26 March 2020

Sleuthing the Death of Robin William George Stephens - Anne Margaret Mary Pennycook (also Wilson and Warrener)

Still chipping away at any clue for when Robin William George Stephens passed away. Stephens had served as commandant of MI5's Camp 020 interrogation centre during the Second World War and retired from the military in 1960 at the age of 60. I've investigated several dead ends and keep coming back to his second wife's death as a line of inquiry.

Joan Geraldine Pearson Dowling Stephens passed away in 1992 in Lincoln, Lincolnshire. Robin Stephens was already deceased at that point. The informant for Joan's death was her sister, Audrey Violet (Dowling) Richardson. Audrey passed away in 2005 and, a few years ago, I applied for her probate records (but apparently never blogged about it).

The executors of Audrey's estate were Andrew Francis Wright and Anne Margaret Mary Pennycook, both of Lincoln. Anne was also the chief beneficiary of Audrey's estate. Who were these individuals? Was Anne another sister of Audrey? Or were they cousins?

Anne Margaret Mary PennycookWhat can we discover about Anne Margaret Mary Pennycook? Well... first up, we know when she passed away. A reader of this blog shared a link for her obituary. Anne passed away 19 December 2015 at home in Lincoln. There are a few different obituary notices for her in the Lincolnshire Echo:

Pennycook Anne Margaret Mary Passed away peacefully at home on Saturday 19th December 2015 aged 85 years [born around 1930]. The funeral service will be held at the Lincoln Crematorium on Monday 4th January 2016 at 10.30am. All our thoughts are with you Rob,Caroline,Lucy and Gill, Dave,Nicola, Mark
This doesn't make it clear who the individuals are - whether they submitted the In Memoriam or whether they are individuals to whom the condolences are offered.
PENNYCOOK Anne Passed away peacefully at home on 19th December 2015. Our beautiful Mum and Grandma. Will be loved and missed always. Lesley, Richard and Chris, Grandma to James, Rebecca and Charlotte and Great-Grandma to Katelynn, Owen, Courtney and McKenzie. -xxx-
This is more helpful as it makes it clear that Anne had children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Whether their last names are Pennycook is another matter.
Pennycook Anne Dearly missed, my forever friend. Love Vera, David, Nigel, Dawn & Kim.Rest in peace. 
This one seems to be from friends.

Tracing Anne M.M. Pennycook
Given the title of the newspaper, "Lincolnshire Echo", let's assume that Anne lived in Lincoln. This isn't too big of an assumption as, in 2004, Anne was living in Lincoln when she signed Audrey's will. A bit of searching reveals the following tidbit of information from the www.192.com site.
Anne Mm Pennycook was living in Lincoln (street address only for paid subscriptions) in the 2002 Electoral Roll. A name associated with her is "Alexandre Pennycook".

That sent me off to Ancestry... where I found this entry in the marriage registrations:
Alexander Pennycook married Anne M. M. Wilson in the last quarter of 1976 in Lincoln.
From Ancestry, we can glean that Alexander appears to have been born about 1925 (location unknown) and married Audrey Kyme in 1954 with whom he had several children (names are private). Audrey passed away in the first quarter of 1976 and Alexander passed away in Lincoln in 2002. This leaves room for Alexander and Anne to have married in the last quarter of 1976, when Anne would have been around 46 years old.

Maiden Name?
So, we have traced Anne M.M. Pennycook, who is likely be Anne Margaret Mary Wilson, but it isn't clear if that is her maiden name or a surname from a previous marriage.

We know that Anne was born around 1930 (+/- one year) based on the obituary. While all of her Christian names are quite common (Anne, Margaret, Mary), in unison they are helpful. I found this entry from the 1939 National Register:

1939 National Register - Anna M.M. Warrener
1939 National Register - Anna M.M. Warrener
This is definitely promising - Anna M.M. Warrener - born 21 November 1930 and residing in Lincolnshire in 1939. A look at the record and it "promising" becomes certainty.
1939 National Register - Anne M.M. Warrner/Wilson/Pennycook
1939 National Register - Anne M.M. Warrner/Wilson/Pennycook
We have a 9 year old Anne M.M. Warrener, living with her parents and an older sibling (closed record). Her surname has been stroked out and replaced with WILSON in ink and then faintly in pencil is written PENNYCOOK. This has to be our girl.
1939 National Register - enlargement of Anne's surnames: Warrener/Wilson/Pennycook
1939 National Register - enlargement of Anne's surnames: Warrener/Wilson/Pennycook

This record confirms that Anne was not a sibling of Audrey and Joan. I did a quick trace of Anne's parents, George R. & Kate Warrener. It appears that they married in 1922 in Lincoln and that Kate's maiden name is Woodley. So, if there is a family connection, it would have to be farther back. This record also means that Anne's children ould likely not be Pennycooks but Wilsons, as Anne was 46 years old when she married Alexander Pennycook. Although... a late 40's pregnancy is not impossible.

A bit more digging and this appears in the marriage indices:
In the second quarter of 1950, A.M.M. Warrener married Albert B. Wilson in Lincoln.
This is likely our couple. I haven't had any luck tracing Albert B. Wilson in Lincoln... far too common a name. But... we might have better luck with their children.

Tracing Anne's Children
If we do a search for individuals with the surname Wilson [children take their father's surname], born within 10 years of 1960 (1950-1970) [20 years after the marriage of Anne and Albert], and whose mother's surname was Warrener, we come up with...
Ancestry - Wilson children with a Warrener mother
Ancestry - Wilson children with a Warrener mother

This matches two of the three names from Anne's obituary: Lesley, Richard and Chris. No luck finding a Chris Wilson (not even from 1970-1976). But we now have Richard W. Wilson and Lesley N. Wilson. But at this point, we run out of leads. There are no spousal names with Lesley and Richard, nor is it clear which children might belong to them, so... even 192.com isn't yielding anything definitive. Wilson is far too common a name to trace these two any farther at this point.

I did do a search for Alexander Pennycook and Audrey Kyme's children and came up with Robert A. Pennycook (born 1961) and Gillian A. Pennycook (born 1956). These could be the individuals listed in the first obituary notice: Rob[ert],Caroline,Lucy and Gill[ian], Dave,Nicola, Mark. This suggests that Anne may have been close to her step children and their families.

A bit more digging and the 192.com site indicates that a Robert A. Pennycook, Caroline J. Pennycook and Lucy Pennycook are all associated with an address in Lincoln. Ancestry shows a 1987 marriage of Robert A. Pennycook and Caroline J. Frow in Lincoln. Robert appears in the 2003-2004 and 2005-2010 Electoral Registers but living at different addresses. The most recent address was 19, Grange Crescent, Lincoln, LN6 8BT.

As for Gillian A. Pennycook, she apparently married David C. Armstrong in 1976 in Lincoln. Thus, their assumed children, Nicola and Mark, likely have the surname Armstrong. Another visit to 192.com and there is an address in Lincoln associated with David C. Armstrong, Gillian A. Armstrong, Nicola C. Armstrong and Mark J. Armstrong. The 2002-2003 Electoral Registers from Ancestry list Gillian A. Armstrong as living at 2 Rivermead Close, Lincoln, LN6 8FD. Whether the family still lives at that address is unknown.

There is always the possibility that this blog post will bring something to the surface. It is quite a limb we have crawled out on, all in the hopes of tracing the death of Robin William George Stephens... whose second wife was Joan Geraldine Pearson Dowling Stephens... whose sister was Audrey Violet Richardson... whose estate went to Anne Margaret Mary Pennycook. One never knows though... perhaps there is a scrap of information out there that will unlock the secret of Robin's death.

18 March 2020

Book Review - Cover Name: Dr. Rantzau - Nikolaus Ritter, translated by Katherine R. Wallace (2019)

A few years ago, I stumbled my way through Nikolaus Ritter's memoir: Deckname Dr. Rantzau - Die Aufzeichnungen des Nikolaus Ritter, Offizier under Canaris im Geheimen Nachrichtendiesnt. [Cover Name Dr. Rantzau - The Notes of Nikolaus Ritter, Officer under Canaris in the Secret Intelligence Service].

I say stumbled, because my schoolgirl German found the espionage lingo quite challenging. But... I think I got the gist of the book.

Luckily, Ritter's daughter, Katherine Ritter Wallace, decided to have Ritter's memoirs translated and published in English via the University Press of Kentucky in 2019. Sooooo much easier to read and understand! Having read Katherine's translation and my original blog post on the German version, I believe my comments stand the test of time and interested readers can read my book review blog post.

Overall, I'd say the translation was quite well done as Ritter's stuffed-shirt, patriarchal German personality comes through loud and clear!

As I noted with the original German version, Ritter does tend to play hard and loose with the facts. On top of that, he portrays himself as the consummate spy and spy master who engages in meticulous preparations for his missions. All this while tossing disposable and poorly prepared agents at England with casual disdain. While Ritter focuses on the "successful" agents, he spends no time touching on the failed agents who ended up being hanged or shot.

Overall, Ritter's memoir (German or English) needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It's a great book for an overall view... not so good for the detailed facts.

11 March 2020

The Story of Roy Harrison - Executioner of a German Spy

Evening Chronicle - 1984 11 07 Interview with Roy Alan Harrison former member of Josef Jakobs' firing squad.
Evening Chronicle - 1984 11 07
Interview with Roy Harrison
former member of Josef Jakobs' firing squad.
I bought a British Newspaper Archives subscription last year and did various searches for Josef Jakobs/Jacobs.

Imagine my surprise when I came across a 1987 article in which a man named Roy Harrison told the story of how he had served on the firing squad of Josef Jakobs!

I already had an eye witness account from one of the British Military Policemen who accompanied Josef to his execution.

I also had the Regimental Sergeant Major's hand-written instructions from the morning of the execution.

While I had tried to track down some of the members of the firing squad... they weren't easy to find.

Yet here was this interview with Roy Harrison! It doesn't always jive with the other two accounts and I note the discrepancies and/or inaccuracies in square brackets.

Evening Chronicle - 1984 November 7
Safety catches off...
Take aim...

And so died a Germany spy

[Roy Harrison, a quiet man from Washington [Tyne and Wear, Country Durham], once made a macabre mark on history - he was on the firing squad which carried out the last execution in the Tower of London. Eric Forster has been talking to him.]

He is a quiet, anonymous sort of chap today and even shamefacedly confesses to composing the odd poetic stanza about life, its purpose and direction.

He once made teacakes at a Team Valley factory until dismissed for asking double-time for Sunday working. That apart, he has lived the low profile image of the average workingman and now lives in retirement in a terrace house in Washington, Tyne and Wear.

Anonymous - perhaps. But Roy Harrison is a man who had made a macabre mark on history: he was on the firing squad which performed the last execution at the Tower of London.

The condemned man was Josef Jakobs, a German spy, who was arrested immediately after his parachute descent into the Home Counties of England in 1941.

The executioner: Roy Harrison, then a young Scots Guardsman, one of six marksmen who were called one day to perform "special duties" - and found themselves facing a living target. [Other information indicates seven, possibly eight, members of the firing squad.]

It happened on the morning of August 14, 1941, [August 15, 1941] and Roy often thinks about it. Only now, with the covers off the official secrets of the time, has he decided to talk about it.

Nothing he was ever called upon to perform as a wartime soldier would ever match that bizarre moment when he and his fellow guardsmen were ordered to shoot Josef Jakobs.

Rifles were loaded
His duties had led him to sentry duty at Buckingham Palace; he guarded and fed Rudolph Hess during the Deputy Führer's incarceration in the Tower; he fought in the Western Desert and was wounded at Salerno.
But it is the execution of a spy who went proudly to his death that Roy Harrison dwells upon today in moments of introspection.

"Two of our party were later killed in Italy at Casino and I was twice wounded. Were we getting paid back" he wonders...

He adds: "I have never forgotten it. I was just 21 at the time and very impressionable. I had won my special proficiency for rifle shooting and was considered a crack shot. [If, as noted below, they were not volunteers, then it would make sense that the commander would have chosen the best marksmen for this duty.]

"Without any warning I, along with the others, was marched down to the armourer's shop one morning and issued with a short Lee Enfield rifle that was already loaded. [RSM orders indicates that the rifles were already in the firing range when the squad arrived.] We were then marched down to the miniature rifle range along the wharf. [Not exactly along the wharf - was along the Eastern Casemates.]

"None of us had the slightest idea what we were going to do. [Other information has suggested that firing squad members were volunteers, so this would be new information.]

"We were taken inside to the 25 yards line and given a spaced position in line and then ordered to adopt the kneeling position. [This is new information.] Our sergeant informed us that not a sound should be made. We would be signaled to remove the safety catch and, after taking aim, wait for the signal to fire. [The RSM instructions indicated that they practiced first and were then marched out of the firing range, only to reenter once Josef had been led inside.]

"The next thing we knew, a senior officer, a medical officer and a corporal called Purvis - he worked in the medical bunk because he was nearly seven feet tall - came in at the far end of the range bringing with them a chair - and Josef Jakobs. [Was there an entrance at the "far end"? The RSM orders indicate that the chair was already prepped and tied to a beam at the target end of the range. The Military Policeman stated that he and his colleague accompanied Josef to the end.]

"He was blindfolded and had a piece of white lint over his heart. He looked very proud and did not show the slightest sign of fear..."

Subsequent events were swift, he recalls.

"We lads were really dumbfounded but with the strict training we had received, we acted as ordered." he says.

"Jakobs, still showing no signs of fear, was offered the seat and accepted it (he had broken his leg during his abortive parachute descent)."

And then came the signal. "Release safety catch... take aim... FIRE!" [The first two instructions, as noted are generally done with gestures/signals and only the word "Fire" is spoken out loud.]

Josef Jakobs slumped forward on the chair, dead.

Even within the context of wartime censorship, the execution made front page news the following day. The Evening Chronicle reported Jakobs had been "dropped" in the Home Counties.

When arrested he had with him a radio transmitter, a "large sum of British money" and food including "an ample supply of sausage." [One half-eaten piece of sausage is likely not "ample".] He also carried a spade with which to bury his parachute.

Went to the Pub
Jakobs had been sentenced to death at a general court martial held in secret, and had revealed that he was a non-commissioned officer with the German meteorological service. Born in Luxembourg, he was 44 and the fifth to be executed since the outbreak of war. [Not accurate - Carl Meier (Dec 1940), Jose Waldberg (Dec 1940), Charles van den Kieboom (Dec 1940), Werner Walti (Aug 1941), Karl Theodore Drücke (Aug 1941). Josef was thus the sixth spy to be executed.]

Roy Harrison and his fellow soldiers of the firing squad knew none of this as they trooped away from the firing range on that morning of August 14, 1941. [August 15, 1941.]

"The body was whipped away to the medical bunk. We were ordered to apply safety catches and marched straight back to the armourer's shop. The rifles were handed in and unloaded.

"We were then informed that only one rifle had the live round, the others having been loaded with a ballistic charge, which gave the equivalent 'kick' of a life round."  he said. [This may be a interviewer error - generally only one rifle is loaded with a blank while the others are all live rounds. Josef's body had more than one gunshot wound.]

"If it was true, nobody really knows who killed Jakobs - but the uncertainty is still in my mind."

The party, he recalls, was sworn never to tell colleagues the nature of their "special duty" that day and were given the remainder of the day off. [This seems rather odd given that the execution was published in the newspapers and the entire Scots Guards complement at the Tower would have known of the execution.] They went en bloc to the Red Lion pub, Aldwich.

Even the armourer did not know which man had been given the killer rifle. I remember that Cpl. Purvis, the medic, kept the belt of Jakobs' coat, with his "signature' on it," says Roy. [This would be new information. Interesting that there is no mention of the RSM who apparently kept the target as well as the ropes used to tie Josef to the chair.]

How does he view his role in the retrospect of the years?

"I have thought about it a lot. The unfair thing was the way in which we were ordered to do the job without any warning. None of us had any idea until that moment when the man was marched before us and we were ordered to fire," he says. [This seems to have made a lasting impression on him so it may be accurate and the "volunteer" aspect in accurate.]

He is also left with that discomforting thought, posed by the subsequent fate of the firing squad.

Two killed in action, himself twice wounded... the whereabouts of the others unknown to him.

Did fate really strike back, he wonders? [It does make one wonder.]

Roy Harrison Evening Chronicle - 1984 November 7
Roy Harrison
Evening Chronicle - 1984 November 7
Who was Roy Harrison?
I haven't been able to dig up much on Mr. Harrison.

Based on the fact that Roy was living in Tyne and Wear, he is possibly the same man who died in the first three months of 2002 in North Tyneside, Tyne and Wear. This gentleman, Roy Alan Harrison, was born 9 June 1921.

Beyond that, there are a lot of Roy Harrison's in the UK! And Roy A. Harrison's for that matter.

Did he get married? Have children? Is there more information out there?

Hard to say, but this blog has a tendency to create connections and so I put this information out there, trusting that, when the time is right, it might generate a contact.

In a rather synchronistic moment, after publishing this blog, I was trying to dig up Roy's obituary on Google and came across a recent article published by the Washington Historical Society. They too had come across Roy's newspaper interview and published it online on 3 February 2020. I shall reach out to them and see if they have any more information