10 December 2018

The Muscat Levy Corps and Captain Robin William George Stephens

I've known for a while that Robin W.G. Stephens, commandant of Camp 020, had spent some years in Muscat during the late 1920s. The more I dug into the Muscat Levy Corps, however, the more perplexed I became. What was a British officer doing commanding a group of soldiers, drawn from what is now Pakistan, in the deserts Oman? Before we get to Stephens, therefore, we need to back up a bit and get some context.

History of Muscat
General map of the southern Arabian Peninsula with Muscat marked (from Google Maps)
General map of the southern Arabian Peninsula with Muscat marked
(from Google Maps)
Muscat lies on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, part of what is now Oman. Back in the 1500s, Muscat was a convenient way-point for ships traveling between Europe and India and the first Europeans to control the area were the Portuguese. Their superior naval tactics allowed them to gain control of the coastal area from local leaders thereby allowing them to expand their profitable spice trade with India.

By the mid 1600s, the British, in the shape of the British East India Company, were nosing around the area and signed a treaty with some of the desert tribes in a bid to weaken Portuguese control of the area. In 1650, Imam Sultan Bin Saif rose up and expelled the Portuguese from Muscat and Oman.

Things ticked along quite nicely for several decades, with minimal interference from the British. The Oman empire expanded and eventually included enclaves as far away as Zanzibar and as near as Gwadur (a coastal area in modern-day Pakistan) across the Gulf of Oman.

All was well until the late 1700s when Napoleon started challenging the British in Egypt. The British government became more directly involved and signed several treaties with the Omani ruling family. In 1856, a succession crisis followed the Sultan's death and the British stepped in and divided the Omani empire into two. This, along with several other factors (debt), weakened the sultanate and meant that the ruling family became increasingly dependent upon British military and political support to maintain power.

In the early 1900s, conservative anti-Muscat tribes in the interior, sensing a weakness in their foe, stepped up their attacks on the Sultanate. Propped up by British military and political support, the Sultan held the tribes at bay, but there was no clear-cut victory for either side. Finally, on 25 September 1920, the British government brokered the Treaty of Sib between the Sultan of Muscat and the Imam of Oman. In return for autonomy, the interior tribes promised to cease attacking the coastal communities. The British preserved their power through the Sultan and the Sultan received a loan from the British which allowed him to pay down his debts.

Muscat Levy Corps
Fort at Bayt al-Falaj (circa 1988) (From Webstagram site)
Fort at Bayt al-Falaj (circa 1988)
(From Webstagram site)
Most of the British military support during the tribal rebellions in the early 1900s came in the form of troops from the Indian Army.

A fort at Bayt al-Falaj, near the Sultan's summer palace, became the headquarters of the force and the surrounding village soon became an army encampment.

On 19 April 1921, a year after the Treaty of Sib had been signed, replacements for the Indian troops arrived in the form of the Seistan Levy Corps from Baluchistan (modern day-Pakistan) under the command of Captain E.D. McCarthy. The new arrivals set up camp in al-Wutayyah while the Indian Army troops vacated their headquarters at Bayt al-Falaj. Unfortunately, the 250 Seistan soldiers were not used to the climate and malaria decimated their ranks. Many of the soldiers were discharged in the first year and replaced by Makrani Baluchis from the Sultan's enclave at Gwadur, across the Gulf of Oman.

The Muscat Levy Corps was small in size, never mustering more than 300 men, and usually 200 or less. Its role was primarily that of a garrison force, providing armed guards for the Sultan's Palace, the British Political Agency and the Sultanate Treasury. In 1923, the first commandant, Captain McCarthy, handed command of the Muscat Levy Corps (MLC) to Captain R.G.E.W. Alban. Given the poor economic condition of the Sultanate, the MLC suffered from budgetary constraints which manifested in the form of inadequate firearms and a declining roster. It would appear that Captain Alban was invalided unexpectedly in March 1924 and his successor, who arrived in July 1924, was Captain George J. Eccles.

Captain R.W.G. Stephens, Commandant of the Muscat Levy Corps
Taimur bin Faisal - Sultan of Oman 5 October 1913 – 10 February 1932 (From Wikipedia)
Taimur bin Faisal - Sultan of Oman
5 October 1913 – 10 February 1932
(From Wikipedia)
On 11 May 1926, Captain Eccles wrote his final report on the MLC and handed over command to Captain Robin William George Stephens, seconded from the Indian Army.

For the next two years, Stephens took the Corps in hand. His report, dated 11 May 1928, gives us a good sense of the state of the Corps and how he sought to improve discipline and efficiency.

The Corps consisted of one Commandant, three Indian officers and 165 other ranks: two platoons of Muscat Arabs, two platoons of Makrani Baluchis and one platoon of Muscat State subjects. Stephens noted that when he took command, the Corps mustered 180 troops despite the fact that Eccles had considered 200 to be a minimum. The climate proved to be a complicating factor. During the rainy season, malaria was a danger while during the dry months, boils were the main problem. Discipline was generally excellent, particularly after Stephens started an Officers Club and an NCO's Club. This reduced the intermixing of officers, NCOs and troops which Stephens noted could "be so detrimental to discipline". Stephens worked at increasing the marksmanship of the soldiers, despite the fact that they were issued with older rifles. Finances were an ongoing issue and Stephens had tried to reduce the budget, as had his predecessor.

As for the role of the Muscat Levy Corps, Stephens noted that there was no occasion to use the troops to deal with hostile people and so their work mainly consisted in the maintenance of Bayt al-Falaj, providing guards and furnishing ceremonial duties. In addition, Stephens had the troops repair the rudimentary road between Matrah and Bayt al-Falaj, construct a road between Matrah and Muscat and construct a road to Ruwi and then onwards to Bawshar and al-Sib.

View of Muscat ca 1902 (from Wikipedia)
View of Muscat ca 1902 (from Wikipedia)
In addition to road work, the troops also cleaned out the water channel from Ruwi to Bayt al-Falaj, put the grass farm in Ruwi in order and cleaned out the water channel at al-Wutayyah. Stephens noted that the Sultan had expressed a wish that a pipe band be instituted and a beginning was made despite the lack of trained pipers. Finally, the troops built a tennis court "that added much to the amenities of the place".
In 1928, Stephens handed over command to Captain A.R. Walker who noted that "Captain Stephens had brought the Corps to a very satisfactory state of discipline and smartness". Major Fowle, Political Agent & H.B.M.'s Consul in Muscat, noted that "the men are cheerful, well turned out, smart in handling their arms and keen on regimental games and sports".

In contrast to his reports from the 1940s regarding the work of Camp 020, Stephens' report on the Muscat Levy Corps is measured and objective without his later flair for the dramatic.

Historical Muscat: An Illustrated Guide and Gazetteer (2007) by J.E. Peterson
Oman's Insurgencies: The Sultanate's Struggle for Supremacy (2008) by J. E. Peterson

British Empire website - background info on Oman
Britannica website - article on Āl Bū Saʿīd dynasty
Qatar Digital Library - Muscat Levy Corps documents from British Library - includes reports by Muscat Levy Commandants: Eccles, Stephens and Walker.
Webstagram - Sultan's Armed Forces Museum - picture of the fort at Bayt al-Falaj

05 December 2018

Media Review - Nazi Murder Mysteries - Yesterday Channel (2018)

Yesterday Channel - Nazi Murder Mysteries
Yesterday Channel - Nazi Murder Mysteries
The Yesterday Channel (UK) is airing a six-part series entitled "Nazi Murder Mysteries".

Part 4 is coming up this Thursday (December 6, 2018 at 8 p.m. in the UK) and focuses on the story of Bella in the Wych Elm. The episode is going to cover the possible links between the woman's skeleton found in a hollow wych elm in Hagley Wood in 1943 and Clara Bauerle, German cabaret singer and mistress of Josef Jakobs (ill-fated German spy executed in 1941).

While I'm naturally most interested in the episode about Bella, during filming last year, the crew mentioned some of the other stories that they were investigating, all of which sounded quite intriguing.

After reaching out to the production team from Like A Shot, I received a private link to view the episodes after they have aired in the UK. (Much easier than downloading Tunnel Bear again and pretending to be a resident of the UK!) For those of you in the UK, you can view the episodes via this link. So far, I've seen the first two episodes, both of which were fascinating.

Yesterday Channel - Nazi Murder Mysteries Series 1 - Episode 1 - Hitler's Niece
Yesterday Channel - Nazi Murder Mysteries
Series 1 - Episode 1 - Hitler's Niece
Episode 1 - Hitler's Niece
First off... I had no idea that Hitler had a niece! She apparently lived with Hitler in Munich in the late 1920s and early 1930s. She accompanied him to receptions and events and many began to wonder... what exactly was their relationship? Hitler was quite domineering and the pair had many violent arguments in the weeks leading up to her apparent suicide in 1931. The story raises raise a lot of questions. What exactly was the relationship between Hitler and his niece, Geli Raubal (19 years his junior)? Did she commit suicide or was it murder? There are no clear answers which makes this story a rather intriguing mystery.

Yesterday Channel - Nazi Murder Mysteries Series 1 - Episode 2 - The Duke of Windsor
Yesterday Channel - Nazi Murder Mysteries
Series 1 - Episode 2 - The Duke of Windsor
Episode 2 - The Duke of Windsor
Happy to say I HAVE heard of the Duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII who abdicated the throne in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. During the Second World War, the Duke's pro-Nazi sympathies created a bit of a stir and he was sent/exiled to the Bahamas where he was appointed/demoted Governor. In 1943, a wealthy British-Canadian expat, Sir Harry Oakes, was found brutally murdered at his residence. The Duke, rather than calling upon Scotland Yard to investigate the murder, invited a couple of Miami police officers to come to the island and investigate the case. Again, there are a lot of questions. Why did the Duke turn to police in Miami rather than Britain? Was he trying to cover up financial shenanigans? Was there Nazi involvement? Another intriguing story.

I'm looking forward to the next few episodes:
  • Episode 3 - A Serial Killer in Berlin - the story of Paul Ogorzow, an S-Bahn railway worker who raped and murdered numerous women from 1939 to 1941
  • Episode 4 - Bella in the Wych Elm - the story of the woman's skeleton found in a hollow wych elm in Hagley Wood in 1943
While much of the information presented in these stories is available on Wikipedia or other sources, seeing it on screen is always much more engaging. I appreciated how the series brought in experts/authors to provide context to the story. The re-enactments were also helpful in creating an engaging backdrop for the story.

4.5 out of 5 - I did find that some of the re-enactment scenes were over-used and became repetitive after a while.

03 December 2018

MI5's Wireless Radio Advisor - Lt. Col. Adrian Francis Hugh Sibbald Simpson

Every once in a while, I chase after intriguing stories that pique my interest. One of those stories is that of enigmatic Lt. Col. Adrian Simpson, mentioned in several Coldspur blogs. Simpson served with MI5 in B3 as a wireless expert for a brief time before moving on to serve with MI(R)in the Middle East.

I always like a good research challenge and decided to delve into the genealogy sites and see what I could dig up, if only to satisfy my own curiosity. The problem with a common name like "Simpson" is that the trail can very quickly get muddled. Fortunately, our friend Simpson's full name was rather unique - "Adrian Francis Hugh Sibbald Simpson". In the end, I have uncovered rather more than I expected and this blog post is therefore correspondingly long!

Ruins of old Kandahar Citadel ca 1881 - taken by Benjamin Simpson (from Wikipedia entry on Benjamin Simpson)
Ruins of old Kandahar Citadel (1881)
- taken by Benjamin Simpson
(from Wikipedia entry on Benjamin Simpson)
The Knighted Surgeon-General Photographer
We begin the tale with Benjamin Simpson and Agnes Jane Sarah Sibbald who were married in 1859 in Holy Trinity Church in Chelsea, London. Originally from Ireland, Benjamin was a doctor serving with the Bengal Army in India. Agnes had been born in India and after their marriage, the couple returned to India.

Benjamin would end up serving in the Indian Medical Service (Bengal) from 1853 to 1890. He was also a keen photographer and many of his photographs can be found online.

Benjamin and Agnes had at least five children:
  1. Agnes Frances Elizabeth Simpson - born 1862 in Patna, Bengal India
  2. Robert Ashley Simpson - born 1864 in Darjeeling, Bengal, India
  3. Percy Adolphus Simpson - born 1866 in Bengal, India
  4. Silvia Mary Florence Simpson - born 1869 in Bengal, India
  5. Adrian Francis Hugh Sibbald Simpson - born 8 October 1880 in Edinburgh, Scotland
Knight Commander - Order of the Indian Empire (from Wikipedia)
Knight Commander - Order of
the Indian Empire
(from Wikipedia)
Adrian was born twelve years after his youngest sibling (Silvia), and almost twenty years after his oldest sibling (Agnes). Less than a year later, in the 1881 census, Adrian was living at 7 Melville Street in Edinburgh with his mother Agnes (age 42), sister Agnes F.E. (age 18) and sister Silvia M.F. (age 12). The two older boys were likely away at school while their father was serving in India.

A few years later, Benjamin was appointed Surgeon-General of the Indian Medical Service and, on 15 February 1887, was one of the first individuals to be made a Knight Commander - Order of the Indian Empire (KCIE).

Benjamin retired from the Indian Medical Service in 1890 and by 1891, the family had moved to Weston-super-mare in Somerset. The 1891 census, however only lists Adrian and his mother.

By 1901, Adrian was no longer living at home, although his sister Silvia Renton was living with her parents at 72 Ashley Gardens, Hanover Square, London. The household also included five servants: housemaid, parlourmaid, cook, [indecipherable], and a sick nurse. It is likely that the sick nurse cared for Silvia who, although married, lived apart from her husband and young daughter and would pass away in 1905, a few months after securing a divorce from her husband (see Simpson Sideshoots section at bottom of this blog). But what had become of Adrian?

Adrian and the Indian Army
94th Russell's Infantry badge (from British Empire website)
94th Russell's Infantry badge
(from British Empire website)
In the early 1900s, Adrian's name appears in a number of London Gazette entries as well as British Army Lists. From these, we can piece together the rough shape of his military career. By 14 February 1900, Adrian was a Second Lieutenant with the Indian Staff Corps.

A few years later, on 12 December, 1902, Adrian was promoted to Lieutenant whilst serving with the 94th Russell's Infantry in India (before 1903 was called the Hyderabad Contingent).

Whilst serving in India, Adrian was initiated into the Freemasons on 7 September 1905 and joined the Lodge Orion in the West (Poona Bombay).

Just two years later, however, on 9 March 1907, Adrian resigned from the Indian Army and apparently made his way back to England. That summer, Adrian married divorcee Monica de Wilton Roche (née Thackwell) Burrows in York.

From Soldier to Engineer
These are all rather dry facts and really don't tell us much about the character of Adrian. We do know, however, that upon his return to England, Adrian studied wireless technology, for in later years he was associated with the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company Ltd.

In 1911, Adrian became an Associate Member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers and in April of that same year, The Marconigraph (journal of the Marconi company) posted this notice:
Captain Adrian Simpson, late of H.M. Indian Army, has been appointed to the head office staff of Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Co., Ltd., in London. (The Marconigraph - April 1911)
[N.B. If the Marconigraph pdf links don't work - the documents can be downloaded direct from the Wireless World page of the American Radio History website.]
A few months later, the November 1911 edition of the The Marconigraph has this to say about Adrian and his role with the Marconi company:
In [Russia], and in the East generally, there is a big field for development, and in order to be thoroughly equipped to cope with the work in that vast territory we have secured the controlling interest in the Russian Company of Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony. This is a company which has been in existence for some two or three years, and is carrying out large contracts for the Russian Government, and are negotiating for further contracts of considerable magnitude with the Russian War Office, with the Marine, and with the Post Office. Captain Adrian Simpson, a member of our staff, in whose ability and integrity we have implicit confidence, has been appointed managing director of the Russian Company, and Mr. Marconi and I [Chairman - Godfrey C. Isaacs] are joining the board. Under Captain Simpson's direction we are confident that a handsome revenue will accrue to us from this new field of action.
The Marconigraph, January 1912 (From American Radio History site)
The Marconigraph, January 1912
(From American Radio History site)
Finally, I came across a January 1912 edition of The Marconigraph journal which included a rather detailed biography of Adrian, confirming much of what we already know, but presenting the information as a story full of adventure and derring-do! I reproduce the article here in its entirety:
Adrian Simpson is a son of Surgeon-General Sir Benjamin Simpson, K.C.I.E., and was born in Edinburgh in 1880. His early years were passed amid the cultured and inspiring influences of his native city, whence he went to Clifton College [likely the one in Bristol] and then to the Royal Military College [Sandhurst]. Apparently he was destined for a military career, and shortly after the outbreak  of the South African War [1899] he gained a commission in the British Army, being gazetted to the 31st East Surrey Regiment, then stationed in Lucknow [Uttar Pradesh, India]. After a short service with this regiment he joined the Hyderabad contingent of the Indian Army [former name of the 94th Russell's Infantry]. This step marked the opening of a varied and interesting career which brought Mr. Simpson in touch with life in several countries and considerably enlarged his experience in dealings with men and the handling of affairs. He served first of all in the Bengal, Bombay, and Madras Residences; afterwards he was placed in command of a detachment of native troops in charge of one of the large camps in which were housed the Boer prisoners captured in the South African War; later he served on plague duty in Central India. He went to Russia in 1903 in order to learn that difficult language, and so proficient did he become in this subject that in the examinations for interpretership in the Army he gained the highest possible degree. Moreover, he obtained Government awards for proficiency in Persian and Hindustani and to the linguistic laurels which he gained by sheer merit and ability, must be added a knowledge of French. Mr. Simpson spent two years in Russia, and during that time he travelled extensively, his travels taking him from the Arctic circle to the Persian frontier. Indeed, the all-pervading wanderlust of the modern Anglo-Saxon seems to have absorbed him, for at various times he travelled in Cashmir, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, India, Russia, and elsewhere. In 1904, when the Armenian troubles were prevalent in the Caucusus [a reference to the Armenian–Tatar massacres (1905-1907)?], he succeeded in safely carrying the "Foreign Office Bag" from St. Petersburg to Tehran. He also realised that there was oil in the Caucusus as there was balm in Gilead, and he accordingly spent some months with a party of English engineers prospecting for oil in those regions.

In Mr. Simpson's subsequent career we discern a peculiar trace of heredity in the combination of scientific and military practice [likely a reference to his father who combined a medical/scientific practice with a military career], although in the case of our subject it was the scientific practice that was superimposed upon an edifice of military training and travel. Leaving the service [1907 according to the Gazette] in order to make a thorough study of wireless telegraphy, Mr. Simpson commenced work with the English De Forest Wireless Telegraph Syndicate Ltd., and continued afterwards with the Amalgamated Radio Telegraph Co. Ltd. (owning the Poulsen Patents). During his service with the last named company he obtained an excellent opportunity of which he took full advantage of studying wireless telegraphy, not only as practised in England but also on the Continent where he spent considerable time in Berlin and Copenhagen, becoming subsequently associated with the Lepel Wireless Telegraph Co. Ltd. Mr. Simpson's connection with Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Co. Ltd., commenced with the Field Station Department, but on the formation of the Russian Company of Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony he was appointed managing director of that company. His unique experience, his commercial and technical attainments, his extensive travels, his linguistic ability, and, last, but by no means least, his knowledge of the language and people of that interesting country, encourage highest hopes for the success of his new enterprise, which all who know his kind and courtly nature, and his sound judgment and energy, are confident of seeing the happy realisation.

Mr. Simpson is an Associate Member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers and a member of the Anglo-Russian Chamber of Commerce. When a Royal Commission sat during 1910 to consider trade relations between Canada and the West Indies, Mr. Simpson gave evidence regarding the practicability of connecting the West Indies by wireless instead of cable.
It would appear that Adrian spent the next couple of years in Russia, managing the Marconi company's interests. With the outbreak of the First World War, things got a bit more complicated.

First World War

According to the Electrical Engineers membership records, Adrian was listed in 1915 and 1917 as working for the Compagnie Russe de Telegraphie et Telephonie sans Fil, Lopuchiuskaja 14, Petrograd, Russia. This must be taken with a grain of salt as we shall see.

One of the Coldspur blogs references an author (Stephen Dorril) who noted that Simpson "had been ADC to the Grand Duke Nicholas in the Russian Army’s Caucasus 'Savage Division' ". Was that possible? It seems fairly clear from the 1912 Marconigraph article that Adrian spoke near-perfect Russian and was quite familiar with that "interesting" country. It is also clear that he spent time in Russia from 1911/1912 managing the Russian branch of the Marconi company. But did he serve with the Grand Duke Nicholas?

Confirmation of at least part of this claim comes from the medal card of Adrian (A.F.H.S.) Simpson (see below) which has a number of notations for his military service during the First World War. He is listed as an A.D.C. (Aide-de-Camp) with the War Office (with a rank of Major), as well as "Special Service" (rank of Major). Another layer of notation adds "CMG" and "Gen Staff" as well as "Lt Col". He was apparently ineligible for the 1914-15 Star. A final notation simply states: "Russia 19-8-14" [likely 19 August 1914]. A notice in the Gazette has him as Temporary Captain Adrian Simpson from the General List effective 1 May 1915, although an earlier Gazette notice seems to indicate he may have been a Temporary Captain as early as 14 September 1914. This would seem to confirm that Adrian did indeed serve in a military capacity in Russia as an Aide-de-Camp.

First World War Medal Card of Adrian Francis Hugh Sibbald Simpson (from Ancestry)
First World War Medal Card of Adrian Francis Hugh Sibbald Simpson
(from Ancestry)
Additional information about Adrian's military service in Russia can be found in a collection of photographs at the Imperial War Museum taken in 1915 by "Major Adrian Simpson". While we can't be utterly certain that this officer is identical with our Adrian F.H.S. Simpson, the convergence of facts (and further information below) would suggest that the likelihood is extremely high.
Photographs taken by Major Adrian Simpson whilst serving as a staff officer with Major General Alfred Knox, British liaison officer to the Imperial Russian Army, during the First World War. Images include:
  • Russian infantry in trenches;
  • transportation of Russian wounded;
  • soldiers taking part in an Orthodox religious service in the field;
  • men of a Tatar cavalry regiment;
  • Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich and his cavalry escort (possibly the photograph below);
  • column of Russian artillery on the march; (possibly a photograph below)
  • Russian military band and soldiers dancing;
  • refugees from Warsaw during the German advance on the city in August 1915;
  • British Red Cross motor ambulances in Russia;
  • the Dimitri Palace in Petrograd (used a a military hospital);
  • Russian medical staff and wounded in the Anglo-Russian hospital, Petrograd;
  • the Fortress of St Peter and St Paul at Petrograd (full reference listed in Sources below)
While the Imperial War Museum does not provide thumbnail images of any of Adrian's photographs, several are included in a 1915 edition of The Sphere magazine. The description of the photograph below (included in the text of the website) reads:
"with the Czar's Brother in the Carpathians - by Captain Adrian Simpson - with portrait of Simpson and - - - group photo of officers of the Kabardine Regiment".
This would suggest that Adrian is featured in the photograph but much of the text is too small to read.
Caption below photograph: "The Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovitch with Staff and Officers of the Kabardine Regiment  (next line too small to read)  With the Czar's Brother in the Carpathians  by Captain Adrian Simpson, Acting A.D.C. to his Imperial Highness the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovitch" (From The Sphere magazine - via Lord Durham Rare Books)
Caption below photograph:
"The Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovitch with Staff and Officers of the Kabardine Regiment
Among the group is included one of the priests, or mullahs, of the Caucasian Native Division as well as certain of the more influential of the Caucasian princes. (Thanks to Traugott Vitz for deciphering that line!)
With the Czar's Brother in the Carpathians
by Captain Adrian Simpson, Acting A.D.C. to his Imperial Highness the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovitch"
(From The Sphere magazine - via Lord Durham Rare Books)
The photograph shown above was also reproduced in the Boston Sunday Globe on 15 April 1917 and includes a lengthy article which was reprinted from The Sphere magazine:
The following account of the command of the Grand Duke Michael, younger brother of the Czar, who refused the throne of the Romanoffs before it was really offered him, during the operations around Przemysl in the Spring of 1915 was written by Capt Adrian Simpson, who was then acting as his aid-de-camp, and is reprinted from the London Sphere:

Shortly after the commencement of hostilities the Caucasian Native Division, which was originally formed during the Japanese War, was reembodied. Recruited as it is from the wild mountain tribes of the Caucasus, it has since become famous under the title of "La Division Sauvage".... [and the article continues]
"Russian Troops Moving to the Attack in the Carpathians  This photograph was taken by Captain Adrian Simpson, acting A.D.C. to the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovitch, commander of the Caucasian Native Division, operating in Galicia. The troops are seen passing through a defile in the Carpathians and across a tributary of the River San." (From The War Illustrated Album DeLUXE - published 1915)
"Russian Troops Moving to the Attack in the Carpathians
This photograph was taken by Captain Adrian Simpson, acting A.D.C. to the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovitch, commander of the Caucasian Native Division, operating in Galicia. The troops are seen passing through a defile in the Carpathians and across a tributary of the River San."
(From The War Illustrated Album DeLUXE - published 1915)
While Adrian served in Russia from 1914 to 1915, there is also strong evidence to suggest that he was part of the British Signals Intelligence unit, simply named MI1b (a predecessor of the Government Code & Cipher School). I'm not going to delve into MI1b into great detail and offer a few extracts which mention Adrian and provide some context:
Although the story told of British Signals Intelligence in the First World War focuses mainly on the work of Room 40 in the Admiralty, it was in fact MO5b (later MI1b), an intelligence section in the War Office which had the first success against German codes. This was largely due to the fact that the French, who had years of experience of Signals Intelligence against the Germans, were prepared to share all that they knew. (GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) website - The Story of Signals Intelligence 1914-2014)
We then skip to another section of the GCHQ website which presents the following information:
The army was given control of the air defence of Great Britain in June 1916 - until then responsibility had been untidily split between the Admiralty and the War Office with their respective Signals Intelligence organisations, Room 40 and M.I.1(b), both working against aircraft communications. As part of the new arrangements the areas of M.I.1 (b) responsible for wireless interception, direction finding (D/F) and traffic analysis were split off into a new section called M.I.1 (e), with support to air defence as its main operational task.

M.I.1 (e) was headed by Major Adrian Simpson [emphasis added], who at the outbreak of war was the managing director of the Marconi wireless company's Russian subsidiary. After a period spent trying (largely unsuccessfully) to improve Russian communications and communications security he returned to Britain in 1915 and joined M.I.1 (b). Simpson was an enterprising character, as one of his officers recalled: "If he wanted something and the War Office refused it, he tried the Admiralty, who generally granted it to score off the War Office. If the Senior Service failed there was still the Air Force, or even the Post Office, which last he actually persuaded to put up three direction-finding stations at their own expense and to provide all the men to run them." (GCHQ website - Defending our Skies)
Order of St. Stanislas, 2nd Class (with swords)
Order of St. Stanislas, 2nd Class
(with swords)
Finally, the London Gazette dated 9 March 1917 has the following note:
Decorations conferred by Field-Marshal
His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Russia

Order of St. Stanislas, 2nd Class (with Swords)
Temporary Major Adrian Simpson, Royal Engineers, General Staff (November, 1915)

Order of St. Anne, 3rd Class
Temporary Major Adrian Simpson, Royal Engineers, General Staff (November 1915)
In 1917, Adrian received the Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) "for valuable service in connection with the war". He was listed as a Temporary Major with the Royal Engineers.

In November 1918, The Wireless World published an article entitled: Behind the Scenes in Russia: III - Adventures of a British War Correspondent on the Eastern Front. The article was written by Robert Wilton (Petrograd Correspondent of the "Times") and mentions our friend Adrian. Whether Wilton could claim full credit for encouraging Adrian's service with the Russians is another matter...
...I had had indirect relationship with the Caucasian Native Horse. A representative of the Viceroy (then Count Vorentsov-Dashkov) asked me if I could recommend some of our officers who had served with Indian cavalry regiments to join the new force. I mentioned this request to a friend in Petrograd, holding a high post in the wireless service, who had been a Captain in the Hyderabad contingent [likely Adrian Simpson]. It seemed to me an excellent method of bringing the Indian and Caucasian cavalry into personal touch with possible benefit to both sides. Through my humble intervention two British officers were able to serve with the C.N.H. for a few months: Captain (now Major) Adrian Simpson and Captain (now Colonel) John Kirkwood.
Thus it would appear that Adrian served with the Sauvage Division from 1914 to 1915 and then returned to England where he took up service with Room 40 of the British Signals Intelligence unit. Further confirmation of his may lie within records at the National Archives in Kew (see Untapped Sources section below).

Inter-War Period
Former location of the Windham Club 13 St. James's Square, London (from Google Streetview)
Former location of the Windham Club
13 St. James's Square, London
(from Google Streetview)
A year after the war, Adrian was back with the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co., listed in the Electrical Engineers membership directory as: Lt. Col. Adrian Hugh F.S. Simpson R.E. C.M.G. c/o Marconi House, Strand, London.

By 1922, Adrian had risen through the ranks to become a Director of the company. While he was still listed as director in 1923 (the same year that his father passed away) and in 1925 (the same year that his mother passed away), by 1927, the Electrical Engineers membership lists have him associated with the Windham Club, 13, St. James's Square.

Around the same time, Adrian was in the process of divorcing his first wife, Monica de Wilton Roche (née Thackwell) Burrows Simpson. [Monica later married Charles L. Wigan]. By the following year (1928), the divorce must have gone through for Adrian married Wanda Weiner (or Bychowetz) (born 28 November 1890) in the district of St. Martin, London.

That same year (1928), the British Oliver Typewriter Manufacturing Company was founded in England and one of the managing directors was Lt. Col. Adrian Francis Hugh Sibbald Simpson CMG, Royal Engineers of Wireless Pictures. Another managing director was Greville Richard Thursfield, of Igranic Electric, apparently an in-law of Adrian. [I have not been able to confirm that familial connection. It is not as simple as a sibling of Simpson marrying Thursfield.]

In 1930, the Electrical Engineers membership lists still had Simpson associated with the Windham Club at 13, St. James's Square, London. Again, the membership lists need to be taken with a grain of salt, for an article published in The Wireless and Gramophone Trader journal (7 June 1930) indicates that Adrian was still connected with Wireless Pictures, at least as a member of the firm's directors:
Extract from The Wireless and Gramophone Trader journal (7 June 1930) "Wireless Pictures Directors Prosecuted"
Extract from The Wireless and Gramophone Trader journal (7 June 1930)
"Wireless Pictures Directors Prosecuted"

On 24 April, 1934, Adrian and his wife Wanda arrived at Southampton on the Asturias of the Royal Mail Lines Ltd. They gave their residential address as 1 Harriet Walk, Lowndes Street, London. Adrian was 53 years old and gave his occupation as "Colonel R.E. (ret)". Although the ship originated in Buenos Aires, it made several stops along the way: Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Madeira, Lisbon, Vigo and Cherbourg. According to the ship's manifest, Adrian and Wanda boarded the ship in Vigo, Galicia, Spain. A 1935 London Directory lists Adrian [Lt. Col.] as living at 1 Harriet Walk (no mention of his wife).

Second World War
With the outbreak of war in early September 1939, the National Registration found Adrian and Wanda still living at 1 Harriet Walk, Lowndes Street, London. Their National Registration numbers were AFCN 110/1 [Adrian] and AFCN 110/2 [Wanda]. Wanda gave her occupation as "independent means" while Adrian was a "Lt. Col. R.E. attached General Staff". His information had a line drawn through it with a note to "see p. 14". That page simply lists his information again although his occupation is more difficult to decipher and almost looks like "attached W Central Staff". Adrian and Wanda had a cook and a "domestic" but no children.

Despite the fact that Adrian was a Lieutenant-Colonel (retired), it would appear that wartime ranks were slightly different. A Gazette notice from 11 June 1940 notes that the "undermentioned to be Lts":
5th May 1940 - Lt. Col. Adrian Francis Hugh Sibbald Simpson, C.M.G. (128956), late R.E.
A Gazette notice from 6 January 1941 notes that within the Intelligence Corps, "the undermentioned Lts. from Gen. List to be Lts. 15th July 1940, retaining their present seniority", followed by Adrian's name. It would therefore appear that although Adrian was a former Lieutenant-Colonel, his rank for the early years of the war was much lower.

The Coldspur blogs mentioned above have several references to Adrian's time with section B3 in MI5's B Division, which I will not repeat here. Interested readers are directed to those posts. Suffice to say that Adrian's time within the ranks of B division was not all that long. Tony Percy at Coldspur suggests that by early to mid-1940, Adrian had left the ranks of B division. A bit of digging, and a rather circuitous route confirms this information.

A scanned document from CAB 102/649 has information on Adrian on page 69. My sense is that an OCR system was used to scan the document and had some trouble with the formatting of the document. The scan may not be entirely accurate as a result:
...objections also limited action in the Middle East before the Italian declaration of war, but M.I. (R) was in the field early with plans for raising the tribes in the Western Desert and in Abyssinia. Colonel Elphinston visited the Middle East more than once in the latter part of 1939, and eventually (in April 1940) Lt. Col. Adrian Simpson went out to form an "M.I.(R) Section" in H.Q. Middle East (later known as G(R)). This was an integral part of General Wavell's H.Q., and M.I.(R)... 
Having never come across M.I. (R), I did a bit of research and came across this post in the WW2Talk Forum:
The Military Intelligence (Research) (MI(R)) branch of the War Office was responsible for irregular operations and GHQ Middle East Forces had their own MI (R) initially commanded by Colonel Adrian Simpson. There was much infighting between G(R) and G(Operations) branch over control of units in the Middle East. G(R) branch was the controlling office for the cloak and dagger operations in the area.
Interestingly, Nigel West co-edited a book with Oleg Tsarev entitled Triplex: Secrets from the Cambridge Spies. Part IV is entitled NKVD Reports and includes Chapter 39 (Elena Modrzhinskaya's Report, April 1943) which has a brief reference to Adrian:
...British intelligence created a special organisation to undertake espionage operations in the Caucasus. According to an informant, this is the Central Asian Bureau (an intelligence section set up among the staff of the British Armed Forces Middle East). Its head is said to be Colonel Adrian Simpson, who is based in Cairo.

Simpson was posted to Cairo in 1940 and tasked with running sabotage operations in the Caucasus to prevent oil being shipped to Germany...
One additional reference to Simpson comes from an article posted on an Italian site (apparently published 15 June 2002 in "Storia & Battaglie" (History & Battles)) which, with the questionable help of Google Translate, reads:
On June 29, 1940, at the suggestion of Col. Adrian Simpson, Major George A.D. Young, an engineer officer (Sapper) and former vice-commander of MIR (Military Intelligence Research) in the Middle East, formed the basis for the establishment of Commandos in the Middle East. Col. A. Simpson was one of the founders of MIR at the London War Cabinet along with Lt. Col. Joe Holland and Col. Sir Colin Gubbins, who would later become founder and head of SOE (Special Operations Executive).

The so-called "irregular" operations were then under the control and responsibility of MIR which was a section of the War Cabinet, but as the war theater was very large, an MIR was also created at the Cairo headquarters. The task of organizing "irregular operations" in the Middle East was given to Col. Simpson, who thus became responsible for the "Bodies formed by irregular native in the territories under the control of the Axis", and who, on 6 July, appointed as his deputy Captain Henry Fox-Davies (Durhan Light Infantry).

In 1934 [is this date a typo?], during the annual maneuvers, he [Simpson? or Fox-Davies?] had already proposed to his commander to destroy "the opposing brain", that is to strike the enemy command with a classic guerrilla operation.

This is how at the end of June 1940 the "LRDG" (Long Range Desert Group) was born under the control of MIR. Later in October [1940], the "Lybian Arab Force" (LAF) was formed under the command of Col. D.G. Bromilow and finally in August, October, November 1940 are formed respectively 50°, 51°, 52° Middle East Commando.
[N.B. I've tried to clean up Google Translate's version a bit so that it reads slightly better]
All of this information suggests that Adrian had shifted away from being an advisor to B Division in early 1940 and become involved with Military Intelligence (Research) (M.I.(R)) and organized commando activities in the Middle East. A few other pieces of concrete information add a bit more to the picture.

A Gazette notice from 18 February 1943 notes that Major (Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel) Adrian Francis Hugh Sibbald Simpson C.M.G. (128956) Intelligence Corps (Ascot) was created an Officer (Military Division) of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE). According to National Archives records (WO 373/76/455), Simpson received the OBE for service during the period of 1941 to 1943 in the Middle East (Egypt & Libya) as part of the Intelligence Corps. Adrian is apparently mentioned in another Kew file (WO 201/2864) which deals with Intelligence Organisation: MI(R) Middle East.

A further Gazette notice from 1 December 1943 notes that:
War Subs. Major A.F.H.S. Simpson (128956) from Intelligence Corps was to be War Subs. Major.
This suggests that Adrian was transferred from the Intelligence Corps, but what became of him after that is a mystery.

After the War
There isn't a lot of information to flesh out Adrian's life after the war. We do know that on 3 October 1948, Adrian arrived in London onboard the Carthage, a ship of the P&O Steam Navigation Company Ltd. The ship had originated in Hong Kong but Adrian boarded in Port Said, Egypt. He gave his residence as 20 Chesham Place, London and his occupation as Retired Army Officer.

Another mention of Adrian is found on 19 February 1957, when he and his wife Wanda departed Liverpool aboard the Monte Arucas (Bahr Behrend & Co Ltd), destination Tenerife, Spain. The couple gave their address as 33 Chesham Place, London and Adrian was a retired army officer.

Adrian passed away on 2 October 1960 (80 years old) at Beaumont House, Beaumont Street, London. (Beaumont House had been rebuilt in the 1930s as a private hospital and after the war it became King Edward VII’s Hospital for Officers). Probate took place on 17 November to Wanda Simpson, widow, and Stanley Douglas Christopherson, Stockbroker. Adrian had effects valued at £73386 11s 8d.

There is no evidence that Adrian had any children by either of his two wives, although the census records would be the most helpful in that regard. The 1911 census lists Adrian and Monica living with a servant, but no children (they had been married four years at that point). The 1921 (and later) census records have yet to be released. The 1939 National Register has no children associated with Adrian and his second wife, Wanda.

Adrian Francis Hugh Sibbald Simpson had a most interesting life and it is a shame that his many contributions to the British war effort are not more well-known. I haven't found a single portrait of Simpson, nor any "official" write-up of this fascinating and decorated officer.

Simpson Sideshoots
Brief notes regarding Adrian's siblings and their descendants:

Agnes Frances Elizabeth Simpson - born 17 Dec 1862 in Patna, Bengal, India. Married Alfred Granville Balfour on 1 September 1886 in Simla, Bengal, India. They had at least three sons: John Edward Andrew Balfour (1887-1891), Major James Alfred Balfour 1st Btn HLI (1889-1917) and Lt. Commander Ronald Egerton Balfour RNVR (1897-1941). Brigadier General Sir Alfred Granville Balfour (former Commander Highland Light Infantry) passed away on 14 March 1936. His wife, Agnes, passed away two months later 12 May 1936 in Westminster. (See Postscript below)

Robert Ashley Simpson - born 24 July 1864 in Darjeeling, Bengal. No further solid information found. A Robert "Ashby" Simpson, born in India around 1865 is listed at Wellington College (Berkshire) in the 1881 English Census (likely him). There is a Robert A. Simpson in the 1901 Scotland Census born around 1863 - would require further investigation. No death date found.

Percy Adolphus Simpson - born 30 October 1866 in Bengal, married 20 November 1891 in Fyzabad, Bengal to Jessie Mary Henrietta Margaret Paterson. By 1911 living in Weybridge Surrey. Died December 1920 in Battle, Sussex. No children found.

Silvia Mary Florence Simpson - born 1869 in Bengal India and baptised 17 June 1869 in Upton Cum Chalvey, Buckingham. Married Captain William Gordon Renton (1859-1908) on 23 June 1896 at St. Margaret's in Westminster, London. They had one daughter, Sylvia Ethel Renton (1898-1977). In 1901, little Sylvia Ethel was living with her father. Sylvia Ethel's parents, Silvia and William, divorced on 3 January 1905 (petition 5412) and Silvia passed away on 12 June 1905. William passed away in 1908. In 1911, little Sylvia Ethel was living with Renton relatives. In 1924, Sylvia Ethel Renton married Ivor Matthews Hedley (1892-1956) and they had at least one child, Rachel Mary Hedley (1924-1986). Rachel married Richard Edward Cecil Law, 8th Baron Ellenborough (1926-2013) in 1953 and the couple had three sons, one of whom is Rupert Edward Henry Law, 9th Baron Ellenborough. Rachel Mary was later known as Baroness Ellenborough.

It came as a bit of a surprise, at the end of all this, to find that Adrian Simpson had a rather convoluted relationship to the story of Josef Jakobs!

One of the members of Josef's court-martial panel was Colonel Edward William Sturgis Balfour DSO OBE MC (Commander Scots Guards), the 9th Balfour of Balbirnie. Adrian's eldest sister, Agnes Frances Elizabeth Simpson married Alfred Granville Balfour. A coincidence of names? Apparently not. Referring to the Peerage we find that this connection:
Colonel John Balfour (1811-1895) - 7th Balfour of Balbirnie had two children of note:
     1. Edward Balfour (1849-1927) - 8th Balfour of Balbirnie
          1a. Edward William Sturgis Balfour (1884-1955) - 9th Balfour of Balbirnie
     2. Alfred Granville Balfour (1858-1936) - married Agnes F.E. Simpson
So Adrian's brother-in-law, Alfred Granville Balfour, was the uncle of Edward William Sturgis Balfour who served on Josef's court-martial. Oh what a tangled web...

Ancestry - records for births, marriages, deaths, probate, census, passenger lists, electoral registers, city directories, military records; membership records of electrical engineers
London Gazette - many editions
Grace Guides website - mentions 1922 AGM
Données financières historiques website - mentions 1923 and 1925 company information
British Medical Journal from 1923 - biography of Benjamin Simpson
Wikipedia. - some information on Benjamin Simpson and his photograph
Christie's - auction site with a lot of photographs taken by Benjamin Simpson
British Empire site - piece on the 94th Russell's Infantry
Imperial War Museum - Catalogue no. 2013-12-03 - collection of photographs taken by Adrian Simpson whilst serving in Russia
Lord Durham Rare Books - features a magazine entitled The Sphere from 1915 (War No. 40 edition) which includes some photographs taken by Captain Adrian Simpson.
The War Illustrated Album DeLUXE: The Story of the Great European War told by Camera, Pen and Pencil - Volume III - The Spring Campaign - 1915.
The Wireless World - article by Robert Wilson - Behind the Scenes in Russia: III.
England Spiel - scanned document of CAB 102/649
Daily Mail - 13 April 2017 - no mention of Simpson but has photographs of Long Range Desert Group (Middle East) from late 1940

Untapped Sources
Intelligence and National Security, Volume 32, 2017 - Issue 3: Military Intelligence during The First World War - p. 313-332 - ‘A shadowy entity’: M.I.1(b) and British Communications Intelligence, 1914–1922 by James Bruce [apparently mentions Adrian Simpson but online journal requires a subscription] Google Search lists the following preview snippet: "Since the opening months of the war Captain Adrian Simpson, ... and the War Office, both Room 40 and M.O.6(b) worked against the wireless .." Intriguing if anyone has a subscription to the online journal...

National Archives - WO 373/76/455 - file on Lt. Col. Adrian F.H.S. Simpson and his Middle East service that resulted in the award of the OBE.

National Archives - WO 201/2864 - file on MI(R) Middle East - related to Simpson

National Archives - WO 106/1141 - Improvement of Wireless Telegraph communication between Great Britain and Russia: Report by Capt Adrian Simpson - The Historical Journal (below) cites this PRO file as including a report by Captain Adrian Simpson, 19/02/1915 re: Russia.

National Archives - WO 106/1411 - cited in another book as containing a report from Adrian Simpson - given the similarity between the above PRO file number and this one, it could be a typo, although the 1411 file does contain correspondence from 1914-1915.

Book by Marina Soroka: Britain, Russia and the Road to the First World War: The Fateful Embassy of Count Aleksandr Benckendorff (1903-16); Routledge (2011). Reference is made on page 278 to footnote 247 which reads: "Adrian Simpson to Sir George Arthur, 06.11.1916, RA PS/PSO/GV/C/Q/995/2". This was viewed via Google Books which does not show all pages. The archival reference is unknown.

The Historical Journal - Vol. 24, No. 4 (Dec 1981), pp. 885-906 - article by Keith Neilson - "Joy Rides'?: British Intelligence and Propaganda in Russia, 1914-1917" - Google lists "Adrian Simpson" as appearing in this article, the full text of which requires a subscription. Footnote #7 from the article apparently references: "‘Report by Captain Adrian Simpson’, 19 Feb 1915, PRO, WO 106/1141".

28 November 2018

Blog Review - B2B or Not B2b - Coldspur blog

Guy Maynard Liddell Head of MI5's B Division
Guy Maynard Liddell
Head of MI5's B Division
Another blogger, and intelligence researcher, Tony Percy has recently tackled the issue of MI5's B-Division structure during the 1939-1941 period.

B Division, under Guy M. Liddell, underwent a significant restructuring in mid 1941 and most authors reference the sections of B Division using the post-restructuring nomenclature.

T.A. Robertson's section, for example, is generally referred to as B1A, it's post mid-1941 restructuring title. The problem is that most authors will use that same title for Robertson's section BEFORE mid-1941, when it was actually called B2A.

There is a pre mid-1941 structural nomenclature and a post mid-1941 structural nomenclature, and they two are very different.

Tony Percy has posted a well-written blog about this issue, and readers are encouraged to visit his blog to get a more in-depth look at the issue.

Tony calls into question the organizational chart of Curry and asks some pointed questions about "authorized" or "official" MI5 histories which neglect to assist readers in navigating the shifting tides of B Division's nomenclature.

23 November 2018

National Archives Spy Files

Over the years, I've amassed a fair few National Archive files on some of the WW2 spies. I thought I'd list them here. Just in case anyone is interested in trading hockey cards. For private study or educational/instructional use of course...

Unless otherwise noted, all are KV 2... I'm particularly interested in enhancing my Liddell diaries...

KV 2/24 folder
KV 2/24 folder
11 to 13 - Kieboom et al
14 to 19 - Vera et al
24 to 27 - Jakobs
30 to 33 - Richter
43 to 47 - Dronkers
50 to 52 - Job
60 - Caroli
85 to 88 - Ritter
114 - Fukken
450 to 451 - Owens
1315 to 1316 - Steiner 
1333 - Boeckel
1452 - Kieboom et al
1699 - Kieboom et al
1700 - Kieboom et al
1701 to 1706 - Vera et al
2106 to 2107 - Moerz
2428 - Meems
2736 - Schipper
2844 to 2845 - Starziczny

HO 144/21472 - Kieboom et al
KV 4/187 to 189 - Liddell diaries

19 November 2018

Phyllis Gwendolen Townshend - first wife of Robin William George Stephens

Sometimes, when you hit a brick wall, it's good to back up, and try another route. Given the current brick wall with the unknown death date of Robin William George Stephens, former commandant of Camp 020, I thought I would back up all the way to his first wife. I have tried various side tracks with his second wife, Joan Geraldine Pearson Dowling and gotten nowhere. So this time, I thought I would take it back another step to his first marriage - to Phyllis Gwendolen (née Townsend) Fletcher in 1927. I wanted to see what had become of Phyllis. Did she remarry? Did she have children who might perhaps know something of her marriage to Robin Stephens. I thought this would be a rather simple blog post but I seem to have caught a tiger by the tail.

Before we start, a few caveats are in order. Phyllis's middle name has be spelt many different ways: Gwendolen, Gwendoline, Gwendlyn - I have generally chosen Gwendolen for consistency. The same can be said of her surname - Townsend, Townshend, Townshand or even Townsand. I have generally left those in their original form but tend to gravitate to Towndshend.

A further caveat - much of this is built upon genealogical information dug up on Ancestry, Familysearch, FindMyPast and DeceasedOnline. The source documents are too numerous too list in detail and my folder on this blog looks something like this:

Some of the research files for this blog post
Some of the research files for this blog post
Fun, no? Suffice to say, it's been quite a job gathering all of the threads to this story and weaving them into a coherent whole. I can't say that I haven't made some mistakes and am always open to new information! Having said that... let's begin.

The Origins of Phyllis Gwendolen Townshend
Phyllis Gwendolen Townshend was born on 24 August 1899 to Charles Collingwood Townshend, a Royal Artillery officer, and Hester Amelia Folger. While I haven't been able to track down a location for her birth, she was likely born in India. Her parents had been married in Calcutta and two of Phyllis' older siblings were born in India. In 1905, Phyllis's mother passed way in India and the following year, Charles married Effie Emily Elles/Ellies in Agra, Bengal, India with whom he had at least one more child.

There is some evidence that Charles and his family sailed back to England, arriving at Weymouth on 9 May 1909. At least one of his daughters stayed behind in India however. Muriel Sylvia Collingwood Townshend (born 1893) married Staff Officer William Black Eddowes on 25 December 1911 in Jubblepur, Bengal, India.

From 1913 onwards, Charles and his other family members apparently lived at Brown Hill in Springfield Road, Camberley. The Royal Military College (Sandhurst) is on the edge of Camberley, and it is always possible that Colonel Townshend was involved in the instruction of young cadets. Charles passed away on 3 March 1918 in Camberley and was buried at St. Peter's Churchyard in Frimley on 6 March 1918.

First Marriage of Phyllis - to Roger C. Fletcher
On 14 December 1918, Phyllis Gwendolen Townsend married Roger Cormell Fletcher at the Church of St. Luke's in Kensington, London. The bride was 21 years old and the groom was 24 years old. Roger was a Captain in the Indian Army and resided at 10 Courfield Road (SW). His father was William Fletcher (DSO) a former Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Phyllis resided at 58 Redcliffe Square (SW) and her father was Charles Collingwood Townsend (deceased), formerly a Colonel with the Royal Artillery.

Ashanti Medal with obverse and reverse and Kumassi  clasp (from Wikipedia)
Ashanti Medal with obverse and reverse and Kumassi
clasp (from Wikipedia)
Roger Cormell (sometimes Cormel or Cornell) was born 16 February 1894 in Wellington, Somerset to William Fletcher and Elizabeth Lawson.

William had a Bachelor of Medicine and served with the Royal Army Medical Corps. According to other records, he was awarded a D.S.O. and the Ashanti Medal and Clasp (in 1901 for service with the Ashanti Field Force in Africa).

Roger and his younger brother and mother were listed on the 1901 English Census as living in Forest Hill, Lewisham.

On 14 January 1914, Roger received a commission into the Indian Army as a Second Lieutenant. According to the London Gazette, he was a gentleman cadet from the Royal Military College. On the 11 October 1914, he was listed as a Second Lieutenant of the 23rd Sikh Pioneers. On 13 April 1916, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant with the 23rd Sikh Pioneers, later ante-dated to 1 September 1915. In 1918 he was promoted to Captain and that same year, he returned to London to marry Phyllis.

Less than a year after their marriage, Phyllis gave birth to a son, Ian Gordon Peter Kinselah Fletcher. The birth was registered in the last quarter of 1919 in Wokingham, west of London, near Reading. We then lose track of Phyllis and her family for almost a decade.

By 1927, Roger was still a Captain with the 1st Battalion of the 3rd Sikh Pioneers but the marital situation of the couple had changed and ended in divorce.

Second Marriage of Phyllis - to Robin W.G. Stephens
On 21 May 1927, Phyllis married Robin William George Stephens in Rawal Pindi, Bengal, India.

Yonder Lye house in Dunsfold, Surrey (from Google Streetview)
Yonder Lye house in Dunsfold, Surrey
(from Google Streetview)
By 1931, however, the couple had returned to England. In his army service records, Robin stated that he was "retired" in 1931.

A year later, on 14 July 1932, Captain Robin W.G. Stephens, lately of 31 De Vere Gardens, Kensington, filed for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy order seems to have gone through and was discharged on 16 June 1933. That same year, Phyllis and Robin had moved out of London and were living at Yonder Lye (now a Grade II listed building) in Dunsfold, Surrey, southwest of England. Their surnames were given as "Townshend-Stephens".

Robin appears to have bumped through a series of odd jobs and endeavours. He was admitted to Lincoln's Inn in November 1933 (topic of a a future blog post), co-authored several legal books and, eventually, in 1935, joined the British Red Cross for service in Abyssinia/Ethiopia during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War (another future blog post). By October 1936, he was back home, recovering from his injuries at the Royal Masonic Hospital in Ravenscourt Park, London.

On 23 October 1936, Robin filed a divorce petition in which he stated that Phyllis committed adultery from 23 December 1935 to 25 May 1936 (presumably while Robin was in Ethiopia). On 22 January 1937 the divorce file notes that "Respondent [Phyllis] filed answer and affidavit verifying, and Petition for Alimony". The next, and final, entry is dated 5 October 1937 and simply states "Petitioner [Robin] filed Reply". There is nothing further on the divorce petition and one wonders if the divorce actually went through. Perhaps Robin and Phyllis were never actually divorced?

The 1939 National Registration & Beyond
ARP - Women's Voluntary Services badge  (from Royal Voluntary Service website)
ARP - Women's Voluntary Services badge
(from Royal Voluntary Service website)
By September 1939 when the National Registration was taken, Phyllis was living at 9 Cleveland Road in Uxbridge. Evidently, her relationship with Cathcart Jones did not amount to anything permanent. Her name was given as Phyllis G. Townshend-Stephens (although the single surname Stephens was later penciled in). Her martial status was "married" (not divorced) and she listed her occupation as "Army Officer's wife". [Robin, on the other hand was living at 64 Ebury Place in Westminster and gave his marital status as single (not divorced).] All of the entries following Phyllis's are "officially closed". The facing page of the National Register is cut-off but has W.V.S. Late (?) District Officer next to her name, suggesting that she was a member of the Women's Voluntary Service. According to the National Identity Card system, Phyllis's registration number would have been BVBR 64/5 (the fifth person in Household #64 in District BVBR).
On the following page of the Uxbridge (BVBR) registration data, most of the entries are "offiically closed" but there is one entry that is of interest: a Barbara E.T. Fletcher, born 13 September 1921, single and an Army Officer's daughter, living at 9 Cleveland Gardens, the same address as Phyllis. Her registration number was BVBR 64/6, so the same household as Phyllis.

In 1945, when the electoral register was taken, Phyllis was living at 62 Prince's Square in Paddington. Three Fletcher's were living in the same building: Ian Gordon Peter Kinsellah [sic] Fletcher, Barbara E.T. Fletcher and Antonia Fletcher. By 1946, the group had moved to 64 Southwood Lane in Highgate and was still living there in 1948. By 1952, Ian, Barbara and Phyllis had moved to a rowhouse (4a Queen's Avenue) in Muswell Hill Ward in the north of London (now part of Haringey).  They continued to live there through to 1965. In 1965, Phyllis simply gave her name as Phyllis G. Stephens having dropped the Townshend-Stephens.

Laying Phyllis and the Fletcher's to Rest
As for the nature of the relationships between Phyllis and the three Fletcher's, that is another matter. At first, I had thought that Barbara was Ian's wife but... as I uncovered more information, I don't believe that's the case. I think it's safe to say that Ian is Phyllis's son, which leaves us with Antonia and Barbara.  Given that both women were on the Electoral Register in 1945, they were both likely born sometime before 1924 (the voting age was 21 years until 1969). They therefore can't be children of Ian (born 1919). So what was their relationship?

Trent Park Cemetery, Islington, London (from wikipedia)
Trent Park Cemetery, Islington, London
(from wikipedia)
A bit of digging has revealed a burial registration for Barbara Effie Townshend Fletcher. She passed away on 24 April 1989, a resident of Fern Bank, Finchley Way and was buried on 28 August 1989 in Trent Park, Islington (grave/vault 1350 CA). Barbara was 67 years old which gives a rough birth date of 1922. The death registration index states that she was born 13 September 1921.

Phyllis's mother died in 1905, when Phyllis was six years old. Her father, Charles Collingwood Townsend remarried in 1906, to one Effie Emily Ellies. Could Barbara Effie Townshend Fletcher be another child of Phyllis and Roger? Carrying the name of Phyllis' step-mother? It is a distinct possibility. The fact that Barbara was buried under her presumed maiden name, Fletcher, would suggest that she never married and likely never had any offspring.

Barbara was not, however, the first person from the Fletcher/Townsend clan to be buried at Trent Park. On 6 January 1969, one Phyllis Gwendoline Fletcher (age 68) was buried at Trent Park in Islington, London. Her abode had been Hornsey Central Hospital in Crouch End, North London and she passed away in the last quarter of 1968 in Haringey. The age is about right (born around 1900). One could wonder if this is our Phyllis but this seems to be confirmed by another internment in the same grave plot: Ian Gordon Peter Kinselah Fletcher, born 28 September 1919, died in the last quarter of 1983 and buried 18 September 1985 (almost two years later). He had been living at 14 South Grove House in Camden. The age and rather unique name are in line with what we know about Phyllis' son (birth registered in the last quarter of 1919). Ian is buried in grave/vault 451 CD.

The fact that Ian was buried with his mother would seem to suggest that he too never married, or at the very least, that he was not buried with his wife, if he had one. I haven't been able to dig up much about Ian, except one obscure reference. According to a British Gliding Association technical news sheet (8/9/10/76) from 1976, one I.G.P.K. Fletcher of 34 Warner Road, London was an Ordinary Inspector (#202) of the British Gliding Association. Not much to go on.

Lt. Col. Roger Cormell Fletcher
Companion of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire
Companion of the Most Eminent
Order of the Indian Empire
As for Roger Cormell Fletcher, Phyllis' first husband, he continued to advance through the ranks after their presumed divorce in the mid 1920s. In 1931, Captain R.C. Fletcher submitted a report, as Assistant Commandant of the Burma Military Police, on an expedition to Burma. A year later, on 14 January 1932, he was promoted to the rank of Major.

His father, William Fletcher, passed away in Edinburgh in 1933. Two years later, Roger married Joyce Irvine Gower Crawford in Kensington, London. We then lose track of Roger for a few years but he must have returned to India and continued his military career and been promoted.

In early January 1938, Lt. Col. Roger Cormell Fletcher, Indian Army, Commandant of the 3rd Burma Rifles was appointed to be a Companion of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire.

There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that on 3 March 1941 Roger commanded the 1st Bahawalpur Infantry as it sailed for Malaya. By 1944, however, poor health had gotten the better of Roger and he retired from the Indian Army on 11 September 1944. He must have recovered for in 1946, he and his second wife sailed from Liverpool to Bombay. It is unclear whether they remained in India for several years or traveled back and forth to England, but on 17 March 1954, Roger's wife, Joyce passed away in Glendon Kotagiri Nilgaris (southern India). Roger returned to England in 1958. He stated that he was a permanent resident of India and that his future residence was to be Scotland. Roger passed away in Scotland (Kelso) in 1968.

I had initially picked up this tiger's tail/tale with a view to figuring out what had become of Robin Stephens' first wife, Phyllis Gwendolen (née Townsend) Fletcher. I thought that there might be descendants who might have some snippets of information about Robin Stephens, but now I'm not so sure. We are left with many unanswered questions:
  • Did and Phyllis and Roger have more than one child?
  • Who was Antonia Fletcher? What happened to her?
  • Who was Barbara Effie Townsend Fletcher?
  • Did Ian, Barbara or Antonia ever get married and have children?
  • Why did Phyllis carry the Townsend-Stephens name for so long after her split with Robin?
  • Did Robin and Phyllis not finalize their divorce?
  • Why was Phyllis buried as a Fletcher? Had Robin passed away and she was then free to take her previous surname?

Historic England - entry on Yonder Lye in Dunsfold
Deceased Online
Ancestry genealogical website
FamilySearch genealogical website
Scotland's People genealogical website
FindMyPast genealogical website
Find-a-Grave website
British Gliding Association newsletter
Burma report by Captain Roger Cormell Fletcher
Blog on Roger Cormell Fletcher's mission to Malaya
Central Provinces District report - mentions Roger Cormell Fletcher