17 March 2017

The India General Service Medal of Robin William George (a.k.a. Tin-Eye) Stephens

Lt. Col. Robin William George Stephens (a.k.a. Tin-Eye Stephens)
Lt. Col. Robin William
George Stephens
(a.k.a. Tin-Eye Stephens)
It's been a while since I wrote a post on Lt. Col. Robin William George Stephens, a.k.a. Tin-Eye Stephens, fearsome former commandant of MI5s secret wartime interrogation centre, Camp 020.

I have, through this blog and my website, made contact with a distant relative of Stephens. Together, I'm hoping that we might crack the case of Stephen's death and place of burial.

In the meantime, I contacted the author of the 2014 Medal News article who has Stephens' India General Service Medal. I thought that perhaps tracing the history of the medal might lead us closer to Stephens himself. The author of the Medal News article bought the medal in the 1990s from a dealer in Norfolk.

India General Service Medal with five clasps of Robin William George Stephens (From Medal News May 2014)
India General Service
Medal with five clasps
of Robin William George
Stephens
(From Medal News
May 2014)
Information that accompanied the medal indicated that "it was formerly in the collection of a well-known collector, Colonel Kingsley Foster and sold by Glendining (formerly a leading London dealer) in December 1971. Quite likely Foster acquired the medal directly from Stephens."

That seemed like a rather tantalizing lead. A quick internet search led me to a website entitled "The Nugents of Antigua". An entire page is devoted to Kingsley Osbern Nugent Foster, a member of the Peerage who served with the Northumberland Fusiliers.

Kingsley Osbern Nugent Foster (from Nugents of Antigua website)
Kingsley Osbern Nugent Foster
(from Nugents of Antigua website)
The website gives quite a bit of history for Kingsley and I won't repeat it here, other than to say that the information came from Kingsley's daughter, Patricia Foster.

I did learn a few things. Kingsley was a serious medal collector and amassed a collection that was "second to few in the British Isles and was the greatest authority on the subject in the army. He had already published one book on the subject and was writing a second". From what I can gather, Kingsley's first book was entitled "The Military General Service Medal Roll - 1793-1814", published in 1947.

Alas, before Kingsley could publish his second book, he was killed in action while commanding the 1st Battalion, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers at Imjin River, Korea on 25 April, 1951. He was only 44 years old. He is buried at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan, Korea.
 
Kingsley Osbern Nugent Foster - war memorial headstone
at Busan, Korea (Section 24 Row 1 Grave Number 1700)
(From Ancestry.com website)
What became of Kingsley's amazing medal collection? Some of them ended up at the Regimental Museum, Alnwick Castle. Others were sold to support his widow. But what about the General India Service Medal of our friend, Robin William George Stephens? Given that Kingsley passed away in 1951, it is highly unlikely that he purchased Stephens medal after that date. Stephens must have sold the medal to Kingsley, or to some other medal dealer, at some point prior to that, perhaps in the mid 1930s, when Stephens declared bankruptcy. Hard to say.

I had been using the 1971 date as a loose bookend, thinking that Stephens must have passed away before that date if his medals were being sold off. Clearly this is not the case.

So, the last real trace we have of Stephens is 1963, living in Brighton. Beyond that, we do know that he was deceased when his wife Joan passed away in 1992. A rather broad expanse of time, but we will just have to keep digging.

Sources
Nugents of Antigua - page on Kingsley Osbern Foster - written by his daughter Patricia

Fusiliers Association

Ancestry - genealogical website

Imperial War Museum - link to his memorial at Northumberland Fusiliers Museum

Northeast War Memorials Project - has photos of the medals at Northumberland Fusiliers Museum

Last Stand: Famous Battles Against The Odds by Bryan Perrett - snippets are available through Google Books - gives an account of Foster's death during an ambush by the Chinese

Roll of Honour - Cambridgeshire - has a picture of a memorial in Hildersham

8 comments:

Stephen Denne said...

Here is a link to a DNW medal catalogue where Robin Stephens' India General Service medal was described as being on sale in 2018, but withdrawn (failed to meet reserve?): https://www.dnw.co.uk/auction-archive/lot-archive/lot.php?department=Medals&lot_id=314552

A lot of the provenance aligns with the information on your website. However, bits missing include periods as the first encumbent in a new MI5 role in Accra ((the in the Gold Coast) as Security Liaison Officer from 1948 after his period of association with Nenndorf, followed by a posting in c May 1951 as Head of MI5's Secret Intelligence Middle East in Cairo (taking over from Bill Magan, whose written handover briefing to Stephens dated 28.4.51 is publicly available). This latter posting may have lasted until c1953/4 when a reduction in SIME staff (it would be disbanded by 1958) led to the top job being merged with that of the Deputy Head and the Head of the Counter-Intelligence Section (this timing would fit with your information re the move to the Port and Travel Control Group).

Giselle Jakobs said...

Hi Stephen,
Thanks for the link! I heard that there was some question about the provenance of the medal - that it might be a replacement, not the original.
Do you have a link for the Bill Magan briefing document - National Archives?
Still trying to piece together Stephens' post-Bad Nenndorf career - just tidbits here and there.

Stephen Denne said...

The Magan document should be available under reference KV4/238. I have a pdf of a substantial research document about SIME that I can email to you if you can share your address.

Stephen Denne said...

Have now read in Twilight of the British Empire that Stephens was with SIME from 1951 to 1953. The latter date seems to tie in with the SIME 1953 reorganisation I mentioned previously. The Magan report references you wanted are also itemised in the book.

Giselle Jakobs said...

Hi Stephen,
Thanks again - will track down a copy of this reference and have a look.

Giselle Jakobs said...

Hi Stephen, Thanks! email address is gkjakobs [at] hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

Hello
I was just wondering, what is the source of your comment that the last real trace of Robin Stephens is 1963, living in Brighton? Do you have an address?
So many old spies just fade into the shadows and one never hears from them again. I guess that's the way they like to live....
UK phone books are on line. There are a number of R Stephens listed for Brighton in ancestry.co.uk. I do not use ancestry, but the phone books are another way to proceed as is the electoral register. [My friend does have access but she is away right now otherwise I'd ask her to do some sleuthing. When I was looking for a long dead realtion a fw years ago, I found them in the end when my friend posted a query on ancestry and also findmypast]
The wills and probate lists are on line too, but you would need to search every year from 1963 onwards.
The other problem is that there is no certainty over the name he was using. MI5 have a historical records contact, I think, and they may be able to assist.
Apologies if you have thought of all this. It is also taking you away from your grandfather's story, which is incredibly fascinating and tragic.
Thanks for such an interesting site.

Giselle Jakobs said...

Hi,
No apologies needed! All sleuthing assistance is greatly appreciated. The 1963 date came from a second cousin of Stephens who tracked him in the electoral registers to Brighton in 1963. After that, no trace. I've toyed with the idea of reaching out to MI5 but they are notoriously stingy with information!
I have an Ancestry subscription and keep chipping away with various search enquiries, always hoping new records will be added to the vast pool of information. As you say, his name does change a bit - sometimes he's Robin... sometimes he's Robert, so it's a bit of a challenge. And if he died abroad... well... that makes it even more challenging!