The Hotel at Spy Corner
by Brian Green
In Dulwich, along Dulwich Common and within a distance of no more than seventy five yards three different nests of spies existed in World War 11. One of these was set up by the Dutch Government in exile and were of course allies. We will leave aside the story of the Dutch agents at Glenlea (now named Tappen House), indeed The Dulwich Society presented a painting of their ‘safe house’ to a surviving agent, Bram Grisnigt, many years ago and the story is told in Dulwich – The Home Front 1939-45. Even the existence of a second network is not unfamiliar to older residents as it concerns William Joyce, better known as Lord Haw Haw whose life and fate is now part of the history of World War II. However, what follows concerns not only William Joyce, but mainly his brother Quentin, and the part he played in the story.
The existence of a third network came to light in a very unlikely way. It was while researching a totally different topic – the history of a hotel with a very odd name - The Toksowa Hotel on Dulwich Common, that I discovered the existence of this third network and its connection to the second one operated by Quentin Joyce. All of the material in the stories of these two groups of Nazis is contained in MI5 files released in 2006 and 2008, which, even after weeding still consists of some 300 pages. The original amount of intelligence material on the third network originally ran to fifteen volumes. Despite surveillance lasting over eleven years, British Intelligence was unaware of the connections between the two networks.
There is an immediate puzzle of where Quentin was born. According to most information the Joyce family left the USA, where William was born, and settled in the south of Ireland. The family, who were Roman Catholics, nevertheless were active in support of the Black and Tans and felt obliged to leave Ireland for England in 1922 when the south became The Irish Free State. By this time Quentin would have been aged 5. However, when interviewed by MI5 he claimed to have been born on Dulwich Common. Certainly the Joyce family moved into No 7 Allison Grove in 1923. The house, according to Rebecca West writing in The Meaning of Treason, “was amply planned for its price and gave room enough for the Joyce parents, William, and his two younger brothers, Frank and Quentin and a little sister”. Later, another brother, Robert would be born there.
William Joyce’s career in British Fascism as Director of Propaganda for Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists is well known; however, by 1934 this organisation which had received funds from both Germany and Italy was in some decline and accordingly this financial support was reduced. As a consequence any potential threat the BUF might pose to national security was downgraded by British Intelligence. By 1937 funding had become critical to the movement and several of the paid staff, including William Joyce were sacked. Joyce had meanwhile become disillusioned by Mosley and was pressing more extreme views based on Nazi doctrine. He therefore broke away from Mosley and formed, with John Beckett, the former MP for Peckham, and John McNab, the National Socialist League. British Intelligence believed that the NSL was started with a substantial subsidy from Germany.
Quentin Joyce had joined the British Union of Fascists in 1934, and when the split with Mosley came, he, and his brother Frank, followed William into the new NSL. Frank was a District Leader in the new organisation. In 1939 Quentin would become Treasurer of the party.
Attendance at the inaugural meeting held at the Prince Alfred Tavern, Wood Street, Westminster, was around 100 but later Quentin Joyce claimed that the membership of the NSL was around 40. According to Quentin, many of the members were local.
The NSL held meetings both on the corner of Calton Avenue and outside Dulwich Library (and inside when permission for use of St Barnabas Hall was refused) . Demonstrations were also held outside Camberwell, now Southwark Town Hall in Peckham Road. Following the pattern earlier set by the BUF, on some occasions NSL stewards used violence against hecklers at its meetings.
At this time, Quentin Joyce was working as a clerk at the Directorate of Signals, The Air Ministry, occasionally handling secret and confidential material dealing with deployment of the RAF. In 1938 William Joyce introduced Quentin to Harry Christian Bauer, who purported to be a correspondent with a German newspaper. Bauer was a specialist in aviation matters and was overheard replying to someone from the German Embassy in London on how he supported himself by answering, “Wermacht” . Bauer, apparently a military agent, was reprimanded by the embassy for loose talk.
Bauer had become a focus of British Intelligence through the actions of his landlady in England who had communicated to the police the fact that she had found in Bauer’s wastepaper basket a copy of a letter beginning ‘This is a list of British cruisers and aircraft’. There followed such a list and the letter continued ‘It is difficult to get photographs. I would advise you to get ‘Flight’ as this would give you a good idea of size etc’. This was probably ‘Flight Magazine’, which coincidentally was published in Dulwich Village in the 1960’s.
At the request of MI5 a Home Office Warrant was granted to search Bauer’s mail.
Following the meeting between Bauer and Quentin at Westminster, Quentin went to stay in Berlin in 1938 where he was accompanied for much of the time by Bauer. William Joyce had also visited Berlin in the same year. After his return to England, Quentin received a letter from Bauer, asking him to buy some shirts for him in London, something of an odd request, and even more oddly Bauer gave him written authority to use his London bank account. Other, more sinister demands would follow.
By the summer of 1939, British Intelligence was becoming increasingly alarmed about the connection of the brother of William Joyce and the suspected German espionage agent. “Joyce’s relationship with a German named Bauer is of such a kind as to give us the gravest misgivings. We have been keeping a check on correspondence between Quentin Joyce and Bauer since October last. The extracts are extremely cryptic and obscure but knowing the character of Bauer it is hardly possible to put any other interpretation on it than that Joyce is passing information of a confidential nature to Bauer. Since for the past 7 months the Post Office have failed to intercept any of Joyce’s replies to Bauer one can only assume that these replies have gone to a secret cover address which of course makes the correspondence still more suspicious.”
The sinister demands asked of Quentin Joyce by Bauer were a request to obtain foreign stamps for a supposed friend. “He wants practically all British African stamps, Somaliland, South Africa, East Africa etc”. Joyce replied that this, even if it could be accomplished, would take months. MI5 noted “he (Bauer) did not appear to be discouraged by this information “– “Now I wonder if it would be possible to get these stamps bit by bit, so that every month you could send me a few of them”. ‘Postage stamps’ was a code used in intelligence circles to actually mean maps or plans. A double-agent, called The Mad Major for his penchant in flying under London’s bridges, had earlier used the same code. MI5 concluded that there was no reason why such a request should take months to fulfil – enquiry at a stamp dealer’s might have produced the whole of the stamps in one swoop, on the other hand, maps and plans would almost inevitably take months and months to collect. The RAF had bases or potential bases in these African countries and Quentin Joyce had access to their locations.
A further reason for suspicion of Quentin Joyce was the letter he wrote to Bauer in November 1938 congratulating the Nazi party on the elections in the Sudetan part of Czechoslovakia which contained a large German population and sought union with Germany. In a letter he said that he hoped a similar result might occur in Memel in Lithuania which also had a large German speaking population.
In December 1938 Bauer asked Quentin Joyce to use his influence at the Home Office to see if there was any prohibition on his re-entry to Britain as he “ was rather active and in a way responsible for Jewish Laws in Germany over recent weeks”. These concerned articles he had written in the German Press which caused an outburst of ant-Semetic financial persecution when there were huge fines levied. Both Quentin and his brother William Joyce were reported by MI5 to have corresponded with Bauer, habitually supplying him with material for use in the Nazi’s anti-Jewish campaign.
By the time the Second World War was declared, 3rd September 1939, British Intelligence was convinced Quentin Joyce was a spy. Letters between Joyce and Bauer on the subject of the African stamps also included reference to a Dennis Wheatley novel – “I got another Wheatley novel and a 100 Players from McNab (a co-founder of the NSL) and as I think that you participated in this let me thank you very sincerely”, wrote Bauer – British Intelligence, now seriously alarmed, suggested that the Dennis Wheatley novel might mean the factory of Dennis Brothers, Guildford and that ‘Players’ instead of simply cigarettes might actually refer to the Royal Ordnance factory at Nottingham. This suspicion appeared to be confirmed when it was later discovered that Quentin Joyce had obtained a visa on 21st August 1939 to return to Germany. This visit was apparently interrupted by the outbreak of war.
There was something of a panic at MI5 when it was realised that Joyce should be picked up and there was confusion as to his whereabouts. Finally by 6th September, three days after war was declared, the Air Ministry had found Joyce’s address in Bristol where the Signals section was located and he was arrested and put in Bristol prison, detained under Regulation 18B of the Defence Regulations 1939. From there he was transferred to Wandsworth Prison where on 18th September 1939 he was interrogated by three MI5 officers, a surprisingly large number considering the shortage of such officers at the time and clearly indicative of the importance attached to finding out more information. The matter of the African stamps was raised and it was noted that Joyce was not being frank with them. Furthermore, Joyce said that when he went to Germany to visit Bauer in 1938 that he had burned a lot of correspondence – love letters and so on – and that a lot of Bauer’s went then. Quentin Joyce was held in gaol and then transferred to Peveril Camp on the Isle of Man where other detainees would be housed.
The British Government did not immediately order the internment of active fascists when war was declared. It was considered that they posed no threat and that an invasion of Britain was unlikely. However, this complaisant attitude changed during the spring of 1940 after the Germans invaded the Low Countries and France. By May 1940 the British Government believed that 25-30% of the British Union of Fascists would be willing to go to any lengths on behalf of Germany and regulation 18B was amended to allow their internment. 735 BUF members were rounded up and interned in Peveril Camp, Isle of Man where many would remain for three years. Quentin Joyce became a welfare officer in this camp. This allowed him to circulate freely among the other detainees. Of course he knew many of these from his days as a member of the BUF.
In accordance with the terms of Regulation 18B, Quentin Joyce was allowed to appeal against his internment. He had done so a few days after being arrested in 1939 and did so again in 1942. His second application for release was refused because he had not modified his National Socialist views and was very close to other pro-German internees, “There is every indication that he has been willing to associate with anyone who supports the Axis cause, but always in a furtive sly manner so as to keep himself out of harm. He is a man who uses an obsequious and toadying manner to conceal his malice”. One of the most damning pieces of evidence against him was a photograph taken at the camp where he posed with a number of Anglo-German internees and dyed- in- the- wool British Nazis. One of those in the photograph was a Dr Branimir Jelic.
A year later there was another review and this time the Advisory Committee were more sympathetic to Joyce, although the camp officer again sent a scathing report. He was questioned about his recruitment to the British Union of Fascists and said that he joined the BUF because of his brother William was a member and also that he was influenced at the time by quite a lot of local people who were members, “People I knew fairly well locally, and I learned something of the Party through them”. In the event the advisory committee recommended Joyce’s release in September 1943, he had been interned for 4 years.
Nevertheless, British Intelligence was still unsure of Quentin Joyce and succeeded in preventing his return to the Air Ministry or joining the armed forces, for fear that if he was an agent and that if things did go wrong, the authorities which released him would have to shoulder the blame. During his years in internment, his old house in Allison Grove had been destroyed in one of the first raids on Dulwich during the Blitz. His father had died and his sister and mother were living at 86 Underhill Road in East Dulwich. It was to this address that Joyce would go. He took a clerical job in a builder’s merchants in Camberwell and British Intelligence opened his mail and tapped his telephone after it was found that immediately on his release he started to meet his old BUF friends and attend functions to raise funds for internees. There was some suspicion that he was financed by the Duke of Bedford to tour the provinces, ostensibly to raise funds for 18B detainees but actually with the purpose of renewing or making fresh contact with sympathetic elements.
Some intercepts revealed that he had formed a romantic attachment with a typist, Joan Tregellis, who worked in the Commandant’s office at Peverill Camp, Isle of Man where he was detained. The romance might have been serious from Joan’s point of view (she joined Quentin during her week’s holiday in May 1944). In the event, British Intelligence, concerned that Joan Tregellis might be persuaded by Joyce to send confidential information to him, warned her off. A friend of Joan wrote to her from Pinner “Isn’t it rotten about poor old Quentin? I think it’s a shame and no wonder you feel fed up about it. If ever I come across him I’ll tell him why you can’t write, but London is a big place and I doubt if I shall. You can see him after the war though, so that’s a consolation.” Special Branch, on behalf of MI5, finally stopped its scrutiny of Quentin Joyce in 1951.
The Third Spy Ring
Among those pro-Nazis and foreign nationals that Quentin Joyce had been very friendly with at Peveril Camp, three names stand out - Dr Branimir Jelic, William Shirmer and Albin Schmidt. There can be no doubt that Dr Branimir Jelic was put in touch by Joyce with a third party – possibly a spy, certainly a NSL member who lived in Dulwich - his name was Stewart Cole.
Stewart Cole was a director, and to all intents and purposes the proprietor of The Toksowa Hotel on Dulwich Common, now the site of Hambledon Place, the former home of Margaret and Denis Thatcher. Under the trading title White Lodge Ltd it had three directors, Stewart Cole and a Mr Dickins and Mr Hills. White Lodge had held the lease on this long-established residential hotel since the 1930’s. In 1937 the company proposed an ambitious scheme to enlarge its recreational facilities and in effect turn it into a sports hotel with the addition of 7 hard courts, 4-9 grass courts, an indoor court or 4 badminton courts, together with a small plunge pool and parking for 50 cars. Indoors there would be a billiards room, recreation room for table tennis and a small restaurant. The estimate for the entire scheme was £20-25K. The Dulwich Estate approved the plans drawn up by local architect David Goddard, but turned down an application for 4 houses to be included in the scheme. In the event and probably because of the threatening international situation, White Lodge Ltd abandoned the scheme and the Toksowa Hotel remained open as usual throughout the war. When my near neighbours, Kitty Evans and her brother were bombed out of Burbage Road they lived at Toksowa while the house was rebuilt after the war. The Toksowa, with its odd collection of characters is reminiscent of the Beauregard Hotel in Terence Rattigan’s play Separate Tables.
Jelic was not released immediately the war ended and he was kept in custody until just before Christmas 1945. On his release he moved into the Toksowa Hotel on Dulwich Common. His friend and fellow internee Albin Schmidt, together with Schmidt’s wife Rene, moved in at the same time or soon after. Schmidt was suspected by MI5 of being an enemy agent. Shortly after, Jelic and Schmidt and two fellow detainees at Peveril Camp, William Shirmer ( who held dual British and German nationalities and was interned for German sympathies), and BUF member Norman Bailie Hay, a virulent Nazi, plus another BUF member – George Muff MP who had recently been created Lord Calverley, and, Stewart Cole, the proprietor of the Toksowa Hotel, all became shareholders and directors of a company founded by Jelic named The Overseas & Continental Industrial Agency Limited, incorporated with a nominal capital of £1000.
Dr Branimir Jelic was one of the most notorious internees held on the Isle of Man, where he was a personal friend of Quentin Joyce at the camp. Jelic was a man of striking looks - dark haired and 6’5” tall. He was described by a British interrogator as “a magnificent specimen of a man, very attractive and apparently very open but obviously and quite naturally not telling the truth.” A S.I.S. officer noted “That this man is a thug – and highly intelligent and ruthless at that – is not open to doubt.” But another officer wrote – “Jelic has a magnetic personality and is in my opinion a simple, sincere and generous cheerful soul consumed by a passion for his country.”
Jelic was born in 1905 in Donji Dolac in Croatia (where a monument to him now stands) near the Hungarian border. As a student he was involved in Croatian nationalism. He left Yugoslavia in 1929 for Austria where he finished his doctorate at Graz. He specialised in plastic surgery. In 1930 he was sent by the Croatian independence party leader Ante Pavelic to South America to agitate among Croatian émigrés. Later he moved to the USA and travelled between there and Germany continuously in the 1930’s in order to establish branches in support of Croatian independence.
The method of his detention was dramatic. After a tip off from the US to British Intelligence Jelic was taken off the Italian liner SS Conte de Savoia by a British destroyer in October 1939 and taken to Gibraltar when he was en route from the USA (where he had recently been interned on Ellis Island) to Italy and then, it was thought to Germany. It was there that he was expected to join Ante Pavelic. Pavelic had founded the Ustashi, a Croat terrorist movement, financed first by Mussolini and later by Hitler. It has been claimed that it was responsible for up to a million deaths in WW2 including 30,00 jews, 29,000 gypsies and between 300-600,000 Serbs. Pavelic was called the Butcher of the Balkans and was later made quisling premier of Croatia by the Germans. This organisation openly supported Hitler and looked to him as saviour of Croatia.
A second explanation for Jelic’s journey from the USA was considered by MI5. This was that he was on a mission to assassinate the Prince Regent of Yugoslavia. After several months being held in Gibraltar he was transferred onto a British destroyer and brought to England. His perceived danger to the Allied cause was that he might encourage the Germans to support Croatian independence by attempting to cause the dissolution of Yugoslavia by internal as well as external pressure. The dilemma for the British was that Yugoslavia was at the time a neutral country and the ship from which he was removed, the S S Conte de Savoia, was Italian, which also had yet to enter the war.
There is reference in the MI5 files to a supposed dramatic escape attempt in 1943 to extricate Jelic from the Isle of Man by German submarine and it was claimed that he sent messages by wireless transmitter. The MI5 source of this intelligence appeared to be well-informed, he knew of Jelic’s hand in the murder of King Alexander of Yugoslavia and also of his friendship with the opera singer Margarete Slezak who was a German agent and friend of both Hitler and Himmler He also claimed that Jelic knew the Croat involved in the attempt on Churchill’s life.
The British held Jelic in the internment camp on the Isle of Man from 1940-45. Even then the authorities did not know what to do with him when the war ended.. He could not be repatriated to Yugoslavia because this would have been signing his death warrant as he was anti- Tito, anti-Serb and anti-Russian. In the event he was granted a three month stay in Britain in order to study at the British Library so that he could finish a book he was writing on philology – in which he claimed knowledge of the pre-history of the human race through the study of languages. He argued that the name Croat derived from the word for roof – krovati and because of this he concluded that the Croats were the first civilised race as they were the first people to live with a roof over their heads! To secure his release he gave his word that he would not engage in any political activity – it was soon broken, when he started meeting foremost British fascists such as Admiral Barry Domville, a former head of British Naval Intelligence and a neo-Nazi.
After his release Jelic was soon in correspondence with his old Ustashi contacts in South America under the cover of the Welfare Organisation which he had created, to arrange escape routes for Croatian extremists. It is very likely that the company he founded – The Overseas and Continental Industrial Company was the conduit of this ratline. He was believed to be in contact with Pavelic who was in hiding and became Pavelic’s chief-of-staff. Many Croats were being sought after the war to answer charges of war crimes and there is a letter in the MI5 files from a Vatican priest Dom. Stef. Krunoslav Dragonovic, a Catholic Croatian priest in Rome. He was found by the US counter-intelligence to have issued false identity cards to members of the Ustascia enabling them to escape the Allied authorities. Dragonovic wrote to Branimir Jelic at Toksowa Hotel in April 1947 to tell him “Twenty of our people have been arrested, some in the street some in their own homes and the last thing I know is that some have been arrested in Naples”. Draganovic said he was also being watched as was another member of the group, a Franciscan priest Peter Kapcun.
The Roman Catholic Church in the Irish Republic appeared willing to accept Catholics fleeing from Yugoslavia and in August 1947 Jelic was negotiating with a James Benedict O’Farrel for his brother Ivan and sister-in-law to travel from Zagreb to England and on to Ireland. They were bringing with them a Zorislav Franjetic, the inventor of a compressed-cement railway sleeper which Jelic had patented in the UK and was financing. Whether the invention of the concrete railway sleeper was merely a ruse to get them out of Yugoslavia, or a further disguise for a rat-line, or whether it was a genuine part of Jelic’s Overseas and Continental Industrial Agency is unclear.
Jelic finally checked out of the Toksowa Hotel, Dulwich, probably in early 1948 when the hotel was acquired by Kings College Hospital as a nurses’ home after Stewart Cole had assigned the lease. He left England by air from Northolt for Berlin in May 1949 – The Home Office noted “He will not be allowed to land in the United Kingdom again”. His surveillance had been hugely problematic because of translation difficulties.
Even in the 1950’s when British surveillance ended Jelic was still working towards Croatian independence. British Intelligence kept slight tabs on him in his home in Berlin. In the early 1970’s he survived two assassination attempts in West Berlin (most likely organised by the Yugoslav secret service) and died a sudden death after returning from a fund-raising tour of North America in 1972. Pavelic had been wounded by Yugoslav agents and died from his wounds in 1959. As recently as 7 November 2011, a former Croatian minister and Tito partisan was arrested in the US for war crimes in ordering the killing of numerous Ustasi, who in turn were accused of killing communist sympathisers, Jews and Romanies.