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Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The 'Australian Soldier' Who Killed Lord Kitchener: His Lover and His Typewriter

'Australian soldier Captain Claude Stoughton'
promoting US World War I bonds.
Australian passions have been inflamed. First, hundreds of thousands of them turned out at dawn services in various parts of the globe for emotional ceremonies celebrating the centenary of Anzac Day. Only to be admonished for doing so by a young TV soccer reporter, who tweeted, "The cultification of an imperialist invasion of a foreign nation that Australia had no quarrel with is against all ideals of modern society ... Wonder if the poorly-read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers pause today to consider the horror that all mankind suffered ... Remembering the summary execution, widespread rape and theft committed by these ‘brave’ Anzacs in Egypt, Palestine and Japan ... Not forgetting that the largest single-day terrorist attacks in history were committed by this nation and their allies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki ... Innocent children, on the way to school, murdered. Their shadows seared into the concrete of Hiroshima." The nation was outraged and the reporter was summarily sacked. At least news reader Hugh Riminton had the intestinal fortitude to comment that while the reporter's tweets were "untimely, immature and in one case offensively wrong" ... "But lest we forget, our Diggers died for free speech." Someone also raised the issue of Je suis Charlie. This was far from satire, of course; still, as misguided, "untimely and immature" and "inappropriate and disrespectful" as they were, they were one person's opinions.
Asquith's squeeze: Ms Stanley
Feelings were already running high. On the eve of Anzac Day, a Sydney columnist pointed out that on January 13, 1915, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill had put forward the Gallipoli landings idea to a British War Council crisis meeting in London while Prime Minister Herbert Asquith was otherwise preoccupied writing his third love letter of the day to Venetia Stanley, a mistress 35 years his junior. Lord Kitchener said Churchill's plan was worth trying, so Asquith added to his love letter that he'd "see if it meets with your [Venetia's] approval". How dare, the columnist asked, the British PM put the lives of tens of thousands of Australian and New Zealand in the hands of his young female 'playmate'?
I have no doubt that in the poignant and sometimes tense atmosphere of Saturday, there were a few Australians and New Zealanders thinking, "If I'd only been there, I'd have killed Asquith, Churchill and Kitchener."
Well, as it turns out, an 'Australian' did kill Kitchener, 18 months after the London meeting and a year and six weeks after the Gallipoli landings. Or so he claimed ... 
He was Captain Claude Stoughton of the Western Australian Light Horse Regiment, a man who had "seen more war than any man at present" [in 1914] and to have been "bayoneted three times, gassed four times, and stuck once with a hook". Such stirring talk led to Captain Stoughton appearing before New York audiences dressed in uniform and telling war stories, and using his image to promote the sale of Liberty Bonds. One historian noted, "Captain Stoughton's career took off. His talks made decent money, his heroism earned him respect, and ladies found him alluring." 
Problem was, there was no such person as Claude Stoughton. But the fellow masquerading as this fictitious Aussie soldier did, in fact, claim to be responsible for the death of Lord Kitchener. Indeed, he told his story for a book called The Man Who Killed Kitchener and wanted a movie made of it.
Kitchener sailed from Scrabster to Scapa Flow on June 5, 1916, aboard the HMS Oak before transferring to the armoured cruiser HMS Hampshire for his diplomatic mission to Russia. While en route to the Russian port of Arkhangelsk during a Force 9 gale, Hampshire is believed to have struck a mine laid by the newly launched German U-boat U-75 and sank west of the Orkney Islands. Kitchener, his staff and 643 of the crew of 655 were drowned or died of exposure. Kitchener's body was never found.
While all this seems quite straightforward, there are still some astonishing theories about Kitchener's demise. The one that has 99 years on proved "most difficult to disprove" concerns a South African-born, Oxford-educated German secret agent and US citizen called Frederick "Fritz" Joubert Duquesne.
The theory goes that, posing as a Russian duke, Duquesne had joined Kitchener on the Hampshire and signalled the German U-boat. Duquesne allegedly made his own escape using a life raft before the ship was torpedoed and was rescued by the U-75. He claimed to have been awarded the Iron Cross for his act.
What is known for certain is that Duquesne was a man with "an all-consuming hatred of England" (his sister Elsbet had been raped and murdered and his mother Minna imprisoned by Kitchener's army in South Africa) and according to his biographer was "a walking, living, breathing, searing, killing, destroying torch of hate".
Apart from "The Man Who Killed Kitchener" and Captain Claude Stoughton, Duquesne also used the nom-de-plumes Frederick Fredericks, Boris Zakrevsky, Major Frank de Stafford Craven, Colonel Beza, Piet Niacud, George Fordam, The Duke and, most colourfully, "The Black Panther".
Duquesne was born the son of a hunter in East London in the Eastern Cape on September 21, 1877, and died in the City Hospital, Welfare Island (now Roosevelt Island), New York City, on May 24, 1956, aged 78. He is buried at Potters Field, Hart Island, in the Bronx.
From the Eastern Cape to the Bronx, Duquesne led a life of extraordinary daring.
The law caught up with him one last time on June 28, 1941, when he was arrested by FBI agents in the Manhattan apartment of his lover, his anti-British and anti-Semitic co-conspirator Evelyn Clayton Lewis. They nabbed Lewis and the pair's typewriter at the same time, and in turn 31 other members of the infamous Duquesne Spy Ring. These arrests led in 1942 to the largest espionage conviction in US history.
Lewis, the daughter of wealthy investment broker Charles Beverly Lewis (1869-1943), was born in Batesville, Arkansas, on February 23, 1903. When she was a teenager, the family moved to Dallas, Texas. After her arrest as an unregistered agent, she pleaded guilty, admitted she had let her own country down, and was sentenced to one year and one day in prison. The day she was released, February 28, 1943, her father died of diarrhoea in Dallas, aged 73.
Evelyn married John William Kingwell in Louisiana in 1945.
Duquesne's career of crime makes breathtaking reading. During the Second Boer War (1899-1902) he was captured and imprisoned three times by the British and once by the Portuguese, and each time escaped.
He infiltrated the British Army, became an officer and led an attempt to sabotage Cape Town and assassinate Kitchener. Captured and sentenced to death, he tried to escape prison in Cape Town and was sent to jail in Bermuda, but escaped to the United States and became an American citizen in December 1913.
The young Duquesne
In World War I, he became a spy for Germany and sabotaged British merchant ships in South America with concealed bombs. After he was caught by federal agents in New York in 1917, he feigned paralysis for two years and disguised himself as a woman and escaped by cutting the bars of his cell and climbing over the barrier walls, thus avoiding deportation to England. 
Duquesne fled to Mexico and Europe, but in 1926 moved back to New York and assumed a new identity as Frank de Stafford Craven.
Note: Not "tweeting" but "twitting"
In 1932 he was again captured in New York by federal agents and charged with both homicide and for being an escaped prisoner.
Duquesne the New York Herald journalist in 1913.
In between all this, Duquesne served as an adviser on big game hunting and was personal shooting instructor to Theodore Roosevelt, lobbied the US Congress to fund the importation of hippopotamuses into the Louisiana bayous, worked for Joseph P. Kennedy's Film Booking Offices of America and later RKO Pictures as part of the publicity staff, was a New York Herald journalist and a war correspondent.
Duquesne had become a German spy in 1914 and was sent to Bahia, Brazil as Frederick Fredericks. He planted time bombs disguised as cases of mineral samples on British ships and was credited with sinking 22 ships. He moved to Buenos Aires and reported his own death in Bolivia at the hands of Amazonian natives. Duquesne returned to New York around May 1916 and the next month left for Europe posing as the Russian Duke Boris Zakrevsky.
Duquesne's World War II registration
In the spring of 1934, Duquesne became an intelligence officer for the Order of 76, an American pro-Nazi organisation.
Duquesne's "entrapment" in the office of Harry Sawyer, June 25, 1941,
three days before his arrest.
On June 28, 1941, following a two-year investigation, the FBI arrested Duquesne and 32 other Nazi spies on charges of relaying secret information on US weaponry and shipping movements to Germany. The 33 were sentenced to serve a total of more than 300 years in prison. Duquesne was sentenced to 18 years. In 1954 he was released owing to ill health, having served 14 years.  


Fleetwing said...

Wow -- that is quite a story. Thanks for this; lots of research involved here. I only read recently about the circumstances of Kitchener's death; this post uses that only as a starting point! Well done.

Bill Aitken said...

Hi oz.Typewriter,

I'm not trying to spam or anything but I did a lot of research on this very subject for my novel "Blackest of Lies". You can get it on Amazon. Duquesne was a fascinating guy for sure and some of the stuff he did with pencil bombs on ships leaving the US bound for the Allies is really staggering.

But he was also a bit of a fantasist. The weather at the time of the Hampshire's sinking was dreadful in the extreme. No submarine of the time could usefully come up to periscope depth, let alone loose a torpedo and as for Duquesne (Zakrevsky) escaping the ship on a float or inflatable ...

It would have been turning somersaults.

But there is absolutely no doubt that the secret of Lord Kitchener's mission was betrayed - even his first biographer says this. There was a lot of sneaky stuff going on in the background, including death threats by the early form of the IRA. He was in more danger from his own government than the Germans!

I would be happy to talk to anyone about the circumstances of the Hampshire's sinking with your readers, especially as the low-life spammers have cost you your blog.

Hope we'll hear from you real soon in some other vehicle.