24 June 2020

The Mysterious "Dr." Arthur Albert Tester - Part 2

Arthur Albert Tester (at right) ca 1928 - the photograph shows his rather stout physique. Photograph given to the Metropolitan Police by the  Dutch Vice Consul. The other two men are Germans: circa 1928 - Professor Goldberg of Berlin (centre) and Franz Shiften of Starnberg near Munich (left) (MEPO 3895)
Arthur Albert Tester (at right) ca 1928 - the photograph
shows his rather stout physique.
Photograph given to the Metropolitan Police by the
 Dutch Vice Consul. The other two men are Germans:

circa 1928 - Professor Goldberg of Berlin (centre)
and Frans [sic] Shiften [sic] of Starnberg near Munich (left)
(MEPO 3895)

We are following the story of Arthur Albert Tester, a larger-than life character who gained notoriety across Europe throughout the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

In the first blog of this series, I outlined Tester's beginnings and how he managed to get into legal trouble in Germany, France and Belgium during the 1920s. Tester then made the leap to Great Britain where he made a name for himself, albeit not necessarily a positive one.

Naldera, Broadstairs, Kent
Despite filing for bankruptcy on 24 September 1930, Tester managed to purchase a large mansion in Broadstairs, Kent in 1931, a house known as Naldera. Tester apparently paid £6000 for the villa which had lain vacant since the death of its previous owner, Lord Curzon, who passed away in 1925. It's interesting to note that when his bankruptcy proceedings finally wrapped up in 1933, the proceedings were discharged with Tester only being required to pay £400. This pattern of declaring bankruptcy and absconding with the funds was one that Tester repeated throughout his career.

At the same time that Tester was declaring bankruptcy and spending money, one report noted that, in 1931, Tester was suspected of being engaged in arms trafficking with a man named Paul Wognar. This affiliation with arms trafficking would certainly explain his ready access to funds. The allegations of Tester's involvement with arms trafficking would follow him for the rest of his life and even beyond.

Naldera, Broadstairs, Kent
Naldera, Broadstairs, Kent
The 20-room mansion at Broadstairs had been built by George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzonof Kedleston, the former Viceroy of India (1899-1905) and named after a favourite residence in India, Naldera. Upon his death, one of his daughters, Cynthia Blanche (1898-1933) inherited the Naldera property. Lady Cynthia, or Cimmie, as she was known, had married Oswald Mosley on 11 May 1920. Both Cynthia and her husband would become involved in politics, with Cynthia winning as a Labour Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent in 1929. Her husband started out with the Conservatives, became an Independent, moved to the Labour Party, and eventually formed the British Union of Fascists. No surprise, then, to learn that Arthur Albert Tester soon became involved with the BUF.

A Veneer of Respectability
In many documents, Tester is listed as a banker and he played the role of successful financier quite convincingly, maintaining an office at 14 St. James Place, well-situated between The Ritz Hotel and St. James' Palace near Green Park. Tester also traveled to the Continent quite frequently, particularly to The Hague, making deals and stirring up investor interest in various ideas and companies.

Arthur Albert Tester was nothing if not a convincing orator. He convinced people that he was an educated man, claiming to have earned the right to be called a “Doctor of Law of Germany and Switzerland” and a “Doctor of Philosophy of Belgium”. MI5 was skeptical of these claims and there is no evidence of his right to claim the title of doctor of anything.

Tester also managed to convince people that he had highly-placed connections. We saw this technique in the last blog, where he managed to convince a number of German companies that he was well-placed with the French and/or British occupation authorities. In the 1930s, Tester claimed close acquaintance with King Carol of Roumania, with Mussolini of Italy and, interestingly, with Dr. Josef Goebbels of Nazi Germany. In 1938, he told some associates in Holland that he had gone to school with Goebbels and that he, Tester, was well known at the German Embassy in London.

Hermann Goertz (Wikipedia)
Hermann Goertz (Wikipedia)
Many of the Broadstairs locals noted a large number of foreigners flowing in and out of Naldera. On top of that, MI5 noted with interest that Tester received numerous letters from Holland, Germany, France, Belgium, Austria and Japan. By June 1936, the authorities had worked up enough suspicion about Tester to order that his mail be opened and inspected. Interestingly, Tester sent and received most of his mail by rail, having it sent from Victoria Station in London and picking it up at the local train station. The local police suspected that Tester had "nefarious associations with foreigners" while MI5 suspected Tester of espionage but had nothing solid with which to charge him.

In November 1935, Hermann Goertz, a German spy, was arrested and Tester reportedly met some Germans at the Stafford Hotel (16 St. James Place, London - just around the corner from his offices at 14 St. James Place) and engaged in animated conversation. One source noted that Tester claimed to be representing the German Embassy at the Goertz trial. Whether this is actually true is another question. Given that Tester was conversing with a German crowd, he may have been pulling his usual trick of convincing his audience that he was more important and connected than he actually was. On the other hand, some authors have speculated that it was no coincidence that fascist conman Arthur Albert Tester, school teacher & BUF member William Joyce (the future Lord Haw-Haw) and German spy Hermann Goertz were all living in Broadstairs in the mid-1930s. If MI5 suspected anything... they did arrest Goertz in 1935... one would have expected them to scoop up the other two as well... perhaps. I have copies of Goertz's MI5 files and if I come across any reference to Tester in the future... I'll amend this blog post.

Cynthia (Curzon) & Oswald Mosley (from Amazon.com)
Cynthia (Curzon) & Oswald Mosley
(from Amazon.com)

What is clear, is that Tester did become involved with the British Union of Fascists and was, apparently, one of their first members. In later years, Tester would claim to have served as Mosley's aide-de-camp, second in command and/or Personal Conduct Officer. The veracity of that claim is doubtful. In the mid-1930s, Tester was made Chief Officer for the BUF's Isle of Thanet branch. Tester also contributed a shop front to the BUF (for office space) and paid the salary of the district officer, as well as providing him with a car and a furnished house. Tester hired a number of members of the BUF for his household staff. Some articles even claim that Tester would stand outside the BUF's shopfront and hand out fascist literature. At some point, however, Tester stopped contributing to the BUF and the Isle of Thanet branch fell into debt. Finally, in December 1936, Tester dismissed all but three of his household staff, most of whom were members of the BUF. Despite this apparent falling-out with the BUF, Tester would still draw on his connections with Mosley whenever he needed some prop to his credibility.

Slipping away from the Dutch Police
In January of 1937, Tester managed to get into several different pots of trouble. To start with, he was found guilty of maliciously prosecuting a clerk and ordered to pay a £800 fine. Tester launched an appeal which failed.

At the same time, the Dutch Police putted out a wanted poster for "Dr." Arthur Albert Tester. The N.V. Patria Verzekeringsmaatschappij (N.V. Patria Insurance company), in Rotterdam, had gone sideways and the Dutch police suspected Tester of being involved in swindles with the company.

In February 1937, Tester let go the remainder of his domestic staff, except the gardener, and sent two of his daughters to the Continent. One report notes that Violet (age 18) went to Hamburg to study ballet and Margit (age 15) went to a girl's finishing school, College Femina de Boufffement, near Paris. The local police suspected that Tester might be preparing to leave the district and noted that he owed a lot of money to several tradespeople in Broadstairs. During the previous six months, Tester had had extensive renovations done to Naldera including new bedrooms, a new heating system and a new gymnasium. Some locals even whispered that Tester had a radio transmitting tower on his property and suspected him of communicating with the Germans. Tester himself denied these allegations vociferously.

In March 1937, Tester arrived back at Dover having managed to squeak out of Belgium, one step ahead of the Belgian authorities. He had gone to Brussels for some business negotiations but the Dutch police had gotten wind of his whereabouts. They requested his extradition from Belgium for fraudulent bankruptcy and forgery (likely related to the N.V. Patria insurance case). When the Brussels police showed up at Tester's hotel room, they found two men in the room: Tester and his associate Thomas Maslin Harris. The two men pretended to be each other and the Belgian police took Harris into custody, allowing Tester to escape. When the police realized that they had the wrong man, it was too late, Tester had vanished. As for Harris, he was given twelve hours to leave Belgium. Harris was a long-standing associate of Tester's, as well as a member of the BUF. He had a background in engineering, putting forth several patents related to internal combustion engines, and gave a veneer of legitimacy to many of Tester's "inventions" for which he sought investors. Harris, however, didn't have much of a head for finances apparently, declaring bankruptcy in 1921 and 1944.

A Finger in Every Pie
From mid 1937 to the end of 1938 Tester was involved with a number of companies which eventually made for explosive newspaper headlines. Similar to his activities in Germany during the early and mid 1920s, Tester seemed to move from company to company, leaving a trail of wreckage in his wake. One will notice that several names show up again and again: Thomas Maslin/Moslyn Harris, Charles Paquet and Joseph Victor Anthony Hepburn-Ruston (a committed fascist and the father of actress Audrey Hepburn). MI5 later noted that many of Tester's companies were shell companies which didn't really transact any business but simply served as channels for funds to bolster either the BUF accounts or the pockets of Tester and his closest associates.

Curzon Shipping Co.
14 St. James Place, the same address as Tester's own office in London.
The company seems to have been founded in 1929. Tester was also reported to be involved with Lt. Col. Hon. Roper Curzon, son of Lord Teynham. This is likely Ralph Henry Roper-Curzon (born 6 Aug 1899) who was the son of Henry John Philip Sidney Roper-Curzon, 18th Baron Teynham and Mabel Green Wilkinson. Ralph Roper-Curzon (the son of Lord Teynham) had served as an officer with the East Kent Regiment during World War I. During the Second World War, he was a Captain (Acting Lt. Col.) with the Scots Guards. At first, I thought that this might be the same Curzon family who owned Naldera but the two families do not appear to be related, having different lineages. Dissolved by order of the Companies Act (1929) in April 1938.

British Glycerine Manufacturers Ltd.
14 St. James Place
The company was incorporated in October 1936 by Charles Paquet to take advantage of a “secret process” developed by one August Rasse. According to one MI5 report, the company did little real work but seemed to be a front for transferring money into and out of fascist accounts around Europe. The company bought an old brewery at Gravesend for £22,000 and later sold that same brewery to Jean Frisch (Wine Merchants) for £60,000 (see below). The company went bankrupt almost immediately (1938) and Paquet was expelled from England. Ruston was a director of the company. An MI5 report notes that the company was a fraud and that Tester had an interest in it. Other sources suggest that he actually owned the company. In March 1939, creditors moved against the company and in May 1944 it was finally dissolved under the Companies Act (1929).

Roumanian National Industrial Holdings
This company was associated with Tester before its assets were transferred to a new company, Victor Holdings (see below). Dissolved by order of the Companies Act (1929) in May 1942.

Victor Holdings
14 St. James Place
The company was founded by Thomas Maslin Harris with Charles Paquet as Governing Director. Dissolved by order of the Companies Act (1929) in April 1949.

Thor Engineering
This company was associated with Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston a.k.a. Joseph Victor Anthony Hepburn-Ruston and possibly Thomas Maslin Harris. The company also became involved with the Palvary fuel tank (see below) and was involved with weapons, vehicles and aircraft. On 27 September 1940, the London Gazette published a notice under the Companies Act of 1929 which listed a series of companies to be dissolved after three months unless reason was shown to the contrary. Thor Engineering was one of those companies, although there is no actual order of dissolution three months later, as with the companies above.

European Press Agency
10 St James Place
This was another front for companies operated by Ruston and Tester. Company directors were Anthony Hepburn-Ruston, Charles Paquet and William Agg Large. Some MI5 reports note that Tester was also a director. The European Press Agency also used the services of a German lawyer named Richard Wilhelm Behn who was co-director of the EPA and a close confidant of Tester’s. Dissolved by order of the Companies Act (1929) in February 1939.

Consolidated Industrial Agricultural Finance Co.
Tester was a director of the company along with Thomas Maslin Harris and Paul M. Lehmann. Dissolved by order of the Companies Act (1929) in May 1938.

Paramount Restaurant Flats
Tester, Paquet and Ruston sold failing shares of this company to the Jean Frisch (Wine Merchants) (see below). Slightly more interesting dissolution. There was a notice in the 9 December 1938 Gazette which noted that "a petition for winding-up of the above named Copmany by the High Court of Justice was on the 6th day of December 1938 presented to the said Court by the Mayor Aldermen and Councillors of the city of Westminster of Westminster City Hall". It took a while, however, and the company was finally struck off the register and dissolved in April 1952.

Lillian (or Lilian) Estates Ltd.
Apparently Tester’s holding company for his property at Naldera. A voluntary winding-up of the company shows up in the Gazette in 1950 and 1953 but there is no final dissolution notice of the company.

Jean Frisch (Wine Merchants)The company was incorporated in 1938 and dissolved in 1957. Company directors were Tester, Ruston, Paquet, Frisch, Reinemer, Bries, Captain Harry Humphreys (BUF) and Captain O'Reilly/O'Riley (BUF). MI5 referred to the directors as "a set of international crooks". The Commercial Manager was Thomas M. Harris and the General Manager was Anthony Joseph Ruston. One report noted that Tester was present at board meetings and that “ he appeared to have been the master mind in most of the important financial transactions of the company”. According to MI5 reports, the company never really did any serious business transactions but was set up to extort vast sums of money from Baron Brugmann de Walzin (Belgian). The money was paid into the pockets of Thomas Maslin Harris and John Paul Friedrich Frisch. Dissolved by order of the Companies Act (1929) in March 1957.

Moritz Strauss Assoc.
14 St. James Place
The company was established in 1938 with fine wine cellars and tasting rooms. According to MI5 reports, the Managing Director was Hugo Richtheimer but the real manager was Hepburn-Ruston. Other company directors were apparently Ruston, Harris, Kenneth Hunt and Richtheimer. Dissolved by order of the Companies Act (1929) in June 1947.

Uniberia Ltd.
Ruston was involved with this company and MI5 notes it was a “spurious company run at a dead loss”. I include it here because on 29 June 1940, the offices of Uniberia were raided by Special Branch officers and one MI5 officer, Captain R.W.G. Stephens, our friend who later became commandant of Camp 020. This raid was noted in an MI5 report from 1955 which noted that Stephens was "now a Brigadier". Dissolved by order of the Companies Act (1929) in March 1947.

Bullet-Proof Aviation Fuel Tank
Palvary bullet proof aviation fuel tank - field test (Nat Archives - KV 2/616)
Palvary bullet proof aviation fuel tank - field test (Nat Archives - KV 2/616)
There are a few stories that illustrate the kind of business activities in which Tester engaged. In September 1937, Tester needed a new solicitor and reached out to one William Edward Agg-Large (37 Norfolk Street). In the course of conversation, Tester told Agg-Large about a Hungarian inventor (Else Palvary) who had created a bullet-proof aviation fuel tank. Agg-Large was interested in the idea and, after witnessing a successful test of the fuel tank, wanted to buy into the company.

On 25 September, 1937, a business agreement between Tester, Harris and Agg-Large was drawn up and Agg-Large bought a one tenth share of the company.

Tester and Harris also managed to convince Baron Brugmann de Walzin (Belgian) to buy shares in the company totaling £30,000. On 1 October, 1937, an agreement was signed between Harris (Victor Holdings), Baron Brugmann de Walzin (Brussels - b1878 d1945), Joseph Victor Ruston (Brussels) and Charles Paquet (Brussels - born 8 Dec 1878 in Huys).

Palvary bullet proof aviation fuel tank - field test (Nat Archives - KV 2/616)
Palvary bullet proof aviation fuel tank - field test (Nat Archives - KV 2/616)
Baron Brugmann de Walzin was an exceedingly rich man and before the Second World War, Paquet had been the administrator of his estate. Unfortunately for the Baron, he seems to have been easily convinced by fraudulent schemers like Paquet, Ruston, Harris and Tester. The cash from de Walzin was distributed between several holding companies as well as three individuals: Palvary, Harris and Tester.

In October 1937, Tester arranged for a test of the fuel tank in front of Short Brothers (aeroplane manufacturers). Tester later claimed that the test had been successful and that the Air Ministry was interested in the fuel tank. Later investigations by the Metropolitan Police showed that Short Brothers were most definitely NOT interested in the fuel tank and that there was no evidence of any interest on the part of the Air Ministry. It would seem that Tester was simply trying to drum up investor interest in the fuel tank, allowing him to abscond with yet more funds.

As for poor Palvary, he was interviewed on 18 January 1939 by the Daily Express and said that he had not heard from the Air Ministry about his bullet proof fuel tank. When he enquired with them, they told him that they knew nothing about it... Tester apparently had no qualms about keeping his associates in the dark. Although Palvary would meet up with Tester again in the summer of 1939 as they tried to tempt the Italians into buying the tank. More on that in the next blog post.

Anti-Communist Newspaper funded by the Nazis
In March 1938, another one of Tester’s concerns erupted onto the front pages of British newspapers. A company called the European Press Agency, with offices in Britain, was planning to purchase one of the oldest Belgian newspapers and convert it into an anti-communist newspaper.

On 23 March, 1938, however, a debate in the Belgian Parliament brought up a rather unsavoury bit of news: apparently the European Press Agency had received £110,000 from Josef Goebbels via German industrialists. The fact that the company was affiliated with British "financiers" naturally dragged the whole mess into the British press.

Arthur Albert Tester - 1939 Passport renewal
Arthur Albert Tester - 1939 Passport renewal
There were several familiar names associated with the debacle: Joseph Ruston, William Edward Agg-Large (who was conveniently in Cuba escaping bankruptcy proceedings at the time) and Charles Paquet (Belgian).

Interestingly enough, Tester’s name was dragged into the scandal as well and he gave numerous interviews to the press vociferously denying the pro-Nazi allegations. He said that he had no affiliation with the European Press Agency (although later MI5 reports called him a director of the company) but was simply an advisor to Ruston… although one newspaper reported that Tester had been present at EPA board meetings.

It was at this time that Tester claimed that he was Mosley’s personal aide-de-camp, a claim that was never confirmed by any member of the BUF. Tester also told several newspaper reporters that his father had been an English Consul (MI5 found no evidence of that) and that Tester himself had been put into a German concentration camp during the First World War as an Englishman (no proof of that).

Reporters noted that Tester spoke rapid, fluent English, albeit with a German accent, and was quoted as saying:
“I bear Germany no malice for that. All my sympathies are German. But I love my country, England.”

“I have spent a great deal of my life in Germany, and I have a great deal of sympathy for German aspirations, since my mother was German, but I shall never forget my country, which is British. My father was a British subject and I am British”

“If a war came with Germany I should be among the first to go into the trenches.” (although he did not say for what side…)

“I would not allow a British company to be used for German propaganda in this country. I believe that every country should settle its own affairs.”

“Although I do not want to boast, I predict that within two years Mosley will be in power in this country.”
When MI5 dug into the EPA, they found several informants who reported that, during meetings in Brussels, Tester had boasted about his connections with Goebbels. His denunciations to the press, therefore, need to be taken with a grain of salt. As noted above, Tester tended to claim friendship with highly connected individuals in order to convince potential investors/marks that he had influence. Whether Tester actually knew Goebbels is up for discussion.

While Tester played the part of an affronted businessman very well in the press, he didn't just leave it there. In April 1938 Tester went down to the Metropolitan Police to defend himself and offered a statement to one Inspector Tarr. Vociferous denunciations of all wrongdoing were followed by a sly request for assistance. He had a Hungarian inventor who had a new type of hand grenade, an automatic trench mortar and an electric bayonet. He wanted advice from Inspector Tarr on how to extend the man’s stay in England. Ever the consummate fast-talker…

Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston (from British Guardian blog)
Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston
(from British Guardian blog)

It should be noted that Ruston and Harris were both interned under Defence Regulation 18B in mid-July 1940. Harris’s case was reviewed by MI5 in September 1940 and while they noted that he “was guilty of commercial dishonesty on a grand scale” there was nothing which suggested he was a security concern (i.e. working for the enemy) although he was apparently assisting Tester who was abroad (more on that in the next blog). Ruston remained in detention for the rest of the war and was released in April 1945.

As for Tester… already in March 1938, MI5 was questioning BUF members about Tester and his claim that he was Mosley’s aide-de camp. Prominent members of the BUF denied that he ever played that role for Mosley and that he was just a very old member of the BUF. Whatever the case, Tester wouldn't hang around long enough to be interned by the British authorities.

In the fall of 1938, Tester leased a yacht "Blue Bird" and sailed from Southampton, bound for Dublin. Along the way, the yacht detoured to the coast of France and picked up a boat load of foreigners according to the ship's Chief Engineer. One source noted that Tester wanted to hold a meeting regarding Jean Frisch (Wine Merchants) but since he couldn't go to Belgium, and Paquet was banned from setting foot on UK soil, they decided to hold the meeting on the boat in Dublin harbour. The boat's passengers included the usual crowd: Tester, Ruston, Paquet, Humphreys, O'Reilly, Harris, Reinemer, Frisch, and one Ernest C. Randall Sr., the lawyer for Moritz Strauss Assoc. The same source noted that Baron Brugmann de Walzin had actually bought 14 St. James Place and transferred it to Moritz Strauss Assoc. I feel rather bad for de Walzin, he seems to have been an easy mark for this crowd of swindlers.

On 8 December 1938, an MI5 officer wrote a note which stated that “S.I.S. report on telephone today that Friedrich Tester was never British Consul in Stuttgart”. It is interesting to note that Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston, born in Czechoslovakia of a British father and a Czech mother, also claimed that his father was an honourary British Consul in Czechoslovakia. It is not surprising that Tester and Ruston flocked together given their similar backgrounds.

On that same day in early December, MI5 received word that the Dutch were not going to request Tester's extradition from England until the prosecution of other individuals from the N.V. Patria affair had concluded.

Perhaps Tester got wind that the English sharks were circling closer and closer, for within the month, he would leave England, never to return.

[Part 3 of the series is here and Part 4 link is coming]

Sources
National Archives  (Kew) - Security Service files on Arthur Albert Tester (KV 2/616, 2/617, 2/618, 2/2266)
National Archives  (Kew) - Security Service files on Joseph Victor Anthony Hepburn-Ruston (KV 2/3190, 2/3191)
Metropolitan Police - FOI publication of MEPO 38/95 - police file on Arthur Albert Tester
The London Gazette - various notices
All the Devils are Here, David Seabrook, Granta Books, London, 2002.
Audrey Hepburn's Greatest Charade by Susan Gardiner, 2020 - article on Medium.com
Thanet Watch press release - What were Three Nazis doing in Broadstairs? - August 2012 - have not been able to find the actual article.
Bygone Kent, Volume 10, p. 157-160 - The North Foreland Nazi by W.H. Bishop
Bygone Kent, Volume 28, p.209-213 - The Mysterious black shirt of Broadstairs by Nick Evans.
Ancestry - genealogical records
FindmyPast - genealogical records

17 June 2020

The Mysterious "Dr." Arthur Albert Tester - Part 1

Arthur Albert Tester ca 1923 (from Tester's MI5 file Kew)
Arthur Albert Tester ca 1923
(from Tester's MI5 file Kew)

As noted in earlier blogs, I came across Tester's name while researching the individuals associated with the black market passport business in Berlin in the late 1930s. Tester's name came up as an associate of Josef Emil Roos and piqued my interest. A British banker who had infiltrated the British Secret Service? That sounded fascinating. When the National Archives at Kew offered all of their digitized files for free... I seized the opportunity to download Tester's files. There is a fair bit of information about Tester online, particularly on a couple of Romanian sites, as well as in historical newspapers. I wanted to sort fact from fiction and have to admit... it's been a bit of a struggle. Tester was a complex individual who was a professional liar, scoundrel and swindler. He always seemed to manage to stay one step ahead of the law, however, until he finally met his demise at the hands of a Romanian border guard in 1944. Or did he? Six weeks after his death, newspapers stated that he had faked his death. His supposed final resting place was dug up at least three times and all that could be said was... the body in that grave was not Tester. But was it even his grave? A typical Tester story, one in which the fog of uncertainty leaves one wondering what is truth and why is falsehood... But let's go back to the beginning...

Birth
Arthur Albert Tester was born 23 August 1895 in Stuttgart to Frederick Tester (British) and Emma Luisa Pauline Käuffelin (German). This would seem to be a pretty simple fact, but it’s not.

Birth Registration extract for Frederick Tester - 7 September 1864 in West Leicester (from Tester's MI5 file at Kew)
Birth Registration extract for Frederick Tester - 7 September 1864 in West Leicester
(from Tester's MI5 file at Kew)


Tester always claimed that he was British-born as his father, Fred Tester was a British national who had been born 7 September 1864 in Leicester (MI5 reports have a copy of his birth registration). While that might be true, it should be noted, that according to a 5 December 1938 report to MI5, Tester’s birth was never registered with the British authorities in Stuttgart, which it should have been if he wished to claim British nationality. “The register of births of persons born at Stuttgart, Germany, have been searched from 1893 to 1897, inclusive, and there is no trace of a person named Arthur Albert Tester.” I have been unable to find online birth registrations for Stuttgart from the 1890s, so this will have to remain a bit of a mystery at this point, one that will crop up again.

Tester also claimed in newspaper interviews that his father was a former English Consul. This seems to have been a fabrication. On 8 December 1938, MI5 noted that “S.I.S. report on telephone today that Friedrich Tester was never British Consul in Stuttgart”. Whether Frederick/Friedrich Tester was perhaps an English Consul elsewhere is up for debate. In various Stuttgart directories, Frederick is simply listed as a businessman.

Frederick was born 7 September 1864 in Leicester to Amos Tester, a worsted spinner, and Lucy Ann Branston. How and when he came to be in Germany remains a mystery. In the 1881 English Census, Frederick was still living with his parents at his birth address (54 Rudling Street) in Leicester and gave his occupation as “Hosier - apprentice”.

We do know that on 26 September 1891, Frederick married Emma Luisa Paulina Kaeuffelin (born 28 Dec 1872) at the Lutheran Johanneskirche in Stuttgart. He gave his occupation as “Kaufmann” which translates as “businessman”. One report notes that Arthur came of “respectable South German parents”. While Tester’s father, Frederick, wasn’t technically German, Tester’s mother, Emma Käuffelin, was born 28 December 1872 in Vaihingen an der Enz, a small town northwest of Stuttgart. Her parents were Paul Emil Albert Käuffelin (a businessman in Heilbronn) and Claudine Amalie Pauline Luise Emma Kohler. Presumably they were a respectable South German family.

Siblings
Not much is known of Tester’s early life. He apparently had several siblings, but details are sketchy.

One report in the MI5 files said that he had a sister in Japan or China.

Another report noted that he might have a sister named Nelly (born 30 Jul 1893) in Stuttgart who was issued a British passport in 1930. This is likely Nelly Alice Lucy Ann Tester who appears in several genealogical sources related to "German persecutees" from 1939 to 1947. In one she is listed as living in Stuttgart at Neue Weinsteige 6B. A couple of passenger lists from 1923 and 1936 indicate that she was a secretary and that she was of British nationality. In 1955, she is listed on the probate records for Arthur Albert Tester. Nelly died in 1979 in North-East Hampshire.

Robert Eichenbrenner in the 1925 directory for Schorndorf
Robert Eichenbrenner in the 1925 directory for Schorndorf
There is a bit more information about a sister named Emma who, according to several reports, married Robert Eichenbrenner, a German architect. Where and when they married is unknown but in the 1930s Eichenbrenner was supposedly working as an architect in Berlin and Emma was resident at Kurfürstendamm 72 in Berlin in 1936. This is confirmed by Berlin phone directories which note that Robert Eichenbrenner resided at that same address in 1935. He is listed as “Reg. Baumstr”, the abbreviation for ”Regierungsbaumeister”, another word for “architect”. I did find a document which states that Robert successfully passed the state exams in Baufach (architecture) in 1917 in Stuttgart. He was born in Biebrich am Rhein (south of Wiesbaden), on 25 May 1888 (the same village in which Tester’s first wife would be born). Robert served with the Reserve Field Artillery Regiment No. 26 as a Lieutenant, and was wounded in early 1916.

I wouldn’t normally devote so much space to such a minor character but... I found a 1925 directory for Schorndorf (east of Stuttgart) in which Robert Eichenbrenner was listed as “Reg.-Baumeister Direktor der Atlantik-Werke A.G.” This is one of the companies that Tester set up/took over/ran into the ground in the 1920s. More on that later. Clearly, Tester's brother-in-law was involved with at least one of his business schemes.

Interestingly, I also found a 1930 Passenger List for Southampton which notes that one Robert Eichenbrenner, architect, residing at 4 Leinster Gardens, London, was traveling to Madeira. He was a German but planned to make England his permanent residence. Eichenbrenner was initially listed on a passenger manifest for British citizens but his name was stroked out and he was added to the passenger manifest for Aliens. On the British citizens manifest the next passenger traveling to Madeira was… banker Arthur Tester of 167 Victoria Street, London. So it would appear that their business relationship continued into the 1930s. In addition Robert Eichenbrenner would be listed in Tester's probate notice in 1955. More on that later.

Finally, one MI5 report noted that another of Tester’s sisters was reportedly married to a member of the Gestapo but it is unclear if that would Emma, married to Eichenbrenner, or if there was another sister of whom we know nothing.

Education
As for his education, various reports noted that he had supposedly studied at Heidelberg, that he had studied with Goebbels and that he claimed to be a Doctor of Law of Germany and Switzerland and a Doctor of Philosophy of Belgium.

This is highly doubtful.

In one report to Special Branch in 1939, MI5 stated “His father was never a British Consul as alleged and there is no information to show that Tester took any degree which would entitle him to use the word “Doctor”.” Until such time as some university records show that Tester earned a legitimate doctoral degree, I am going to refrain to referring to Tester as doctor of anything.

First World War
Ruhleben Internment Camp (from Harvard Law School)
Ruhleben Internment Camp
(from Harvard Law School)

At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Tester would have been 19 years old, a prime age for cannon-fodder.

It does not, however, appear that he served in the German Armed Forces although there are several stories as to what happened to Tester during the First World War.

According to one story, Tester, as a British national, was interned at the Ruhleben internment camp at the outbreak of the war. This camp was located 10 km west of Berlin and was for civilian internees. This story seems a bit questionable given that Tester's birth was never registered at a British consulate until the early 1920s.

British Consular Birth Indices 1921-1925 Tester's name is third from the bottom (#9) and the reference leads back to the 1946-50 index.
British Consular Birth Indices 1921-1925
Tester's name is third from the bottom (#9)
and the reference leads back to the 1946-50 index.

I had a look at the British Consular Birth Indices (1849-1965) and there are two entries for Arthur Albert Tester, one from 1946-1950 which relates to the period 1921-1925. The entries were handwritten into the 1921-25 index while being printed normally in the 1946-50 index. Tester always made much of the fact that he was British-born but… as we shall see… he may have fudged that with some fancy footwork at the British Passport Office.

Tester himself claimed that he was condemned to death for espionage but was released by order of the Kaiser. I would suggest this be taken with pound, not a grain, of salt. Tester claimed many things over the course of his life, all designed to impress his audience, and most of them were false.

Another story has Tester working as an interpreter at the Ruhleben internment camp. This seems slightly more likely given that he spoke English quite well.

There are still other stories which indicate that he continued to work at as a singer at the Wiesbaden Theatre during the war.

Which story is true… or what combination of them… is anybody’s guess. One 1926 report noted that Tester “posed through the war as a good German but has posed as a good Englishman ever since”.

First Marriage
Before the end of the war, on 16 March 1918, Arthur married Bertha Balbina Lisbeth Ingeborg (née Alt) Stuber. Arthur’s occupation on the marriage registration was “Königliches Schauspieler”, Royal Actor. Other documents indicate that he was working as an actor and/or opera singer at the local Staatstheater in Wiesbaden, likely the Königlichen Theater Wiesbaden. Tester would have been 23 or 24 years old at this time.

His affiliation with the theater isn’t really surprising since his mother was apparently a well-known singer. One 1908 document has her listed as a “Kammersängerin” literally, a Chamber singer. It was a German honorific for distinguished singers of opera and classical music. Another document from 1912-1913 lists her as a “Konzertsängerin” (Concert Singer). Finally, a 1922 passenger list (Germany to USA) has her listed as a “court singer”.

British Consular Birth Indices 1921-1925 Tester's name is third from the bottom (#9) and the reference leads back to the 1946-50 index.
Bertha Balbina Lisbeth Ingeborg Tester ca. 1919
(from Tester's MI5 files at Kew)

The fact that Tester was working as an actor/singer in his early 1920s does make one wonder how he would have managed to complete a university education. It is possible that he started university prior to the outbreak of war, but it seems unlikely, given his later history, that he completed any of his studies. His theatrical occupation in early 1918 does however, call into question the other story of him being interned in Ruhleben internment camp.

As for Ingeborg, his wife, she was born 26 December 1892 in Wiesbaden and was divorced from a gentleman named Stuber. A scant nine months after Ingeborg and Tester's wedding, they welcomed their first child, Ingeborg Violet Tester, born 22 December 1918, possibly in Wiesbaden. While Tester and Ingeborg would have three other children in rapid succession, their marriage would not last beyond 1923/24. One report in the MI5 file notes that Tester was quite popular with the ladies and he kept a series of mistresses, one of whom would become his second wife. More on that later...

British Passport Application 1923
A year and a half after the happy nuptials, on 16 October 1919, Ingeborg applied for a British passport at the British consulate in Prague. Her application stated that she was the wife of Arthur Albert Tester who was himself a British national due to his father being British.

This is where things get rather interesting.

While the British Passport Office had Ingeborg’s passport application, they had no record of a passport application for Arthur Tester. And yet, when Tester applied for a British Passport in 1923 in Frankfurt, he presented his 1919 Prague-issued passport as proof of British nationality. Of which, again, the Passport Office had no record. The Consular Birth Indices noted above, would seem to suggest his birth was retroactively registered between 1921-1925, the period during which he applied for a British passport in Frankfurt.

British Consular Births - 1946-50 Arthur Albert Tester's birth registered in Frankfurt am Main in 1946.
British Consular Births - 1946-50
Arthur Albert Tester's birth registered in Frankfurt am Main in 1946.

In later years, Tester made much of the fact that he was British-born thanks to his father being British. But… in order to qualify for this honour, Tester would have had to be legitimate and his birth should have been registered with the British authorities, of which there was no record until 1946-50.

The absence of Tester’s 1919 Prague passport application could lead one to wonder if the passport he presented in Frankfurt in 1923, as proof of British Nationality, was a forgery. It wouldn’t be surprising…

1920s in Continental Europe
With the cessation of hostilities, and a British passport in his pocket (fraudulent or legitimate), Tester embarked on a truly dizzying array of ventures designed to take advantage of post-war chaos in Germany and, line his own pockets.

BAOR report menioning Arthur Tester dated 13 January 1926 (from Tester's MI5 file in Kew)
BAOR report menioning Arthur Tester dated 13 January 1926
(from Tester's MI5 file in Kew)

Suffice to say that BAOR (British Army of the Rhein) documents from that time note that Tester was a “notorious rogue, blackmailer and swindler”.

It has been a bit of a challenge to piece together his history but, as one report noted “It was a specialty of his to establish concerns [businesses] which he knew perfectly well could not live [survive].”

Directly after the war, Tester apparently managed to ingratiate himself with occupying French forces and was reportedly in close touch with Pineau, the chief of police. He was reported to be an interpreter for the I.A.R.H.C. (Inter-Allied Rhineland High Commission) and some said he was working for the French secret service. Whether he had that much influence with the French is questionable. The key thing is, Tester somehow managed to convince people that he had influence, and used that to his advantage, some personal and some financial. One report went so far as to say that Tester would blackmail his shady associates who believed that he had influence with the French.

Tester seems to have started out with some small blackmails. One report noted that he used his position of favoritism to bully the theatre management and staff and even threatened to have the theatre closed, with the assistance of his French friends, if his wishes were not complied with. Perhaps he wanted the lead role in a famous opera...

Another of his fraudulent ventures involved the Casino Betriebsgesellschaft. I have, unfortunately, been able to find nothing further about what this might have involved. Around the same time, he and Ingeborg had another child, Margit Tester, born 18 March 1921 in Wiesbaden. Shortly after her birth, the French got wind of Tester’s questionable activities and dropped him as an agent/contact/confidant. Tester then left Wiesbaden with his growing family and became partner in a wharf at Niederwalluf (southwest of Wiesbaden along the Rhine), which subsequently failed. After the Niederwalluf affair, Tester moved a few kilometres west to Eltville where he set up a bank.

It was in Eltville that Ingeborg gave birth to two more children, Mary Irmgard Tester (born 21 or 24 October 1922) and Frederick/Fred Tester (born 17 February 1924). MI5 reports note that Ingeborg deserted Tester in 1923, likely while she was pregnant with Fred.

The years 1922 and 1923 seems to have been a particularly busy time for Tester. During this period of hyperinflation Tester apparently managed to make some large profits by setting up a series of banks and businesses.

In Schorndorf (east of Stuttgart and quite a distance from Eltville), Tester established the “Atlantikwerke für Möbelkunst” with himself as chairman. His brother-in-law, Robert Eichenbrenner was appointed Director. According to one site, “In 1922 the company [Atlantikwerke] took over Grossmann & Pfander, founded in 1897, and moved its headquarters from Wiesbaden to Schorndorf in Württemberg. All kinds of home furnishings and wooden goods were produced, which were sold under the Atlantic brand. In November 1925 the company ran into payment difficulties and therefore had to file for bankruptcy on January 7, 1926.” Another one of Tester’s failed businesses.

In 1923, Tester was also involved in establishing “Frischkonzern” which bought up dozens of hotels and/or motor cars (perhaps as a hedge against hyper-inflation). There isn’t much info on this affair, but it apparently also failed.

In Wiesbaden, in 1923, Tester set up the Verwaltungsbank A/G as well as the Wuerttembuergische Industrie & Landwirtschaftsbank and... the Heilbronner Privatbank in Heilbronn. A truly mindboggling array of financial ventures...

On 29 August 1923, Tester was issued with British passport #359 in Frankfurt am Main. On his passport application, he described himself as a banker and used his British Passport #90 issued at Prague on 22 Sept 1919 as proof of British Nationality. In early January 1939, the British Vice-Consulate in Prague had this to say: “The British Vice-Consul at Prague presents his compliments to the Chief Passport Officer and has the honour to state that although a careful search has been made in the passport archives of this office the original application form of Arthur Tester cannot be found. An application form made out by his wife, Mrs. Ingeborg Tester, has been found which could be forwarded if it is considered that the particulars contained therein would be of interest.”

Sonnenberger Strasse 33, Wiesbaden (From Wikimedia)
Sonnenberger Strasse 33, Wiesbaden
(From Wikimedia)

By the end of 1923, Tester was back in Wiesbaden and joined a financial group which sought to acquire the Nassauer Hof (a luxury hotel in Wiesbaden). He apparently acted as an agent between the parties (the Goetz family and the Stinnes Group) and earned 500,000 Francs for his services.

With the proceeds, Tester bought himself a villa at Sonnenbergerstrasse 33 in Wiesbaden which he equipped sumptuously. He naturally appointed a new mistress to the villa and this may have been the final straw for his long-suffering wife, Ingeborg.

When the dust of 1923 settled, Tester found himself living in Wiesbaden, saddled with his three eldest children (Violet, Margit and Marty), while pregnant Ingeborg stayed in Eltville. She gave birth to Fred on 17 February 1924 and moved to Hamburg. Later in life, Tester claimed to have no contact with his first wife or his eldest son.

In 1924, Tester apparently transferred his activities to Berlin where his “associates consisted, in the main, of men who have long since been in prison.” He lived in the best rooms at the Hotel Adlon, accompanied by two chauffeurs, two valets and several secretaries. All of this created “flash” for him and acted as a lure for unsuspecting marks. One German newspaper noted in 1926 that Tester “is extraordinarily plausible and has made it an art to confuse his victims and render them pliant to his ends”. He was likely living off the proceeds of the Nassauer Hof sale and lived quite lavishly in Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne.

He also managed to get into an accident at Hoechst (a district of Frankfurt am Main) when he and his car were run over by a train. He received generous compensation (70,000 Marks) but would bear scars on his feet and hands for the rest of his life.

We next pick up Tester's trail in 1925-1926 when he offered himself for employment to the British in Cologne. While there is no evidence that the British accepted his offer, he managed to portray himself to his associates as being cozy with the British and claimed to be their “fully-empowered representative”. One report noted that Tester was a “sham agent” for the British forces. Another report, from the BAOR, noted that it wasn’t “impossible that [Tester] would procure an officer’s uniform and pay a visit to the [General Officer Commanding], B.A.O.R.” Naturally, Tester’s British passport helped him in his schemes. Tester approached a number of companies who were interested in providing material to the British forces and who would, in return, pay Tester a healthy commission. Tester was going to get delivery guarantees totaling 2.5 million marks but somebody got suspicious and Tester only came away with 100,000 Marks. Tester took the money and ran off to Paris and/or Brussels, one step ahead of the German authorities who, not surprisingly thought he might be dabbling in espionage for the British.

Like a cat, however, Tester always seemed to land on his feet or stay one step ahead of retribution. One 1926 Frankfurt newspaper (Frankfurter Nachrichten 16 January 1926) noted that:  “It is almost incredible, in view of his past, that a number of firms in Frankfurt and its surroundings should have paid him advances on commission amounting to some 100,000 Marks. A single enquiry of the Chamber of Commerce or the police at Wiesbaden would have settled him once for all.”

Another Frankfurt newspaper (Frankfurther Zeitung 14 January 1926) noted that “It may now well be asked why this man has not been arrested long before. The reply is simple. His swindles all bore such a complexion of strict respectability that he was unapproachable from a criminal point of view. Most of his victims refrained from denouncing him.”

By this point, Tester was living with one of his mistresses, Charlotte Elise Uckert, a dancer who had been born in Berlin on 14 November 1903 (or 1905 or 1906 - the dates change from report to report). Charlotte and Tester had an illegitimate son, Arthur Uckert, born 20 September 1925 in Wiesbaden. Tester would eventually marry Charlotte in London (1929) after his divorce from Ingeborg was finalized. But as with Tester himself, Charlotte is a bit of an enigma. I could find no birth registration for Charlotte Elise Uckert born in Berlin anywhere around that time. I found a Romanian newspaper site which suggested that her name was “uckert Charlotte Seifert”. I had a look for Charlotte Elisabeth Seifert and there was an illegitimate girl born 13 November 1905 in Berlin. My excitement was short-lived when I learned she had died at the age of 3 months on 10 Dec 1905 in Berlin. It is always possible that Charlotte’s birth registration has been indexed incorrectly. But, in the meantime, her origins remain a bit of a mystery.

13 Boulevard Malesherbes, Paris (from Google Streetview)
13 Boulevard Malesherbes, Paris
(from Google Streetview)

By May 1926, Tester was in France, working out of an office at the 13 Boulevard Malesherbes. Some thought he was working for the French secret service although the French apparently thought he might be working for the English and/or the Germans.

In April of 1926, Tester and Ingeborg began divorce proceedings which were finally granted on 13 May 1929. In the meantime, Tester apparently passed Charlotte off as his governess.

He didn’t stay long in France however. On 9 September 1926, Tester was arrested in Paris, possibly for floating a bogus share company. The British Occupation Authorities dearly wanted to get their hands on him and initially the French were going to extradite Tester to Germany. Tester must have had a savvy lawyer for within a few days he was released on 5000 Marks bail and told to leave France within eight days. The deportation was apparently delayed due to Tester's ill health but even the French eventually lost their patience with him. On 6 November 1926, Tester was expelled from France by order of the Deuxieme Bureau for acting as a spy against France and England.

Tester then traveled to Antwerp, Belgium, where he and Charlotte checked into the Queen’s Hotel. In order not to complicate the divorce proceedings (by being caught with his mistress?), Tester checked in under a false name, possibly Frederick Thompson. He was arrested by the Belgian police for making a false statement as to his identity and for tampering with a passport, convicted in April 1927, and sentenced to three months imprisonment. It’s not clear if he actually served that sentence but by 29 November 1927, Tester was staying at the Piccadilly Hotel (London).

The Antwerp Police were already requesting information from the British about Tester and the Brits reach out to the Deuxieme Bureau who said Tester wasn’t a spy but definitely a crook. The British were less than thrilled to have such a dubious character on their shores, although he appears to have traveled back and forth to the Continent quite a bit. In August 1928, Tester had offices at Basildon House, Moorgate and was engaged in banking as Arthur Tester Ltd. By March 1929, he had changed the name of his company to Lanatbank Corp Ltd.

On 18 May 1929, five days after his divorced from Ingeborg was finalized, Tester and Charlotte were married in London. That very same day, Charlotte applied for a British passport which, as the spouse of a British citizen, she was entitled to do. Whatever Tester was up to, he apparently managed to allay the suspicions of the British authorities who said he was likely not a spy but would do anything for easy money. Several MI5 reports noted that Tester’s activities were a case for the Metropolitan Police and not the Security Service.

In the first three months of 1930, Tester made two trips to Madeira, one with his wife, departing Southampton on 17 January and the second with his brother-in-law, Robert Eichenbrenner on 28 March 1930. These trips become all the more perplexing when one learns that in 1930 a receiving order was issued against Tester (bankruptcy, I believe). And… in 1931, his Lanatbank failed. Clearly Tester was following a similar pattern in England to his Continental activities and the British authorities noted that he was associated with known swindlers, both in England and on the Continent.

Conclusion
This has been a rather rapid romp through the first thirty-five years of Arthur Albert Tester's life. I hope that it has given readers a sense of the man. He was definitely an opportunist and a schemer of the highest order. The next installment will look at his financial ventures in England from 1930 to 1938.

10 June 2020

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.

03 June 2020

Nazi Germany's Arrest List for the 1940 Invasion of England

Cover of theSinderfahndungsliste Grossbritannien aka Gestapo Arrest List for England aka The Black Book
Cover of the Sonderfahndungsliste Grossbritannien
aka Gestapo Arrest List for England
aka The Black Book
Whilst searching for information on Arthur Albert Tester and his shady associates, I signed up for a trial subscription to FindMyPast.co.uk. They appeared to have some info on Tester and I wanted to have a look at it. Imagine my surprise when up popped a record from the Gestapo's arrest list for their planned invasion of England in 1940!

I had heard vague rumours of such a list but had never come across an actual copy before. Not surprising given that there are apparently only two copies of the booklet that survived - one at the Hoover Library in the US and one at the Imperial War Museum. Kudos to FindMyPast for scanning the Hoover Library copy and making it available online.

Wikipedia has an article on this little booklet, under a heading called "The Black Book". I've also seen it referred to as Hitler's Black Book, but either term really only developed after the war. The official title of the book was Sonderfahndungsliste G.B. ("Special Search List Great Britain").

It had been pulled together by the Nazi SS and specifically by the RSHA. While FindMyPast calls it a Gestapo list, I'm not entirely sure that is accurate. While the word "Gestapo" seems to be a handy catch-all term for anything associated with the Nazis, they were actually only one branch of the RSHA. Authorship of the booklet is usually ascribed to Walter Schellenberg of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) (RSHA Amt VI).

The booklet contains the names of over 2800 British nationals and European exiles, including such prominent individuals as Winston Churchill and Sigmund Freud. If any of the people on the list were encountered after the invasion, they were to be arrested and handed over to the relevant branch of the RSHA, as listed behind the individual's name. RSHA Amt II, for example, had to do with Ideological Investigation, and they would have loved to get their hands on Sigmund Freud.

As for our friend, Arthur Albert Tester, the list includes two entries for him. Under the one entry, he is wanted by the RSHA Amt IV (Gestapo) Section E (Security & Counterintelligence). The other entry, which notes his birth in Stuttgart and his career as an actor and banker, has him wanted by the RSHA Amt II (Ideological Investigation) Section B (Economic & Legal Matters). As for his eldest daughter, Ingeborg Violet Tester (born 22 Dec 1918 in Wiesbaden), she was also wanted by the RSHA Amt IV Section E. We'll learn more about these two in upcoming blog posts.
 

I had a quick scan through the alphabetical listing of names to see if I recognized any of them. There were a few interesting occurrences... and some notable absences...

I came across this entry for Lady Violet Bonham-Carter and, as a Harry Potter fan, wondered if this individual was at all related to the actress Helena Bonham-Carter (who plays Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter movies). Turns out, Violet was Helena's grandmother and was wanted by the RSHA VI (Foreign Intelligence). Violet was an out-spoken anti-fascist campaigner, an opponent of appeasement and a steadfast friend of Winston Churchill. No wonder she was on the RSHA list!

I also came across the seemingly innocuous author Sidney Theodore Felstead who, as far as I know, simply wrote about the First World War spies. He too was wanted by the RSHA Amt IV (Gestapo), albeit section B (Sects & Churches). Felstead has an MI5 file at the National Archives and it's one of the ones I downloaded, so I'm going to have to take a look at it and see what he was up to...

While many of the entries were for Jews (Jude), there was a group of eleven individuals from the Petschek family which seemed rather odd. I'm not sure what this family did to antagonize the Nazi regime, but they were all wanted by RSHA Amt III (Domestic Intelligence) Section D (Economics, Industry & Commerce). A quick Google search and the family seems to have owned quite a large conglomeration of coal and other industries in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Germany and Austria. They resisted Aryanisation of their business... and obviously stepped on a few Nazi toes in the process.

What was intriguing about the RSHA arrest list was the absence of certain names. I found no evidence of Stewart Menzies (MI6) (see below), Vernon Kell (MI5) nor any of the MI5 personalities I am familiar with (e.g. T.A. Robertson, R.W.G. Stephens, G.F. Sampson, Dick White, etc.) with one exception...

Years ago, while reading the court martial documents of Josef Jakobs, I had come across a statement made by Lt. Col. William Edward Hinchley-Cooke while he was being cross-examined by Josef's defense counsel:
White: I do not know when you were last in Germany?
Hinchley-Cooke: I am actually wanted in Germany. I have not been there for some time.
It was an intriguing comment and, not surprisingly, Hinchley-Cooke is listed in the RSHA's arrest list. As the public face of MI5 during the trial of German agents, it's not surprising that he was well known to the RSHA The booklet doesn't give his first name but does assign him the rank of Colonel and has him listed as the Leiter (head/director/chief) of MI5, which is quite fascinating. Naturally, Hinchley-Cooke was wanted by the RSHA Amt IV (Gestapo) Section E (Counter-Intelligence).


I had come across a reference several years ago which stated that the Germans could never find Hinchley-Cooke in Britain's Army List and so presumed him to be a police officer. I traced down that reference to a 2006 listing on the DNW auctioneers site when Hinchley-Cooke's medals were being sold. The medal write-up contained this paragraph:
Yet for all of M.I.5’s successes the Abwehr was rarely short of informants, a contention supported by documentation captured at the end of the War. One of the most startling discoveries was an enemy intelligence summary of the U.K. compiled by the R.H.S.A. [sic] in 1940, in readiness for “Operation Sea Lion”, a mass of top-secret information circulated within the 3rd Reich’s corridors of power under the title Informationsheft Grossbritannien. And among the “roll of honour” of known M.I.5 operatives was listed:
‘Lieutenant-Colonel Hinchley Cooke ... His name does not appear in the Army List so therefore he is presumed to be a police officer ... He wears glasses, is strong and has a fresh complexion. He has a friendly nature and speaks German fluently with a mixture of a Hamburg and Saxon accent’
As Nigel West so aptly concludes in MI5, ‘In the event of a German invasion there can be little doubt that the whole of the S.I.S. structure ... would have been quickly scooped up by the Gestapo.’
Cover of Invasion 1940 by Walter Schellenberg (translation & introduction by John Erickson)
Cover of Invasion 1940 by
Walter Schellenberg
(translation & introduction by
John Erickson)
The comment from Nigel West would seem to jive with the number of individuals in the arrest list who were identified as working for the "ND" of Great Britain - the Nachrichtendienst or Intelligence Service (SIS).

The reference to the Informationsheft Grossbritannien in Hinchley-Cooke's medal write-up is intriguing. It is a companion document to the RSHA arrest list for the invasion. I haven't been able to find a digitized copy of this booklet and am adding it to my list for my next visit to the British Library when/if the pandemic releases its grip on international travel.

It does however appear that one John Erickson has produced a translation of the booklet entitled: Invasion 1940: The Nazi Invasion Plan for Britain by SS General Walter Schellenberg. Published in 2004, this book appears to be a translation of the Informationsheft and is available in some libraries in Vancovuer which, unfortunately, are all closed and a ferry ride away. There are some second-hand copies available via Amazon and I may yet order a copy.