28 March 2016

Book Review - A Woman in Berlin - 2000

The Book
A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City; Anonymous; Metropolitan Books, 2005.

In April 1945, the author, a female journalist living in Berlin, began to keep a daily diary as her city collapsed around her. The Russians arrived a few days later and the author writes in detail about the horror that unfolded.

Rape, looting, starvation, forced labour was the lot of the Germans who had hunkered down in Berlin that spring. Refugees from the East, who had thought Berlin a "safe" place, were also caught up in the maelstrom.

Writing with courage and intellectual honesty, the author provides an eye-opening personal account of a city pillaged and ravaged by the Russian Army.

While the author wished to remain anonymous, many now believe that she was Marta Hillers, a German journalist who passed away in 2001.

I came across the title of this book while searching for something else online. The title and synopsis of the book intrigued me. While much has been written about the demise of Berlin at the end of the war, I had yet to come across a first-hand woman's account of that time.

The wife of Josef Jakobs, and their three children, were in Berlin at the end of the war. My father, Josef's youngest son, says little of that time, other than it was horrible. In reading this book, I got a small sense of what likely happened to Josef's family in the spring of 1945.

Review Score
5 out of 5 - The book is gripping and offers a rare window into the civilian experience of war.

23 March 2016

Website Review - Latchmere House - St. Margaret's Community Website

Latchmere House article
(From St. Margarets Community Website)
Today, I came across a new website/blog featuring an article on Latchmere House/Camp 020. The article is hosted on the St. Margarets Community website.

Written by Martyn Day, the article gives a brief history of Latchmere House and features a few quotes from its Commandant during World War 2, Lt. Col. Robin William George Stephens.

The article concludes by giving brief stories of four spies held within Camp 020 during World War 2: Eddie Chapman, Josef Jakobs, Karel Richter and Wulf Schmidt. While factually accurate, it is unfortunate that the author hasn't provided any references or attributions for the photographs.

The low resolution copy of the Josef Jakobs photo was one that I provided to Find-a-Grave.

3/5 - generally accurate but could use references and photo attributions.

18 March 2016

The Red Caps who Guarded Josef Jakobs

Wandsworth Prison
Wandsworth Prison
On 23 July, 1941, German spy Josef Jakobs was transferred from MI5's secret interrogation centre (Camp 020) to Wandsworth Prison.

Given that Josef was going to be tried by a military court martial, he needed to be kept in military custody.

After much discussion, it was decided that a cell at Wandsworth Prison would be officially designated as a military prison.

Corps of Military Police Recruiting Poster
Corps of Military Police Recruiting Poster
From Wikimedia Commons
(By Newbould, Frank (artist), W R Royle
and Son Ltd, London EC4 (printer),
Army Recruiting Centre (publisher/sponsor),
Her Majesty's Stationery Office
(publisher/sponsor) [Public domain]
Naturally, the guards would also need to be provided by the military. A squad of six (or possibly eight) NCO's from the Corps of Military Police (a.k.a. Red Caps) were duly chosen and sent to Wandsworth Prison. Their identities, for the most part, remain a mystery. All of the Red Caps on the squad were sworn to secrecy at the end of their assignment but, with the passage of time, a few details have emerged.

RQMS Alfred Edward Watling
Alfred Watling was born in 1908 to William Watling and Florence Ada Etheridge. In 1918, Alfred's father, a Corporal in the Border Regiment, was killed in France. Young Alfred joined the Army in 1925 at the tender age of 16. He retired from the military in 1933 but was remobilized with the declaration of war in 1939. In early 1941 he was transferred from the Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) to the Corps of Military Police. Alfred passed away in 1983.
(Many thanks to Alfred's son for sharing a bit of his story).

LCpl Henry Saul
Henry Saul was born in 1919 to John Saul and Beatrice Schofield. Henry joined the Coldstream Guards in 1939 and was posted to the Continent. He escaped from Dunkirk in the spring of 1940 and transferred to the Corps of Military Police. On 16 August, 1941, the day after Josef's execution, Henry was posted to the Guards Armoured Division Provost Company. On 13 August 1942, Henry rejoined the Coldstream Guards and saw heavy fighting in Holland and Germany during the latter stages of the war. Henry passed away in 1986.
Coldstream Guards badge
Coldstream Guards badge
(Many thanks to Henry's son for sharing a bit of his story).

LCpl William Chidlow
William was born in 1916 to William Chidlow and Lilian Eveson.
At the age of 20, William joined the Coldstream Guards and saw service in Belgium and France before the evacuation of Dunkirk. In early 1941, William transferred to the Corps of Military Police. On 16 August, 1941, William (along with Henry Saul) was posted to the Guards Armoured Division Provost Company. William passed away in 2009.
(Many thanks to William's daughter for sharing his story).

LCpl Mathews
Alas, we know nothing about Mathews, other than his last name.

The identities of the other Red Caps are a mystery. As it turns out, it was Watling, Saul and Chidlow who accompanied Josef to the Tower of London on the morning of his execution.

14 March 2016

Deciphering MI5 Documents

When I first laid eyes on the declassified MI5 documents on Josef Jakobs, I was completely lost. One almost needs to be a cipher expert to decipher some of these documents. Over the years, I've become much more familiar with the terminology, the different divisions of MI5 and MI6, as well as the cast of characters who wrote the documents. It is now relatively easy for me to identify the signatures of the main cast of characters, to easily recognize that B2a means Thomas Argyll Robertson, as does T.A.R.

It's sort of like deciphering the codes used on WWI Medal Cards... but those are a bit easier as there are usually helpful folk out there who have created an abbreviation key.

Part of the issue with MI5 is that it went through restructuring in 1940/41. The divisional codes changed... and it's as well-documented as with the medal cards.

Here's a document from Robin William George Stephens, Commandant of Camp 020 MI5, also known as Latchmere House (B.L. - formerly B8(L)). The letter was typed by a secretary whose initials were JL and she also noted Stephens initials (RS) at the bottom. Later, those initials would be expanded to RWS to distinguish reports written by Stephens from reports written by Roland Alfred Frederick Short, another Camp 020 interrogator.

The document was addressed to B2 (double agents) which eventually became B1. Although not mentioned by name, B2 was essentially Dick Goldsmith White.

Copies of the document were sent to S.I.S. (Secret Intelligence Service) also known as MI6, likely to Felix Cowgill. Another copy went to Dy. B. (Deputy of MI5s B Division), possibly Guy Maynard Liddell at this time, although by the summer of 1941, Liddell would be head of B Division.

The handwritten serial number 41b was a numbering system that helped MI5 maintain an index on each spy's file.

Another document. This one was sent to Sir Alexander Maxwell of the Home Office by DGW (Dick Goldsmith White) of B2 (double agents) and typed by secretary DS. It was related to Prisoner File 55039, which was Josef's file.

Once one is familiar with the code, it becomes relatively straightforward to figure out who's writing to whom about what.

09 March 2016

Adventures in Book Publishing - Episode 1

For the last 5 years, or perhaps slightly longer (if we include research time), I've been working on a book that tells the tale of Josef's life. It's been a tough slog sometimes, and the manuscript has gone through numerous permutations and revisions.

I do think that I finally have something that is moderately presentable and ready to be shared in some fashion. The question is... how?

Self Publish
There are umpteen publishers/printers out there who will happily help you to publish your book. Lulu.com and Blurb.com both come to mind as I've used them to publish some personal family history books. There is a bewildering array: cover design, editing, epub, ISBN, barcodes, etc.

There are also "vanity" publishers out there, but that doesn't really seem like a satisfactory option for Josef's story.

A "Happy" View of the Publishing Process
(from Hi I'm Jen website)
Get a Literary Agent
Everything I've read says that if you want to go the traditional route in publishing a book, you need a literary agent. Given that the context of Josef's story is Germany and England, with most of the action taking place in England, I need to consider a British literary agent.

I did reach out to a few authors whom I've encountered over the years. One suggested the literary agent Andrew Lownie. As chance would have it, I had come across his name in another context and thought he sounded like a good starting point.

Pick a Title
I've had a couple of working titles for the manuscript which, incidentally, is a non-fiction tale. "In the Footsteps of my Grandfather" was my first working title, but fell by the wayside months ago.  An obvious title "Shot in the Tower" has already used by Leonard Sellers in his account of WWI spies executed in the Tower. At this point, my current title is taken from Josef's last words to the firing squad "Shoot Straight Tommies". We'll see if that passes muster and survives the editorial gauntlet!
A less than Happy View of the Publishing Process
(From Hi I'm Jen website)

Submit a Synopsis Package to Literary Agent
Andrew Lownie has a very helpful guide on how to submit a non-fiction manuscript:
  • 1 page mini-synopsis highlighting with bullet points what makes the book new and special with proposed word count and delivery date
  • 1 page on qualifications to write the book
  • 1 page with a few lines on the five most recent competing and comparable books giving author, title, publisher and date of publication together with a note on how the books relate to the author's own book
  • 1 page on sources used
  • 1 page on any specialist marketing outlets such as websites, organisations or magazines
  • A sample chapter
A fellow blogger (fiction genre) wrote a few posts about Not Screwing Up when it comes to a Literary Agent. I'm going to study the posts with a fine tooth comb.

Lessons from the Agents 1: Don't Mess It Up
Lessons from the Agents 2: The Submission Package
Time will tell...

04 March 2016

Follow-up to Double Agent GOOSE/GANDER

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

Back in December 2015, I wrote a blog post about Double Agent GANDER who descended by parachute near the village of Bozeat. I had discovered the recollections of John E. Forth (the son of the police officer involved in the capture of the spy) on the Village of Bozeat website and incorporated the information into the blog.

I also wrote to the webmaster of the Village of Bozeat website, sharing the information I had discovered and asking if someone could put me in touch with John E. Forth. The editor of the Bozeat Matters newsletter contacted me and... the story was included in their March 2016 newsletter. We'll see if it generates any leads.

The newsletter can be viewed here - click on the March 2016 newsletter and then the margins of the pages to "turn" pages. The story is on page 43.