Thinking the Unthinkable
“Everything secret degenerates … nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity.”Lord Acton
“Have you got some trunks at 50 Ebury Street? I propose having them down and examined.”
These sentences were not written by the master of absurdist drama, Eugène Ionesco, but by the London Metropolitan Police. They appear on page 3 of the official transcript of Casement’s third interrogation on 25th April, 1916. The purported speaker is Basil Thomson, Assistant Chief Commissioner, and his question is the first reference to the controversial trunks which allegedly contained the scandalous diaries. Thomson might as well have continued “… examined to see if there are any scandalous diaries.” The inept question betrays that the existence and location of the trunks is already known to the speaker. The purpose of the question in the transcript is to conceal police possession of the trunks; it clearly fails to do this since the question content is predicated upon foreknowledge of their existence and location. An impartial observer would ask why the police wanted to conceal that foreknowledge. The answer is that they wished to officially record a false date for possession of the trunks.
That the official date is false is now widely accepted by many experts including leading Casement authority Roger Sawyer who as long ago as 1997 wrote; “It is unthinkable that his luggage would have remained untouched while his every move was being monitored.” (Roger Casement’s Diaries. Sawyer, Pimlico, 1997, p. 8.) Casement’s every move was being monitored when he was in the USA even before leaving for Norway on October 15, 1914. Sawyer is a firm believer in the authenticity of the diaries; therefore his comment demonstrates that he believes the diaries were in police hands long before Casement’s arrest. He does not, however, attempt to explain the deception in the police transcript.
Sawyer is not alone in his conviction. Perhaps the most prominent believer in authenticity, CID chief Basil Thomson himself also agrees that the trunks were located before arrest as he wrote in 1922; “Some months earlier, when we first had evidence of Casement’s treachery, his London lodgings had been visited and his locked trunks removed to Scotland Yard.” And there are others; former MI6 agent, Unionist MP Montgomery Hyde, barrister and prolific author (Trial of Sir Roger Casement, 1960) agrees the diaries were found long before arrest as he stated twice to parliament. Highly regarded journalist and editor of The Daily Telegraph, Donald McLachlan, also a former intelligence officer, investigated the matter in 1959 for Richard Crossman MP and reported that the chief of Naval Intelligence, Captain Reginald Hall, had located the trunks some 18 months before the arrest.
Sawyer reports; “ … it seemed wise to approach Richard Crossman who, as British Director of Political Warfare against the Enemy and Satellites or as Assistant Chief of the Psychological Warfare Division of SHAEF, might reasonably have been expected to inherit whatever machinery was used in the previous war. He elicited help from Donald McLachlan, who had held a number of propaganda posts which came loosely under the heading ’Naval Intelligence’ … it was his guidance which led to the discovery that Hall had heard of Casement’s alleged proclivities twenty-one months before the execution, and not long afterwards Hall discovered the whereabouts of the traitor’s personal luggage.” (Casement: The Flawed Hero by Roger Sawyer. P.137. Routledge, 1984.) This finding comes soon after the circulation of the secret Findlay memo in early November, 1914. This manifestly false document contained the first allegation of scandal. Another scholar, Professor Sean McConville also holds that the trunks were found long before the arrest. “I think they [the diaries]were in British possession for quite a long while … they had these trunks from the moment that Casement started issuing pro-German pamphlets …” (June 2, 2016. Talk at The Irish Embassy, London).
These informed individuals believe the diaries are authentic and were found in the trunks many months before the arrest. It is undisputed that British Intelligence investigated Casement’s bank accounts in early 1915 and that German communications with the USA were being intercepted and decoded by Room 40 at this time. In this context, Sawyer is right – it is not credible (thinkable) that his former lodgings were ignored until the third day of his interrogation in April 1916.
In the latter months of 1914 the priority for British Intelligence was Casement’s capture and this might be achieved if he attempted to return to Ireland. In early December 1914, the ocean-going 600 ton Sayonara was secretly chartered by Hall and a fifty-man undercover crew was selected. She sailed in mid-December to patrol the west coast of Ireland gathering information and spreading disinformation. On 19th January 1915 the costly mission was abandoned when it became known that Casement was still in Germany and had no plans to leave. By mid 1915 there was no end to the war in sight and no prospect of Casement’s capture while he remained in Germany. The KV intelligence files in TNA refer to a plot being considered in August and September 1915, if “evidence could be manufactured”, to ‘unmask’ Casement in Germany as a British spy; this plot was unnecessary if they already possessed the incriminating diaries.
It is a remarkable fact that no-one has attempted to explain why the diaries allegedly found in the trunks in 1914/15 were not at once used against Casement. Obviously the scandalous diaries represented a potent weapon and their exposure at that time would have meant the prompt and definitive end of the Casement predicament. Besides being a triumph for British Intelligence, exposure would have been a devastating blow against nationalism in Ireland and the USA which in turn would have led to increased Irish recruitment to the war effort. Revelation of the shocking evidence would have destroyed Casement everywhere, above all in Germany, and would have probably induced his suicide. The intelligence chiefs had an immediate solution in their hands but they held back the evidence for up to 18 months.
It is unthinkable that none of the experts in the Sawyer camp sought to explain this long silence; the absence of an explanation indicates that the experts failed to find one which was credible without compromising their belief in authenticity.
It is even more unthinkable that Thomson and Hall would have intentionally refrained from showing the bound volume diaries to anyone after Casement’s arrest. That they did not show them is verified by the complete absence of any record of such a showing; all records of diary materials being shown refer to typescripts or photographs. There is no record of bound volume diaries being shown before February, 1922.
It is undisputed that the typescripts were completed after the arrest and the text had only two possible sources; either the text was copy-typed from genuine Casement diaries found in the trunks in 1914/15 or it came from the imagination and diligence of the intelligence services. The first lemma generates three crucial questions; why were the diaries kept secret for up to 18 months? Why, when they possessed the diaries, were typescripts made after the arrest? Why was no-one shown the diaries after the arrest? The second lemma raises one question only; why was the typescript text concocted? It is obvious that the first three questions lead to speculative answers whereas the fourth question gives an answer which agrees with the recorded facts of the smear campaign. That answer fully satisfies the question but does not prove the text was concocted. The question, however, also serves as an answer to the three crucial questions. Because no incriminating diaries had been found and kept secret for up to 18 months, the text was concocted. The text was concocted so that it could be typed for the smear campaign.
Some might consider it thinkable that the best answers to the three crucial questions are that the intelligence chiefs wished to protect Casement’s reputation for as long as possible, that they felt it somehow more convincing to show typescripts and that they simply forgot to show the bound volume diaries. But if these answers are unthinkable (not credible), it follows that no incriminating diaries were found in the trunks at any time.
The hypothesis that Sawyer et al are correct about the diaries in police possession in 1914/15 renders the authenticity position incoherent. The hypothesis is that by late 1914 or early 1915 the intelligence services had not only sufficient evidence of Casement’s treason but also devastating material evidence in the diaries of his moral infamy. The problem then is twofold; how to explain why the intelligence officers kept that explosive material evidence secret thereby protecting Casement’s reputation; how to explain the absence of any reference to diaries in the KV intelligence files. Those same files, however, do mention both the alleged sources of the trunks and the diaries; W. P. Germain of 50 Ebury Street is mentioned on 16th January, 1915 and W. J. Allison & Co., Farringdon Road is mentioned on 12th February, 1915.
None of the Sawyer group even poses these obvious questions. Failure to ask the questions indicates that the most logical answer compromises the claim that the diaries were found long before the arrest. Since it is unthinkable that his luggage “remained untouched”, it is even more unthinkable that the scandalous diaries were kept secret for so long. It is even more unthinkable that – having seen Major Frank Hall’s 4th November typed version of the Findlay memo alleging “unnatural relations” – that the diaries confirming the allegation remained a secret. Since there is no reference in the secret KV files to finding scandalous diaries, the intelligence officers not only kept it secret from their political masters in government but they also kept it secret from each other. This manifest incoherence requires a modification of the Sawyer hypothesis to allow the 1914 finding of the trunks and the postponement of opening these until April 1916. But even this modification negates Sawyer’s claim that “It is unthinkable that his luggage would have remained untouched ...” and makes the unthinkable necessarily thinkable. The only purpose of possessing the trunks was to open them. To avoid this collapse into contradiction, Sawyer must accept the logical answer which is that no compromising diaries were found in the trunks. This is the most coherent answer which corresponds to logic and common sense and it would be accepted by any impartial person.
In the 21 days between 21st April and 12th May 1916, three events occurred which radically changed the context of Hall’s original plan to use official police typescripts to undermine Casement in Germany: Casement’s arrest, the Easter Rising and the subsequent executions of the leaders. Casement’s fate was in British hands at last so it was no longer necessary to neutralise him in Germany. The evidence of the failed arms shipment and the Rising increased his guilt as traitor. The executions, however, profoundly altered the political climate by raising Casement to potential martyr status. The new priority became how to execute him and yet avoid another martyr. Thus the defamatory texts were even more an essential and urgent instrument.
Initially destined for a military trial and probably death by firing squad, the authorities hesitated too long with Casement; probably the most famous Irishman of the time whose name was so long associated with humanitarian compassion, he was also a former British Consul, a knight of the realm who personally knew dozens of distinguished and influential people throughout Britain. Never before had the authorities faced an adversary with such a formidable curriculum. While they hesitated, fifteen Rising leaders were shot in Ireland, the last on 12th May. On 15th May Casement was removed from military custody in the Tower of London and returned to Brixton Prison to await a civil trial; a strategic political decision but too late. A prompt military execution would have made Hall’s typescripts unnecessary and embarrassing. And Hall had pre-empted matters on May 3rd when he began his campaign by showing unidentified handwritten incriminating pages to US journalists in the Admiralty. He continued to show these pages at the weekly press meetings until 24th May when they vanished forever and the first typescripts appeared.
Since no plausible explanation can be found for the long silence about the alleged finding of incriminating diaries in 1914/15, the claimed finding has no foundation in verifiable facts. That no such incriminating material was found in the trunks sufficiently explains why there is no record of the discovery at the time or later. Although the detail of Findlay’s obviously false memo had wisely been ignored in 1914, its essential allegation of “unnatural relations” indicated to Hall and Thomson a possible defamatory strategy aimed initially at destroying Casement’s credibility in Germany.
Thomson later claimed that while Casement was in Germany, informer and fraudster Maundy Gregory suggested the use of diaries and Thomson also consistently claimed to have found one diary only – for the year 1903. This is the diary which gave rise to the “wealth of detail” argument for authenticity and the 1903 typescript does indeed contain much detail which appears authentic. It would have been obvious and attractive to Thomson and Hall that very little preparation was needed for the narrative of the 1903 typescript; it required only the interpolation of a limited number of incriminating references. The operation was mostly copy-typing of the original innocuous entries.
They also foresaw that the original 1903 Casement diary could never be shown to prove the typescript was a true copy. This awkward fact, however, was sidestepped when Hall realised that the impossibility of showing one diary as proof meant that no proofs need be shown for further diary typescripts. Thus further narratives could be invented since none would be proven by showing the originals. Indeed, more was preferable to less because more meant more apparently authentic innocuous detail. Expanding the scale from one diary typescript to three served to increase the deceptive authenticity of detail and thereby render scepticism more difficult.
During the preparation of the narratives for the 1910 and 1911 typescripts, the forging of bound volumes was not contemplated since they would not be necessary for the original purpose of destroying Casement’s reputation in Germany and damaging it in the USA. Hall, a master of deception, correctly foresaw that the “wealth of detail” in official typescripts would be sufficiently convincing
The principal source of the text for the 1910 typescript was the officially typed copy of Casement’s personal account (The Amazon Journal) of his 75 day 1910 investigation which had been held by the Foreign Office since 1913. Preparation of this narrative was a considerable undertaking and probably required several months compared to a relatively brief time for the 1903 narrative. There was no single source for the 1911 narrative text which explains the reduced quantity of authentic detail being compensated for by a greatly increased amount of highly explicit incriminating material – about 45%.
At 4pm on 24th April, 1916, Hall made a courtesy visit to King George V at Windsor Castle to inform him of Casement’s capture – prior to the press announcement on the 25th. To coincide with that announcement, a grey propaganda story had already reached the New York Herald for publication the following morning. The ‘fake news’ it reported on page 2, column 1 was already eight months old. “Prisoners … held for three years for trial for the Putumayo atrocities, in August 1915, escaped from jail in Iquitos, Peru, and in canoes at hand fled down the Amazon … led by Armando Normand, who, Sir Roger Casement declared at the time of his (Normand’s) arrest, was the worst criminal in the world. In the escape of these prisoners evidences of German intrigue, with Sir Roger as the guiding genius, were apparent.”
The 24th April entry in the monarch’s personal diary records Hall’s visit but does not mention diaries. Yet, only days later Hall was showing incriminating papers to journalists. Later in May, the monarch was given typescripts – most think that Attorney General Smith was responsible – which the monarch retained and showed to Bishop Henson in July.
Described by his admirers as “…the coldest-hearted proposition that ever was — he’d eat a man’s heart and hand it back to him.” (Edward Bell, US Attaché) and as ruthless and cunning, Hall was a master of deception and a maverick. He was undoubtedly the brain guiding the diary plot.
In 1926 Hall began to write his autobiography but having completed some 25 chapters by 1932, permission to publish was refused by the Admiralty and it is claimed improbably that some 16 chapters were destroyed. Today only seven chapters remain at the Churchill Archives at Cambridge deposited there by Hall’s son Richard in 1974. Chapter 5 is extant and deals with the Sayanora cruise in December, 1914. There is no mention of the diaries in that chapter (or in the other chapters 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, or 25). It is unthinkable that Hall omitted to mention the diaries in one of the other chapters but whatever he wrote about them, he was prevented from publishing. There was something which had to be concealed in 1933 does not entail that it must be concealed today some 84 years later. That it was ‘destroyed’ suggests that it referred to facts and circumstances which compromise the alleged authenticity of the TNA diaries. Hall’s book contained information which is still so sensitive that it is not published in the 2017 first edition of his autobiography from The History Press (ISBN-10 0750982659). This unpublished material, if not destroyed, would therefore be among the still classified Casement files. It cannot be excluded that Hall’s ‘destroyed’ chapters were the source seen in 1959 by Donald McLachlan which allowed him to confirm Hall’s finding the trunks in 1914/15.
Something which is unthinkable can be made thinkable by unlocking the mystery. Two keys unlock the ‘unthinkable’ and make it thinkable. Disposal of the alleged discovery of diaries in 1916 is the first key which opens the puzzle. Disposal of the presumed existence of the bound volume diaries in 1916 is the second key.
The unthinkable turns out to be the impossible. It was Casement’s friend and supporter Conan Doyle who wrote in The Sign of Four; “… when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Thinking the unthinkable leads inexorably to the conclusion that no incriminating diaries were ever found and that the Black Diaries were fabricated after Casement’s execution.
Did You Know?
In the introduction to his 1997 book, Sawyer claims that the 1910 Dollard diary was written by Casement when in Peru; it was his original diary complete with compromising entries. At a later date – possibly after return to Europe – Casement wrote the much longer Putumayo Diary (or Amazon Journal) using the Dollard as source material, as an aide-mémoire. According to Sawyer, the longer text was intended as preliminary material for a book. This explains why the longer text contains no compromising references; it is a “cleaned up” version of the shorter Dollard.
“Evidently it was written in the hope that it would eventually form the basis of a published work and … it had the initial value of being a useful aide-memoire for the official report …”; “… as he writes a fuller, official, version eventually intended to form the basis of a published work.”
However, Sawyer proceeds to contradict this thesis when he seeks to authenticate the Dollard diary. His attempt at authentication is doubly inept but is performed with sufficient flair to deceive the unwary reader. Sawyer draws our attention to the Dollard entry dated October 8th: “The man’s name “Waiteka” the fearless skeleton of my diary who denounced the “cepo”.” (Italics added)
In the Putumayo Diary held in NLI Dublin we find the same date entry: “I was smiling with pleasure that this fearless skeleton had found tongue …”
Sawyer emphasises that the Dollard reference to “my diary” is a clear reference to the same date entry in the Putumayo Diary which, according to his main thesis, has not yet been written. It entirely escapes Sawyer that “the fearless skeleton” could just as logically have been lifted from the already written Putumayo Diary. It is the Dollard reference to “my diary” which betrays the Dollard entry as an embedded authenticating device. Scrutiny demonstrates that it fails. The Dollard entry derives apparent authenticity from the authentic Putumayo Diary by identifying the source of the words “the fearless skeleton” in the Putumayo Diary. The parasitical mechanism creates an illusory correspondence between statements in both documents so that the authenticity of the statement in one document passes imperceptibly into the statement in another document. But the repetition of the same words in the second document does not demonstrate that the same person wrote those words in the second document. Copying a Shakespeare quotation into one’s diary does not demonstrate that Shakespeare wrote the diary.
Sawyer’s affirmation would, however, prove that the Putumayo Diary was indeed written before the Dollard although Sawyer seems unaware that this contradicts his thesis that the Dollard was first. His assertion leads to the following absurdity: Sawyer asserts that Casement wrote ‘fearless skeleton’ first in the Putumayo Diary and then wrote into a second diary, the Dollard, an entry recording that he has already written the same words in the first diary. Sawyer does not explain why Casement would consciously repeat not only the same words in the Dollard but also refer to the first diary he had already written as if he did not know what he had written in the first diary until he wrote it in a second diary. These contortions drag Sawyer’s notion of l’aide mémoire into absurdity. And indeed, Sawyer does not hesitate to propose a second aide-mémoire with the result that both diaries are aides-mémoire and both are written first.
So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen. Matthew 20.16 KJV
Did You Know?
Probably the most frequently asked question in the controversy over the Black Diaries is ‘why would the authorities take so much trouble to vilify a man already in their power?’ Minor variations of the question ask why the extensive forgery was undertaken when it had no connection with the charge of treason. These are perfectly valid questions. The answers are also perfectly valid and penetratingly true.
The answers were provided by two very eminent persons representing church and state on the eve of Casement’s execution, 2nd August 1916. That morning after a ninety minute cabinet meeting to deliberate for the last time on the fate of the condemned man, Home Secretary Herbert Samuel wrote that a reprieve would “let loose a tornado of condemnation … would profoundly and permanently shake public confidence in … the government” and admitted that “had Casement not been a man of atrocious moral character” the decision to execute him would have been much more difficult.
On the same day, the Archbishop of Canterbury Randall Davidson met Lord Chancellor Buckmaster and advised that “a reprieve would be wiser than an execution” but then added that “the well being and safety of the Empire” required his execution. Davidson completed his justification by describing Casement as “morally unhinged”.
These answers respond perfectly to the questions in the first paragraph and moreover they penetrate to the core of establishment anxiety. The questions seek to understand A – why it was felt necessary to vilify Casement before and after his conviction, and after his death on the scaffold, and B – why an extensive forgery was felt necessary when irrelevant to the legal charge.
Neither Davidson nor Samuel had seen the diary or diaries but both were certain that the condemned man was a traitor and an unspeakable degenerate. Samuel had seen the police typescripts as had many others and Davidson had been assured by Reverend John Harris who also had seen the typescripts on his behalf. Davidson was concerned with the Empire and Samuel with government stability; these concerns were both immediate and future oriented. It seems scarcely credible that one man awaiting execution could have caused such anxieties to the most powerful empire in history, to a military superpower whose warships controlled the seas, and whose monarch counted his subjects in hundreds of millions. Nonetheless, the answers of these eminent men expressed separately reveal their views that a reprieve threatened both government and Empire. It is unthinkable that these two influential men were alone in their views.
Casement was the Empire’s very own VIP traitor. There had been a mutual but facultative symbiosis between Casement and the state until 1912. The Empire lacked but desired Casement’s genuine compassion so that by honouring Casement, the Empire shared by proxy his humanitarian aura. Thus the Empire became like Casement noble, virtuous, altruistic.
But following the symbiotic phase, Casement progressively betrayed the unspoken code of honour, the omertà which safeguards every power-sensitive organisation. He had in his published writings and speeches denounced the ruling Oxford oligarchy as a criminal conspiracy.
To synthesise; the legal charge alone was sufficient to put Casement in the dock and convict him but was not morally sufficient to put him on the scaffold. That insufficiency was compensated for by the campaign of vilification, by his becoming “a man of atrocious moral character”. However, his new identity as degenerate traitor was very recent while his career as moral hero of the Empire was of longer standing and could not be discounted so easily. It was essential that Casement become more than a traitor and that he become also “a man of atrocious moral character”, something he had vaguely foreseen on 26 March 1916 when he wrote “…the English government will try how most to humiliate and degrade me … they will charge me with … something baser than ‘high treason’ – God knows what …” The defamation was the vital key in overcoming a vacillating cabinet and the many appeals for clemency; it ensured his execution.
Therefore, to ask why the vilification and forgery was necessary is to ask why his execution was necessary. Samuel and Davidson provide the correct answers.