13 July 2015

Revisiting Lt. Col. Robin William George Stephens - Commandant of Camp 020

Last year, I wrote a blog about the famous (or infamous) Commandant of MI5's secret interrogation centre, Camp 020 (also known as Ham Common or Latchmere House): Lt. Col. Robin William George Stephens. I always find it fascinating to dig into the personal histories of some of these characters and Stephens was one of the more interesting. Alas, there were a couple of brick walls in Stephens' narrative that refused to crumble. Stephens was born in exotic Alexandria, Egypt, and although I figured out his father's name, his mother's name eluded me. I also had zero success in tracking down Stephens' death, although I did manage to find that of his wife.

This morning, however, I came across a thread of a clue that revealed a bit more about Stephens. An anonymous commentator left a note on my blog about Camp 020 interrogator, Edward Brereton Goodacre, which set me on the trail of Overseas Births, Marriages and Deaths. I generally use Ancestry.com but it does not have the Overseas information. A bit of digging convinced me that the Find My Past website had what I was looking for. I bought some credits and was off and running.

I learned that in 1907, Robin William George Stephens was enrolled in a grammar school, most likely Bedford School in England (based on other references). The entry didn't reveal much about Stephens and seemed to have his birth date wrong, June 21 instead of June 23. However, there was another boy who registered for school on the same day, Howell Charles Stephens, born in 1898. Could this boy be a brother of Stephens?
Grammar School record from 1907 (FindMyPast.com)
Grammar School record from 1907 (FindMyPast.com)
The Overseas Birth Indices revealed that the two boys could indeed be brothers: Howell Charles Stephens was born in Cairo and Robin William George was born in Alexandria.
Overseas Birth Indices (FindMyPast.com)
Overseas Birth Indices (FindMyPast.com)
I went back to Ancestry and did a search for Howell Charles Stephens and learned that he had been killed in battle in 1917 near Ypres. He had been a 2nd Lieutenant in the Worcestershire Regiment. His name is engraved on the Menin Gate in Ypres.
Inscription for Howell Charles Stephens on the Menin Gate, Ypres (Panel 34)  (From The Channel Islands and the Great War)
Inscription for Howell Charles Stephens on the Menin Gate, Ypres (Panel 34)
(From The Channel Islands and the Great War)
Losing Howell during the war must have come as a blow to Stephens and his parents. The World War I Medal Cards revealed that Howell's father was indeed William Henry Stephens (from Cairo). The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website revealed that Howell's parents were Mr. W.H. Stephens and Mrs. J.E. Stephens from Cairo, Egypt. At last, initials for the first name of Stephens' mother!

The Overseas Marriage Indices yielded up the information that William Henry Stephens had married Julia Elizabeth Howell between 1891 and 1895, most likely in Egypt. William had traveled there in 1890 to teach for the Ministry of Education but it's not clear how Julia ended up down there.

Finally, there was a 1910 Passenger manifest from Southampton which had Mr. W.H. Stephens, Mrs. Stephens, Master H. Stephens and Master R. Stephens traveling to Port Said, the main Egyptian port at which passenger vessels arrived and departed. This would seem to indicate that Stephens and his brother were the only surviving children of Julia and William.

With the full first name of Stephens' mother, I was able to dig up a bit more information. I learned that she had been born in Liverpool in 1871 to George and Annie Howell. Stephen's father, William Henry Stephens had been born in Birmingham in 1866 to Charles & Julia Hough. Stephen's mother passed away in 1949 in Gloucestershire while his father lived to the ripe old age of 96, passing away in 1962, also in Gloucestershire.

The story would not be complete however, without mentioning that Stephens' parents had the misfortune to be visiting the isle of Jersey at a very inopportune time: the summer of 1940. Apparently they were on their way back to England from Egypt and their vessel stopped in Jersey. It was extremely bad timing. The Allies had pulled their troops off the Continent in late May and early June. There was much debate about what to do with the Channel Islands: defend them or let them go. Eventually the British government decided to remove all British troops and leave the islands to fend for themselves. Some civilians tried to get off the islands but there really wasn't enough time to conduct a mass-scale evacuation. In the end, many children were evacuated but the adults were stuck.

On July 1, 1940, Jersey was occupied by German forces, who would remain there until the end of the war. Julia and William were essentially prisoners of war. Luckily, the Germans didn't have a clue as to who they had in their possession, the aged parents of the new Commandant of Camp 020.

Julia Elizabeth (nee Howell) Stephens  (1941 Jersey Registration Card)
Julia Elizabeth (nee Howell) Stephens
(1941 Jersey Registration Card)
William Henry Stephens  (1941 Jersey Registration Card)
William Henry Stephens
(1941 Jersey Registration Card)


















Robin William George Stephens
Robin William George Stephens
This begins to shed a bit of light on Stephens and his xenophobic hatred of all things German. The Germans had killed his brother in World War I and held his parents in durance vile during World War II. While Stephens' parents suffered under German occupation, he did everything he could to ensure that the same fate would not befall England. On a side note... one can see from whom Stephens got his icy glare.

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