Traveling In Wartime Germany, Austria & Turkey Under A False Passport
(by Jim Grundy, Great War Forum)
One of the stranger stories to be reported in Hucknall was that of a journalist, Harold Jeffrey Darnton-Fraser, who spoke at a recruiting rally in Hucknall on 27th July 1915 in support of local V.C. winner, James Upton, 1st Notts. & Derby.
In the course of his address, Darnton-Fraser, said to be working for the “Daily Chronicle”, spoke about what he’d seen during his recent travels through Germany, Austria and Constantinople. He urged men to enlist because tales that Britain’s enemies were at the end of their tether were false: “It was entirely a mistake, he said, to believe that our enemies were exhausted. Germany had gigantic resources both in men and food to call upon, and we must not forget they were as determined to win the war and as confident of winning as the Allies were.”
How had he managed to travel freely across enemy territory? He had done so under an American passport. But, although he had crossed Germany and Austria safely, it seems that his true status as a British subject was discovered by the time he reached Romania, where he had to wait until 15th June 1915 before he could secure a British passport and complete his journey home.
After taking part in the recruiting campaign, he then applied to the French Embassy for a visa to return to France, where his dual ‘status’ as American and British led to his arrest and subsequent trial. The proceedings were reported as follows:
“HUCKNALL SPEAKER FINED £50. STORY OF A MAN WITH TWO PASSPORTS.”
“At Bow street, London, on Tuesday [10th August 1915] before Mr. Hopkins, Harold Jeffrey Darnton Fraser, 30, described as a British subject, a journalist of no fixed home, was charged on remand with having in his possession an irregular or false passport issued by the United States Embassy, London, on March 12th last. The defendant spoke at a Hucknall recruiting meeting last month [27th July 1915], when a visit was paid by Corporal Upton, V.C.
“Mr. E. B. Knight, on behalf of the Commissioner of Police, said that on March 12th last the defendant went to the American Embassy and obtained a passport in which he was described as an American citizen. With that passport he traveled across Europe, by way of Norway, Copenhagen, through Germany, Austria and Romania to Constantinople. He then returned to England through Malta and France. The passport was available for only two months, and therefore expired on May 12th. During its currency the American Embassy got to know that he was not a citizen of the United States, and they advised their representatives on the Continent that they were not to renew the passport.
“At the time of its expiry, the defendant was in Romania. He waited there until June 15th, and then obtained a British passport to enable him to get to England. How he got that passport it was not possible to say. After arriving home the defendant wished to return to France, and called at the French consulate in London to have his passport vised [visa?]. Captain Savy, who saw him, asked for his papers and he produced both his British and American passports. Captain Savy reported the matter to the police, and defendant was afterwards arrested.
“Mr. Knight added that it was regarded by the authorities here as a serious matter for a British subject to travel with an American passport through enemy countries. It rendered American citizens liable to be suspected.
“Captain Savy, in his evidence, said he thought in his own mind that the reason for the defendant having two passports was that he was in the Secret Service.
“Mr. Travers Humphreys, for the defense, submitted that a passport could not be said to be false unless it had been tampered with. The defendant was born in Chicago of Scottish parents. When the war broke out he acted as interpreter in the British Army, but resigned his commission in January last, and then obtained journalistic work. For the purposes of this work he applied at the American Embassy for a passport. It was then explained to him that a person born in American lost his nationality if he was absent from the country for more than five years. There was, however, an exception for persons who left America for the purposes of education. The defendant left America when he was a child, and for the purposes of his education went to Brussels, and afterwards to Edinburgh. He then entered into the employment of a firm which was half British and half American, and was led to believe that he had not lost his American nationality.
“His American passport expired on May 12th, when he was in Romania. He then obtained a British passport through the British War Office. It was issued through the British Consular Office in Galatz by a person who must have known that the applicant was in possession of an American passport.
“The magistrate said he did not want to say anything unpleasant, but if there was anything behind this case it had been cleverly concealed. He fined the defendant £50.” (‘Hucknall Dispatch’, 12th August 1915.)
This report does leave a number of questions unanswered:
– How could anyone British, who, until January 1915 had held a temporary commission in the British Army (attached as an interpreter to the Indian Corps) go on to return home via Constantinople? Did he manage to bluff his way with his expired U.S. passport or did he just make the last leg of his journey up (and actually traveled back via still neutral Bulgaria and Greece)?
– If he had been gathering intelligence for the Secret Service, would the case have ever been brought to court? That seems very hard to believe.
– The fine was a very substantial one for the time. But how lucky was he to escape imprisonment? Would he not have come under suspicion – a former officer, who had resigned his commission and then acquired a ‘false’ passport from a neutral country in order to travel within enemy territory?
– There is a medal index card confirming his role as a Second Lieutenant working as an interpreter but no other record, it seems, of any subsequent military service. Did he continue to work as a journalist for the ‘Daily Chronicle’ and/or others?
He seems not to have made a secret of his travels within the ‘Central Powers’ and had the trust of the War Office to allow him to take part in a recruitment campaign. A fascinating story that I suppose we’ll never know much, if anything, more about. But should anyone know differently, I’d love to hear from them!