19 August 2017

HD Paranormal Film - Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm - Untold Secrets (2017)

HD Paranormal - Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm - The Untold Secrets (2017)
HD Paranormal - Who Put Bella in the
Wych Elm - The Untold Secrets (2017)
A few weeks ago (August 4, 2017), the HD Paranormal film on Bella in the Wych Elm was released and screened to an audience of 400-plus people in Stourbridge Town Hall. According to audience reviews, it was a very engaging film.

There are a few reviews of the film which offer some tantalizing hints of what is in the movie.
    Express & Star review
    Midland Movies review
    Stourbridge News review

The reviewers note that it is a well-researched film that keeps the audience wondering... what really happened. Unfortunately, none of the reviews really touch on the espionage aspect of the case and the far-fetched theory that Bella was Clara Bauerle.

Which means... one would either have to buy a copy of the film or... view it in person at another screening scheduled for October 31 at Stourbridge Town Hall.

The DVD is available for £5 but is currently out-of-stock. Another £5 to ship to Canada. Once I get my hands on a copy, I'll post a more detailed review here. Stay tuned.

29 July 2017

The Mystery of the Red Barns in Norfolk

I came across a few interesting news articles from 2015 that, while a bit far afield from the story of Josef Jakobs, are intriguing nonetheless (see links below). The stories centre on some Dutch farmers in Norfolk who were apparently building secret airfields and hangers for Germany's invasion of England.

Barn built by Dutch farmers in Norfolk (from Daily Express article)
Barn built by Dutch farmers in Norfolk
(from Daily Express article)
For 4 years, commencing in 1936, Dutch farmers of the East Anglian Real Property Company had been building huge barns and apparently preparing fields to serve as air strips for the German invasion. The RAF, on the hunt for new air strips in 1940 saw that all the likely looking sites were already occupied by suspicious barns with red roofs, chicken coops in the shape of swastikas and fields devoid of crops.

The Dutch farmers were all rounded up, arrested and interrogated. While some newspaper articles call them "spies", this seems highly unlikely as all were later released. Although... some news articles note that some managers were kept in jail while "their children were found billets in local houses and later deported."

The 2015 articles all refer to English Heritage military expert, Roger Thomas, from the York area who came across an Air Ministry file at the National Archives by accident. None of news articles give the folio reference for the file, which makes it extremely difficult to corroborate the information. One would think that such a story might be published in a reputable journal with relevant references so other researchers can confirm and contribute to the story. So far... no luck.

Roger Thomas does work for English Heritage and seems to have a broad interest in military history, and architecture.

I am going to hazard a guess that this was one of those "pre-invasion jitters" stories that were so common in 1940. English folk saw evidence of Nazi spies everywhere... in strange markings on telephone poles, in lights flashing from houses, in German paratroopers dressed as nuns and obviously... in strangely shaped foreign-looking barns and weird farming practices by Dutch farmers.

One news article went so far as to suggest that Hitler may have had a bizarre plot to capture King George VI, given how close these suspicious farms were to Sandringham, one of the royal estates. Wild speculation I would suggest.

One of the comments on the Daily Express article noted:
"The story is both an old one, and also complete nonsense. It first came to light more than 20 years ago, and has not been 'recently unearthed'. The barns were built in the 1930's by a Dutch concern who built them to support the local sugar beet harvest. The beet were processed at the factory at Cantley - at the end of the road where the barns are lined up. If you looked at the fields surrounding them, you wouldn't land a helicopter there, much less a glider, and they are emphatically NOT hangars - their design precludes their use for anything other than storage. Fifth column? Didn't exist...." (BruceWG)

The Easter Daily Press article does have a few tantalizing details from the Air Ministry files but... sadly... no actual references for the files. A writer by the name of Steve Snelling has suggested that the stories were all part of the invasion scare and, given that the Dutch farmers were all released, suggests there was no truth to the stories.

An article on the Geograph website has a list of the remaining Dutch barns that are in existence and a short write-up of the furor generated by Roger Thomas. The author of the article, Evelyn Simak, notes: "A record of these events is apparently kept at the National Archives but confirmation of the buildings having been constructed in order to serve a purpose other than farming has so far eluded historians other than Roger Thomas." I think that says it all. Until such time as the actual reference number for the mysterious Air Ministry file is revealed, the story is pure speculation.

References

York Press - Did Hitler Hatch Bizarre Plot to Capture King George VI?

The Mirror - Revealed - Hitler's Plot to Invade England from the sky using secret network of airstrips hidden in Norfolk countryside
Eastern Daily Press - Was Norfolk at Centre of Hitler's pre-war invasion plans?
Daily Express - Hitler's Secret Airstrips that were built by spies in Norfolk
Lynn News - North Pickenham linked to Nazi invasion plot

Geograph - East Anglian Real Property Company farm sheds

14 July 2017

Marking the Graves of World War I Spies in England

After the Battle Magazine - Volume 11
A number of spies were executed in England during World War I, most of them were shot at the Tower of London, and one, Robert Rosenthal was hanged at Wandsworth Prison in July 1915.

Carl Hans Lody was the first spy to be caught and executed. He was buried in the East London Cemetery in 1914. For decades, his grave was unmarked. In the early 1970s, his descendants placed a marker on his grave (see cover of After the Battle magazine - Volume 11 - at right).

The other spies who had been executed in the Tower were also laid to rest in the East London Cemetery, but none of their graves received individual markers. According to After the Battle magazine:
"Only the grave of Karl Lody can be seen today--the other bodies, buried by the State in common graves, have since had other remains buried above them, the ground having been used several times.

When the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgraberfursorge, the German War Graves Commission, were planning their cemetery at Cannock Chase (opened in 1967), they asked if it would be possible to disinter the bodies. Authorities at the cemetery pointed out that under British Law permission would have to be obtained from relatives of those buried above, before the graves could be opened--an almost impossible task where common burials are concerned. It seems the German authorities were satisfied with these arguments and the bodies remain interred at Plaistow.

Near Karl Lody's grave is a memorial stone to the other ten Germans executed in the Tower. The stone also records the names of seven other Germans who died in British prisons during 1915/16."
Stone commemorating German spies & soldiers at
Plaistow Cemetery.
(Find-a-Grave - photo by Geoffrey Gillon)
The war ended almost a century ago and little remains to tell the tale of these men who paid the ultimate price for their foolhardy bravery. What motivated these men, few of whom were German citizens, to spy for the Germans? Was it money? Was it coercion? A steep price to pay for very little reward and huge risk.

Carl Frederick Muller - born in Libau, in what is now Latvia
Willem Johannes Roos - Dutch
Haicke Petrus Marinus Janssen - Dutch
Ernst Waldemar Melin - Swedish
Augusto Alfredo Roggen - Uruguayan
Fernando Buschman - French
George Traugott Breeckow - born in Stettin, in what is now Poland (at the time part of Germany)
Irving Guy Ries - American (his real name is unknown)
Albert Meyer - unknown nationality (court martial file destroyed/missing)
Ludovico Hurtwitz-y-Zender - Peruvian

The stories of these spies is told best in the book by Leonard Sellers - Shot in the Tower - published in 1997. Sellers does not tell the tale of Robert Rosenthal, the only "German" spy to be hanged during World War I.

10 July 2017

Flurry of Activity around Jan Willem Ter Braak

Engelbertus Fukken (alias Jan Willem Ter Braak) (National Archives KV 2/114)
Engelbertus Fukken (alias Jan Willem Ter Braak)
(National Archives KV 2/114)
There's been a flurry of activity around Jan Willem Ter Braak the last couple of weeks. The media has learned that a gravestone is going to be placed on his grave and there have been a couple of articles that have come out.

The Cambridge News and the Daily Mail have similar articles that both mention my website and blog (even quote it!)... although both call it a Dutch website... which it most certainly is not. I did contact the author of the Daily Mail article regarding the error... but we'll see what comes of that.

The Mirror has an article on Ter Braak as well - but no mention of Josef Jakobs or this website/blog.

On another note, I was contacted by ITV Anglia via Skype and answered a few questions about Ter Braak. It would seem that there is more interest in the stories of the wartime spies. I'm also becoming aware that while I have a fair degree of knowledge about German espionage against Britain during the war... and think that much of this is common knowledge... most of it is not!

Update - ITV Angia piece available at this link.

28 June 2017

Web Review - Compilation 11 Site - 12 of the Weirdest Secrets of World War 2

Well, there is always something new. I came across a blog post on the C11 (Compilation 11) website. This is a rather dubious site that has a bunch of posts about "The 10 most this..." and the "The 13 most that...". Why one should expect accuracy from such a site is a bit of a mystery... but...

A couple of days ago, there was a post by one Patrick Barnes entitled "12 of the Weirdest Secrets of World War 2". Item #7 was "The Last Execution in the Tower of London".

Screenshot from Compilation 11 - 12 of the Weirdest Secrets of World War 2 - segment on Josef Jakobs using the wrong image
Screenshot from Compilation 11 - 12 of the Weirdest Secrets of World War 2 - segment on Josef Jakobs using the wrong image
Wikipedia entry on Josef Jacobs WW1 German Flying Ace
Wikipedia entry on Josef Jacobs
WW1 German Flying Ace
Now, you only have to look at the image of Josef Jakobs on my blog to know that the image used in the Compilation 11 post is not of the same man. The author of the post has unhelpfully confused Josef Jakobs, WW2 German spy executed on August 15, 1941 in the Tower of London with Josef Jacobs, WW1 German flying ace who died in Munich in 1978 at the ripe old age of 84. Two very different men.

The post notes:
"On August 14, 1941, the German spy Josef Jakobs became the last man to be executed in the Tower of London. He was buried in an unnamed tomb and while his boss Rudolf Hess (the last prisoner in the Tower) is remembered, Jakobs has long been forgotten."
The blog post has the wrong execution date - August 14, 1941 - when it was actually August 15, 1941. Rudolf Hess had absolutely no connection with the German Abwehr (German Intelligence Service) and, if we want to get technical, Josef's ultimate boss would have been Admiral Canaris.

I have to admit that no one has ever mixed up Josef Jakobs (spy) with Josef Jacobs (WW1 flying ace).

22 June 2017

Marking the Grave of Engelbertus Fukken a.k.a. Jan Willem Ter Braak

Engelbertus Fukken a.k.a.  Jan Willem Ter Braak (National Archives - KV 2/114)
Engelbertus Fukken a.k.a.
Jan Willem Ter Braak
(National Archives - KV 2/114)
The sad tale of Engelbertus Fukken, alias Jan Willem Ter Braak has recently been published in more detail by Jan Willem Van den Braak (no relation). The author's persistent research tracked down relatives of the unfortunate Fukken who filled in some of his background story. Their astonishment at having such an infamous character in their family tree was understandable. Given the secrecy surrounding wartime espionage activities in Britain, shame amongst Fukken's immediate family at his nefarious activities and the obvious language challenges, it would be easy for later family members to dismiss the rumours surrounding the strange uncle/cousin who disappeared during the war. But now that Fukken has stepped from the shadows, his relations are arranging for a marker to be placed on his grave.

After the Battle - Ter Braak's Grave
Our knowledge of Fukken's final resting place is due in large part to the work of Winston Ramsey and After the Battle Magazine. Researching the wartime spies during the mid-1970s, Ramsey had the advantage of speaking with eye witnesses of the events in question. Without Ramsey's dogged research, Fukken's final resting place may have remained unknown forever.

After the Battle magazine - No. 11
After the Battle magazine - No. 11
"The Coroner who examined the case, Mr. Walter Wallis, died in 1959 and from the enquiries that we made, we found that all his papers have been destroyed. We searched the records at every Cambridge cemetery looking for the entry noting Ter Braak's burial but could find no trace. Once again we seemed to be up against a blank wall, which the passage of thirty years and fading memories did nothing to help.

"That is, until we traced Mr. John O'Hannan, a funeral director in Cambridge during the war--the man that buried Ter Braak. It was just prior to Christmas 1974 that the editor went to see Mr. O'Hannan, 76 years old, in poor health for some time, and nearly blind. This is what he told us.

"On the morning of April 1, 1941, he received a telephone call from the Cambridge police and was told that a man had been found dead in an air raid shelter. He was asked to come and remove the body but not to mention a word about it (a silence he had kept until we spoke to him).

"Reaching Christ's Pieces, he was asked by the police to back his van up to the shelter which he did from Pikes Walk. The Chief Constable, Mr. R.J. Pearson and the Coroner's official lifted the body into Mr. O'Hannan's shell coffin used to transport bodies.

"The mortuary at the time was situated in Mill Road (now used as a maternity hospital) and Ter Braak was placed in the small end room which could be locked, rather than the main room.

"As Mr. O'Hannan undressed the body with the help of his assistant he was surprised to find Ter Braak was wearing two pairs of trousers. They removed these together with his coat and waistcoat and laid out the body.

"When he returned home Mr. O'Hannan was surrounded by reporters (he believes the mortuary attendant at Mill Road gave the story away although he had retained the key to the small room to stop anyone entering). However, Mr. O'Hannan kept his silence and denied any knowledge of the body.

"The Chief Constable had told him that when the Coroner's certificate was issued he was to bury Ter Braak in an unknown grave.

"On the day the certificate was obtained he was called to another suicide death at nearby Madingly. As reporters were still pestering for information, Mr. O'Hannan decided to switch the body of the woman who had committed suicide with that of Ter Braak. The switch passed unnoticed and Ter Braak was taken to Mr. O'Hannan's funeral parlour at 203 High Street, Chesterton (since demolished) and placed in the back room.

"However, within an hour reporters had discovered the switch of bodies and arrived at Chesterton, but Mr. O'Hannan again denied any knowledge. He had already been to Great Shelford, three miles to the south of Cambridge, to see the vicar, the Reverend F.W. Jeeves of St. Mary's Church and the parish clerk. Mr. O'Hannan told them he had the body of a student who had been killed on a motor cycle and whose parents had disowned him. He explained that he wanted a quiet funeral as nobody would be attending. He paid a fee of L3.0.6 to the clerk.

"At 9:00 a.m. on April 7, Ter Braak was buried, attended only by the Vicar, the gravedigger, Mr. Duisly the clerk and Mr. O'Hannan.

"No official mention was ever made of Ter Braak being a German spy. We found that Reverend Jeeves had since died and when we spoke to the present vicar at St. Mary's, Reverend Hale, he knew nothing of it and had no entry in his records. Until we traced Mr. O'Hannan, the grave could have been lost for ever. Mr. O'Hannan was, in fact, too blind to show us where it was. The grave remains unmarked to the present day when we photographed it with the Parish Clerk, Mr. P.E. Holdrup, in January 1975. We found the entry in the Register of Public Graves recording that L3.0s.6d. was paid for Grave 154."
The church referred to in the article is likely Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin, located in the southwest corner of Great Shelford (blue marker at bottom of image below). While the parish church does have a small churchyard with some older headstones, Engelbertus Fukken (a.k.a. Jan Willem Ter Braak) was NOT buried in St. Mary's Church cemetery. But... thanks to the After the Battle magazine article, at least we are in the right village!
Google Map - have added blue markers for St. Mary the Virgin (bottom of image)
and Great Shelford village cemetery (top of image).

Information gleaned in the last few years indicates that the grave is actually located in the Great Shelford Cemetery northwest of the village.

In a few months (one hopes), a stone will be placed on the grave site and Engelbertus Fukken's final resting place will be marked for posterity. It is one of the only firm pieces of information we have on Fukken during his time in England. Did he manage to contact the Germans via wireless transmitter? Were they supposed to send someone to him with more cash? These questions will likely remain unanswered.

I have created a Google Map marking some of the other sites associated with Jan Willem Ter Braak.

Great Shelford Online has a short article about Jan Willem Van den Braak's book about Jan Willem Ter Braak.

19 June 2017

Book Review - The London Cage - Alexander Paterson Scotland - 1957

The London Cage - Book Cover
The London Cage - Book Cover
The Book
The London Cage; Lt. Col. A.P. Scotland, O.B.E.; Evans Brothers Limited; London; 1957.

Summary
I purchased a copy of The London Cage several years ago and got around to reading it this past week.

The London Cage was one of a series of interrogation centres run by MI19. It was commanded by Lt. Col. A.P. Scotland. After the war, Scotland wrote the story of the London Cage but ran afoul of the Official Secrets Act. His original manuscript apparently outlined many of the controversial methods he used to extract confessions from the prisoners of war who passed through his hands. After being sanitized, the book was published in 1957.

Scotland outlines how he became involved in intelligence work in South Africa, even to the point of serving in the German Army for four years. We learn of his derring-do during World War I when he crossed enemy lines and sniffed out information on the Germans. Much of the book deals with the aftermath of World War 2 and how Scotland and his group sought to extract confessions from suspected war criminals. Given the sanitized nature of the London Cage's interrogation methods, there is actually very little information on the Cage. Scotland spends a fair bit of time outlining the war crimes that took place - the mass murder of Allied troops at Paradis, the execution of 50 Stalag Luft III escapees, and the execution of Italians by the Germans in retaliation for a partisan attack.

The London Cage - title page
The London Cage - title page
While Scotland acknowledges that many of the Nazi war criminals claimed torture at his hands, he denies that any took place. Interesting, given the fact that he had initially included so many of the methods in his initial draft. One thing Scotland lamented was that he, as an Intelligence Officer, had been called upon to testify at the war crimes tribunals. He was thereby subjected to questions, harassment, accusations and cross-examination, something he felt no Intelligence Officer should have to undergo. In that respect, the officers at MI5s secret interrogation centre, Camp 020, had an easier time of it, for none of them were ever called to testify at the German spy trials. In fact, the officers of MI5 would do anything to avoid being called by the courts, even to the point of dropping charges against at least one suspect.

Review

The book was definitely readable and interesting. I learned quite a bit about some of the war crimes committed against Allied troops by the Germans. I didn't learn a lot about the London Cage, however, and that is disappointing.

This article by The Guardian has a nice summary of the saga concerning Scotland's book.

Several War Office files at The National Archives relate to the publication of Scotland's book.