Sequel to World War One spy tale

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augustoroggenTHE man who came to the Helensburgh district to fish and ended up being shot as a First World War spy at the Tower of London was a remarkable true story.

Elsewhere on this website is the story of Augusto Alfredo Roggen (pictured left) 91 years after he was shot by a firing squad composed of men from the 3rd Battalion, the Scots Guards, and this is a sequel.

By no means a James Bond figure, he was born in Montevideo in 1881, the son of a German who later became a Uruquyan citizen, and came to Britain on May 30 1915, arriving at Tilbury Docks from Rotterdam.

Small, dark, neat and dapper, he did not look German, and he had developed a good command of English. He said he intended to travel to Scotland and said he was interested in agricultural vehicles.

Ten days later, as a result of sending two postcards to a Rotterdam address which were intercepted, he was arrested at the Tarbet Hotel for espionage and paid the ultimate penalty.

Alison-Hepworth-wIt was a fascinating tale of another era, and I thought that was that — until I received an email from Alison Hepworth referring to the article.

“It is of interest to me because he was my great great uncle and I am trying to put together our family history. His brother got together with my great grandmother in the Wirral,” she wrote.

I asked Alison (right), who is a freelance journalist and sub-editor working on newspapers and magazines in London, if she could tell me more — and she did, as well as supplying pictures of Federico Roggen and herself. This is what she told me . . .

“Augusto had two brothers, Federico, my great grandfather, and Emilio, a doctor. Federico (below left), who was married with his wife living in Germany, somehow met May Howlett, who was Welsh and whose husband had died on a ship which sunk in 1918. She already had a daughter, Pat.

“We are not sure if May, my great grandmother, met Federico before or after her husband had died, but in any case he set her up in a house in Watford where she had three more children, all girls. One was my grandmother, Freda.

“We are not sure if May's role was to provide children for this wealthy businessman or whether it was true love.

“Federico died of appendicitis on a business trip when the children were still quite young, leaving May destitute and the mother of three illegitimate children who carried her surname. So she moved to Bebington, Cheshire, to be near her father.

“My grandmofederico_roggenther, Freda, was never told she was illegitimate, but she found out when she joined the RAF and had to provide a birth certificate. Ironically she had used money left to her by her father to buy a commission in the RAF.

“Years later Freda had a nervous breakdown, and one of the contributing factors was the stigma of illegitimacy. She never quite recovered and died of heart disease in her late 40s.

“Her husband, Albert Lewis, my grandfather, was left to look after three children, one of whom was my mother, Gillian. Albert died a few years after his wife, when my mother was 26.

“My mother had, a few years earlier, got married to Kevin Hepworth and they moved to his home town of Bradford where they had two children, Louise and me.

“That's about it really, but there are many questions, such as how did Federico meet May? How did it feel when his brother was executed? And what led the family from Uruguay to Germany to Britain?

“I need to find the answers I think, because I am reminded of this heritage every time I look in the mirror as I have quite a dark skin and quite frequently am mistaken as Spanish.

“Of course Augusto was half Uruguayan, which is why he did not look German. Despite the country's multi-culturalism, we believe his mother was Uruguayan Indian.”

I doubt if local sources can add a great deal which would assist Alison's family history research, but this tale does serve to remind us what a small world we live in. Augusto may not have achieved much, but the story of this colourful family clearly will live on.