R.A.F. Short - Travel Clerk and Interrogator at Camp 020 during 1941

In researching the lives of the Camp 020 interrogators, it has become abundantly clear that few of them were chosen for their prior experience with interrogation or intelligence work. They were drawn from the ranks of diplomats, tailors, former soldiers, dentists, historians and even travel agents.

In his history of Camp 020, Stephens touched on the qualities of a good interrogator: "Obviously a man of experience is required, essentially a man of common sense. If he has traveled, so much the better. If too he has seen war, lost much, that is an advantage. The wider the range of his interests the better.... So much depends upon personality, upon mood, upon the man who can impress or cajole, blow hot blow cold, stand down at the psychological moment, without jealousy, in favour of another officer." Stephens had quite a motley crew of interrogators at his command in Camp 020, but such variety meant that the right interrogator could be chosen to match the character of each spy. One of those interrogators was Lieutenant Roland Alfred Frederick Short.

Early Life
Lt. Roland Alfred Frederick Short (Imperial War Museum HU66578)
Lt. Roland Alfred Frederick Short
(Imperial War Museum HU66578)
Unlike many of his fellow interrogators, Roland was a Londoner, born on 30 April,1904, in Wandsworth to William George Short, a jeweler and his wife Ellen Mary Heal.

During the 1911 census, Roland was enumerated at the address of his aunt and uncle (James & Louisa Jones) in Battersea. His parents were enumerated at the home of Roland's paternal grandparents, a few blocks away. Beyond that, we know little of Roland and his upbringing and education.

We pick up Roland's trail again in the mid 1920's, living with his parents in Battersea. In 1928, Roland set sail from Southampton for the wonders of New York. Roland gave his occupation as Travel Clerk, possibly employed by American Express Travel Ltd. After returning to London, Roland continued to live with his parents until the mid-1930's when he moved out on his own, still single.

World War 2
In 1940, Roland was drawn into the war and assigned to the Intelligence Corps. During his time at Camp 020, Roland was heavily involved in the interrogations of Josef Jakobs and Karel Richter. One author noted Stephens and Short would often alternate in a technique Stephens called "blow hot-blow cold". Stephens would come across as the "heavy" and then Short, "a rotund, owlish figure who was as cheery as his boss was menacing," would step in to offer a sympathetic ear (Macintyre). In the fall of 1941, Karel Richter appealed to that "sympathetic ear". Richter wrote several impassioned letters to Lt. Short, begging him for a hearing, a chance to impart more information to MI5, anything that would allow Richter to escape the hangman's noose. His pleas were in vain. During the course of the war, Roland rose to the rank of Assistant Commandant of Camp 020.

Post War
After the war, Roland, now a Captain, was one of the few Camp 020 interrogators from 1941 who continued to work with Lt. Col. Stephens. Roland was sent to Bad Nenndorf in Germany where Stephens ran another, darker, interrogation centre. Rumours of the mistreatment of the prisoners swirled through the chilly halls of MI5. During this time, Roland assisted Stephens as he wrote the history of Camp 020. While Stephens and Roland wrote about the lack of physical torture at Camp 020 during the war, prisoners at Bad Nenndorf started to die of malnutrition and exposure.

Signature of Lt. R.A.F. Short (National Archives KV 2/24)
Signature of Lt. R.A.F. Short
(National Archives KV 2/24)
Eventually in 1948, based largely on allegations by Roland, Stephens and several other officers were court-martialed for the ill-treatment of prisoners at Bad Nenndorf. One officer, the camp doctor, was dismissed from the service, the other three officers, including Stephens, were acquitted. Information at any price was the name of the game. Stephens turned out to be a nasty enemy and, in the end, Roland was disgraced.

What became of Roland after the war? We know that he passed away of prostate cancer in Brighton at the age of 65 in 1969. His parents, William George Short and Ellen Mary Short may have lived in Brighton as well, for two individuals of that name also passed away in Brighton in 1970 and 1972 (both aged 95).

British Army Lists - 1940 & 1941.
Genealogy websites - Ancestry, FamilySearch - births, marriages, deaths, census, passenger lists.
Imperial War Museum.
London Gazette.
Macintyre, Ben. 2008. Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal. Broadway Books.
National Archives - various KV 2 files.
Stephens, R.W.G. - Camp 020:MI5 and the Nazi Spies (edited by Oliver Hoare). 2000.


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