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


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