Namatjira and Heysen –  from different worlds, but the bush was their canvas

HANG paintings by Albert Namatjira (left) and Hans Heysen (right) side by side and you can see the Australian Outback as a place of some beauty, just as they did.

The Outback is the colloquial name for the vast, unpopulated and mainly arid areas that comprise Australia’s interior and remote coasts.

Few people go way out there – they travel through it or fly over but few linger to see its true character.

Through the eyes of artists, the Outback takes on a character that defies its reputation of desert, bush and isolation.

In fact, the outback could be considered that large part of Australia that extends from the northern to southern Australian coastlines inland from the heavily populated eastern coast and includes several climatic zones; from the tropical and monsoonal climates in northern areas, arid areas in the “red centre” and semi-arid and temperate climates to the south.

But it is the “red centre” (a misnomer according to those who can appreciate its beauty) and the bush that captured the imagination of several artists. Both Namatjira and Heysen captured the beauty of the landscape in their watercolour works.

Outback gum (eucalypt) trees are prominent features. But that’s not to say their individual paintings were in parallel or even always similar. They were not, as is plainly obvious when their collections are viewed.

And their lives were very different. Namatjira died soon after being released from prison – in 1959, having been sentenced to serve time for supplying another Aboriginal with liquor.

Heysen married into a noted family and was knighted for his services to art. Wealthy South Australians funded a four-year visit to France to study art. An electoral district in South Australia was named for him. Heysen died in 1968.

Throughout their lives, both received prominent media coverage – Namatjira unfortunately sometimes for the controversial aspects.

In 2017 both artists, though long gone, were again in the spotlight.

In a struggle lasting decades after the artist’s death, the family of Albert Namatjira finally had the rights to his art returned to them.

After Namatjira died in 1959, the Public Trustee for the Northern Territory Government took over administration of his estate, with Legend Press continuing to manage copyright and royalty payments to the Namatjira family.

But the Public Trustee sold Namatjira’s ownership of copyright to Legend Press in 1983, ending the income stream to the artist’s family — a decision the trustee some time later acknowledged was wrong.

The legal battle to get copyright restored to the family only ended, not with a decision of the court, but by the intervention of millionaire businessman and entrepreneur Dick Smith.

Smith decided to support the Namatjira family’s cause, convinced that there had been a “misunderstanding” between the family and copyright owner Legend Press.

He told the ABC: “I had originally met [owner] John Brackenreg many years ago and found him to be an ethical person.

“They’d reached an impasse after about 10 years of negotiation. In 15 minutes, we worked our way around the problems.

“I agreed to donate some money towards the Namatjira Foundation and John Brackenreg’s son Philip agreed that he’d transfer the entire copyright to the family.”

Smith said copyright was then handed over to the Namatjira family for a nominal amount of $1.

The deal opened the way for Namatjira’s landscapes to be more widely circulated, following years of tight ­restrictions on display and usage. Various galleries that hold some of more than 1000 Namatjira works, including the National Gallery of Australia, will be able to arrange exhibitions.

Hans Heysen’s name, too became the centre of attention in 2017 when a researcher discovered correspondence in which concerns were expressed that Heysen may have been a war-time traitor.

Art history student Ralph Body made the discovery during research for his PhD paper. As in most countries that made up the Allied forces at the time, German residents of Australia were regarded with great suspicion.

The fact that Heysen was born in Germany raised the concern of a senior police officer in Adelaide who wrote to officers based at Mt Barker, where Heysen was living.

Body said the letter made serious imputations: “His loyalty is described as being of a highly doubtful character and they request his home be put under surveillance based on little more than anonymous stories the commissioner had heard, and the fact Heysen was German-born.”

Heysen’s brother-in-law was sent to an internment camp and not released until 1920. Heysen was subjected to surveillance, virtually under house-arrest.

Body quotes the police reaction to reports Heysen was pleased Germany was losing: “One day when one of my informants passed Mr Heysen working, he called out, ‘the war situation looks better, the British are too good for the Germans and are giving them hell’. From this it will be seen that although Heysen’s sympathy may be with the Germans, he is too clever and cunning to show any sign of disloyalty.”

Heysen Gallery curator Allan Campbell told the ABC: “”Where on Earth did they get that language from? I mean calling Heysen shrewd and cunning, it’s ridiculous. He was one of life’s great gentlemen and a pacifist to boot.”

Campbell said some art galleries took Heysen’s paintings down during the war.

Hans Heysen of course went on to become a celebrated Australian artist.

Paintings, Top left: Albert Namatjira’s Mount Sonder, West McDonnell Ranges c. 1945. Watercolour over faint underdrawing in black pencil. Photo – National Gallery of Australia.
Top right: Hans Heysen, Aroona (1939) 42.2 x 62.0 cm watercolour on paper.

Albert Namatjira

Born Elea Namatjira, Albert was a Western Arrernte-speaking Aboriginal from the MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia.

The Australian dictionary of Biography records:

Albert (Elea) Namatjira (1902-1959), artist, was born on 28 July 1902 at Hermannsburg (Ntaria), Northern Territory, son of Namatjira and his wife Ljukuta. Elea belonged to the western group of the Arrernte people. In 1905 the family was received into the Lutheran Church: Elea (who was given the name Albert) and his father (who took the name Jonathan) were baptized, and his mother was blessed (as Emilie). Albert attended the Hermannsburg mission school. In accordance with the practice of the missions, he lived separately from his parents in a boys’ dormitory. At 13 he spent six months in the bush and underwent initiation. He left the mission again at the age of 18 and married Ilkalita, a Kukatja woman. Eight of their children were to survive infancy: five sons—Enos, Oscar, Ewald, Keith and Maurice—and three daughters—Maisie, Hazel and Martha. The family shifted to Hermannsburg in 1923 and Ilkalita was christened Rubina.

While dabbling in various forms of art as a youngster, including sketching and poker carvings on bark – inspired by the landscapes around him, Namatjira worked variously as a blacksmith, carpenter, stockman and cameleer; the mission for rations and on neighbouring stations for wages.

Noted artists visiting central Australia to paint landscapes saw potential and encouraged Namatjira’s work. In 1937 some of his watercolours were displayed at a Lutheran conference in Nuriootpa, South Australia, and at an exhibition with the Royal South Australian Society of Arts, Adelaide

In 1938 Namatjira held his first solo exhibition at the Fine Art Society Gallery, Melbourne where he was mobbed by autograph hunters.

Namatjira’s work won national and international acclaim. In 1944 he was included in Who’s Who in Australia. He was awarded Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation medal (1953), presented to the Queen in Canberra (1954) and elected an honorary member of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales (1955).

Namatjira was the first Northern Territory Aboriginal person to be freed from restrictions that made Aboriginal people wards of the State. In 1957, he became the first Aboriginal person to be granted restricted Australian citizenship, which allowed him to vote, have limited land rights and buy alcohol.

But he also encountered racial discrimination. He was refused a grazing licence in 1949 and prevented in 1951 from building a house on land he bought at Alice Springs. Seeking further means of support for his family, he discovered copper deposits at Areyonga Reserve, but they proved commercially unviable. By the early 1950s he lived independently of the mission in a fringe camp at Morris Soak on the outskirts of Alice Springs.

It was the freedom to buy alcohol that landed him in prison.

One night in 1958 a woman was killed near Morris Soak by her husband, and Namatjira was told by the coroner that he would be jailed for six months if he was caught supplying liquor to fellow Aborigines. Weeks later he was charged with leaving a bottle of rum where a fellow tribesman found it (his explanation was that he had put it on the seat of a car from where it was taken). He was sentenced to six months imprisonment with labour.

Following a public outcry and two appeals, the sentence was reduced to three months. Namatjira eventually served two months of ‘open’ detention at the Papunya settlement in March-May 1959. He died of hypertensive heart failure on 8 August that year at Alice Springs Hospital and was buried in the local cemetery. His wife, five sons and one of his daughters survived him.

FOOTNOTE: The ABC reported on 28 August 2018 that Namatjira family members had welcomed an undisclosed compensation payment to the Namatjira Legacy Trust from the Northern Territory Government for the “unjust” sale of copyright to the artist’s works of art to Legend Press in 1983.

UPDATE: Vincent Namatjira, great-grandson of acclaimed artist Albert Namatjira, in 2020 became the first Indigenous Australian to win the $100,000 Archibald Prize in its 99-year history.

The Western Arrernte artist was an Archibald finalist for the fourth year in a row in 2020 (the runner up in 2018), with a double-portrait featuring himself alongside former AFL player and 2014 Australian of the Year Adam Goodes, entitled Stand Strong for Who You Are.

Accepting the award via Zoom from the APY Lands, where he lives, Namatjira said: “What an honour it is to be the first Indigenous winner of the Archibald Prize. It only took 99 years!”

Namatjira won against other finalists who included former Archibald Prize winners Louise Hearman, Nicholas Harding, Craig Ruddy, Marcus Wills, Wendy Sharpe and Guy Maestri.

The win capped a remarkable 18 months for Namatjira, who won the $100,000 Ramsay Art Prize in 2019.

Hans Heysen

Wilhelm Ernst Hans Franz Heysen (1877-1968) was born on 8 October 1877 in Hamburg, Germany, to Louis Heinrich Wilhelm Heysen and Maria Elisabeth Henriette. The family including five surviving children migrated to South Australia in 1883-84. Heysen was 7.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography says: “From 1885 Hans attended the East Adelaide Model and four other schools in Adelaide, acquiring a bilingual education and giving early indications of artistic skill. His father moved from one unsuccessful enterprise to another until he established himself as a produce merchant. Heysen left school in 1892, aged 14, working first in a hardware store and then on one of his father’s produce carts. At 14 he bought his first paints: ‘I saw a drainpipe with stalks and reeds … It seemed to me beautiful, so I painted it’, he later said.

 Heysen married Selma Bartels (1878–1962) on 15 December 1904. Her father was Adolph H. F. Bartels, a former Lord Mayor of Adelaide. Their daughter Nora Heysen also became a successful artist.

By 1912 Hans Heysen had earned enough from his art to purchase a property called “The Cedars” (pictured above) near Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills, which remained his home until his death in 1968 aged 90.

Heysen is best remembered for his remarkable paintings depicting sheep and cattle among massive gum trees against a background of sunlight. Most of his work was based on the landscape around Hahndorf and the Flinders Ranges.

Heysen won the Wynne Prize – awarded annually for the best landscape painting of Australian scenery in oils or watercolours – nine times between 1904 and 1932.

In 1945 Heysen was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE), and in 1959 was made a Knight Bachelor for his services to art. The 1,200 km walking track from the Flinders Ranges to (via the Adelaide Hills) to the Fleurieu Peninsular is called “The Heysen Trail” in his honour.

Many of Heysen’s work are on display at the South Australian Art Gallery,

A Hans Heysen watercolour sold for a record-breaking $110,000 at an auction in Adelaide in 2017 after it was discovered at a deceased estate in Germany.

The painting, titled The Camp on Wonoka Creek, is Heysen’s largest watercolour work, but had not been seen since it was sold in 1958. It ended up at a private collection at Dusseldorf in Germany, where an international art dealer picked it up.

Sources and references: Australian Dictionary of Biography, ABC.com.au, press reports of the copyright settlement, Wikipedia, National Gallery of Australia. thecedars.com.au.

FOOTNOTE: The author became familiar with the works of the artists when at Primary School in NSW – prints of their works were on the classroom wall.

UPDATE: Hans Heysen’s daughter Nora also became an accomplished artist. She wasn’t a pupil of her father but her travels around Europe kindled her interest and talent. In 1938 she became the first woman to win the Archibald Prize for portraiture. In 1943 she became the first woman to be appointed an official Australian war artist. Her forte was still life and portraiture. Nora Heysen died  in Sydney in 2003. Her and her father’s works have been shown in a joint exhibition that premiered at the National Gallery Victoria in March 2019.

N: Road trains of the Outback


The juggernauts that replaced
bullock teams  and camel convoys

The need to transport goods over great distances across inhospitable country in the outback where there were no railway lines made Australia the ideal place for the development of road trains.

Australian road trains are long trucks. Really long.

Their development over 75 years has been critical to the survival of far flung places on the vast Australian continent.

The Guinness World Record for hauling the longest road train was set near Clifton on the Darling Downs in southern Queensland by Brisbane man John Atkinson, who drove a single Mack prime mover 140m in 50 seconds, pulling 112 heavy-haulage trailers. The record-breaking road train was 1,474.3 metres long – that’s a truck and trailer combination measuring almost 1.5 km.

The record-holder

That of course is not the standard road train configuration you will see in Australia – it was a record attempt, after all.

But road trains are an important contributor to the movement of freight across land to this day, despite the growth of freight railways and they have been so since the first one appeared in the mid-19th Century.

Early road trains consisted of traction engines pulling multiple wagons.

In war time as far back as the Crimean War, a steam traction engine was sometimes called in to haul multiple wagons through difficult terrain and conditions. They were also used in the second Boer War and other conflicts up to World War I.

Mack superliner road train

Today, road trains comprise a prime mover (tractor truck) towing a series of trailers. They are used in Australia, Argentina, Mexico, the US and Canada to carry freight to and from places not serviced by rail or freight that’s not suited to rail travel.

In Australia, they are most commonly seen in Western Australia, Central Australia and the Northern Territory, especially on the Stuart Highway north of Alice Springs, and the Victoria/Great Northern Highway between Katherine and Broome. Not all their routes are sealed roads, however and great clouds of red desert dust usually will signal that a road train is on the move in the outback.

The invention of the road train can actually be attributed to Great Britain.

The AEC Government Road train built in the 1930s by Hardy Motors, a subsidiary of AEC, for the British Overseas Mechanical Transport Directing Committee was intended for heavy transport in remote regions of the British Empire.

The AEC government road train - in its preserved version and at work in 1934.

The road train consisted of an eight-wheel drive tractor and two eight wheeled trailers. The first and last axles on the tractor steered in opposite directions giving good manoeuvrability. The trailers were self-tracking – the front and rear bogies turned in opposite directions. Thus, wheels on all twelve axles would follow each other in the same set of wheel tracks for better off-road ability.

Three AEC road trains were built, one going to Africa and one to Russia.

The third 8×8 was despatched to South Australia in April 1934 where it was operated by the State Government to transport freight into the Northern Territory, replacing the Afghan camel trains that had been trekking through the desert since the late 19th Century.

It comprised a 130 hp AEC 6-cylinder diesel truck connected with 2 Dyson self-tracking trailers.

The large radiator cooling the engine was mounted behind the “cab” and provided with a large pusher fan. A smaller fan drew air through the engine bay.

The brakes were unusual in acting on the rear trailer most strongly and so on down to the tractor.

In April 1934 the Government road train set off from Adelaide via Oodnadatta to Alice Springs. Arriving on 19 May, the trip of 1,100 mi (1,770 km) took more than three weeks. The AEC usually pulled two or three trailers. It was powered by a 130 hp (97 kW) diesel engine and travelled at 20-30 mph (32-48 km/h). It is estimated to have travelled off-road over 1.2 million miles (2 million km) in the Northern Territory from 1934 to 1946.

Today, road trains are quite common in outback Australia and an Australian, Kurt Johansson, is credited as the inventor of the modern version.

As noted on Jeremy Clarkson’s Australian episode of Motorworld on the BBC, Johansson, after transporting stud bulls 200 mi (320 km) to an outback property, was challenged to build a truck to carry 100 head of cattle instead of the original load of 20. Provided with financing of a couple of thousand pounds and inspired by the tracking abilities of the Government road train, Johansson began construction. Two years later he hit the road with his Diamond T.

Bertha at work

Johansson’s first effort used a US Army World War II surplus Diamond-T tank carrier, nicknamed “Bertha”, and two home-built self-tracking trailers.

Both wheel sets on each trailer could be steered, able to negotiate tight and narrow tracks and creek crossings. Freighter Trailers went on to build self-tracking trailers for Johansson and other customers as major innovators in transport machinery for Australia.

Today, road trains in Australia usually comprise at least three trailers.

The maximum weight for a loaded American semi-trailer is 80,000 pounds (36,287 kg) spread over 18 conventional wheels. Out in the wide-open spaces of Australia however, some “road trains” weigh more than 300,000 pounds (136,077 kg).

Australian road trains are most often seen carrying livestock or fuel.

Volvo NH15 Road Train
Photo: Sibylle Dreyer, Wiki

Another form of Australian road trains are the multi-unit haulers that work in the mining industry.

Jim Cooper, who arrived in Australian from New Zealand in 1970, established a transport business operating out of Darwin. His Gulf Transport grew into the Gulf Road Trains of Australia Group with more than 100 road trains running across Australia. The Cooper family also established the Brisbane-based Powertrans company in 2001 to give Gulf RTA a major advantage in mine haulage, underground and surface.

The Gulf RTA Group became a subsidiary of BIS (Brambles Industrial Services) in 2010.

The Pit Hauler system

Powertrans developed and built the Pit Hauler system – various combinations of trailers and power plants that could move mined material over longer distances and at greater speeds than the massive dumper trucks traditionally associated with surface mining.


Road trains can be very intimidating on the roads due to their sheer size. Road trains and other heavy vehicles need more space on the road and take longer to stop.

The Northern Territory Government offers this advice:

  • be patient – do not cut in front of road trains, especially when they are slowing down at traffic lights or turning.
  • do not overtake a turning road train, give them space and time.
  • keep your distance when travelling behind road trains on unsealed roads and use your headlights.
  • slow down and pull off the road and drive slowly on the shoulder of the road when approaching an oncoming road train on a single lane highway.
  • don’t drive in convoys, especially if you are towing a caravan.

When a road train starts to overtake your vehicle:

  • Maintain your speed.
  • Keep left and don’t move off the road.
  • Only slow down once the road train moves out to pass.
  • When the road train has passed flash your headlights to let the driver know that it is safe to move back in.

Before overtaking a road train:

  • Stay well back when behind a road train.
  • Make sure the driver can see you in one of the cab’s mirrors – if you can’t see the mirror the driver probably can’t see you.
  • Be certain you can see enough clear road space ahead.
  • Only overtake when you are confident you can safely do so.

When overtaking:

  • Signal, move out and pass quickly but sensibly.
  • Don’t move back in until you see both the road train’s headlights in your mirrors and don’t slow down.
  • You must allow more time to stop safely when driving behind a heavy vehicle or road train. Road trains take longer to stop.

It is recommended that travellers in the outback carry a UHF radio. This enables communication with the road train so you know where they are and also can be used in the case of an emergency.

US gets in on the act

The US government of the 1950s had the Texan company LeTourneau design wheeled land trains which could operate without the need for railway lines. Warfare at the time involved destroying rail links so the US Government decided it should have a massive roadtrain on standby.

LeTourneau came up with the TC-497 Overland Train. The first version was the LCC-1.

The US Army road train

A 600 hp (441.3 kW) diesel-powered generator in the cab sent power to all of wheels on both the cab and the four cargo trailers. The wheels were just over 10 ft (3 m) tall and very wide, to allow smoother-off road travel.

LCC-1 was so impressive that the Army contracted for a larger version, the Overland Train Mark II. It included a steering system that turned the wheels on the individual cars. Power could be increased by adding extra power cars along the train.

Lighter and smaller gas turbine engines supplied the power instead of a traditional diesel. The Mark II had a much larger six-wheeled cab that was 30 ft (9 m) tall. The smaller engine allowed the interior to support a crew of six with sleeping quarters, toilets and a galley. An additional two power cars and 10 cargo cars were built for testing. The train now stretched over 570 ft (173.7 m). On flat ground it could carry 150 tonnes of cargo at about 20 mph (32 km/h).

Only parts of these monsters survive, most having been sold for scrap.

Not a road train, but a car-carrier in China.
It is one trailer with side-by-side cars on top.

H: Australia’s first submarines – tragedy and triumph

Underwater mystery solved after 103 years

The wreck of Australia’s first naval submarine, the AE1, was found in December 2017 after several searches spanning 103 years.

The 13th search mission since the sub was lost, carried out by the vessel Fugro Equator, found AE1 largely intact in waters off the Duke of York islands, north-eastern Papua New Guinea.

She was found in about 300 m (840 ft) of water with the use of an underwater drone floating 40 m (131 ft) above the sea bed.

AE1 was the first Allied submarine lost in World War One. She disappeared with 35 Australian and British crewmates onboard on 14 September 1914, just weeks after the outbreak of the First World War.

Her sister boat, AE2, went on to figure in one of the most daring submarine feats of the war.

AE1 was launched in the yard of Vickers Ltd at Barrow-in-Furness, England, on 22 May 1913. She was commissioned at Portsmouth on 28 February 1914 under the command of Lieutenant Commander TF Besant, RN, and reached Sydney in May 1914.

The AE1, with a joint crew of Australian and British crew and one New Zealander, was sent to help capture German colonies including the then German-held New Guinea and lead the Allied capture of Rabaul on 13 September 1914.

But a day later while searching for German warships she became separated from the accompanying HMAS Parramatta in a heavy fog.

Parramatta and HMAS Yarra were ordered to search for AE1. HMAS Sydney, on her way to the west coast was also told to keep a lookout and later Encounter and Warrego also joined the search with launches from Rabaul and Herbertshohe.

No trace was found.

The loss of AE1 with her entire complement of three officers and 35 sailors was the RAN’s first major tragedy and it marred an otherwise successful operation.

Early In 2017, the Australian government announced it would match private investment to fund an expedition to search for AE1.

The government set aside $500,000 for “Find AE1 Limited” to search, in conjunction with The Silentworld Foundation, Australian National Maritime Museum and Fugro Survey.

There are no plans to return AE1 to Australia and the Government said it was working with Papua New Guinea to preserve the underwater site and plan for a lasting commemoration.

Down under hero

A hero of the Australian Navy, a relative minnow in the fleets of World War I warships, was the submarine AE2.

As was AE1, the AE2 was built in Britain by Vickers Armstrong for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) that was formed only three years earlier, in 1911.

The subs arrived in Sydney on 24 May 1914. Sixty days of the 13,000 mi (21,000 km) voyage were spent at sea, a record for submarines at that time. The quite basic submarines of the era had previously never managed to sail more than 200 mi (120 km) without breaking down.

The E-class boats displaced 726 tons submerged, were 181 ft (55 m) long, 22.5 ft (6.8 m) wide and could travel at 10 kts (18.5 km/h) submerged and 15 kts (27.7 km/h) on the surface. They were powered by two sets of eight-cylinder diesel engines and battery driven electric motors. The steel sheets were riveted – not welded – with the panels hand-planed to make sure the joins were watertight.

After the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, AE1 and AE2 joined Australian forces assigned to capture the German colonies in New Guinea.

During a patrol on 14 September AE1 disappeared with all hands.

After Germany surrendered the territories on 22 September 1914 AE2, under the command of Dublin-born Lieutenant Henry Hugh Gordon Dacre Stoker, was assigned to Suva, Fiji. She returned to Sydney in November 1914 and in December joined the second AIF (Australian Infantry Forces) convoy at Albany, Western Australia.

Stoker and the AE2 set off for Europe but only got as far as the Mediterranean before being ordered to join the British fleet at Tenedos Island and patrol the entrance to the Dardanelles at the start of the Gallipoli Campaign.

Before 25 April 1915, AE2’s operational role was minimal. That changed when Vice Admiral de Robeck, Commander-in-Chief Eastern Mediterranean Fleet, ordered AE2 to try to force a passage through the 35 mi (56 km) heavily fortified Dardanelles Strait and enter the Sea of Marmara.

If successful she was to “run amok” in enemy shipping between the Bosphorus and Dardanelle Straits to disrupt the re-supplying of Turkish troops on the Gallipoli peninsula while a massive Allied fleet prepared to attack Turkey, Germany’s ally in the Middle East, by landing 50,000 troops.

Suicide mission

History records that AE2 pulled off one of the most daring submarine feats of World War I in what was generally regarded as a suicide mission.

No boat had made a pass through the Dardanelles but on the morning of 25 April 1915, AE2 succeeded.

Searchlights continually swept the sea but AE2 continued unchallenged for two hours until 4.30 am when artillery batteries from the northern shore opened fire. She dived and continued through the more than 400 mines that had been laid. Stoker chose to sail under them and mooring wires scraped AE2‘s sides for half an hour. Twice she surfaced to make observations. At 6 am she was within 2 mi (3 km) of the Narrows, submerged at periscope depth. Forts on both sides of the Narrows sighted her and opened fire.

Stoker, through his periscope, saw a number of ships and decided to attack a Turkish gunboat. His report said: “At a range of three hundred yards I fired the bow tube at her. One of the destroyers was now very close, attempting to ram us on the port side, so at the moment of firing I ordered 70 ft. A last glance, as the periscope dipped, showed the destroyer apparently right on top of us, and then, amidst the noise of her propeller whizzing overhead, was heard the big explosion as the torpedo struck”.

After torpedoing the Turkish gunboat Peykisevke, AE2 passed through the narrows, chased by surface ships. She ran aground twice but the guns in the Turkish forts along the coast could not be aimed low enough to fire at her.

All day on 25 April, AE2 lay in 80 ft (24 m) of water while the searching enemy ships passed time and again overhead. Once she was hit by a heavy object being trailed along the bottom.

At 9 pm she surfaced to charge batteries. All signs of shipping had vanished.

Stoker reported: “I continued on course through the Straits, examined the Gallipoli anchorage, found no ship worthy of attack and so proceeded in the Sea of Marmara, which was entered about 9 am.”


For the next four days AE2 attacked Turkish shipping but with little success other than her presence serving to reduce the amount of shipping.

The diversion created by the 720-ton Australian submarine with 32 crew members drew enemy fire away from troops landing at Gallipoli, saving many lives.

AE2 and the British submarine E14 were to rendezvous on 30 April. E14 was the first of several submarines to follow AE2 into the Sea of Marmara and effectively close it to Turkish ships heading for the Gallipoli Peninsula.

As AE2 surfaced at the rendezvous point on 30 April, the Turkish torpedo boat Sultan Hissar approached. AE2 immediately dived but she lost trim and went out of control, broaching the surface twice. AE2 was hit in the engine room by Sultan Hissar’s guns and the crew had no choice but to abandon ship. Three shells had holed her hull.

Unable to dive, Commander Stoker surrendered his crew then scuttled AE2. He and his 31 men spent the rest of the war in captivity where four of them were to die.

Lieutenant Stoker was taken prisoner and escaped twice before eventually arriving back in England in 1919. He was later awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).

AE2 remained lost at the bottom of the sea for another 83 years before Turkish underwater explorer and museum director Selcuk Kolay found the wreck more than 230 ft (70 m) down.

In 2014 a joint Australian and Turkish project used a high-definition roving camera to explore inside AE2 at the bottom of the Sea of Marmara.

Photographs showed well preserved sections of the submarine including forward and aft hydroplanes, rudder and tops of the propellers. Visible inside were instruments in the control room, a wooden flag locker and even a pair of sailor’s sandshoes. There was also a portable wireless telegraph pole and antenna wire.

The team was further surprised to see a crystal decanter sitting on top of the desk in the officers’ ward room, an oyster light fitting above the desk and unbroken light globes.

The project team said the AE2 would be left where she was. Anti-corrosion measures had been installed around the hull and a marker buoy set up to protect her from shipping anchors and fishing nets. It is believed a torpedo remains on board.

Henry Stoker, a man of many talents

The Australian Navy’s biography of Henry Stoker notes:

“Stoker was offered command of the submarine depot ship HMS Royal Arthur but instead, now disillusioned with a naval career, chose to leave the navy and was placed on the retired list on 2 October 1920. Stoker had always been a keen amateur actor and playwright and now pursued this second career. Stoker commenced acting successfully on the stage in both Britain and the United States. He often played the part of a professional such as a military officer or a doctor. In 1925 his autobiography “Straws in the Wind” was published by Herbert Jenkins Limited and, in the same year, he married a young actress, Dorothie (Peg) Pidcock, at the Savoy Chapel. The two remained together for the next 41 years but there were no children. By the end of the 1920s Stoker was a regular and popular performer in West End plays and in 1932 commenced radio broadcasts of short dramatic stories. In 1933 he made his first cinema appearance in the movie “Channel Crossing”. In 1935 he played the part of a naval officer whose ship was sunk in action during World War I in the movie “Brown on Resolution”. Overall Stoker appeared in eight films from 1933 through to 1948 and was also the business manager of the Apollo Theatre.    

When war broke out in 1939, Stoker was recalled to the Royal Navy. In October 1939, with the rank of Acting Captain, he became the Chief of Staff to Rear Admiral RM King, RN (Flag Officer in Command – Belfast) based in the depot ship HMS Caroline at Belfast. In August 1940 Commander Stoker was given command of the coastal forces base, HMS Minos, at Lowestoft in Southern England, which was the home base for harbour defence vessels and small escort craft operating in the English Channel.   

In July 1942, Stoker was posted to the Press Division, within the Admiralty, where he became a Public Relations Officer providing updates to ships crews on the progress of the war. In April 1944 he became a staff officer working in the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force but after the D-Day landings returned to his Public Relations role in the Admiralty. In January 1945, as an Acting Captain, he commenced working in the Service Conditions Department in the Admiralty.

Henry Stoker retired again from the Royal Navy, at age 60, in late 1945 and returned to his life as an actor and playwright. He became involved in early television dramas in the 1950s but, now well into his mid-60s, began to take life more easily and devoted more time to sporting pursuits such as golf, tennis and croquet. He was also a member of the exclusive Garrick Club, for gentlemen associated with the theatre, in London’s West End.”

Henry Stoker died in London on his 81st birthday on 2 February 1966. AE2’s exploits were recorded in his autobiography Straws in the Wind.

FOOTNOTE: In 2016 the Australian Government announced that a $50 billion tender had been awarded to Direction des Constructions Navales Services (DCNS) of France, to build a replacement class of submarines for the ageing Collins class. The 12 new subs were expected to enter service in the early 2030s with construction extending into the late 2040s to 2050. The Program would be the largest, and most complex, defence acquisition project in Australian history. The new submarines will be based on France’s Shortfin Barracuda Block 1A, a derivative of its Barracuda nuclear-powered attack submarine.

Sources: Australian Navy archive, press reports.



D-Day: The conundrum of supplying fuel
to the Allied liberators

The Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe on D-Day was the largest amphibious landing operation in history.

Soldiers going ashore
at Normandy

6 June 1944 was the date on which a massive Allied military, air and naval force began the long-awaited invasion and liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe.

Although the Allies had launched a bombing campaign against Germany and had reached Italy, the only way to defeat Germany was to cross the English Channel to liberate the occupied countries and invade Germany itself.

Allied forces were drawn mainly from Great Britain, Canada and the United States. Others came from Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland.

The raw figures are astonishing:

  • 156,000 troops or paratroopers were put ashore; 73,000 from the US, 83,000 from Great Britain and Canada. Around 3,000 were from Australia which was engaged in fighting the Japanese closer to home territory at the same time. Australia’s main contribution was in the air. Between 2,000 and 2,500 Australian airmen served in dozens of RAF and 10 RAAF squadrons.
  • 195,700 naval personnel were used in Operation Neptune, led by 53,000 U.S. and 113,000 British troops.
  • By the end of June 11, 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies had been put ashore.
  • 11,590 Allied aircraft flew 14,674 sorties on D-Day. Of those, 127 planes were lost. Some 2,395 aircraft and 867 gliders took part in the airborne assault.
  • 6,939 vessels were in the fleet: 1,213 combat ships; 4,126 landing ships/craft; 736 support ships; 864 merchant ships.

The number of casualties was similarly astounding; a high price was paid to eventually put an end to German aggression in Europe, beginning on D-Day.

Casualties refers to all losses: killed, wounded, missing in action and prisoners of war. An accurate casualty count may never be known but research by the US National D-Day Memorial Foundation produced these figures:

  • US casualties on D-Day: 2,499 dead, 3,184 wounded, 1,928 missing, 26 captured.
  • Other Allied casualties on D-Day: approximately 2,700 British, 946 Canadians. (Fourteen Australians were killed on D-Day – two RAN and 12 RAAF).
  • German casualties: 4,000-9,000.
  • Total killed, wounded or missing in the Battle of Normandy (June 6-25) for both sides: 425,000.
  • French civilians killed in Normandy: 15,000-20,000, mainly from Allied bombing.
  • Today, 27 cemeteries hold the remains of more than 110,000 dead, including 9,386 Americans, 17,769 British, 5,002 Canadians, 650 Poles, and tens of thousands of Germans.

Logistics nightmare

The massive supply operation at Omaha Beach
during the Allied invasion at Normandy.

Supplying the front lines of the liberating force after the invasion was a logistics nightmare. Taking vital goods – particularly fuel – across the English Channel was fraught with danger. German bombers could swoop at any time with catastrophic results. Conventional tankers and ship-to-shore lines were not the answer.

The havoc that could be wreaked by German planes was in the mind of the planners. A touch of genius was required.

British engineers had just such an inspiration: Lay a pipeline under the water across the English Channel.

“Operation PLUTO” – Pipe Line Under The Ocean – or probably more correctly, Pipe-Line Underwater Transport of Oil – was the chosen strategy.

Although by 1942 the oil industry had laid thousands of pipe miles of across terrain, crossing the Channel to support Operation Overlord (the sea portion was called Operation Neptune) needed a previously unimaginable level of technology.

The scheme was developed by Arthur Hartley, chief engineer with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.

To get vital oil supplies across the Channel after the D-Day landings, pipelines were unwound from massive spools to connect pumping stations to French ports.

Hartley proposed using modified submarine telephone cable. The plan got the seal of approval in 1942 from Geoffrey William Lloyd, the Minister for Petroleum, and Admiral Mountbatten, Chief of Combined Operations and then chairman of the Anglo-Iranian oil company.

There were actually two proposals.

In the first, a three-inch flexible lead pipe would be used to cross almost 70 mi (112 km) from the Isle of Wight to Cherbourg (more than 46 tons of lead, steel tape and armored wire were required for each mile). They were known as HAIS pipes.

These cables were a development of existing underwater communications cables by Siemens Brothers, in conjunction with the National Physical Laboratory (NPL),

A cross-section of the lead pipe

The first pipeline from Isle of Wight to Cherbourg was laid on 14 August 1944. No existing communications cable laying ship could do the job and a civilian passenger vessel, London, was the first to be modified to accommodate a huge spool around which the new pipe would be coiled.

In the second plan, three-inch (7.6 cm) steel pipe, which had proven to be flexible and durable in the oilfields of Iraq and Burma, would be used. Welders assembled 20-foot (6 m) sections of steel pipe into 4,000-foot (1219 m) lengths. They were known as HAMEL pipes.

The second approach proved more successful.

The pipeline was wound on to huge floating “conundrums” (Cone-ended drum) that looked like giant cotton reels and were designed to spool the pipes off the drum when towed. Five conundrums were commissioned – they were 30 feet (9 m) in diameter and fabricated in Scunthorpe, erected in Tilbury Docks and launched into the Thames. Each weighed 250 tons and had a combined capacity to carry up to 60 nautical miles of HAMEL pipes.

A "conundrum" is made ready

The deployment systems each weighed 1,600 tons and were pulled by three tugboats from the British site at Dungeness to the French port of Boulogne, 31 miles (50 km) away. As the spools unwound, the pipe settled to the bottom of the English Channel.

Ultimately, using both methods, 17 pipelines were put in place to supply thousands of litres of fuel to Boulogne. Dumbo was the codename given to the pipeline that ran across Romney Marsh to Dungeness and then across the English Channel to France.

By the time the two HAIS flexible pipelines and the two HAMEL steel pipelines to Cherbourg were pumping petrol, the Allied armies were moving west towards Paris and Belgium. Eleven new HAIS pipelines and 5 HAMEL pipelines were laid in a swept channel 2 mi (3.2 km) wide between Dungeness and Ambleteuse near Boulogne to shorten the route.

Map: Ashley T. Walker for the Library of Congress

The initial performance of the PLUTO pipelines was disappointing and didn’t immediately contribute much to the Allies’ advances. During the period from June to October 1944, PLUTO carried on average only 150 barrels per day, just 0.16% of the Allies’ total daily consumption.

In January 1945, 305 tonnes (300 long tons) of fuel was pumped to France per day, which increased to 3,048 tonnes (3,000 long tons) per day in March, and eventually to 4,000 tons (almost 1,000,000 Imperial gallons) per day. In total, over 172 million imperial gallons of petrol had been pumped to the Allied forces in Europe by VE-day (Victory in Europe Day, 8 May 1945), providing a critical supply of fuel until a more permanent arrangement was made.

A total of 34 vessels with 600 men and officers were involved in the pipeline operation.

Another important aspect of the system was the protection of the pumping stations on land. Camouflage was the answer.

All installations in British were disguised to prevent the Germans identifying them as part of the fuel operation. Terminals and pumping stations in Dungeness and Greatstone were disguised as bungalows, gravel pits, garages, a golf club and even an ice cream shop.

How the pumphouses were disguised

A house on the south coast of England, requisitioned by the British Army, and used to house pumping equipment

Some new buildings were erected, but 27 existing seaside bungalows and houses on Dungeness and Greatstone were used.

In England, the PLUTO pipelines were supplied by a 990 miles (1,600 km) network of pipelines to transport fuel from ports including Liverpool and Bristol. In Europe, the pipelines were extended as the troops moved forward, and eventually reached as far as the Rhine.

After the war, the lines were decommissioned and many salvaged for their lead.

Sir Winston Churchill at the unveiling of the plaque to commemorate the laying of the PLUTO pipelines described it as being “crowned by complete success”.

The pipelines were the forerunners of all flexible pipes used in the development of offshore oil fields.

Sources: Various web sites dedicated to D-Day history.

Book: PLUTO: Pipe-Line Under the Ocean by Adrian Searle




N: Pan Am – icon of the air, pioneer of the Pacific Routes


How the attack on Pearl Harbor almost
clipped the wings of a high flier

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a major blow to Pan American Airways, which was operating flying boat passenger services across the Pacific.

Built by Martin (M-130s) and Boeing (314s and 314As), the Pan American Clippers flew the rich and famous to island exotic ports and on to the western Pacific. Hawaii, Guam, Manila and stopovers in between formed a line of stepping stones to Asia presenting Pan American with great opportunities for expansion.

The Island-hopping bases included Wake Island that was to experience the full force of a Japanese attack.

The first leg of the trans-Pacific flights was the 2,400-mi (3,862km) hop from San Francisco to Honolulu.  The leg from the cable station at Midway to the next inhabited island, Guam, was even longer and establishing a station on Wake Island just 1,200 mi (1,931km) from Midway provided a relieving break in an arduous flight. The establishment of bases was relatively easy as formed landing strips were not needed.

Routes were opened to the Philippines, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Singapore. But when war came to the Pacific, the Clipper flights and their island stopovers were in great peril. Several planes were in the firing line when Japan launched their devastating attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 and followed up the next day with attacks around the Pacific.

One of the first to encounter an emergency was the newest plane in the fleet, the Anzac Clipper, a four-engine Boeing 314 under the control of Captain H. Lanier Turner. The flight was heading for Pearl Harbor with a crew of nine and 37 passengers on the first leg of a 14-day round trip. It was due to arrive just on sunrise on 7 December. An on-time arrival would have put the plane right in the middle of the attack. Undoubtedly it would have been shot out of the air by the Japanese warplanes it would have encountered.

But a 40-minute delay in leaving San Francisco put the Anzac Clipper behind time.

By early Sunday morning, the Anzac crew was homing in on the same radio station signals that the Japanese planes were using to track to their target.

Just 40 minutes from arrival, before 8 am, the Clipper crew heard a frantic radio broadcast that the Japanese were attacking Hawaiian bases.

Captain Turner diverted from Pearl Harbor and headed the Anzac Clipper towards a lagoon at Hilo on the Island of Hawaii, about two hours south, where the big plane landed and sheltered overnight.

There were few facilities to service the plane and it had to be refuelled by hand. It was ready to fly again on the night of 8 December and 72 hours after leaving it was back on the US mainland having aborted the flight to Asia.

There were two significant passengers aboard the Anzac Clipper – the Shah of Iran (Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi) and Galon U Saw, Premier of Burma (now Myanmar). The Shah was believed to be on his way home after assuring President Roosevelt of his country’s co-operation with the US.
Premier Saw was on his way home also after meeting President Roosevelt where he failed to get endorsement for his country’s independence from Britain. Saw’s trip home also took him via Lisbon where he is reported to have visited the Japanese Embassy to tell the ambassador that his country would support Japan. He was later executed for his part in the assassination of Burmese independence leader Aung San and six others.

Pan Am’s Yankee Clipper

The Philippine Clipper under the control of Captain John Hamilton, came under direct attack by Japanese warplanes while refuelling at Pan American’s base on Wake Island. The Martin M-130 had just left Wake Island for Guam when news of the Pearl Harbor attack came through. The captain was ordered to return to Wake Island to evacuate airline staff.

But upon returning, Captain Hamilton was called upon to make a sweep around the island to look for enemy forces before loading his passengers and evacuees.


Before the survey mission could begin, Japanese planes appeared over the base. They took only a few minutes to completely destroy the facilities. The Philippine Clipper was strafed – there were almost 100 bullet holes. But the big plane was intact. Captain Hamilton had it stripped of all non-essential gear and loaded the passengers and remaining Pan Am staff. Nine Pan Am staff were killed in the raid.

With 34 people on board the Clipper was overloaded but on his third attempt to take off Captain Hamilton managed to get airborne and head east. He put down in a lagoon at Midway which by then also had been attacked. The next day he took the plane to Pearl Harbor and then to San Francisco.

The California Clipper

Another remarkable Pan American flight at the time was that of the then-named California Clipper. The flight began on 2 December 1941 under the control of Captain Bob Ford from the Pan Am base on Treasure Island, California, for the passenger service to Auckland, New Zealand, with scheduled stops in San Pedro, Honolulu, Canton Island, Suva and Nouméa.

Cut off on the return flight to California via Hawaii by the Japanese raid, Captain Ford was directed to strip company markings, registration and insignia from the Clipper and proceed in secret from Auckland to the Marine Terminal, LaGuardia Field, New York.

The plane, by now renamed Pacific Clipper, left Auckland on 8 December and flew more than 31,500 mi (50,694 km) home via Gladstone (Australia), Darwin (Australia), Surabaya (Java), Trincomalee (Ceylon – now Sri Lanka), Karachi, British India (now Pakistan), Bahrain, Khartoum (Sudan), Leopoldville (Belgian Congo), Natal (Brazil) and Port of Spain (Trinidad and Tobago).

The Pacific Clipper, landed at Pan American’s LaGuardia Field seaplane base on the morning of 6 January 1942, completing Pan American’s first round-the-world flight.

In Hong Kong, just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, another Clipper captain faced a dilemma – the Japanese were expected to invade at any time.

Captain Fred Ralph’s next destination with the Hong Kong Clipper on the Hong Kong-Manila leg of the trans-Pacific route was to be Manila. But on 8 December, Manila was under attack.

Before he could execute his plan to fly instead to Kunming in China, the Kai Tak aerial centre was attacked. The Japanese planes dive-bombed the plane at its moorings several times. Eventually the incendiary bullets set the plane ablaze and it burned to the water line.

Ralph and his crew escaped from Hong Kong that night on board a plane operated by a Chinese affiliate of Pan American, the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC). They eventually found their way back to New York in January 1942.

Although the Japanese overran all of Pan American’s Central Pacific bases except Honolulu, the airline continued flying in Asia. CNAC evacuated around 275 American, British and Chinese civilians from Hong Kong, in a 72-hour non-stop operation.

Also on the morning of 8 December 1941 the Pan American base in Guam at Sumay was bombed and machine-gunned by Japanese planes. The Pan Am Hotel, crew quarters and fuel tanks were destroyed and two employees were killed.

The China Clipper

Pan American also was engaged in military transport activities during World War II – many planes called in for military duty – and suffered badly; more than 200 employees were killed, an unknown number were imprisoned in enemy prison camps and at least a dozen planes were lost.

Flying boat Clipper services were scaled down after World War II.   Seaplanes eventually were replaced by new four-engine landplanes. Pan American lost its near-monopolistic hold over the international American airline industry when the US government allowed other airlines to compete in the post-war aviation boom. Pan American operated its last B-314 flight on the Pacific routes in May 1946.

After the war, the government offered to sell the Clippers it had commandeered back to Pan Am, but the company declined. The war had resulted in many more airports being developed around the world, and four-engine landplanes could fly faster than the fat Clipper flying boats. DC-4s and Boeing 307s had begun to appear even before the war. Shortly after the war, Pan Am Lockheed Constellations, DC-5s, and Boeing 377s took over the routes that the Clippers had pioneered.

Through the jet era, Pan Am’s flagship terminal was the Worldport located at John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City.

Pan Am operated the first Boeing 747
on commercial routes

Today, the Pan Am International Flight Academy (PAIFA) is the only remaining division of Pan American World Airways, which declared bankruptcy in January 1991 and shut down in December 1991. Under the terms of bankruptcy, the International Flight Academy in Miami was allowed to remain open. It was established as an independent training organization in 1992.

The Flight Academy is now owned by the parent company of All Nippon Airways.


  1. A crew member of the first trans-Pacific Clipper flights was navigator Fred Noonan who a year later disappeared somewhere in the Pacific on a flight with Amelia Earhart in 1937.
  2. Pan American World Airways, known from its founding until 1950 as Pan American Airways and branded as Pan Am, was the largest international air carrier in the US from 1927 until its collapse on December 4, 1991. Founded in 1927 as a scheduled air mail and passenger service operating between Key West, Florida, and Havana (Cuba) the airline was credited with many innovations adopted worldwide, including the widespread use of jet planes, jumbo jets, and computerised reservation systems. Identified by its blue globe logo (“The Blue Meatball”), the use of the word “Clipper” in its aircraft names and call signs, and the white uniform caps of its pilots, the airline was an icon of the 20th century.
  3. On 17 August, 2001, Zaharias Moussaoui, the so-called “20th hijacker” of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, was arrested after an instructor at Pan Am International Flight Academy became suspicious of him.

UNSOLVED MYSTERY: Hawaii Clipper was one of three Pan American Airways Martin M-130 flying boats. It disappeared with six passengers and nine crew on a flight from Guam to Manila, on 28 July, 1938. The flying boat service to Manila Bay took about 60 hours over six days, with stops at Pearl Harbor, Midway Atoll, Wake Island and Guam. Hawaii Clipper left Guam on the last leg of the journey at 11:39 local time. The last radio contact was 3 hours 27 minutes later, when the plane’s crew reported flying through layers of clouds and unsettled air 565 mi (900 km) from the Philippine coast. The US Army transport ship USAT Meigs found an oil slick along the course of the lost aircraft about 500 mi (800 km) from Manila. The search for the plane was called off on 5 August 1938. Tests on the oil found did not establish a link to the plane. It remains unclear where the Hawaii Clipper met its end.

FOOTNOTE: The Pan Am Boeing 747SP “Clipper Liberty Bell” set a circumnavigation record flying around the world in under 40 hours of flight time and arriving back in New York on  May 3, 1976. This record smashed the previous holder by 16 hours just six days after the first 747SP went into service. The record-setting SP is now a museum exhibit, likely be the only 747SP on display in the western hemisphere.

References and sources: Pan Am Historical Foundation; “Forty Minutes to Pearl” (Jim Slade), Pan Am at War (Robert Gandt). Pacific Aviation Museum, Pan American Clippers Wikia, Wikipedia.

Big Amphibious plane are making a comeback. In December 2017, the world’s largest amphibious aircraft, China’s AG600, made a successful one-hour maiden flight.

The plane, roughly the size of a Boeing 747 but with four turboprop engines, lifted off from Zhuhai airport in the southern province of Guangdong.

The plane, codenamed Kunlong, can carry 50 people and can stay airborne for 12 hours.

It has firefighting and marine rescue duties as well as military applications.

The AG600 is considerably smaller than billionaire Howard Hughes’ flying boat, better known as the Spruce Goose, which had a wingspan of 97 m and was 67 m long but only made one brief flight, in 1947.

R: Scandalous behaviour – The Profumo affair

Keeler and Profumo

Christine Keeler’s death closes a seedy story

The death on 4 December 2017 of Christine Keeler was the final act in a political scandal that engulfed British politics in the 1960s. She had been the last survivor in a drama that rocked – and captivated – the nation.

Christine Keeler was born in Uxbridge, in west London, in February 1942 and raised by her mother and stepfather.

She was pregnant at 17, but the father of her child, an American serviceman, returned to the US. She gave birth at home in secret and her son, whom she named Peter, died after six days.

She found a job at Murray’s Cabaret Club, a venue frequented by wealthy and aristocratic middle-aged men who wanted to meet topless showgirls. Among those she befriended at Murray’s was Peter Rachman, a property racketeer, and his then girlfriend, Mandy Rice-Davies who worked at the club as a dancer.

The two women became friends and often spent time together with celebrity osteopath and painter Stephen Ward at his mews house in Mayfair.

At this time Keeler was a 19-year-old model and showgirl. It was at a party at Cliveden estate that she was introduced to Tory cabinet minister John Profumo. Their affair began soon after, in 1963.

The affair with Profumo – and with a naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy in London at the same time – rocked the conservative establishment at the height of the Cold War.

Profumo, who was married to actress Valerie Hobson, did not know that Keeler was also sleeping with Captain Yevgeny (Eugene) Mikhailovich Ivanov.

In March 1963 Profumo told the House of Commons that rumours of his affair were untrue, but three months later he was forced to resign, conceding he had lied to parliament about the affair.

With that, Christine Keeler became one of the most famous women in the world in 1963.

Honey trap

There have been suggestions that British counter-espionage agency MI5 hoped to use Keeler as a “honey trap” to persuade Ivanov to defect, and were alarmed when they found out she was also seeing Profumo.

Agents are said to have warned Profumo off associating with Ward’s seedy circle, and he ended the affair which remained hidden from the public until 1963.

But Keeler was destined to become a controversial figure and future events were to blow open the seedy scandal.

Keeler claimed a boyfriend, Lucky (Aloysius) Gordon assaulted her in the street and held her hostage for two days. Gordon was a British-based Jamaican jazz singer who arrived in Scotland in 1948 and moved to London soon after.

Keeler sought the protection of another lover, Johnny Edgecombe, which culminated in a fight between Edgecombe and Gordon at the Flamingo Club in Wardour Street in October 1962. Gordon required 17 stitches after Edgecombe slit his face with a knife. He later posted the 17 used stitches to Keeler and warned her that for each stitch he had sent she would get two on her face in return.

It was a subsequent shooting at Stephen Ward’s house in December 1962 that set-in motion events that brought to light the infamous Profumo Affair.

Edgecombe, a 30-year-old hustler from Antigua, took a taxi to Ward’s house at 17 Wimpole Mews in Marylebone, central London, where Christine Keeler was holed-up.

He rang the doorbell and called up at her to come down. She refused and threw a pound out of the window for his cab fare. We he couldn’t force open the door, he fired five shots at the lock from a handgun Keeler had given him earlier for protection from Lucky Gordon.

Mandy (Marilyn) Rice-Davies often visited Keeler at the house she shared with Ward at Wimpole Mews and, after Keeler had moved elsewhere, lived there herself, between September and December 1962. Keeler was visiting Rice-Davies at Wimpole Mews on 14 December 1962 when Edgecombe fired at the door.

The investigation of the shooting eventually led to Ward being charged with living off immoral earnings. He took a drug overdose the day before his trial ended and died on August 3, 1963. The case also led to rumours about Keeler and Profumo.

Rice-Davies became a central witness in Ward’s trial that brought attention to the girls’ involvement with Ward’s social set, and affairs with many powerful people, including the then Viscount Astor.

The scandal that unravelled eventually saw Prime Minister Harold McMillan resign in 1963 and Harold Wilson’s Labour Party defeated the Conservatives in an ensuing general election on 15 October 1964.

After her relationship with Gordon ended, Keeler was assaulted at a friend’s home in April 1963. She accused Gordon of the attack, and on June 7, mainly on her evidence, he was found guilty in June 1963 and sentenced to three years’ jail. In June 1963, Gordon was jailed for three years for assaulting Keeler.

Guilty to perjury

His conviction was later overturned by the Court of Appeal when two witnesses were found who were able to refute Keeler’s accusations.  She pleaded guilty to perjury in December 1963 and received a nine-month jail sentence, which she served at Hill Hall women’s prison in Essex.

Many years later, papers released by MI5 revealed Profumo had previously had a long-running relationship with a glamorous Nazi spy who may have tried to blackmail him.

Gisela Winegard, a German-born fashion and photographer’s model, met Profumo in Oxford in 1936 and maintained contact with him for at least 20 years during which time she ran a Nazi secret information service in occupied Paris, had a child with a high-ranking German officer, and was jailed for espionage on the liberation of Paris in 1944.

Christine Keeler, who lived under the name of Sloane for many years and always denied she was a prostitute, was briefly married twice after the Profumo Affair; both marriages ended in divorce. She had two sons, James from her first marriage and Seymour from her second, and a granddaughter.

Her son, Seymour Platt, who lives in Ireland, said he, his wife and their daughter had last seen his mother a week before her death. “There was a lot of good around Chris’s rather tragic life, because there was a family around her that loved her,” he said. “I think what happened to her back in the day was quite damaging.”

A BBC series revisiting the Profumo scandal is to start filming in 2018.

Mandy Rice-Davies died in 2014 aged 70. Johnny Edgecombe died in 2010. Lucky Gordon died in March 2017. Peter Rachman died in 1972.

John Profumo died in London on 9 March 2006 without ever having spoken publicly about the scandal that ended his political career.

  • SIDELIGHTS: At the height of the scandal, the first prime minister of independent Malaya (now Malaysia) Tunku Abdul Rahman arrived in London for a visit. At a reception at Heathrow Airport when asked what he wanted to do first, he replied “I want Mandi” which shocked the reception party which wasn’t aware that “Mandi” means “take a bath” in Malay.
  • Christine Keeler sold her story to newspapers around the world and was the subject of a proposed film, the Keeler Affair, which was never released in the UK. To promote the film, she agreed to pose naked for Australian photographer Lewis Morley in a studio in Peter Cook’s Establishment Club. Most of her body was covered by the curved back of a bent plywood chair – a copy of the iconic Model 3107 by Danish designer Arne Jacobsen. Sales of the Jacobsen chairs reportedly surged. The chair is an exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

SOURCES: Various media reports on the death of Christine Keeler.


R: Margaretha Zelle – from schoolgirl to death by firing squad

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, born on 7 August 1876, was the eldest of the four children of Dutch couple Adam and Antje Zelle. She studied to be a kindergarten teacher. Her father owned a hat shop, but as a shrewd investor he was able to send his children to exclusive schools. But eventually he went bankrupt and he and his wife divorced. His former wife died in 1891 and he remarried Susanna Catharine ten Hoove. Margaretha went to live with her Godfather and later with an uncle in The Hague.

At 16 she was expelled from school for having an affair with the married headmaster.

Aged 18, Margaretha answered an advertisement in a Dutch newspaper placed by Dutch Colonial Army Captain Rudolf MacLeod, who was living in what was then the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and was looking for a wife. They were engaged six days after meeting and married in July 1895 in Amsterdam. He was 20 years older than she. Rudolph was the son of Captain John Brienen MacLeod (a descendant of the Gesto branch of the MacLeods of Skye, and Dina Louisa, Baroness Sweerts de Landas.

The newly married Macleods moved to Malang on the east side of the island of Java in 1897. They had two children, Norman-John MacLeod (30 January 1897 – 27 June 1899) and Louise Jeanne MacLeod (2 May 1898 – 10 August 1919).

An interesting tale so far, but the life and times of Margaretha Zelle (Macleod) were about to become sensational.

You know her as Mata Hari

History identifies Margaretha as one of the most famous of all war-time spies, Mata Harti. But was she as notorious as she was cast?

Margaretha’s husband became an alcoholic and subjected her to beatings. She left her husband and moved in with another Dutch officer. She studied Indonesian culture, including dance.

In letters to her family she told them her stage name was Mata Hari (loosely meaning “sun” or “eye of the day”).

She went back to her husband but after her children became ill (Norman died) they moved back to the Netherlands. They officially separated in 1902 and Margaretha was awarded custody of Jeanne. However, Rudolph Macleod would not pay support and after an access visit with his daughter refused to return her to her mother. Jeanne died, aged 21. Both children were thought to have died from complications arising from the disease syphilis contracted from their parents.

In 1903, Margaretha moved to Paris, where she performed as a circus horse rider using the name Lady MacLeod. To supplement her meagre finances, she also posed as an artist’s model and continued her dancing. One of her performances in the Musée Guimet, an Asian art museum in Paris, was followed be her elevation to the Paris social scene where her dances were in high demand. Her trademarks were transparent, revealing costumes, a jewelled bra and an extraordinary headpiece.

The most celebrated segment of her act was her progressive shedding of clothing until she wore just a jeweled bra and some ornaments upon her arms and head. She wore a bodystocking for her performances that was similar in color to her own skin.

She explained to her audiences that her act comprised sacred temple dances from the Indies – avoiding arrest for indecency that would otherwise have been the outcome.

Mata Hari became one of the most desirable woman in Paris and was seen in the company of aristocrats, diplomats, financiers, military officers, and wealthy businessmen who showered lavish gifts upon her.

She danced in sold-out performances in nearly all the major European capitals for many years. Though her career as a dancer started to wane, she remained a favourite on the social scene and amongst men.

During World War I, the Netherlands remained neutral. As a Dutch subject, Mata Hari (Margaretha) could cross national borders relatively freely, avoiding the battlefields by passing between France and the Netherlands via Spain and Britain.

Her frequent travels and fame brought her to the notice of the counter-espionage world.

During a visit to The Hague in 1915 Karl Kroemer, the honorary German consul of Amsterdam offered her 20,000 francs to spy for Germany. She accepted the money, which she reportedly regarded as repayment for her furs, jewels, and money the Germans had seized when war broke out. It is reported that she didn’t accept the job, but it was at this point that her association with counter-espionage became clouded in mystery.

She is said to have then become involved in an intense relationship with a Russian pilot serving with the French, 25-year-old Captain Vadim Maslov. In 1916 Maslov was shot down in a dogfight with German planes. Mata Hari sought permission to visit the badly wounded airman in a hospital near the battlefront. Agents from the Deuxième Bureau (France’s external military intelligence agency) told her she would only be allowed to see Maslov if she agreed to spy on Germany.

Seduce the Crown Prince

She was offered a million francs if she could seduce Crown Prince Wilhelm, eldest son of Kaiser Wilhelm II, and gather intelligence for France about Germany’s military plans. This was an attractive proposition, as she had accepted Maslov’s marriage proposal.

Mata Hari was instructed to go back to The Hague via Spain and wait for instructions. But her ship was intercepted in Britain and she was detained as security officials tried to establish whether she was Margaretha Zelle MacLeod or Clara Benedix, a German agent whom she vaguely resembled.

She was taken to London where she was interrogated at length by Sir Basil Thomson, Assistant Commissioner at New Scotland Yard in charge of counter-espionage. In his 1922 book Queer People, Sir Basil said Mata Hari eventually admitted to working for the Deuxième Bureau.

She was sent back to Spain. There, she met a German diplomat, Maj. Arnold von Kalle, who confided that there were plans for a landing of German officers, Turks, and munitions from a submarine on the coast of Morocco.

Her contact in the Deuxième Bureau was Captain Georges Ladoux and she is said to have tried to pass on this information but received no reply.

She also established a relationship with Col. Joseph Denvignes from the French legation, who asked her to obtain more information about the Moroccan plan, but when she did, her questions aroused the suspicion of the Germans.

Mata Hari again prepared information for to pass on to Ladoux but perhaps she was being fed false details.

Meanwhile, Ladoux had ordered all radio messages between Madrid and Berlin to be intercepted and monitored from a listening post located on the Eiffel Tower. Ladoux later claimed the messages clearly identified Mata Hari as a German spy.

In January 1917, Major Kalle sent radio messages to Berlin describing the helpful activities of a German spy code-named H-21, whose details closely matched those of Mata Hari. The Deuxième Bureau intercepted the messages and, from the information they contained, identified H-21 as Mata Hari. The “H” purportedly signified that she was an agent for Germany before World War I started.

General Walter Nicolai, the chief IC (intelligence officer) of the German Army, was annoyed that Mata Hari had provided no satisfactory intelligence, instead selling the Germans mere Paris gossip about the sex lives of French politicians and generals, and decided to terminate her employment by exposing her as a German spy to the French.

On 13 February 1917, Mata Hari was arrested at the Hotel Elysée Palace on the Champs Elysées.

Mata Hari at the time of her arrest

During her interrogation she admitted she had accepted 20,000 francs from a German diplomat in the Netherlands to spy on France, but insisted she only passed on to the Germans trivial information as her loyalty was to her adopted nation, France.

Ladoux prepared his case against Mata Hari to cast her in the worst possible light. There were accusations of evidence tampering and Ladouz himself was later accused of being a double-agent. He was cleared of all allegations.

Ladoux’s telegrams and radio messages were the only real evidence against Mata Hari. The seven men who served as jurors were all military men; one, in a memoir, repeated a rumour that Mata Hari had “caused to be killed about 50,000 of our children, not counting those who found themselves on board vessels torpedoed in the Mediterranean upon the information given by (Mata Hari) no doubt.”

Mata Hari became a celebrity scapegoat for the French Government’s failings in dealing with German aggression.

She wrote several letters to the Dutch Ambassador in Paris, claiming her innocence. “My international connections are due of my work as a dancer, nothing else …. Because I really did not spy, it is terrible that I cannot defend myself”

The heart-breaking moment for Mata Hari came when her lover Maslov declined to testify for her, telling her he couldn’t care less if she were convicted or not. It was reported that Mata Hari fainted when she learned that Maslov had abandoned her.

Convicted of all charges

She argued that payments she received were for her sexual services and not for espionage.

The jury was unmoved. Convicted on all eight counts against her, Mata Hari was sentenced to be executed by a firing squad. Attempts to commute the sentence to a prison term were denied, as were appeals for a presidential pardon. Her execution was carried out secretly on the morning of October 15, 1917.

In October 2001, documents released from the archives of British counter-intelligence were used by a Dutch group, the Mata Hari Foundation, to ask the French government to exonerate Margaretha, arguing that the MI5 files proved she was not guilty of the charges. A spokesman for the foundation argued that at most Margaretha was a low-level spy who provided no secrets to either side: “We believe that there are sufficient doubts concerning the dossier of information that was used to convict her to warrant re-opening the case. Maybe she wasn’t entirely innocent, but it seems clear she wasn’t the master-spy whose information sent thousands of soldiers to their deaths, as has been claimed.”

Statue of Mata Hari at her birthplace, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands. – Michel van Soest at Dutch Wikipedia

Sources: National Geographic History Magazine – Why Mata Hari Wasn’t a Cunning Spy After All; Wikipedia; spymuseum.com.

References: Femme Fatale: Love, Lies, and the Unknown Life of Mata Hari, by Pat Shipman, published by William Morrow 2007.