Camelot International > Tower of London


One always associates death and torture at the Tower of London with the axe or being hanged, drawn and quarted or racked to name but a few of the delights awaiting the unfortunates held prisoner there. It is hard to believe that a simple wooden household chair could become known as the Chair of Death but in recent history that is exactly what happened.

Chair of Death

He was only 25 years of age, an accomplished violinist far from his native land of Germany and sentenced to be executed in the Tower of London. The year was 1915, his name was Fernando Buschman, his crime was spying against the Kingdom of England for Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm during the great world war of 1914 -1918. All through the long autumn night before his death sweet notes drifted over the ancient battlements as Fernando Buschman caressed his beloved violin and played it with unimaginable tenderness. Never in the 1000 years of the Tower of London's romantic and bloody history had such music been heard there. In the morning, just before 7am, he kissed the violin, saying: "Goodbye, I shall not want you anymore." Then he was escorted to a chair, his chest bared, to face the rifles of an eight-man firing squad of the 3rd Battalion Scots Guards. Facing the guns like the gentleman that he was on that chilly morning of September 19, 1915 Francis Buschman had an understanding smile on his handsome face and declined a bandage for his eyes. Even his guards were sad to see such a spy die but those are the misfortunes of war.

Fernando Buschman

Buschman was just one of 11 of the Kaiser's spies to be executed in the Tower during World War 1 whose stories are now being told for the first time. They were the first executions inside the Tower since 1601, when Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex was the last of only seven people, all of them with royal connections and including Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey, to face the axe. For the spies however, it was the .303 bullet from a firing squad, sitting, usually strapped in an ordinary, wooden, Windsor chair at the end of a 100ft shed that was until its demolition I the Sixties, a practice shooting range. In the married quarters near to where thousands of visitors shuffle past the Crown Jewels every week, the families of the Yeoman Warders would have heard each early-morning volley, for the Tower of London remained open throughout World War I. Unlike the Tower's inmates 350 years earlier, each of them spent only one night there - their last. A much asked question of the time was why execute them there? The answer is that the government felt it would have more effect on the country and possibly in Germany than an ordinary prison would have.

Fernando Buschman, whose German father had a music and instrument business and whose mother was Brazilian of Danish extraction, was a widely-travelled man who ran a food importing business until being asked to travel to Britain and send back what information he could. Bushman's mail was intercepted because the German schoolmaster to whom he was instructed to address his Ôimpressions of London' was known to the British as a spy. Sentenced to death at a court martial, it was the night before his execution as he waited to be transferred to the Tower that he asked for his violin, to give him solace while waiting for his last moments. He prepared a programme of pieces, ending with Pagliacci, the story of a broken-hearted clown, just before they came for him.

The first of the spies to be executed at the Tower was Carl Hans Lody, a 39-year-old German junior naval officer from a well-to-do family. Although he had zero espionage training, he was asked to go to Britain because he had travelled extensively in America and could pass himself off as an American tourist. From the moment of his arrest to the moment of his death, Carl Lody also behaved like a gentleman. He wrote to his family: "A hero's death on the battlefields is certainly finer, but such is not to be my lot and I die here in the Enemy's country, silent and unknown. Tomorrow I shall be shot here in the Tower. I have had just Judges, and I shall die as an Officer, not as a spyÓ.

John Fraser, a Yeoman Warder at the Tower who witnessed the execution, describes an atmosphere of unimaginable - and strictly old-world - courtesy as Lody was led in a grim procession towards the death chair.

The Killing Shed

"A few moments later the procession had disappeared through the doorway of the sinister shed and shortly after that came the muffled sound of a single volley by the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards." Lody was buried, like all the others at the East London Cemetery in Plaistow.

Carl Hans Lody

Two of the other spies, Haicke Janssen and Willem Roos, masqueraded as cigar salesmen. Janssen sent telegrams to Germany in which orders of Havana cigars were codes for warships gathered in the port at Southampton. Roos compounded a tragi-comical error by sending telegrams saying there was a big demand for cigars in Britain's naval ports. He failed to realise that seamen smoked pipes and cigarettes, but they hardly ever smoked cigars. Both were executed in the Tower, not in the shed this time (probably because of the early hour) but in the Tower ditch, the moat area. Janssen calmly went first to the wooden chair at 6am on July 30, 1915. Ten minutes later Roos was brought forward and according to an account of the time, eyed the fatal chair from which the bleeding body of his accomplice had just been removed with a fair show of indifference, begging leave to finish the cigarette he had requested as a last favour. Once he had taken his last puff he threw it away with a gesture which represented utter contempt for all the frailties of this world. With apparently no more interest in the proceedings, he seated himself in the chair.

Another of the spies was Carl Muller, a multi-linguist who had worked on American and British ships and been in partnership with an Englishman in a cargo business when he agreed to become a spy at the fairly advanced age of 58. As with the others his mail too had attracted suspicion and tests revealed messages in invisible ink giving details of armaments stored at Woolwich arsenal, and of military movements by train. When he was arrested by the Special Branch, a lemon was found in his pocket. He claimed it was for his teeth but it was part of the necessary equipment for writing message in invisible ink. Ironically, he also had a guide to the Tower of London, little realising that when he brought it, as Sellers says, "he would soon be part of its rich history". Another lemon-carrier was Ernst Melin, a Swede who claimed he used it for shaving.

The other spies executed at the Tower included Augusto Roggen, who wrote his messages to known spies on postcards; George Breeckow, who had used the names Reginald Rowland and George T. Parker, and collapsed in the dock when sentenced to death; Irving Ries, pseudonym for a man who arrived by ship from New York, claiming to be from Chicago and trading in hay an oats; Albert Meyer, another invisible ink user who tried to sing "Tipperary" and hurled abuse and curses at his captors until stilled by the firing squad's bullets; and Ludovico Hurowitz-y-Zender, a Peruvian. But even these were not quite the last executions at the Tower of London. A last German spy was executed there by firing squad in World War II, Corporal Josef Jakobs. Jacobs was executed on the morning of August 15, 1940. Unlike the others, he is buried at Kensal Rise cemetery, north-west London. He, too, was seated in an ordinary wooden Windsor chair, though apparently not the same one as his colleagues from the previous world war. At the Tower, no one knows what happened to that first chair. But Jakobs's execution chair was kept. For the past 57 years it has been in store and recently was put on public display in the Tower of London. It has now been moved and awaits transportation to the city of Leads where it will be put on permanent view as a macabre museum piece.

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