The Lembourn story now assisted by help from the family

Having read the massive Danish War Office case file on Captain Lembourn, the biased Danish Foreign Office and Danish Berlin Legation case files – as well as the contemporary press coverage in both Danish and German newspapers – I was left in no doubt about the pain the events caused the family. What really made me keenly aware of the family’s both pain and loyalty was Thordis Lembourn’s search in vain for fairness and justice in a mid-1930s letter to the Danish Prime Minister Stauning.

The files highlighted the degree of miscarriage of justice inflicted on Lembourn by scared Danish authorities eager to appease the rearming Germany in a sacrifice of not only this awkward “spy”, but also of the ad hoc defence of the returned province of South Jutland that Captain Lembourn had been so active in developing.

Marked with red the planned border posts south of Tondern from the Danish nationalist volunteer militia “Jydske Vaern” that Lembourn trained. (Map from Aage Westenholz archive in the Danish State Archives).

Background of events and what I now know or must conclude happened:

(I have to emphasise that most of the book I write, will describe the development and workings of the Danish Armed Forces activities as de facto ally of Britain and especially France in the 1920s with a special emphasis on the creation of the South Jutland defence plan and forces and for naval co-operation in the Baltic Sea)

Harry Lembourn, here as First Lieutenant. (Photo: The Danish State Archives)

The general background and framework of Lembourn’s case was the following: Within six weeks after the end of fighting on 11 November 1918, Copenhagen had become the main base for Entente forces’ (mainly Royal Navy) intervention in the present Baltic States to push the Germans out and help defending against the Reds.

By 1920 this objective had been achieved, and even if Copenhagen Harbour remained important for the Western Powers, it was now mainly related to French support to Poland in its war against Soviet Russia. By spring-summer 1920 the Allied guaranteed plebiscites in North Schleswig led to the return of South Jutland to Denmark, and the new Liberal Government from May was especially grateful towards France for her clear, but ineffective, support for Denmark keeping control of the city of Flensburg.

The new Danish Defence Laws of 1922 became built on the premise of and strategy of a de facto alliance framework and obligations of the League of Nations. The potential enemies were the non-members Germany and Soviet Russia, and all planning and exercises the next years were based on direct Danish military and naval cooperation with Britain and especially France. The fluent French speaker Harry Lembourn benefited directly by spending the next couple of years in an exchange programme giving him both service with a French infantry regiment and time at the famous French Military Academy.

Before leaving for France, Lembourn had served from October 1920 to April 1921 at the Danish Legation of Christiania (now Oslo), where he must have met his future wife, the then teenager Thordis.

During his two years on exchange training in France, Lembourn served the first year from November 1921 with the 158th Infantry Regiment in Strassbourg. He was then authorised to follow the last 8 months of the second year of the course of L’École spéciale militarie de St Cyr, the French Military Academy, followed by September and October 1923 with a tank regiment before returning to Denmark.

After his return to Denmark Lembourn joined 2nd Infantry Battalion on 1 April 1924 in the new Danish Army Garrison in the South-Western Jutland town of Tondern (Tønder). On 18 August he married Thordis.

With its large German population group, the town was very much on the frontline between Danish and German. In the struggle against German influence, Lembourn became active on two fronts. Firstly he became the leading promoter of French language and culture as head of the local Alliance Française, and secondly he offered his service as weapons instructor for the new volunteer defence organisation “Jydske Værn” (the Jutland Guard). The latter was natural to him as he had previously worked in Copenhagen instructing the likewise volunteer “Kongens Livjægerkorps” (The Royal Life Rifle Corps). The Chairman of the Board of sponsors, etc., to the volunteer corps was the veteran leader of the Danish county and city community, Bank Director R.P. Rossen.

Denmark had no standing army, only a training-mobilisation force, and the fact that nationalist militias just south of the border openly prepared to retake most or all of North Schleswig made it self-evident to both the War Office and the local Danish leaders that something had to be done to make certain that a German local militia coup would meet some Danish resistance. One pool of locally available trained manpower was Danes that had served in the Prussian Army during the Great War. To employ these veterans the War Office authorised the establishment of a “Sønderjysk Landstorm” (South Jutland Militia) on the basis on mobilised veterans of whom 60-70 % were considered pro-Danish. The only other potential defence force was the small volunteer corps that Lembourn helped training.

The instructor for Tondern County of the volunteer Frontier Guard, Captain Lembourn, standing to the right of the firing range flag as always impeccably dressed, here in the new British style khaki uniform. The other officer is his battalion and garrison commander, Lieutenant Colonel Obel in the old French style grey uniform. Obel tried to defend Lembourn by giving (accurate) evidence on Lembourns personality, but soon had to stop trying as being vulnerable himself to accusations.

The driving force of the “Guard” that Lembourn instructed in weekends was the right-wing political activist, Captain Max Arildskov that had served in the Danish volunteer company in the Baltic Wars of Independence in 1919, but the formal leader of the volunteer guard project was Bank Director R.P. Rossen.

Events in 1928
Lembourn’s attitude profile matched that of a normal Danish regular officer of the period: uncritically National Conservative, anti-German, anti-Socialist, but otherwise with no interest in political issues. This profile is not only clear from all Danish sources, it was repeated by Ernst Friedrich, Lembourn’s intellectual prison friend in Gollnow Fortress in 1930-31. When reading the Lembourn correspondence, it is it his honorable trustfulness that stands out, including during his fact-finding visit to Berlin in late spring 1928. I have now come to the firm conclusion that Harry Lembourn spoke and wrote the truth, because he was incapable of doing otherwise.

According to Lembourn it was Rossen that pressed him to make a short visit to Berlin seek information about German nationalist militias such as the large “Stahlhelm” that openly challenged Danish control of “North Schleswig”.

Lembourn saw Rossen as the local leading agent (“tillidsmand”) of the Tondern part of the Danish General Staff intelligence network, which was probably still the case even if the Bank Director was now also working for the French. However, what is clear is that even if Lembourn later recognized that his report ended up with French Intelligence via the Military Attaché, Capitaine Sorne (which he seems to have seen as natural), he thought that Rossen had sent him to Berlin to organize fact-finding for Denmark about the threat from the large German paramilitary militias, and especially the very large Stahlhelm organisation.

Rossen probably deliberately gave Lembourn the false impression that he would be working only or mainly for Denmark. At the same time Rossen deliberately blocked Lembourn’s idea to contact the Danish Intelligence head, Captain Hother Styrmer, himself as that would make clear that Danish Intelligence had not officially authorised the trip.

Lembourn’s fateful two weeks visit to Berlin from early to mid-May 1928 was conducted the direct way that mirrored both his personality and the extremely short time available. In a local beer-restaurant Lembourn found, recruited and soon paid (with funds cabled by Rossen) a couple of people with access to the German right-wing militias. The sum (500 DKK) paid the two amateur agents equals 2,000-2,500 UK£ today. Rossen probably got the money from the French.

Lembourn noticed later that these German militias were not only seen as a menace to South Denmark; the new German Defence Minister considered them a threat to the German State.

The report developed for Rossen was passed-on, and Lembourn had second hand information (but no confirmation) that it had been read by the head of Danish General Staff Intelligence before it ended-up with Capitaine Sorne. He was a logical recipient. By 1928 it was clear to all, including the French Intelligence, that Germany had become active in breaking the arms control limitations of the Versailles Peace Treaty after the formal control organization had been disbanded after Germany became a League of Nation Member.

When Lembourn arrived back in Tondern mid-May from Berlin, the 70 years old Bank Director was ill, on 15 June he died, and on 20 June Harry and Thordis crossed the Border for a tourist trip to the North-Frisian Island of Sylt together with other officer families from the Tondern Garrison.

What Lembourn saw as legitimate and innocent find-finding for Denmark guided by list of questions that he must have been given by Rossen (from the French) could be seen as a clumsy attempt of recruiting foreign agents to seek sensitive information about Germany, and the visit could not have been made at a worse time. In January 1928 the so-called Lohmann scandal about a secret armament program led first of the replacement of the Reich Defence Minister Otto Gessler. On 30 September that year it was followed by the dismissal of the Reichmarine Chief, Admiral Hans Zenker. It was at a time when the Germans had not yet decided what to do with the arrested hapless amateur spy recruiter Lembourn.

Captain Hother Styrmer, the head of the General Staff Intelligence Section, who needed information for his ongoing comprehensive analysis of the threat from the German paramilitary militias.

Late January 2018 I have found convincing evidence in the surviving intelligence files of the Danish State Archives that Styrmer actually had knowledge of Rossen’s initiative, even if he may not have known Lembourn’s name before he was sent: On 17 May 1929 Styrmer completed a massive analysis of the German militias with a focus on the Stahlhelm-organisation. It was the military intelligence section’s key analytic work of the year, and its text make clear that its main source foundation was information collected in spring 1918.

Thus Lembourn was probably correct when he never accepted that he only worked for France. He only understood that his report was shared with the French, which he must have seen as natural considering both the security and defence policy since the war and his own service experience.

The Bank Director’s contact with French Military Intelligence might either have been direct – with Capitaine Sorne or his boss Colonel Burin de Roziers in Brussels – or via the Danish Captain Daniel Bruun. Bruun, a former Foreign Legionaire, seems to have been responsible for a French intelligence network in North Schleswig after the Great War, and Rossen had been on his contacts list as early as 1912. If this theory is right, the trusting Lembourn was sent to Berlin by Rossen with a French intelligence requirements list and with the incurred costs paid by French money via Rossen, but still believing that he worked directly for Denmark. If so, it would not be the last time an agent would be cheated into working for a different state than he believed. That theory would explain why the French paid Lembourn a lifelong pension.

The intervew with Capitaine Sorne in Berlingske Tidende,s on 11 January 1929. He had served as the local Copenhagen assistant of the French Military Attaché for more than two years. He underlined in the interview that his mouth was closed: he acted under orders, but he had nothing to hide, being only a small piece in the game.

Lembourn’s arrest was most probably the result of information from hostile German citizens of Tondern and not the German central counter-intelligence authorities based on his activities in Berlin. The arresting Flensburg policeman was known to be anti-Danish.

Nothing much happened during the first months after his arrest – probably because his efforts had been so amateurish – and there were rumours that he would be released, even if it was clear to the Germans that Lembourn had been tasked by France. Then, in late autumn, however, it became clear that the German authorities would use the case against Lembourn to emphasize it as part of the unacceptable Danish defence cooperation with Germany main great power enemy, France.

Just prior to the court proceedings started, German intelligence received (incorrect and biased) information that Denmark was close to joining the (in reality non-existing) French-Polish Military Alliance against Germany. The alleged key Danish contribution would be the full subordination of Danish Intelligence to the French. This false information was most likely what triggered a trial meant to send a clear warning to Denmark to drop any cooperation against Germany.

The warning is clearly received even before the start of the trial. The Danish Minister in Berlin, Herluf Zahle, begged the German authorities that it would be closed to the public not to harm Danish-German relations too much. Zahle had always been a strong believer in a complete and unquestioned proactive subordination of Denmark to German security interests.

Berlingske Tidende’s drawing from the court-room in Leipzig before the proceedings were closed to the public.

On receiving information about Lembourn’s sentence (and weeded information from the court proceedings) the Danish authorities started a witch-hunt in vain for any contacts that Lembourn might have had in the central authorities in Copenhagen. As Rossen had died, Lembourn’s role for him remained unknown.

The inherently provocative act of basing a defence of South Jutland on anti-German motives was quickly addressed by first the dissolution of the planned mobilization and use of units of Danish minded veterans and soon followed by pressure to dissolve Max Arildskov’s “Jutland Guard”.

However, the most important signal of understanding of the German warning was the total destruction of the future of Lembourn to discourage others. As a forty years old Supreme Court ruling against the Government in a similar case blocked the legal option of removing Lembourn’s salary and later pension, this is achieved by the problematic option of making his loss of salary part of the annual supplementary state budget and by later bureaucratic stonewalling of any attempts to question the decision.

Where the German Court had accepted that Lembourn had acted from ideological motives, the Danish authorities rejected that notion and ruled that the money send by France to pay for expenses in Berlin was pay so that Lembourn acted out of greed and thus dishonourably.

The family at the daughter’s wedding in 1948, the year when the French Minister in Copenhagen had to intervene to force the Danish authorities to offer Harry a paid position in the Defence Forces. (Photo: Stuart Fry’s collection)

No wonder that Harry, his wife and later generations of the family found and find it difficult to understand what happened then and later; namely:

1) How Lembourn could believe that he worked for the Danish General Staff Intelligence and the Danish Intelligence leader could claim without lying that it had no knowledge of any such affiliation. That would always be the situation as all border agents were recruited and controlled locally.
2) That Germany had given Denmark a clear warning by giving the hapless Lembourn an initially brutally hard prison sentence for his amateur attempt to set-up spying against violations of the Versailles Treaty that had already openly acknowledged and accepted of the German and international press.
3) That Denmark found it necessary to send the message that she had learnt by firing Harry Lembourn, removing his pension and continuing a campaign to destroy him, ignoring normal rules of law in a Kafka-like regime to uphold the effects during the following years. The officials even rejected to revisit the decision after the German defeat in 1945 (probably because the same civil servants were still in key positions).

Even in April 1946 the War Minister rejected Lembourn’s request to see the text of his 1929 sentence, because Denmark had promised Germany in 1929 not to do so. (Document from the Øhlenschlæger collection)

The trusting Lembourn walked blindly into a mine-field that he still failed to see as such even after it had exploded in his face. He gave the Germans the chance to use him as an effective warning against Denmark and his own country an easy and way of proving that it surrendered. His captain’s norm and position as company commander in the Tondern Garrison was immediately occupied by the promotion of Erik Jonstad-Møller, who as Major-General was to become the first commander of the Danish volunteer Home Guard in 1948.

The anti-military, anarchist, German trouble-maker Ernst Friedrich would use much of his late 1931 book on his time in Gollnow Fortress Prison in Pomerania in a vain attempt to support his Danish military gentleman friend’s case. Here their last beer together. Lembourn as always dressed as elegantly as possible, and even the anarchist in suit.

The most important pieces I used to miss to tell the Harry Lembourn part of the book’s story in a proper way, were family photos from 1919 to Harry’s death, and especially a photo of Thordis from around 1930. The family deserved it after the miscarriage of fairness and justice that you – mainly Harry, Thordis and the two children – have suffered. The more I read and understood, the angrier I have become and the more eager I am to get the story out. The family has now responded, and the grandson Stuart Fry in Australia has sent me some key photos.

Thordis with the daughter Grace and son Phillip. The photo appears to have been taken in Norway, most likely in 1930. (Photo: from an album belonging to the daughter Grace Fry, sent by Stuart Fry)

The Danish reaction to the Lembourn affair was the start of what ended on 9 April 1940. Zahle, the Danish Berlin Minister was still in the same position twelve years later.

The table in Lembourns Gollnow Fortress room on 17 April 1931 when he celebrated his 25 years Soldier’s Anniversary with Ernst Friedrich. On the table apparently portraits of Lembourn and Thordis with a photo of Grace and Phillip on the right-hand photo.

I hope to be able to publish the book early 2019 at the University Press of Southern Jutland in Odense that I normally work with. If the family accepts, the book shall be dedicated to it.

Michael H. Clemmesen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *