The German Spy Case

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From the Cornish & Devon Post, 21 September, 1918: German Lady Spies

Wife and Mother-in-Law of a Native of Yeolmbridge.
In our edition of August 10th, we reported the proceedings at the South Western Police-court, London, in a case against two German ladies – mother and daughter – charged with acting as spies. The daughter, Mrs Eleanor Hildegarde Polkinhorne, was fined £50 and ordered to be interned, the offence on which she was convicted being that of writing, though not sending to Germany, a letter in which use was made of a secret code. The mother was committed for trial.The case is of local interest as the ladies stand in relationship of wife and mother-in-law to a native of Yeolmbridge, near Launceston. The trial of the elder prisoner, Martha Wilhelmina Clara Earle, aged 65, took place in camera, before Mr Justice Darling at the Old Bailey on Monday. There were several counts in the indictment against her, including: Collecting and communicating, without lawful authority, information of such a nature as was calculated to be of use to the enemy; Having in her possession and using certain codes and other means adapted for secretly communicating information naval, military and air force information; Sending to Baroness T von Bothmer, in Dresden, certain letters in which means for secretly communicating information were used. They were prosecuted by the Defence of the Realm Regulations.

At the conclusion of the evidence in Mrs Earle’s trial Mr Justice Darling in open court said she married a Prussian and afterwards an Englishman. Her sister lived at Dresden, and she was in the habit of sending letters to her in Switzerland. ‘Is it to be expected’ he added, ‘that when the woman was married to an Englishman she would divest herself of all German feelings? To my mind a number of people have lost their heads over the question of aliens’ (here Mr Justice Darling became somewhat sarcastic!) They would condemn anyone who stirred their tea with a German spoon or carried a German watch in their pocket. When it comes to the truth of fact it is right that there should be due deliberation in dealing with the matter’. The jury found a verdict of guilty on three counts and passed sentence of twenty months in the Second Division.
Mr Justice Darling said “no one could help but feel sorry for the prisoner, owing to her age and illness’.”

The great grand-daughter of Eleanor, Sam Wonnacott, picks up on the story some 100 years later:
They had been charged with crimes against the war effort and were mentioned in a war crimes book which tells the story, basically they were writing letters to relations back in Germany , a Baroness none the less! Because they were supposedly writing in family code, the intelligence service thought that Granny was giving away secrets which could help Germany win the war. They were of course not doing any such thing but were imprisoned just to be on the safe side!! Imagine scribbling away to your auntie and the British intelligence intercepting your letters as you may be a German spy, wish I had known this during school when they asked about what your family did during the war. Not an everyday tale.”

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