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Remembered Today:

Confidence tricksters of the Great War


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With the large movement of people and the upheaval of wartime, the opportunities for a good swindle must have been hard to resist for those with criminal tendencies and 'spivs'. Keep coming across cases in local newspapers concerning 'confidence tricksters' who have been caught and tried by very disgusted magistrates

Usually they are men pretending to be soldiers, or soldiers conning people by pretending to be highly decorated heroes. One in the Birkenhead news from a soldier who pretended to have been awarded a VC and DCM and apparently conned people all over North Wales before being caught in Birkenhead for a petty theft and dismissively stated "people are soft in believing what I told them". Another case in Yorkshire paper of a soldier posing as a bogus sergeant and stealing from soldier's wives. He was called "A low, mean thief" by a Bradford Stipendiary Magistrate

Googled 'Confidence tricksters WW1" and found some famous ones, including Sidney Reilly, who Ian Fleming claimed had inspired him to write the 007 series. Apparently this Ace of Spies, during WW1 managed to impersonate a German officer and sit on a meeting of the German High Command! (he is bound to have been discussed before)

Here

Another famous case of a former intelligence officer for MI5 during WW1, Maundy Gregory caught selling knighthoods post war

Any more interesting cases?

Caryl

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Hi Caryl

I've come across references to bogus army horse purchasers doing the rounds with various farms, attempting to buy horses at commandeering prices. But, I've also heard a local story told where the farmers conned the official army purchasers. The army requisitors toured the farms noting which animals were required, and contracting farmers to provide those specified horses for the official price, at the local railway station on a certain date. The canny farmer agrees, went immediately to the town's slaughterhouse and obtained the hind hooves of a slaughtered horse. On the assembly day, he bought the hooves to the station and informs the requisition officer that the specified horse had died suddenly, and here are the hooves as proof, and he could show him where the sadly missed horse lay buried. I'm informed that the hooves were sold to another farmer for the same purpose.

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Hi Caryl

I've come across references to bogus army horse purchasers doing the rounds with various farms, attempting to buy horses at commandeering prices. But, I've also heard a local story told where the farmers conned the official army purchasers. The army requisitors toured the farms noting which animals were required, and contracting farmers to provide those specified horses for the official price, at the local railway station on a certain date. The canny farmer agrees, went immediately to the town's slaughterhouse and obtained the hind hooves of a slaughtered horse. On the assembly day, he bought the hooves to the station and informs the requisition officer that the specified horse had died suddenly, and here are the hooves as proof, and he could show him where the sadly missed horse lay buried. I'm informed that the hooves were sold to another farmer for the same purpose.

Thanks Geraint. Did this happen in North Wales? Some of my husband's ancestors were ag labs on local farms, it's possible they were involved or at least had knowledge of this

Caryl

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Caryl

Related to me by a woman who was about 8 years of age at the time, living near the station yards. Sadly has since died. She recalled that many farmers tried to get around the commandeering process. Others 'moved' horses to other farms when they expected the requisitioners to visit. She also told me that once the horses (nervous and frisky) had boarded the open waggons, and all the paperwork finalised, that a railway worker who was related to one of the farmers 'failed' to stop a lively carthorse from kicking open an 'unclosed' gate, and somehow ensured that the waggon load of horses bolted out of the yards and into Ruthin. Five were never caught.

I've been doing a lot of newspaper reading in the archives recently, and there's a few similar stories in the Profiteering thread on this same subforum. Very thin line between both!!

There was another story which I scanned quickly through - case before the Denbighshire Assizes I believe, concerning four ex-soldiers in 1919, handling stolen army equippment and stores from Kinmel Camp and attempting to off-load it into the local economy. There must have been an element of confidence tricking involved in either their procurement or in their offloading.

Geraint

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...............snip............

There was another story which I scanned quickly through - case before the Denbighshire Assizes I believe, concerning four ex-soldiers in 1919, handling stolen army equippment and stores from Kinmel Camp and attempting to off-load it into the local economy. There must have been an element of confidence tricking involved in either their procurement or in their offloading.

Geraint

My late father-in-law used to talk a lot about Kinmel camp and his relations' involvement with it, similar stories to the above, can't remember everything he told me because it was at a time when I didn't have much interest and how I wish I'd recorded what he said or took notes His father, my husband's grandfather is buried in the church at Boddelwyddan

Caryl

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Kinmel has a fascination of its own. Not only as a training camp and transit camp for the Canadians in 1919, but in the influence it had over the local society and economy and the Rhyl police records show all sorts of fascinating glimpses to life in the area. Quite a few cases of prostitution by local women (poigniantly described as 'poor widows). Anyhow - that's going in another direction.

Which house or farm was grandfather from?

I'll be in the archives this afternoon. Lets see what else turns up:rolleyes:

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  • 4 months later...

There was another story which I scanned quickly through - case before the Denbighshire Assizes I believe, concerning four ex-soldiers in 1919, handling stolen army equippment and stores from Kinmel Camp and attempting to off-load it into the local economy. There must have been an element of confidence tricking involved in either their procurement or in their offloading.

Stealing and selling equipment and stores is probably as old as warfare itself. It was certainly already a problem for the British Army (and more so for the Navy) in the eighteenth century. But this is corruption, theft and black marketeering not confidence trickery which usually consists of selling something that doesn't exist.

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How much truth is there in the Percy Topliss legend?

I understand most of it has now been discredited.

We have had a number of threads about him; put "Percy Toplis" in the search box at top right of this page.

Moonraker

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