Come with me into the graveyard, all human life is here

Month: February 2023

The Sad Fate of Giro the Nazi Dog

One of the saddest little graves in London is that of a terrier who  endures a distressing notoriety as “Giro the Nazi Dog,” and whose grave marker is said to be Britain’s only Nazi memorial.

Setting aside the preposterous assumption that a dog might hold political opinions, his owner too was innocent of this slur. Giro belonged to Dr. Leopold von Hoesch who was the German Ambassador to the United Kingdom between 1932 and 1936. Von Hoesch came to London following postings in Peking, Madrid, and Paris, as the representative of the Weimar Republic. He lived at 9 Carlton House Terrace, which, as Prussia House, had been the official residence of Prussian Ambassadors since the nineteenth century. After a brief hiatus during the First World War representatives of the Weimar Republic returned to the residence in 1920. Von Hoesch was by all accounts a respected statesman, popular in Britain, and critical of the Nazi regime. He was dismayed when Hitler secured the position of Chancellor in 1933 meaning that he himself became by default the representative of the Third Reich in Britain. He was particularly censorious of von Ribbentrop, and he denounced Hitler’s invasion of the Rhineland in 1936 in direct contravention of the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Treaties.

Giro died in the garden of the  Ambassador’s residence in 1934, allegedly after chewing on a live electrical cable. He was buried in the garden but claims that he was given a funeral with full Nazi honours are entirely apocryphal.

The Ambassador himself died at the Embassy two years later of a heart attack at the age of only fifty-five, and the British government granted him an extraordinary funeral parade before his coffin was shipped back to Germany. The coffin was draped in the Nazi flag, by this time the official flag of Germany. As it left Carlton House the German embassy staff crowded the terraces outside and gave the Nazi salute. British government ministers accompanied the cortege as it moved down The Mall. The German national anthem played at Victoria Station and a nineteen-gun salute was fired at Dover as the body was transferred to  a British destroyer which conveyed it to Germany. The Pathe News coverage of the event is  disturbing,  making for queasy watching, and although Hoesch almost certainly had clean hands,  it is hard not to wonder at the wisdom and motivations of those who permitted and organised this event.

 ( and search for von Hoesch funeral).

But certainly, in Berlin no representative of the Nazi Party attended von Hoesch’s funeral.

Ironically it was  von Ribbentrop, of whom Hoesch had  evinced a particular loathing,  who replaced him as German Ambassador. A key member of the Nazi regime von Ribbentrop employed Albert Speer to “improve” the Embassy with a massive staircase made from marble donated by Mussolini, and, reputedly, a swastika mosaic on one of the floors . But two years later von Ribbentrop’s tenure was abruptly ended, and the Embassy closed. When the German Embassy reopened post war it relocated to Belgrave Square.

In the 1960s builders excavating the former Embassy garden to create an underground car park discovered Giro’s grave.  They moved the stone a short distance to its present location at the top of the Duke of York Steps, beneath a tree in a small enclosure outside 9 Carlton House Terrace. The inscription reads:


EIN TREUER BEGLEITER! (a faithful companion)



Giro’s stone outside Carlton House Terrace

It is a bleak location, cold and cheerless. The large, white stucco-faced houses, adorned with pompous pillars, form terraces of unrelieved monotony and smug, dismal uniformity. Steep steps down to the Mall and the absence of people engender a dreary and sterile atmosphere. For many of the houses today are expensive, unoccupied investment properties or exclusive meeting places. It is an area without heart or soul. And poor Giro lies alone in his odd little enclosure. Far better across the Mall in the bustle of pretty St. James’s Park or a little further west in the pet cemetery of Hyde Park.

So, if you are passing, pause to greet Giro, and remember, in the implausible event that he has any political affiliation, he is not The Nazi Dog but The Weimar Dog.

Jane Austen Slipped in Quietly

“ Jane Austen,” whispered the volunteer guide raising a weary eyebrow, “slipped in quietly at nine o’clock in the morning without disturbing anyone.” In the Cathedral a brass band was loudly, and repeatedly, rehearsing the national anthem. The harsh, strident tones ripped and tore through the early morning quiet, the band’s amplified performance penetrating every corner of the building. Already, when we entered, our bags had been painstakingly searched by two assiduously polite but resolute police officers. Their dogs patrolled the longest nave in Europe, sniffed warily at the chantries  of Bishops Beaufort and Waynefleet, eyed the twelfth century Winchester Bible  with suspicion,  and pawed gingerly at the Tournai font.

“Military funeral tomorrow,” our guide continued sotto voce. “The cathedral will close soon for a full rehearsal.” Waving his arm at the array of memorials which line the great stone walls,  he sighed, “ All high-ranking military, clergy and politicians, and all reputedly endowed with moral excellence and  effecting heroic deeds.” He looked sceptical. “ No ordinary people.” He paused. “ And they didn’t even mention on Jane’s stone that she was a novelist,” he added indignantly.

We fled the noisy, disturbed cathedral, and passing rapidly through the Cathedral Close, awash that morning with police and military personnel, vehicles, and equipment, arrived in College Street. There we paused before the house where Jane Austen rented rooms during the last few weeks of her life in 1817, having come to Winchester to be close to her surgeon.

Then, abandoning the town, we followed Keats Walk to St. Cross Hospital. When Keats stayed in Winchester in 1819 he took his daily walk across the water meadows, and it was here that he composed his ode To Autumn. Our morning too was misty,  with soft muted autumn sunshine just beginning to burn through, swans moving stately on the chalk stream and herons still as statues.

Keats Walk

At St. Cross we explored the quiet complex of medieval buildings founded in 1136 by Henry of Blois. Church, Alms-houses, and Hall are all still in use. In the Master’s garden we found glowing herbaceous borders, cyclamen pushing through the grass beneath the sycamore trees, a dappled lake with a gentle fountain.

St. Cross, Almshouses and Gatehouse
St. Cross, Almshouses
St. Cross, church from the Master’s garden
St. Cross, The Master’s Garden

They still offer the Wayfarer’s Dole at St. Cross, but not feeling ourselves entitled,  we joined instead a group of Friends and Brothers of St. Cross for tea in The Hundred Men’s Hall. There was a woolly tea-cosy on the pot, a choice of homemade cakes, and we were introduced to the Warden. Truly I felt myself in Anthony Trollope’s Barchester.

We returned another day to the Cathedral, when only its quotidian bustle rippled the surface, to pay our respects to Jane Austen. She lies beneath a dark stone slab on the floor of the north aisle. Here Keats, with only two years to live himself, walked up and down reading his letters from Fanny Brawne. And if the site occasions sadness for the  early deaths of both writers, this is mitigated by  profound gratitude for the  treasures they left behind.

Jane’s mere presence here in a place generally reserved for the triumvirate of senior military, clergy, and politicians, is surprising. Speculation suggests that someone in the Austen family Knew Someone who Knew Someone With Influence. Her epitaph, composed by her brother Henry, certainly  makes no reference to her literary achievements focusing rather on a conventional recitation of her qualities:

In Memory of


youngest daughter of the late


formerly Rector of Steventon in this Count.

She departed this life in the 18th of July 1817

aged 41, after a long illness supported with

the patience and the hopes of a Christian.

The benevolence of her heart,

the sweetness of her temper,and

the extraordinary endowments of her mind

obtained the regard of all who knew her and

the warmest love of her intimate connections.

Their grief is in proportion to their affection

they know their loss to be irreparable,

but in their deepest affliction they are now consoled

by a firm though humble hope that her charity,

devotion, faith and purity, have rendered

her acceptable in the sight of her


Jane Austen’s grave

In 1872 Jane’s nephew  placed a memorial brass on the wall, on the left of the grave, which acknowledged, with some understatement, that she was “known to many by her writings.”

Jane Austen memorial brass

A memorial window, financed by public subscription, joined it in 1900, but the window too is underwhelming,  and Jane’s grave is overshadowed by the bombastic memorials trumpeting the achievements of the Pillars of the Establishment. But I prefer her plain black stone to these monumental, cold, white sepulchres, just as I valued the tranquillity of St. Cross above the undoubted splendour of what is undeniably one of England’s most magnificent cathedrals.


Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén