Skip to main content

Carl Hans Lody

Bridget Clifford recounts the stories of just some of the men held in the Tower of London on espionage charges during the First World War.

Three months into the First World War as the combatants on the Western Front learnt the grim reality of trench warfare in the 1st battle of Ypres, and that it would not all be over by Christmas, the Tower of London found itself once more a place of execution.

Three hundred years after Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex and former favourite of Queen Elizabeth I became the last man beheaded on site (25th February 1601), Carl Hans Lody faced an eight man firing squad at the Tower found guilty of war treason against Great Britain.

Man in black suit gazes defiantly at the camera

Carl Hans Lody

Born and educated in Germany, Lody completed a year’s service in the German Navy from 1900-1901 then joined the merchant fleet while remaining a naval Reservist. Working on English, Norwegian, and American ships he travelled extensively, latterly as a tourist agent running excursions for the Hamburg – Amerika line. In 1912, he met and married a wealthy American lady of German descent and they planned to make their home in the States. Unfortunately, the marriage was short-lived and in July 1914 Lody found himself aged 39, unattached, $10,000 dollars richer thanks to his former father-in-law, and determined to emigrate. He contacted the general office of the German Naval Office seeking release from the Reserve, citing an illness in 1904 which had rendered him unfit for active service.

Summoned for interviews in August it was suggested that he might undertake some naval intelligence gathering in England before relocating to America. Despite his reservations as to his suitability for the role, the 27th August saw him disembarking at Newcastle as Charles Inglis an American tourist. Moving to Edinburgh, he sent his first telegram to Adolf Burchard in Stockholm on 30th August. Lody was unaware that the address was known to the British authorities who were already conducting stringent and very successful postal censorship, and who would monitor his future correspondence.

Cycling round Edinburgh he relayed observations, gossip, and newspaper cuttings in further letters to Burchard. Trips to London, Liverpool, and Killarney in Ireland followed and the increasing quality of information aroused sufficient alarm for the Royal Irish Constabulary to be alerted. Charles Inglis was detained on 2nd October under the Defence of the Realm Act as a suspected German agent. Instituted on the 8th August 1914, the Defence of the Realm Act made espionage a military offence to be tried by court martial and punishable with the death penalty.

Brought to London and held at Wellington Barracks, Lody’s court martial was conducted at the Middlesex Guildhall, Westminster Broadway from Friday 30th October to Monday 2nd November. The proceedings were open to the public but the court was cleared for sentencing. On the 4th November, secret written instructions were issued to the general officer commanding London district stating that His Majesty confirmed the findings of the court and that Lody should be told of his fate the following morning. At least 18 hours had to elapse before the sentence was carried out, with every consideration afforded the prisoner for religious consolation and an interview with his legal adviser. However, there was to be no leakage to the press before the official communique was issued. The Tower was the approved place of execution given the constraints of time and secrecy, and on the evening of 5th November, a police van brought Lody to the site.

Hans Lody sitting in the dock guarded by two armed soldiers

Lody in the Middlesex Guildhall during his court martial

He wrote two letters on the eve of his death – one to the commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards at Wellington Barracks thanking him and his staff for their kind and considered treatment “even towards the enemy” and signing himself Senior Lieutenant, Imperial German Res. II; the second was to relations in Stuttgart stating “I shall die as an Officer, not as a spy”.

Ten further spies were executed at the Tower, the last Ludvico Hurwitz-y-Zender on 11th April 1916. The majority including Lody died in the Rifle Range in the outer ward of the Tower between the Constable and Martin Towers – an area closed to the public. As Charles ffoulkes, Keeper of the Armouries, wrote in Arms and the Tower (1939) “it is worthy of note that although London was filled with hysterical rumours of spies, secret signalling and expected sabotage, the authorities kept their heads as far as the Tower was concerned. All through the War the Tower was open to the public at 6d. a head, or on certain days free, in spite of the fact that spies were imprisoned and shot within the precincts.”

Related stories

Load more