It was reported today in the Daily Mail (sorry for the link but they’re the only news service covering the story) that a letter written by Carl Hans Lody (1877–1914) has been unearthed, nearly 100 years after his execution.
Lody was the most famous German spy of World War One and the first out of eleven to be executed. He was shot by firing squad on November 6, 1914 in the Tower of London becoming the first person to be executed there for 167 years.
On the day before the execution, he wrote to the guard’s commanding officer:
I feel it my duty as a German officer to express my sincere thanks and appreciation towards the staff officers and men who were in charge of my person during my confinement.
Their kind and considered treatment has called my highest esteem and admiration as regards good fellowship even towards the enemy and if I may be permitted, I would thank you for making this known to them.
The letter had been stored at the Guards Museum at Wellington Barracks, but has now been uncovered as part of an exhibition at the museum on the First World War, and the role of the Foot Guards during the conflict.
Born in Berlin, Lody joined the German Navy in 1900 – serving for a year before he was transferred into the First Naval Reserve. He then went on to enter the merchant navy, where he served on English, Norwegian and American ships. After a period of working as a tourist guide on the American-Hamburg line, Lody (who spoke fluent English with an American accent) traveled to Britain as a spy at the outbreak of war in order to observe and report back on the country’s naval fleet.
From Edinburgh, posing as a tourist and using an American passport under the name of “Charles A. Inglis”, he sent telegrams and letters to an address in Stockholm which was used as a cover for German intelligence. His first coded message read:
Must cancel. Johnson very ill. Lost four days, Shall leave shortly, Charles.
He was reporting that there were four ships being repaired at the Firth of Forth dock, and that several others were about to head out to sea. The Germans dispatched an U-21 submarine which attacked the HMS Pathfinder becoming the first ship ever to be sunk by a torpedo fired from a submarine.
After this first success, Lody’s lack of training started to show, and he began to make mistakes – putting his address on his letters and writing them in German. Most significantly and unbeknownst to Lody, M15 were intercepting all of his correspondence.
In September 1914, he traveled to Dublin via Liverpool. From the Gresham Hotel, he wrote a detailed letter in German describing the military ships in Dublin Bay and useful conversations that he had overheard in the city. MI5 decided to act and ordered his arrest.
Enroute to Cobh (Queenstown),which was then the largest British naval station in Ireland, Lody stopped off in Killarney, Co. Kerry. On October 2nd, he was arrested by Inspector Cheeseman of the Royal Irish Constabulary while staying at the Great Southern Hotel.
The police discovered Lody’s true identity when they found a tailor’s ticket in his jacket bearing his real name and an address in Berlin. He was taken to London and detained at Wellington Barracks, before being convicted of espionage following a court martial, and sentenced to death.
On the morning of his execution, he was reported to have said to the officer who escorted him from his cell: “I suppose that you will not care to shake hands with a German spy”. “No,” the officer replied; “but I will shake hands with a brave man.”
He was executed at the Tower by an eight man firing squad made up of members of the 3rd Battalion, Grenadier Guards. Lody was first buried in the Tower of London and later disinterred and transferred to the East London Cemetery in Plaistow then finally to Highgate Cemetery, north London.
In May 1934, the Nazis unveiled a memorial to Lody in his northern German city of Luebeck.
A part of the memorial, embedded in the medieval Burgtor town gate, can still be seen today:
An intriguing tale of espionage in which Dublin played an important part.