First World War German ‘spy’ from Overstrand to be honoured for helping great British hero

Prof. Antony Lentin with his book on Sir Edgar Speyer outside the Sea Marge Hotel, Overstrand.PHOTO

Prof. Antony Lentin with his book on Sir Edgar Speyer outside the Sea Marge Hotel, Overstrand.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

A banker accused of spying for Germany from north Norfolk in the First World War, is to be honoured for helping a great British hero.

German-born Sir Edgar Speyer was found guilty of wartime disloyalty and stripped of his British citizenship in 1921.

But this autumn a plaque will be dedicated to him for the enormous financial contribution he made to Captain Scott's expeditions to the Antarctic.

Sir Edgar was suspected of signalling to German U-boats while on holiday in August 1914 at his Sea Marge, Overstrand, home - which is a hotel of the same name today.

The rumours began after British ships were torpedoed in the North Sea and Great Yarmouth was shelled.

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His story, and its latest twist, was told on Monday , as part of the Holt Festival, by Prof Antony Lentin, author of a book about Speyer called Banker, Traitor, Scapegoat, Spy?

Prof Lentin has campaigned for Sir Edgar's contribution to both Scott's expeditions to be recognised and has welcomed news of the plaque dedication at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, on October 29.

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'Speyer was a visionary entrepreneur who supported the arts, innovation, science and exploration,' he said.

'Scott named a mountain discovered by his first expedition on the western side of the Ross Ice Shelf, 'Mount Speyer' as a token of his appreciation. It is only right that his support should be acknowledged.'

The plaque will be unveiled by Dr David Wilson, great-nephew of Edward Wilson, who died with Scott and his companions in 1912.

Prof Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Scott institute, said Sir Edgar's role in supporting Scott's expeditions had been largely forgotten.

He added: 'He was a committed supporter of Scott's expeditions, a good friend who raised the funds for Scott's last trip to the Antarctic. It is only fitting that Speyer is given recognition for his philanthropy. I believe Scott would have approved.

While at Sea Marge, Sir Edgar was on good terms with Winston Churchill, who had a cottage nearby, and with Herbert Asquith, prime minster at the time.

Sir Edgar was also rumoured to be sending naval secrets learned in Downing Street by wireless message to Germany from Overstrand. Prof Lentin draws no conclusions about whether Sir Edgar was guilty of spying, letting his readers decide.

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