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The ways of Private AP Schottland

Avatar of inke inke - 29. May 2015 - Discover Namibia

Alexander Scotland was taken into custody on suspicion of espionage shortly before the outbreak of the First World War and imprisoned in Windhoek. Photo: National Archives of Namibia

An airmail letter from London addressed to RHA Schneider, Swakopmund, SWA, was duly delivered to the Schneider family in December 1952 even though the address included neither a street name nor post office box number. The addressee, Reinhard Schneider, was however seriously ill. His son Heiner (Schneider-Waterberg) did not know the sender’s name, which he made out as A Scotland, and put the letter into the “pending” tray. There it remained for the remainder of the summer season and Heiner enjoyed his semester break. Years later, when he researched the history of his family’s farm Okosongomingo, he came upon the name AP Scotland again in files that were more than 30 years old. During the twenties Scotland had sent Christmas cards to the Schneiders and, as a representative of the Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company, letters from the farm Neu-Heusis west of Windhoek and later from Argentina. 

Alexander Paterson Scotland (1882–1965) sailed from London to South Africa in 1902. He intended joining his brother who was fighting in the Boer War as a volunteer, but the war was over by the time he arrived in Cape Town. The South African Territories Company hired the young man as a storekeeper and dispatched him to the government’s trading post at Ramansdrift at the furthest end of the Cape colony on the Orange River. 

The tiny settlement some 75 kilometres east of Noordoewer was at that time part of an important trading route to Warmbad in the far south of the German colony of South West Africa. Goods were hauled across the river on a wide shallow boat. The colonial powers both had a police station on their respective side of the border formed by the river. Alexander Scotland learnt German from his new “neighbours”.

When the Nama War broke out in South West Africa, the dirt track to Warmbad became an embattled supply line and Scotland began escorting his deliveries to their destination. The commanding officer on the northern bank of the Orange River did not want an armed civilian to move into the war zone, however, and suggested that Scotland join the Schutztruppe (German colonial forces) as a volunteer. Scotland followed his advice and before long was kitted out with the imperial German uniform and a rifle. Now he was at liberty to move around the German colony as he pleased, and by special arrangement even the officers’ mess was open to Private “Schottland”. 

Britain’s military authorities in Cape Town were more than pleased with this turn of events. At regular intervals they interviewed Scotland about the number of troops in the German colony, their weaponry and other detials. Nobody in the Schutztruppe suspected that the likeable young storekeeper, who pulled his weight during several skirmishes with Nama units, had become a spy. Scotland was on good terms with all parties, including the local Nama population. According to his memoirs it was he who convinced Nama leader Johannes Christian to come to Ukamas for the peace talks with Major von Estorff in December 1906. A peace treaty was signed soon afterwards, at Christmas.

With the war over, Private Schottland was awarded Prussia’s Red Eagle medal and discharged from the Schutztruppe. He moved to Keetmanshoop, intensified his contacts within the German community, maintained his relations with the Schutztruppe and was a frequent visitor at the officers’ mess. 

For the next seven years Scotland tried his hand at various business ventures and at the same time continued spying, never losing his cool. The German authorities kept an eye on him and were aware of his contacts and his passion for photography but they let him be. Governor Theodor Seitz finally ordered a search of Scotland’s home just a few days before the outbreak of the First World War. Nothing incriminating was found but Scotland was taken into custody on suspicion of espionage and jailed in Windhoek where he was questioned. Years later he wrote in his book “The London Cage”, published in 1957, that during his time in prison he learnt how to question an enemy subject. 

In South West Africa the war was over in less than a year. South African troops occupied the German colony and a peace treaty was signed in July 1915 at Khorab near Otavi. Alexander Scotland, now 33 years old, was a free man again. He returned to Britain, intent on joining the secret service, but found that his chances were slim without an officer’s commission. However, a letter of recommendation written by none other than General Jan Smuts, who had led the South West Africa campaign, immediately paved the way for him. Scotland was posted to France and Belgium, promoted to the rank of captain and decorated with the Order of the British Empire (OBE). 

After the war he returned to South West Africa as a newlywed, and as manager of Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company, he moved into Liebig House on the farm Neu-Heusis in the Khomashochland. He became a member of the meat processing commission led by Reinhard Schneider and was also appointed to an agricultural commission led by Albert Voigts. Scotland’s contributions were appreciated. During his time as a Liebig manager, a meat extract and bone meal factory was built near Okahandja.

After seven years Scotland was posted to South America. The Liebig Company owned huge herds of cattle in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay and several factories producing meat extract. Scotland not only took charge of the processing of beef but also looked after the sizeable communities of German immigrants. 

Alexander Scotland returned to Britain in 1933. He often travelled to Germany for extensive visits with friends and acquaintances from his years in South West Africa. He planned to retire at the age of 60 but at the outbreak of the Second World War he was called upon to help establish a new secret service in Britain. In 1940 he was put in charge of the Prisoner of War Interrogation Section (PWIS). 

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