16 August 2019

Article Review - A Sirmoor Spy: the Extraordinary Life of Honorary Brigadier Robin 'Tin-Eye' Stephens

The Sirmooree - cover
The Sirmooree - cover
Another interruption to the blog series on the black market German passport business. I'm needing some serious research time to look into the Finn Algot Niska. Quite a character but much of the information is in Finnish and requires some tedious translation work with Google Translate. Stay tuned for the continuing series in a week or so.

The Article
A Sirmoor Spy: the Extraordinary Life of Honorary Brigadier Robin 'Tin-Eye' Stephens. Nick Hinton. The Sirmoree - The Journal of the 2nd King Edward VII's Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles). Spring 2019.

Summary
I have been in back-and-forth communication with Nick Hinton, a former commander of the Gurkha's, for a while. We both share a fascination with Robin W.G. Stephens, former officer of the Gurkha's and later commandant of Camp 020.

Nick has pulled together much of the information on Stephens and written an article for the Gurkha regimental magazine - The Sirmooree. In addition to the factual information, Nick has tried to portray the human side of Stephens - What were his motivations? How did the events of his life affect him in later years? Was all his bluster just a front?

Review
A nice pull-together of the information on Stephens and well worth a read. The digital edition of the Spring 2019 edition of The Sirmooree is available online at the regimental association's website.

Review Score
5 out of 5 -excellent summary of Stephens career.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello there.
Brigadier Robin 'Tin-Eye' Stephens is indeed a fascinating character.
My apologies if you know this, but some of his medals were offered at auction in 2018 and then withdrawn. Herewith the relevant links:
https://www.the-saleroom.com/en-gb/auction-catalogues/dixnoonanwebb/catalogue-id-dix-no10055/lot-63bd92c7-5457-4535-978b-a90700d1962e

and

https://www.dnw.co.uk/auction-archive/past-catalogues/lot.php?auction_id=477&lot_id=314552

This second link has quite a good biography, but notes that Brig. Stephens "certainly" predeceased his second wife, who died in 1990 - but the basis for this "certainty" is not given.

The fact that Brig. Stephens appears to have disposed of at least some of his medals in the early 1950s - while still serving in the Security Service is extremely interesting, but the significance is not clear. Some of his later career, until his retirement in 1960, is also provided.
Moreover, the mal-treatment of detainees at Bad Nenndorf, an installation over which he had, at least, nominal control, has never been adequately explained. It is particularly puzzling given his command of Camp 020 where physical mal-treatment was forbidden.

Giselle Jakobs said...

Hello and thank you for the comment! Yes, the auction info is familiar to me as I am know the seller. The contrast between Camp 020 and Bad Nenndorf is stark, as you noted, and one does wonder at the disconnect given Stephens was commandant at both!

Anonymous said...

Hello. This is a great site, not only in respect of your grandfather (Josef Jakobs) but all the things related thereto.
Tineye Stephens has long interested me (and other is Tomas Harris, but that is another story). Stephens is clearly a "child of empire" and more than a little mysterious to us at least. I'm slowly reading through your various pages, and would offer these observations. Please forgive me if they are redundant.
I just looked at the outward passenger lists (which are maintained until 1960). There are two entries for a Robin William Stephens that may be relevant:
- Liverpool 1938 Lagos
- Southampton 1940 Gibraltar.
Interestingly, no clear records of a departure in the mid 1930s to Abyssinia / Ethopia, when he was ostensibly with the Red Cross. On the DNW www site the short biography states that: "In his application for the Security Service, Stephens stated that he played an unofficial role in the Abyssinian crisis of 1935-36, as a volunteer with a British Red Cross team, and was awarded the Star of Abyssinia. Stephens was back in England from 1937 to 1939, based in Lincoln and working for the National Fitness Council for England." This presumably follows his discharge from hospital following his return from Abyssinia.
[A contemporary account of RS activities in Ethopia is given in "John Melly of Ethiopia"].
A couple of points. (1) RS may have travelled by air, but that is unlikely. The Red Cross had vehicles and supplies, suggesting a ship. In any case, the Red Cross may have records.
(2) As a volunteer, was RS paid or unpaid? Given his bankruptcy, how was he supporting himself?
(3) Intriguingly, when RS returned he was admitted to the Masonic Hospital, Ravenscourt (London) and then the Hospital for Officers, 4 Percival Terrace, Brighton 7. At the time, these were not civilian hospitals. How was it he was treated in these institutions?
(4) In the Court Martial transcript, he uses the word "served". This is a hunch, but he may have been with the Red Cross as cover when in fact working for another UK government agency.
(5). References are made to RS entry to the Security Service - including quotations from his application. It seems they (or the Nat. Archives) may have RS application.
Unrelated to the above, the snip from RS military record recording his retirement, provides what I presume - but am likely wrong - is his regimental number: P/157471. Under this number in the Gazette is another name: W Templeton.
None of this assists with determining RS fate.
When RS retired, he was likely receiving some type of (possibly) military pension. The War Office may have records.
The fact RS does not appear in UK probate records is also intriguing - at least under his two known names. He may have died abroad, in which case, if notified to the UK government there may be a record.
Anyway, good luck.

Giselle Jakobs said...

Thanks for the comment! Yes, he is a fascinating character. I did track down Oliver Hoare who edited the Camp 020 book and asked him about the references he made to Stephens' MI5 service record. He said everything in the Camp 020 book came from the National Archives but... I've not come across any such file. In addition, Hoare includes the picture of Joan and Robin and that is definitely not in any accessible Kew file!

I like the idea of the Red Cross having records. I did access St. Bart's Archives for a copy of an article that Stephens wrote about John Melly. I'll also have to have a closer look at the Army service record for Robin and see if there are some clues in there.

Anonymous said...

Hi!
I have just found your site and it is fascinating! Thank you. I'm still working through it. There is so much here - and all of it fascinating.
About Col. Stephens, two things spring to mind.
There are GRO registers for UK deaths abroad. If Col. Stephens did pass away while abroad, it may have been notified to a UK consul or legation and be recorded in the GRO records.
The article you mention by Mr Hinton does not appear to be published in the most recently uploaded "The Simooree". I wonder if you might be able to post a copy of it?
I read the book, Camp 020, just after it came out. It is very interesting indeed. Col. Stephens manuscript is supposedly in the Archives, I seem to recall seeing a KV number a few years ago.

Giselle Jakobs said...

Hi,
Yes, thanks for the comment!
The Overseas Registers have a 50 year time lock so only up to 1968/69 at this point. I am keeping an eye on them but so far no luck.
The Sirmoree article can be found online here: http://www.2ndgoorkhas.com/digitalPubs/Sirmooree80/2/ (see page 93)
I've also had a look at Stephens' manuscript at the Archives - it doesn't have a lot of extra info than what Hoare included in the book.
Cheers,
Giselle

Anonymous said...

Hello
Thanks for posting that link to the Sirmooree. Col. Stephens becomes more and more fascinating. [But so is all the other material on your site]. I just wanted to note a possible intriguing connection.
A few years ago, a certain Eileen Burgoyne died at the grand age of 99. Apparently, Miss Burgoyne had an intriguing life, much of which can only be inferred and for which there is now little record. She worked, in seems, for the intelligence services immediately after the Second World War. Documents reveal that she was posted overseas for the Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre (CSDIC), which operated interrogation centres around the world. In 1945 Miss Burgoyne was lodging at the Kaiserhof Hotel in Bad Pyrmont, just one hour's drive away from the interrogation centre at Bad Nenndorf. Her time in this vicinity would coincide with Tineye's posting there. Miss Burgoyne was apparently fluent in several languages. Perhaps they were colleagues?
Miss Burgoyne, who never married, and what she did from the early 1950s, when she appears to have parted from the intelligence services, until she went to live at her last address (approximately 20 years prior to her death, is not known, publicly at least. Here is a story:
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3117016/The-shy-retiring-suburban-pensioner-left-unusual-mementos-died-fully-working-machine-gun-papers-past-Cold-War-spy.html
Miss Burgoyne was also subject to a BBC Hier Hunters profile: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bc06lr

Giselle Jakobs said...

Hi, Thanks for the Burgoyne link - that is definitely fascinating! I agree with Cobain - she likely could have been working at Bad Nenndorf as a translator or transcriptionist.