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George Traugott Breeckow was the 8th spy to be executed at the Tower of London during World War One.
George Traugott Breeckow
George Traugott Breeckow was born in Stettin (then in Germany) in 1882. His Father was born in Riga, and became a German citizen. Breeckow later followed his Father into the piano trade, later travelling to the USA and becoming an American citizen. Following the death of his Father, Breeckow returned to Germany on 28 May 1914.
Following a short period of time working for a back, he tried to obtain work as an Imperial Messenger, or courier, to neutral countries, especially the USA (which did not enter World War One until 1917). Breeckow was sent a new passport which allowed him to travel to Antwerp. While here, Breeckow made several requests about his travel to the USA, but his employers in the Bureau of Foreign Affairs (based in Berlin) told him to wait and that there was no rush. After being told that they were unsure of the situation regarding American-German relations, Breeckow was told that he would first have to go to England. They told him that as his existing passport had a Berlin stamp, he would be issued with a new passport in the name of Reginald Rowland. He was also told to travel to The Hague and meet a Mr Dierks.
When he arrived in Rotterdam, Breeckow travelled to The Hague where he met Dierks. As previously arranged, Dierks arranged a business cover for Breeckow.
Finally, Breeckow arrived at Gravesend on 11 May 1915. He travelled to London where he booked into the Ivanhoe Hotel, Bloomsbury Street. He then sent a letter to his contact, a lady called Mrs Wertheim, making an appointment to meet her on 13 May 1915. Mrs Wertheim had been recruited by German Intelligence as she attempted to return home, but became trapped in Amsterdam, with a failed marriage and short of money.
They arranged several meetings in various parts of London. On 22 May 1915, the couple booked in at the Grand Hotel in Bournemouth, taking separate rooms: Breeckow used his alias of Reginald Rowland, and Wertheim registered as Lizzie Wertheim, born in London.
While in Bournemouth, Breeckow had written on a copy of the Star and Echo newspaper an invisible message about various troop transports arriving at Southampton. This was posted to H. Flores at 127a Binneweg, Rotterdam, along with copies of other newspapers. These packages were intercepted by the British Security Services, who quickly realised that another spy was working in the UK.
Following their stay in Bournemouth, Breeckow and Wertheim travelled to various towns along the First of Forth. This area contained several towns which, as they were naval ports, were prohibited for aliens to enter. They returned to London on 3 June 1915, with Breeckow staying at the Imperial Hotel in London, and Wertheim staying at 62 Hammersmith Road.
After his arrival, Breeckow sent a letter to Flores, using a Rotterdam address. However, Breeckow wrote his own address on the back of the envelope. This was intercepted by the British Security Services, and on 4 June 1915 Breeckow was arrested at his hotel by Detective Inspector Herbert Fitch (New Scotland Yard). While examining Breeckow's property, some rice paper was found hidden inside a shaving brush. On this paper, in Breeckow's handwriting, was the details of several Royal Navy vessels. Wertheim was arrested by Detective Inspectors Edmund Buckley and Herbert Finch on 9 June 1915. When her possessions were searched, a letter addressed to one of Breeckow's aliases.
Both Breeckow and Wertheim were tried together at the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey) in London, on 14-17 September 1915. Both pleaded not guilty to the charges, although during the trial Breeckow admitted a great deal which protected Wertheim. The jury took just eight minutes to decided that both of them were guilty. Wertheim was sentenced to ten years imprisonment, and Breeckow was sentenced to death by shooting. Breeckow's appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal, and Petition to King George V were all refused.
During the period between his sentenced being passed, and his execution Breeckow broke down completely, and spent his remaining days in apathetic existence. He was led to the execution spot in a near state of collapse, and when sat in the wooden chair within the Tower's Miniature Rifle Range, he requested that his eyes be bound with a lady's silk handkerchief. As this was not large enough to round his head, this was attached to the usual bandage and then around his head. He was shivering with fright, and was in a very agitated state.
At 7am on 26 October 1915, Breeckow was shot by a firing squad composed of members from the 3rd Battalion Scots Guards.
Wertheim was initially sent to Aylesbury Prison, but during 1918 she was certified as insane and transferred to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Her behaviour and general medical condition became worse and she died of pulmonary tuberculosis on 29 July 1920.