Interesting article from the BBC about the German spies executed at the Tower of London during World War One.
Check out the audio link too for a step by step account of the dreadful deed
A clutch of spies were found and executed during World War I. And it was Irving Guy Ries’s turn to die today in 1915.
American-born Ries had been found guilty of spying for German and of treason following a spate of unusual activities and dealings with known secret agent contacts.
His cover was blown open by the infant organisation MO5, which was later to morph into MI5 in 1916. The then recently formed organisation busted the covert operation to feed Germany secrets, according to the National Archives.
Ries (his alias) was court martialled and found guilty of espionage and automatically banged up in the Tower of London, where his execution was to take place. The 55-year-old sat tied to a chair facing his firing squad, which was made up of the Scots Guards before being peppered full of bullets.
Other spies before and after him received the same fate over a period of 14 months. Only two bucked the trend by being hanged at London’s Pentonville and Wandsworth prisons.
NOTE Before we get started, yesterday a notable execution slipped through the noose, so we’ve posted a belated homage to a killer Cambodian cow.
On a more serious note, the First World War claimed many lives on the battlefields, and for that their memories are held dear. But what of the men who died in cagier circumstances?
We are, of course, talking about those soldiers who were executed for desertion.
One such person was William Alexander, who had been a British soldier, before he emigrated to Canada. There he joined their army where he became a sergeant and his troops were drawn into the battlegrounds in France.
There, the horrors of war were all too evident and his regiment were tasked with being a diversion to ease the pressure on the beleaguered forces in Passchendaele, according to Stephen Stratford. And diversion was hardly the greatest of motivators…
Already many members of the battalion had been injured, so when it came to leading his troops out into the thick of it, Alexander suddenly went AWOL.
But he hadn’t gone missing in action, he’d missed out on the action altogether, as it turned out he’d sought sanctuary in a safe village they’d camped at en route.
Of course his motive may well have been self-preservation, because of the soldiers who’d faced the Germans from his regiment, a stonking 400 of them were taken casualty, Stratford says.
Alexander was finally unearthed and whisked off to face a court martial. There he was found guilty of desertion and executed by a volley of shots in front of a firing squad right there in France.
His body was laid to rest in Boulogne and he remains one of 25 Canadian soldiers who all met a similar fate during World War II.
18 October 1800 – Mary Lloyd
Boughton lass Mary Lloyd didn’t get very far with her forgeries.
She was found guilty of the pretence and was hanged for her crime in 1800.
It’s been ages since we had a really saucy little minx on the execution block. And today’s fruity-flavoured subject doesn’t get much saucier.
Mata Hari, or Margaretha Zelle as she is more pedestrianly known, was in the firing line for the ropiest of reasons.
The French, with the help of the Brits, had levelled the crime of espionage at her. But there are doubts to this day as to whether these accusations were true or not.
That the Dutch woman was infamous is indisputable. If you’ve ever doubted the adage that sex sells, old Mata lived and breathed the premise. Her whole raison d’être was built on an insatiable love of sex and ways to manipulate men to her own ends. And boy did she start young.
At a mere 16, she was already bed-hopping her way through life, bagging the headmaster no less, according to Pat Shipman in his book ‘Femme Fatale: A Biography of Mata Hari’.
Yet she wasn’t content to just stick out her days in Holland. She wanted more.
Known as Zelle at this point in her life, she hooked up with a soldier on leave by the name of Captain Rudolf Macleod, after she replied to his ad in the classifieds.
Things got personal alright. After just six days the rampant couple was engaged and three months on they were hitched.
But just as quickly as they came together, so the couple fell apart, not least because there was no way Zelle would have been content with monogamy, not when there were so many soldiers happy to jump into the sack with her.
Naturally hubbie got a jealous-coloured cob on. But that was rich coming from him, seeing as he was at it too. Indeed, it was his free and easy attitude that landed him in a spot of syphilitic bother.
Macleod failed to confess this little detail to his wife and as a result he passed the demon seeds of STD onto her and their resultant children. In fact, it was thought that their son was killed while being treated for the damagingly virulent disease.
Well, that really put a kibosh on the relationship. They split and the hard-hearted husband even went as far as to put it about that his wife was a credit risk.
Crude, yes, but the carefully chosen words did the job. Unable to get anything on tick, the lusty lady had to turn to other means to support her luxe lifestyle.
There are no prizes for guessing which talents she turned to in her hour of need. She forged ahead in establishing a searing career in selling sex. This included being a courtesan, which stretched to staging dance sessions in the privacy of people’s homes, and the rest…
The original queen of raunch had successfully reinvented herself as a top bit of totty and to add to allure of her new identity so Mata Hari was born. She blazed a trail did old Mata.
While others were retaining their modesty, this exotic dancer thought nothing of kicking off her knickers both on and off the dance floor. Her only concession to modesty was to keep her bra on. According to Tony Rennell of the ‘Daily Mail’, she was ‘self conscious about her tiny breasts’.
However, her insecurity certainly didn’t stop her trawling Europe, touting her wares and collecting moneyed benefactors as she went along, who were only too happy to sub her lifestyle.
‘Tonight I dine with Count A and tomorrow with Duke B. If I don’t have to dance, I make a trip with Marquis C. I avoid serious liaisons. I satisfy my caprices’ she said.
Of course all this makes you wonder what was happening about the syphilis. It must have been spreading infectiously throughout the more affluent sections of society who were only too happy to come, and see her. And while Mata was happy to sashay her way round the Continent spreading love and infection to all, the world was heading inextricably towards a war.
With war came paranoia about spies.
And that paranoia came to settle upon Mata. After all, she was free to come and go as she pleased between countries and she could speak a number of languages – a spy’s ideal. And it is conjectured that she was indeed approached by the Germans to spy.
But it is a popularly held belief that despite being furnished with all the deceits and tools of the covert trade, Mata had no interest in actually spying. Like everyone before, she was happy to fleece the Germans of any riches they were keen to heap on her, but she had no intention of carrying out the deeds.
Nevertheless the Brits gave the infamous little minx a thorough once over when she docked at Folkestone. Despite finding nothing, they drew up a dossier of dodginess against the Dutch seductress.
Talk about sexed up claims, by February 1917 the French were after her and had finally cornered her in her hotel room.
She was promptly found guilty of being a German spy and sent down to await her fate. Her appeals that the charges were trumped up fell on disinterested ears, so on this day in 1917, she calmly announced ‘I am ready’.
Such was Mata Hari’s sense of theatre that she refused to be tied to a stake or even to be blindfolded, instead facing her firing squad fully frontal.
Consequently, Mata Hari was riddled full of bullets and merely crumpled to the floor.
In a final move to ensure the bullets were fatal, a last one was despatched into her 41-year-old brain at close range.
Screen siren Greta Garbo took on the role of Mata Hari in the film of the same name…just 15 years after the execution.
When a polygamist amasses marriages, it stands to reason he’s not bothered about finding legal ways to get shot of extraneous wives.
The man in question was Arthur Andrew Goslett, who was strung up for his foul methods.
That Goslett was keener on some of his spouses than others was apparent, as the unfortunate Evelyn Goslett found out. Her body was found in the River Brent, in north London.
Naturally the blame fell squarely at Goslett’s door and he was soon taken in to explain himself.
Funnily enough, the engineer was already known to the fuzz. The South African had not long been accused of spying during World War I, which he’d hotly denied. However, eventually Goslett had been let off.
Similarly, he tried the same tack with the murder charge. Indeed, Goslett was to deny it a number of times during a series of statements, but his story began to unravel. Each version started to differ slightly, and the suspicious inconsistencies meant that he was had up for trial at the Old Bailey.
There, Goslett was unable to prove his innocence and the 44-year-old was sentenced to death.
John Ellis did the honours at Pentonville gallows on this day in 1920.