In the run up to our Spy Academy running throughout half term at Fort Nelson, Bridget Clifford recounts the stories of just some of the men held in the Tower of London on espionage charges during the First World War.

NB: This post first appeared in November 2014 as part of our The Curator @ War series.

Photograph of Fernando Buschmann
Fernando Buschmann

Fernando Buschmann was the seventh of eleven spies shot at the Tower of London between November 1914 and April 1916, and at 25 years old the second youngest. A Brazilian with a German father and Danish mother, he was educated in Europe. Having initially been interested in the business of aviation, business failures saw him return to Brazil. However, he would return to Europe in 1912 working in partnership with Marcelino Bello in a business importing food from Germany and England and exporting Brazilian bananas and potatoes. He met a Dresden girl, married her in London and all looked set for a rosy future.

In 1913 the Hamburg office of Buschmann and Bello opened, with Fernando travelling between Brazil and Europe. Success was short-lived – by September 1914 the German office had closed and Buschmann’s name was removed from the firm’s title as it was considered bad for business. Leaving his family in Dresden, he travelled throughout Europe arriving in London in April 1915. With paranoia surrounding espionage and anti-German sentiment at their height, this was to prove fatal.

Buschmann’s commercial interests had widened to include boots, mules, and guns for the French government. Despite this, he was perennially short of money, and it was his begging telegrams to a Dutch contact, “Flores”, that alerted British Counter-Intelligence. Buschmann was to claim that he had no idea that this individual was a German spymaster, but having attracted the attention of the authorities, his business activities were closely monitored. In June 1915 he was arrested.

The first page of Buschmann’s charge sheet. Sensitive information has been removed.

During questioning he claimed his business in England was to sell picric acid (an explosive), rifles, and cloth. He admitted to formerly selling flour and potatoes “but not cigars” – a number of the other spies captured at the time had been involved with the latter, and the use of tobacco products as code words was suspected. In Buschmann’s case fruit fell under suspicion as Major Drake commented in his review of the evidence “…should we be far out in suggesting that bananas and battleships are interchangeable terms?”

Buschmann was cautioned in both French and English and faced four charges under Section 48 of the Defence of the Realm (Consolidation) Regulations 1914 – in other words, he was accused of espionage, a capital crime.

Court martialled in September and unable to satisfactorily explain his dealings with known German agents, his woeful business record, trips to Southampton and Portsmouth, and the presence of invisible ink in his record books, he was found guilty. In his defence, he argued “I was never a soldier or a sailor, and I am absolutely ignorant of all military matters. I am not a good businessman as
I am more wrapped up in my music than business.”

Buschmann’s Death Certificate. The medical officer officiating at Buschmann’s execution was Francis Woodcock Goodbody (1870- 1938). In civilian life, he was a researcher in chemistry and medicine at University College, London.

Buschmann was sentenced to death by firing squad and transferred to the Tower on 18th October. He was permitted the solace of his violin which he played throughout the night. The sentence was carried out at 7:00am on the 19th October at the Tower Rifle Range.

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