20 December 2019

A Window into the Minds of Abwehr Officers - Die Nachhut

Over the course of the last year, I've written a few blog posts in which an Abwehr officer named Walter Schulze-Bernett played a role.
From June 1940 to June 1941, Schulze-Bernett was head of Gruppe I, Ast Netherlands in The Hague, a key period when Germany was throwing spies at the UK in preparation for Operation Sealion. Whilst researching the blog on Harm Knol Bruins, I came across an article written by Schulze-Bernett on the Venlo Incident entitled: Der Grenzzwischenfall bei Venlo/Holland (The Border Incident near Venlo/Holland).

The article is reproduced on a site devoted to George Elser, a German worker who organized the the Bürgerbräukeller assassination attempt on Hitler on 8 November 1939 in Munich. The author of the site, Peter Koblank, also has a sub-page devoted to the Venlo Incident, on which is the link for Schulze-Bernett's article.

The most intriguing thing about Schulze-Bernett's article is its provenance. According to Koblank, the article was published in a magazine called "Die Nachhut" [The Rearguard].
Quelle: Walter Schulze-Bernett, Der Grenzzwischenfall bei Venlo/Holland, in: Die Nachhut, Nr. 23/24 vom 15.5.1973, München 1973; Schreibfehler, auch bei Personen- und Ortsnamen, wurden originalgetreu übernommen sowie einige [Kommentare] eingefügt. [Spelling mistakes, also with personal and place names, were copied true to original as well as some [comments] inserted.]
Die Nachhut - cover
image is of the 3 Wise Monkeys
(hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil)
(from Google Books)
Die Nachhut
I did bit of research.... and Die Nachhut was a publication of AGEA (Arbeitsgemeinschaft ehemaliger Abwehrangehöriger - essentially "Working Group of former Members of the Abwehr").

From 1967 to 1975, the group published 32 editions of Die Nachhut in pamphlet form. Articles came from various former members of the Abwehr scattered in cities throughout Europe. Contributions included reviews of intelligence books, articles as well as tables including death dates for former members of the Abwehr.

The periodical sounds quite fascinating and initially I thought that it was only available in libraries/archives in Germany but the AG der GedenkstättenBibliotheken (AGGB-Katalog) notes that The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust & Genocide in London has a complete set!

It would be intriguing to examine the 32 editions and see if any of the key Abwehr personnel from Ast I in Hamburg had offered contributions. At the very least, Die Nachhut might list the death dates for some of these individuals.

I'll be taking a blog posting hiatus over the holidays - back with a post on 8 January 2020...

Mythos Elser site - devoted to Georg Elser
Wikipedia - AGEA
AGGB Katalog site - lists libraries/archives holding Die Nachhut

16 December 2019

Article Review - Dramatising intelligence history on the BBC: the Camp 020 affair - Christopher J. Murphy (2019)

The Article
Dramatising intelligence history on the BBC: the Camp 020 affair. Christopher J. Murphy. Intelligence and National Security, Volume 34,  Issue 5, p. 688-702, 2019.

Intelligence & National Security
(cover from Taylor & Francis online)
A few months ago, I received a complimentary copy of this article from the author. He had earlier requested a copy of the Camp 020 Spy! television episode (1980) of which I happened to have a digital copy, and which I shared with him. It was nice to see the final product and I found the article enlightening.

The Camp 020 Spy! episode is quite notorious as it depicts, in docu-drama fashion, the re-enactment of a British intelligence officer (Stephens) hitting a German spy (TATE). Given that Stephens had professed physical violence to be taboo, the airing of the episode generated a firestorm of criticism from former Camp 020 staff. A number of individuals wrote to the BBC expressing their strenuous objection to the episode stating that Stephens had never hit a prisoner. They admitted that a visiting officer from the London Cage, Colonel A.P. Scotland, had hit TATE but that Stephens had thereafter banned the officer from Camp 020.

This much of the story is quite well known, as the letter from a group of these staff was published in Radio Times. What Murphy presents us with, however, is a glimpse into much more in-depth correspondence between Camp 020 staff and various officials at the BBC, Radio Times and the BBC Complaints Commission, none of which were ever published in a public format.

Murphy does a great job of introducing us to the back-and-forth exchange between the irate letter writers who demanded a retraction and the intractable BBC officials who repeatedly insisted that the episode was accurate and based on "exhaustive research". In the end however, the BBC would not reveal their secret sources, simply saying that the episode was based on information from TATE as well as other spies and Dr. Harold Dearden (Camp 020 physician). In an internal memo, one BBC official did admit that the episode was an amalgamation of several different accounts, and was not based solely on TATE's experience.

In fact, TATE had seen the episode and written to his former double-agent handler, Major T.A. Robertson who said:
"After the appearance of the film [TATE] rang me up in a frenzy and declared that it was the most despicable piece of nonsense he had ever seen, and said over and over that he had received fair treatment from all at 020 and that he had never once had a finger laid on him by anyone, and the part which shows him beaten up by Stephens was disgraceful." (F.G. Beith (Camp 020 veteran) to Ian Trethowan (Director General of the BBC), 6 August 1981, Written Archives Centre (WAC), R78/1233/1)
Lt. Col. Robin William George Stephens
Lt. Col. Robin William George Stephens
Murphy notes that the other spies apparently consulted for the episode may have included Chapman (ZIGZAG), Moe (MUTT) and Glad (JEFF), none of whom would appear to be good candidates for "abused prisoner" at Camp 020. At least, there is no information within the public domain that supports the contention that they were abused at the hands of Stephens or any other Camp 020 officer.

The problem that Murphy wanted to examine was the question: Did the film have that great an impact on the viewing audience? He notes that in the 1970s there was quite a bit in the news about the abuse of prisoners in Northern Ireland and argues that the depiction of wartime violence in the Camp 020 episode would have been accepted by the viewing public as the truth.

Even the BBC believed the idea that the British intelligence system used abusive interrogation measures during the war:
"In one of his letters to Beith (Camp 020 veteran) in which he defended the approach to interrogation depicted on screen, Trethowan (BBC) argued that ‘Systems of this kind are perfectly justifiable in peacetime police work; who could doubt that in the midst of the Second World War they were essential?' " (Murphy quoting Trethowan to Beith, 19 June 1980, WAC, R78/1233/1)
Ultimately, the possibility of other prisoners enduring physical abuse at the hands of Camp 020 officers cannot be ruled out, but Murpy argues that there is little material to support such claims.

Murphy concludes his article by noting that "while the efforts of the veterans to correct the impression given by the programme certainly deserve to be remembered, its depiction of a physical assault on a prisoner by the Commandant should now, perhaps, be forgotten".

This article was very informative and cast an illuminating light on the behind-the-scenes correspondence around the Camp 020 Spy! episode. I was quite intrigued to see how stubbornly the BBC officials clung to their claim that the story had been "exhaustively researched" and yet how flimsy their evidence seems to have been. Or perhaps, there is more to the story that has yet to reach the pubic domain...

I had hoped that Murphy might have been able to track down Stephens' death date and final resting place he makes no mention of it. One can presume, however, given the correspondence, and that Stephens was not quoted/consulted/interviewed,  that he was no longer alive at the time, which gives us an upper range for his passing.

Review Score
5 out of 5 - excellent piece that adds to our understanding of Camp 020.

13 December 2019

The Spy in the Tower - Another Review

The Spy in the Tower (cover)
Had another author leave a review of The Spy in the Tower on Amazon.com...
(4 out of 5 stars)
Dr. Jakobs has written a very important contribution to an under- and mis-represented aspect of espionage history - the treatment of Hitler's 'Lena' spies. These were agents sent by the Abwehr, in the winter of 1940-1941, to prepare the ground for the planned invasion. Jakobs's account is especially poignant because her grandfather was one of those executed. She complements her very thorough inspection of the archives, therefore, with a very moving story of Joseph Jakobs's prosecution and execution, which now seem highly controversial under a stricter examination of the quickly-enacted Treachery Act. 'The Spy in the Tower' may be a little too narrowly focused for the general reader, but it is a compelling tale, nonetheless. (Tony Percy on Amazon.com)
I appreciate any and all reviews!!

11 December 2019

Book Review - Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm: Volume 2: A Crime Shrouded in Mystery - Alex Merrill (2019)

Cover - Who put Bella in the Wych Elm? Volume 2 - A Crime Shrouded in Mystery by Alex Merrill (from Amazon)
Cover - Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?
Volume 2 - A Crime Shrouded in Mystery
by Alex Merrill
(from Amazon)
The Book
Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm: Volume 2 - A Crime Shrouded in Mystery. Alex Merrill. APS Publications. 2019.

The mystery of who put Bella in the Wych Elm has an enduring fascination. Over the decades, theories of whose skeletal remains were found in a hollow tree in Hagley Wood, Worcestershire, have proliferated. The theories cover everything from witch covens to German spies... and the casual reader can be easily sucked into all sorts of quagmires, many of which turn out to be based on false rumours.

The police report, recently released to the Worcester Archives doesn't really help the situation as it too has an over-abundance of false leads and dead ends.

In his first book, Alex Merrill provided a breath of fresh air to the case, examining the evidence in a clear and succinct form. He even moved the investigation ahead in several areas, notably the actual location of the wych elm (which moves around quite a bit in different theories!).

In his second book, Alex tackles the many different leads contained in the police files as well as published (and unpublished sources). It is a daunting undertaking to be sure and Alex has done an admirable job in presenting each lead/theory and then presenting additional evidence to disprove some.

In the author's comments, Alex notes that, "What this book promises is a ‘big picture view’ of the mystery with new revelations; a fresh perspective of all the different theories, thoroughly researched and referenced, and complemented by historical facsimiles, photographs, and bespoke maps and charts.

The book is indeed thoroughly well researched and, for the most part, well-reference. There are several places where items of information were not referenced (e.g. death registration of Clara Bauerle). The book references cited at the back of the book do not contain standard information: title, author, year, publisher, city. The maps and charts are helpful but could have benefited from image captions. Similarly, the photographs are helpful but many lack photo captions and/or source citations. Several photographs are sourced from the National Archives and yet that source is not acknowledged in the front matter.

I also found that many chapters could have benefited from a concluding "pulling together", just a paragraph or two to give the reader a "big picture view" of the information presented in each chapter in such detail. There is a benefit to presenting the evidence and allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions but there is, I believe, an equal, if not greater, benefit to the author presenting their own view of the data. The reader can then choose to agree or disagree based on the evidence presented. As it is, the reader moves from one chapter to another in a very abrupt transition which gives the entire book a bit of a disconnected feel.

Overall, I would say Alex has done a great job with the content of this second volume but the bigger problem lies with the overall structure of the book. I purchased an ebook version and noted the following editorial/structural issues:
  • ebook not downloadable to my Kindle device - not compatible - could only read it on Kindle for PC or web Kindle
  • While the book has a table of contents, it does not appear in the Kindle TOC section, nor is it clickable within the text itself. This makes the book extremely challenging to navigate since this ebook also lacks page numbers. I checked other non-fiction ebooks in my library and they have clickable TOC hyperlinks in the text and a TOC that appears to the left in Kindle for PC. I had a look through Alex's first book (also purchased as a Kindle) and while it lacked clickable TOC hyperlinks and a Kindle TOC, it did have page numbers and these were listed in the TOC.
    Screen shot of Kindle for PC - Bella in the Wych Elm - Volume 2 - Alex Merrill - Table of Contents
    Screen shot of Kindle for PC - Bella in the Wych Elm - Volume 2 - Alex Merrill - Table of Contents
  • Throughout the text, Alex references numbered sub-chapter headings - e.g. 14.3 - but these are not in the text. The chapters are numbered but sub-chapters are not numbered. This might not be so bad if the references to a numbered sub-chapter were hyperlinked, but they are not. Again, this makes navigation challenging. Having read draft versions of some of the chapters, I know that the numbered sub-chapters were present in draft stage and am perplexed by their absence in the final product.
  • There are numerous instances where headings were widowed at the bottom of a page and easily missed as one flipped the page. This makes for a disconnected reading experience.
Overall, Alex has done a great job of presenting a host of leads/theories about the Bella case. His research is meticulous and has moved the investigation ahead in numerous areas. The text could have benefited from some summing-up/transitional paragraphs at the end of each chapter. There are several structural/editorial issues that make for a poor reader experience.

For anyone interested in the Bella case, this book is an invaluable resource and I very much look forward to Volume 3!

Review Score
4 out of 5 - well researched but lacking in presentation and structure

06 December 2019

Bella in the Wych Elm - The Van Raalte Connection

Wilfred Byford-Jones - summer 1945 (courtesy of Pete Merrill - from dust jacket of one of Byford-Jones' books)
Wilfred Byford-Jones - summer 1945
(courtesy of Pete Merrill - from dust
jacket of one of Byford-Jones' books)
In the mid-1950s, after "Anna of Claverley" wrote her cryptic letter to journalist Wilfred Byford-Jones, the police were able to track down and interview the letter writer, one Una Abel Mossop.

Una claimed that in 1941 her husband, Jack Mossop, had told her a story about a mysterious Dutchman named van Raalte and his "girlfriend". Apparently van Raalte and Mossop stuffed the girlfriend into a hollow tree in Hagley Wood and left her there. The story had several different variations: what Una said in her letter to Byford-Jones, what she told police in the Dick Whittington Pub (the source of the Frick & Frack rumours), what she told police in her signed statement several days later and Byford-Jones' own recollections five years later (the source of the "trapeze artist" connection). In some accounts the girl was simply drunk and stuffed into the tree... in others, she was killed by van Raalte and stuffed into the tree.

What did the police do with this information? Not all that much it would appear. The police files from the Worcester Archives have one, very slim (17 images), folder entitled: Folder 5 - Laura Frances Ryllis [sic] van Raalte. The folder contains:
  • Worcestershire Constabulary (WC) message (7/12/53) from the War Office stating that "from scanty particulars given, no trace can be found". [The War Office likely wanted a first name and/or a date of birth to narrow down the options.]
  • WC notes regarding one Marinus Pieter van Raalt - born 16.3.11, landed 1948, married to an English girl named Margaret [N.B. Marinus Pieter van Raalt died 1999 in Lincolnshire]
  • WC message (7/12/53) stating that there is no record of the Dutchman at Coventry or in Warwickshire. [N.B. It would appear that the police searched for a van Raalte and came up empty.]
  • WC message (7/12/53) stating that "there is no trace at Standard Motor Works" [N.B. This is a follow-up to the message above - so likely no trace of the Dutchman at Standard Motor Works]
  • WC message (31/12/53) regarding enquries by the Coventry City Police into the address in Coventry (9 Grosvenor Road) and to an ice show (Frick & Frack). No results. 
  • WC message (31/12/53) regarding a message from the manager of the Coventry Theatre who remembered a 1938 ice show called Frick & Frack by two European aliens (possibly German) - he suggested contacting Tom Arnold Productions. [N.B. Frick & Frack were a well-known Swiss duo]
  • WC message (1/1/54) about enquiries with Tom Arnold Productions re: "Frik and Frack" (Una had suggested that van Raalte was affiliated with a stage show in some way) - no records kept longer than five years.
  • letter from W.P. Wilson of Kenilworth to Det. Sup. Williams dated 3 January 1954 - apparently Wilson had had an interview with Williams and was passing along some information about a tall fair-haired man, Vic Draco. He had no recollection of a "Van ...".
  • CID Nottingham letter (6/1/54) regarding Laura Francis Rhyllis [sic] van Raalte who had been the subject of correspondence in August 1940. [N.B. We'll come back to this in a bit as it has some useful information.]
  • letter from L.F. Rhylllis [sic] van Raalte to the Chief Constable of Worcestershire (17/8/40) requesting permission to purchase a Guide Book of Worcestershire as she will be staying in Malvern for a week and wants to use the guide and maps for sightseeing. A handwritten note from a police officer states that she was the subject of a complaint to the Nottingham Police.
  • letter from CID Nottingham (17/8/40) to Chief Constable of Worcestershire to accompany an anonymous letter of complaint as noted in a telephone conversation.
  • anonymous letter of complaint to Nottingham Police (30/5/40) re: Mundella School stating that M. van Ralty [sic], an alien, was teaching the girls the German national anthem.
  • note from a police sergeant (Worcestershire Constabulary) (25/8/40) stating that van Raalte and a Miss M. Chapman had stayed at Beauchamp Hotel in Malvern from 17 to 24 August and that they spent very little time in the hotel, leaving via bus or train for surrounding districts and returning in the evening. Nothing of a suspicious nature was observed by hotel staff or police.
Beauchamp Hotel, Malvern (from Hip Post Card site)
Beauchamp Hotel, Malvern
(from Hip Post Card site)
The 6 January 1954 letter from CID Nottingham to Worcestershire Constabulary notes the following of Ms. van Raalte:
Laura F.R. van Raalte was born in London of German parents on the 17th June, 1899. Her home address is 59 Ashburn Avenue, Golders Green, London, N.W. 11, and she is in lodgings at 2a All Saints Street, Nottingham. She is a single woman and since September 1936, has been employed as a teacher of German at Mundella Grammar School, Nottingham. Prior to obtaining this position she held similar posts at Chester, Bedford, Leytonstone, Brighton, York, Castleford and London. In May, 1940, Miss van Raalte was the subject of an anonymous letter alleging that she was teaching her pupils the German National Anthem. Since that time she has not come to adverse notice.
All of this information just leads to more questions:
  • It does not appear that Laura van Raalte interviewed by the Worcestershire Constabulary in 1954. An obvious line of questioning would be whether she knew a Jack Mossop, whether she had any family in the area, etc. Perhaps the police simply ruled her out as a candidate for Bella.
  • Was any search made of the name van Raalte in the Home Office files, the UK Traffic Index and the Aliens Register files? Even if, as the War Office memo suggests, there wasn't enough information to go on, surely the name "van Raalte" could not be all that common in the UK?
  • The police said there was no record of a van Raalte in Coventry or Warwickshire. Was any search made of the neighbouring counties?
  • Why was Una Mossop not asked for a general description of the mysterious van Raalt? Approximate age, hair colouring, height, build, etc. Even a rough age could have helped to narrow down the field of candidates.
Even though decades have passed, the van Raalte connection would seem to be a fruitful line of research, so let's give it a shot.

The van Raalte Clan
Let's start with a concrete fact: Laura van Raalte was born in London on 17 June 1899, supposedly of German parents. From there, we can discover the following...

Van Raalte & Sons tobacco shop on Piccadilly Circus, London
Van Raalte & Sons tobacco shop on
Piccadilly Circus, London
Laura Frances Phyllis [not Rhyllis] van Raalte was born of parents Lion Leon van Raalte (1874-1953) and Jeannette Moore (1869-1940). Laura's parents had been married 1 June 1897 in London. A year after their marriage, they welcome their first child, George Francis van Raalte, born 20 May 1898 in London. The police had stated that Laura was born in London of German parents, but this is actually not accurate.

Laura's father, Leon van Raalte, was born 23 August 1874 in Lambeth, London. Leon's father, Joel Joost van Raalte, was born 1837 in Amsterdam, worked as a commercial traveller, and passed away 1901 in London. It was Joels' father (Laura's great grandfather), Salomon Abraham van Raalte (1803-1885), who first came over to England with his family (including son Joel). Salomon was the founder of the tobacco firm, S. van Raalte & Sons, on Piccadilly Circus, London.

After Salomon brought the family over to England, his son Joel van Raalte (Laura's grandfather) married Frances Elizabeth Cable (born 1847 in Putney, Surrey) in 1871 in Tunbridge Wells. The couple had several other children (4 daughters and two sons), all born in England. Leon (Laura's father) had worked for the Stock Exchange and later the Labour Party. He passed away on 24 October 1953 in Richmond. If we trace Laura's Dutch ancestry even farther, we find that the clan originates with one Salomon Jacob (born around 1715) who was known as "de Jode van Raalte" - the Jew from Raalte. Salomon likely arrived in the village of Raalte, Holland around 1722 from Germany or Poland. It would, therefore, be a stretch to say that Laura Frances Phyllis van Raalte was born of "German parents". The family had a long history in The Netherlands and England. Although, one could wonder about her mother...

Laura's mother, Jeanette Moore was born 29 November 1868 in London and, according to the 1939 National Register was a music teacher. Interestingly, the National Register shows that Jeanette and her husband, Leon, were not living together in 1939. Leon was living in Richmond with a woman named Gladys (née Clements) van Raalte (1895-1950) whom he married in February 1942. The 1939 Register lists Leon (married) as living with Gladys van Raalte (single), August van Raalte (born 1924) and one closed record. It appears that Leon and Gladys had two children (half siblings of Laura) and that their relationship started quite a few years earlier, with August being born in 1924 and Thomas around 1927. When Jeanette (Moore) van Raalte passed away in 1940, her probate listed her as the wife of Lion van Raalte suggesting that the couple never divorced but simply separated.

As for Jeanette's heritage, the 1891 Census shows a Jeanette Moore (born around 1868/69 in East London) as a music student in Islington. Her parents were George and Sara Moore (both born in East London). There aren't that many Jeanette Moore's born in London around 1868 and she was likely born in Whitechapel (birth registered in the first quarter of 1869). I think it is safe to say that Jeanette's heritage is British.

It would seem to be sloppy police work to assume that a name such as "van Raalte" was indicative of German heritage. A rough rule of thumb is that surnames beginning with "von" are of German heritage and those beginning with "van" are of Dutch heritage. While "von" often indicates a connection to the German nobility, "van" simply means "from".

It would appear that the police did not interview Laura van Raalte, likely dismissing her as a Bella candidate because she was alive and well. Clearly, she was not the "Dutch piece" of Una Mossop's story but what became of Laura?

Laura Frances Phyllis van Raalte
As noted above, Laura was born 17 June 1899 in Stoke Newington. She appears in the 1901 census as living with her parents and brother in Hampstead, London. By 1911, it is just Leon, George and Laura who are living in Hampstead, with no trace of Jeanette.

Laura earned a B.A. in 1920 (University of London) and an M.A. in 1922 (Bedford), quite an accomplishment at the time. The police records noted that Laura was a school teacher who had taught at Chester, Bedford, Leytonstone, Brighton, York, Castleford and London before arriving at Mundella Grammar School (her placement in 1954). Some of this can be confirmed by other sources.

Mundella Grammar School staff - Laura Frances Phyllis van Raalte
is the short woman with her hands clasped. (ca. 1945)
(from Mundella Grammar school)
For example, on 28 July 1933, Laura left England for a month long excursion to Gibraltar with several other teachers aboard a passenger liner. Her home address was Castleford, West Yorkshire. An early 1930s electoral register notes that she was living at 13 Hill Road in Glass Houghton, West Yorkshire (part of Castleford).

A 1945 staff photo for Mundella Grammar School shows Laura in the second row. A 1947 staff list for Mundella (with handwritten notes) states that Laura taught Latin, German and Maths.

Laura was a dedicated teacher and remained a spinster throughout her career, often a requirement for female school teachers in those times. In 1976 (at the age of 77) she married Philip K. Hayes (83 years old) in Rushcliffe, Nottinghamshire. Their married life was short for Philip passed away in 1980. Laura passed away in in May 1995 in Basford, Nottinghamshire at the age of 95.

While the police made no real effort to trace Laura, evidently deciding that, since she was alive, she was not a candidate for Bella, it is intriguing that they also made no real attempt to trace any male van Raalte's in neighbouring counties. Even the fact that Laura had a brother, and two half-siblings seems to have escaped the notice of the police.

George Francis van Raalte
George Francis van Raalte was born 20 May 1898 in Edmonton, London. George was a Pembroke man, having studied at Pembroke College (Oxford) in 1916. He joined the British Forces on 22 March 1917 (just before his 19th birthday) and was transferred to the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918. According to his military records, he was an undergraduate student and about 5'3" tall. On 25 May 1919, he was transferred to the RAF Reserve.

Ernest Bailey Grammar School (1947)
George Francis van Raalte is in the middle of the photograph
with his arms crossed.
(Andrews Pages - history of Matlock)
On 22 December 1926, George married Marion Somerville. They had at least one child, Muriel, born 1929 in Derbyshire. The 1939 National Register notes that George was an assistant secondary school master, living at Bryncliffe, Matlock, Derbyshire. He also appears in electoral registers as living in Matlock in 1932 and 1941. George appears in a group photo from the Ernest Bailey Grammar School (Matlock) in 1947 and is listed as a Senior Master.

George was a bit of a poet and entered several New Statesman competitions in the early 1930s. A blog devoted to the New Statesman poetry competitions notes that:
"There is some evidence that van Raalte was Dutch, even if his name didn't prove it. He appears as a writer in learned classicist journals, and he appears in the records of the Fabian Society. In a letter written to the WR in 1933, he gives his address as Matlock (Derbyshire)."
Elsewhere, the site notes: "George van Raalte, a Dutch classicist, and active member of the Fabian society". While the "WR" reference is the earlier quote is a mystery, the Fabian Society was (and still is) a socialist group. In the early 1930s, Oswald Mosley (later the leader of the British Union of Fascists) and his wife Cynthia were members of the Fabian Society for a time.

While the name "van Raalte" certainly has Dutch origins, George (as with his sister) was born in England. There is no evidence that George van Raalte was involved with Jack Mossop, particularly given the fact that he was assistant master of a secondary school. He likely did not have the time to drive around the countryside on pub crawls.

Laura's Half-Siblings
August O. van Raalte and his younger sibling were both living in Richmond, Surrey in September 1939 with their parents, Leon and Gladys van Raalte. While August would have been 17 years old in 1941 when Bella was likely killed, it would seem to be a bit of a stretch to consider him for the crime. The younger sibling would have been only 14 years old in 1941 and this seems even more of a stretch.

Van Raalts in the 1939 National Register
I did some sifting through the National Register looking for male van Raaltes (and Ralts) and there were 21 who were alive in 1939. Of those, two were born in 1927 and 1932, likely too young to be candidates for a mysterious Dutchman. Another, living in Hampshire, passed away in 1940, just outside the window of Bella's murder. Of the 18 remaining: 13 lived in the Home Counties (London, Middlesex, Essex, Kent, Hertfordshire and Surrey); with the other five lived in Buckinghamshire, Cheshire, Derbyshire (George Francis), Leicestershire and Devon.

There are thus, no obvious van Raaltes living in Worchestershire or its immediate neighbouring counties. There is always the possibility that a few van Raaltes have had their names so badly transcribed/misspelled in the 1939 National Register, that they are not easily traceable using Ancestry's search feature.

Aliens Register
The 1939 National Register only includes those civilians who were living in England on the date the register was taken (29 September 1939). Military personnel were not included in the National Register, so any van Raalte's who were serving with the British Forces would not be included. At the same time, any individuals who arrived in England after that date, as refugees from the Continent, for example, would also not be included. There are lists and registers for refugees, as well as resident aliens, but those have not yet been released to the National Archives. It is rather perplexing that the police did not extract more information on the mysterious van Raalte from Una. Even an approximate age would have perhaps helped narrow the parameters enough that the Aliens Register could have yielded some useful information.

Some Thoughts
What can we glean from all this? Well, unexpectedly, it would appear that quite a large number of van Raaltes came to England from Holland in the mid and late 1800s. Most seem to trace their ancestry back to the Salomon Jacob "van Raalte" who arrived in Holland in the early 1700s. The police comment that Laura van Raalte was born of "German parents" is therefore not accurate and suggests shoddy background research on the woman.

The failure of the police to obtain more details from Una Mossop as to personal particulars of the mysterious van Raalte is perplexing. Even an approximate age and description could have been helpful in narrowing down the pool of individuals who may have been present in War Office, Home Office, Traffic Index and Alien Register records.

While there were no obvious van Raalts living in Worcestershire and surrounding counties in the 1939 National Registration, this does not necessarily mean that some did not move there in following years, as bombing made London a dangerous location. There is also the possibility that Dutch van Raalte refugees arrived in England after September 1939 and may have been living in the Worcestershire area.

My own sense is that the police, for whatever reason, did not entirely believe Una Mossop's story of the mysterious van Raalte, viewing her as a less-than-credible witness. Even if there was a mysterious Dutchman named van Raalte, the question always comes back to - how would this individual have known about the hollow wych elm in Hagley Wood?

Ancestry - genealogy information (births, marriages, deaths, passenger lists, electoral registers)
Geneanet - van Raalte clan
Dutch Jewry - van Raalte clan (synopsis of the family)
Dutch Jewry - List of van Raalte individuals
Malvern - Beauchamp Hotel on Facebook
Beauchamp Hotel - formerly on Hip Post Card site
New Statesman blog - poetry competitions including George F. van Raalt
Matlock schools site - mentions George van Raalte as a senior master
Matlock, Derbyshire - Ernest Bailey Grammar School - 1947 group shot
Mundella Grammar School site - has a group photo of staff from 1945 including Laura F.P. van Raalte

02 December 2019

The Unsealed 1939 National Register entry for Kenneth Clifford Howard

N.B. - I had logged in to make an edit to a photo on this blog post after it was published and... the entire thing disappeared and was overwritten by an upcoming post - apparently a glitch in Blogspot today. I am rewriting this blog post but... it may not be the same as what was originally published!

For a few years now, I've been researching a gentleman named Kenneth Clifford Howard and his mysterious association with the two German spies, Josef Jakobs and Karl Theodore Drücke.

His association with Josef seems to be based on a filing error at the National Archives (or MI5). Two small notebooks belonging to Kenneth can be found in one of Josef's files at the National Archives. There is ample evidence, however, that these notebooks were never in Josef's possession, and are actually associated with another spy, Karl Theodore Drücke.

One of Kenneth's notebooks, a 1936 diary, has a brief notation for 13 May 1936:
"Today my friend [?] Karl Theodore Drucke 30 years old was today sentenced to 3 yrs imprisonment and 10 yrs banishment"
13 May 1936 entry from one of Kenneth Clifford Howard's notebooks
13 May 1936 entry from one of Kenneth Clifford Howard's notebooks

This brief entry raises all sorts of questions. Who was Kenneth? How did he know Drücke? Did he know Drücke? Was Kenneth a spy?

The History of the Notebooks
One of the notebooks belonging to Kenneth Clifford Howard
One of the notebooks belonging to
Kenneth Clifford Howard

The notebooks were "found and handed to the Leicester Police", likely in May 1941. The notebooks aroused the interest of the police since they contained several German references. As one of Kenneth's addresses in the notebooks was Birmingham, the notebooks were forwarded to the Birmingham Police on 1 June 1941. They conducted an investigation into Kenneth's former address in Birmingham (no trace of him) and tracked down several individuals who were listed in the notebook, none of whom knew of Kenneth.

An address in Bromley, Kent was also listed as one of Kenneth's residences and the notebooks were forwarded to the Metropolitan Police who conducted an investigation in late June 1941, having more success than the Birmingham Police. The Metropolitan Police reports noted that Kenneth Clifford Howard was born 4 June 1921 in Bromley, Kent to Frank Howard and Florence Mitchell. The police also tracked down several London-based individuals listed in the notebooks, none of whom knew of Kenneth. The report noted that Kenneth would have been 15 years old in 1936 and ascribed many of the entries to a "boyish interest in detective stories".

The police report (date 23 June 1941) does note that Drücke had been sentenced to death on 16 June 1941 at the Central Criminal Court. The notebooks and police reports were likely forwarded to MI5 shortly thereafter and are included in Drücke's file (KV 2/1701). There is no evidence, however, that Drücke was ever questioned about the notebooks. There is also no evidence that MI5 sought to investigate Kenneth any further, which seems rather odd.

Given the information in the police reports (parents, birth date and location), one would think that Kenneth would be reasonably easy to trace, but such has not been the case. I have written a series of blog posts detailing my investigation into Kenneth. Key blog posts are:
In the blog post from 5 June 2019, I sieved through the 1939 National Register identifying possible Frank/Florence Howards who could be Kenneth's parents. Given that the notebooks had first appeared in Leicester... that entry seemed the most promising.

1939 National Register - Frank & Flora Howard - Leicester
1939 National Register - Frank & Flora Howard - Leicester
This summer, I bit the bullet, and requested the opening of the 1939 National Register for Kenneth Clifford Howard. I also received some information from a contact on Ancestry, a distant relative of Kenneth, which has also helped to tie different bits of information together.

1939 National Register
In August, I received an email from the National Archives which provided a transcript of Kenneth's entry for the 1939 National Register and it was indeed the one from Leicester!

The National Archives, to whom one applies for a register entry to be opened, only sends textual information, not an image of the register. The image is apparently available on FindMyPast but will take a few months to appear on Ancestry. The information for Kenneth is:
Borough, County: Leicester, City of C.B. (part of): Leicestershire
Enumeration District Letter Code: REST
Registration District and Sub-district: 407/3

1: Address: 128 New Walk
2: Schedule Number: 27
3: Sub Schedule Number: 3
4: Surnames and other Names: Howard, Kenneth
5: O V S P or I (Officer, Visitor, Servant, Patient or Inmate): Not applicable
6: Gender: Male
7: Birth Day/Month: 4 June
8: Birth Year: 1921
9: S M W or D (Single, Married, Widowed or Divorced): S
10: Personal Occupation: Dental Mechanic (apprentice)
11: Any detail in the Instructions Column: None
The key bit of information here is Kenneth's occupation, Dental Mechanic, it allows us to tie together his death registration (retired dental laboratory technician) and bits of information which indicate that he served with the Royal Army Dental Corps during the Second World War.

Royal Army Dental Corps
Royal Army Dental Corp - logo
Royal Army Dental Corps insignia
(in 1946, King George VI granted
the ‘Royal’ prefix to the Corps
and a new cap badge was designed
depicting the legend of Cadmus
Back in the summer, I had come across a passenger list on Ancestry from 1948. The ship, HMT Empire Test, arrived in Liverpool on 30 September 1948 having picked up passengers in Port Said (Egypt), Tobruk (Libya), Malta and Gibraltar. One of the passengers on the ship's manifest was a Kenneth C. Howard. His entry has a line drawn through it which would seem to indicate that he did not make the journey. His entry indicates hat he was to have boarded at Malta in Second Class. His intended address in the UK was 14 Groveland Road, Wallasey. His occupation was Sergeant, British Army. His country of permanent residence (usually having been there more than 12 months) was Palestine. His future country of permanent residence was England.

I had a look through the Forces War Records and there is a Kenneth Clifford Howard (#10511112) listed on the register of the Royal Army Dental Corps. The register notes that he was released on 13 Dec 1946. This information does not quite match with the passenger list which would suggest that he was still serving with the military in 1948. It is possible that he was released from General Duty in 1946, but then was reactivated to serve with post-war British Forces in Palestine.
Royal Army Dental Corps - Registers - Kenneth Clifford Howard (from Forces War Records)
Royal Army Dental Corps - Registers - Kenneth Clifford Howard
(from Forces War Records)

Ancestry Tree Contact
The other bit of information that I have gleaned comes via the lady who posted information about Kenneth and his wife Doris Rhoda May in an Ancestry Tree. She is related to Doris Rhoda May (distant cousins) and had this to say:
Rhoda (as she was always known) had two sisters, Lorna and Leila. Lorna and her husband settled after the war in Rhodesia and Rhoda decided she wanted to travel and joined them in Salisbury [now Harare, Zimbabwe].

While there, Rhoda needed some dental work and that is how she met Kenneth, who by that stage was a dental technician. They fell in love, married and had a daughter. They returned to England while their daughter was very young.

Kenneth served in the British Army during the war but was not serving when he met Rhoda. I understand that he had been married before, to an Italian but was divorced when he and Rhoda met. I also understand that he may have had a daughter from his first marriage.
The contact on Ancestry confirmed that Kenneth was a dental mechanic and that he had served in the Second World War. Apparently his future wife, Doris Rhoda May, needed some dental work done while living in Zimbabwe, which is how the two met and eventually married there. The Ancestry contact made it clear that Kenneth was not serving with the military at that time.

None of this explains the material found in Kenneth's boyhood notebooks from the mid-1930s. Nor who sent those notebooks to the Leicester Police. More mysteries...

As for Kenneth's parents, they are also a bit of a mystery. Even with their exact birth dates, their names are so common that it is a bit of a struggle to identify them precisely using the Birth, Marriage, Death indices. There is also always the possibility that one or both of them were born in Scotland or Ireland. More research required, but all placed on the back burner for now.

What then can we say about Kenneth Clifford Howard? If we leave aside the notebooks, he seems to have lived a very unassuming life. He was born on 4 June 1921 in Bromley, Kent to Frank and Flora Howard, blouse merchants. The family moved around a fair bit, to Birmingham and then to Leicester. His father shifted from selling blouses to selling Hoovers and to then managing the sales of medical appliances. Perhaps it was this occupation that got Kenneth interested in becoming a dental mechanic. At the age of 18, he was an apprentice dental mechanic in Leicester and likely joined the Royal Army Dental Corps shortly thereafter. He served with the corps until 1946 (or 1948) and returned to England.

At some point, Kenneth made his way to Zimbabwe where he met Doris Rhoda May and the two were married in Zimbabwe in 1954. The couple had one child and moved back to the UK. Kenneth apparently continued to work as a dental mechanic until his retirement and passed away in Poole at the ripe old age of 93.

Nowhere is there a hint that Kenneth was a spy and the notebooks remain a mystery. The police had decided that they were the ramblings of a young boy interested in detectives. In all likelihood, that is likely true, although one does wonder how he knew that Karl Theodore Drücke had indeed been found guilty on 13 May 1936 in France... and sentenced to three year imprisonment. Perhaps Kenneth read in in a newspaper and incorporated it into his lively detective fantasies...

National Archives - KV 2/1701, KV 2/26
Ancestry - genealogy resources