It might sound slightly farcical – almost like something from Dad’s Army in fact -but recently released files from the Security Services show that there was serious concern about the activities of members of the Hitler Youth in Britain prior to the Second World War.
In November 1937 a visit of German officials aimed to build links with the Boy Scout movement in Britain. During the visit a meeting was held with Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout Movement. A lengthy report on the visit details speeches made by the German representatives, and mentions that visits were made to Eton School and the Army Gymnastics School at Aldershot. The writer of the report felt that one of the delegates, Herr Lauterbacher, seemed keen to make a good impression and was most pleasant. Fascinatingly, one War Office official stated that ‘…their party smoked and drank double whiskies and I wondered whether they did this when with the Hitler Youth’.
That the representatives were so amenable is not surprising. Officials were under no illusions that such visits were part of a campaign to promote the Hitler Youth in a positive light by building links with the Boy Scouts. A report by Baden-Powell after the visit in question sheds fasinating light on the incident. He reports that Herr Benneman spoke very little English. Baden-Powell was also invited to to Germany to meet Hitler, in what would have been a considerable publicity coup.
The File, in the National Archives, also contains much intercepted correspondence. One address in Catford in London was found to be sending and receiving an unsual amount of mail to and from Germany. Most of them are in German, and concern proposed visits to Britain. The Metropolitan Police were also asked to report on whether Hitler Youth groups wore uniform on visits and at events. On 6 November 1937 a party of Hitler Youth, in full uniform, took part in a ceremony where their new standard was dedicated at Dalston Church. A song sang at the ceremony included mentions of the Munich Beer Ball Putsch, the Feldhernhalle where he putsch failed, Hitler’s Mission, martyrdom and the Greater German Reich.
The authorities seem to have been particularly concerned that parties of Hitler Youth officials and members were using visit to Britain as cover for carrying out espionage. As a result, the Home Office kept an increasingly close watch on Germans entering Britain who were known to have links with the Hitler Youth. For example, files records that Kurt Petter, 28 years old, arrived at Harwich from the Hook of Holland and spent 4 days visiting public schools. Ingeborg Schwerdtfeger, a former paid official in the sport section of the Hitler Youth, and had ran a Town organisation. She originally came to Britain to work as an au pair, but later studied to become a secretary. In November 1937 MI5 were asked for their opinion on whether a known Hitler Youth Member should be allowed to work at a German Orphanage in Britain. It was felt at the time that membership of the Hitler Youth alone was not enough grounds to refuse entry, but that his activities would have to be closely monitored.