30 April 2014

Was Josef Jakobs held as a prisoner of the Tower of London?

Tower of London - East Tower of Waterloo Block (copyright G.K. Jakobs)
Tower of London - East Tower of
Waterloo Block (copyright G.K. Jakobs)
It is a well-established fact that Josef Jakobs was executed at the Tower of London on 15 August 1941. What is not so clear is this: was Jakobs held at the Tower prior to his execution? Several stories variously suggest that he was held at the Tower (a) for the night prior to his death, (b) for the period from August 5 to August 15 (between his court- martial and his execution), (c) for several months prior to his execution.

Most stories agree that Jakobs was held in a room on the top floor of the east tower of the Waterloo Barracks within the Tower precinct. Recently, however, some other information has come to light which calls this long-standing story into question.

Wandsworth Prison
In 1958, the former Governor of Wandsworth Prison, Major B.D. Grew, wrote a memoir in which he mentioned Josef Jakobs and the morning of his execution.
[Josef Jakobs] spent his last night at Wandsworth before being taken to the Tower to face the firing squad.

As dawn came I stood at the entrance to my office as he approached, still limping from his injury, with the stalwart British military policemen escorting him. ...

I watched him go down the steps, and into a military police car with its outrider escort alongside and escort cars in front and behind.

As the massive doors of Wandsworth Prison swung slowly open the coming dawn was lighting the field in front, and touching the trees and barrage balloons with its cold light.

The procession of cars with its central figure passed quickly through the gateway into the deserted streets on its way to the Tower.
Wandsworth Prison
Wandsworth Prison - from Pinterest
Finally, the Governor's journal, in which he logged details of the prison's daily routine noted:
23rd July 1941 - Josef Jacobs, military prisoner arrived as lodger in F3 (Mil Prison)
15th August 1941 - I visited the prison at 4:40 am, all parts in order. Military prisoner Josef Jacobs taken at dawn to be shot at the Tower.
It is quite clear from Major Grew's account that Jakobs was held at Wandsworth Prison from July 23 until the early morning hours of August 15, the morning of Jakobs' execution.

Tower of London
Additional information surrounding that fateful morning comes from the Regimental Sergeant Major's instructions from the Tower of London. According to this document, the prisoner was scheduled to arrive around 5:30 a.m.

Military Policeman Testimony
Cap of the Corps of Military Police
Cap of the Corps of Military Police
(from Ebay)
Finally, one of the military policeman who guarded Josef Jakobs from July 23 until August 15 wrote a short summary of his experience. According to this Corporal, Jakobs and his escort left Wandsworth Prison in a taxi on the morning of August 15 and arrived at the Tower of London around 7:30 am.

While the time is most likely not accurate (Jakobs was excecuted at 7:12 am), the general pattern of the account matches that of Major Grew.

Transfer from Wandsworth Prison to Tower of London
On the morning of 15 August, 1941, the Governor of Wandsworth Prison visited the prison at 4:40 am. He had a brief encounter with Josef Jakobs who was being transferred to the Tower of London. As the car carrying Jakobs left the prison, the Governor noted that dawn was coming. On the morning of August 15, 1941, dawn (civilian twilight) would have begun at 5:08 am with sunrise coming at 5:46 am. Jakobs was driven to the Tower of London, a journey that takes about 22 minutes today (slightly longer if there is traffic). Jakobs was expected to arrive at the Tower around 5:30 am.

Josef Jakobs was not held at the Tower of London at any point during his incarceration. He was only transferred there from Wandsworth Prison in the early morning hours of 15 August, 1941.


References
The Prison Governor, Major B.D. Grew, 1958.
RSM Orders, Tower of London.
Military Policeman's personal account of execution.

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