Britain's Deadly Peril/Chapter 7
THE PERIL OF DELUDING THE PUBLIC
As showing the trend of public opinion regarding the spy-peril, I may perhaps be permitted to here give a few examples taken haphazard from the huge mass of correspondence with which I have been daily flooded since the publication of my exposure on that subject.
Many of my correspondents have, no doubt, made discoveries of serious cases of espionage. Yet, as spies are nobody's business, the authorities, in the majority of cases, have not even troubled to inquire into the allegations made by responsible persons. I freely admit that many wild reports have been written and circulated by hysterical persons who believe that every twinkling light they see is the flashing of signals, and that spies lurk in houses in every quiet and lonely spot. It is so very easy to become affected with spy-mania, especially when one recollects that every German abroad is patriotic, and his first object is to become a secret agent of the Fatherland. In this connection I have no more trust in the so-called "naturalised" German than in the full-blooded and openly avowed Prussian. Once a man is born a German he is always a German, and in taking out naturalisation papers he is only deliberately cheating the country which grants them, because, according to the Imperial law of his own land, he cannot change his own nationality. So let us, once and for all, dismiss for ever the hollow farce of naturalisation, for its very act is one of fraud, and only attempted with some ulterior motive.
As regards "unnaturalised" Germans the inquirer may perhaps be permitted to ask why Baron von Ow-Wachendorf, a lieutenant in the Yellow Uhlans of Stuttgart, just under thirty years of age, was permitted to practise running in Hyde Park so as to fit himself for his military duties, and why was he on March 1st allowed to leave Tilbury for Holland to fight against us? Again, has not Mr. Ronald McNeill put rather a delicate problem before the Under-Secretary for War in asking, in the House, whether Count Ergon von Bassewitz and his brother. Count Adalbert von Bassewitz, were brought to England as prisoners of war; whether either was formerly on the Staff of the Germany Embassy in London, and well known in London Society; whether one, and which, of the two brothers was recently set at liberty, and is now at large in London; whether he was released on any and what conditions; and for what reason this German officer, possessing exceptional opportunities for obtaining information likely to be useful to the enemy, is allowed freedom in England at the present time.
The man-in-the-street who has, in the past, laughed at the very idea of spies—and quite justly, because he has been so cleverly misled and bamboozled by official assurances—has now begun to see that they do exist. He has read of a hundred cases abroad where spies have formed a vanguard of the invading German armies, and how no fewer than fifty-seven German spies were arrested and convicted in Switzerland during the month of August, therefore he cannot disguise from himself that the same dastardly vanguard is already here among us. Then he at once asks, and very naturally too, why do the authorities officially protect them? What pro-German influence in high quarters can be at work to connive at our undoing? It is that which is today undermining public confidence. Compare our own methods with those of methodical matter-of-fact Germany? Are we methodical; are we thorough? The man-in-the-street who daily reads his newspaper—if he pauses or reflects—sees quite plainly that instead of facing the alien peril, those in authority prefer to allow us to sit upon the edge of the volcano, and have, indeed, already actually prepared public opinion to accept a disclaimer of responsibility if disaster happens. The whole situation is truly appalling. Little wonder is it that, because I should have dared to lay bare the canker in Britain's heart, I should be written to by despairing hundreds who have lost all confidence in certain of our rulers.
Some of these letters the reader may find of interest.
From one, written by a well-known gentleman living in Devonshire, I take the following, which arouses a new reflection. He says:
"'M.—Darling. Meet as arranged. Letter perfect. Should I also write? To "the Day, and Kismet."—Vilpar.'
"Such a message may be, as doubtless it is, perfectly innocent; but what is to prevent spies in our midst utilising this method of communicating information to the enemy. The leading British newspapers are received in Germany, and even the enclosed pseudo-medical advertisement may be the message of a traitor. It seems to me that the advertisement columns of our Press constitute the safest medium for the transmission of information."Pray do not think I am suggesting that the British Press would willingly lend their papers to such an infernal use, but unless they are exercising the strictest precautions the loophole is there. I am somewhat impressed by the number of refugees to be found in these parts—Ilfracombe, Combe Martin, Lynton, etc., coast towns and villages of perhaps minor strategic importance, but situated on the Bristol Channel and facing important towns like Swansea, Cardiff, etc. I notice particularly that their daily walks abroad are usually taken along the coastal roads. I've never met them inland. Apologising for the length of this letter and trusting that your splendid efforts will in due time receive their well-deserved reward."
Here my correspondent has certainly touched upon a point which should be investigated. We know that secret information is daily sent from Great Britain to Berlin, and we also know some of the many methods adopted.
Indeed, I have before me, as I write, a spy's letter sent from Watford to Amsterdam, to be collected by a German agent and reforwarded to Berlin. It is written upon a column of a London daily newspaper, various letters of which are ticked in red ink in several ways, some being underlined, some crossed, some dotted underneath—a very ingenious code indeed—but one which has, happily, been decoded by an expert. This newspaper, after the message had been written upon it, had been placed in a newspaper-wrapper and addressed to an English name in Amsterdam. This is but one of the methods. Another is the use of invisible ink with which spies
|HOW THE GOVERNMENT HAVE ADOPTED|
MR. LE QUEUX'S SUGGESTION
"German Spies in England," by William Le Queux. Published February 17th, 1915.
The first step to stop the activity of spies should be the absolute closing of the sea routes from these shores to all persons, excepting those who are vouched for by the British Foreign Office. Assume that the spy is here; how are we to prevent him getting out?
By closing the sea routes to all who could not produce to our Foreign Office absolutely satisfactory guarantees of their bona fides. The ordinary passport system is not sufficient; the Foreign Office should demand, and see that it gets, not only a photograph, but a very clear explanation of the business of every person who seeks to travel from England to the Continent, backed by unimpeachable references from responsible British individuals, banks, or firms.
In every single case of application for a passport it should be personal, and the most stringent inquiries should be made. I see no other means of putting an end to a danger which, whatever the official apologists may say, is still acute, and shows no signs of diminishing.
Under the best of conditions some leakage may take place. But our business is to see, by every means we can adopt, that the leakage is reduced to the smallest possible proportions.
|"Daily Mail," March 11th, 1915
Holiday-makers or business men who wish to travel to Holland now find that their preliminary arrangements include much more than the purchase of a rail and steamship ticket.
New regulations, which came into force on Monday, necessitate not only a passport, but a special permit to travel from the Home Office. Application for this permit must be made in person three clear days before sailing. Passport, photograph, and certificate of registration must be produced and the names and addresses of two British subjects furnished as references.
The Home Office erected a special building for this department, which was opened on Thursday last, the first day on which application could be made. Before lunch over 250 applications had been received. By four o'clock, the official hour for closing, nearly 500 persons had been attended to, and the crowd was even then so great that the doors had to be closed to prevent any more entering. Intending travellers included British, French, and Dutch business men, but quite a large number of Belgian refugees attended for permits to return to their country. The Tilbury route was the only one open to them. Not all the applications were granted. It is necessary to furnish reasonable and satisfactory evidence as to the object of the journey, and some of the applicants were unable to do this.
write their messages upon the pages of newspapers and magazines. A third is, no doubt, the publication of cryptic advertisements, as suggested by my correspondent.
Of other means of communication, namely, night-signalling—of which I have given my own personal experience in the previous chapter—my correspondents send me many examples.
The same code-signal as a prefix—the letters "S.M."—are being seen at points as far distant as Herne Bay and Alnwick, on both the Yorkshire and Fifeshire coasts, above Sidmouth and at Ilfracombe. Dozens of reports of night-signalling lie before me—not mere statements of fancied lights, but facts vouched for by three and four reliable witnesses. Yet, in face of it all, the authorities pooh-pooh it, and in some counties we have been treated to the ludicrous spectacle of the civil and military authorities falling at loggerheads over it!
Belgian refugees writing to me have, in more than one instance, reported highly interesting facts. In one case an ex-detective of the Antwerp police, now a refugee in England, has identified a well-known German spy who was in Antwerp before the Germans entered there, and who came to England in the guise of a refugee! This individual is now in an important town in Essex, while my informant is living in the same town. Surely such a case is one for searching inquiry, and the more so because the suspect poses as an engineer, and is in the employ of a firm of engineers who do not suspect the truth. But before whom is my friend, the Belgian ex-detective, to place his information?
True, he might perhaps lay the information before the Chief Constable of the County of Essex, but in his letter to me he asks, and quite naturally, is it worth while? If the Intelligence Department of the War Office—that Department so belauded in the House of Commons by Mr. McKenna on March 3rd—refuses to investigate the case of signalling in Surrey, cited in the last chapter, and vouched for by the officers themselves, then what hope is there that they would listen to the report of a mere refugee—even though he be an ex-detective?
As I turn over report after report before me I see another which seems highly suspicious. A hard-up German doctor—his name, his address, and many facts are given—living at a Kent coast town, where he was a panel doctor, suddenly, on the outbreak of war, removes to another Kent coast town not far from Dover, takes a large house with grounds high up overlooking the sea, and retires from practice. My informant says he has written to the Home Office about it, but as usual no notice has been taken of his letter.
Another correspondent, a well-known shipowner, writing me from one of our seaports in the north, asks why the German ex-consul should be allowed to remain in that city and do shipping business ostensibly with Rotterdam? By being allowed his freedom he can obtain full information as to what is in progress at this very important Scotch port, and, knowing as we do that every German consul is bound to send secret information to Berlin at stated intervals, it requires but little stretch of one's imagination to think what happens. But the matter has already been reported to the police and found to be, as elsewhere, nobody's business. Phew! One perspires to think of it!
Take another example—that of a German hotel-keeper who, living on the coast north of the Firth of Forth, was proved to have tapped the coastguard telephone, and yet he was allowed to go free!
A lady, well known in London society, writes to me requesting me to assist her, and says: "I have been working for five months to get a very suspicious case looked into, and all the satisfaction I get is that 'the party is being watched.' I know to what extent this same person has been working against my country and I should much appreciate an interview with you. I could tell you very much that would be of great benefit to the country, but it of course falls on deaf ears—officially."
Another correspondent asks why Germans, naturalised or unnaturalised, are allowed to live in the vicinity of Herne Bay when none are allowed either at Westgate or Margate. In this connection it is curious that it is from Herne Bay the mysterious night-signals already described first appear, and are then transmitted to various parts of the country.
In another letter the grave danger of allowing foreign servants to be employed at various hotels at Plymouth is pointed out, and it is asked whether certain houses in that city are not hot-beds of German intrigue. Now with regard to this aspect of affairs Mr. McKenna, answering Mr. Fell in Parliament on March 10th, said he had no power to impose conditions on the employment of waiters, British or alien, and so the suggested notice outside hotels employing aliens was not accepted.
From Tunbridge Wells two serious cases of suspicion are reported, and near Tenterden, in Kent, there undoubtedly lives one of our "friends" the night-signallers, while in a certain village in Sussex the husband of the sub-postmistress is a German, whose father, a tradesman in a neighbouring town, I hear, often freely ventilates his patriotism to his Fatherland.
That the "pirate" submarines are receiving petrol in secret is an undoubted fact. At Swansea recently a vessel bound for Havre was found to have taken on board as part of her stores 400 gallons of petrol. She was not a motor-boat, and the Customs authorities were very properly suspicious, but the captain insisted that the petrol was wanted as stores, and that there were no means by which we could prevent that petrol going. Where did it go to? There were boats no doubt in the neighbourhood which wanted petrol. They were enemy submarines!
Of isolated reports of espionage, and of the work of Germany's secret agents, dozens lie before me, many of which certainly call for strictest investigation. But who will do this work if the "authorities" so steadily refuse, in order to bamboozle the public, to perform their duty?
Some of these reports are accompanied by maps and plans. One is from a well-known solicitor, who is trustee for an estate in Essex where, adjoining, several men a month or so ago purchased a small holding consisting of a homestead and a single acre of land. They asserted that they had come from Canada, and having dug up the single acre in question for the purpose of growing potatoes, as they say, they are now living together, their movements being highly suspicious. On more than one occasion mysterious explosions have been heard within the house—which is a lonely one, and a long way from any other habitation.
The wife of a well-known Scotch Earl who has been diligent in making various inquiries into suspicious cases in Scotland, and has endeavoured to stir up the authorities to confirm the result of her observations, has written to me in despair. She has done her best, alas! without avail.
And again, in yet another case, the widow of an English Earl, whose name is as a household word, has written to me reporting various matters which have come to her notice and deploring that no heed has been taken of her statements by the supine "powers-that-be."
Beside this pile of grave reports upon my table, I have opened a big file of reports of cases of espionage which reached me during the year 1909. In the light of events to-day they are, indeed, astounding.
Here is one, the name and address of my correspondent I do not here print, but it is at the disposal of the authorities. He says:
The following reached me on March 11th:
"From the first I recognised the fact that the men were spies. I imagined that they had been surveying, at Weybourne, but in the light of recent events I think a gun emplacement or a petrol store may have been their 'objective.' The two men were rather undersized, badly dressed, and more or less covered with mud, probably mechanics. One I remember had extraordinary teeth, about the size of the thickness of one's little finger. The officer, as I have said, was a fine man, broad and well-proportioned, from thirty to forty years of age. Oddly enough I thought that I recognised him recently on a cinematograph film depicting the staff of the German Emperor. I left the neighbourhood not long after, otherwise I should certainly have made further investigations, convinced as I was of the shady nature of these individuals. The officer, I am sure, recognised that I was a detective."
Another report is from a steward on a liner, who writes:
Yet another I pick out at haphazard. It is from an actor whose name is well known, and is, as are all the others, at the disposal of any official inquirers. He writes to me:
"We drove to Conway, stabled there, and then went for a stroll round the picturesque old castle. Our friend then proposed that we adjourn for something to eat, so, as our appetites were a bit keen by this time, we went to the 'White Hart Hotel.' Here another surprise awaited us, for dinner was all set and ready. And what a dinner! My 'pal' and I had visions of a huge bill, but on our friend squaring the amount we sat in open-mouthed surprise."By this time we were anxious to know a little about our 'host,' but not until he had had a few brandy-and-sodas did he tell us much. He then said he had some estates in Germany, and ultimately confessed (in strict confidence) that he held an important Government appointment. After a few hours in Conway we drove back to Llandudno, and as our friend of the 'soap and brush' was in a hilarious mood, nothing would do but that we drive to his rooms. And what rooms! Fit for a prince! We had a splendid supper followed by wine and cigars. He then proceeded to show my friend and me a great number of photographs (all taken by himself, he explained) of all the coast mountains and roads for many miles around Llandudno. It was not till we mentioned the affair to some gentlemen in Llandudno that we were informed that our barber friend was, in all probability, a spy in the pay of the German Government!"
Here is another, from a correspondent at Glasgow:
"What excited my suspicions first regarding this personage was the fact that he was continually quizzing and putting to me questions regarding my employment of a decidedly delicate nature, and conversing freely on subjects about which I thought few people knew anything. I also noticed, when in his shop, that he was most lavish in his remarks to customers, especially to young engineers and draughtsmen who came to him from the neighbouring shipbuilding yards, leading them on to talk about matters concerning the Navy and shipbuilding; their work in the various engineering shops and drawing offices; and the time likely to be taken to complete this or that gunboat, etc. Indeed, with some of these young engineers and draughtsmen I have not failed to notice that he is particularly 'chummy,' and I also know, for a fact, that on several occasions he has been 'up town' with them, visiting music halls and theatres, and that they have spent many evenings together. On these occasions no doubt, under the influence of liquor, many confidences will have been exchanged, and many 'secrets' regarding work and methods indiscreetly revealed."But so much for the above. On surmise alone my conclusions regarding this man might have been entirely wrong, but for the fact that I, one evening, met with a former employee of his, also a German, in another barber's shop in the city. This youngster, evidently nursing a grievance against his late employer for something or other, was quick to unburden himself to me regarding him, and gave me the following particulars. He said that his late master was not what he appeared to be, and that his barbering was all a blind to cover something else; in fact (and this he hinted pretty broadly) that his presence over here in this country was for no good. He further said that he was still a member of the German Army (although in appearance he looks to be long past military service), and that regularly money was sent to him from Berlin; that he was an agent for the bringing in to this country of crowds of young Germans, male and female, who came over here to learn our language and study our methods; that his shop was the rendezvous for certain members of his own nationality, who met there periodically at night for some secret purpose which he had never been able to fathom; that he was often away from the shop for weeks at a time, no one knew where, the business in his absence then being looked after by a brother. In addition to the above, I may say that the walls of his shop are positively crowded with pictures of such celebrities as Lord Roberts, Lord Kitchener, General French, etc., etc., the face of the Kaiser being a noticeable absentee, doubtless on purpose. He likes you, too, to believe in his affection for this country, which he openly parades, although I am told that in private he sneers at us, at our soldiers and people. From the above, I think I have established my case against this wily Teuton, who, while masquerading as a barber, is yet all the time here for a totally different purpose, i.e. to spy upon us."
How a German secret agent altered a British military message is told by another of my correspondents, who says:
"It must be remembered that, the Emperor's visit being a private one, military displays would be out of place, but on the day of the above-mentioned drive a telegram was received from the officer in command of the Penrith Volunteers asking if permission could be granted for the volunteers to mount a guard of honour at the station on the arrival of the Emperor's train at Penrith. Now, as I was going up home to the 'Forge' I met my father coming to Keswick, and as he seemed out of wind, I undertook to take his message, which was the reply to the above 'wire.' The text of the answer only contained two words, which were to the point: 'Certainly not,' and signed by the commanding officer at headquarters. When I got within half a mile of Keswick I was overtaken by my foreign acquaintance, who was on a bicycle, and on his asking me why I was hurrying, I told him I had a rather urgent 'wire' to send. He kindly undertook to have it despatched, as he was passing the Post Office, and I unsuspectingly consented. On the arrival of the royal train at Penrith you may judge the surprise and disgust of the officers, some of whom had in private travelled in the royal train, to see the volunteers lining the station approach! Inquiries were made—the post office authorities produced the telegram, as handed in, with the word 'not' carefully erased, making the message mean the opposite. I never from that day saw my foreign friend again, but many times have wondered was it one of the Kaiser's wishes to see if his agents could play a trick on the volunteers for his own eyes to see!"
Here is a curious story of a German commercial spy, the writer of which gives me his bona fides. He writes:
These few cases I print here because I think it but right to show that both before the war, and since, the public have not been so utterly blinded to the truth as the authorities had hoped.
Many of the other cases before me are of such a character that I do not propose to reveal them to the public, still hoping against hope that proper inquiry may be instituted by a reliable Board formed to deal with the whole matter. And, for obvious reasons, premature mention of them might defeat the ends of justice by warning the spies that their "game" is known.
I here maintain that there is a peril—a very grave and imminent peril—in attempting to further delude the public, and, by so doing, further influence public opinion.
The seed of distrust in the Government has, alas! been sown in the public mind, and each day, as the alien question is evaded, it takes a firmer and firmer root.