Sunday, February 09, 2020

Red Sonya.

Local customers of the Belvedere branch of Lloyds Bank have started a petition to try and save the well used and much loved branch, which is slated to close for good on the 28th of May, as part of a programme of cutbacks and branch closures enacted by the giant banking group. Objections have come from elderly people who don't use online banking, and a number of local businesses who have commercial accounts at the branch in Nuxley Road. It is rumoured that the site of the bank has been, or is about to be sold off to a property developer for a series of flats to be built, which would not at all surprise me. The lady behind the online campaign said in a recent online interview that:- "It would be awful to lose the small number of independent shops we have if they are unable to bank locally. The village and surrounding area of Belvedere is also home to many elderly residents. Some of whom are unable to travel on public transport to Bexleyheath or Woolwich. For those who can, it’s not very safe for them to carry large quantities of cash around with them if they are elderly and vulnerable. I understand that a lot of banking is done online. However, many people feel safer and more in control of their money when having the guidance of actual humans. It’s good we are evolving with technology and moving forward with the times, but sometimes certain circumstances mean people need a local bank". The News Shopper contacted Lloyds for comment about the branch closure, and a spokesperson gave the following corporate line:- "We have made the difficult decision to close Belvedere on 28th May 2020 due to the changing ways customers choose to bank with us, which means the branch is being used less often. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause; customers can continue to bank locally by visiting the nearby Post Office, which is less than half a mile from the branch. The nearest alternative branch is Bexleyheath". The Lloyd's spokesperson is obviously not familiar with Belvedere - the post office is actually around 100 metres from the Lloyd's bank branch, not half a mile as they stated. What do you think? Email me at You can sign the online petition by clicking here

In a move which will have been a surprise to many readers, fellow local Blogger Malcolm Knight has taken the decision to revise and remodel his Blog "Bexley is Bonkers". The long established, influential and popular site has been retired in its present form. Instead it has been relaunched in a far more slimline and responsive version. Malcolm writes:- "Readers who looked at the website yesterday and found it gone deserve an explanation of what is going on, or at least a partial one. Bonkers is ten years old and has grown far too big. Even though redundant pages have been progressively weeded out there are close to 40,000 files and very nearly 100,000 hyperlinks, It may be a conservative estimate because the Menu is a separate entity and the file counter excludes pages linked only from the Menu. On top of that there are 30,000 images and that is after deleting a great chunk of them last year and again recently. The site is hand coded, no Wordpress or anything like that so the housekeeping tools are primitive. I can no longer keep on top of it and it is time to start again. I might also add that with increasing age and having lost my original team of helpers I frequently lack the energy and enthusiasm to follow up leads and attend meetings. (Nearly 77 and generally flu ridden in case you are wondering.) For the future Bonkers probably will not die completely but I expect Council meetings will more often be reported from the Webcast - when it works properly - rather than driving to the Civic Offices and very occasionally running the gauntlet of people I would rather not. In the streets, not in the Civic Centre I hasten to add. I also genuinely feel that Bexley Council has improved immeasurably, there are things I don’t like but it must be five years since a Councillor or Senior Officer became involved in something which was criminal and caused the police to investigate and refer cases to the CPS. Readers like scandal and while that was going on I could count on more than 10,000 unique visits per month to the site from Bexley people and far far more individual repeat visits. With nothing very special going on those numbers are well down, 5,000 unique visits would be a good score in 2020. One wonders whether it is worth the effort but I do get a huge amount of encouragement to continue from the loyal few. One thing that surprises me is that when I indulge in wildly off topic subjects and perhaps rant about something or other the number of visitors goes up so I may do more of that sort of thing when Bexley news is thin on the ground. You will have probably noticed that the Menu is now much smaller than before. Every page sources its Menu from the same file so they are all identical except for the Contact form pages which are compiled from a commercial package which is not fully compatible with the main Menu system. It is a pain to construct separately and it will not be updated in line with the gradually expanding Main menu until the latter becomes stable. The banner icons which allowed quick access to blogs, Today, Month and the rather obscure Any Day will be restored as soon as possible but until then the Menu is the main navigation point As you should notice - well you are here! - the 2020 blogs are restored but any references back to previous years will fail because those earlier blogs are not on line at all, not even in some hidden form. If I ever find the time the backward references will gradually be restored. but there are more than 5,000 to trawl through. Council meeting reports will probably be the priority but many older blogs may never be seen again. Finally because Bonkers was never designed to be a blog the main entry pages do not directly access the blog pages. The tail wagged the dog of the original plan and it has always annoyed me. I am not sure how yet but the plan is that will display the latest blog page immediately. For a long time always has but almost no one uses it and it costs quite a lot of money to maintain! So there it is. Thank you for your patience and I hope the occasional visit to Bonkers will continue to be rewarding". I sincerely hope that Malcolm continues with his insightful, pithy and witty Blog postings - he has established himself as a vital local commentator. What do you think? Please feel free to contact me by Emailing me at

Regular readers will be aware that I have posted a number of articles over the years about former Bexleyheath resident and decorated Soviet spy Melita Norwood. Her story is now pretty well known, despite the utterly awful recent fictionalised film starring Dame Judi Dench called "Red Joan" which deservedly sank without trace at the box office. Several books have been written on the subject of Melita Norwood and her long career as Russia’s top female spy; the best account is in my opinion “The Spy That Came In From The Co-Op” by Andrew Pierce. He conducted a series of interviews with Norwood in her house in Bexleyheath from the day the spying story publicly broke in the spring of 1999 (he had been travelling to interview her on another subject, but the news story meant that he had a whole more important book to write than that he had intended). Over the course of a few months and many cups of weak and milky Co-Op 99 brand tea – purchased from the Long Lane branch, she told him her complete story, whilst sipping from her Che Guevara mug. Like many traitors, Melita Norwood had a very selective memory, and her politics remained those of the extreme left until her death in 2005. What has until very recently been very much less known is the identity and story of her GRU (Soviet military intelligence, as opposed to the KGB) handler, the story of which has only very recently come to light. Ursula Kuczynski (15 May 1907 – 7 July 2000) also known as Ruth Werner, Ursula Beurton and Ursula Hamburger, was a German Communist activist who worked for the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s as a spy, most famously as the handler of nuclear scientist Klaus Fuchs and Melita Norwood. She moved to East Germany in 1950 when Fuchs was unmasked, and published a series of books related to her spy work, including her bestselling autobiography, Sonya's Report. Her spying career, and her later writing career make for interesting reading. Ursula Maria Kuczynski was born in Schöneberg, Prussia, German Empire, the second of the six recorded children born to the distinguished economist and demographer Robert René Kuczynski and his wife Berta Gradenwitz/Kuczynski, who was a painter. Her family was Jewish. The children were academically gifted, and the household was prosperous. Her elder brother, Jürgen, would later become a distinguished historian-economist who had a controversial relationship of his own with the espionage community. In 1926/27 she attended a librarianship academy while working at a lending library. She then took a job at Ullstein Verlag, a large Berlin publishing house. However, she lost this job in 1928 after participating in a May-Day Demonstration and/or on account of her Communist Party membership. Between December 1928 and August 1929 she worked in a New York book shop before returning to Berlin where she married her first husband, Rudolf Hamburger, who was an architect and fellow member of the Communist Party. It was also at this time that she set up the Marxist Workers' Library in Berlin which she headed up between August 1929 and June 1930. With her husband she relocated, in July 1930, to Shanghai where a frenetic construction boom afforded ample opportunities for Hamburger's architectural work. She would remain based in China till 1935. It was here that the couple's son, the Shakespeare scholar Maik Hamburger, was born in February 1931. After they had been in Shanghai for a little more than four months she was introduced by the US journalist Agnes Smedley to another German expatriate, Richard Sorge, outwardly a journalist, who is better remembered as "Ramsai" an active agent of the Soviet Intelligence Directorate (GRU). Sources are vague as to whether the Hamburgers were already working for the GRU before they left Germany for China, but in any case it was after the meeting with Sorge that between 1930 and 1935 "Sonja" (the cover name by which Kuczynski was known in The Service - means dormouse in Russian) operated a Russian spy ring under Sorge's direction. In Autumn 1934 she had to send her son Michael to live with her husband's parents (now relocated from Germany to Czechoslovakia) when she was sent to Moscow where she undertook a seven-month training session before returning to China. There had been a concern that if baby Michael had accompanied her to Moscow he might inadvertently have blown her cover later by blurting out words in Russian. It was also during this period that she mastered various practical aspects of spy-craft. This included radio operator skills that were much prized in the world of espionage: she learned to build and operate a radio receiver, becoming an exceptionally fluent and accurate user of Morse code, although her "fist" (the distinctive technique a morse coder uses on a Morse key, which is almost unique between operators) was very unusual - she learned Morse using the Cyrillic alphabet, which made her transmissions somewhat distinctive to listeners. Between March and December 1934 she was based in Shenyang in Manchuria which had been under Japanese military occupation since 1931. Here she met the GRU's chief agent who was working under the name "Ernst". Sonja and Ernst had a romance which would result in the birth of her daughter Janina in April 1936. Her husband Rudolf Hamburger generously acknowledged "Nina" as though she were his own daughter. The GRU were nevertheless concerned that the affair with Ernst might lead to the unmasking of both agents, and she was recalled with Rudolf to Moscow in August 1935. In September 1935 they were both posted to Poland where, apart from at least one more lengthy visit to Moscow, they would remain till Autumn 1938. In the meantime it would later transpire that in 1937 the Soviets awarded her the Order of the Red Banner for her espionage work in China. Without ever wearing a uniform, she now held the rank of colonel in the Soviet military. She divorced later that same year, and early in 1940, while still in Switzerland, married her second husband. Len Beurton, like her, was working for the Soviet GRU, and like Kuczynski he came with an unusually wide range of names. He also came with a British passport, and by marrying him Agent Sonya automatically acquired a British passport too. Sent by the GRU she and her new husband now relocated from Switzerland to England where she would remain for the rest of the 1940s, and where her second son was born in the late summer of 1943. They had settled in north Oxford, but soon moved on to the first of a succession of nearby villages, settling initially in Glympton, and then in Kidlington. In May 1945 the Beurtons relocated again, to a larger house in the north Oxfordshire village of Great Rollright where they remained till 1949 or 1950, becoming so integrated into the village community that both her parents, who were frequent visitors in Oxfordshire even after the war ended, and who both died in 1947, are buried in the Great Rollright churchyard. In each Oxfordshire property in which she lived Agent Sonya installed a radio receiver and transmitter (which during the war would have been considered illegal had it come to the attention of the authorities). Living in Oxfordshire placed them conveniently close to Ursula's parents who had emigrated to London after 1933, and were then living with friends in Oxford because of the air raids in London. The Beurtons' Oxfordshire village homes were also close to the UK's Atomic Research Centre at Harwell, and to Blenheim Palace, where a large part of the British intelligence service had been relocated at the start of the war. In Oxfordshire, together with Erich Henschke, she worked on infiltrating German Communist exiles into the US Intelligence Agency. By Autumn 1944 she and Henschke had succeeded in penetrating UK activities of the US Intelligence Service (OSS). The Americans were at this time preparing an effort called "Operation Hammer" for parachuting UK-based German exiles into Germany. Ursula Beurton was able to ensure that a substantial number of the parachuted OSS agents would be reliable communists, able and willing to make inside intelligence from the "Third Reich" available not merely to the US military in Washington, but also to Moscow. From 1943 she also worked as a courier for the USSR's "Atomic spies", Klaus Fuchs and Melita Norwood. Agent Sonya thus hastened the development of the Soviet atomic bomb, successfully tested in 1949. In addition to the (retrospectively) high-profile spies Fuchs and Norwood, Sonya was the GRU handler for (among others) an officer of the British Royal Air Force and a British specialist in submarine radar. She was also able to pass to her Soviet employers information from her brother, her father, and other exiled Germans in England. It was, indeed, her brother Jürgen Kuczynski, an internationally respected economist, who originally recruited Klaus Fuchs to spy for the Soviets at the end of 1942. Many years later Ruth Werner (as she would by that time have become known) recalled that she was twice visited by MI5 representatives in 1947, and asked about her links with Soviet intelligence, which Werner refused to discuss. Werner's communist sympathies were no secret, but it seems that British suspicions were insufficiently supported by evidence to justify her arrest. Her visitors were unaware of or unconcerned by her periodic, and apparently casual, meetings with Fuchs in Banbury or on country cycle rides. At that time the British intelligence services seem to have been disinclined to follow up their concerns. Two years later detonation of the first Soviet atomic bomb refocused priorities within MI5, however. Klaus Fuchs was arrested towards the end of 1949; in January 1950 he was put on trial and confessed that he was a spy. The day before his trial started, fearing that she was about to be unmasked, Agent Sonya left England. In March 1950, after two decades away from the city of her birth, she turned up back in Berlin. Meanwhile, Klaus Fuchs finally identified her as his Soviet contact in November 1950. The espionage-related aspects of her friendship with Melita Norwood only began to emerge several decades later. Between 1958 and 1988, she produced a succession of books under the name by which she subsequently came to be known, Ruth Werner. Most were story books for children or suitably expurgated memoirs of her time in espionage. Her autobiography appeared in East Germany under the title "Sonjas Rapport" (Sonya's Report) and became a bestseller. There was no mention of Klaus Fuchs who was still alive in 1976, and, presumably for the same reason, no mention of Melita Norwood. An English language version appeared in 1991 and a Chinese translation in 1999. An uncensored German language version came out only in 2006, although many questions were still left unanswered. She died in 2000. more information has become available concerning at least some of her espionage achievements, and appreciation of Ruth Werner's exceptional abilities has grown. In the opinion of one historian who has studied her career, she was "one of the top spies ever produced by the Soviet Union and her penetration of Britain's secrets and MI5 possibly went far deeper than was thought at the time she was operational." An unidentified GRU chief is reported to have observed during the war, "If we had five Sonyas in England, the war would end sooner." Werner herself could be more reticent about her contribution: "I was simply working as a messenger". What is incontrovertible is that she engaged in an exceptionally high risk trade on behalf of Stalin's Intelligence machine without being shot by the enemy or sent to the Gulag by her own side. Her husband and the father of her first son, Rudolf Hamburger, who also worked for Soviet intelligence, fell foul of the Soviet regime in 1943 and was deported to the Gulag in the east of the Soviet Union. He was released in 1952 but remained officially "banned" and was sent to Ukraine, only being permitted to return to Germany in 1955. This type of experience was far from unusual among Soviet spies. Sandór Radó with whom she had worked so closely in the hills above Geneva also spent long years as a guest of the Russian Gulag. Richard Sorge, who probably recruited her to work for Moscow in the first place, was caught and hanged by the Japanese. Werner herself, as far as her story has come into the public domain, suffered nothing more harrowing than a couple of pointed but ultimately inconclusive meetings with British Intelligence agents in 1947, and was able to escape to the safe haven of East Germany before her espionage activities became the subject of any trial or other retributive process. Simple survival represented a considerable achievement under the circumstances of her two decades in espionage, and seem to justify the media epithets she attracted to the effect that she was "Stalin's best spy".

I found out this week that the inventor of the barcode recently died. George Laurer was born in New York City in 1925. He attended a technical school to learn how to repair radios and televisions, but his instructor persuaded him to reach higher. Laurer joined IBM where he developed what is officially known as the Universal Product Code - better known as the barcode. The Universal Product Code is now a packaging mainstay on everything from cereal boxes and produce to electronics and aeroplane tickets, but it might not have worked without IBM engineer George Laurer. Laurer, who died in December aged 94 in North Carolina, had been given an assignment by his manager: Write a proposal for supermarket executives explaining how IBM would take a previously invented bar code pattern, in the shape of a bull's-eye, and make it work in supermarkets across the USA. Instead, Laurer had created something else — the bull's-eye was gone and in its place was a linear bar code. Laurer had deemed the bull's-eye design unworkable. The circular code, inspired by Morse code and patented by N. Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver in 1952, was too small, and it would smear when run through the poor-quality printing presses used for most food labels at the time. "My nature and my training would not allow me to support something I didn't believe in," Laurer said in a 2010 interview. "I simply went against my manager's instruction and set out to design a better system." In a rented space in Raleigh, Laurer and a team of IBM colleagues refined and tested the design. Woodland, who created that first bull's-eye bar code and whom Laurer called the father of the supermarket scanning system, came on board to help. When it came time to present to the team of supermarket executives, Laurer said his boss "made it clear that if I was wrong or I could not sell the idea to the brass, it would end my career, not his. My arguments must have been persuasive". Over his lifetime, Laurer received more than two dozen patents. But he never got rich from his most famous breakthrough. That's because IBM didn't patent the UPC and mostly gave it away to sell scanning equipment. Laurer didn't get recognition for his innovation until decades later. Even once stores widely adopted the barcode, Craig Laurer said, his father didn't think it would have the longevity it ultimately has. "He expected it to be supplanted with some other technology within a decade or so," he said. "Instead, it grew beyond the grocery industry into all retail and then worldwide." Today, the barcodes Laurer designed are scanned more than 6 billion times a day, according to the nonprofit organisation GS1, which manages the codes."My father always said he would go to the supermarket, and just stand there when they checked him out, knowing that it was his invention," Craig Laurer said. "But he'd stand there in awe and say, 'This just can't work this well.' It amazed even him." What do you think? Email me at

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "Another week with very little crime to report. No burglaries and only two reports of vehicle crime. Front and rear number plates were taken from a vehicle in Frinsted Road on the morning of Friday 31st January. A victim had his vehicle keyed in Downbank Avenue overnight of Monday 3rd February. Sainsbury's in Erith Road has had two reports of shoplifting over the last week despite two people arrested outside the store in the last couple of weeks. Barnehurst are continuing to roll out Smart Water in Holmesdale Grove. The next community contact session will be held at Barnehurst Golf Course on Wednesday 19th February at 11am". Belvedere ward - no report this week. Bexleyheath ward:- "Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association have been invited to assist Yorkshire building Society (112 Broadway) in their Fraud Action Day on Wednesday the 26th of Feb between 10am and 2pm, come along, get some fraud prevention advice and join us for a cup of tea and a biscuit. Sadly we have had a lot of Catalytic Convertors Stolen this week from ASDA and The Mall car parks see below crime prevention information from The Mets website Catalytic converter theft. The precious metal in catalytic converters has led to an increase in their theft. To keep yours safe, ask your car dealer if they can give you any advice on locks or guards that are approved by the vehicle manufacturer. Alternatively, try to make sure your vehicle is parked in a garage overnight, or if you have a commercial vehicle park it in a secure compound. If this isn't possible, park in an area that's well-lit and overlooked and try to park so that the convertor can't be easily reached by potential thieves. Vehicles that sit high above the road are particularly vulnerable. You should also register your converter and mark it with a forensic marker, which will make it harder for thieves to dispose of". Crayford ward:- "An unknown amount of money was snatched from a till in Stadium Way on Thursday 30th January at 19.29 by two males. A male was arrested after racially abusing a passenger on a bus and then throwing an item at glass causing it to smash at Stadium Way on Friday 31st January at 22.10. There have been reports of wing mirrors being smashed off vehicles in Mill Place in the last week. On Tuesday 4th February at 20.53 a black Mercedes was deliberately set on fire to at the end of Lower Station Road. The team have been busy around the ward and stopped and searched several people. There will be a community contact session (it's totally informal) at Crayford Library on Friday 14th February between 10.00-11.00, please come along for a chat if you can".  Erith ward:- "We have had our first ward panel meeting of 2020. Many thanks to all that attended and The Exchange in Erith for letting us their facilities. Areas chosen for the team to concentrate on for the next few months are Erith Park and Erith Town Centre. The team have been working on a few warrants this week and are getting some good results. Crimes of note from this last week: Theft from MV (Motor Vehicle) Sunday 02/02/2020 Rutland Gate, Theft of Motor Vehicle Tuesday 04/02/2020 Thwaite Close". Northumberland Heath ward:-"Theft of number plates at Walsingham Walk, Cavendish Avenue Theft from motor vehicle on Brook Street. Work tools had been stolen from the vehicle. Attempted burglary on Avenue Road were the suspect has tried to gain entry into two addresses .The suspect has then tried to gain entry into the victims vehicle. Still ongoing investigation as the victim has CCTV evidence. Burglary on Swanton Road. There has been an eviction within the Northumberland Heath Ward. This is regarding a large amount of anti – social behaviour reports from the local community and the police. We have been receiving good feedback from local residents regarding the CCTV camera that has been placed at Northumberland Heath Recreation Ground / Sussex Road". Slade Green and Northend ward:- "Only one crime of note this week. 6 males were arrested in the early hours of Thursday 30/01 down by Erith Yacht Club after the gate was forced open and a stolen car was found nearby. Enquiries are ongoing into various offences and our thanks to response team officers and the police helicopter for their work on our ward in the early hours. The team assisted Hyde Housing on Weds 05/02 in securing an empty property on the Frobisher Road estate after reports of possible squatters. There was nobody inside during our time there. PC James and PCSO Mark were involved in a reported incident of threats made in Orchard House on Tuesday 04/02. No further incidents have occurred and thanks to PCSO Adam from Erith SNT for assisting with the door to door enquiries. Our next CCS in on Saturday 15/02 from 1030 at the new estate on the old Linpac site in Slade Green Road which will be doubling up as a Smart Water giveaway event". Thamesmead East ward:- "Burglary Manordeane Road owners returned home from holiday to find garden shed broken into with a set of golf clubs and golf shoes removed by suspect/s unknown. Overton Road East Tuesday 4/2/20 between 11am – 6pm Victim returned home to find front door has dents and marks around the door handle, with letter box bent out of shape no entry gained by suspect/s. Motor Vehicle Crime. Kale Road Monday 3/2/20 1am – 8am victim has had both front and rear number plates removed by suspect/s unknown. Good News - Following information by residents of drugs/ASB whilst proactively patrolling Aspen Green. Drug use is being disrupted as persons seen running away. Patrolling of the area will be ongoing by the team". West Heath ward - From Neighbourhood Watch Member - in Bostall Park Avenue. "On 5th February I received an email which appears to come from TV Licencing. THIS IS A SCAM! It looks very authentic but beware. I had 1 last year claiming my direct debit had been rejected by my bank and asked me to confirm my bank details. Having changed banks a few months before I could easily have fallen for it, but I never respond to any emails, texts or calls like this without checking them out. I phoned TV licencing and was told my licence is still valid and they don't even have my email address. The one today is much the same but says my licence expires today; No doubt to panic me into responding. My licence still has several months to run and TV licensing still don't have my email address so definitely a scam". From Police SNT Team - PCSO Dee Reid:- "Excellent news this week no burglaries have been reported to us. On Monday February 3rd at just after 4am, two males were seen trying car doors in Canberra Road he first male was described as being in his late twenties, F600. The second male was described as being quite small and younger than the other male. The next drop in police surgeries will be held on Thursday February 13th at 4pm and Saturday February 22nd at 1pm. These sessions will be held at the Bostall Library, King Harolds Way".

The end video this week is a visitors impression of the local area. It is interesting to see how an outsider sees what locals live with on a daily basis.

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