On 2nd February 1934, the Daily Mail announced that the great ‘Wenhaston Millions’ bubble had burst. What was all this about? It was a fraud perpetrated by a ‘Major Crane’ on a few unsuspecting and, one must say, gullible Suffolk gentlemen.
It all started some months before when this Major Crane had told a man from London, together with one from Blythburgh and two brothers from Wenhaston, about a mortgage he had obtained from one of the London joint stock banks for £5000. He claimed that one of his cheques had been refused payment by the bank, although there had been plenty of funds in his account. He had sued the bank, but they had tried to settle the case out of court for a few hundred pounds. Realising that he could claim more, Major Crane pursued them asking for thousands of pounds compensation. He claimed that the bank had taken fright and had obtained backing from the Bank of England, no less.
It seems unbelievable, but Major Crane persuaded the four men that the Government was now taking interest in that they had crossed swords with the joint stock bank and therefore they were backing the major! He produced documents to support his claims – they were all forged. He then advised our locals that it was now in the hands of the High Court and that the modest thousands he had originally claimed for damages had run, including interest, into millions. The Official Secrets Act was quoted as being the reason that all this sorry tale had not been made public and they were sworn to abide by this Act. He would telephone the Bank of England and pretend to speak to Mr Hahon, the Chief Cashier. He also claimed to be in touch with the Lord Chancellor, Lord Sankey. Each participant was asked for £5000 so that he could continue the case, which the noble four cheerfully paid up, as they were promised returns totalling over a million pounds each.
Major Crane at last announced that Lord Sankey had agreed damages of one hundred million pounds, and the major would receive forty–five million as his share of the loot. Unfortunately, however, the amount had been held up, and Crane produced for the local eyes to see a document seemingly signed by King George V (!) addressed to Major Crane.
It all fell apart when Major Crane expressed his wish to marry a Mrs Duke at Southwold. She was already married but our major stated that he could obtain a special licence dissolving the marriage. The vicar told the major he was suspicious of the document (forged with Lord Merrivale’s signature) and Major Crane disappeared.
Investigations into his activities brought the whole sorry tale to light. It had all been a massive hoax. In the Daily Mail of 9th February it was announced that Major Crane was in fact David Percy Caprice. He was a married man with three children and he had tried to fake his suicide by leaving his clothes on the beach at Newhaven. Documents collected by the police included a passbook showing a balance of four hundred million pounds!
The major’s birthday was on 11th February and on that day his father died from heart failure. His mother pleaded in the paper for her son to give himself up. On 19th June he was arrested at Hackney selling vegetables. At the end of his trial in November 1934 he was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to four years. However, he continued to maintain that he was worth millions, but not for our unfortunate local friends.
Daily Mail, 2 to 11 February, 28 June, and 12 July 1934.
The People, 11 November 1934.
Keith Johnceline, Wenhaston, March 2000.
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