28 May 2014

Book Review - Shot in the Tower by Leonard Sellers (1997)

Shot in the Tower - book cover.
Shot in the Tower - cover.
The Book
Shot in the Tower: The Story of the Spies executed in the Tower of London during the First World War, Leonard Sellers. Leo Cooper, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, 1997.

Eleven German spies were executed in the Tower of London during World War I. Their stories are ably recounted by Sellers in this book. Drawing on several books published in the 1920s and the declassified MI5 files, Sellers paints touching portraits of each of the erstwhile spies. Some were courageous, some were cowards. The espionage activities of some where comical while others were more accomplished.

Tucked at the end of the book is a brief appendix which mentions Josef Jakobs. While not executed during World War I, Jakobs was the last person executed in the Tower. While the MI5 files on Jakobs had not yet been declassified, the information provided by Sellers is accurate.

Josef Jakobs was the only spy to be executed in the Tower of London in the Second World War. At 8:20 am on Saturday, 1 February, 1941, two farm-workers were walking across Dovehouse Farm, Ramsey Hollow, Huntingdonshire, when they heard what appeared to be three pistol shots. They found a man, Jakobs, lying on his back, covered by a camouflaged parachute - he had broken his leg. The man threw the weapon into a steel helmet, saying that he came from Hamburg and was in no war. But he had torn up a code and had buried an attache case under his body. The case contained a wireless transmitter that could work both short and long waves. Jakobs also had in his possession a small torch with a flashing device, and a map that was marked in positions corresponding to the RAF aerodrome of Upwood and the satellite airfield of Warboys.

Jakobs went before a court martial on 4-5 August, 1941, at the Duke of York Headquarters, Chelsea. He was found guilty and sentenced to death by shooting. He was executed in the Tower of London on 15 August, 1941.
A sobering read, Seller's book gets high marks for historical accuracy, particularly as regards Jakobs.

Review Score
4 out of 5 - The piece on Josef, while short, is accurate.

23 May 2014

A Plea for Mercy from Josef Jakobs to King George VI

On Tuesday 5 August, 1941, Josef Jakobs was condemned to death for espionage by a General Court
Martial. There was no possibility of filing an appeal, so Jakobs wrote a plea for mercy to His Majesty King George VI.
King George VI
King George VI (from Wikipedia)

Jakobs wrote his petition out by hand, and in German, probably on 6 August. The military chaplain assigned to Jakobs, Fr. Edward Jackson, probably helped him with the letter.
Original handwritten petition of Josef Jakobs to King George VI
Original handwritten petition of Josef Jakobs to King George VI (page 1)
(National Archives - Secret Service files)

Original handwritten petition of Josef Jakobs to King George VI
Original handwritten petition of Josef Jakobs to King George VI (page 2)
(National Archives - Secret Service files)

Since it was unlikely that King George VI could read German, the original letter was translated into English and typed out, most probably by Lt. Col. Hinchley-Cooke. During this process, the wording of the original letter was altered. Most of the alterations simply brought added clarity to Jakobs' situation, and in the end, Jakobs signed the typed English version, so clearly he approved the alterations. The final letter read:

The humble petition by Josef Jakobs, a prisoner under sentence of death.

To His Majesty the King.

May it please Your Majesty,

A most unhappy man makes this appeal for mercy at the hands of Your Majesty. On the 5th of August, 1941, Your Majesty's Court Martial condemned me to death, convinced that I came to Your Majesty’ country with intent to do her harm by transmitting information to the Nazis.

Your Majesty, in the face of death, I once again give the assurance which I have already given under oath before the Court Martial, I swear by the dearest and most precious thing I possess, by the life of my three children that this never was and never could be the case, that it is just the opposite, that I came to Your Majesty’s country with the sole purpose of fighting on England’s side against the Nazis. I came to Your Majesty’s country with the sole purpose of joining in the fight for personal freedom, for religious freedom for my children, for freeing the German people from the frightful enslavement of the Nazi tyranny and not to die for the Nazi tyrants.

Your Majesty can obtain a clearer idea from the speech of my defending officer, Captain White, of the unfortunate circumstances of my landing, a landing which at the time, however, I considered fortunate. I have nothing to alter in his descriptions, for they are entirely in accordance with the facts.

Should Your Majesty, however, believe that I am not worthy of Your Majesty’s mercy, I beg Your Majesty to postpone the execution until the termination of the war, in order thereby to make it possible for me, at a fresh trial, to prove to the full my innocence by obtaining the attendance of witnesses now living in Germany and the production of documents. [In the very nature of my case such evidence, which in fact exists, is by reason of the war not available to me. It is a difficulty which must face every enemy of the Nazis who leaves Germany and comes to this country. But surely England will not, for lack of such evidence, condemn to death a friend and one who will gladly help her.] [N.B. The bold sentences in square brackets were not in the original German version.]

Your Majesty, as the very facts of my arrival in this country will show Your Majesty, I am no coward, I am not afraid of death. I would accept the verdict of the Court Martial without this appeal for mercy, if I felt myself even in the least guilty of the charge brought against me. But the opposite is the truth and for that reason I beg Your Majesty mercifully to refuse to confirm the sentence passed on me. A wife and three young children join with me in this appeal

I do not want to close this appeal for mercy without assuring Your Majesty once again that Your Majesty would show mercy not to an enemy but to a friend, a true friend of England.

Your Majesty’s most humble servant,

(sgd) Josef Jakobs.

On Friday, 8 August, 1941, the Judge Advocate General forwarded Jakobs' petition to the Secretary of State for War. The Judge Advocate General wrote a letter to accompany the petition explaining the facts of Jakobs' case and stated that in his opinion there were no legal grounds to interfere with the findings of the court martial.

The Secretary of State for War, David Margesson, forwarded the petition to the King on 9 August. Margesson also made no recommendation for mercy.

And, in the end, having seen the petition, King George VI signed the top of the form:
Royal approval of the execution of Josef Jakobs
Royal approval of the execution of Josef Jakobs
(National Archives - War Office files)

Jakobs' sentence of death and been approved by King George VI. His plea for mercy - refused. His plea for a postponement of his execution and request for a new trial at the end of the war - refused. The war machine was working and in the grand scheme of things, Jakobs' life was simply grist for the mill. Churchill had demanded that more spies be executed and Jakobs was simply one of those unfortunate few.

19 May 2014

Facing Death (Part 2) - Courage vs. Cowardice - Karel Richter & Josef Jakobs

When Josef Jakobs was executed on 15 August, 1941, his fellow spy, Karel Richter was told that Jakobs had died "a brave man". As his impending appointment with the hangman's noose approached, Richter wrote a letter to his interrogator's stating that:
"You will see, and you can rely upon it that I shall not be less brave than Jakobs; I too will know how to die, yet not as a Nazi spy on your gallows, but as a man."
Karel Richter had a specific idea in his mind of what "brave" meant and it looked like this.

Karel Richard Richter - Executed 10 December 1941 

Karel Richter, 1941.  (from National Archives - Secret Service files)
Karel Richter, 1941.
(from National Archives - Secret Service files)
"On the preceding afternoon Albert Pierrepoint, the hangman detailed to carry out the execution, arrived at the prison [Wandsworth]. As was the usual practice before executions, he was allowed to view the prisoner, without himself being seen. This was to assess Richter's physical characteristics--build, thickness of neck, etc. to be assessed together with his height and weight (given as six feet two inches and fifteen stone four pounds respectively on his medical card), to calculate from a table of figures the precise length of rope required.

Richter was in the prison yard between two burly prison officers, his lips shut in a grim line, making no attempt at any sort of conversation.

As was normal practice, the hangman slept at the prison overnight. The following morning, Pierrepoint, with his assistant, the Sheriff, Governor, doctor and warders were outside the condemned cell a few minutes before eight o'clock. Here a few words should be said about the lightning-fast procedure at a routine British execution... to appreciate what happened in Richter's case.

The executioner and his assistant would wait outside the condemned cell. At the signal to enter, given by the Sheriff, they would proceed into the cell. The executioner would then pinion the prisoner's arms behind his back, after which he was escorted through the communicating door to the execution chamber, the trap doors being level with the floor. The Sheriff, Governor and doctor entered directly by another door from the corridor. The prisoner was then placed on the drop on a chalk "T" mark lined up with the crack in the trap doors. The executioner then placed a white linen bag over the prisoner's head and the noose around his neck, while the assistant pinioned his legs. When the executioner saw that all was ready he pushed the lever. From the giving of the signal to the trap being opened, the time was seven to twenty seconds. Pierrepoint has recorded that many times the clock was still striking eight after the trap doors had opened.

Book Cover - Executioner Pierrepoint - An Autobiography
[Now comes] Albert Pierrepoint's own account of the execution of Richter, the only condemned prisoner in the hundreds he has executed, including other spies, to cause trouble.

'I was outside his cell on time next morning, and when the door swung open I got my first shock. Richter should have been sitting at the table with his back to me. It is usually arranged that the condemned man should be in this position, so that in three quick strides I can be behind him, tapping him on the shoulder and taking his arms to pinion his wrists behind his back as he stands up.

But Richter was standing at the far side of the table, glowering at the open door. I had to walk all round the table to reach him. His face was working angrily. His eyes were staring, very blue and dangerous. His big fists were clenched. Before I could reach him he heaved away the nearest prison officer and dived like a bullock at the stone wall. His head cracked against the masonry.

My first impression was quite irrelevant. It was the flurry of robes of the Catholic priest as he tried to get out of the way of the battle which followed. It may have been Richter's intention to stun himself so that he was hanged unconscious. I do not know. He stunned himself only for a moment. He lay like a log on the floor, then raised himself and shook his head. The two death-cell officers dived on top of him. He clawed and kicked them away. Two more officers rushed in from the corridor. There were five bodies thrashing on the floor, and one of the men in blue was an accomplished judo expert.

Someone gasped "Get your straps on him, Albert, for God's sake!" I was circling round the melee, waiting my chance to do this. I managed to engage one of his wrists. Then I brought the strap round the other. Officers were sitting on his legs and then they began to drag him to his feet. I turned to go through the cell into the execution chamber. It was not the sort of occasion when I should say sympathetically, "Follow me, lad. It will be all right."

Suddenly there was a shout from behind me: "Albert! Albert! Come back!" I turned and saw that Richter's arms were free and it was a free-for-all again. With his hands behind him he had strained on the pinioning strap around his wrists and split it from eye-hole to eye-hole. I would not have thought such strength was possible. I went back and got into the fray. Richter fought me, fought everybody. I managed to get a grip on the strap. Normally I had never put on the pinion very tight: I had found it was psychologically wrong to make the prisoner feel constricted , or angry because a buckle was nipping into his flesh, and that generally only the suggestion of restraint was enough, while for practical purposes the arms could not fly outwards anyway. This time I had no choice. I had to get the strap to fasten on an inside hole. I was strong, and I dug my knee into his back and pulled until the strap was secure in a second hole. Once more I started towards the scaffold.

The Sheriff and the Governor and their party had been watching this struggle from the execution chamber. Richter was now brought to the scaffold. A strap was quickly fastened round his ankles, the cap and noose were adjusted, and still he fought for his life. Just as I was crossing to the lever, he jumped with bound feet. The drop opened, and he plunged down, and I saw with horror that the noose was slipping. It would have come right up over his head had it not caught roughly at a point halfway up the hood--it had in fact been stopped on his upper lip by the projection of his nose--and the body jerked down, then became absolutely still apart from the swinging of the rope. I went down into the pit with the prison medical officer. He examined the body and said to me: "A clean death. Instantaneous." He sounded surprised, and I did not blame him. I was surprised myself, and very relieved. On my next visit to Wandsworth the Governor told me that the severance of the spinal cord had been perfect.' (After the Battle Magazine)

Richter's death did not take 7 or 20 seconds; it took an agonizing 17 minutes. (Hayward)

Josef Jakobs - Executed 15 August 1941

Tis said that courage is common, but the immense esteem in which it is held proves it to be rare. Animal resistance, the instinct of the male animal when cornered, is no doubt common; but the pure article, courage with eyes, courage with conduct, self-possession at the cannon's mouth, cheerfulness in lonely adherence to the right, is the endowment of elevated characters. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Karel Richter exhibited the "animal resistance" of which Emerson spoke, the urge to fight in the face of danger. The animal instinct within each person would urge one to either fight or flee. The human way of courage requires one to stay and face what is to come, with "self-possession at the cannon's mouth".

How did Josef Jakobs face his death? Two accounts can give us a picture of Jakobs as he approached that moment. Major Benjamin Dixon Grew, Governor of Wandsworth Prison, saw Jakobs on the morning of his execution. His account speaks for itself:
"Of all the spies who faced execution I shall remember one for his soldierly manner, his courtesy and his quiet courage. Joseph Jacobs [sic] was a German officer dropped from an aeroplane... was tried by general court martial and sentenced to death by shooting. At 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. He must have seen me silhouetted against the electric light in my office, for he walked the few paces towards me with his outstretched hand, and said a few words of thanks. As well as he could, he clicked his heels and walked on. I remember I felt disinclined to return immediately to my office, and walked for for a short way still thinking of that firm handshake and the fast-approaching end of a brave soldier."
Colonel Robin Stephens, commandment of Latchmere House, the interrogation centre where German spies were squeezed for all information, also had something to say about Jakobs.
[Jakobs] died at the Tower of London on 15 Aug 1941, a brave man. His last words directed the "Tommies" of the firing squad to shoot straight."

Jakobs went to his execution calmly, with quiet courage and bravery


After the Battle Magazine, volume 11.
Grew, Benjamin Dixon. The Prison Governor, 1958.
Hoare, Oliver. Camp 020, 2000.
Secret Service files, National Archives, KV 2/31 - Karel Richter.

14 May 2014

Facing Death (Part 1) - Courage vs. Cowardice - Germans Spies of World War I

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (Dylan Thomas)
Courage in the Face of Death

How does one "rage, rage against the dying of the light"? Is it an external raging or an internal? Some know that death is coming to get them. Some die a lingering death of illness and sickness. They can prepare. Others die shockingly quickly. Facing death is an intimately personal moment, but one that speaks to the interior character of a person.

World War I
Eleven German spies faced British firing squads at the Tower of London during World War I. They came from various background and nationalities. They each faced their impending death differently. No one asked these men about their feelings in the moments before their executions. Were they terrified? Most likely.

Mark Twain said "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear -- not absence of fear." There is no courage where there is no fear. It is what you do with the fear that distinguishes courage from cowardice.

For these men, we have only the testimonies of a variety of witnesses and their assessment of the condemned man's state of mind

Carl Hans Lody - Executed 6 November 1914
Lody was a 39 year old German citizen and a former Naval Reserve officer. 
Executed World War I German spy, Carl Hans Lody.
Carl Hans Lody
(from German Spies at Bay
- Public Domain)
"... at a very early hour, Lody was brought from his cell and the grim procession formed up... [Lody said to the Assistant Provost Marshall, 'I suppose that you will not care to shake hands with a German spy?' The APM said 'No but I will shake hands with a brave man.']... The procession was led by the Chaplain... followed by the prisoner, with an armed escort marching on either side of him, and the firing party of eight stalwart guardsmen bringing up the rear... Of that sad little procession, the calmest and most composed member was the condemned man himself. A few moments later the procession disappeared through the doorway of the sinister shed [the miniature rifle range; here spies were blindfolded and secured by straps to a chair], and shortly after that came the muffled sound of a single volley [by the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards]... When I [Yeoman warder, John Fraser] think of Carl Lody a phrase always slips into my head - just three little words: 'A gentleman, unafraid!" (Sellers, 42)

Carl Frederick Muller - Executed 23 June 1915
Muller was born in Russia and living in Holland when the war broke out. He was 58 years old.
Executed World War I German spy, Carl Frederick Muller.
Carl Frederick Muller
(from German Spies at Bay
- Public Domain)
"[Muller] broke down badly the night before his execution. All through the long hours his guards could hear him sobbing for his wife and children, all forgetful of the evil he had done. He recovered his self-possession a little when the fatal call came with the dawn, and was led forth into the miniature rifle range, where nothing would satisfy him but to shake hands with the firing party. After some little hesitation his wishes were acceded to, and  he solemnly went up and down the line of men waiting with rested rifles, shaking hands one by one, telling them he bore no animosity for the duty they had to carry out. Then he was placed in the chair and blindfolded and went to his death, it not exactly with composure, at least with a certain resigned courage which redeemed him in the eyes of the world." (Felstead, 51).

On Wednesday, 23 June at 6 am in the Miniature Rifle Range at the Tower, the prisoner was calm, shook hands with me [medical officer ] and thanked me. I led him to the chair which was tied to short stakes driven into the ground, he sat on it quietly and the sergeant buckled a leather strap round his body and the back of the chair and then blindfolded him with a cloth." (Sellers, 62)

Haicke Petrus Marinus Janssen & Willem Johannes Roos - Executed 30 July 1915
Janssen and Roos were two Dutchmen who had been recruited by the Germans. Janssen was about 30 years old while Roos was 32 years old.
Executed World War I German spy, Haicke Petrus Marinus Janssen.
Haicke Petrus Marinus Janssen
(from German Spies at Bay
- Public Domain)
"They were to be shot at 6 am and 6:10 am by a detachment of the Scots Guards; not in the miniature rifle range this time but in the Tower ditch... Janssen was led forth to face the firing-party. His iron nerve, which had not deserted him throughout, held good to the finish and he died as he had lived, a brave man.

Executed World War I German spy, Willem Johannes Roos.
Willem Johannes Roos
(from German Spies at Bay
- Public Domain)
[After Janssen had been shot], [Roos]... eyed the fatal
chair, from which the bleeding body of his accomplice had just been removed, with a fair show of indifference, begging leave to finish the cigarette he had requested as a last favour. That ended, he took one last look at it, then threw it away with a gesture which represented utter contempt for all the frailties of this world. With apparently no more interest in the proceedings, he seated himself in the chair. There was a momentary twinging of the face as they fastened the bandage around his face, but that was all. He too died bravely, and met his fate with a courage which should evoke nothing but admiration." (Sellers 79)

Ernst Waldemar Melin - Executed 10 September 1915
Melin was an out-of-work Swede. He was 49 years old.
Executed World War I German spy, Ernest Waldemar Melin.
Ernst Waldemar Melin
(from German Spies at Bay
- Public Domain)
"[Melin] took the three weeks which intervened before his execution with the greatest of resignation, and proved a model prisoner.When the time came for him to face the firing party he shook hands with the guard, thanked them for the many kindnesses they had shown him and died like the gentleman he had undoubtedly once been." (Felstead, 134)

Augusto Alfredo Roggen - Executed 17 September 1915
Roggen was a 34 year old Uruguayan whose father had been German.
Executed World War I German spy, Augusto Alfredo Roggen.
Augusto Alfredo Roggen
(from German Spies at Bay
- Public Domain)
"The execution took place at the Tower on September 17th, the condemned man meeting his fate quite boldly. Indeed, he marched out to the chair with a defiant air, refused to have his eyes bandaged, and went to his death with a courage and self-possession which could not but compel the admiration of those who composed the firing-party." (Felstead, 130)

Fernando Buschman - Executed 19 October 1915
Buschman was born in Paris, France of a naturalized Brazilian father (originally from German) and a Brazilian mother (of Danish extraction). He was 25 years old.
Executed World War I German spy, Fernando Buschman.
Fernando Buschman
(from German Spies at Bay
- Public Domain)
"Buschman accepted his fate like the gentleman of fortune that he had always been, thanking his judges for the scrupulously fair trial he had been given. While waiting for the sentence to be carried out he requested  that his violin might be given to him as a solace to his last hours... For hours in his cell Buschman would discourse beautiful music oblivious to the death that awaited him. When taken to the Tower the night before his execution he again asked for his violin. It was given to him, and for hours he lost himself in a whirl of slow, dreamy music which so filled his heart and soul that the matter of his approaching death seemed to have passed out of his memory. Nobody was sorrier than his guard when the time came to lead him forth for execution, but Buschman did not appear to mind. Picking up his violin he kissed it passionately, saying: 'Goodbye, I shall not want you any more.' He refused to have his eyes bandaged, and sat in the chair facing the rifles with a courageous smile which made the hearts of the men composing the firing party ache with pity at his ignominious end." (Felstead, 124)

Georg Traugott Breeckow - Executed 26 October 1915
Breeckow was born in Germany and later apparently became an American citizen. He was 33 years old.
Executed World War I German spy, Georg Traugott Breeckow.
Georg T. Breeckow
(from German Spies at Bay
- Public Domain)
"The last scenes in Breeckow's misspent life will live for ever in the memory of those compelled to witness them. During the five weeks between his condemnation and execution the spy broken down completely and passed his time in a state of apathetic existence which might have interested a psychologist but certainly disgusted the hardened military officials entrusted with his care. On the morning of his execution he was led out in a state of collapse. When placed in the death chair he produced a lady's silk handkerchief, evidently a relic of some past love affair, and requested that it might be placed around his eyes instead of the usual bandage. But when the sergeant-major tried to meet his wishes, it was found that the handkerchief was not large enough, so it was knotted to the bandage and then tied.

Breeckow was by this time in a dreadful state of agitation. He was literally shivering with fright and it was difficult to keep him in the chair. So the officer in charge told those strapping him in to hurry up. The last preparations were quickly gone through: Breeckow's chest was bared to the cold morning air, and the waiting firing-party came to the aim. The order was given to fire, and simultaneously with the crack of the rifles the figure in the chair gave one tremendous, sickening bound. There is little doubt, as was subsequently proved at the inquest, that Breeckow had died of heart-failure before the bullets of the firing-party had reached his chest." (Felstead, 119) [N.B. Sellers notes that on Breeckow's death certificate the cause of death was given as "violent gunshot wounds of the chest." (p. 138)]

Irving Guy Ries - Executed 27 October 1915
Ries (a pseudonym) was an American who only gave his real name shortly before his execution. He asked that it never be revealed so that his aged parents would never learn of his dishonour. He was 55 years old. [N.B. Several resources suggest that Ries was actually named Carl Paul Julius Hensel]
Executed World War I German spy, Irving Guy Ries.
Irving Guy Ries
(from German Spies at Bay
- Public Domain)
"[Ries] was removed to Wandsworth prison pending his execution, and while there proved a model prisoner. All his time was spent in reading and, outwardly at any rate, he gave the impression of a man who had done with earthly cares and was only waiting for a preordained end... When led forth for execution he took one philosophic glance at the chair which was soon to hold his dead body, and then, with a grave smile, requested that he might be permitted to shake hands with the firing party. This privilege was accorded him, and when it was over he remarked: 'You are only doing your duty as I have done mine.' He died like a brave man, whose efforts to spare pain to his aged mother and father may be counted to him in atonement of his sins." (Felstead, 151)

Albert Meyer - Executed 2 December 1915
Meyer claimed to be a Dutchman and was 22 years old.
Executed World War I German spy, Albert Meyer.
Albert Meyer
(from German Spies at Bay
- Public Domain)
"The scene which took place at his execution at the Tower on December 2, 1915, revealed the cowardly nature of the man to the full. It was fully expected, judging by his demeanour during the period he was waiting to be shot, that he would prove awkward, but nothing untoward happened until the morning of his execution. When the dread summons came in the cold dawn he was then in an hysterical state and when escorted from his cell suddenly burst into a wild effort to sing 'Tipperary.' His guard attempted to silence him, but all in vain.

He stopped on reaching the miniature rifle range where he was to be shot and cast a raving eye at the chair standing in the middle. Then he burst into a torrent of blasphemous cursing, reviling his Maker and calling down the vengeance of Heaven on those who had deserted him. Struggling fiercely with his stalwart guard, he was forcibly placed in the chair and strapped tightly in. Before the bullets of the firing party could reach him he had torn the bandage from his eyes, and died in a contorted mass, shouting curses at his captors, which were only stilled by the bullets.

Meyer, along with Rosenthal [who was hanged], was the youngest spy to be shot. But, unlike the latter, who went to his doom with some semblance of courage, he was the most arrant coward who ever lived." (Felstead, 158)
Executed World War I German spy, Ludovico Hurwitz-y-Zender.
Ludovico Hurwitz-y-Zender
(from German Spies at Bay - Public Domain)

Ludovico Hurwitz-y-Zender - Executed 11 April 1916
Zender was a Peruvian and an army reserve officer. He was 38 years old.
"[Zender] was executed in the Tower on April 11th, 1916, nine months after the date of his arrest, and met his fate with a fair amount of calm." (Felstead, 142)

Resting in Eternal Peace
Whether they faced their executions with courage or cowardice, each of the World War I spies faced the same fate, death.

The spies were buried in East London Cemetery, Plaistow. Carl Hans Lody's grave is marked by a headstone placed by friends of the family.

Gravestone of Carl Hans Lody, East London Cemetery, Plaistow.
Gravestone of Carl Hans Lody, East London Cemetery, Plaistow.
(From Find-a-Grave)
The other spies were interred in common graves that have been reused several times over. A common headstone commemorates their final resting places and includes the names of of seven German prisoners who died of ill health or accident.

Gravestone for German spies executed during World War I, East London Cemetery, Plaistow.
Gravestone for German spies executed during World War I,
East London Cemetery, Plaistow.
(From Find-a-Grave)


After the Battle Magazine, volume 11.
Felstead, Sidney Theodore. German Spies at Bay, 1920.
Find A Grave website.
Sellers, Leonard. Shot in the Tower, 1997.

09 May 2014

Tower Bridge Mortuary and Josef Jakobs

On 30 June 1894, four years before Josef Jakobs was born, the Prince of Wales (soon to be King Edward VII) officially opened Tower Bridge. Since then the bridge has become an iconic symbol of London. A marvelous feat of engineering, the bridge also has some hidden features which played a part in the saga of Josef Jakobs.

Dead Man's Hole
View of Dead Man's Hole from the Thames River  (from Caroline's Miscellany blog)
View of Dead Man's Hole from the Thames River
(from Caroline's Miscellany blog)
During construction of the bridge, planners thoughtfully incorporated a mortuary into the north pier of the bridge. Due to tidal currents in the river, bodies that ended up in that part of the Thames River due to accident, suicide or convenient disposal, tended to congregate along that part of the riverbank. The mortuary came to be known as Dead Man's Hole.

Post-Mortem of Jakobs

On Friday 15 August, 1941, after Jakobs' execution at the Tower of London, his body was transferred to the Tower Bridge Mortuary. Sir Bernard Spilsbury and East District Coroner W.R.H. Heddy performed the post-mortem on Jakobs. Jakobs' body may have been stored in the mortuary until Monday, 18 April, 1941, when it was transferred to St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cemetery (Kensal Green) for burial.

Tower Bridge Mortuary Today

Eastern arches under the north approach to Tower Bridge  (from Google Streetview)
Eastern arches under the north approach to Tower Bridge
(from Google Streetview)
 The old mortuary can be accessed by a couple of routes. It is easily accessed from the east end of the north approach to the bridge (opposite Starbucks). In Google Streetview, one can see that there are two arches, one with a lamp-post and one with a large wooden doorway. The wooden doorway leads to the Tower of London promenade. The archway to the left, with the lamp-post leads to the mortuary (behind the fence in the background) and to the Tower Bridge steps.

Metal fence by Dead Man's Hole  (from Flickr - Ambernectar 13 - Creative Commons)
Metal fence by Dead Man's Hole
(from Flickr - Ambernectar 13 - Creative Commons)
The entrance to the area around Dead Man's Hole is sealed off from public access with a metal fence, on which is posted a sign which states:
"This site was formerly used to retrieve the many corpses that were thrown into the river from the Tower and surrounding districts. They were stored in the mortuary below these steps until removed for burial."

The steps referred to in the sign are for access to the west side of the Tower Bridge and are located just to the right of the photograph. Within the fenced-off area, a wooden doorway with a metal grill above it (just visible on the right side of the photograph) gives access to the former mortuary.

Doorway to the Tower Bridge Mortuary  (Copyright (c) 2012 - G.K. Jakobs)
Doorway to the Tower Bridge Mortuary
(Copyright (c) 2012 - G.K. Jakobs)
Interestingly, on 28 October 2005, Most Haunted Live filmed an episode which included Tower Bridge and the old mortuary.

While overly dramatic (complete with an Ouija board), the programme does give a tour into the old mortuary. The programme is available in parts on Youtube. The first one is filmed outside the former mortuary and the second one is filmed inside the former mortuary.

Youtube - Most Haunted Live - Outside the mortuary 

Youtube - Most Haunted Live - Inside the mortuary

A colleague of the crew took some photographs of the former mortuary during the day, a rare glimpse into a room not often seen.

Inside the Tower Bridge Mortuary
As one passes through the wooden doorway, one enters an antechamber with a set of stairs that lead down and to the left. At the base of the stairs is an archway (seen along the right side of the photograph) which leads to the main chamber of the mortuary. A pile of sacks lies on the floor near the archway.
Antechamber to the Mortuary.  (From Flickr - Martin Belam - used under Creative Commons.)
Antechamber to the Mortuary.
(From Flickr - Martin Belam - used under Creative Commons.)
As one enters through the archway, into the main chamber of the old mortuary, one enters along the side of a long rectangular space. To the right of the archway is the angled underside of the Tower Bridge stairs.
Main mortuary chamber looking to the right from the antechamber archway.  (From Flickr - Martin Belam - used under Creative Commons.)
Main mortuary chamber looking to the right from the antechamber archway.
(From Flickr - Martin Belam - used under Creative Commons.)
To the left of the archway, the chamber becomes much taller and includes some storage shelving.
Main mortuary chamber looking to the left from the entrance.  (From Flickr - Martin Belam - used under Creative Commons.)
Main mortuary chamber looking to the left from the entrance.
(From Flickr - Martin Belam - used under Creative Commons.)
The mortuary chamber, used for such grim purposes in the past, is now a dank storage room filled with detritus.
Main mortuary chamber looking to the left of the archway. Photo is taken  near the underside of the Tower Bridge stairs - the pile of sacks in the  antechamber is visible along the left side of the photograph.  (From Flickr - Martin Belam - used under Creative Commons.)
Main mortuary chamber looking to the left of the archway. Photo is taken
near the underside of the Tower Bridge stairs - the pile of sacks in the
antechamber is visible along the left side of the photograph.
(From Flickr - Martin Belam - used under Creative Commons.)
Old Boiler Room  (from After the Battle magazine, volume 11.)
Old Boiler Room
(from After the Battle magazine, volume 11.)
This series of photographs contrasts with a photograph taken in the mid 1970s by Winston Ramsey from After the Battle magazine. Ramsey's photograph shows a boiler room which is clearly not the same as the images taken at the location under the Tower Bridge.

On a side note, an astute blogger noticed an interesting artifact which may relate to the history of the old mortuary.

Eastern arches under the north approach to Tower Bridge  (from Google Streetview)
Eastern arches under the north approach to Tower Bridge
(from Google Streetview)
 In Google Streetview, the old mortuary is located within the archway to the left. The archway to the right leads to the Tower of London shore promenade.

If one looks behind the large wooden door in the archway to the right, one finds a black cabinet against the wall.
Cabinet and pole within the Tower Bridge archway that leads to  the Tower of London shore promenade.  (From Bowl of Chalk blog)
Cabinet and pole within the Tower Bridge archway that leads to
the Tower of London shore promenade.
(From Bowl of Chalk blog)

Above the cabinet is a long pole (about 8 feet in length) with a three-sided hook on the end of it. The blogger thought that the pole was perfectly suited for pulling bodies out of a river.
Pole with a three-sided hook hanging on the wall within the  Tower Bridge archway.  (From Bowl of Chalk blog)
Pole with a three-sided hook hanging on the wall within the
Tower Bridge archway.
(From Bowl of Chalk blog)
Josef was most likely not the last person to pass through the old Tower Bridge mortuary. He was however the last one to come via the Tower of London.

05 May 2014

Article Review - Jerusalem Post - Hitler's Jewish Agents - 9 April 1999

There are many snippets of articles about Josef Jakobs on the internet. Most limit themselves to the now familiar question: "Who was the last person executed in the Tower of London?". Some, however, delve into his past with a bit more detail and are worthy of a closer look.

Article Review - Jerusalem Post - Hitler's Jewish Agents - 9 April 1999On 9 April, 1999, the Jerusalem Post published an article entitled Hitler's Jewish Agents, written by Bernard Wasserstein. The article was written shortly after the release of some MI5 documents to the National Archives and mentions Josef Jakobs.

One of the strangest cases of an enemy agent captured by the British during the war was that of Josef Jakobs, a Luxembourger of partly Jewish origin. He was parachuted into Huntingdonshire in the heart of the English countryside in February 1941 and was immediately arrested with incriminating espionage equipment on his person.

At his trial he claimed that he had helped German Jews emigrate in the late 1930s, that he had been arrested by the Nazis as a Jew and sent to a concentration camp.

On his release, he had been "approached by a Jew with a view to joining the secret service." He agreed to do so, he said, to get out of Germany. He maintained that he had come to England not as a spy but with the intention of working for the anti-Nazi resistance.

His story was not accepted. He was sentenced to death and shot in the Tower of London on August 15, 1941.
As with many articles, this one contains a few inaccuracies.

While Josef Jakobs was born in Luxembourg, he was born to German parents and his citizenship was German. At his court martial he claimed that one of his grandfathers was Jewish, but research to date indicates that the only possible Jewish connection might be a great grandmother. Jakobs never claimed that he was sent to a concentration camp because he was Jewish, but rather because he was involved in blackmarket passport activities.

This particular news article is of particular interest as it was used as a primary source for the chapter on Jakobs contained within the book Tales from the Tower of London (Diehl & Donnelly).

3/5 - moderately accurate