A ‘Nazi’ funeral in London, 1936


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At 9 Carlton House Terrace, to the right of the top of the Duke of York steps, there is a small patch of garden and in it is a tiny gravestone. It reads: ‘Giro, ein treuer Begleiter! London, im Februar 1934, Hoesch.’ Hoesch was German Ambassador Leopold von Hoesch and Giro his pet terrier dog (‘ein treuer Begleiter‘ = ‘a true friend’), accidentally electrocuted in 1934 when he chewed through a cable.

Von Hoesch himself died from a stroke only two years later at the age of 55 and his funeral cortege left Carlton Terrace to an impressive send-off. Led by two companies of Grenadier Guards, and with a 19-gun salute from St James’s Park, his Swastika-draped coffin was taken to Victoria Station and then to Germany on board Royal Navy destroyer HMS Scout. A remarkable piece of film shows the Nazi flag being escorted by bearskin-wearing British guardsmen, several high-ranking ministers and the diplomatic corps, while Embassy staff give the Nazi salute: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyeD7lv6xpk&fmt=18

The reception Ambassador von Hoesch had in Germany was in marked contrast. Only the Foreign Minister attended his funeral in Dresden and all the Nazi Party stayed away. Von Hoesch predated the coming to power of the Nazis in 1933 and had few illusions about them. The strain of trying to retain Anglo-German relations in such hostile circumstances may well have contributed to his early death. He was replaced by the notorious Joachim von Ribbentrop in 1936.

Von Ribbentrop’s first act was to rebuild the embassy interior in more modern, Nazi style, by knocking Nos. 8 and 9 Carlton House Terrace into one. The marble on the main staircase was said to have been a gift from Mussolini and Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer, visited London twice to see progress. The Nash exterior was retained as it was Listed but lost was the impressive ballroom that had been the setting for a glamorous ball attended by the Royal Family in 1858 when Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter Vicky married Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm (later Emperor Frederick III, who ruled for 99 days). Anglo-German relations soured, of course, with the start of World War I. After World War II, the building was requisitioned as enemy property and is now the home of the Royal Society.

There is still a small door on the left of the steps leading up from The Mall that was once a private entrance to the embassy. On August 4, 1914, Foreign Office attaché, Harold Nicolson knocked here late at night with an urgent message. War had been declared earlier that day but the earlier note had said Germany had declared war on Great Britain. In fact, Germany had sent no reply to a British ultimatum to respect Belgium’s neutrality; Great Britain had declared war on Germany. The ambassador of the time, Prince Lichnowsky, was already in bed but was roused to receive the updated message.

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