21 December 2015

German Spy equipped with Two and a Half Pounds of Chocolate

Recently I've reestablished contact with Martyn, grandson of Horace Jaikens, the police officer who was in charge of the Ramsey Police Station when Josef was captured. Martyn is a war history buff and a great source of information on Ramsey and the surrounding area.

Last week, Martyn sent me some information from a book that detailed a bit of the history of the Huntingdonshire Constabulary (H.C.). There were some great group pics of the Ramsey police detachment as well as a letter from the Chief Constable of the H.C. dated February 17, 1941. Captain J. Rivett-Carnac was writing to all the police detachments informing them of Josef's capture. In his report, Rivett Carnac included a very detailed list of Josef's possessions, in some aspects, more detailed than the others drawn up by Jaikens and MI5. Let's take a look
  • pocket knife with wide blade, brown wooden handle, blade stamped "Swing"
  • oblong wristwatch stamped "9321 Fond Acier, Inoxidable"
  • dictionary with blue and gold covers with golden stars dotted thereon marked "Metiyka-Sorachfuhrer, English von Karl Blattner" size about 4" x 2.5 "x 0.5", inside the book was a piece of paper denoting money values in the country - i.e. 2/6 = half crown, 1/- = one shilling, etc. [N.B. Rivett-Carnac's original report must have been hand-written and then typewritten by a secretary who had trouble deciphering his handwriting. The dictionary was actually a Metoula Sprachfuhrer".]
  • one 2.5 cent piece
  • one pair horn rimmed spectacles in blue case marked "Optiker Ruhnke"
  • new brown leather cigarette case marked "Zeka Wettiggeder", square with tuck in flap to hold packet of American "Gordon Rouge" [Cordon Rouge] cigarettes, packets marked 3525 5ct+ o.p.c. 21/2 cent, American blend
  • one pair of scissors, nail file and nail bone in new leather case, brown
  • one comb 8" long in brown-grey crocodile case
  • one black torch with ribbed flass [flash? the glass was ribbed] about 5" long and 1" in diameter
  • 2 1/2 lb block chocolate marked "orange Fin Jonker produce" covers were blue and orange - on one side was blue boy and an orange partly quartered, on the reverse side was Lossord Chocolate van Cacaofabriek De. Jonker Zaandijk" [Two and a half pounds of chocolate???]
  • one bottle of "Bealieu Cie Cognac" 15 vos presumably containing brandy
  • one aluminum tube 1 1/2" long and about 5/16" in diameter containing small white tablets; two paper tubes each to hold 4 tablets, size of an aspirin tablet, one marked "Tabl. Solvent 0.4 WCX 1.V.Z.", the other marked "Phos 0.03 WS.PX.1." It would appear that the latter three articles are to relieve pain as two of the tablets were used and the liquor partly consumed.
  • Pencil marked, "Supper Norma" [probably Super Norma] containing four different colour leads - red, blue, green and black;
  • leather gloves with "Emka mk Nappa" [no idea] stamped on press buttons
  • small note book
  • small hand spade
  • crash helmet
  • revolver Mauser-Werke A.C. Oberndorf A.N.W. No. 489366 Cal. 7.65 together with a box of 25 rounds of ammunition. Revolver was new.
  • A wireless set size 1'5" x " x 13" in black imitation crocodile case was found. This was new with two catches chromium plated, a carrying handle which also had chromium fixtures. The case also contained papers which were evidently instructions for the manipulation of the set. It is worthy to note that the keys to the case were found in a wallet in the man's possession. These were stamped "165".
  • A "Shell" touring map with red covers. When folded measured approximately 9"x 5" on Roads of Great Britain and Wales, 10 miles to 1". Certain pencil marks were on the map connecting certain places, etc.
As for attire, Rivett Carnac noted that Josef, a rather frail-looking man, was wearing clothes that "were practically all new and it is significant to note that every garment was stamped or had a tab denoting that they were made in Germany proper or in occupied territory, such as Dresden, Zurich, Hamburg, Berlin, etc. One could also see that they were of foreign cut." I'm sure Rivett Carnac knew that Zurich (Switzerland) was not occupied territory but that this was simply a slip of the pen.

Rivett Carnac provided a detailed list of Josef's clothing:
  • new grey tweed overcoat
  • dark grey suit, not new
  • three pullovers
  • three shirts
  • collar with new bright tie
  • one pair new pants
  • one pair new blue stockings
  • one spare pair new grey socks
  • black pointed shoes with stamps and makers name etc., on inside arch of sole
  • inside shoes were new padded socks, perhaps for warmth and shock prevention
  • gray spats with zip fasteners
  • pork pie hat with maker's name etc. inside [everywhere else, this is referred to as a trilby hat]
  • new bluish handkerchief inside jacket breast pocket
  • woolen scarf
The item that most intrigued me was the 2.5 pounds of chocolate. Other spies were also equipped with chocolate but somehow I always imagined them as being relatively small bars. A 2.5 lb bar of chocolate was a lot of weight. Perhaps it was seen as the ultimate energy food. A spy could live for several days on a chunk of chocolate that size. He might, however, have a stomach ache or diarrhea at the end of it.

As for Rivett Carnac, it's not clear how he came to have such a detailed list. Jaikens wrote up a list which he sent to MI5 but it was not quite as detailed as this one from Rivett Carnac. According to MI5, the Chief Constable of Huntingdonshire fancied himself as a bit of a spy catcher, sending them ideas on what the markings on the map could mean and what questions they should ask the spy. He was obviously a keen-eyed policeman, one with an interesting history.

John Claude Thurlow Rivett Carnac was born on 14 June 1888, the son of James Thurlow Rivett Carnac and Edith Emily Brownlow. Given that John's parents were married in Bengal, India, it would seem likely that he was born in India. John's father was an Inspector with the India Police and his son would eventually follow in his father's footsteps.

John Claude Thurlow Rivett Carnac
(from The Badgers Lair)
A graduate of Eastbourne College, John returned to India and joined the Indian Police in 1909. With the outbreak of war, John fought with the 13th Lancers and 35th Scinde Horse (Indian Army), finishing the war as a Captain and earning the Military Cross for his efforts.

After the war, John resumed his service with the Indian Police although he did return to Britain in 1923 to wed Ola Jane Wilson. In 1922, John was awarded the King's Police Medal for Gallantry. In 1928, John retired from the Indian Police and joined the Huntingdonshire Constabulary as its Chief Constable, a post he would hold until 1957. Later in the war, John was attached to the military as a Lieutenant Colonel serving as Chief of Public Safety in Southern France and Senior Public Safety Officer in Aachen, Germany. John passed away in 1975 at the age of 87.

As an interesting side note (given that I am Canadian), John's younger brother, Charles Edward Rivett Carnac (born 1901 in Eastbourne) went on to serve with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police eventually becoming the Commissioner of that illustrious force.

Police service was definitely in the blood of the Rivett Carnac boys.

17 December 2015

The Mystery Spy - Double Agent GOOSE/GANDER

N.B. I posted a blog in April 2019 with new information that seems
 to confirm his real name was Kurt Karl Goose

On rare occasions I get distracted by the stories I encounter which are technically peripheral to my research into Josef Jakobs. One of those stories is that of double agent GANDER (GOOSE).

Information on GANDER is sketchy at best. There is no MI5 file on him in the National Archives, which is rather odd. References to GANDER in the literature are short but the basic line of the story is this:

GANDER was a German soldier who landed near Wellingborough (Northamptonshire) in early October 1940. He was apprehended by local farmers and eventually taken to Camp 020 where he admitted that he had been recruited to report on the weather, morale and road blocks. He told Major Robin W.G. Stephens, commandant of Camp 020, that he had no intention of carrying out his mission but wanted to get back to America where he had spent several years as a student. He quickly agreed to serve as a double agent. Unfortunately, his wireless radio set could only transmit, not receive, so after several weeks, he was retired as a double agent, being of limited value to MI5.

Modern Rumours about GANDER
For decades, the story of the German parachutist spy has been told and retold in the Wellingborough area and makes for interesting reading. In 2005, the village of Wellingborough published a 60th Anniversary Souvenir edition of their newspaper. Naturally, it included a piece on the spy:

Wellingborough Link - Commemorative Newspaper - 2005
Commemorative Newspaper - 2005
Wellingborough Link - Commemorative Newspaper - 2005SPY PARACHUTES IN: During the war, a German spy parachuted into a field just outside Easton Maudit.

He chatted in perfect English to one of my grandfather's farm workers, Billy Walker, by the church for 20 minutes, establishing where he was. He noticed a farm cart with W. Penn, Easton Maudit, on it (as with signposts, such names and identification marks should have been painted out).

Walking towards Yardley Hastings, he called at Percy Keggin's farm to buy eggs, telling the farmer he was staying with a Mr. Penn at Easton Maudit. Mr. Keggin became suspicious as he knew Wally Penn kept chickens, and so alerted the police.

Wellingborough Link - Commemorative Newspaper - 2005The spy was found hiding in a ditch and arrested. His belongings included a suitcase full of money and maps of the Coventry area. His task was to have identified Coventry-based munitions factories in preparation for a bombing mission.

Billy Walker, who was in the Home Guard, was later teased about his encounter with the German, especially as he had been awarded the Military Cross in the First World War.

The spy was taken to Bedford Prison, where he was hanged. (written by Cllr. Tim Allebone)

Makes for fascinating reading, doesn't it? Unfortunately, most of the details in the story are not accurate. So let's see what facts we can unearth about this mystery spy.

GANDER'S Real Name
Right off the bat, we run into trouble. Various names are ascribed to the man known as GANDER. His forged British Identity card was in the name of Alfred Philips, obviously an alias. GANDER also carried his personal army pay book which apparently listed his name as some variation of Kurt/Karl Grosse/Gross/Goose. Apparently at one point, MI5 was going to codename him GOOSE and that name may have stuck as being his last name.

In 1981, Nigel West noted that GANDER's real name was Hans Reysen/Reisen. This was based on what Wulf Schmidt had told MI5 interrogators but would seem to contradict the information in GANDER'S army pay book For the moment, let's just call our spy Karl Gross.

Early Life
Karl was born on 12 June 1911 in Berlin. He studied geology and mining in Berlin, studies that were interrupted in 1935 by two 8-week periods of infantry training. In 1936,  Karl traveled to America and continued his geological studies at the University of California. With the declaration of war in September 1939, Karl embarked on an adventurous trek to get back to Germany. He eventually succeeded in May 1940, arriving back in his home country via Japan.

As an able-bodied young man (29 years old), Karl was immediately called up into the Army. His fluency in English meant that he was a prime candidate for the Brandenburg Lehr-Regiment s.b.V 800. The Lehr Regiment was an offshoot of the German Abwehr (Intelligence Service) and was composed of men fluent in a variety of languages. The regiment was an intelligence and sabotage unit, but Karl wouldn't remain with them for long. One day, his Sergeant asked the men who was fluent in English. Karl put up his hand and was sent off to Brussels for espionage training.

In Brussels, Karl underwent three weeks of wireless training and learned the finer details of weather reporting. He met fellow spies Wulf Schmidt (TATE) and Gosta Caroli (SUMMER) during this period. Karl apparently told Schmidt that he knew capture meant a date with the executioner. Karl said he was going to bring his German Army pay book and a Luftwaffe uniform in order to be able to claim he was a Prisoner of War and not a spy.

Caroli and Schmidt parachuted separately into England in early to mid September but both were quickly captured and turned by the English. Schmidt and Caroli both admitted that they had met a man named Hans Reisen who was being trained to come to England. Reisen was 37 years old, spoke English with an American accent and was from Bremen. According to Schmidt, Reisen would be equipped with a National Identity card whose registration number began with CNFS, part of a bogus series of numbers sent to the Germans by double agent SNOW.

Dropped into England

Google Map showing location of GANDER sites
Google Map showing location of GANDER sites
Red markers - villages of Yardley Hastings, Bozeat and Easton Maudit.
Blue marker - possible location of Hollowell Plantation (close to
Easton Maudit and about 1 mile from Len Smith's place) - landing
site of GANDER
Purple marker - location where Len Smith met Karl.
Yellow marker - Percy Keggin - The Lodge farm.
On the evening on 3 October, 1941, Karl leapt from an airplane over Northamptonshire. Unlike many other parachute spies, Karl made an uneventful landing southwest of Wellingborough.

When dawn arrived, Karl cut up his parachute and harness and stuffed the pieces in various rabbit holes. The weather was not all that conducive to living rough and after reconnoitering for a few hours, Karl changed into civilian clothes, stuffed the rest of his gear under a number of bushes and took shelter in a farmer's barn about a mile from where he had landed. It wasn't the smartest move.

At about 6:30 pm, Thomas Leonard Smith of Yardley Hastings went to visit his farm buildings on Grendon Road. When he entered one of the buildings, he found Karl. Immediately suspicious of the stranger, Smith asked Karl what he was doing in there. Karl said that he was sheltering from the rain but thought that the weather had improved and said "I think I will be going". Smith asked Karl where he had come from and Karl eventually admitted that he had come from Harpenden to Bedford and arrived in Yardley Hastings on the bus. When asked where he was staying, Karl said that he was staying about a mile and a half along the road at a farm house, although he couldn't remember its name. Smith's suspicions got stronger and he told Karl that he would accompany him to this farm and asked to see his identity card. To Smith's uneducated eye, the card looked genuine and the two men began to walk along Grendon Road.

Google Earth view showing location of GANDER sites
Red markers - villages of Yardley Hastings, Bozeat and Easton Maudit.
Blue marker - possible location of Hollowell Plantation (close to
Easton Maudit and about 1 mile from Len Smith's place) - landing site
Purple marker - location where Len Smith met Karl.
Yellow marker - Percy Keggin - The Lodge farm.
A short while later, Percy Keggin drove up behind the men and Smith stopped him and asked for help. He told Keggin he had found the man in one of his buildings and didn't know what to do with him.

Keggin also took a look at Karl's identity card and then asked him where he was going. Karl admitted that he wanted to go to a farm along Grendon Road. Since it was such a wet night, Keggin offered to drive Karl to the farm and both Smith and Karl climbed into the vehicle.

After driving almost as far as Grendon without finding Karl's farm, the men returned to Keggin's house, The Lodge (also on Grendon Road). Tucked in the warmth of the kitchen, Keggin mentioned the names of various farmers and Karl admitted it might have been Mr. Penn of Easton Maudit. Karl said that he had left his coat at the farm after staying there the previous night.

The Lodge, Keggin's former farm - Grendon Road.
The Lodge, Keggin's former farm - Grendon Road.
Keggin, relieved to finally have a solution to the lost man, telephoned William Reginald Penn in nearby Easton Maudit and told him that the man who had stayed at Penn's farm the previous night was at his place and could he please come and fetch him as it was a wet night.

While Keggin and Smith were both rather simple farmers, William Penn was another matter entirely. Penn was head Air Raid Warden and a Section Leader for the Home Guard at Easton Maudit. After receiving the rather confusing phone call at about 7 pm, Penn rounded up Robert Ingram and drove off to Keggin's farm. Penn took a look at Karl's National Identity card and was immediately suspicious of its newness. He told Karl to come with him and he would "put him right". Penn, Ingram and Karl all piled into Penn's vehicle which he promptly drove to the Bozeat Police Station.

Arrested by the Police
PC 23, John William Forth (1951) (from BBC WW2 People's War)
PC 23, John William Forth (1951)
(from BBC WW2 People's War)
John William Forth, Police Constable (PC 23) responsible for policing that corner of Northamptonshire, had moved to the village of Bozeat in 1936. On the evening of 4 October, 1941, he and his wife were likely tucking their young daughter into bed. At about 7:35 pm, Walter Penn arrived at the station with Karl in tow. Penn told Forth that he was not satisfied with the man's identity and so had brought him to the police.

Forth had a look at Karl's Identity card which likely aroused the police constable's suspicions. The card was dated 20 May, 1940, and Forth likey knew that cards should not bear a date prior to 21 May, 1940. Engaging in conversation with the man, Forth noted that he spoke with a foreign accent and that all of his clothing appeared to be new and of foreign origin. Karl told the constable that he had come to Yardley Hastings from Bedford by bus and was aiming to get a job in Kettering as a waiter.

Forth rang up Inspector Sharman and "kept the man under close observation" until Sharman arrived at 8:00 pm. While they were waiting, Forth's wife took pity on the "very scared and hungry man" and cooked him a plate of scrambled eggs. Karl was "very polite" and "most grateful" for the food. He was clearly also very nervous for Forth's wife noticed that he couldn't stop playing the fringe of his scarf.

When Inspector Sharman arrived, things became very serious. Karl was subjected to a search and the following items were uncovered:
  • Identity card - Alfred Phillips - FMEG 296/1
  • several other identity cards
  • small pistol
Karl quickly realized that the game was up and confessed that he had parachuted into England and landed near a pumping station. His mission was to transmit weather reports back to Germany. He agreed to take the police to his landing point and retrieve the rest of his gear. After being handcuffed to Constable Forth, Karl led the police to a pumping station near Hollowell Plantation (Hollow Well Planting), Easton Maudit. After getting his bearings, Karl led the police to some bushes beneath which he had stashed his equipment. Opening up the suitcase, the police officers found Karl's Luftwaffe uniform and discovered that "he had had a rather embarrassing accident in his flight suit on the way down".

Inspector Sharman took possession of Karl and his gear and took him to Wellingborough Police Station. The following day, Sharman and Forth returned to Hollowell Plantation and found some of the parachute and parachute harness pieces stuffed in various rabbit holes. These, along with Karl and his possessions, were all passed on to MI5. Constable Forth and his family never learned what happened to the scared and hungry spy. Wellingborough rumours suggested that he was hanged in Bedford Prison.

Off to Camp 020
On 5 October, 1941, Karl arrived at Latchmere House and was interrogated by Major Robin W.G. Stephens and his team of offices. Karl put up no resistance. He told the story of his recruitment into the Abwehr. He said that he had had no intention of carrying out his mission, which was to report on the weather, morale and road blocks. He really just wanted to get back to America. Stephens and his crew were naturally skeptical since Karl was a fairly well-equipped spy.

His identity card was actually a pretty good forgery and didn't use any of the numbers sent over by SNOW. There were no continental characteristics to the writing and the name was actually entered in the correct order (last name first). But there were still a few errors. The name was entered with only a first initial which was not accurate. It should have been "Phillips, Alfred" not "Phillips, A.". And the date was a giveaway as well.

Rifling through Karl's gear, the MI5 officers also found:
  • £114 (not £500 as reported by some authors)
  • wireless transmitter (#40) but no receiver
  • grid code - likely similar to those of Waldberg, Meier, Kieboom and Pons
  • British Passport - in the name of Alfred Phillips
  • British Identity card - A. Phillips -  FMEG 296/1 
  • Ration Card - A. Phillips
  • British Identity card - blank
  • German Army pay book in his own name
  • automatic pistol and ammunition
  • road map of Great Britain
  • Luftwaffe uniform
  • barometer
  • compass
  • reagent for secret writing
According to Guy Liddell, MI5 proposed to use GANDER as an obvious double-cross in order to enhance the status of SUMMER. On 8 October, 1940, Liddell noted that one of MI5's radio operatives, Ronnie Reed, was going to work with Karl in composing a message to send to the Abwehr. A radio operator's morse code sending pattern (his "fist") was as unique as his voice and MI5 was going to have Reed send the message using GANDER's wireless set. In theory, the Abwehr would hear the message, recognize that the sender was not Karl and realize that he had been turned into a double agent. This would hopefully lend more credence to the authenticity of SUMMER and TATE. Liddell acknowledged that Karl was "a poor fish who never wanted to be a spy." One naturally wonders what would have happened to Karl's family if the Abwehr suspected that he had betrayed them.

While the radio message was being prepared, Karl was put in a room with Karl Meier, one of the spies who had landed on the Kent coast in early September. The two men talked about political events and the interrogation process, recognizing that they were being squeezed for information and were likely to be tossed in the "wastepaper basket" once they were dry.

Once the message for Karl had been prepared, he and Reed attempted to send it to Germany. Unfortunately, MI5 was unsuccessful in establishing contact with the Abwehr using Karl's set and, after three weeks, he was retired from the double agent crew. Since Karl's set could not receive messages from the Abwehr, one wonders how contact with the Abwehr could be called "unsuccessful".

While a prisoner at Camp 020, Karl tarnished his reputation by trying to bribe a soldier guard to smuggle a letter to the German embassy in Dublin. Karl was extremely lucky. MI5 drew up a Treachery Act case against him and he only escaped death by the narrowest of margins. In November 1941, Swinton, MI5, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney General met to discuss the cases of "tarnished" double agents (SUMMER and GANDER). They eventually agreed that no question of prosecution could arise if MI5 had used an agent or given him a promise. Firstly, there was always the danger that secrets of the double agent system could be revealed at trial and secondly, and perhaps rather belatedly, "a promise once given had to be honoured."

Karl was transferred to Camp 020R (Huntercombe) for the duration of the war. According to MI5 files, Karl was sent to Diest (Belgium) on 2 July 1945. What became of him after that is a complete mystery.

Naturally, it would be fascinating to see Karl's actual KV 2 file... perplexing why that has not yet been released by MI5.

Agent TATE - 2011 - Tommy Jonason and Simon Ollsson
British Intelligence in the Second World War, Volume 4 - 1990 - F.H. Hinsley and C.A.G. Simkins. 
Camp 020: MI5 and the Nazi Spies - 2000 - Oliver Hoare.
Double Agent Snow - 2013 - James Hayward 
Guy Liddell Diaries, Volume 1 - 2009 - Nigel West

MI5: the True Story of the Most Secret Counterespionage Organization in the World - 1981 - Nigel West
Snow: the Double Life of a World War II Spy - 2011 - Nigel West and Madoc Roberts
Unternehmen Seelöwe - 2014 - Monika Siedentopf

National Archives files
  • KV 2/12 - Security Service file on Karl Meier
  • KV 2/114 - Security Service file on Engelbertus Fukken (Willem ter Braak)
  • KV 2/449 - Security Service files on Arthur Owens (SNOW)
  • KV 2/2593 - Cases at Camp 020
  • KV 4/8 - Sampson's History of Camp 020 
  • KV 4/16 - Report on MI5 Operations during the War
BBC - WW2 People's War - The Village Policeman - article written by John E. Forth, son of PC 23, John William Forth - includes statements by Forth and the three farmers.
Bozeat - Village Bobby (same as the BBC Story)
Bozeat History
Wellingborough - WWII 60 Year Commemorative Edition (The Link 1945-2005).

11 December 2015

The Unchanging Ramsey Police Station

Ramsey Police Station (circa 1940s)  (From The Badgers Lair)
Ramsey Police Station (circa 1940s)
(From The Badgers Lair)
On 1 February, 1941, German spy Josef Jakobs was apprehended by members of the Home Guard, after he shot a pistol to attract attention. Having broken his ankle during the parachute descent, Josef was searched and taken into the custody of the Ramsey Police.

A farm cart transferred Josef to the Ramsey Police Station on 4 Blenheim Road. Here, Josef was searched more thoroughly and seen by the local doctor who braced his broken ankle.

The Ramsey Police Station has changed little over the decades and looks like it would have had a very interesting history. Unfortunately, other than a few photographs, I've been able to discover nothing about this handsome building on the internet.

Ramsey Police Station - a modern view  (From Ramsey Town website)
Ramsey Police Station - a modern view
(From Ramsey Town website)
In 2012, I visited Ramsey in the company of Winston Ramsey of After the Battle Magazine. The building is virtually unchanged, at least on the outside and is still used by the Cambridgeshire Police Force.

Looking at the old and new pictures, and playing the game of "what is different", one can see that the hanging globe light has been moved so that it now hangs over the main arched entrance way. In line with that, the narrow doorway over which it used to hang has been bricked over. The diamond pattern on the upper floor has also disappeared in the modern version. Any other differences? Obviously the fence is gone too!

One can only imagine that the inside of the building must look very different! If anyone has any information on the building, it would be great to learn a bit more.

07 December 2015

The Mysterious Origins of Britain's WWII Spy Catcher - William Edward Hinchley Cooke

William Edward Hinchley Cooke
William Edward Hinchley Cooke
Over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about Lt. Col. William Edward Hinchley Cooke, an MI5 officer who helped catch and prosecute numerous spies during World War II. Hinchley Cooke picked up the nickname "Cookie" during his career, a rather innocent term for such a dedicated and dangerous MI5 officer.

While I have been moderately successful in tracing most of the MI5 officers who were involved in the interrogation and prosecution of German spy, Josef Jakobs, two have proved to be more challenging.

Lt. Col. Robin William George Stephens, former commandant of MI5's World War II interrogation centre at Latchmere House (a.k.a. Camp 020 or Ham Common) was born in 1900 in Egypt to British expats. After about 1960, however, Stephens' trail runs cold; when and where he passed away is still a mystery.

With Cookie, we have the opposite problem. The circumstances surrounding his death are well known. He dropped dead of a massive heart attack in the street outside his home in March 1955. It is Cookie's birth that has been a bit of a mystery, but I've cracked open the case a little bit.

A bit of genealogy sleuthing, a fortuitous contact with one of Cookie's distant relatives and... I was able to apply for his British Army Personnel Records. Jackpot! Many authors have noted that Cookie's father was British and his mother was German but beyond that... not much was known. Was Cookie born in Germany or England? I had dug around on Find My Past, searching in the Overseas Birth Registrations for British Nationals, but had drawn a complete blank. However, based on his army records, Cookie was indeed born in Germany and the next step has been to apply for his birth registration from the relevant German archive. Keeping my fingers crossed.

A few other interesting tidbits from Cookie's file. Turns out that he was a law student at Gray's Inn in London at some point. His file doesn't indicate that he passed the Bar, so a legal degree was probably not part of his resumé. Still, his law studies do explain why he was so heavily involved in the prosecution of spies during World War II.

At some point, most likely in the period between 1922 and 1926, Cookie served in the Secretary's office at Vickers Limited. Vickers was a massive British engineering firm that dabbled in armaments, shipbuilding, airships and aircraft. Cookie's time at Vickers was listed as "Business Qualifications", a skill that would come in useful in running his office at MI5.

Given the fact that Cookie was born and raised in Germany, his German language skills were flawless. According to the German Abwehr, Cookie spoke German with a Saxony and Hamburg accent. He also picked up Dutch and French along the way. According to his records, Cookie was classified as a 1st Class Interpreter A.O. for German. His skill in the other two languages was "translator and fluent conversational".

On top of that, Cookie had traveled extensively throughout Europe - France, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Most likely his work with Vickers Limited gave him a good cover story for traveling throughout Europe.

Finally, Cookie had trained with the Birmingham City Police "in all matters relating to the administration of a Civil Police Force".

Cookie had it all: languages, legal knowledge, police training, military experience, travel background, business skills. Although initially recruited into MI5 in 1914 for his language skills, it was clear that  after World War I, Cookie built up a diverse resumé that made him eminently qualified to serve as an MI5 intelligence officer.

There still some mysteries. While the army records give Cookie's regimental number for World War II, it isn't the same as what he would have used during World War I. The rather common surname of "Cooke" means that it is challenging to track down references to him in the London Gazette between 1914 and 1920. The Army Personnel records, for example, note that he was twice Mentioned in Dispatches, once in 1917 and then a year later. Even with the exact dates, I haven't managed to track those references down.

There is also some evidence to suggest that Cookie served as an interpreter/translator at the war crimes trials in Germany in 1946 and 1947. While his Army Personnel record makes no mention of such a duty, it would not be surprising given his background in prosecution and languages. We know, for example that Carl Ludwig Stirling, the Judge Advocate at Josef Jakobs' court martial, also served as Judge Advocate at the several war crimes trials in Germany (e.g. Belsen).

In 1954, Cookie was retired from the Territorial Army having exceeded the age limit. Less than a year later, he would pass away.

02 December 2015

The Spymaster and his Wife

Aurora - book cover
Aurora - book cover
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog about German spymaster Nikolaus Ritter and his American wife, Mary Aurora Evans. I based the blog on information I had dug up on Ritter as well as several book reviews on Aurora's biography (written by her daughter, Katharine (Ritter) Wallace).

The biography sounded quite fascinating and I ordered a copy through AbeBooks.com, my go-to-source for second-hand books. As luck would have it, there was a copy at a Goodwill store in California, which was reasonably priced.

The book arrived last week, and I have been reading it with interest. The author provides quite a bit more information on what Nikolaus Ritter did during his time in America, a lot of odd jobs which he often left after a few weeks or months. It sounds like he was a bit of a Prussian aristocrat who didn't like to be ordered around. Also turns out he was a bit of a free-loader, living off of Aurora's income while in the States. Fascinating glimpse of another side of the man.

Deckname Dr. Rantzau - book cover
Naturally, there are always two sides (or more) to every story. For several years now, I've had a copy of Nikolaus Ritter's memoir in my possession. It's written in German but is one of the few windows into the operations of the German Abwehr.

Several months ago, I managed to plough my way through Monika Seidentopf's account of Unternehmen Seelöwe (Operation Sealion). My German is quite rusty and the puzzling military terms meant that Google Translate was my new best friend. I do think, after a bit of effort, that I got the gist of the book. Which makes me think that now may be the time to tackle Ritter's memoir.