Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen CBE DSO

Richard Henry Meinertzhagen was a famous British intelligence officer, ornithologist, author and fraudster. He was born on 3rd March 1878. His father was the head of the Frederick Huth merchant bank dynasty and his mother Georgina was from the immensely wealthy Potter family. The name Meinertzhagen came from a town in Germany from where is paternal ancestors originated.

He joined the 1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers in 1899 when they were in India but was sent home on sick leave in 1901. He was next assigned to the King's African Rifles where he was able to shoot big game and study wildlife. He was involved in cattle stealing as a form of retaliation against rebellious tribal leaders. He was also accused of assassinating an African chief called Koitalel Arap Samoei and killing 24 of his men. He was sent back to England but was posted to the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers in South Africa from 1907 to 1909, and then to Mauritius until 1913.

In World War One he was an intelligence officer and was credited with the planning of the well-known Haversack Ruse in which a bag full of false intelligence fell into enemy hands to help the British defeat the Turks at Beersheba and Gaza. But it has since been found that Meinertzhagen did not instigate the plot or get involved in it's execution. Many instances of his fabrication of events in his life have been uncovered by researchers so it is hard to know what is true about this man. His violence was another aspect of his personality that makes him less that attractive. It seems that he killed one of his personal assistants in India in a fit of rage but covered it up. It is also thought that he shot his first wife and pretended that she had committed suicide.

Some of his books on birds were found to be based on manuscripts written by other people and claimed as being written solely by him. In the field of research many of the specimens that he submitted were found to be samples that had previously gone missing from the Natural History Museum. Some species were genuinely attributed to him like the Giant African Forest Hog which he discovered. He also made great advances in the study of bird lice. In his autobiography he admitted to his badness and attributed it to his having been abused by a sadistic schoolmaster at boarding school in Sussex. He died on 17th June 1967.

The photo of him holding a Kori Bustard near Nairobi was taken in 1915. It is the largest known bird that is capable of flight.

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by Stephen Luscombe