Wednesday 30 April 2014

The lady spy of Reedness, Yorkshire

Last night I went to the monthly meeting of the Marshland Local History group in Swinefleet village hall. The speaker was very interesting and I learned a lot about the nature reserves at Thorne and Hatfield.

The group is hoping to attract new members and have begun production of a small newsletter - we all received our printed copies last night. The idea is that, in future,  anyone on e mail can receive copies electronically.

It is an opportunity to keep in touch for those who perhaps would like to join the group but who for one reason or another cannot get to meetings. The group would welcome any contributions for future editions - memories, photos, family history stories and queries, articles - anything as long as it refers to the Marshland villages.

My contribution I reproduce below. I was fascinated to find that this Reedness lady had such dubious connections that she spent most of the First World war in an internment camp.

The lady spy of Reedness

Like most members of the MLHG I shall miss listening to Bill/Horace Wroot's stories of Reedness life in the 20s and 30s. One story he often told was of the two local sisters who signalled to the Germans during the war.

I am not sure that the story I have found was the right one but it is certainly true that a Reedness lady was accused of being a spy during the First World War.

The lady in question was called Hilda Margaret Howsin. She was born in 1877, the younger daughter of Edward Howsin, a doctor and his wife, the former Louisa Bell of The Manor, Reedness. The Bell family were natives of Reedness and Louisa's father Robert was also a doctor.

By 1901 Louisa Howsin had died but the rest of the family - Edward and daughters Ethel and Hilda were living at Reedness with Louisa's sister Elizabeth.

Hilda was then only 23 but had already published a book entitled The Significance of Indian Nationalism.

Ten years later in 1911 she was visitor at the home of Wilfred Scawen Blunt, a noted author, poet and friend of Winston Churchill. She was then described as a journalist.

But then came the war and on 1st September 1915 her father went out partridge shooting. When he came home Hilda had disappeared. Some 17 days later the family found out that she was in an internment camp at Aylesbury.

She was accused of 'hostile associations'.  In 1907 in London she had apparently met a Virandranath Chattopodhyaya, an Indian who was studying for the Bar. He had associations with the Indian Nationalist movement and had left England in 1909*.

In May 1915, while at Reedness, Hilda had received a message from an unknown woman and as a result she travelled to Montreux where she met 'the Hindu' [as he was referred to in newspaper reports]. She then returned to England with a message for a lady friend of Mr Chattopodhyaya who was in a sanatorium.

However it was said that not only had her friend spent time in Berlin before travelling to Switzerland but that the lady who had asked Miss Howsin to travel to Montreux was a spy.

The case of Hilda Howsin was reported in national newspapers as "The case of the Squire's Daughter". She applied for her release on several occasions, was questioned personally by Stanley Baldwin and her case was discussed in the House of Commons but all to no avail.

She was not released until August 1919. In 1920 she married Devendra Bannerjea. She died in Fordingbridge, Hampshire in 1955.

Her sister, Miss Ethel Howsin, was remembered by Bill as the lady who came into Reedness School at Christmas time, bringing her large dogs (? Dalmatians) with her. The children had on their desks in front of them buns and cakes that were left over from their party and that they were taking home. The children stood in honour of their guest and the dogs ate the buns.

So I am not sure whether the Howsin family were the origin of Bill's spy story but surely Hilda's notoriety must have been discussed in the village.

* Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, alias Chatto, (1880 – 2 September 1937, Moscow), was a prominent Indian revolutionary who worked to overthrow the British Raj in India by using the force of arms as a tool. He created alliances with the Germans during World War I, was part of the Berlin Committee organising Indian students in Europe against the British, and explored actions by the Japanese at the time.
He went to Moscow in 1920 to develop support by the Communists for the Indian movement, including among Asians in Moscow who were working on revolutionary movements. He joined the German Communist Party (KPD). He lived in Moscow for several years in the 1930s. Arrested in July 1937 in Joseph Stalin's Great Purge, Chatto was executed on 2 September 1937.

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Goole Volunteer firemen

At long last the weather is improving and I have been able to cut the grass. I have a very old ride on mower and it is a challenge to steer it around the still green snowdrop leaves and the daffodils. But it is amazing how quickly everything is growing and I know that if  I do not cut the cow parsley now it will soon be waist high. Flowers that I am very pleased to see are my few fritillaries and cowslips. They are spreading very slowly.

On the history front we went to the York postcard fair and bought some lovely cards of Laxton, Saltmarshe, Newport and Gilberdyke which will eventually appear on the old photo section of my website. I am so far behind with updating the photo section that it is always best to ask what I have.

The fair did not seem as busy as previous years - and this year we remembered to take our own sandwiches instead of buying the very expensive ones at the venue.

I have recently been searching the Goole Times archives [ I am now their custodian] for various people who want copies of articles.  I bought a small portable scanner so that I can scan from the files without damaging them.

There are some excellent old photos reproduced in the early 1960s which I am fascinated by. The picture below shows the Goole volunteer fire  brigade. Although of course the pictures are a bit grainy they are quite clear enough to identify faces.

Goole volunteer firemen