- Contributed by
- Florrie Cowley (nee Chapman)
- People in story:
- Florrie Chapman
- Location of story:
- Tyttenhanger Park, Colney Heath, Hertfordshire
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 10 July 2005
During World War Two, signposts and anything giving the name of the village or town were removed and organisations' camping grounds were closed, and left to nature, as it was considered unsafe to venture out into the wild countryside.
My friend Rene and myself were Rangers, senior guides, and bored with restrictions and the stress of war decided it would be fun to visit our Divisional Guide camp site, Cherry Green Trees, Tyttenhanger Park, Colney Heath, and cook a sausage our mothers had managed to obtain off the tight meat ration, over a camp fire as we had done pre-war.
It was Spring, May time, and the weather was good as we happily cycled on our way and eventually arrived at the farmer’s house, where we obtained the key, and took the narrow, overgrown footpath winding through the fields to the site. The site consisted of a very large field on which stood a wooden hut, which in the large room was stored tents, blankets, and camp cooking utensils and in the smaller room was set out as a kitchen and held indoor cooking utensils, crockery, etc. Across the far side of the field was a small wood.
We opened the door of the hut, undid the shutters, and were absolutely astounded as we saw there were a few tins of food and an opened fresh bottle of milk. In a hut which had not been used since war was declared in September 1939!
We gingerly went through the door of the large room and opened the shutters. One was broken and held up to give the impression it was locked and on the floor was a bed made up of tents and blankets etc. What did annoy us was our large camp site Union Jack was the top cover of the bed. How dare anyone do this - it had cost us a lot of money! Someone was obviously living there.
We quickly came out to think the situation over. Being war time there were no vagabonds, tramps etc around so who could be living there? We then thought a German Spy could have been dropped and this would be an ideal place to hide or live. This thought made us very frightened as, if we were discovered, he would be sure to kill us. Rene, thinking only of the prospect of lighting a fire and cooking her precious sausage, said we could go back to the farm after we had eaten. My thought was to get away immediately.
Contemplating, she agreed. At the farm the farmer pointed to his phone and gave me the police phone number. In a short while two policemen arrived by car and went to our camp site. When they returned they stated we were to go home and on no condition tell anyone of what we had discovered. We thought the Divisional Commissioner ought to be told but the police were insistent - NO ONE.
A week or two later, I think it was in a St Albans newspaper, that a spy had been caught. I personally did not see it. I did make a few enquiries after the war but found out nothing and so ended our adventure.
Not so. Sixty-two years later I went on an outing to the Imperial War Museum in London and in the 'Spies' section there it was - a German spy caught in Tyttenhanger Park, London Colney on 14th c. Karel Richard Richter. He had been dropped by parachute on 13th May 1941 and was caught by the Home Guard and taken to Tess Road Police Station. There was no doubt whatsoever that this was 'our' spy, the date and place were right and naturally the Home Guard had been alerted by the police and succeeded in the capture.
What a different story it may have been if we had not visited our camp site. He could have lived there undiscovered for a long time as it was an ideal hiding place, especially with the adjacent wood. Or, if he had seen us two Rangers we would have been shot.
On the evening of the visit to the Museum I had the History Channel 101 10pm on the TV and suddenly heard the name Karel Richard Richter, which was so fresh in my mind. It was under the 'Spies who fooled Hitler' and referred to many spies who turned into double agents. Apparently Richter told our authorities so many lies that they could not believe a word he said. At first they thought he was a Master Spy checking on the German spies over here, then there were several stories which he periodically changed so in the end they stated he was 'unreliable and a liar' and so he was taken to the Tower of London and hung on 10th December 1941.
On hearing my story my cousin who was a Security Guard at the Tower of London said many years ago a company were making a film which included spies shot at the Tower, and he was asked to sit on a chair, with lots of gun holes in it. This he did. So we wondered was Richter shot and not hung and this was the actual chair he died in. The date was similar.
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