As we march towards the outbreak of war, my journey through the local newspapers of 100 years ago still provides few clues to the disaster which is now just a couple of months away. The headlines are still dominated by domestic politics, Irish Home Rule and the pronouncements of Bishops, but you can occasionally find a short article which the power of hindsight allows you to highlight. This particular story appeared in the Birmingham Gazette, one hundred years ago today.
The story of Samuel Maddick of Portsmouth is a strange one. It would appear that he wrote a letter to the German Embassy offering his services as a spy, a letter that, perhaps not surprisingly, was steamed open by the on-duty James Bond of the day. His request was forwarded to Berlin by the London Embassy and the German Secret Service sent him enough money to buy a ferry ticket to Ostend where he would meet his German contacts. It was at this point that the British police intervened and arrested Mr Maddick.
His case came to court on the 16th of June and the Judge promptly found him insane and committed to an asylum at Milton near Portsmouth. Shortly afterwards, Maddick managed to disprove the diagnosis by escaping from the asylum. After that the record becomes a little less clear - some sources say that he was re-arrested and spent the rest of the war in Pentonville Prison, whilst others claim that he simply vanished.
At a time when we were regularly giving the King's Cousin, the Kaiser, guided tours of British dockyards, it seems strange that a somewhat eccentric electrical fitter could be incarcerated for simply offering to divulge secrets he did not possess. But, as we are discovering, these summer days of one hundred years ago were odd in all sorts of ways.