Friday, 17 January 2014

Giro the Alsatian

If you stumble across a sentence on the internet that reads "Do you know there is only one Nazi grave in London", you can't help but be intrigued, surely.

Well it turns out the truth is slightly less startling than the headlines but never the less this is still a charming and interesting story. In the early 1930's the German Embassy in London was located on Carlton House Terrace in a row of splendid buildings now occupied by the Royal Society. From 1932 to 1936 the ambassador was Dr Leopold von Hoesch, a representative of the Weimar Republic which was then in power in Germany.

Dr Hoesch owned a pet Alsatian called Giro (I presume it's pronounced Jee-ro rather than like an UK unemployment payment (Jai-ro) and the faithful animal got himself killed in 1934 when he chewed through an electric cable during some extension works.

No doubt heart-broken by the loss of his friend, Dr Hoesch had Giro buried under a tree in the garden and the gravestone marking his final resting place is still there today.

The journey to the grave is interesting in its own right. I caught the tube from Tower Hill to Embankment and took the short walk across the south end of Trafalgar Square passing under the splendid Admiralty Arch into The Mall.

You're probably still fighting against the tourists at this point as you've got people strolling down the length of The Mall to Buckingham Palace (just visible at the far end) and other people crossing into St James's Park but only a short distance down the pretty pink road you turn right and walk up the Duke of York steps to the impressive Duke of York Column.

Once you've finished gawping up at the column look down to the left and you'll see a tree behind a iron railing fence and just beneath the tree a very small curved grave stone underneath a rather Heath Robinson looking wooden shelter.

The inscription on the grave reads - "Giro" Ein Treuer Begleiter! London im Februar 1934. Hoesch - and for those whose German is not quite up to it, translates as - "Giro" A True Companion!

Whilst you're in Waterloo Square, it's worth strolling around the various other statues of Generals, Field Marshals and Kings (Edward VII on his horse) but none of these quite captures the small quiet dignity of Giro's final resting place.

It's worth finishing with the fact that when Hoesch died, only 2 years after Giro in 1936, he was afforded full military honours when his body was repatriated. This meant a gun carriage carrying his coffin draped in the Nazi Swastika paraded through the streets of London which has obviously lent weight to the story of the "only Nazi grave in London" - In fact though, Hoesch, it seems, was a liberal minded and fair politician, much liked by the British establishment and someone who challenged Hitler and the rest of the Nazi party on a great many things at this time.


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