Some more Leads on R.W.G. Stephens

I had a couple of comments on one of my Stephens blogs, from an anonymous individual, which suggested a few more clues/lines of enquiry into establishing the date of death of Robin William George Stephens, former commandant of Camp 020.

Figure 17 from Gentleman Spymaster by George Elliott (2011) Surviving double-cross agents and their case officers October 1981
Figure 17 from Gentleman Spymaster by George Elliott (2011)
Surviving double-cross agents and their case officers
October 1981
One clue was a photograph in Geoffrey Elliott's book, Gentleman Spymaster: How Lt. Col. Tommy 'TAR' Robertson double-crossed the Nazis (2011). There are a number of photographs in the book, and photograph number 17 (facing page 167) is a group photo, taking in 1981, of surviving double-cross agents and their case officers. The anonymous writer notes that Stephens is not included in the photograph suggesting that he may have been deceased prior to 1981.

As an aside, the photograph in Elliott's book has no source information whatsoever, neither in the photograph caption nor in the list of illustrations in the front matter. The Acknowledgements suggest that the photographs might be from Robertson's family, although such an acknowledgement would have been helpful in the captions and/or list of illustrations.

The anonymous writer also noted that Murphy's article on the Spy! Camp 020 episode quoted one of the Camp 020 secretaries who wrote to the BBC in 1980 lamenting the grave injustice done to Stephens' memory. The anonymous writer suggests that this wording ("Stephens' memory") likely meant that Stephens was deceased by 1980. Indeed, given the fact that Stephens does not appear to have been consulted for the filming of the Spy! Camp 020 episode, production of which may have started in 1978, it would seem likely that Stephens was deceased prior to that date. We can thus narrow Stephens' death date down to the period between 1963 (on the electoral register in Brighton) and 1978 (filming for Spy! episode)

The anonymous writer also suggested contacting MI5 as they might have some information. I did reach out to them several years ago and received no response. I tried again a few months ago with a similar result. On the other hand, I do have a connection with one of Stephens' cousins. The anonymous writer noted that MI5 "has an enquiries team that can be contacted to request information, if a person believes a deceased member of their family worked for MI5." This might be a promising line of enquiry and I'm going to suggest it to the cousin.

Joan Geraldine Pearson Dowling and Robin W.G. Stephens (from Oliver Hoare, Camp 020)
Joan Geraldine Pearson Dowling
and Robin W.G. Stephens
(from Oliver Hoare, Camp 020)
I'm not sure if I mentioned it in a previous blog, but I did track down Oliver Hoare in 2018, the editor of Camp 020 - MI5 and the Nazi Spies published by the National Archives in 2000. I asked Hoare if he knew the provenance of the photograph of Stephens and his wife, Joan Geraldine Pearson Dowling (at left) illustrated on page 9 of his book. Unlike the other photographs in the introduction to the book, this particular photograph had no source information. Given that the book had been published almost two decades ago, Hoare admitted that he no longer had his original files and notes. He thought that the photograph might have come from Latchmere House itself. He noted that "I was lucky enough to get a tour of the prison when I was researching my book and I think that is where the photograph of Stephen’s with his wife came from." I must admit, I missed that piece of information when I read his reply to my enquiry, and I have never followed-up on that little tidbit. At the time of his research, Latchmere House was a prison and I do have a connection with a former warder from Latchmere House. I'm going to reach out to him and see if he has any information and/or photographs. Or perhaps learn what became of them... perhaps they were donated to an archive...

So, a few viable lines of enquiry... try to track down photographs from Latchmere House and request an MI5 enquiry by one of Stephens' cousins. I might also suggest that the cousin also make an enquiry at the Military Intelligence Museum. Although with Covid-19 disrupting services... responses might not be speedy. Stay tuned.


Anonymous said…
Hi there. Great discussion. Three questions and some suggestions.
1. You say that Col. Stephens was on the 1963 electoral register in Brighton. Can you provide a link or screen shot to that entry - and if possible, any address given.
The reason I ask is that when Col Stephens is mentioned in the 1930s, I think in connection with his divorce, as far as I can ascertain, the address is not a residential address but one for a business. And that seems odd.
2. Does Col. Stephens common law wife, Joan Geraldine Pearson Dowling, also appear on the 1963 Brighton electoral register? The idea is that if they are still together, then they are likely to both appear on the register. If there are later registers where she alone appears, then either they have separated, or Col Stephens has died. And the other registers may, if not Brighton, may show their movements. As well, their addresses at the time and immediately before, may provide some clues to their movements.
3. Is an uncropped version available of the photograph of Joan Dowling and Col. Stephens that was used by Oliver Hoare? The reason is that the background of the photograph may give an indication where it is taken. As well, the clothing looks early 1960s, rather than 1950s [but that is more a feeling than anything else], and the photograph does not look like a "snap" but something a little more formal. And given Ms Dowling is holding a glass, it suggests a party, or other gathering like a wedding or garden party.
Anonymous said…
Apologies if you know this, but this documentary, "The Spies Who Fooled Hitler", contains interviews with some of the people involved in Camp 020. Here is the link to the youtube documentary:
Giselle Jakobs said…
Thanks so much! I think I had seen this a while ago but forgot that it had interviews with the Camp 020 staff!
Giselle Jakobs said…
I seem to have watched the episode back in 2014... Here's my blog post link about it (brief post)...

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