Spies on bikes?


It sounds like fodder for a Monty Python skit: Bands of German youths in lederhosen bicycling through Britain in 1937 snapping photos of the countryside.
Were they spies for the Fatherland gathering intelligence for a possible invasion? Or just a bunch of German kids enjoying the summer weather and English hospitality?
“I respectfully beg to inform you that a party of German youths arrived at Spalding on Friday the 30th of July 1937,” police Superintendent T. Dawson of Spalding, in central England, wrote to his superiors. “They were entertained by the Spalding Rotary Club and camped for the night in Fulney Park, leaving the following morning and traveling south.”
An enclosed clipping from the local newspaper recounted how “the homey atmosphere familiar at an English fireside at the Christmas season prevailed when the Spalding Rotary Club entertained a party of German youths to a sausage-and-mashed potato supper.”
Spalding’s dispatch and other police reports — one warning that the Germans were “in possession of cameras” and had been seen taking pictures — were contained in a batch of newly declassified files of MI5, Britain’s counterintelligence service. The files were released to the public March 8 and reported on by Jill Lawless of The Associated Press in London.
“The general image of fit young Germans with blond hair and leather shorts cycling through parts of England where nothing much had happened for years created quite a stir,” Christopher Andrew, author of the official history of MI5, was quoted as saying.
The cycling young people were members of the Hitler Jugend, the Nazi youth movement, whose leaders, according to the files released by Britain’s National Archives, sought to forge ties with the Boy Scout movement in the 1930s.
The documents, AP reported, record “a trip to Britain by Hitler Youth chief of staff Hartmann Lauterbacher and Nazi officials” that included a dinner with Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the scouting movement.
Baden-Powell told Lauterbacher that he was “fully in favor of anything that would bring about a better understanding between our nations,” the AP story said, but he sought official advice on what attitude to take toward the German advances.

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1 Comment

Filed under Cool stuff, Travels

One response to “Spies on bikes?

  1. John Vandevelde

    This obviously was the inspiration for Google Map’s “Street View”, but with the slower vehicles and less sophisticated cameras of the era. If they had not run out of time, legs and film, they might have biked enough and photographed enough to win the Battle of Britain.
    –John

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