Robert Holmes.

Walter Greenway, spy and hero; his life story online

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His Life Story



My Police Court Friends with
the Colours.

"Should be known to all our readers." Spectator.

"The most interesting book that has come to my
hands for many a day." Sir Edward Clarke, K.C.

"A fascinating book. I have seen nothing more
vitally interesting, suggestive, and calculated to in-
spire hope and faith." Rev. Dr John Kelman.

"The book is profoundly interesting, and a great
strength to faith, hope, and charity." The Archbishop
of Armagh.

1 ' This is one of the most inspiriting books of the War.
Socially it is one of the most significant." Daily News.

"Alike in its facts and its comments 'My Police
Court Friends with the Colours ' is a remarkable book.
This is a new kind of War book, and a very heartening
kind. We have seen plenty of war the destroyer ; here
we have a glimpse of war as an influence and a token
of regeneration." Sheffield- Daily Telegraph.

"Such a book is a tonic for the times." Evening

" A fascinating record of good work done in the face
of difficulties. " Yorkshire Telegraph.

"The reader who secures a copy of this_ book will
learn much of the real patriotism that this war has
brought to the surface. We commend this book
heartily to all interested in our common country."
Dublin Daily Express.

"One of the most remarkable books which the
present war has produced. This striking volume,
with its thrilling stories of real life and of heroic man-
hood, ought to be widely read.' Aberdeen Free Press.

"Heroes all. This book is quite a tonic for the
times. " Birmingham Gazette.

"This is a book for which to thank God, Who has
put into the human heart so much that is tender and
true." Life and Work.


His Life Story





William Blackwood and Sons

Edinburgh and London



the splendid little Arab Woman tvho made the
home of her English hero-husband a paradise
of happiness, his brief history is dedicated, in confident
assurance that all who read will admire her who
Jlgures so beautifully in the romantic writings Walter
Greenway pencilled concerning his eight years 1 residence
in the East.


THE extraordinary man whose patriotic service to
Britain is described in perhaps the most remark-
able letters the war has yet produced seemed a
criminal when first introduced to me in the dis-
charge of my official duties. I regarded him as
such for nearly nine years. Then the receipt of
those letters from the East caused me to make
fuller inquiry. A great deal of invaluable in-
formation was voluntarily furnished by persons
familiar with his earlier life. The outcome is to
establish the fact that he was judged wrongly
when reckoned a member of the criminal class.
He blundered into what looked like crime at first,
then, misunderstanding his friends, he persisted in
a way of going on which naturally earned im-
prisonment repeatedly.

Having published his earlier letters under the
misapprehension that he was what he seemed to
be, I think it best to unfold his true character in


the same stages revealed to me. I do this largely
out of justice to all who misjudged the man. It
will be seen how difficult he made it, by his own
conduct, for those most concerned in his wellbeing
either to hold him guiltless or to help him back
to a right course. Against this is to be set the
certain fact that in his heart he felt it was only
in Arabia his nature was understood. He had a
grievance growing continually while he stayed
here. There he met a wife who, with her parents
and the children which blessed their union,
so changed his life as to cause his grievance to
vanish away, and in its place to grow up repent-
ance for the pain his early follies gave.

It is a great story he tells. I have made no
attempt at embellishment, knowing it would only
be marred by such treatment. I have added to
what he tells himself such information of his
early life as I have been favoured with by the
friends of his youth, and of his later days what
I have gleaned from those brought into accidental
contact with him but a little while before the end,
and with this I have interwoven things I have
learned officially from various sources.

The story is true. Real names are not always
given, since that would not always be consistent
with maintaining concealment of the real name of
Walter Greenway, and I am pledged not to give
that. There is a well-known rule forbidding those


who help a man to his feet revealing his past mis-
takes under his true name, and I concur most
heartily in the opinion that the rule is only kind
and wise. I might be disposed to make an excep-
tion in Walter Greenway's case. Even if he had
ever been a criminal, all would be atoned for in
the service he rendered at last. I do not think
any individual who counts will be found in the
whole wide world to disagree here. However,
the question is settled for me finally by the desire
of his aunt and uncle that he shall remain Walter
Greenway. After all, he has made the name he
adopted one of which no mortal need be ashamed.
Whether she is called by it or not, I would the
woman he so deservedly and so fervently loved
might know how much it is admired in Britain !



SHEFFIELD, Augutt 1917.










IX. A CASUAL MEETING . . . . .180







THEY had told me that I should make nothing of
him. I saw him merely as a matter of routine
in the cell he occupied at the police station before
being brought into Court on a charge of burglari-
ously entering certain premises with intent to
commit a felony. It seemed good to me to en-
deavour to gather some particulars concerning the
antecedents and mode of life of a stranger in our
midst, so that I might be in a position to judge
what it was possible to do to help him, should
the charge be dismissed, or should he elect to
come to me for a new start when released from
prison, if convicted and sentenced.

They had understated the truth. I made less
than nothing of him. I went into the cell to inter-


view a man whom I was told was deaf and dumb.



He was a small, lithe, pleasant-faced, swarthy-com-
plexioned, active-looking fellow, with great, dreamy,
dark eyes, about thirty years of age, suspiciously
intelligent in appearance, to my mind, for a mute.
He was decently clad, and I could not make out
how he had found it possible to maintain himself
in fair prosperity, being, as he gave the police to
understand, unable to read or write, and failing to
comprehend both their amateurish efforts at talk-
ing with the fingers and my own. I left him with
an uncomfortable feeling that I was possibly doing
an afflicted mortal an injustice, yet unable to agree
that he was deaf and dumb at all.

When he got into Court, a nameless offender, he
was seen by the capable instructor of our local
mutes, who worked hard but vainly before the
opening of the case in a strenuous effort to make
something of him. The case was called on with
success far away.

" You're going to interpret for us," the Magistrate
remarked in pleasant courtesy as a greeting to the
instructor, who looked perplexed, but silently con-
sented to make a further attempt.

The Clerk of the Court read the charge over.
The interpreter's fingers worked with marvellous
rapidity, and now and then he clenched his right
hand and brought it into sharp and loud contact
with his open left palm. The offender gazed at
him with mild interest at first, but obviously failed


to comprehend what it was all about. The inter-
preter slowed down, and went through the perform-
ance at quarter speed. The accused's interest faded ;
he followed the proceedings with evident languor,
yawning before the end was reached.

" He doesn't appear to know anything of the deaf
and dumb language, your worship," the interpreter
concluded; "I tried, before Court, to make him
comprehend me, but I couldn't. I scarcely think
the man is deaf and dumb. He would know some
of the signs if he were. He is intelligent, and
he must have some way of making himself

The Magistrate thought so too. It was plain
that the case could not proceed until all doubt
was solved regarding the accused's ability to follow
it. He was remanded for three days.

The police forgot to give him his dinner that
day, and at tea-time, and supper-time also, he was
overlooked. He made a lot of noise, kicking and
rattling to call attention to official forgetfulness.
But they were dull persons, and failed to take in
what he would have them understand. They went
to his cell time and again. He opened his mouth
wide, frantically pushing his fingers therein, and
swallowing energetically. They lugged a four-
gallon bucket filled with water into his cell, pro-
vided a tin mug, and indicated that he was
welcome to drink his fill. He shook his head till


it looked likely to fall off. They stared at him
as if entirely mystified, and went their way once

He resumed his signals of distress. The relief
came on duty, and heard him, but were advised
oy their departing colleagues to " let him be " ; so
he continued kicking and knocking till midnight.
Then his efforts grew so violent that an officer went
up to him. He repeated the opening of his mouth,
the putting of fingers therein, and the imaginary
gulping. The officer repeated the bucket trick. He
waved his arms in violent dissent. The constable
had an inspiration, the arms waving in the direction
of the heap of rugs put on the plank bed for the
man's covering in the night.

" Oh, I see ; that's what's bothering you is it ? " he
remarked ; " well, they're not lousy, then ; but they
can be shifted if they're in your road." He gathered
the rugs in his arms, and departed from the cell,
slamming the door after him.

It was a stupid sort of thing to do, for there
was nothing at all in the poor man's gesticulations
suggestive of a complaint that the blankets were
alive. No wonder the dumb spake at such treat-
ment. To be denied food was hard enough; to
be left, in addition, without bed-covering, was

"I say, you damned fool," shouted an alarmed,
stentorian voice after the officer, " you're not taking


those blankets away, are you ? I shall be starved
to death. Bring 'em back, and let's have some-
thing to eat. I've not had a bite since breakfast,
at eight this morning."

The constable heard the voice distinctly through
the thickness of the door, and above the sound of
his own heavy footsteps. He was startled, but he
turned back and entered the cell again.

" Oh," he said, " you've found your tongue, have
you ? I thought we should be curing your com-
plaint in time. Now let's have your name, and
a few particulars about you. Then you can have
your bedclothes back if your answers are all right,
and happen a bit of some'at to eat besides."

He collapsed into docile obedience at that. His
name, he said, was Walter Greenway, his age
twenty-nine years, his home, in a neighbouring
town, his occupation, that of a clerk ; he was
single, and he lived at the house of his father, a
retired chemist of some small means. These par-
ticulars the police saw no reason to doubt; ac-
cordingly the bedding was restored, supper pro-
vided, and matters at the station settled down to

" What made you pretend to be deaf and dumb
when before the Court last Monday ? " the Magis-
trate inquired on taking up the case again after
remand ; " you put people to a lot of trouble. What
caused you to act so foolishly?"


"I didn't want my people dragging in," he
muttered; "that was why, sir." It was set down
as a melancholy lie; the police knew by this time
what sort of a record he had ; his father had tired
of helping him long before. He had never scrupled
to bring his people in so long as there was the
least prospect of their helping him. Whatever
was responsible for his whim to pose as a deaf
mute, in the opinion of the police it was not
what he stated. The case went on; in due course
it reached the Court of Assize.

Full particulars of his career were revealed there.
He had received an excellent education, and was a
well-trained and most capable clerk, with an un-
commonly good knowledge of foreign languages
it being said, for example, that he spoke and wrote
German like a native. It was plain that he had
taken to a life of crime of deliberate choice ; there
was no earthly reason why he should not have
done well in his proper calling ; he got into mischief
out of pure love of it.

"He can climb like a cat," a detective informed
me, not without admiration ; " and the way he
runs along house-tops from one end of a long row
to the other, as easy as you and me walk on the
streets, it's a sight to see. I tell you, sir, it's
right down exciting work trying to catch him.
Hell slip down a roof by a fall-pipe two hundred
yards farther on than where you could swear he's


time to be. And, as you're not expecting him
anywhere there, there'd be no catching him if he
wasn't such a fool as to come peeping round where
you are, just for the fun of seeing you baffled.
That's what's done him every time."

Every time meant nine times ; such was the
number of convictions recorded against him, all for
similar offences. He was a total abstainer and a
non-smoker ; he was not a gambler ; his one vice
was burglary, and he did not appear to have made
any serious attempt to settle down to his proper
employment as a corresponding clerk since he first
exchanged the desk for the house-top he entered
premises always by an attic window at twenty-
five years old. By the accident of habitually ap-
pearing before a lenient judge, he had escaped
sentence of penal servitude hitherto, as he escaped
it now, being once more committed to hard labour.

"Send me somewhere right away," he begged
of me, on release; "my people want to have no
more to do with me ; the Chaplain tried them all,
saying a good deal better of me than I deserved ;
I knew he was overdoing the thing, and they'd see
through it. It was all because I translated some
theological stuff for him from the German, that he
made up his mind what a lot my people ought to
do for such an ornament of the family. But it
didn't impress them. They know me such a lot
better than his reverence does. I don't blame them.


They've given me many a fair innings, and I've
never scored a run for them yet. It's against
common-sense that they should have me back in
the family team."

" So you can play cricket," I remarked, " as well
as do a good deal else in the way of accomplish-
ments. What is there exactly that you haven't
had a try at ? They tell me that in prison you've
been bookbinder, clerk, printer, painter, even
steeple-jack, which would do very well, I should
say. Out of prison, you've been foreign corre-
spondent, human cat, burglar, cricketer, deaf mute,
and I don't know what else. How came you to
play the deaf mute, by the way ? "

" Just a whim, sir to baffle the authorities a bit,
and for sport; that was all," he answered with
a grin. Then he went on.

"It may sound strange, but it's absolutely true
I can't resist an attic window. Wherever I go
my eyes naturally turn upwards. I notice how
careless most people are with their upper windows,
and I feel just bound to show them they are
mistaken in their view that nobody can get in
there. It's a case of being ruined by one's gifts,
if you like taking a pride in being able, as the
police say, 'to run up a pipe and play about on
a roof, like a cat.' I shall never do any good
where there are houses with attics, or with any
other sort of upper storey.


"I should be out of temptation on a sailing-ship.
I could climb the rigging and do no harm to any-
body. Or an Indian wigwam village might do,
or a Bedouin encampment no attics there, I

"The chaplain told no more than the truth,
though my people could not be expected to believe
it, when he described my angelic conduct in prison.
I'm quite a cherub there. They mostly give me
a bit of climbing painting spouts, or sometimes
even attending to the coping of a tall chimney,
and the recreation keeps me straight; besides, the
top windows are barred like the rest, and beyond
me, anyhow.

"Send me somewhere out of the country to
sea for choice. I shall be at my accomplishments,
as you call them, again if I stay in a civilised

He was a strange person. Apart from his
candidly admitted fondness for burglariously enter-
ing dwelling-houses by attic windows, he was like
any other sharp, intelligent, healthy man, and
could do well if he cared.

While I talked with him a letter was delivered
from a shipping-office asking for men. I resolved
to give him a start on a sailing-ship, as he desired.
There was no reason to suppose that he would put
anybody aboard to inconvenience, while he could
easily adapt himself to a new sphere.


He sailed, and for twelve months I heard nothing
but good of him. Going aboard the schooner
Swan as spare hand, the skipper doubting whether
he was worth his salt, he immediately astonished
everybody by displaying a knowledge of seaman-
ship which few of the crew could surpass, and also
by the extraordinary talent he possessed for picking
up strange languages, at the same time earning
quite an enviable reputation for capacity to enter
into a joke, and for helping his shipmates to a
thoroughly enjoyable time.

Here is an extract from a long letter one of
those shipmates sent me one of a series going
five years further back, and continued till the
writer lost his life in the same vessel when it was
torpedoed in February 1917, such being his regard
for me, inasmuch as it was my fortune to help him
to a life at sea :

"We found that last bloke as you put in
the skipper's way all right, Mr Holmes. We
thought at first as we'd got a dud what we
could take a rise out of any time we were a
bit dull. Instead of that it's him as gets us
to take yarns in as you'd say no marine would
believe. He's thick. Nobody can learn him
anything about a schooner. He knew it all
afore he came on board. It seems funny where
he picked it up. He says he always got his
living on land till you sent him here, and I


expect it's true. He's not a liar in things like
that. But if he learnt his sailoring in his
holidays, he made good use of them, anyhow ;
and he must have spent them all on ships.
He owns he was never off the water any time
he could get a day anywhere he could find a
boat; and if he didn't find something out new
wherever he went, it wasn't his fault. Accord-
ing to what he's told us, he's cruised round
Scotland and Ireland twice, both times in
roughish weather. I reckon that's how he
learnt how to reef a sail in a storm. Anyhow,
nobody here had to teach him aught. He
made rings round most of us from the

"You should have seen him when we were
off Spain, coming out. We were watching for
a bit of fun, wondering why he hadn't been
sea-sick, but making sure he'd show the white
feather before long heavy waves sweeping
the deck in grand style. He didn't alter; all
he did was to laugh and make jokes. All at
once, just to try him, the mate ordered him
aloft, never dreaming he could do it. Didn't
he, though ? He was up like lightning, and
when he'd done what he was told, there he
sat like a monkey, thoroughly enjoying him-
self, while all we could do was to stare at him
and wonder where the deuce you'd picked him


up he'd told us himself you'd sent him to sea
to keep him out of mischief.

"Well, he came down when he was ready,
winking at us with those merry eyes he's got,
and his gipsy face full of devilment, while he
thanked the mate for giving him a chance of
learning his lessons. ' I love a bit of climbing/
he says. ' I'm glad I was lucky enough to get
on here. You won't forget me, sir, when you've
another little job of that sort will you ? '

" We call him Black Walt on account of his
complexion, and Black Walt's showed us what
he's made of, I can tell you, sir. When we got
to Teneriffe and went ashore a bit, blowed if
he couldn't speak Spanish as well as the
Spaniards themselves. They hadn't a bit of
trouble to make him out. All we could do
was to open our mouths at him. He fairly
knocked us out. It was same when we
got to the Cape. He listened awhile to the
Kaffirs, then began to talk to them in their
own lingo, just as if he'd known it all his life.
I never saw such a fellow. And, mind you,
he doesn't bother either with wine or women.
He is a funny article, right. I can't reckon
him up. But he's clever, and no mistake.
And good-tempered you can't find a better-
tempered fellow anywhere! I think every-
body on the ship except captain and mate


have had a ducking or two through his devil-
ment. Of course we've all paid him back all
right but never a quarrel of any sort, or
any high words. He laughs everything off,
no matter what it is, little or big. He's
always up to some trick; he can't help it.
We've just left India. One of the chaps
bought a piece of silk as smart a bit of
colour as you ever saw, for his girl, you
know. Black Walt got hold of it, unbeknown
to him, made it into a turban, and put it on
the ship's monkey. The little beggar went
aloft as proud as Punch, and sat there, the
chap as owned the silk raving like mad and
threatening to kill the monkey, which he'd
no more sense than to think had stolen his
silk and made it into a turban all with its
own hands ! Walt saved the little beggar
from a hiding when it came down, taking the
blame and buying another piece of silk, the
monkey having made a bit of a mess of that.
But he took the price out of that fellow for
being so soft. That monkey wore a collar
nearly a month a deep white band with this
on ' Turban Maker to the Crew of the
Swan.' Well, that's only one of Walt's tricks.
He's as full of 'em as a kitten, and he can
no more help playing jokes than I could
help wagging my tail if I was a baa-lamb."


This unsolicited testimonial from a man to whom
he was an utter stranger on going aboard ship gave
me great hope that I had started Greenway on the
right track. It was as plain that the scamp knew
how to make friends as it was pleasing to learn he
was doing well ; and the seaman's letter was quickly
followed by one, almost equally inspiriting, from
the skipper himself, who wrote :

"You'll have given me up by this. I ought
to have told you a long while since what I make
of your man Greenway. I thought for a goodish
bit his style was too perfect to last, so I'd better
wait till I'd something definite to report about
him. Well, I've had him eleven months, and
I'm about as wise as ever. What floors me is
why he's here. Of course he's a past. I
know that. But a man like him has no need
to beg for a job anywhere. The men all like
him. He's regular hot stuff, always playing
some prank, but as good a sailor as ever stepped
on deck, and a demon for work. Now and then
I've wondered whether he's quite all there. It
would take a week to describe half the tricks
he's been up to healthy and good-tempered
enough, and such as make him a great favourite,
but outlandish to such an extent you can't help
wondering how he thinks of them. But, rum
customer as he is, and for all his eternal sky-
larking, a good bit of which I could spare, I


think he'll do. It isn't that I've ever had any
fault to find with him. As I've said before,
all that's bothered me is a feeling that his

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Online LibraryRobert HolmesWalter Greenway, spy and hero; his life story → online text (page 1 of 17)