Thousands of people were rumoured to be spies for all sorts of reasons during the Great War. Charles Oswald Oglethorpe was one of them – apparently simply for going out late at night.
Charles Oswald Oglethorpe was born in 1883 in Lancashire but by 1911 he had moved to London. By 1914 he was working in a bank, and after war came that summer he joined the Royal Fusiliers: in October, he enlisted in the 1st Sportsman’s Battalion (officially the 23rd Battalion), although it is not clear whether he was actually a sportsman or not. In November he was made a Corporal and that winter the battalion moved out to a camp in Hornchurch, Essex.
Around February 1915, Oglethorpe was ill and was sent away on sick leave, staying at a temperance hotel in London while he recovered. While staying there, he went out late at night – staying out until 1a.m. each night, which apparently caused the hotel’s owners to suspect him of being a German spy. Quite how they made this leap of judgement is not clear from the short write-up in the Essex Police ‘Suspects Register’ (a wonderful source charting suspected spies reported to the police during the war). The police clearly didn’t think anything much of it and don’t even seem to have followed up the slightly bizarre allegation.
Far from spying, Oglethorpe went on to become an officer in the Durham Light Infantry in 1915 and serve at the front from July 1916 (presumably replacing one of the 15th DLI’s heavy casualties on July 1st). After a few months of this, though, his knee was too weak – active service having exacerbated an existing weakness. After a year of recovery and medical examinations, Oglethorpe was passed as fit for a Railway Transport Officer role, for which he was trained at Longmoor, Hampshire.
Essex Record Office item J/P 12/6 ‘Suspects’ register
Oglethorpe’s service record.