29 August 2014

Britain's Spy-Catcher - Lt. Col. William Edward Hinchley Cooke

One of the last people to see Josef Jakobs alive on the fateful morning of his execution was Lt. Col. William Edward Hinchley-Cooke. Cookie, as he was affectionately known by his MI5 colleagues, later noted that he was impressed by Josef's calm pluck on the morning of August 15. In fact, Cookie was fluent in German and was one of the few people with whom Josef could speak his native tongue.  How Cookie, himself half-German, came to be Britain's master spy-catcher is an intriguing story.

Early Life
Sir Arthur Grant Duff  Minister Resident, British Legation  (From National Portrait Gallery)
Sir Arthur Grant Duff
Minister Resident, British Legation
(From National Portrait Gallery)
William Edward Hinchley Cooke was born to a British father and a German mother around 1894. The exact circumstances of his parentage and birth are shrouded in mystery, hidden under a veil of secrecy in the MI5 personnel files.

Cookie was either born in Germany or went to Germany as a young boy, for in later years he could speak German fluently and his English was tinged with a German accent. Cookie attended school in Dresden before becoming a student at Leipzig University around 1910 where he apparently studied science. In early 1914, Cookie got a job as a clerk at the British Legation in Dresden. With the outbreak of World War I on July 28, 1914, Cookie and other members of the legation were expelled from Germany and sent back to Britain.

World War I - Young Spy-Catcher
Vernon Kell  Head of MI5 (MO5) - 1909-1940
Vernon Kell
Head of MI5 (MO5) - 1909-1940
Cookie was only 20 years old but his fluent German made him a tempting recruit for the nascent Security Service. His former boss, Minister Resident at the Court of Saxony, Arthur Grant Duff, a seasoned diplomat, recommended young Cookie to Vernon Kell (head of the Security Service) saying of him, "He is entirely British in sentiment and the fact that he speaks English with a foreign accent must not be allowed to militate against him." Kell was impressed, and on August 21, 1914, Cookie
joined the British Security Service (later known as MI5). Given Cookie's foreign accent, Kell made a note on his War Pass that certified "He is an Englishman".

Cookie's first assignment was to serve as a liaison between the Security Service and Basil Thomson at Scotland Yard. Cookie examined the papers of suspected enemy agents, on the lookout for incriminating information. He was quite skilled at deciphering cryptic allusions in letters and had a knack for picking out letters which used secret ink. In Kell's opinion, Cookie was largely responsible for the arrest of several German spies.

Wilhelm Eduard Koch (William Edward Hinchley Cooke)  dressed in a German uniform for undercover work in POW camps.  (From Defence of the Realm)
Wilhelm Eduard Koch
(William Edward Hinchley Cooke)
dressed in a German uniform for
undercover work in POW camps.
(From Defence of the Realm)
On May 8, 1915, Cookie was appointed a temporary Second Lieutenant and a few months later transferred to the British Ports. Here he questioned foreign travelers, oftentimes posing as a German, Wilhelm Eduard Koch, which threw the travelers into confusion. "A German working for the British? What has the world come to??"

His skill in questioning and interrogation led to a number of operations over the course of the war in which he posed as a German. There is some evidence that suggests he posed as a German soldier POW and operated as a stool pigeon in POW camps.

Cookie received several promotions between 1915 and 1919 and ended up as a Temporary Captain attached to no particular regiment but serving as part of a Special List. In 1919, at the tender age of 25, Cookie was appointed an Officer of the British Empire, acknowledgement of the contribution that this young man had made to the British war effort.

1914-15 Star, British War Medal & Victory Medal
1914-15 Star, British War Medal & Victory Medal
Pip, Squeak & Wilfred
Pip, Squeak & Wilfred
He also received three war medals: 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and the Victory Medal. The three medals were affectionately known as Pip, Squeak and Wilfred. Apparently the issuing of the medals in the 1920s coincided with a popular comic strip in the Daily Mirror which featured a dog (Pip), a penguin (Squeak) and a rabbit (Wilfred). For some reason the three names of the characters became associated with the three campaign medals, and they stuck.

Inter-War Period
After the war, Cookie remained attached to the Security Service and, in 1920, was lent to Prime Minister Lloyd George as an interpreter for the Spa Conference. Little else is known of Cookie's professional activities during the 1920s. We do know that in the spring of 1926, Cookie married Dora Edith Booty in the district of Brentwood in Middlesex, essentially West London near Hounslow.

Dora was born on June 19, 1895, in Chiswick (also part of West London) to Henry Richard Booty (cabinet maker and art dealer) and Ida Maria Gentry. Dora was quite close to her cousin, Gladys Muriel Booty whose parents were Herbert Arthur Booty (brother of Dora's father) and Ann Gentry (sister of Dora's mother). During World War I, Dora's family was rocked by scandal when Gladys secretly married an Australian soldier named Dagleish Cyril Johnston in February 1919. Gladys's parents found out about the marriage and forbade her to see the young Aussie, who eventually returned to the Land Down Under alone, where, in 1925 he successfully petitioned for a divorce.

After their marriage, Cookie and Dora settled down in a house at 8 The Commons in Ealing, a hop, skip and a jump from Brentwood. On February 15, 1930, Cookie was appointed a Major in the 55th Anti-Aircraft Brigade of the Royal Artillery, part of the Territorial Army. Such an appointment was largely honourary and Cookie was most likely still fully employed with MI5. That same year, Dora's parents, Henry & Ida, moved in with the young couple.

Norman Baillie Stewart
Norman Baillie Stewart
During the 1930s, Cookie became the public face of the Security Service, offering evidence on behalf of MI5 at several criminal trials. In 1933, Cookie was involved in the arrest and trial of Norman Baillie Stewart, a British Army officer who sold secrets to the Germans.

A few years later, at the end of 1934, Cookie was appointed a General Staff Officer (3rd Grade) and attached to the International Force in the Saar Territory.

Dr. Hermann Goertz  German Spy
Dr. Hermann Goertz
German Spy
By the fall of 1935, Cookie was back in England and played a role in the apprehension of German spy Dr. Hermann Goertz. The following year, Cookie was involved in the cultivation and assessment of Welshman Arthur Owens as a spy. Owens approached MI5 with an offer to spy for them against the Germans. But it was also clear that Owens was also spying for the Germans. Cookie and MI5 washed their hands of Owens in November 1936 but, like a bad penny, Owens would continue to haunt them. That same year, Cookie was promoted from Major to Lieutenant Colonel.

The year 1937 seems to have been a quiet one on the spy front but on the home front, the residents at 8 The Commons were grieved to bid farewell to Dora's mother Ida who passed away on December 7. Ida was apparently a wealthy woman for she left her husband and daughter the princely sum of £3000 (the equivalent of £175,000 today).

Jessie Jordan - Hairdresser turned Spy  (From Dundee Women's Trail)
Jessie Jordan - Hairdresser turned Spy
(From Dundee Women's Trail)
While 1936 and 1937 were slow spy years, the following year made up for it. Cookie was involved in the arrest of two spies: hair-dresser Jessie Jordan from Dundee, Scotland and, a few months later, racing journalist Donald Adams.

 In 1938, Arthur Owens popped up again with another offer to spy for the English. Cookie treated Owens with caution, unsure as to his motives and ordered that he be kept under surveillance.

It came as no surprise when, on March 28, 1939, His Majesty the King conferred the Efficiency Decoration on Hon. Col. W.E.H. Cooke. Incidentally, in 1935, Cookie received the Jubilee Medal and in 1937, the Coronation Medal - both of limited circulation and awarded at the discretion of the local government authority. Cookie was only 45 years old when World War 2 started and had already amassed quite a swath of awards, medals and decorations. More were to come.

World War 2
On September 1, 1939, Cookie was assigned to the War Office with the rank of Lt. Colonel. Officially, he was still attached to the Territorial Army Reserve, Royal Artillery (55th Anti-Aircraft Brigade) but the Germans could never find his name in the British Army List and thought he was actually a policeman. The Germans described Cookie thusly: "He wears glasses, is strong and has a fresh complexion. He has a friendly nature and speaks German fluently with a mixture of a Hamburg and Saxon accent".

While the early months of the war were slow on the military front, Cookie was kept busy. With the declaration of war, Arthur Owens was placed in a precarious position and Hinchley-Cooke helped to turn Owens into a double-agent (SNOW to the British, JOHNNY to the Germans). Owens would prove to be a thorn in the side of the MI5 officers, requiring constant supervision and debriefing. 

William Edward Hinchley Cooke  (From After the Battle Magazine - Volume 11)
William Edward Hinchley Cooke
(From After the Battle Magazine - Volume 11)
In the fall of 1940, Cookie interrogated some of the first German agents to arrive in England, including Jose Waldberg, Carl Meier, Sjoerd Pons and Charles van den Kieboom, three of whom ended up on the gallows (Pons was acquitted).

In later years, Cookie was more involved with the legal aspects of bringing German spies to trial. For example, in June 1941, Cookie extracted a statement taken under oath from Josef Jakobs, a statement that was the prelude to Jakobs' eventual court-martial and execution. It was Cookie who met with Jakobs in Wandsworth Prison and charged him under the Treachery Act. It was Cookie who appeared at Jakobs' court martial as MI5's expert witness and general expert on all matters German. It was Cookie who was in court when William Joyce ("Lord Haw Haw") was tried for High Treason.

In fact, Cookie was Britain's top military intelligence legal expert and was kept busy during the war, evaluating individual spy cases and deciding who would be charged and who would be spared. It has been said that Cookie's life could fill a dozen spy thrillers, but unfortunately little has been published on this enigmatic man.


With the end of the war, Cookie was awarded another clutch of medals: 1939-45 Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal and War Medal. In December 1945, Cookie's father-in-law, Henry Richard Booty passed away, and the couple were again alone in their house at 8 The Common Ealing. Shortly thereafter, Cookie retired with the honourary rank of Brigadier and he and Dora moved to a seaside house on Wellington Parade, Wedhampton near the coastal village of Kingsdown, Kent.

Male Deputy Lieutenant Badge  (From Lord Lieutenant of Kent website)
Male Deputy Lieutenant Badge
(From Lord Lieutenant of Kent website)
In 1946, Cookie received a commission from the Lord Lieutenant of the County of Kent to serve as a Deputy Lieutenant). The Lord Lieutenant, Colonel Wykeham Stanley Cornwallis KCVO, KBE, MC, was the monarch's representative in the County of Kent and could appointed Deputy Lieutenants to assist him in his duties.

In 1953, Cookie was awarded the Coronation Medal upon the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Cookie was born during the closing years of the reign of Queen Victoria, a monarch who reigned for 63 years and 216 days. He then served under the rule of four male monarchs (Edward VII, George V,  Edward VIII, George VI). It was fitting then that he should serve under another female monarch, one who would challenge Queen Victoria's record for length of reign. Cookie would not see much of his new monarch however, for on March 3, 1955, he collapsed in the street outside his house, a victim of a massive heart attack. He was only 61 years old.

Medals for William Edward Hinchley Cooke  (from Dix Noonan Webb website)
Medals for William Edward Hinchley Cooke
(from Dix Noonan Webb website)
Cookie left his wife and cousin-in-law, Gladys Muriel (Booty) Johnston, the grand sum of £692 3s 6d (worth about £15,000 today). His wife passed away in 1970 and, since Cookie and Dora were childless, it seems possible that Gladys inherited Dora's estate.

In 1972, Cookie's medals were put up for auction by Spink & Son, possibly on behalf of Gladys. She herself passed away in 1974, her next of kin being a cousin. In 2006, Cookie's medals resurfaced and were put up for auction again by Dix Noonan Webb auctioneers. They were snapped up by the Imperial War Museum where they are now preserved for posterity.

Few photographs survive of William Edward Hinchley Cooke. He was a private man and his legacy lies solely in the MI5 files, many of which remain classified. Perhaps some day the true story of this British hero will be told.

(Follow up Article on his origins is here)

Ancestry.co.uk - Genealogy records (births, marriages, deaths, census, electoral registers, probate).
Andrew, Christopher - 2010 - Defence of the Realm, Penguin.
British Army List - various years that mention W.E.H. Cooke. 
Dix Noonan Webb Auctioneers website - brief bio of W.E.H. Cooke
Imperial War Museum - brief bio of W.E.H. Cooke to accompany his medals.

The London Gazette - various issues that mention W.E.H. Cooke.
The Sydney Morning Herald Newspaper - Intelligence Expert Dies in U.K. - March 5, 1955.
The West Australian Newspaper - Divorce Court - September 22, 1925.
West, Nigel - 2005 - Guy Liddell Diaries, Vol. I - 1939-1942, Routledge.
West, Nigel - 2005 - The A to Z of British Intelligence, Scarecrow Press Inc, Lanham, Maryland.
West, Nigel - 2005 - Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, Scarecrow Press Inc, Lanham, Maryland.

25 August 2014

Article Review - Medal News - Two Gurkha Officers: Part II - May 2014

Article Review - Medal News - Two Gurkha Officers: Part II - May 2014

After the previous post on Colonel R.W.G. Stephens was published, a magazine I had ordered online almost a month previous finally came in the mail. It had a four page article on Robin Stephens written by Chris Bilham.

Lt. Col. Robin William George Stephens  (from Imperial War Museum)
Lt. Col. Robin William George Stephens
(from Imperial War Museum)
The article was quite extensive and stitched together the scanty facts of Robin's life into a relatively cohesive whole. The author provided context to the various events in Robin's life such as the background to the Third Afghan War and the history of Camp 020. The article made a passing reference to Josef Jakobs: "[of the 16 spies executed during WWII] one was a serving member of the German Army and was executed by firing squad in the Tower of London".

I had hoped that the article might fill in some of the gaps in Robin's life. In some areas it did, in others, the holes remained.

A few interesting tidbits came to light in the article. The author stated that Robin divorced his first wife, Phyllis Gwendoline Stephens because of her adultery. Robin's marriage to his second wife, Joan Dowling, was mentioned but no date was provided for the auspicious event. The article provided a bit more information on Robin's adventures after World War 2, and his service as Security Liaison Officer in West Africa. The enduring mystery as to when and where Robin passed away, however, remains a mystery, as does the identity of Robin's mother.

Robin W.G. Stephen - Medal Grouping - left to right:  OBE, War Medal, India General Service Medal, 1939-1945 Star  France & German Star, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939-1945  (From Medal News - May 2014)
Robin W.G. Stephen - Medal Grouping - left to right:
OBE, War Medal, India General Service Medal, 1939-1945 Star
France & German Star, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939-1945
(From Medal News - May 2014)
The article also noted that Robin was awarded an OBE (Officer of the British Empire), an achievement that was apparently not published in the London Gazette. An image of Robin's medals was provided which was a very helpful piece of information. Previously, one could attempt to decipher Robin's awards from the above black and white photo on which his medal ribbons were displayed.

Robin's medal ribbons (close-up)  (from Imperial War Museum)
Robin's medal ribbons (close-up)
(from Imperial War Museum)

Based on the article, Robin's medal ribbons correspond to:

top row (l to r) OBE, British War Medal, India General Service Medal, 1939 to 1945 Star

bottom row (l to r) France & Germany Star, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939 to 1945, and an unknown ribbon

Interestingly, Robin seemed to be wearing an extra medal ribbon on his uniform, the lower right ribbon.The only medal that appears to match the washed-out colours of the ribbon seems to be the Atlantic Star, but that was only awarded to Air Crews and seems unlikely for Robin. Another mystery, albeit a small one.

Review Score
4.5 out of 5 - The article was very well written and researched and included some helpful information on Robin Stephens.

Two Gurkha Officers, Part II - Chris Bilham - Medal News, Vol 52, No. 5, May 2014, p. 28-31. 

20 August 2014

Interrogator at Camp 020 - Lt. Col. Robin William George Stephens

When Josef Jakobs arrived at Camp 020 in 1941, he was interrogated by Tin-Eye Stephens, commandant of the Camp. Lt. Col. Stephens was a fearsome man who had little patience for fools and was rather xenophobic in his relations with people of other nationalities, particularly Germans. Who was this man and how did he come to be MI5's chief interrogator?

Early Life
Alexandria Train Station (from blog - From Egypt with Love)
Alexandria Train Station (from blog - From Egypt with Love)
Robin William George Stephens was born on 23 June, 1900 in Alexandria, Egypt. His father, William Henry Stephens was a lecturer/teacher for the Egyptian Ministry of Education. Young Robin completed his early education at the Lycee Francais in Egypt. By 1910, Robin was in England and studying at Dulwich College Prepatory School. From there he went on to study at Dulwich College from 1913-1918, becoming active in sports and even serving as Captain of Athletics for a couple of years.

A Soldier of the Indian Army
In 1918, having graduated from Dulwich College, Robin entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolich as a cadet. He quickly transferred to the Indian Army College at Quetta in India. A year later, on 15 April, 1919, Robin was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Gurkha Rifles. The Gurkhas were fearsome fighters from Nepal whose regimental motto was: Better to die than live like a coward.

Gurkhas (from Gurkha Museum)
Gurkhas (from Gurkha Museum)
While World War I was officially over, Robin encountered active service in the Indian Army which was fighting rebels in the northwest part of the country, bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 1919, Robin participated in the Third Afghan War and various operations in Waziristan. On 15 April, 1920, Robin was promoted to Lieutenant and a few months later was detached to serve as a General Staff Officer (3rd Grade). He continued in this role until late in 1921. On 3 November 1921, Robin was appointed temporary Captain and was also mentioned in despatches for "distinguished service during the operations in Waziristan" (Malabar or Moploh Rebellion).

In 1922, after the 2nd Gurkha Rifles was disbanded, Robin was transferred to the 39th Garhwal Rifles (later renamed the 18th Garhwal Rifles) with whom he saw active service in Waziristan for the next couple of years. On 15 April, 1925, Robin was promoted to Captain and served with the 11th (Training) Battalion of the Regiment. A year later Robin was transferred to Oman and appointed Commandant of the Muscat Levy Corps, a post he held until 1929. At one point he returned to India where he married divorcee Phyllis Gwendlen (Townshand) Fletcher on 21 May 1927 in Rawal Pindi, Bengal, India. Phyllis was the daughter of Charles Collingwood Townshand, a retried officer of the Royal Artillery.

In 1929, Robin was transferred back to India and ended up serving as the Deputy Assistant Judge Advocate General for the Northern Command, and a year later for Army Headquarters.

Return to England
Alexandria Train Station (from blog - From Egypt with Love)
An India General
Service Medal
with two clasps.
On 10 July, 1931, Robin resigned from the army and returned to England with his wife, Phyllis. Robin was an accomplished soldier with the India General Service Medal (1909) with five clasps and a Mention in Despatches. Despite his success as a soldier, life in England was not good to Robin and in July 1932, he filed for bankruptcy. While the proceedings were moving through the court system, Robin and his wife also filed for divorce. By 1934, Robin was living in Farnham Surrey.

From 1934 to 1939, our knowledge of Robin's life is a bit murky. There is some evidence that he may had tried his hand at journalism, developing an eccentric writing style that he would later put to good use as commandant of Camp 020. He may also have been connected with the courts at Lincoln's Inn (London). He did publish a couple of books - A Practical Digest of Military Law (1933) and A Digest of the Laws of Evidence in Courts Martial (1934), the latter co-authored with Sir Harry Lushington. From 1937 to 1939 he was apparently based in Lincoln and working for the National Fitness Council for England.

MI5's Official Spy-Breaker

Camp 020 - Latchmere House, Ham Common (from Wikipedia)
Camp 020 - Latchmere House, Ham Common
(from Wikipedia)
On 9 September 1939, Robin's fortunes took a turn for the better when his former commander from India, Field Marshal (later Lord) Birdwood sponsored Robin as an employee of MI5. Robin brought an impressive knowledge of languages, being able to speak, read, write and swear in Urdo, Arabic, Somali, Amharic, French, German and Italian. He had also traveled extensively - Egypt, India, Arabia, Persian Gulf, Abyssinia, French Somaliland, British Somaliland, Sudan, Germany, Italy, France, Greece, Black Sea and Switzerland. By mid-1940, Robin had convinced MI5 that he needed a dedicated interrogation centre for the influx of suspected spies, saboteurs and fifth columnists - Camp 020 was born.

Despite Robin's extensive travel and knowledge of lanugages, he was a rather narrow-minded individual and an self-acknowledged xenophobe. He had no tolerance for homosexual behaviour and liked to consider himself an amateur psychologist. Robin had no patience for cowards or cowardly behaviour, perhaps a throwback to his time in the Gurkhas, whose motto was: Better to die than live like a coward. In the eyes of Robin, it was far better for potential spies to die than to live like cowards.

Col. R.W.G. Stephens (from Imperial War Museum)
Col. R.W.G. Stephens
(from Imperial War Museum)
Reactivated as a Captain in the British Army, Robin liked to wear his immaculately pressed Gurkha uniform to interrogations and topped it off with a monocle in his right eye. He was apparently disliked by most people he came into contact with because of his almost Nazi behaviour and vile temper. .He would stand no nonsense and didn't hesitate to reprimand MI5 colleagues (including Guy Liddell and Tar Robertson) if they were late. Despite this rather negative portrait, Robin must have had some endearing qualities for he married Joan Geraldine Pearson Dowling at some point in the late 1930s or early 1940s. His female secretarial staff were also staunchly loyal to him and spoke highly of him.

Rather surprisingly, considering his fierce reputation, Robin was dead-set against the use of physical torture in the interrogation of prisoners at Camp 020. In his history of the camp, Stephens wrote that  "Violence is taboo, for not only does it produce answers to please, but it lowers the standard of information... Never strike a man. In the first place it is an act of cowardice. In the second place, it is not intelligent. A prisoner will lie to avoid further punishment and everything he says thereafter will be based on a false premise". During World War 2, almost 500 prisoners passed through Camp 020, most of them German spies or British fascists. Stephens had a hand in interrogating each of them.

Post-War Interrogation Centre at Bad Nenndorf
Bad Nenndorf - former CSDIC interrogation centre (from History Today)
Bad Nenndorf - former CSDIC interrogation centre
(from History Today)
After the war, Stephens was appointed commandant of the CSDIC interrogation camp at Bad Nenndorf (CSDIC=Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Camp). While he had eschewed physical torture at Camp 020, something altered at Bad Nenndorf. Prisoners were starved, beaten and physically maltreated, some even died. In 1948, Stephens and three other officers from Bad Nenndorf, including the camp doctor, were court-martialed.

Stephens was charged on four counts: conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline, failure in his duty as supervisor of the facility, and two counts of disgraceful conduct of a cruel kind. Ultimately, only the doctor, Captain John Stuart Smith, was found guilty an any charges and he was dismissed from the Army. Stephens was acquitted of all charges.

In 1960, Robin was discharged from the Territorial Army with the honorary rank of Brigadier. It is most likely that the British Army wanted to make an official record of his promotions and eventual retirement but did not wish to disclose that he was in MI5. Little is known of his later life and when or where he died.

Camp 020: MI5 and the Nazi Spies - 2000 - R.W.G. Stephens (edited by Oliver Hoare)
Ancestry website - genealogy records.
Frontier Medals - brief bio on Stephens

(Thanks to Chris Bilham for correcting some errors! 18 January 2018)

14 August 2014

Execution of Josef Jakobs - 15 August, 1941

Assumption of Mary (St. Thomas the Apostle Church Bloomington, NJ)
Assumption of Mary
(St. Thomas the Apostle Church
Bloomington, NJ)
Shortly after midnight, in the early hours of Friday, 15 August, 1941, Josef Jakobs sat in a cell at Wandsworth Prison and wrote his final letter to his family. A few hours later, around 3 am, Fr. Edward Jackson Griffith heard Josef's last confession and then celebrated Mass with him. For Josef, the date was auspicious as it was the Catholic Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven. An appropriate day to die.

Around 5 am, Josef was escorted from his cell by his Military Police guards. He said his final goodbyes to the Governor of Wandsworth Prison, Ben Dixon, and then climbed into a black car with his guards. The dawn was just breaking as the car left the prison compound - destination Tower of London.

At the Tower, preparations were underway for Josef's execution. A chair had been placed in the miniature rifle range and tied to some beams. The chair was not the same one as had been used for the execution of the World War I spies. That earlier chair has been lost to history. Josef's chair would be a simple Windsor chair.

At about 5:45 am, Josef arrived at the Tower and was taken to the M.I. Waiting Room in the Casemates. Shortly before 7 am, Josef and his guards walked across the cobblestones and entered the gloom of the miniature rifle range. Josef, still limping from his ankle injury, was seated in the chair and tied to it. A hood was placed over his head and a white target was pinned to his chest. The guards stepped back. The firing squad entered and picked up their rifles from the table. Silent hand signals guided them to lift their rifles, aim and... the word "Fire" was called out. A moment before, Josef called out to the soldiers "Shoot straight, Tommies!"

Josef was executed at 7:12 a.m. The firing squad placed their rifles on the table and filed outside where they had a smoke. The body as eventually removed and taken to the mortuary under the Tower Bridge. A few hours later, the East District coroner, W.R.H. Heddy and forensic scientist Bernard Spilsbury arrived to conduct the post mortem. Cause of death was due to bullets to the heart.

Josef was executed on this day, 73 years ago. Colonel Stephens, commandant of Camp 020, the interrogation centre where Josef had spent several months, noted that Josef had died a brave man.

11 August 2014

Radio Review - BBC Radio 4 - Punt PI - Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm

Radio Review - Punt PI Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm From BBC Radio 4 website
Radio Review - Punt PI
Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm
From BBC Radio 4 website
Radio - Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm
Original Air Date - 2 August, 2014
Station - BBC Radio 4
Show - Punt PI: Steve Punt Investigates
Duration - 30 minutes
Host - Steve Punt
Producer - Sarah Bowen
Clip available here

In this half hour show, BBC's resident gumshoe, Steve Punt, looks into the mystery surrounding a woman's body found in an old hollow tree in Hagley Wood in the spring of 1943. The mystery has engendered a lot of speculation over the years and not a few conspiracy theories. Punt takes a look at the various theories and by interviewing witnesses (a 101 year old forensic scientist) and descendents of witnesses manages to dispel some of the more popular theories. Was it witchcraft, espionage or a prostitute who was in the wrong place at the wrong time? The show was quite enjoyable and apparently well-researched.

The show made no connection between Bella in the Wych Elm and Josef Jakobs and his mistress Clara Bäuerle, in part because evidence indicates that Clara passed away in Berlin on 16 December 1942. I did a fair bit of background research into Clara Bäuerle - the results of which were posted in a three part blog series:

Clara Bäuerle & Josef Jakobs

Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm
The Truth about Clara Bäuerle

Review Score
5/5 - enjoyable and well-researched with an interesting conclusion

06 August 2014

Josef Jakobs - A Victim of the Treachery Act - Part 4

Wandsworth Prison
Wandsworth Prison
On 24 July 1941, Josef Jakobs was visited by Lt. Col. William Edward Hinchley Cooke. Josef had been transferred to Wandsworth Prison the previous day and the move from Latchmere House boded ill. Hinchley Cooke charged Josef with:
committing a civil offence, that is to say, Treachery, an offence contrary to Section I of the Treachery Act, 1940, in that at Ramsey in the County of Huntingdon on the night of January 31/February 1, 1941, with the intent to help the enemy did an act designed or likely to give assistance to the naval, military or air operations of the enemy, or to impede such operations of the enemy, or to impede such operation of His Majesty’s Forces, namely did descend by parachute in the United Kingdom.
Breaking down the charge, one can see that Josef's offence was the fact that he descended by parachute in the United Kingdom. Josef had done nothing overt - he hadn't set up his radio or written any secret ink letters, so MI5 was left with the one act that he did commit: descending by parachute. Was that an act of espionage? Rudolf Hess had also descended by parachute in May 1941 but was not tried under the Treachery Act. Numerous German Air Force crew parachuted into the United Kingdom... but were not charged. Josef was different because he came with equipment (transmitter, disc code, etc.) that indicated to MI5 that his intention had been to spy for Germany and help the Germans against Britain.

From his first interrogation in Ramsey Police Station, Josef claimed that his intention had been to get out of Germany and go to America where he had an aunt. His story changed over time but he never claimed that his intent had been to spy for the Germans. MI5 thought they knew his intent was to spy... Josef denied that. Who was right?

In the May 1940 discussion of the Treachery Act in the House of Parliament, some MPs had pointed out the difficulty of legally proving "intent" How does one know what is in the head of a person? Intentions and motivations are intensely personal things and perhaps not even fully known to the person themselves. They also change over time. Were Josef's intentions when he boarded the aircraft in Schipol the same as when he left the aircraft? What about when he landed?

The MPs had been reassured that the Treachery Act would only be used for grave acts of sabotage and espionage. Was that the case with Josef? Whatever the case might be, he was charged solely under the Treachery Act - there was no escape from death through a charge under the Defence Regulations. On that 24 July, 1941, Josef's death sentence was essentially guaranteed.