Latchmere house

“We are not bound by any rules or regulations. We do not care a damn whether you leave this place on a stretcher or in a hearse.”

BRITISH INTELLIGENCE OFFICER – Camp 020.

You may well have driven past the place, sitting behind its brick wall. You may have noticed the fencing and the ‘Home Office Property’ signs. You may well have wondered what this large, well proportioned house sitting in a quiet, wooded corner in Ham was all about. The former home of some Victorian well-to-do? A sanatorium? A top secret MI5 interrogation cage? A remand centre? Guess any of these options and you would have guessed right.

Latchmere house internal

Latchmere House on Church Road in Ham was built around 1808 as a private residence. During the 1^st^ World War it was used by the Ministry of Defence as a hospital treating officers suffering from shell shock. Come the 2^nd^ World War it had changed its name to Camp 020 and become a detention and interrogation cage for captured Nazi agents and our own home grown Nazis – ‘the British Union of Fascists’.

oswald diana mosley

The leader of the B.U.F Sir Oswald Mosley never finished up in any of the 30 cells at Latchmere. He and his wife Diana Mitford were interned in a house in the grounds of Holloway prison.

German espionage during World War 2 was never very efficient. The spies were poorly trained and their handling naïve. With the cracking of the German Enigma code in late 1940 MI5 was decrypting messages about spy infiltration on a regular basis. In 1941 the chairman of MI5, John Cecil Masterman, boasted that his agency “actively ran and controlled the German espionage system in the United Kingdom.”

Not a single German spy escaped the MI5 net. All of them were arrested and most of them finished up enjoying the hospitality at Camp 020 and the company of its C.O and chief interrogator Lieutenant Colonel Robins Stephens who liked to be known as ‘The Commandant’.

In fact Lt. Col. Stephens was better known as ‘Tin-Eye’ because of the monocle that he wore at all times – even in bed it was rumoured!

Although after the war allegations were made that prisoners in Camp 020 were tortured using techniques like mock executions, sleep deprivation and physical violence Stephens always argued that such methods were ineffectual…

“Violence is taboo for not only does it produce answers to please, but it lowers the standard of information… Never strike a man. In the first place it is an act of cowardice. In the second place, it is not intelligent. A prisoner will lie to avoid further punishment and everything he says thereafter will be based on a false premise.”

Lt Col. Robin Stephens

But for all this apparent benevolence ‘Tin-Eye’ Stephens was happy to use psychological pressure. He created an eerily silent and isolating environment at Camp 020 to evoke a sense of foreboding among the captives. Guards wore tennis shoes to muffle the sound of their steps. Cells were bugged. Prisoners were kept apart. “No chivalry. No gossip. No cigarettes… Figuratively, a spy in war should be at the point of a bayonet,” he wrote. His methods were remarkably successful. Of the nearly 500 prisoners who arrived at Camp 020 during WW2, 120 were passed over to MI5 ‘B Division’ for counterespionage purposes, a dozen or so became highly successful double agents – pretending to be Nazi spies but under MI5 control – 15 were shot at the Tower of London or hanged.

“I am not saying this in any sense of a threat but you are here in a British Secret Service prison at the present time and it’s our job in wartime to see that we get your whole story from you. Do you see?”

Lt. Col. STEPHENS TO A GERMAN SPY

Some of the Guests at Camp 020

Edward Arnold “Eddie” Chapman (16 November 1914 – 11 December 1997).

Eddie Chapman - Agent ZigZag double

This English criminal was in prison in Jersey in the Channel Islands when the Germans invaded. He collaborated with the Nazis and trained as a spy. Parachuted into England with the task of blowing up the De Havilland aircraft factory in Hatfield Eddie immediately gave himself up to MI5 and with their help faked the sabotage of the factory. After becoming a double agent under the code name ‘Zig Zag’ he returned to Germany and was awarded the Iron Cross. He came back to Britain after D Day to report if V1 rockets were reaching their targets in central London. Although most of the missiles were undershooting Chapman told the Germans the opposite. After the war he married one of his many sweethearts and retired as the owner of a health farm and a castle in Ireland.

Josef Jakobs (30 June 1898 – 15 August 1941)

Josef Jakobs

Jakobs parachuted into Britain on 31^st^ Jan 1941 and was immediately captured by the local Home Guard still wearing his flying suit and carrying £500 in British currency, forged identity papers, a radio transmitter, and a German sausage. Convicted as a spy Jakobs was executed by firing squad at the Tower of London – the last person to be executed there.

Karel Richard Richter (29 January 1912 – 10 December 1941)

Karel Richter

Richter was captured on 14 May 1941 after parachuting into the U.K. He was convicted of espionage at the Old Bailey and sentenced to death. Writing to a MI5 officer Richter said “You can rely upon it that… I too will know how to die, yet not as a Nazi spy on your gallows, but as a man.” At his execution at Wandsworth he struggled so violently that instead of the expected 17 seconds to complete the sentence hangman Pierrepoint took 17 minutes to hang him.

Wulf Dietrich Christian Schmidt, a.k.a Harry Williamson (7 December 1911 – 19 October 1992)

Wulf Schmidt

A Danish citizen who entered the UK as German spy but was turned at Camp 020 to become a double agent under the code name ‘Tate’. ‘Tate’ worked on the double cross deception preceding the D-Day invasion. Nigel West, a writer on espionage singled him out as "one of the seven spies who changed the world.’

Also: – Rudolf Hess (Hitler’s former deputy) and William Joyce a.k.a ‘Lord Haw Haw’

“A breaker is born and not made… Pressure is attained by personality, tone and rapidity of questions, a driving attack in the nature of a blast which will scare a man out of his wits.”

LIEUTENANT COLONEL ROBIN STEPHENS

Designated as a ‘Building of Townscape Merit’ by English Heritage Latchmere House is currently being redeveloped by Berkeley Homes into 73 new homes, including 13 affordable homes.

— from Martyn Day