The photo above from Richard Fry’s collection shows Harry Lembourn with the two years old daughter Grace in early spring 1928 just before the fateful departure for the Berlin fact-finding late April.
BACKGROUND OF THIS ADDITION
A year ago I finished the work on my book “Sønderjyllands forsvar og Lembourns spionage” (The Defence of South Jutland and Lembourn’s Espionage) that was published on 25 February 2019, on Thordis and Harry Lembourn’s daughter Grace Fry’s 92th birthday. A large part of the book reconstructed the tragic Lembourn family history.
On 8 June Grace died, and on 1 November 2019 her youngest son, Richard Fry, informed me that he had been given the largest part of the family’s letter and photo collection. He asked me to take care of it and if possible hand it over to an interested museum. Then he sent me the collection in three packages, with the last supplement arriving on 27 December.
The parts of the collection relevant for my reconstructed family story added up to more than 2500 letter pages, etc. and more than 250 photographs.
When I received the packages I copied by taking photos and processed for easier reading.
In all key aspects my reconstruction of the family history was confirmed. What I give below is my supplements and adjustments to the narrative.
1920 TO SUMMER 1924
During the winter 1920-21, Harry Lembourn worked as leader of the passport office at the Danish Legation in the Norwegian capital. In reality it was an intelligence service posting as the main mission was to monitor Norwegian and other left-wing activists that tried to enter Denmark. In spring 1919 an international “Bolshevik Central” with military intelligence and passport representatives of the foreign legations had been established in Copenhagen. The main revolutionary threat against Denmark had soon proved to be radical members of the Norwegian Labour Movement.
Harry Lembourn did not meet his future wife during his stay in Christiania. It did not happen until 1922 when they both stayed in Nice. Based on information from the daughter, the book places the meeting in Easter, but the letters make clear that it did not happen until just before Christmas. In a few days over the holiday the brilliant dancer and elegant gentleman Harry courted the 18 years younger Thordis in storming offensive, proposing to her several times and apparently convinced her at visits to the Monte Carlo Casino on 28 December and New Year’s Eve. The parents were informed just after New Year, and Thordis had to counter her mother’s scepticism of the match in her January letters.
As Thordis stay in France into 1924 and Harry’s service with the French Army continued until autumn 1923, they kept in close touch and could meet in France during the first many months of the engagement.
In late 1923 after having returned to Denmark, Harry informed Thordis that he might have to break-up the engagement if he lost his commission in the massive reduction of the number of regular army officers that was one result of the 1922 Defence Laws. If that happened he would not be able to support the marriage economically.
However, early in 1924 he happily wrote Thordis that he had been saved from retirement by Captain Halvor Jessen from the War Officer. He knew Jessen from his work as instructor of the volunteer “Kongens Livjægerkorps” during the war that Jessen had now taken over as commander of the corps in addition to his work as head of the ministry’s mobilization office. The captain had appointed Lembourn as his second-in-command and chief instructor. As made clear in the book the continued connection to Lembourn ended undermining Jessen’s until 1928 promising career prospects.
Lembourn was active in the Copenhagen Citadel volunteer corps until a couple of days before he started in the border garrison of Tondern on 1 April 1924. Harry got three days leave in August so he could travel to Christiania to get married.
1924 TO SUMMER 1927
Thereafter the newly-wed settled to the active social life of the small provincial garrison. Thordis had to learn to ride, Harry trained his conscripts, gave French language lessons, worked to create a local branch of the Alliance Française, practiced his hobby as amateur photographer, and participated in starting a local sports club.
As a natural consequence of his many years long work as instructor for volunteer military corps, he joined as instructor when such a corps, “Grænseværnet” (The Border Guard), was created some months after his arrival by a group a local Danish nationalist activists.
He had first met one of the leading activists, the senior leader of the town’s Danish community, Bank Director Rasmus Peter Rossen, at a party on 11 October.
In his letter to Thordis’ parents Harry only mentions that it was useful that his wife was seated next to a local bank manager at the dinner. He does not mention the discussion he had with the veteran intelligence agent Rossen during that evening or one of the next days about his own interest in intelligence work that Rossen mentioned later than month during the visit of his General Staff intelligence contact officer visit.
Rossen became the first chairman of the volunteer corps board, and it was he who later dispatched Harry Lembourn on his fateful fact-finding trip to Berlin in spring 1928.
Reading the letters one gets the solid impression of a very close and intensely happy married couple. Apparently Harry did not hide anything from Thordis who was aware that the instructor work for the still officially unrecognized “Grænseværn” was a risk to his career in the army.
Lembourn’s work to reinforce the defence of South Jutland was not limited to the volunteers. Another of Halvor Jessen’s ideas was to train and test the former World War I German Army veterans to become Danish reserve officers and NCO for the “South Jutland militia”, the reserve units created on mobilization from the veterans. Lembourn ran courses for the Tondern battalion of that militia.
The Francophile Lembourn is recognized by France’s diplomats. In late March 1925 he and Thordis visited Copenhagen, and during the visit, they spent time with Captain André Sorne, “one of Harry’s French friends”, and the next week they met Sorne’s superior officer, the Military Attaché, Colonel de Saint-Denis.
Early July they were visited by the French Consul in Esbjerg, Paul Kraemer, who as described in my book would be instrumental to the misfortune of the Lembourg family in his role of French intelligence in Jutland.
The the otherwise comprehensive letter and photo collection is without sources to the period from Grace’s birth in late February 1926 until spring 1929.
Based on the content of the rest of the collection there should have been dozens of letters to Thordis parents as well as letters between Harry and Thordis during Harry’s communications course in Versailles during the first quarter of 1927. But these are lacking as are photos from the same period.
The most likely explanation for the destruction is that the letters would have exposed the close relations between Rossen and the Lembourg couple during the next two years and thus undermined Harry’s effort to keep Rossen’s role in sending him to Berlin secret.
SUMMER 1927 TO THE LEIPZIG STATE COURT VERDICT IN JANUARY 1929
However, even if the expected letters and photos are missing, the collection contained something that helped explaining what motivated events. As already described in the book, Rossen became intensely worried in the second half of 1927 that the German nationalists were preparing to carry-out a coup invasion of South Jutland to move the border back north. A small envelope with newspaper clippings in the collection’s general collection of newspaper cuttings documented that a new local movement named after the old border river, Kongeåen (in German Königsau) had started an aggressive campaign with the mayor of Flensburg, Hermann Todsen, as one of the leaders. Other clippings describe how Stahlhelm created motorised columns in eastern Pomorania close to the border of the “Polish Corridor”.
At the same time the para-military Stahlhelm militia had started to create branches among the German minority north of the border. Rossen had briefed Lembourn in the autumn of the need to carry-out the fact-finding visit to Berlin and correctly informed Lembourn that the General Staff Intelligence Section would be interested in anything he could find-out about the German militias. However, Lembourn did not get time to make the trip until next year, when the dedicated General Staff Intelligence liaison officer to the South Jutland intelligence districts had been prematurely retired.
Reading the letters from the periods before and after it seems most unlikely that Harry had not involved his wife in everything that he planned to do. Most likely it was Thordis who destroyed all letters from early 1926 until summer 1928 and all photos linked to the volunteers immediately after Harry’s arrest at the border.
For obvious reasons the collection does not add to the German and official Danish actors’ motives for acting as they did. It is covered to the extent possible in my book and my coming article in “Fra Krig og Fred”, the journal of the Danish Commission for Military History: “Om Nils Arnberger, den svenske marineattaché, der i 1928-29 var tysk agent mod Danmark”. The article narrates how Denmark had to be presented as an ally of France and Poland to get a political decision in the German Government to build the first pocket battleship. And to give Denmark a strong warning for the alleged hostility, Lembourn had to be given a severe sentence. However, the contents of the letters about events at the Leipzig trial strongly reinforce the article’s thesis.
THE YEARS IN PRISON JANUARY 1929 TO DECEMBER 1932
When Harry Lembourn was moved from Leipzig to Gollnow in north-eastern Germany following President Hindenburg’s reduction of the sentence to five years fortress arrest, Thordis and her two small children followed him and settled in a rented room in the town’s market square. During the next year the family could meet during Harry’s five hours daily time outside the prison and his cell. The letter collection documents how this year was used in an intensive campaign driven by Thordis’ energy and strong will and with the support and active public contribution of the old lawyer Oluf Heise.
Heise’s criticism of Danish authorities’ handling of the case was considered awkward, and the authorities convinced Harry’s brother Edgar and his youngest sister Alice (Alix) that Thordis and Harry should break with Heise as his efforts was counter-productive. However, they failed, and Heise continued his work.
The work to achieve Harry’s release was even more extensive than described in my book and included letters to the French defence minister, André Maginot, and the first of several letters to Hindenburg. However, as described in the book, pressure from increasingly radical right-wing groups made it unsafe to keep the family in Gollnow, and they returned home in early summer 1930, either staying with Thordis parents in Oslo or with Harry’s sister Astrid (“Adda”) at Nyraad east of Vordingborg in southern Zeeland.
The next year became characterized by the continued campaign of Oluf Heise and the friendship between Harry Lembourn and the young German anarchist-pacifist Ernst Friedrich that led to Friedrich’s presentation of Lembourn’s situation and the case for his immediate release in the book “Festung Gollnow” published some months after Friedrich’s release in autumn 1931. The letter collection documents that Friedrich and his wife still tried to help Lembourn and his family after the publication of the book, but still in vain. After a final failure in August 1932 Friedrich concluded that the release was blocked by a group of influential German military officers.
In spite of intensified efforts of Thordis and Heise through the year following the publication of the book, the only result of it’s revelations was that Lembourn was transferred from Gollnow to the prison in Bielefeld in Western Germany at New Year 1991/1932.
1932 saw the continued attempts to ensure Harry’s release, but the letters between Harry and Thordis make clear that their marriage had been brought to the breaking point. Thordis not only drove the campaign to seek his release, she had to find support and money from her and Harry’s family both to keep her and the children alive and to help Harry keep his morale in prison by financing his gentleman’s living style that included buying new lacquer shoos for his dinner jacket and money for the best tailor in town. He fantasied without any sense of realism about his glorious return and the likelihood of receiving the Commander’s Cross of the French Legion of Honour. When hopeful about about his early release he asked her if his full morning suit and best quality riding outfit was ready, and he complained about her continuous failure to understand his horrible situation. What she needed, but rarely got, was statement of optimism and a determination to prevail and fight for his rights.
By mid-November 1932 Harry had become desparate, and he asked Thordis to write the German authorities and win favour with them by blaming the French for having failed to give support by explaining how they had decieved and exploited him.
THE ATTEMPTS TO REGAIN POSITION OR PENSION 1933 TO 1937
The letter add little to my book’s narrative of the Danish War Office’s pseudo-investigation of Lembourn’s actions conducted in March 1933 and the discussions in the French Ministry of War in the following weeks. However, in a letter to France in autumn of that year from Norway Lembourn makes clear that the value of the sum sent every quarter that with the value of 400 crowns monthly (equals roughly 16.000 crowns in 2018) was completely insufficient to support the now full family. However, as the money transfers continued at the same level in the following years, the complaint had no effect.
The book described how both Harry and Thordis tried in vain by letters to the Danish Prime Minister in 1934 and the Minister of Finance in 1937 to get his pension. The collection add hitherto missing parts of the correspondence including a letter from 1937 addressed directly to the Finance Committee of the Danish Parliament had had taken the formal decision not to grant pension.
THE FAMILY FATE DURING THE WAR
As narrated in the book the family’s fate during the war was bleak during the German occupation of Denmark and Norway, and letters give us details.
Harry had returned to Denmark in spring 1940 to see his family for the first time in seven years. Early March he wrote in vain to the French legation in Oslo to achieve a restart of the support that had ended after the start of the war. He was stopped from returning to Oslo by the German invasion, and during the next months his situation looked hopeless.
However, they the letter make clear that the situation gradually got better in two ways. In autumn 1941 the teenage daughter Grace was given permission to join her father in Denmark, but as he lived as boarder in cheap pensions, she got a good place at a large farm close to Knapstrup Manor.
One year later Thordis joined Harry in Copenhagen. They started to look for a flat, but continued to live in low quality pensions, Thordis spending time in South Zeeland with Harry’s second youngest sister Adda. As the food situation in Norway was desperate, the letters tells the story of the constant effort to help Thordis’ parents in Oslo with food parcels. In summer 1943 Harry’s youngest sister Alix’s husband, a successful lawyer, had found a six room, newly painted apartment in central Copenhagen. With economic help from Thordis parents, Thordis and Harry moved into the flat in the late summer of that year. Thereafter Grace and well as Philip, who was still with his grandparents, could join their parents, and Thordis started to work so that they could pay the rent. She lived in that apartment until she moved to a flat for elderly in the “Peter Lykke Centre” on Amager a short time before her death in early 1991.
FROM THE END OF THE WAR TO THE END
The collection adds little new to the book’s narrative of Harry’s attempt to get vindication and pension just after the war. It only makes clear and illustrates with a photo album that Thordis had a job as interpreter for the British Army in Germany at Hamburg in autumn 1946. It does not explain why she ended her contract after only three months in spite of her employers’ satisfaction with her work.
The only supplement to the story about Thordis and Harry’s final effort to get a an income to himself and his wife after his 70 years birthday is the information that the decision in late 1956 to give support by adding extra funds to the intelligence budget lapsed on Harry’s death in early 1958. Thordis had to apply to the Defence Ministry to have the support extended thereafter. In June 1958 it was decided that she would receive 1470 crowns annually, which equals a little more than 20.000 in 2018. No wonder that she complained about Denmark and praised Norway the rest of her life.
In the short narrative of her life that Grace left for Richard, the family’s tragic fate was left out. It simply stated that “My dad was 20 years older than my mum, so when he retired we moved to Norway”. However, in November 1991, she started to collect Harry’s key descriptions from 1937 and 1955 of events in an envelope marked “Papas historie”. It was a little more than half a year after Thordis’ death and Viggo Øhlenschlægers had started his project on 14 March to find out what had happened.
Now we know.
One thought on “THE HARRY AND THORDIS LEMBOURN STORY. SUPPLEMENT AND ADJUSTMENTS.”
I am looking for information concerning a Danish national named LEMBOURN who attended Saint-Cyr between 1921 and 1923.
Could this Captain Lembourn whose story is told here be our man?
It would also be interesting for us to try to contact his descendants.
Can you help us?
General Bertrand PÂRIS
Archivist of the Saint-Cyrienne (association of former students of the Saint-Cyr Military Academy).