriggling their maggoty way inside its belly". Around 1972 he was interviewed for a TV documentary A Day in the Life of a General which was never broadcast — Walker believed it was suppressed to hide the truth from the sheeple. An alternative, only slightly less alarming, argument is that it was banned because it showed Britain's lack of preparedness for a Soviet invasion.
In 1974 he sent a sternly worded letter to the Daily Telegraph newspaper calling for strong leadership to save Britain from communism. He claimed to have received support from senior military officers and the comedian Michael Bentine. He believed Harold Wilson was a red, and wanted racist ex-Tory Enoch Powell for Prime Minister. He supported corporal punishment and the white supremacist Rhodesian government of Ian Smith, but opposed homosexuality and wanted tougher action against Irish terrorism, believing the IRA to be Marxist agents for the Soviet Union.
Around that time he joined an anti-communist group, Unison Committee for Action, which comprised establishment figures such as bankers, businessmen, and lawyers, and was intended to run the country in the event of a breakdown of law and order. He was also involved with the National Association of Ratepayers' Action Groups, which combined advocacy of local government taxation reform with crypto-fascist politics.
Walker later split off part of Unison into his own organisation Civil Assistance, which was seemingly modelled on the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies, a right-wing organisation formed just before the 1926 General Strike to provide scab labour and defend the nation against trade unionists. Civil Assistance was called "near fascist" by Labour Defence Secretary Roy Mason. It claimed a membership of 100,000. The Morning Star, a pro-communist British newspaper, published an exclusive claiming CA's membership included several senior army officers and that Walker had called trade unionists traitors and Labour MPs subversives.
Walker seems to have opposed the National Front and other obviously extremist bodies, while advocating slightly less racist but still highly authoritarian politics. Civil Assistance members were not armed, and it officially existed only to defend legitimate authorities — whoever they might be.
Various reports describe Walker as trying to raise a private army or planning a military coup. He told British radio in 1974: "There are dozens of ad hoc groups all over the country organizing themselves to combat the breakdown of law and order which could come within the next few months when the strike season begins".
He was assisted by retired army major Alexander Greenwood. Greenwood has been quoted as saying: "Lord Mountbatten rang up Sir Walter Walker one evening and said, 'If you want any help from me will you let me know.' Sir Walter Walker had prepared a sort of speech, which the Queen might read out on the BBC that asked the people to stand behind the armed forces as there was a breakdown of law and order and the government could not keep the unions in control."
Walker claimed that on one morning he received 450 letters of support and 35 phone calls in support. An amateur flying club in Sunderland in NE England reportedly pledged to provide 25 pilots for a private air force.
None of this is evidence of actual plans for a military takeover, although such stories were common in the mid-1970s due to right-wing concerns about the decline of Britain, increased industrial action, recession, rising inflation, a worsening balance of trade, the IRA, the Cold War, the end of the British Empire, etc. The Montreal Gazette reported in August 1974 of alarming rumours about planned coups. An obvious model was the 1958 attempted putsch against the French government by army officers angry at the decline of France's overseas empire. David Stirling, founder of the SAS, was another figure who was reported to have been setting up his own private army, snappily called GB75. It was exposed by Peace News magazine in 1974, and Stirling (who was also reportedly concerned about its infiltration by neo-Nazis) cancelled his plans.
Fortunately, Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party, and right-wing nutters realised they could have a leader fitting their own ideals without the bother of armed warfare in central London.
Walker continued his anti-communist interests, writing two book about the threat from Russia: The Bear At the Back Door (1978) and The Next Domino? (1980). He joined the Conservative Monday Club and was Patron of the Western Goals Institute, an organisation officially set up to oppose communism but also not exactly keen on non-white people coming to live in Britain. Walker's health deteriorated in the 1980s and 1990s, which he claimed was because military hospitals had botched his hip operations, and he died in 2001.
- James Goldsmith, who socialised with other alleged 1970s coup-plotters.
- General Sir Walter Walker: Obituary, Daily Telegraph, 13 Aug 2001
- Civil unrest, corrupt police and porn: Why the 1970s were no different from today, Ian Burrell, Independent, 11 May 2012
- See the Wikipedia article on Walter Walker (British Army officer).
- Walter Walker: Obituary, The Guardian, 14 Aug 2001
- See the Wikipedia article on Civil Assistance.
- "Britain's economic problems breed dissent", Kevin Doyle, Montreal Gazette, Aug 13, 1974, via Google News.
- See the Wikipedia article on Alex Greenwood (British Army officer).
- BBC documentary The Plot Against Harold Wilson, quoted in Britain: Documentary reveals plan for coup against Wilson Labour government—Part 2, Ann Talbot, World Socialist Web Site, 20 Apr 2006
- See the Wikipedia article on May 1958 crisis.
- See the Wikipedia article on David Stirling.
- See the Wikipedia article on Western Goals Institute.