Richard Meinertzhagen
Colonel , abbreviated Col or COL, is a military rank of a senior commissioned officer. It or a corresponding rank exists in most armies and in many air forces; the naval equivalent rank is generally "Captain". It is also used in some police forces and other paramilitary rank structures...

 Richard Henry Meinertzhagen CBE
Order of the British Empire
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order comprises five classes in civil and military divisions...

Distinguished Service Order
The Distinguished Service Order is a military decoration of the United Kingdom, and formerly of other parts of the British Commonwealth and Empire, awarded for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime, typically in actual combat.Instituted on 6 September...

 (3 March 1878 - 17 June 1967) was a British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

A soldier is a member of the land component of national armed forces; whereas a soldier hired for service in a foreign army would be termed a mercenary...

, intelligence officer
Intelligence officer
An intelligence officer is a person employed by an organization to collect, compile and/or analyze information which is of use to that organization...

 and ornithologist.

Background and youth

Meinertzhagen was born into a socially connected, wealthy British
British people
The British are citizens of the United Kingdom, of the Isle of Man, any of the Channel Islands, or of any of the British overseas territories, and their descendants...

 family. Richard's father, Daniel Meinertzhagen VI, was head of a merchant-bank dynasty with an international reputation, second in importance to the Rothschilds. His mother was Georgina Potter, sister of Beatrice Webb
Beatrice Webb
Martha Beatrice Webb, Lady Passfield was an English sociologist, economist, socialist and social reformer. Although her husband became Baron Passfield in 1929, she refused to be known as Lady Passfield...

, a co-founder of the London School of Economics
London School of Economics
The London School of Economics and Political Science is a public research university specialised in the social sciences located in London, United Kingdom, and a constituent college of the federal University of London...

. Meinertzhagen's surname
Family name
A family name is a type of surname and part of a person's name indicating the family to which the person belongs. The use of family names is widespread in cultures around the world...

 derives from the town Meinerzhagen
Meinerzhagen is a town in the Märkischer Kreis, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.-Geography:Meinerzhagen is located in the hills of the Sauerland. The highest elevation is the Nordhelle with 663 m above sea level, the lowest elevation at the Lister dam with 319m...

 in Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, the home of an ancestor. On his mother's side (the wealthy Potters), he was of English descent. Among his relations, in large numbers, were “many of Britain’s titled, rich and influential personages.” Although he had his doubts, he was a distant descendant of Philip III of Spain
Philip III of Spain
Philip III , also known as Philip the Pious, was the King of Spain and King of Portugal and the Algarves, where he ruled as Philip II , from 1598 until his death...


Young Richard was sent as a boarding student to Aysgarth
Aysgarth School
Aysgarth School is one of the leading boys' prep boarding schools in the UK. Aysgarth School is set in the foothills of the Yorkshire Dales near Bedale, North Yorkshire and is the only all-boys boarding and day prep school in the north of England. This independent school was founded in 1877 to...

 in the north of England, then was enrolled at Fonthill in Sussex and finally at Harrow School
Harrow School
Harrow School, commonly known simply as "Harrow", is an English independent school for boys situated in the town of Harrow, in north-west London.. The school is of worldwide renown. There is some evidence that there has been a school on the site since 1243 but the Harrow School we know today was...

 where his time overlapped with Winston Churchill. In 1895 at age eighteen, with reluctance, he obeyed his father and joined the family bank as a clerk. He was assigned to offices in Cologne and Bremen. He picked up the German language but remained uninterested in banking. After he returned to England in 1897 to the bank’s home office he received his father’s approval to join a territorial militia of weekend soldiers called the Hampshire Yeomanry
Hampshire Yeomanry
The Hampshire Yeomanry can trace its formation to the late 18th century. King George III was on the throne, William Pitt the Younger was Prime Minister of Great Britain, and across the English Channel, Britain was faced by a French nation that had recently guillotined its King and which possessed...


As a child his passion for birdwatching began; he was encouraged by a family friend, the philosopher
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 Herbert Spencer
Herbert Spencer
Herbert Spencer was an English philosopher, biologist, sociologist, and prominent classical liberal political theorist of the Victorian era....

, who, like another family friend, Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

, was an ardent empiricist
Empiricism is a theory of knowledge that asserts that knowledge comes only or primarily via sensory experience. One of several views of epistemology, the study of human knowledge, along with rationalism, idealism and historicism, empiricism emphasizes the role of experience and evidence,...

. Spencer would take young Richard on walks, urging him to study the natural world: "Observe, record, explain!"

Military career

Lacking the desire to make a career in merchant banking, Meinertzhagen took the examinations for a commission in the British Army, and after training at Aldershot
Aldershot is a town in the English county of Hampshire, located on heathland about southwest of London. The town is administered by Rushmoor Borough Council...

 was commissioned in 1899. He was sent to India to join a battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. Other than routine regimental soldiering, he participated in big-game hunting, was promoted, sent on sick leave to England, and after recovery posted to the relocated battalion at Mandalay in Burma. He then started his “zealous campaign” for a transfer to Africa, and finally, in May 1902 he arrived at Mombasa in British East Africa.


Meinertzhagen was assigned as a staff officer with the King's African Rifles
King's African Rifles
The King's African Rifles was a multi-battalion British colonial regiment raised from the various British possessions in East Africa from 1902 until independence in the 1960s. It performed both military and internal security functions within the East African colonies as well as external service as...

 (KAR). Again, he participated in big-game hunting, but “regarded himself as scientist-explorer first, and only incidently as a soldier.” His maps, landscape and wildlife drawings proved him an artist of exceptional talent. In 1903 he was delegated to conduct a wild animal census in the Serengeti
The Serengeti ecosystem is a geographical region in Africa. It is located in north Tanzania and extends to south-western Kenya between latitudes 1 and 3 S and longitudes 34 and 36 E. It spans some ....

 and Athi plains.

During Meinertzhagen’s assignment to Africa, frequent native 'risings' and 'rebellions' occurred. By 1903 KAR’s retaliatory ventures focused on confiscation of livestock, a highly effective form of punishment, and "the KAR had become accomplished cattle-rustlers." One such punitive expedition
Punitive expedition
A punitive expedition is a military journey undertaken to punish a state or any group of persons outside the borders of the punishing state. It is usually undertaken in response to perceived disobedient or morally wrong behavior, but may be also be a covered revenge...

 was commanded by a Captain F. A. Dickinson of the 3rd KAR with participation by Meinertzhagen, where more than 11,000 stock were captured at the cost of 3 men killed and 33 wounded. The body count on the African side was estimated at 1,500 from the Kikuyu and Embu tribes.

In the east African Kenya Highlands in 1905, Meinertzhagen crushed a major revolt by murdering the Nandi
Nandi people
The Nandi people are a number of Kenyan tribes living in the highland areas of the Nandi Hills in Rift Valley Province who speak the Nandi languages. They are a sub-group of the Kalenjin people....

An Orkoiyot is the supreme chief of the Nandi people of Kenya. As the Nandi have a dual administrative system, the Orkoiyot is the chief spiritual leader and also has the authority to make decisions regarding security, involving the waging of war. Orkoiyot does not manage the affairs of everyday...

 (spiritual leader) Koitalel Arap Samoei
Koitalel Arap Samoei
Koitalel Arap Samoei was an Orkoiyot, the supreme chief of the Nandi people of Kenya, who led the Nandi rebellion against the British colonial rule....

 who was leading it. He shot Koitalel, who had come to negotiate, on 19 October 1905, while shaking his hand. Initially he had been able to orchestrate a cover-up and he was to be commended for the incident in which two dozen Nandi were machine-gunned. Eventually, after a third court of inquiry, he was cleared by the presiding officer, Brigadier William Manning. Meinertzhagen collected tribal
The social structure of a tribe can vary greatly from case to case, but, due to the small size of tribes, it is always a relatively simple role structure, with few significant social distinctions between individuals....

 artifacts after this revolt. Some of these items, including a walking stick and baton belonging to Koitalel, were returned to Kenya
Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

 in 2006. Pressure from the Colonial Department on the War Office eventually brought about Meinertzhagen’s removal from Africa, as "he had become a negative symbol" and on 28 May 1906 "he found himself on a ship being trundled back to England in disgrace and in disgust."

Captain Meinertzhagen then spent the latter part of 1906 at "dreary administrative War Office desk jobs pushing papers." However, "... by making full use of his wide network of contacts in high places" he was able to rehabilitate himself and was assigned to his regiment’s [the Fusiliers] Third Battalion in South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

, arriving at Cape Town
Cape Town
Cape Town is the second-most populous city in South Africa, and the provincial capital and primate city of the Western Cape. As the seat of the National Parliament, it is also the legislative capital of the country. It forms part of the City of Cape Town metropolitan municipality...

 on 3 February 1907. He served there in 1908 and 1909, then on Mauritius
Mauritius , officially the Republic of Mauritius is an island nation off the southeast coast of the African continent in the southwest Indian Ocean, about east of Madagascar...

. By 1913 he was again in India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...


At the beginning of World War I he was posted to the intelligence staff of the British Indian Expeditionary Force. His map making skills were much valued and recognized; his assessments of the German Schutztruppe
Schutztruppe was the African colonial armed force of Imperial Germany from the late 19th century to 1918, when Germany lost its colonies. Similar to other colonial forces, the Schutztruppe consisted of volunteer European commissioned and non-commissioned officers, medical and veterinary officers. ...

 strength and other contributions to the conduct of the Battle of Tanga
Battle of Tanga
The Battle of Tanga, sometimes also known as the Battle of the Bees, was the unsuccessful attack by the British Indian Expeditionary Force “B” under Major General A.E. Aitken to capture German East Africa during World War I in concert with the invasion Force “C” near Longido on the slopes of...

 and the Battle of Kilimanjaro
Battle of Kilimanjaro
The Battle of Kilimanjaro at Longido took place in German East Africa in November 1914 and was an early skirmish during the East African Campaign of the First World War.-Background:...

 were a complete miss. From January 1915 through August 1916 Meinertzhagen served as chief of British military intelligence for the East Africa theater at Nairobi. His diaried records of this campaign contain harsh assessments of senior officers, of the role played by the Royal Navy and of the quality of the Indian units sent to East Africa. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order
Distinguished Service Order
The Distinguished Service Order is a military decoration of the United Kingdom, and formerly of other parts of the British Commonwealth and Empire, awarded for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime, typically in actual combat.Instituted on 6 September...

 in February 1916. In November of that year General J.C. Smuts
Jan Smuts
Jan Christiaan Smuts, OM, CH, ED, KC, FRS, PC was a prominent South African and British Commonwealth statesman, military leader and philosopher. In addition to holding various cabinet posts, he served as Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa from 1919 until 1924 and from 1939 until 1948...

 ordered him invalided to England.

Sinai Desert and the 'Haversack Ruse'

Meinertzhagen was frequently credited with a surprise attack known as the Haversack Ruse in October 1917: during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign
Sinai and Palestine Campaign
The Sinai and Palestine Campaigns took place in the Middle Eastern Theatre of World War I. A series of battles were fought between British Empire, German Empire and Ottoman Empire forces from 26 January 1915 to 31 October 1918, when the Armistice of Mudros was signed between the Ottoman Empire and...

 of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, according to his diary, he let a haversack
A haversack is a bag, usually carried by a single shoulder strap. Although similar to a backpack the single shoulder strap differentiates this type from other backpacks. There are exceptions to this general rule.-Origins:...

 containing false British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 battle plans fall into Ottoman military
Military of the Ottoman Empire
The history of military of the Ottoman Empire can be divided in five main periods. The foundation era covers the years between 1300 and 1453 , the classical period covers the years between 1451 and 1606 , the reformation period covers the years between 1606 and 1826 ,...

 hands, thereby bringing about the British victory in the Battle of Beersheba and Gaza
Third Battle of Gaza
The Third Battle of Gaza was fought in 1917 in southern Palestine during the First World War. The British Empire forces under the command of General Edmund Allenby successfully broke the Ottoman defensive Gaza-Beersheba line...

. The incident and attack are depicted in the 1987 film The Lighthorsemen
The Lighthorsemen (film)
The Lighthorsemen is a 1987 Australian feature film about the men of a World War I light horse unit involved in the 1917 Battle of Beersheeba...

. "Near the end of 1917, having participated in no battles, he was ordered back to England for reassignment [and] found office duty as dreary as ever."

Though Meinertzhagen's participation in this ruse has been discounted (he may have neither planned nor executed it), his stories of the ruse themselves would have a major impact on events in World War II. It inspired Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

 to create the London Controlling Section
London Controlling Section
The London Controlling Section was established in June 1942 within the Joint Planning Staff at the offices of the War Cabinet, which was presided over by Winston Churchill as Prime Minister. The purpose of the LCS was to devise and coordinate strategic military deception and cover plans. The plans...

, which planned countless Allied deception campaigns during the war, and such operations as Mincemeat
Operation Mincemeat
Operation Mincemeat was a successful British deception plan during World War II. As part of the widespread deception plan Operation Barclay to cover the intended invasion of Italy from North Africa, Mincemeat helped to convince the German high command that the Allies planned to invade Greece and...

 and diversions covering D-Day
D-Day is a term often used in military parlance to denote the day on which a combat attack or operation is to be initiated. "D-Day" often represents a variable, designating the day upon which some significant event will occur or has occurred; see Military designation of days and hours for similar...

 were influenced by the Haversack Ruse.

France and beyond

From the spring of 1918 until August he commuted between England and France, delivering lectures on intelligence to groups of officers – then was assigned full-time to France at GHQ. After the armistice he attended the Paris Peace Conference
Paris Peace Conference, 1919
The Paris Peace Conference was the meeting of the Allied victors following the end of World War I to set the peace terms for the defeated Central Powers following the armistices of 1918. It took place in Paris in 1919 and involved diplomats from more than 32 countries and nationalities...

 in 1919 and was Edmund Allenby's Chief Political Officer, involved in the creation of the Palestine Mandate, which eventually led to the creation of the state of Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

. In the film A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia
A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia
A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia is a made-for-TV movie depicting the experiences of T. E. Lawrence and Emir Feisal of the Hejaz at the Paris Peace Conference after the end of World War I. One of the conference's many concerns was determining the fates of territories formerly under the rule...

(1990), which depicted the Paris Peace Conference, Meinertzhagen was a major character and was played by Jim Carter. His unpublished diaries hint, among other exploits, at a successful rescue attempt of one of the Czarist-Russian Grand Duchesses, possibly Tatiana
Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna of Russia
Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna of Russia , , was the second daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the last monarch of Russia, and of Tsarina Alexandra...

 (see The Romanov Conspiracies by Michael Occleshaw).

Israeli historian Tom Segev
Tom Segev
Tom Segev is an Israeli historian, author and journalist. He is associated with Israel's so-called New Historians, a group challenging many of the country's traditional narratives.-Early life:Segev was born in Jerusalem in 1945...

 considers Meinertzhagen both a "great antisemite and a great Zionist," quoting from his Middle East Diary: "I am imbued with antisemitic feelings. It was indeed an accursed day that allowed Jews and not Christians to introduce to the world the principles of Zionism and that allowed Jewish brains and Jewish money to carry them out, almost unhelped by Christians save a handful of enthusiasts in England."

He was a prolific diarist and published four books based on these diaries. However, his Middle East Diary contains entries that are in all probability fictional, including those on T. E. Lawrence
T. E. Lawrence
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO , known professionally as T. E. Lawrence, was a British Army officer renowned especially for his liaison role during the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule of 1916–18...

 and a bit of absurd slapstick concerning Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

. In October 1934, Meinertzhagen claimed to have mocked Hitler in response to being "baffled when Hitler raised his arm in the Nazi salute and said, 'Heil Hitler.' After a moment's thought, Meinertzhagen says he raised his own arm in an identical salute and proclaimed, 'Heil Meinertzhagen'." He also claimed to have carried a loaded pistol in his coat pocket at a meeting with Hitler and Ribbentrop
Joachim von Ribbentrop
Ulrich Friedrich Wilhelm Joachim von Ribbentrop was Foreign Minister of Germany from 1938 until 1945. He was later hanged for war crimes after the Nuremberg Trials.-Early life:...

 in July 1939 and was "seriously troubled" about not shooting when he had the chance, adding "... [I]f this war breaks out, as I feel sure it will, then I shall feel very much to blame for not killing these two." Authors Lockman and Garfield show that Meinertzhagen later falsified his entries. The original diaries are kept at Rhodes House (the Bodleian Library
Bodleian Library
The Bodleian Library , the main research library of the University of Oxford, is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and in Britain is second in size only to the British Library...

), Oxford, and contain differences in the paper used for certain entries as well as in the typewriter ribbon
Typewriter ribbon
A typewriter ribbon is an expendable module serving the function of transferring pigment to paper in various devices for impact printing. Such ribbons were part of standard designs for hand- or motor-driven typewriters, teleprinters, stenotype machines, computer-driven printers and many mechanical...

 used, and there are oddities in the page numbering.

Dates of rank

  • Second Lieutenant
    Second Lieutenant
    Second lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer military rank in many armed forces.- United Kingdom and Commonwealth :The rank second lieutenant was introduced throughout the British Army in 1871 to replace the rank of ensign , although it had long been used in the Royal Artillery, Royal...

     in January 1899
  • Lieutenant
    First Lieutenant
    First lieutenant is a military rank and, in some forces, an appointment.The rank of lieutenant has different meanings in different military formations , but the majority of cases it is common for it to be sub-divided into a senior and junior rank...

     in 1900
  • Captain
    Captain (British Army and Royal Marines)
    Captain is a junior officer rank of the British Army and Royal Marines. It ranks above Lieutenant and below Major and has a NATO ranking code of OF-2. The rank is equivalent to a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and to a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force...

     in February 1905
  • Major
    Major (UK)
    In the British military, major is a military rank which is used by both the British Army and Royal Marines. The rank insignia for a major is a crown...

     in September 1915
  • brevet
    Brevet (military)
    In many of the world's military establishments, brevet referred to a warrant authorizing a commissioned officer to hold a higher rank temporarily, but usually without receiving the pay of that higher rank except when actually serving in that role. An officer so promoted may be referred to as being...

     Lieutenant Colonel in March 1918
  • brevet Colonel
    Colonel (UK)
    Colonel is a rank of the British forces, ranking below Brigadier, and above Lieutenant Colonel. British Colonels are not usually field commanders; typically they serve as staff officers between field commands at battalion and brigade level. The insignia is two diamond shaped pips below a crown...

     in August 1918; but he was a Major when he retired from the Army in 1925. Upon retirement British officers are granted title and pension of the highest rank held while on active duty, thus he had the right to call himself "Colonel."

He was reinstated Lieutenant Colonel in 1939 in Military Intelligence, G.S.O.-3 (General Staff Officer, 3rd grade); the nature of his duties was confined mainly to public relations work.


Early biographers largely lionized him, until after his fraud was documented, but T. E. Lawrence
T. E. Lawrence
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO , known professionally as T. E. Lawrence, was a British Army officer renowned especially for his liaison role during the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule of 1916–18...

, a sometime colleague in 1919 and again 1921, described him more ambiguously and with due attention to his violence:
While in India he killed one of his personal assistants in a fit of rage and had the local police officer cover it up as a death due to plague
Bubonic plague
Plague is a deadly infectious disease that is caused by the enterobacteria Yersinia pestis, named after the French-Swiss bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin. Primarily carried by rodents and spread to humans via fleas, the disease is notorious throughout history, due to the unrivaled scale of death...

. Salim Ali
Salim Ali (ornithologist)
Sálim Moizuddin Abdul Ali was an Indian ornithologist and naturalist. Known as the "birdman of India", Salim Ali was among the first Indians to conduct systematic bird surveys across India and his bird books helped develop ornithology...

 notes Meinertzhagen's special hatred for Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi , pronounced . 2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948) was the pre-eminent political and ideological leader of India during the Indian independence movement...

 and his refusal to believe that Indians could govern themselves. Gavin Maxwell
Gavin Maxwell
Gavin Maxwell FRSL, FIAL, FZS , FRGS was a Scottish naturalist and author, best known for his work with otters. He wrote the book Ring of Bright Water about how he brought an otter back from Iraq and raised it in Scotland...

 wrote about how his parents would scare him and other children to behave themselves when Meinertzhagen visited with "... remember ... he has killed people with his bare hands..."

Meinertzhagen's second wife, the ornithologist Anne Constance Jackson
Annie Meinertzhagen
Annie Meinertzhagen was a British amateur ornithologist whose main contributions to knowledge about birds concerned waders, ducks and bird migration...

, died in 1928 at age 40 in a remote Scottish
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

A village is a clustered human settlement or community, larger than a hamlet with the population ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand , Though often located in rural areas, the term urban village is also applied to certain urban neighbourhoods, such as the West Village in Manhattan, New...

 in an incident that was ruled a shooting accident. The official finding was that she accidentally shot herself in the head with a revolver during target practice
Target practice
Target practice refers to any exercise in which projectiles are fired at a specified target, usually to improve the aim of the person or persons firing the weapon....

 alone with Richard. There is speculation that the shooting was not an accident and that Meinertzhagen shot her out of fear that she would expose him and his fraudulent activities.

After Anne's death his companion was Theresa "Tess" Clay, thirty-three years his junior. Meinertzhagen lived at No. 17 and Theresa at No. 18 Kensington Park Gardens, Notting Hill, London. The buildings were originally constructed with an internal passage connecting the foyers of the two houses. She was his housekeeper, nanny to his children, secretary, "confidante" and later scientific partner who studied and eventually documented the vast collections of bird lice that Meinertzhagen had gathered. He introduced her as his housekeeper or cousin or sometimes, inaccurately, as his niece. When they traveled they took sometimes separate rooms.

Meinertzhagen himself traced the "evil" side of his personality to a period during his childhood when he was subjected to severe physical abuse at the hands of a sadistic
Sadistic personality disorder
Sadistic personality disorder is a diagnosis which appeared only in an appendix of the revised third edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders . The current version of the DSM does not include it, so it is no longer considered a valid...

 schoolmaster when he was at Fonthill boarding school
Boarding school
A boarding school is a school where some or all pupils study and live during the school year with their fellow students and possibly teachers and/or administrators. The word 'boarding' is used in the sense of "bed and board," i.e., lodging and meals...

 in Sussex
Sussex , from the Old English Sūþsēaxe , is an historic county in South East England corresponding roughly in area to the ancient Kingdom of Sussex. It is bounded on the north by Surrey, east by Kent, south by the English Channel, and west by Hampshire, and is divided for local government into West...

. He was apparently also traumatized by the indifference of his mother to his plight:

The Meinertzhagen Mystery

Richard Meinertzhagen inspired three biographies since his death in 1967 and was lauded as one of the grand elder statesman of espionage and ornithology. His diaries provided source material for historians and books, for countless exploits of arms and wit against the enemies of the British Empire. He was trusted by Churchill, David Lloyd George, Chaim Weizmann, David Ben Gurion, T.E. Lawrence and many more.

Brian Garfield's 2007 book The Meinertzhagen Mystery attempts to show that he bamboozled them all, that Meinertzhagen lived (as the subtitle of the book states) "[t]he Life and Legend of a Colossal Fraud." Detailed in 352 pages are the many ways in which he was a liar and a charlatan. It debunks many myths and proves that previously accepted "facts" about his life and feats are untrue, including the famous haversack incident, which Meinertzhagen neither came up with nor carried out. Meinertzhagen recorded in his published diaries three meetings on separate dates with Adolf Hitler. Although Meinertzhagen was in Berlin on these dates in 1934, 1935 and 1939, author Garfield found no record of any of these alleged meetings in surviving German chancellory records, British embassy files, British intelligence reports or newspapers of the day. Some of the research by Garfield has however been questioned.

"People’s views of [Meinertzhagen] seldom coincide, but one mystery that connects the dots even while it obscures them is this: How and why did such a large number of diverse people of prominence share knowledge of his fakery, or at least suspect it — and chose not to disclose it?"


"From boyhood on [Meinertzhagen] had been in tune with nature; he took photographs, made drawings and provided armchair tourists with keen descriptions of rain forests and snowy mountains ... and discovered new (previously unrecorded) species of bats, birds, and mallophaga (bird lice)." He became a chairman of the British Ornithologists' Club
British Ornithologists' Club
The British Ornithologists' Club was founded in October 1892 to promote discussion between ornithologists and to produce a journal, their Bulletin, which has been published continuously since that year....

 and a recipient of a Godman
Frederick DuCane Godman
Frederick DuCane Godman D.C.L., F.R.S., F.L.S., F.G.S., F.R.G.S., F.E.S., F.Z.S., M.R.I., F.R.H.S., M.B.O.U. was an English lepidopterist, entomologist and ornithologist....

Osbert Salvin
Osbert Salvin FRS was an English naturalist, best known for co-authoring Biologia Centrali-Americana with Frederick DuCane Godman. This was a 52 volume encyclopedia on the natural history of Central America....

 Medal; the British Museum (Natural History) named a room after him.

Meinertzhagen "first achieved a sliver of international fame when he discovered, killed, stuffed, and shipped back to London the first known to Europeans Giant African Forest Hog
Giant forest hog
The Giant Forest Hog is native to wooded habitats in Africa and generally is considered the largest wild member of the Suidae . Despite its large size and relatively wide distribution, it was only described by scientists in 1904...

, soon dubbed Hylochoerus meinertzhageni, and attributed to Richard Meinertzhagen." At that time, while on active duty in 1903, he was "fearlessly exploring and mapping areas no European had seen before." He later also discovered the Afghan Snowfinch
Afghan Snowfinch
The Afghan Snowfinch , also known as Theresa's Snowfinch, is a bird of the sparrow family and is an Afghan endemic found only in the Hindu Kush. The species was named by Richard Meinertzhagen after his cousin and companion, Theresa Clay, who was an expert on bird lice.It is 13.5–15 cm long...

 or Montifringilla theresae, and the Moroccan Riparia rupestris theresae and named them, and ten others, after Theresa Clay.

He edited Nicoll's Birds of Egypt in 1930. Michael J. Nicoll was a friend and Assistant Director of the Zoological Gardens
A zoological garden, zoological park, menagerie, or zoo is a facility in which animals are confined within enclosures, displayed to the public, and in which they may also be bred....

 at Giza; Nicoll attempted to write a comprehensive guide to the ornithology of Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

, but died in 1925 before it could be published. The work was finished by Meinertzhagen with contributions of his own independent research and illustrations. It was printed with the title "that seems appropriate," "Nicoll's Birds of Egypt by Col. R. Meinertzhagen."

In 1948-1949, he was accompanied by Dr. Phillip Clancey
Phillip Clancey
Dr Phillip Alexander Clancey DSc was a leading authority on the ornithology of South Africa.- Background and education :Phillip Clancey was born, brought up and educated in Glasgow, Scotland...

 on an ornithological expedition to Arabia
Arabian Peninsula
The Arabian Peninsula is a land mass situated north-east of Africa. Also known as Arabia or the Arabian subcontinent, it is the world's largest peninsula and covers 3,237,500 km2...

, Yemen
The Republic of Yemen , commonly known as Yemen , is a country located in the Middle East, occupying the southwestern to southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, and Oman to the east....

, Aden
Aden is a seaport city in Yemen, located by the eastern approach to the Red Sea , some 170 kilometres east of Bab-el-Mandeb. Its population is approximately 800,000. Aden's ancient, natural harbour lies in the crater of an extinct volcano which now forms a peninsula, joined to the mainland by a...

, Somalia
Somalia , officially the Somali Republic and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic under Socialist rule, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. Since the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country's territory...

, Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

, Kenya
Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

, and South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...


As the author of numerous taxonomic and other works on birds, and possessing a vast collection of bird and bird lice specimens, Meinertzhagen was long considered one of Britain's greatest ornithologists
Ornithology is a branch of zoology that concerns the study of birds. Several aspects of ornithology differ from related disciplines, due partly to the high visibility and the aesthetic appeal of birds...

. Yet his magnum opus
Masterpiece in modern usage refers to a creation that has been given much critical praise, especially one that is considered the greatest work of a person's career or to a work of outstanding creativity, skill or workmanship....

, Birds of Arabia (1954), is believed to have been based on the unpublished manuscript of another naturalist
Natural science
The natural sciences are branches of science that seek to elucidate the rules that govern the natural world by using empirical and scientific methods...

, George Bates
George Latimer Bates
George Latimer Bates , LL.D., M.B.O.U. was an American naturalist.Bates studied at Knox College, Galesburg and at the Chicago Theological Seminary and in 1895 visited West Africa and lived in the south east Cameroon, making a living by farming...

, who is not sufficiently credited in that book.

In the 1990s an analysis of Meinertzhagen's bird collection at the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum
Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum
The Natural History Museum at Tring was the private museum of Lionel Walter, 2nd Baron Rothschild, today it is under the control of the Natural History Museum. It houses one of the finest collections of stuffed mammals, birds, reptiles and insects in the United Kingdom...

 in Tring
Tring is a small market town and also a civil parish in the Chiltern Hills in Hertfordshire, England. Situated north-west of London and linked to London by the old Roman road of Akeman Street, by the modern A41, by the Grand Union Canal and by rail lines to Euston Station, Tring is now largely a...

, Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England. The county town is Hertford.The county is one of the Home Counties and lies inland, bordered by Greater London , Buckinghamshire , Bedfordshire , Cambridgeshire and...

, revealed large scale fraud involving theft
In common usage, theft is the illegal taking of another person's property without that person's permission or consent. The word is also used as an informal shorthand term for some crimes against property, such as burglary, embezzlement, larceny, looting, robbery, shoplifting and fraud...

 and falsification
Forgery is the process of making, adapting, or imitating objects, statistics, or documents with the intent to deceive. Copies, studio replicas, and reproductions are not considered forgeries, though they may later become forgeries through knowing and willful misrepresentations. Forging money or...

. Alan Knox, who uncovered the fraud, said in 1993: "Meinertzhagen had stolen the best specimens of other people's collections and then proceeded to fabricate data to go with them." More recent research by Rasmussen
Pamela C. Rasmussen
Professor Pamela Cecile Rasmussen is a prominent American ornithologist and expert on Asian birds. She was formerly a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., and is based at the Michigan State University...

 and Prys-Jones indicates the fraud was even more extensive than first thought. Many of the specimens that he submitted as his own were found to be missing samples belonging to the Natural History Museum
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is one of three large museums on Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London, England . Its main frontage is on Cromwell Road...

 and collected by others, such as Hugh Whistler
Hugh Whistler
Hugh Whistler , F.Z.S., M.B.O.U. was an English ornithologist who worked in India. He wrote one of the first field guides to Indian birds and documented the distributions of in numerous notes in several journals apart from describing several new subspecies.-Life and career:Whistler was born in...


Published works

Meinertzhagen wrote numerous papers for scientific journals such as the Ibis
Ibis (journal)
Ibis, subtitled the International Journal of Avian Science, is the peer-reviewed scientific journal of the British Ornithologists' Union. Topics covered include ecology, conservation, behaviour, palaeontology, and taxonomy of birds. The editor-in-chief is Paul F. Donald. The journal is published by...

, as well as reports on intelligence work while in the army. Books authored or edited by him include:
  • 1930 – Nicoll’s Birds of Egypt. (Ed), (2 vols). London: Hugh Rees
  • 1947 – The Life of a Boy: Daniel Meinertzhagen, 1925-1944. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd
  • 1954 – Birds of Arabia. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd
  • 1957 – Kenya Diary 1902-1906. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd.
  • 1959 – Middle East Diary, 1917-1956. London: Cresset Press
  • 1959 – Pirates and Predators. The piratical and predatory habits of birds. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd
  • 1960 – Army Diary 1899-1926. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd
  • 1964 – Diary of a Black Sheep. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd

External links

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