Category Archives: Personal

Summer 2022 Round-Up

The Ultimate Fridge Magnet

I ♥ Coldspur Fridge Magnet

I received the above item in the mail a few weeks ago – completely out of the blue. It arrived from Greece, and the envelope included a packing-slip that informed me that the item had been bought from Mundus Souvenirs on Amazon Marketplace, and that the buyer’s name was ‘David’. The condition of the item was described as ‘New’, so I was happy that I was not the beneficiary of a re-tread. But who could the semi-anonymous donor be?

I know of only three ‘Davids’ who are aware of coldspur, and also have my home address. None of them is renowned for wearing his heart on his sleeve, but maybe each does adorn it on his refrigerator. It was a superbly innovative and generous gesture, and I determined to get to the bottom of it.

Maybe coincidentally, I happened to hear from David Puttock soon after. David lives in Hamilton, Ontario. We go back a long way: we studied together in the Sixth Modern at Whitgift, and we both went on to read German and Russian at Oxford, David at New College, I at Christ Church. We have met only once since 1968 – at a Gartner Group conference in Toronto ca. 1990, but have maintained a sporadic email correspondence, and the exchange of Christmas cards (heathen that I am), since his retirement. And, indeed, when I asked him about the magnet, he admitted that he was the benefactor.

David told me that he found the item by googling ‘coldspur’, and that the amazon link appeared on the first page of the selection. When I performed that function, however, amazon was nowhere to be seen, but my site gratifyingly appeared before the township of Coldspur, Kansas. The magnet was probably intended for the good citizens of that community, who may think they have stumbled into an alternative universe if they mistakenly look up www.coldspur.com. In any case, those coldspur enthusiasts who feel an urge to have their ardour more durably expressed know where to go. I vaguely thought of buying a stock of magnets, and making an arrangement with Mundus to send them out to well-deserving readers of coldspur, those who post congratulatory or innovative posts in response to my bulletins, but it all sounded a bit too complicated. For about $8.00, you can buy your own. (The SKU is mgnaplilo103600_1, in case you have difficulty. See
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08RZBNVJ3?ref_=cm_sw_r_ud_dp_F2MAMV1SC49R799FBKWJ
.) Lastly, I am of course delighted with the magnet, as my enthusiasm for coldspur is boundless. But what about David? Did he purchase one for himself at the same time, for proud display to his friends on the Puttock refrigerator? I hope so.

Contents:

Introduction

Sonia and The Professor

Operation PARAVANE

The Coldspur Archive

‘Hitler’s Spy Against Churchill’

An Update on Paul Dukes

The PROSPER Disaster

2022 Reading:

            General

            Spy Fiction

            ‘The Art of Resistance’

            ‘The Inhuman Land’

            ‘Secret Service in the Cold War’

            ‘A Woman of No Importance’

Language Corner

Bridge Corner

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Introduction

Since I spent two weeks in Los Altos, California, in June, staying with our son and his family (whom we had not seen for two-and-a half-years), my research has been somewhat lagging. So I thought for my July bulletin I would perform a mid-year round-up instead. Not that there is much new material to report, but I usually find a few points of interest when I carry out this exercise. Moreover, the exercise of writing it all up helps to clarify my opinions on these research topics, and acts as a kind of journal and memoir should posterity (i.e. my grand-daughters) ever want to track down what was really going on.

I suppose that I must record a certain disappointment that my research in the first half of the year has resulted in a resounding tinkle. I would have thought that the disclosures that Henri Déricourt had definitely been recruited before he arrived on British shores in 1942, that SOE was harbouring a dangerously vulnerable cipher officer in George Graham when it set up its mission in Moscow and Kuibyshev in 1941 and 1942, and that Graham was later driven to madness, that M. R. D. Foot’s history of SOE in France is evasive and unscholarly, since Francis Suttill almost certainly made two visits to the United Kingdom in the months of May and June of 1943, shortly before he was arrested, that Peter Wright behaved in a scandalously irresponsible and mendacious manner when he claimed that Volkov’s hints in 1945 pointed to Hollis rather than to Philby, and that Colin Gubbins was not the innovative hero that his biographers have made him out to be, might have provoked some rapt attention in the world of spy-watching and intelligence connoisseurship. While I have received several private messages of support and approval, I have seen no public recognition – nor any challenge to my theories expressed. If I cannot receive due publicity for my pains, I would rather have someone step up and protest that my theories are hogwash, so that I could at least engage in a serious discussion about these outstanding puzzles.

If I were resident in the United Kingdom, I would eagerly take up any invitation offered to me to speak at any historical society that showed an interest in my subjects of study. I have undertaken a few such activities in the United States, but the good citizens of Brunswick County, while listening politely, are overall not particularly interested in predominantly British spy exploits of the 1940-1970 era.

Sonia and The Professor

Flyer for On-Line Talk by Glees & Marnham

Thus it was with considerable excitement that I heard from Professor Glees a few months ago that he had agreed to speak to an historical interest group in Oxfordshire (the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum) about Agent Sonya (or Sonia), as I imagined this would generate some interest in coldspur. When I looked at the promotional material, however, I was slightly perturbed by the rather two-edged endorsement of my research. While Professor Glees spoke glowingly of my investigations, his overall message was that I was in reality a side-show to his own endeavours. “This is not just my story, it is his.” Considering that, according to my analysis, Glees has not written a word about Ursula Kuczynski since his book in 1986, I considered this observation rather troublesome. I was further dismayed when I listened to and watched the recording of his presentation. Coldspur gained only one mumbled acknowledgment. While the promotional material for the talk highlighted Ben Macintyre’s biography Agent Sonya as a teaser, Glees ignored completely my careful review of the book, which demolishes most of the falsehoods that Macintyre promulgated about his subject.

Furthermore, I believe that Glees grossly misrepresented my researches, and dug himself a hole when attempting to answer a question as to whether Sonya had been a ‘double agent’. Glees seems to be under the impression that it is he alone who has revealed that Sonya had been ‘recruited’ by MI6, but that her intentions may not have been entirely honourable. (“I made it very clear that the archival research aka ‘the trees’ was yours, not mine, & the thought that Sonya was an SIS agent aka ‘the wood’ was mine,” he wrote to me afterwards.) He appeared to be unaware of what I had published on coldspur back in 2017, when I showed that MI6 had been fooled by Sonya when she agreed to their terms in order to be exfiltrated from Switzerland, and her life effectively saved. She had no intention at all of serving British Intelligence loyally, and would have had to contact her Moscow masters in order to gain approval for the scheme of her marriage to Beurton, the resultant adoption of UK citizenship, and her subsequent escape to England. The fact that she then became a courier for Klaus Fuchs proves that she never intended to be of any useful service for Menzies and his pals, who were grossly hoodwinked. I do not know where Glees derived the illusion that it was he who prised out these discoveries.

When I gently protested to Glees about his misrepresentations, and his failure to give credit to my discoveries and analysis on coldspur, he was very patronising and dismissive, exaggerating his own ability to see ‘the woods’, and suggesting that I had been concentrating on ‘the trees’, while at the same time he compounded his forgetfulness (or inattention) over what I had written. In a responding email he wrote: “As I explained the release of KV 6/41 a few years ago, found by you, dissected by you, and read by me, thanks to you and esp[ecially] the Farrell letter which I ‘decoded’ to you, if you recall, & was imo [in my opinion] key to solving the riddle. You’ll remember that I put this to you, along with the notion that the simple fact this file from 1941 existed, showed that MI5 were aware of Sonya’s existence in Oxford.”  

But that is absurd. Glees did not ‘decode’ the letter for me. My researches in 2017 showed quite clearly that MI5 was aware of Sonya’s presence in Oxford at that time. Glees’s ignorance is dumbfounding. I did indeed introduce him to the file KV 6/41, which Glees appears to believe constitutes an exclusive exposure of Sonya’s activities. But it stands out because it is the only digitized file on the Kuczynskis: I had inspected the others at Kew several years ago, and published my analysis of them. I tried to explain to Glees that these other files revealed much of her goings-on in Oxfordshire, but he did not want to listen. I am confident that he has not looked at these files (although I have shared my notes on them with him).

And his claim that he alone can see the ‘big picture’ (he is a ‘woodsman’, while I am only a ‘trees’ man’) is insulting and patently absurd. His distinction between different aspects of the forest was nevertheless exceedingly murky: in his talk he made some bizarre assertions that Sonya must have developed some useful contacts within the Oxford intelligentsia, without offering a shred of evidence (‘the trees’, about which matters he was punctilious when he was my doctoral supervisor).

He then accused me of behaving like M. R. D. Foot (the historian of SOE) wanting to stake proprietary claims about a sphere of research, and trying to prohibit anyone else from stepping on his turf. After saying that “No one will want to engage with someone who fires off furious emails at the drop of a hat”, he wrote:

You know I’m one of the biggest admirers of your work & have always made others aware of it. It’s easy to be cross & resentful, as MRD Foot, for example, excelled in being (an academic version of ‘outraged of Tonbridge Wells’) but much better to be charitable, particularly where you ought to be as here. You’re really way off beam here. Few people have done more to bring your work to the attention of others but at the end of the day it was I, and not you, who were giving this talk.

I graciously accept the compliment inherent in this, but on this public occasion Glees did all he could not to bring my work to the attention of others. Second, my email was not ‘furious’: it was regretful and calm, and tried to discuss real issues  – which Glees side-stepped. (I could make the email available to anyone who is interested.) His reaction merely points to his own prickliness and egotism. Moreover, I am not sure where ‘charity’ comes in. Am I really supposed to be grateful for Glees for mangling my research. and failing to give me proper credit? And perhaps I should be pleased to be compared with M. R. D. Foot, a famous ‘authorized’ historian?Yet I could really not harbour any such protective ambition, as I was communicating through a solitary private email from 4,000 miles away! And then Glees tripped himself up over the absurd ‘double agent’ business. It appears that the professor has not bothered to read my research carefully, and does not understand the distinctions between penetration agents, traitors, and double agents. I have thus ignored his lectures to me. Some woodsman; some lumber.

It is all rather sad. I do not understand why an academic of Glees’s reputation would want to engage in such petty practices, and try to distort my researches in such a non-collegial manner. (I have indeed helped him on several matters when he has sought my advice.) Yet, in a way, I do understand. I have seen enough of the goings-on at the University of Buckingham to be able to write a David Lodge-type novel about the pettiness and jealousies of provincial English university life. I have described some of those exploits on coldspur already: I shall refrain from writing up the whole absurd business until another time (I would hardly want to lower myself precipitately to that level, would I?), as I presently have more important fish to fry. When I have run out of other research matters, I may return to the shenanigans at the University of Buckingham.

Yes, I admit this is all rather petty on my part, too. It was just the Soldiers of Oxfordshire museum, not an invitation on In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg. But, if ‘one of my biggest admirers’ can get things so wrong, what is he doing the rest of the time? I wanted to set the record straight. Besides, it is quite fun to bring the Prof down a peg or two.

And then, by one of those extraordinary coincidences that crop up more frequently than they should, I read these words in the July Literary Review, by the biographer Frances Wilson: 

. . . . most memoirs, if not loaded guns, are written for the purpose of retribution and revenge. This is by no means a criticism: retribution and revenge are strong reasons for writing a book. You want to put the record straight, to tell your side of things, to correct a wrong. Even the mildest-mannered memoirs have reprisal at their hearts.

Thank you, Ms. Wilson.

Operation PARAVANE

I have not yet received anything substantial on the piece compiled by Nigel Austin and me, The Airmen Who Died Twice. That does not surprise me much, as the PARAVANE operation is a little-known episode, a side road to the main WW2 excursion. Yet the posting of my bulletin on June 3 placed an important marker for the story, and immediately made a synopsis available worldwide as a reference point for anyone who might be trawling on the Web for information on PARAVANE.

I shall not reveal here the astonishing denouement of this extraordinary series of incidents, but one aspect of the exploit merits some attention. And that is the uncharacteristically cooperative behaviour of the Soviet Air Force. It was only at the end of August 1944 that RAF Bomber Command concluded that an attempt to use the new ‘Tallboy’ bomb in a direct raid from Scotland was not feasible because of fuel capacity, and considered using a base in the northern Soviet Union, near Murmansk, as an intermediate destination after the raid at Alta Fjord. That Air Marshall Harris could take for granted at this late stage that the Soviets would agree to such an initiative indicates that negotiations for such must have been in place for some time, as the Russians were extremely wary of allowing foreigners on Soviet soil. Any such move would have had to be approved by Stalin, and recent events at Poltava and Warsaw had indicated that the Soviet military command was keen to obstruct any such cooperative operations.

For the relationships between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union were indeed at their lowest ebb at this time. (See http://www.coldspur.com/war-in-1944-howards-folly ) Stalin, having encouraged the Warsaw Uprising over the radio, then refused permission for air support operations by the western Allies to the Poles to be launched from Soviet territory, the missions having to be directed from the UK, and from Brindisi in Italy, and back. It was at the end of August, when the PARAVANE operation was being planned, that Churchill pleaded with Stalin to allow Soviet airfields to be used to support the Warsaw rebels, but Stalin was obdurate, and Roosevelt would not join Churchill in his appeal. Soviet forces waited the other side of the Vistula river until the uprising was quashed by the Nazis, at enormous loss of life.

Moreover, a precedent for the use of Soviet airbases had recently occurred in Operation FRANTIC, where the Soviets granted rights to the USA Air Force to conduct bombing-raids on German territory between June and September 1944. I have recently read books by Glenn Infield (The Poltava Affair) and Sergii Plokhy (Forgotten Bastards of the Eastern Front) which tell the sad story of how the Americans were misused by the Soviets, especially when, on June 21, Soviet air defences failed to prevent a highly destructive raid at Poltava by German airplanes, all of which escaped intact. By then, in any case, with the Soviet land forces moving close to Germany, the value of the base had sharply diminished.

Thus when Bomber Command had a further change of plan, and was apparently able to decide, on September 4, without further consultations with the Soviet Air Force, that the aircraft of the PARAVANE operation would better land in Soviet territory, and preferably at an airfield further away from German airbases than Murmansk, and thus less likely to be strafed, it was extraordinary (in my opinion) how smoothly and quickly the negotiations continued. In a matter of days, Yagodnik had been identified as suitable, and made available, but a week later, an even bolder version was aired. The new plan – to have the squadrons fly directly to the Archangel area, and rest and refuel, before launching the attack on the Tirpitz, and then return to that airbase – was likewise immediately approved by the Soviets. I believe that the groundwork must have been prepared some time before, and that the Number 30 Military Mission to Moscow (Air Section), which had been boosted in the summer of 1944, must have presented a case for the usage of airfields well before early September.

The fact is that Stalin was extremely wary of any Soviet citizens’ being exposed to foreign influences, and the NKGB and SMERSH were trained to consider all such persons on their soil as spies. While the cause of protecting convoys to Murmansk was no doubt genuine, it was becoming less important by this stage of the war, and Stalin must have had ulterior motives (such as the acquisition of the latest military technology) in granting such rights to the British squadrons. The Foreign Office, in its misguided belief that ‘cooperation’ with the Soviet Union would lead to harmonious relationships when the war ended (an echo of the attitude taken by President Roosevelt and his sidekick Harry Hopkins), was quick to see this offer as a sign of Soviet goodwill – a ridiculous mistake. I have started to investigate the 30 Mission records for further clues, as the RAF records are disappointingly vague.

I was able to make email contact with Professor Plokhy, and asked him whether he had any insights into the complementary PARAVANE operation. Unfortunately he did not, but he directed me to someone who, he thought, would be able to help, a Liudmila Novikova, in St. Petersburg, an expert (so Plokhy said) on British units in the Soviet Union. I was unable to gain any response from her; perhaps I went straight into her spam folder, or maybe she has uprooted because of the recent turmoil. Does anyone know her?

Lastly, one correspondent, having read the PARAVANE piece, drew my attention to another mysterious aircraft accident of 1944, in Newquay, Cornwall, the details of which have ever since lain in obscurity. The informant was Mark Cimperman, the son of the FBI’s wartime representative in London during the war, Frank Cimperman (who appears frequently in Guy Liddell’s Diaries). I tracked down the event at http://wartimeheritage.com/storyarchive2/storymysteryflight.htm , and was astonished at the eerie characteristics that patterned those concerning the crash at Nesbyen a few months later. Mark told me that the researcher for the story, David Fowkes, had written to the Cimpermans, believing that Frank might have known something about the accident. Sadly, Cimperman had died of cancer in 1968 at the age of sixty.

The Coldspur Archive

As part of my project to preserve the coldspur archive, I made contact in early May with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Palo Alto, and eventually received a very courteous response from Dr. Anatol Shmelev, a research fellow and Robert Conquest curator of the Russia and Eurasia Collection. Over email, he had advised me to seek out a smaller university as a destination for my book collection, as he believed there would be too many overlaps with what the Institution held for Hoover to be an appropriate donee. I have thus since attempted to contact the Librarians at a couple of other universities, but have received no response to my approaches. I arranged, however, to have a meeting with Dr. Shmelev, during my visit to the area, and it turned out that he and his family live a few minutes away from our son in Los Altos.

On June 11 I thus enjoyed a very pleasant lunch with Anatol and his wife, Julia, who was born in St. Petersburg, and who acted as research assistant to Robert Conquest in the latter years of his life. Robert Conquest was someone I admired greatly (another significant writer whose hand I hoped to shake, but he was too infirm by the time I wrote to him just before his death): his Great Terror and Harvest of Sorrow made a deep impression on me, as they must have done on many students of Russian history. He was also a close friend of Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, two more of my enthusiasms, although their private correspondence betrays opinions that are highly inappropriate in today’s sensitive times. It was a privilege, nevertheless, to meet two academics who had worked so closely with Conquest.

Anatol gave me some further tips about finding a home for my books, suggesting that I seek the support of members of the history faculties at such universities rather than the librarians/archivists themselves. We had a lively and fascinating discussion about many topics of Russian literature and history, and intelligence matters, as well as regretting the obvious fact that many book collections are simply pulped when the cream has been skimmed off them. I would hate to see that happen to mine, but that is presumably what everyone says. I did also immediately order Shmelev’s recent book, on Russia’s path immediately after the Revolution, In the Wake of Empire. I expected it to be a fascinating companion to Antony Beevor’s volume Russia, Revolution, and Civil War, 1917-1921, which has received excellent reviews in the British press already, but will not be available in the USA until September.

‘In the Wake of Empire’ by Anatol Shmelev

Indeed, Shmelev’s book was absorbing – quite brilliant. The author had access to a large trove of correspondence between the exiled Russian diplomats and their military counterparts, such as Admiral Kolchak and General Denikin, and has exploited them to show the futility of a fractured opposition to the Bolsheviks. I had not understood all the dimensions of the conflict, what with outlying nations of the old Russia straining for independence, the struggles between those wanting to restore the old land-owning aristocracy, or even an emperor, and those who accepted that land reforms and a more democratic constitution were absolutely essential in order to give credibility and authority to any future regime. The challenge for pluralist political entities to counter effectively a determined and single-minded dictatorial force was brought home to me by the fact that not only did the Whites disagree among themselves, the Allies all had diverse interests, as did the borderland national territories of old Imperial Russia, and, even within one nation’s administration, the British War Office disagreed with the Foreign Office on policy, and within the Foreign Office itself, factions had sharply divided views on what the representation and constitution of the future Russian governing body should be. Eventually, Communist Might meant Right. Shmelev’s judgments are sure – authoritative without being dogmatic – and shed much light on the tortured dynamics of the civil war. I shall defer a full discussion until later, when I have read Beevor’s book.

Incidentally, Dr. Shmelev also wrote a book on Russian émigrés, titled Tracking a Diaspora:
Émigrés from Russia and Eastern Europe in the Repositories
, and I believe that the story of Serge Leontiev (aka George Graham) and his forbears, friends, and associates will be of interest to him.

‘Hitler’s Spy Against Churchill’

‘Hitler’s Spy Against Churchill’

This book, by Jan-Willem van den Braak, is now available – both in the UK and the USA – and I encourage coldspur readers to acquire it. It constitutes a very valuable addition to the chronicle of the Abwehr spies sent to the United Kingdom in the autumn of 1940, its subject, ter Braak, managing mysteriously to remain undetected for several months before committing suicide, or so the story goes. (I did supply an Afterword for the book, which I would not have done had I not thought that the author had carried out a stellar piece of research. In that piece I voice an alternative theory about the spy’s demise.) I have not seen any reviews of the work yet, but I know these things take time.

An Update on Paul Dukes

In my piece on George Graham, I had expressed some puzzlement over the behaviour of Paul Dukes in the 1930s, finding the official biographical records somewhat wanting. And then, while I was researching the Volkov business, I discovered that Keith Jeffery, in his Postscript for the new paperback edition of his history of MI6, had inserted some new analysis of Dukes’s activity at this time.

The essence of the account is that MI6 did attempt to exploit Dukes’s plans, in May 1934, to take a predominantly Russian troupe of ballet-dancers to Eastern Europe and to the Soviet Union. When Admiral Sinclair, the head of MI6, heard about this, he sent Harold Gibson to Vienna to discuss how Dukes might help develop intelligence sources in the U.S.S.R., since MI6’s sources there were practically non-existent (if, indeed, there were any at all). Yet the project soon foundered. Illness and disappointing box-office returns meant that the company never reached further than Italy, and, twelve months later, Dukes was in such bad favour that Sinclair told Monty Chidson, head of station in Bucharest (who asserted that Dukes was involved in arms dealing with Sofia) that he was to have nothing to do with Dukes.

MI6 belatedly realized that Dukes was a faded product: he had mixed too closely with White Russian emigrants (very true), and he would now constitute quite a security risk. Valentine Vivian issued him some advice before Dukes left London in August 1934, warning him to minimize his risks, but then minuted that the characteristics that had helped him become a valuable agent in 1919 would work against him now. Later, MI5 apparently took an interest in him, for Vivian posted another memorandum in February 1940, where he was forced to concede that Dukes’s finances were considered to be ‘catastrophic’, and that his sense of balance was considered by some to be ‘deficient’. Perhaps that was intelligence-speak that he was losing his marbles. Vivian went on to write: “His temperament is essentially artistic, and while his knowledge of things and people is encyclopaedic, his tastes rather run towards the eccentric and he would not be acceptable to those who look for a uniform service mentality”. In other words, no bohemians wanted.

The evidence I collected for my piece suggests that Dukes was trying to rehabilitate himself for a foray into the Soviet Union after these setbacks (John Stonehouse-like faked death, pro-Soviet writings), but it is not clear why anyone would have been sponsoring his intelligence-gathering aspirations. And, if he did now have an official assessment as being a loony and a spendthrift, why would anyone have listened to him when he came to recommend Serge Leontiev/George Graham as cipher-clerk for George’s Hill’s mission to Moscow? Sinclair was dead by then, but what was Valentine Vivian thinking? It is all very odd.

And then I alighted on another odd reference to Dukes while checking something in Michael Smith’s Station X (about Bletchley Park). While discussing the imaginary British spy Boniface (who was used as an alibi for Enigma decryption sources) Smith quotes R. V. Jones, who reported something he had been told:

            Gilbert Frankau, the novelist, who held a wartime post in intelligence, told me that he had deduced that the agent who could so effectively get into German headquarters must be Sir Paul Dukes, the legendary agent who had penetrated the Red Army so successfully after the Russian Revolution.

This statement does not appear in Most Secret War, so probably comes from an article that Jones supplied to the journal Intelligence and National Security in 1994. I note that appalling use of ‘legendary’ again, presumably not meaning that Dukes was a mythical being, but that many tales were told about his exploits, and that a good proportion of them were tall. The irony here was that, instead of Dukes being able to infiltrate the Nazi command, he had, through his recommendation of George Graham, unwittingly enabled the Soviets to break into the supposedly clandestine exchanges of MI6 and the Foreign Office.

The PROSPER Disaster

As I was starting to write this piece, the thickness of the fog that surrounds the relationship between the Allies in the UK and French resistance during World War II was brought home to me. I was reading a review of Graham Robb’s France: An Adventure History in the Wall Street Journal when I encountered the following sentence: “Rather, he notes the Allies’ fatally tepid support of the Resistance and turns a sad gaze on the reprisals that tainted every corner of the mountains with ‘some ineradicable act of cruelty’.” The impression – and I suppose that it is Robb’s, but one endorsed by the reviewer –  is that a potentially decisive opportunity was lost by the Allied armies (or SOE and OSS) in not supporting an extensive secret army that was simply waiting in the wings for a chance to make vigorous assaults on the German occupiers. Yet the story in fact played out on the following lines: initial experimental attempts to infiltrate agents; some vastly exaggerated claims about the size of secret armies; struggles to get the RAF to ship arms and equipment; betrayals to the Germans; stepped up shipments with the false promise of an early Allied assault; disillusionment and multiple arrests; a recalibration in the months before the Normandy landings; some vicious attacks and reprisals by the Gestapo and the Wehrmacht; a few spectacular successes in support of the Allied armies. And then de Gaulle attacked anyone who had co-operated with the Allies and tried to perpetuate the myth that the French exclusively had liberated themselves. Thus the representation of Allied strategy as being a failure to support the Resistance is both a distortion and an oversimplification of what actually happened.

I have still to post the concluding segment to my analysis of the betrayal of the PROSPER circuit. This will involve a close inspection of the minutes of the War Cabinet and Chiefs of Staff in June and July of 1943, as well as a closer study of the Bodington and Déricourt files. I do not intend to reproduce simply what has been published before, but I believe the current accounts are deficient in different ways. Robert Marshall’s All The King’s Men is on the money, but it is a little too hectic, and relies too much on oral testimony that cannot be verified. M. R. D. Foot’s SOE in France is packed with detail, but is fatally flawed by the constraints laid upon him and is still rooted in a 1960s perspective, which means that he evades the strategic issues. His Chapter XIV, Strategic Balance Sheet, completely ignores the premature attempts in 1943 to arm resistance forces with promises of an imminent arrival of Allied forces. (Moreover, the text of that summarization remained unchanged in 2004, nearly forty years after it first appeared – an extraordinary gesture of disdain towards all who had written about SOE in the interim.) Francis Suttill’s Prosper is driven by a need to track down all the details of his father’s circuit, but it is error-strewn, and he ignores the evidence in front of him in his eagerness to discount any conspiracy behind his father’s demise. Patrick Marnham’s War in the Shadows is very sound overall, but choppy: Marnham misrepresents some of the key events of 1942 and 1943, in my opinion, and weakens his case by introducing the Jean Moulin side-plot.

I therefore judge that my account of the saga needs a tidy conclusion, and I suspect that the evidence from the archives will embellish the assertion confidently made by Marnham and Marshall that the French Resistance was willfully misled as to the imminence of an Allied re-entry to the French mainland in the summer of 1943. I believe that my hypothesis that Suttill made two trips to England in May and June 1943 (see http://www.coldspur.com/feints-and-deception-two-more-months-in-1943/) contributes to a clearer picture of his motivations and disappointments. My next report on this saga will appear at the end of August.

It is a continuing research question of mine: what strategy was SOE executing when it tried to ship weapons to sometimes unidentifiable teams of resistance members in 1942 and 1943? According to their own records, at least 50% of arms were lost or fell into the hands of the Nazis. The submissions of SOE to the Chiefs of Staff about the potential of ‘secret armies’ showed that they had been completely misled by the claims of some of their agents. Furthermore, they showed a dismal lack of understanding of what would be required to store and maintain weaponry in good condition, and to train guerrilla forces in how to deploy it. Supplemented by some further reading of memoirs and biographies, such as in my study of Colin Gubbins last month, and the new biography of Virginia Hall (see below), I plan to provide soon a more detailed exposition of the controversial events of the spring and summer of 1943. Moreover, I have ordered a copy of Halik Kochanski’s Resistance: The Underground War in Europe, 1939-1945, in the hope that its 932 pages may reveal some fresh insights on the events of 1943 that the primary histories (including Olivier Wieworka’s recent The Resistance in Western Europe: 1940-1945) have in my opinion severely mismanaged.

P.S. As I was putting the finishing touches to this piece, I came across the following sentences in The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War (2020), by Scott Anderson (p 294):

            In most Nazi-occupied countries of Western Europe, whatever partisan formations existed only became a factor on the battlefield when the arrival of Allied armies was imminent. Nowhere was this truer than with that most vaunted of partisan forces, the French Resistance. Despite the popular notion of a France united in undermining the rule of their German conquerors, in reality, the Resistance was little more than an intermittent and low-grade pest to the Nazis until their numbers suddenly swelled in June 1944.

Precisely! This was the colossal mess that Gubbins presided over, and which M. R. D. Foot, either through lack of imagination, or by intimidation, failed to reveal in SOE in France.

2022 Reading

As I peruse the Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books, and the New York Review of Books, I am constantly reminded of the earnest volumes that are issued by the University Presses. Should I be reading The Kingdom of Rye: A Brief History of Russian Food, or Legacies of the Drunken Master: Politics of the Body in Hong Kong Fu Comedy Films, or Harry Potter and the Other: Race, Justice and Difference in the Wizarding World (all titles advertised in the June 17 issue of the TLS)? Probably not: life is too short. And sometimes I can’t help feeling that my speculative second book, The Unauthorized but Authoritative History of MI5 (affectionately known as TUBA), might have a better chance of commercial success than some of these rather dire works. And then the reviewers! Most of them are able to boast what their last published book is, but occasionally one is signalled by such phrases as ‘she is currently working on a collection of essays’. It all sounds rather drear, like those American waitpersons who approach you to ask whether you have ‘finished working on your meal’ so that they might take the plate away. But my work is fun (mostly). And I don’t have to consider the dreadful chore of dealing with publishers and editors: I just post my current essay on coldspur, and move on to the next one.

On reviewing my spreadsheet of Books Read for the year so far, I note that it consists mainly of volumes related to my researches, of which more later. Yet I do try to relax with lighter works in between. I started reading the fiction of Elizabeth Taylor: I was not very impressed with the short stories in You’ll Enjoy it When You Get There or the somewhat clumsy A Game of Hide and Seek, but enjoyed Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, and the well-drawn A View of the Harbour. And I am a keen reader of memoirs and biographies, The new edition of Konstantin Paustovsky’s Story of a Life, in a fluid and sparkling translation by Douglas Smith, gained some excellent reviews: I had let this work pass me by when it came out many decades ago. The reviews were merited: it is a beautifully written memoir of a vanished world, Paustovsky showing an ability to recall smells, sights, sounds, persons, conversations and situations without becoming over-lyrical or extravagant. As a picture of life before the revolution in eastern Europe (mainly in Ukraine), it is probably unmatched. For the short time about which he writes after the revolution, as in the escape from Odessa (Odesa), it lacks the irony and incisiveness of Teffi (Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya), whose Memories I read last year, but gives a very insightful picture of the rapid disillusionment that followed the drama and expectations of 1917.  Paustovsky was a survivor in Stalin’s prison-camp: when many of his contemporaries were oppressed or even murdered, he managed to outlive the dictator (1892-1968), so must have had to compromise to be allowed to continue writing and avoid persecution.

Spy Fiction

I have also dabbled in a genre that is called ‘spy fiction’, and has received much media attention of late. I read Gard Sveen’s The Last Pilgrim because it is a book about the Norwegian resistance, and includes in its cast a real person, Kai Holst, who was of interest to me because of his strange death in 1945 soon after the Swedes received secret cipher material from the Abwehr. Holst was a Norwegian resistance fighter, resident in Stockholm, who died in mysterious circumstances in June 1945. Some writers have suggested that he was murdered because he knew too much about Operation Claw, a venture whereby the Americans and the Swedes gained vital intelligence material on Soviet ciphers from the Germans, something that would have embarrassed the Swedish government because of its claimed neutrality. The file at Kew, FO 371/48073 (https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C2805368) was supposed to be released under the 75-year rule in 2020, but is still marked as being retained by the Foreign Office. As for the book, it won several awards, but I found it rather laborious and repetitive, and the mixing of real and fictitious persons and events irritating.

And then there was Mick Herron. I read a few reviews of his Slow Horses, and decided that I ought to give him a try, and have since also read Dead Lions, Real Tigers, and Spook Street, volumes in his series concerning Slough House, an imagined dumping-ground for MI5 officers and personnel who committed some career-breaking faux pas during the cause of duty, and have been exiled to this dumpy office in London. The books are hilarious. Slough House is managed by a very sharp but foul-mannered slob, Jackson Lamb, who makes Horace Rumpole look like Jacob Rees-Mogg. Herron captures the essence of his characters with wickedly humorous speech patterns and dialogue, and his prose has a Wodehousian creativity and zaniness about it. I found the larger-scale plots a bit absurd (for instance, could there really have been a colony of communist sleeper agents of influence in the British countryside in the 1990s?), but they were not damaging enough to spoil the rollicking fun. I see that a TV series has been made of Slow Horses: I have not seen it yet, but Aunt Edna would probably not approve of the language (although these days, of course, Aunt Edna probably swears like a trooper).

One important point occurred to me as I read Herron’s books. The plots of spy fiction these days have to be dependent upon, and coherent with, the technology of its time, yet that technology is constantly changing. I vaguely recall reading a thriller by Charles Cummings a decade or so ago, sprinkled with Nokia mobile phones, VCRs, payphones, and SCART connections, all of which immediately date it, but also drove the plot. (I am constantly amused that my 2011 edition of Chambers Dictionary includes an entry for ActiveX.) Between the time an author starts writing his text and the date of the book’s publication, much of the technology must change radically. Herron sensibly does not identify many products so specifically, but such features as Google, (which was there in Cummings’ world of 2010), YouTube, and the dark web are prominent in his plot, and Twitter appears in Spook Street. Yet there must still be risks: I was astonished how Herron allows so many mobile phone-calls between different members of MI5 to be carried on in unencrypted mode. Was nobody listening? And how come no one seems to use their phone-camera? Pinpointing current technologies, and lavishly exploiting them, give verisimilitude  – but also raise questions of accuracy and authenticity. And future novels involving flashbacks will have to be very precise about the technical context of the time. (‘Snapchat was not around in 2010!’) That was not a problem faced by Arthur Conan Doyle, or Eric Ambler – or even John le Carré.

I also picked up, on an impulse, An Unlikely Spy by Rebecca Starford, who is described as ‘the publishing director and cofounder of Kill Your Darlings, and, more alarmingly, as having ‘a PhD in creating writing from the University of Queensland’. I am not sure how Fyodor Dostoyevsky or Charles Dickens managed to be successful without some degree in Creative Writing, but then I am an old fuddy-duddy. The plot sounded intriguing, however: “In 1939, with an Oxford degree in hand and war looming, Evelyn finds herself recruited into an elite MI5 counterintelligence unit” (as opposed to those non-elite Slough House-type backwaters, I suppose).

I soon discovered that the book was originally published in Australia with the title The Imitator, so I suppose the reworked version was superior, as I doubt whether my eye would have been caught by the rather drab earlier headliner. And it turned out to be well-written, although it did carry that annoying post-modern trick of jumping around in chronology all the time, rather than approaching events in an orderly serial manner. (Is that what your Doctors of Creative Writing tell you to do? Do you get extra credits for displaying this habit?) I thus quickly entered the spirit of the plot, and started to acclimatize myself to the carefully placed markers of London in 1940, and the offices of MI5 at Wormwood Scrubs, as Evelyn Varley is recruited to help out with deciphering work.

A flicker of recognition then slowly dawned upon me, however. Evelyn Varley was a thinly-veiled representation of Joan Miller, author of One Woman’s War; Bennett White, her boss, was clearly the MI5 officer Maxwell Knight; Nina Ivanov was undoubtedly Anna Wolkoff. The whole story was a re-play of the Tyler Kent story, where the American cipher clerk stole copies of documents from the US Embassy in order to have them passed to the Germans. It reminded me of another clumsy effort at faction, Kate Atkinson’s Transcription, about which I wrote a few years ago. I really do not see the point of these ‘novels’: the authors take some characters from history, and then massage events and names to make it appear as if they have created a convincing psychological study. I quickly lost interest.

Ms. Starford admits her ruse in her ‘Reading Group Guide’, where she is also vain enough to offer some ‘Questions for Discussion’. She proudly describes her research activities (including a generous acknowledgment of Christopher Andrew’s history of MI5), and how she decided to ‘create’ Evelyn from the scraps of Miller’s memoir, and even manages to bring in ‘Brexit, the rise of far-right populism in Australia and abroad, and the ascent of Trump’ as a relevant backdrop to her writing, and even claiming that the fear and anxiety that those phenomena provoked found its way into her characters. What nonsense! And how pretentious to offer a review of her own book as collateral!

Moreover, she also offers an ‘Author’s Note’ to explain her deceptions, writing that she ‘tried to remain as faithful as possible to the history of these events’, but then declares that she had to make some ‘adjustments’ in order to provide a convincing story. She then lists a catalogue of her chronological changes to events that explicitly undermines the integrity of her story. All utterly unnecessary and distracting. In sum, I do not know why such works are attempted or encouraged. Either perform some innovative research to uncover the true facts about events, or use your imagination to create a convincing artificial world. These factional books are not for me.

The only interesting item I derived from the book is the statement from Stanford that Joan Miller ‘died in a mysterious car crash in the 1980s not long after she had published a memoir about her time in MI5’. Readers of Misdefending the Realm will recall my analysis of why MI5 tried to get her book banned, but this was the first I had heard about a suspicious car-crash. Sounds like an echo of the demise of Tomás Harris, or the accident involving George Graham’s son.

The Art of Resistance

‘The Art of Resistance’ by Justus Rosenberg

I have also read some remarkable books peripheral to my main course of research. Justus Rosenberg published his memoir The Art of Resistance in 2020, and in an epilogue wrote:

I will not write here of my extensive travels in the Soviet Union and its satellites during the Cold War, in Cuba just after the revolution, in the People’s Republic of China, of my visit with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, or of the interesting material I found about me in my FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act. Nor will I explore my years of teaching at Swarthmore, the New School for Social Research, and Bard College. I hope to deal with all these things in future memoirs.

The main problem with this plan was that Rosenberg was ninety-seven years old when he completed his memoir, and died in September 2021 at the age of 100. If his follow-up had been as action-packed and insightful as The Art of Resistance, it would have constituted another extraordinary work. Rosenberg’ s life was of interest to me mainly because of his experiences with the French Resistance in World War II. Born in Danzig in a secular Jewish family, Rosenberg managed to conceal his ‘race’ from the Germans when he escaped to France, where he eventually linked up with the American Varian Fry. After the latter had to return to the United States in some disgrace in 1941, Rosenberg worked in various roles for the French Resistance, achieved a miraculous escape from a prison hospital by simulating the symptoms of peritonitis (although I wondered whether he had in fact swallowed those special SOE pills that triggered the symptoms of typhoid), and ended the war by joining the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. He then gained a visa to the United States, where he enjoyed a distinguished career as a professor of literature.

I found Rosenberg an exceptionally level-headed and unmelodramatic chronicler, as well as a brave man. He was clearly a very smart and practical thinker, and was not caught up with the rhetoric of any ideology or religion. He has some illuminating things to say about Varian Fry (whose contribution to the escape of many European intellectuals has been over-romanticized), and scatters his memoir with many incisive vignettes and anecdotes. On two elements, I question him. He is one of those many who errantly contrast Soviet communism and ‘American capitalism’ as rival ideologies, when (as I pointed out in Misdefending the Realm) that it is a false contrast, since capitalism is neither a totalitarian ideology nor a political system, but an approach to the creation of wealth, and the comparison should be made between totalitarian communism and various forms of constitutional, pluralist democracy, whether presidential or parliamentary.

And I found him very loose on the practices of armed French resistance. He lists various categories: ‘partisans’, ‘freedom fighters’, ‘maquisards’, ‘guerrillas’, ‘underground armies’, ‘resistance fighters’, ‘saboteurs’, without explaining what characterized each. He recognizes the differences required in occasional guerrilla raids and the full engagement of an occupying army, and describes the rigorous training that was required to bring a raggle-taggle band up to proper military strength. Yet he also relates how ‘the French Underground Army’, described as ‘Resistance fighters waiting to join the Allied forces’ suffered a catastrophic defeat in the Vercors mountains, when a large section was annihilated by a glider-led force of 12,000 SS paratroopers. This vexed issue of the remote management of insurrectionist forces is a perennial interest of mine, as I believe that proper justice has not been performed to the topic in the writings about SOE and OSS in France. A book titled The Art of Resistance disappoints when it covers authoritatively such matters as the practices of secrecy, clandestine communications, and the isolation of networks, but does not explore what the implications of providing weapons to ‘secret armies’ were, and how such tasks should have been executed.

The Inhuman Land

‘The Inhuman Land’ by Jozef Czapski

Another valuable work was Jozef Czapski’s The Inhuman Land. I found that I had a copy of the 1951 edition on my bookshelf – a volume that I had never got round to reading. It has recently been resuscitated by New York Review Books, with an introduction by Timothy Snyder, but my edition (according to the price on abebooks) is now something of a rarity. Czapski’s book is vital, since, with the post-war knowledge that the NKVD had in the spring of 1940 slaughtered twenty-thousand Polish officers (of whom 4,421 were executed in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk), the author, who had managed to avoid the killings, described his attempts to discover what had happened as he worked as propaganda minister for General Anders’ emerging Polish Army, gathered in the Soviet Union.

The evil of the NKVD’s massacre was compounded when the Soviet Union tried to transfer the blame to the Nazis, who had themselves uncovered the graves in April 1943. When the Polish government-in-exile requested that the International Red Cross investigate the incident, Stalin broke off relations with the Poles. What made the whole business even more sordid was the fact that Churchill and Roosevelt, while privately acknowledging the Soviet guilt, did not dare challenge Stalin on the matter, fearful that they might lose his support, and that he might even abandon them in some fresh deal with the Germans. It was an abject display of appeasement.

What is remarkable about Czapski’s work is the fact that he was essentially allowed a free hand, from inside the Soviet Union, to investigate what had happened to so many of Poland’s elite force, who appeared to have disappeared from the face of the earth. He maintained a file of all missing officers, and was allowed even to make inquiries of the NKVD, when a careless and grudging admission that ‘mistakes were made’ led him first to conclude the awful truth. The other side of this effort was that he also learned at first hand a lot about the hideous cruelty of Communism from all manner of oppressed tribal people, forcibly migrated national groups, common citizens who had been split apart from lost family members, or dispossessed because of dekulakization, or who had simply witnessed the barbaric cruelty of the Soviet organs. And that he was able to commit it all to memory, or write and conceal encrypted notes, which allowed him to tell the whole grisly story after the war. The Inhuman Land was first published in French in 1949.

Amazingly, Czapski, born in 1896, died as late as 1993. I regret coming round to his work so late in life. One of the many whose hand I should simply like to have shaken before they died. Like Gregor van Rezzori (1914-1998), or Robert Conquest (1917-2015), or the recently encountered Justus Rosenberg, all long-lived witnesses to such chaotic times, who wrote about them so poignantly.

Secret Service in the Cold War

‘Secret Service in the Cold War’ by John and Myles Sanderson

Readers may recall that I noted, in my recent study of the Volkov affair, the existence of the interpreter Sudakov at the Ankara consulate in 1945. “The name of ‘Sudakov’ is an intriguing one.  In An SIS Officer in the Balkans (2020), John B. Sanderson and Myles Sanderson write: “The First Secretary of the Soviet Embassy in Ankara was a Brigadier General Sudin, in charge of “illegal residents” (spies), within Turkey, some of whom were Bulgarians. Penkovsky was a friend of Sudakov’s (Sudin’s alias) and would have passed over to his SIS handlers useful intelligence on Bulgarian espionage in Turkey, picked up in conversation with his high-ranking friend.”

From the sources given by Myles Sanderson, it did not appear that any fresh light would be shed on the character of Sudakov, but I acquired the book, of which the full title is Secret Service in the Cold War: An SIS Officer in the Balkans. It is a compilation by the subject’s son, using unpublished memoirs of his father, and supplemented by some lengthy description of Cold War politics. It is an unusual, and overall praiseworthy study, as it tries to provide a thorough political background to all the espionage and counter-intelligence activities going on throughout John B. Sanderson’ s career. Yet, as time marches on, the contribution that Sanderson Senior made to counter-intelligence activity becomes very thin and strained, and thus the focus of the book likewise becomes very fuzzy.

The good points: as a general compendium of significant historical events, and the intelligence activity behind them, the book is probably unmatched, as many of the reviews posted on amazon confirm. Nearly all general histories of the winding-down of WWII, and the onset of the Cold War, do not do justice to the contribution made by Stalin’s agents to the ability of the Soviet Union to manipulate and outwit the democracies, especially Great Britain and the United States. Studies of intelligence and espionage are normally so wound up in the intricacies of spycraft and treachery that they do not pay enough attention to the political results of such activities. The second major quality of the book is the insight that it gives on the exploits of John B. Sanderson in his early career, culminating in a valiant role at the battle of Sangshak in Burma in 1944. He then served as a military intelligence officer in Eastern Europe, primarily in Bulgaria (Bulgarian being a language he had learned), when the show trials were held.

Yet the lack of discrimination in using sources drags the book down. Myles Sanderson (who seems not to be a qualified historian) has assimilated a vast number of books – many of which were new to me – but uses them in a completely unselective way. If Peter Wright (for example) states something he thinks might be relevant, he quotes it, and that goes for countless other references. Thus a large number of misunderstandings and errors have crept into his text, such as an endorsement of Wright’s fresh interpretation of Volkov’s letter, a reference to the perpetuation of SOE beyond 1946, the claim that Britain had a crew of agents working inside the Kremlin, and a simplification of GCHQ’s successes in ‘finally cracking the Soviet ciphers’ in 1976.

And a major question must revolve around the fact of whether Sanderson was an MI6 officer or not. His son even claims that his father was about to replace Philby as liaison officer with the CIA in Washington, and could even have risen to be chief of the Secret Intelligence Service – quite an astonishing assertion. Yet Sanderson pêre was a military attaché, and there is no clear evidence that he was ever strictly employed by MI6, as opposed to being someone who provided them with intelligence occasionally. Stephen Dorrill (who wrote a long, unauthorized history of MI6) expressed strenuous doubts about Sanderson’s affiliation in a brief review in 2019, and I had a similar reaction, based on the evidence shown in this book.

Sanderson was a military attaché in the key years after WWII, and that role itself induces some degree of amazement from me. What on earth would a military attaché be doing in a capital such as Sofia, except trying to gain intelligence about Bulgarian and Soviet intentions clandestinely? Such figures seemed to spend a lot of time at cocktail parties, where they would mingle with their counterparts from other western countries, and even banter with the opposition. Sanderson relates an incident where Sanderson suggests to a Soviet officer that he ‘come over to our side’, and the latter indicates that, despite his obvious criticism of communism, his life is too comfortable to be disrupted. And then, during that second tour of Sofia in 1961, Sanderson is caught photographing aircraft at an airfield outside Sofia. After claiming diplomatic immunity, he makes a quick escape across country so that he can evade the indignity of being expelled, something that he suspects would have damaged his career irretrievably. Astonishingly, he receives no reprimand on his file for behaving so stupidly. But maybe that was because it was not a surprise? Did his bosses expect him to gain such intelligence by using a camera himself, or should he have tried to use an agent? If he blew it, then he blew it, and should have been rebuked. On the other hand, might expulsion have been a point of pride in a Foreign Office career? The episode is all rather absurd.

In summary, Secret Service in the Cold War will be a rattling good educational read for the novice who is rather confused about the significance of various espionage stories during the post-war years, and how they related to each other, but will be somewhat irritating compilation for the more sophisticated reader, who will demand greater discipline, and an evident methodology in the exploitation of all the rich sources that Myles Sanderson has mined.

Lastly, I was going through the War Diaries of the 30 (Military) Mission to Moscow for 1943 and 1944 (to be found at WO 178/27 at Kew) when my eye alighted on the entry for June 8, 1943:

            General Martel [head of the Mission] and Colonel Turner met General Dubinin and Colonel Sudakov, who appears to be Dubinin’s P.A. for the present discussions.

Could it be the same man? A promotion from Colonel to Brigadier by 1945 makes sense.

A Woman of No Importance

‘A Woman of No Importance’ by Sonia Purnell

Sonia Purnell’s 2019 biography of the SOE-OSS agent Virginia Hall, A Woman of No Importance (which I read in the 2020 Penguin edition) arrived with an impressive set of blurbs from such as Clare Mulley and Sarah Helm, as well as a number of prestigious media outlets, even selected as ‘Best Book of the Year’ by the Spectator, the Times, and others. Were such encomia merited? I was keen to investigate.

Notwithstanding its bizarre title, the book is indeed very well written, and reflects a thorough exploration of many obscure sources on Hall’s life. It offers a very sympathetic – even hagiographic – version of the life and career of the American socialite who transformed herself (even with a partially amputated leg) into an effective recruiter and in some ways leader of guerrilla groups in southern France, working initially for SOE and then, in 1944, for the American OSS. Purnell has collected some startling information about the odious Abbé Alesch, who infiltrated F Section’s circuits on behalf of the Abwehr (and was executed in 1949), that I do not believe has been published before. (Alesch has no entry in M. R. D. Foot’s Index to SOE in France.) She describes the escape at Mauzac (engineered by Hall), and the maquisard attacks at Le Puy with great verve. The account of Hall’s escape across the Pyrenees is breathtaking. Purnell has a fascinating light to show on the relationship of Nicolas Bodington (familiar to readers of this site because of his dealings with Déricourt) with Hall. He in fact recruited her, and thus followed her progress with great interest, which must cause a re-assessment of Bodington to be made. She offers some tantalizing suggestions that the Germans may have been tipped off about Sicily (cf. Operation Mincemeat!) and about the Dieppe Raid, both stories that I need to investigate more deeply. All in all, a biography of Hall was earnestly required, and this work will fulfill that function – to some degree.

But is it a wholly reliable account? I have several reservations. I could not detect any methodology behind Purnell’s analysis of sources: she is a bit too keen to trust anything that she reads in official archives, and is caught out particularly when she quotes Maurice Buckmaster, both from his memoir and from his in-house history, which works reflect a lot of wish-fulfillment and outright deceit. It is as if the book had been compiled from a cuttings library of anything that mentioned ‘Virginia Hall’, and was then transformed into a Ben Macintyre-like adventure. The author treats SOE very superficially, neglecting even to identify officers when there is no enigma behind their identity. She overlooks the tensions between MI5, MI6 and SOE – maybe not the book she wanted to write – but in that way she drastically oversimplifies the politics that were driving subversive activities in France. She dismisses Britain’s Intelligent Services generally as being populated by ‘posh boys’ – far from the truth. She continually misuses the term ‘double agents’ when she intends to describe traitorous spies in the pay of the Germans, infiltrators, or penetration agents. She has swallowed verbatim too much mythology about German radio-detection techniques, and recounts some bizarre stories about guerrilla teams intercepting Nazi wireless messages – an assertion that cries out for stronger evidence. Her coverage of Hall’s activity under OSS, and the manner in which OSS exploited SOE resources, when SOE make remarks about her performance, is muddled. She breezes past the destruction of the Prosper circuit without any indication that she understands the way it was betrayed.

Furthermore, her narrative reflects a lot of contradictions. Even though Purnell describes Hall as continually ‘recruiting, training and arming’ guerrilla groups, it is not clear what expertise she really had. She did not go through comprehensive SOE training, and seemed to derive her expertise solely from reading the SOE Handbook, so it is unlikely that teams of raw recruits would be able to become proper saboteurs under her direction, especially given her gender. Indeed, elsewhere, Purnell reports Hall as waiting intently for experienced SOE trainers to supplement her meager knowledge. In some places, she insists that guerrilla groups had to work in isolation: at others, she indicates that they should have been more coordinated. Moreover, M. R. D. Foot plays down her role in direct operations, representing her more as a liaison officer, a role that involved a lot of travelling, but nothing too arduous or dangerous. He claims that her cover remained intact, ‘mainly because friends at Lyons police station took care not to inquire too closely into her doings’.

The coverage of the supply of arms is bewildering. Purnell observes that, as early as late 1942, the secret armies were being provided with the munitions for the Allied assault – but D-Day did not happen until almost two years later. By then, according to her, some arms had started to rot, and were frequently discarded, or even thrown into rivers in despair, contradicting the blithe statements from Buckmaster that Purnell cites. She encapsulates the activity in early 1943 in a weakly casual way (“Parachute drops of arms and explosives were generally being stepped up when clear skies and light winds permitted”), showing that she has not internalized the complexities of the situation. This topic cries out for a more close-grained analysis. Purnell moreover never resolves the ongoing question as to how closely sabotage activities were directed by SOE in London. Hall herself was admittedly undisciplined, frequently made her own decisions without approval from Baker Street, and herself complained about the wastage and unauthorized sabotage that was frequently undertaken. Foot writes that she had ‘an imperturbable temper’.

Purnell scatters her text with multiple examples of shoddy tradecraft, from ruinous meetings like that at the Villa des Bois and excessively prolonged wireless time on air, through careless and disastrous carrying of papers that revealed names and addresses of contacts, the casual mixing of circuits against instructions, the issuance of false banknotes with consecutive serial numbers, to the failure to deal with traitors ruthlessly. These patterns receive no analysis from the author, who also provocatively claims that Hall’s name was given to the Gestapo by MI6, but does not explore the implications and reasons for such a dramatic and severely troublesome move. The source for this story is probably a mysterious footnote 68 to Chapter XI of Foot’s SOE in France, where he archly reports, on Hall’s second mission in 1944: “It was not known in SOE that her real name and her role on her first mission had been communicated to the Germans late in 1943 in the course of a wireless game played by another British secret service.” (Foot chose not to identify MI6, even in 2004, unless he was simply lazy: the footnote remained unchanged after forty years.) Foot gives the impression that Hall had been re-accepted by SOE as a wireless operator at this time, since they had disqualified her as a courier, but he seems to be unaware that it was OSS who had signed her up for the second mission.

Perhaps Alesch was a figure in this dastardly MI6 plot, the details of which are probably hidden in some dusty file, and cry out for further investigation. (Was Bodington perhaps a common element in this sickly charade?) Hall herself was fooled by Alesch, even though he was reported to have come from an MI6 cell, and had not been vetted. He caused immense harm: Hall was identified, and could have been arrested by the Abwehr. The unit held off, hoping to entrap more members of the Resistance, and Hall narrowly escaped the Gestapo entry into Lyon, and consequently made her escape over the Pyrenees. Many arms-drops were carelessly carried out and equipment lost; money was handed out indiscriminately to groups who were fighting rival resistance groups as much as the Germans. Too many loose ends and unsubstantiated claims.

On one important event Purnell appears to venture a challenging opinion. When Paul Vomécourt (Lucas) discovered, in January 1942, that his wireless operator Mathilde Carré (‘La Chatte’) had become the lover of the Abwehr officer Hugo Bleicher, and betrayed dozens of her comrades, Vomécourt decided to try to play her back in the hope of deceiving the Germans. Purnell writes: “At this point, Lucas should have eliminated la Chatte, gone into hiding, and immediately contacted Virginia to let her know she was at best compromised, at worst about to be arrested.” Such an action would have reflected Gubbins’ rules (as I explained last month), and sealed the circuit from any further contamination. It is not immediately clear how Purnell derived this standpoint other than reflecting proper SOE policy.

But, of course, SOE policies were not carried out in a disciplined fashion. And Bernard Cowburn, who was an integral member of the ensuing deception concluded after the war that the attempted ‘triple-agent’ play had been successful. He considered (in his 1960 memoir No Cloak, No Dagger) that the ruse had prevented the Germans from exercising a ‘North Pole’ scheme against the French, in the manner they had exploited the Dutch, and wrote that he thought that Lucas had handled the situation in the ‘best possible way’. Cowburn met Bleicher after the war, and recorded:

            He then looked at me almost pleadingly, and suddenly asked, ‘Tell me, I beg of you  . . . La Chatte  . . . is it true she was double-crossing me?’ This proved beyond a doubt that our manœuvre had succeeded and that for once the Germans had been properly fooled.

Yet I believe that is naïve. For Bleicher to have imagined that his mistress’s act against him was a double-cross without considering the nature of the deaths that she had incurred beforehand, was simply vain and amoral. He was probably more concerned about the shallowness of their affair. Cowburn, moreover, appeared not be aware of the more drastic ramifications of Carré’s treachery.

I think Purnell’s judgment is spot-on, although she probably derived her response from what M. R. D. Foot wrote about the incident: “The correct course for him to take was to vanish at once, not even pausing to assassinate her if her death was going to complicate her escape.” When Vomécourt eventually escaped to England, he had to be rebuked by Gubbins when he suggested that he and Carré return to France, to rescue what was left of the circuit, and also assassinate Bleicher. Gubbins put his foot down, and forbad such exploits: Carré was incarcerated for the rest of the war, then sent to Paris, where she was tried, sentenced to death, and then reprieved. She died in 2007, at the age of ninety-eight. A case-study in treachery: all a very messy business, with several lessons on how to deal with traitors, and on the perils of playing with such in the guise of thinking they can be ‘turned’ at will.

None of this sub-plot detracts from the bravery of Hall, but it does undermine the hyperbolic claims made about the contribution to the overall war success of Purnell’s subject, described in the book’s blurb as ‘the American Spy Who Changed the Course of the War’, a completely unwarranted assertion. Purnell is relentless in promoting Hall’s skills and achievements, but a less breathless assessment is called for. It appears that the author had too many sous-chefs, who may not have been rigorous practitioners themselves, assisting her researches. To write with depth and authority in this realm, you have to immerse yourself, work close to the coalface, get your hands dirty, and not rely on too many intermediaries. I do not believe that Purnell has done that.

Lastly, I note that a movie on Hall’s life is now under way, perhaps to accompany a hypothetical one on Agent Sonya, ‘the Soviet Spy Who Changed the Course of the Cold War.’ Oh, lackaday! ‘A Woman of No Importance’ is a significant contribution to the history of French resistance in WWII, but it should not be regarded as a definitive account, and needs to be integrated with and checked against more serious histories.

P.S. I should have made room to discuss Stephen Tyas’s SS-Major Horst Kopkow. I have read some clunkers on intelligence matters over the past couple of years, but this book, about the notorious Gestapo officer who engineered the sham deal with Suttill and Norman, and provided testimony that sent Kieffer to the gallows, is excellent. A must-read.

Language Corner

Regular readers of coldspur will be familiar with my high sensitivity to incorrect spelling and grammar, especially when such solecisms are committed by professional writers and broadcasters. My biggest gripe is with those who cannot deploy ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘myself’ properly, and end up with such monstrosities as ‘between you and I’, and ‘he gave it to my wife and I’. I almost threw Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time (all twelve volumes) across the room because of his clumsy and excessive use of the reflexive ‘myself’ when he couldn’t work out whether he should have been using ‘I’ or ‘me’. I decry the decline of the subjunctive in conditional clauses, and, as a devoted student of German verb conjugation, get annoyed by any evident confusion over lie/lay/lain and lay/laid/laid.

Some of my objections are directed at the careless use of vocabulary that reflects lazy thinking, or politically correct viewpoints, such as Nobel Prize winning economists who use ‘plutocrat’ when they mean ‘rich people’ (Yes, Krugman P. at the back there, I am talking to you!), or the New York Times journalists who describe some region as ‘impoverished’, when they simply mean ‘poor’. (‘Impoverished’ implies that the region was at some time wealthy, but then was denuded by some oppressor, which is presumably the sub-marxist impression that the writers want to bequeath.)

My continuous and long-standing beef, however, is with the New York Times, and its inability to instruct its journalists to understand and use properly singular and plural forms of Latin words, even though the correct usage appears in its Style Guide. (I have been told as much.) This defect is shown mostly in the use of ‘bacterium ’and ‘bacteria’: dozens of articles over the years have deployed ‘bacteria’ with a singular verb, and I have collected the messages that I have sent to the editors in a single document, inspectable at NYTBacteria. I have surely not captured all the incidences during this period, since I must have overlooked many, and some I ignored because I forgot to write, but I believe the collection is rich enough. And now it is on-line, and the editors at the paper can use it as a teaching-tool. Bravo! (I would get out more, but my piles of books on intelligence are blocking the exit-doors.)

Bridge Corner 

With the COVID epidemic ebbing, I have resumed playing face-to-face duplicate bridge, and normally play three times a week. It is an absorbing pastime, where the rewards are finding out how well you and you partner handle deals that will be played by all the other pairs of the same orientation during the session. Thus all the East-Wests compete against each other, as do all the North-Souths. The goal is to get a ‘top’ score on each hand, and minimize the disasters. One recent hand has absorbed me recently. I picked up as East:

(Spades):  ♠ A K 10 9 6

(Hearts) ♥ A 6 3 2

(Diamonds) ♦ 8 3

(Clubs) ♣ 9 4

My partner, West, opened the bidding with 1 D; I responded 1 S; the opposition was silent; he replied 2S (showing 4 spades and regular opening values); and I jumped to 4S (a game contract that delivers extra points if made during the play), as I had 5 excellent Spades, and an outside Ace.

South led the King of Hearts, and West laid done his hand as Dummy, showing me the following cards:

♠ Q J 5 4

♥ 8

♦ K J 6 5

♣ A K 6 5

This was fine, but then every other pair would probably bid game, and thus face the same challenge. It looks fairly straightforward, as there is no side-suit that can be developed after trumps are drawn: win the Ace of H, draw trumps, hoping they split 2-2, take the Club winners, and trump Clubs and Hearts in both hands leaving a Heart loser, and the Diamonds to guess. (Who has the Ace? Who has the Queen?)

I thought I saw a superior play that would ‘guarantee’ 11 tricks, and maybe make 12, by exploiting my higher-value trumps, and get rid of that last pesky Heart loser, if Spades did indeed split 2-2. (And, if they don’t, I would at least match the less enterprising pairs). Thus I imagined 11 tricks: 2 Clubs, 1 Heart, 3 Spades in dummy, and 5 in hand, with a Diamond still to come as a possible twelfth. Win the Ace of Hearts, and trump a Heart. Play the Ace, then the King of Clubs, and trump the 5 of Clubs with the 9 of Spades (in case Clubs split 5-2), trump another Heart, play the last Club and trump with the 10, and lead the last Heart, trumping with the Queen. Lead the last spade to the Ace, and hope to draw the last two trumps with the King. Then see what the opponents do when I have to break Diamonds. I’ll hold on to my last trump just in case the owner of the Ace leads a Club or a Heart. (Defenders do not always keep count of the number of cards played in each suit.) South probably has two Diamonds and a Heart left, but probably not the Ace of Diamonds, as he or she might have bid over my 1 Spade with all those Hearts and the Ace of Diamonds. North probably holds two Diamonds and a Club: if he or she has Ace and Queen of Diamonds, it doesn’t matter, and just 11 tricks make (and all the ’conventional’ pairs will make only ten tricks). If South has the Ace of Diamonds, he or she will probably go up with it on the Diamond lead, and I am home and dry. If not, I have to play the Jack from dummy, losing to the Ace. I then make 12 tricks.

But I never got there! The Spades did indeed split 2-2, but the Clubs split 6-1, and South was able to trump the King of Clubs before I got going. Thus I had to guess the Diamonds properly in order to even make the game (10 tricks). Seven of the other pairs all made 11 tricks the obvious way (presumably), and must all have guessed the Diamonds correctly. Thus my partner and I received only 1 point, while seven pairs got 5 points each. A certain ‘Top’ was converted to a near ‘Bottom’ in an instant. The ninth pair made only nine tricks: presumably their East (a good player), played the same line as I chose, but mis-guessed the Diamonds. So much for enterprise and imagination. Those cursed computer-arranged hands!

The full deal:

                                                            North

                                                            ♠ 8 3

                                                            ♥ 7 5 4

                                                            ♦ A 4

                                                            ♣ Q J 10 8 3 2

West    ♠ Q J 5 4                                                                      East     ♠ A K 10 9 6

♥ 8                                                                                           ♥ A 6 3 2

♦ K J 6 5                                                                                  ♦ 8 3

♣ A K 6 5                                                                                ♣ 9 4

                                                            South                          

                                                            ♠ 7 2

                                                            ♥ K Q J 10 9

                                                            ♦ Q 10 9 7 2

                                                            ♣ 7

Such is the endless fascination (and frustration) of bridge. (‘A Bridge Too Far’? Do not worry: this column will not be repeated unless I receive overwhelming demand.)

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Gubbins’ Turn

Major-General Sir Colin Gubbins

(A reappraisal of the achievements of Colin Gubbins at SOE)

Primary Books Reviewed:

Foreign Fields, by Peter Wilkinson

Setting Europe Ablaze, by Douglas Dodds-Parker

Gubbins & SOE, by Peter Wilkinson and Joan Astley

Rediscovering Irregular Warfare: Colin Gubbins and the Origins of Britain’s Special Operations Executive, by A. D. B. Linderman

SOE’s Mastermind, by Brian Lett

Secondary Books Used:

SOE in France, by M. R. D. Foot

The Secret History of SOE, by William Mackenzie

Secret War, by Nigel West

Special Operations Executive: a new instrument of war, edited by Mark Seaman

Most Secret War, by R. V. Jones

Undercover: The Men and Women of the SOE, by Patrick Howarth

Baker Street Irregular, by Bickham Sweet-Escott

Between Silk and Cyanide, by Leo Marks

Last Hope Island, by Lynne Olson

A Life in Secrets, by Sarah Helm

Setting the Med Ablaze, by Peter Dixon

Churchill & Secret Service, by David Stafford

Britain and European Resistance 1940-1945, by David Stafford

All the King’s Men, by Robert Marshall

When I was an analyst at the Gartner Group in the 1990s, I frequently hosted visits by software companies, both established and embryonic, who were eager to explain their story and gain our attention. For a while, a group of vendors of object-oriented database management systems, all of whom were completely deluded about the market opportunity that awaited them, were regular supplicants. For some reason the boards of these emergent and struggling companies believed that what they needed to turn their fortunes around was seasoned management with experience in technology, and some of them would seek out IBM executives to come in and run the show for them. Apart from introducing a severe culture clash, such persons had, I discovered, little insight into the challenges they faced.

I recall very clearly one such individual, then the recently-appointed CEO, who introduced himself at the meeting by giving a little potted résumé of his career. Hoping to make an impression that he was a regular guy and a good-timer, he explained that IBM had sent him to Japan to set up a systems integration business there, and he described his achievements in the following terms: “I don’t think we got much done, but we had a lot of fun.” I interpreted that to mean that he and his colleagues must have spent a lot of time drinking in Tokyo bars. His bosses back home no doubt ascribed his lack of success to circumstances beyond his control.

‘Foreign Fields’ by Peter Wilkinson

I thought of that Big-Bluer when I was reading Peter Wilkinson’s memoir of his days with SOE, Foreign Fields. In one sense there is no comparison. SOE officers frequently demonstrated great bravery in conditions of extreme hardship, and many lost their lives in the cause. Yet I also gained the idea that some of the projects that were undertaken – and Wilkinson’s in particular – were ill-conceived from the start, with no clear objectives, and a haphazard approach to planning them. Meanwhile, wherever Wilkinson landed up, at some embassy or outstation, there always seemed to be an ample supply of liquor and wine available, since including crates of the stuff in the various shipments that went in seemed to be a high priority in keeping up morale, even if the locals were starving.

For example, Wilkinson informs us that, on August 25, 1939 (before SOE was created, of course) he left for Warsaw as a member of the MI(R) component of No.4 Military Mission, under Colin Gubbins. What happened next was that the mission underwent a tortuous journey via Marseille to Alexandria in Egypt, where they managed to gain a flight to Bucharest in Rumania, and eventually crossed over the Polish border. All was mayhem, they couldn’t answer the Poles’ questions about British commitments in the coming war, and then, after some hair-raising adventures, had to beat a hasty retreat as the Russians advanced. They managed to reach Bucharest again, where they took their solace in traipsing round the bars, getting sozzled, and enjoyed the company of some amusing girls. Never does Wilkinson explain whether the mission accomplished anything, although he does note that the War Office was not very impressed with his report on the affair.

Later on in the war, Wilkinson was appointed head of Operation Clowder, the objective of which was to gain an entry into southern Austria by engaging the help of Communist guerrillas in Croatia and Slovenia. This was another ill-advised mission, actually encouraged by the Communist spy in SOE Cairo, James Klugmann, who claimed that the Slovene partisans had links with the Austrian Freedom Front in Carinthia and Styria. Of course, Wilkinson did not know of Klugmann’s loyalties. The Operation turned out to be a disaster: the weather was dreadful; the Austrian prisoners-of-war that SOE recruited were unreliable; the Slovene partisans had territorial war-goals at odds with what the British planned; the Germans became very active, and British agents were very conspicuous; radio communications were difficult; there was a shortage of aircraft and crews to support the mission; delivering arms was hazardous as many of the local population were scared of reprisals; the spirit of resistance did not exist in Austria as it did, say, in France; etc. etc.  Moreover, since the Allies took so long to break through the Axis defences in Italy while the Red Army drove on, the confidence of the partisans in Allied competence fell rapidly.

Alfgar Hesketh-Prichard

The outcome was that Wilkinson’s close friend Major Alfgar Hesketh-Prichard, who stubbornly insisted on staying on for reasons of honour and ‘saving face’ (and should have been overruled) lost his life – probably killed by the partisans he thought he was helping. Hesketh-Prichard was a brilliant mathematician, a first-class wireless technician, and a brave but sometimes reckless officer. Little has been written about him in the SOE histories: one has to resort to such books as R.V. Jones’s Most Secret War, and Patrick Howarth’s Undercover: The Men and Women of the SOE, to learn more about his accomplishments. Wilkinson tells here how he secured Hesketh-Prichard’s employment as an instructor at one of SOE’s schools in Scotland, and then put him in charge of the Czech Section ‘which at that time consisted of one elderly officer’. He and Wilkinson were responsible for training the assassins of Heydrich, and Wilkinson describes the tests they carried out on percussion grenades at Aston House, near Stevenage, in preparation for the attack in Prague. Wilkinson presents the operation as a success without referring to its grisly aftermath of reprisals. The pair are for some reason not mentioned in Callum McDonald’s The Killing of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich or Captain Moravec’s Master of Spies. (The full account of their contribution can be found in HS 4/29 at Kew.) The loss of Hesketh-Prichard was a blot on SOE’s escutcheon.

Elsewhere, Wilkinson does not offer a very positive picture of SOE management. For example, he informs his readers that he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel, and ‘in addition to the Polish and Czech sections, I was given the Germans and Austrian section to supervise’, adding that ‘I found this embarrassing for I knew very little about Germany and nothing whatever about Austria which I had only once visited as a tourist’. Nor was he temperamentally suited to the job: “By the summer of 1942 I was feeling stale, frustrated, and fed up with Central Europe”. His boss, Colin Gubbins, who normally receives hagiographic treatment, was perhaps not the deep thinker for which he is often presented. “Colin Gubbins gave a good but somewhat superficial lecture on the principles of guerrilla warfare . . .” When Wilkinson returned to London in the spring of 1944, he noted that Gubbins (who had taken over control of SOE from Hambro the previous September) had tried to turn what was essentially a civilian institution into a military one, and Wilkinson did not find the culture changes ‘congenial’. Perhaps that was more a criticism of his own facility for boredom at a desk-job. Yes, surely it was difficult to find the right people – one thinks of the hapless Buckmaster, of whose appointment Gubbins said ‘there was no one else’ – but that constraint should have provoked some careful leadership and guidance, conditioned what exploits were attempted, and how they were executed.

Yet Wilkinson was deputized in that spring of 1944 to work with the Poles in a distinctly shabby affair, where he was pushed by Gubbins to pretend that British forces would soon be undertaking a full-scale invasion of Poland. But no one was prepared to tell the Polish Home Army the truth. Lynne Olson describes Gubbins as not being manful enough to acknowledge the facts, letting his romantic attachment to the Polish cause affect his judgment.

Wilkinson was an odd fish. One of his startling comments, apparently declared without irony is: “Rather in the same spirit of desperation, on my last visit to Naples, I had agreed to get married”, and his wife (Theresa Villiers) had to put up with quite a handful. He admitted that he was ‘the rottenest fiancé imaginable’. He writes engagingly, but loosely. His chronology is imprecise, and he is partial to the meaningless phrase ‘for the foreseeable future’. In an unindexed reference to ‘Jedburghs’ (p 128) he claims credit for coming up with the idea of teams of three inserted behind enemy lines to co-ordinate resistance work, a fact partially confirmed by Will Irwin, who, in his history The Jedburghs (2005), also gives credit to Robin Brook. Other sources indicate that it was a shared SOE/OSS notion, and that Wilkinson was responsible for coming up with the name, with Gubbins’ suggestion of’ ‘Jumpers’ being replaced.

He must have been an agreeable companion (‘someone to go tiger-shooting with’, as they used to say in the old Daily Telegraph obituaries). He makes one or two outlandish comments that he contradicts in his biography of Gubbins. All in all, he was a typical product of the inter-war public school (in his case, Rugby) – intrepid, amusing, entrepreneurial, carefree, reckless, an independent spirit, along the lines of the Fleming brothers and Fitzroy Maclean. Whether SOE should have been in the hands of such fellows is another testing question – but then so is that of whether ‘Setting Europe Ablaze’ was what most citizens of occupied Europe wanted during the long years when they were under the Nazi yoke.

Douglas Dodds-Parker was a few years older than Wilkinson, and had been educated at Winchester. For a while he followed in the footsteps of Wilkinson, who displays a certain smugness in describing his dealings with the older officer. Maybe Wilkinson had some regrets at not being sent to Winchester. He had been a pupil at Scaitliffe, considered a preparatory institution for Eton and Winchester, and its headmaster, Ronald Vickers, expressed disappointment when Wilkinson’s mother ‘on the advice of her Edinburgh physician who considered Winchester unhealthy, decided to send me to Rugby instead.’ Thus, after voicing his delight at being promoted to acting major at the age of twenty-five, Wilkinson boasts how he spent ‘three most agreeable months of the war’ in Paris, since, ‘on my major’s pay, I could live extravagantly well in Paris while keeping on my rooms in Clarges Street for my visits to London’. Dodds-Parker replaced him as GSO3 in MI(R), but Wilkinson soon sent him urgent instructions to move to the Middle East to set up a supply base in Egypt. Some time later (the dates are annoyingly vague), Wilkinson was promising Dodds-Parker, who had spent time working with Abyssinian guerrillas, that he would arrange for him to be sent back to London. I found the continual competitive race for medals and promotions between such persons rather unseemly.

‘Setting Europe Ablaze’ by Douglas Dodds-Parker

In his own memoir, Setting Europe Ablaze, Dodds-Parker turns out to be a more reflective and mature judge of the military situation, and of SOE in particular. He records Wilkinson’s introduction to him, how they discussed matters at Wilkinson’s club, and the rather brusque orders that Wilkinson gave him. Yet he gives the impression that in May 1941 it was Gubbins who summoned Peter Fleming from Greece, Wilkinson from Crete, and himself from Ethiopia, with Dodds-Parker chartered with the difficult task of organizing SOE’s air and sea transport into and out of enemy-occupied Western Europe. Thereafter, Dodds-Parker, for the remainder of the war, served under another Wykehamist, Colonel Dick Barry. Thus, while Wilkinson was struggling in his role trying to direct the Central European sections, Dodds-Parker had a chance to observe multiple aspects of SOE operations at close quarters, and engage in very sensitive negotiations with the RAF, before he was posted in late 1942 to Operations Officer for the ‘Massingham’ SOE unit in Algeria.

While recollections in tranquility, from 1983, might appear wiser than contemporaneous opinions, Dodds-Parker presents some insightful conclusions from his time at Baker Street in 1941 and 1942. He admitted how the opportunities for sabotage and subversion were soon realized as being more useful than the creation of ‘secret armies’. He explained how Communists who had engaged in the Spanish Civil War contributed considerably to the SOE handbook on guerrilla warfare. He pointed out the precariousness of the position of Gubbins, being considered too political by the military professionals, and too amateurish by the diplomats. He made the shrewd observation that the communist groups with whom SOE had been co-operating became much more aggressive in their plans for post-war political control after the Soviets expelled the Germans from Stalingrad in October 1942, and even claimed that his Polish contacts had convinced him at this time of Stalin’s imperialist ambitions for Eastern Europe after the war.

Dodds-Parker’s regard for Gubbins was exuberant: ‘a born leader of men – and women’; ‘his energy, physical and mental, was boundless’; ‘an inspiring leader, as brave as Wingate, and endowed with the additional ability to maintain an atmosphere of friendly respect and loyalty with his subordinates and superiors’; ‘among the many Allied leaders I had been privileged to observe, I came to regard him in his way, for imagination, courage and energy, as being in the highest class.’ Gubbins loyally supported him in all he did, and promoted him to full Colonel at the young age of 35. They both had strong affiliations for and links with the Poles, which may have affected their priorities with SOE. (Gubbins drew many of his conclusions about planning for guerrilla warfare in Europe from the pre-war preparations of the Poles, but they were not representative of other countries in Europe under German occupation.) Dodd-Parker’s summary of SOE’s track record in the war thus comes across as rather excessive, with the notable success of the arming of French resistance in 1944 masking the disasters in the Netherlands and France in 1943.

The precise role that Dodds-Parker played as Operations Officer for ‘Massingham’ is indistinct. As he wrote, he had ‘wide but undefined duties’, Massingham being chartered with establishing ‘a base for later operations northwards, into France and Corsica and possibly into Italy, whose secret police, the OVRA, were the most effective of any in Europe’. I am not sure what the NKVD –  or even the Gestapo –  would have thought of that assessment, but it pointed to the challenges that Dodds-Parker faced as the Allied armies made their crablike approach to Italy. He was appointed number 2 to the American Colonel Eddy of OSS, but the terms of reference that Gubbins read out to him on that occasion are not explained. Dodds-Parker turned out to be an excellent negotiator, however, which was a useful experience for his career as a Conservative politician after the war.

His final assessment of Gubbins, when SOE was dismantled after the war, and its chief ‘retired’ with no job offer, since his military career had effectively been suspended in Norway in 1940, was ambiguous, and maybe ill-judged: “Gubbins held a unique personal position, respected in private by many political and military leaders as secondary only to Churchill and Eden in helpful understanding of their difficulties. This did not endear him to some of his military colleagues, nor did politicians and diplomats always welcome his, and thus my lesser, interventions in political decisions and diplomatic exchanges.” Elevating to such a podium the vain and ineffectual Eden, whose continuous emphasis on ‘co-operation’ with the Soviet Union exasperated many military men, was a strange stance to take. (In fact, as Wilkinson wrote in his Introduction to his and Ashley’s biography of Gubbins – see below – Gubbins took a dislike to Eden because of his condescending manner and antipathy to SOE.) Moreover, why were such regards held ‘in private’, and how did Dodds-Parker learn about them if they were not public? Such judgments cry out for more detail, to help explain the peculiar insights that Gubbins was able to impart, but that is not Dodds-Parker’s forte.

I have three biographical books on Gubbins on one of my tables (the shelves in my library having been filled long ago.) In chronological order they are Gubbins & SOE by Peter Wilkinson and Joan Astley (1993), an American volume, Rediscovering Irregular Warfare: Colin Gubbins and the Origins of Britain’s Special Operations Executive (2016) by A. D. B. Linderman, and SOE’s Mastermind by Brian Lett (2016). Unfortunately none of them performs a thorough job of analyzing Gubbins’ career and achievements, all authors being too much in awe of their subject.

‘Gubbins & SOE’ by Peter Wilkinson & Joan Bright Astley

Peter Wilkinson was joined by Joan Bright Astley in putting the biography together. She was a woman with whom I was not familiar, but I have learned that she was a personal assistant to Hastings Ismay, Churchill’s staff adviser, and also arranged something called the Secret Information Centre, which was apparently a necessary repository of intelligence for senior officers. She was another Gubbins enthusiast (like Ismay), and rather romantically was recorded as saying: “He had just enough of the buccaneer in him to make lesser men underrate his gifts of leadership, courage and integrity . . .  He was a man-at-arms, a campaigner, the fires banked up inside him as glowing as those round which his Celtic ancestors had gathered between forays from glen and brae.” Utter tosh, of course.

In the Acknowledgements, the authors explain disarmingly, and somewhat alarmingly, that their book ‘has no academic pretensions’, and any claims to scholarship are instantly undermined when they write, after paying homage to Michael Foot and David Stafford: “Special thanks are also owed to Christopher Woods, until recently the Foreign Office Adviser on SOE. At the time of writing the authors had no access to SOE’s secret papers; and it was only thanks to Mr Woods’ tireless research that it proved possible to recreate events which happened half a century ago.” Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. We all know now what those tireless endeavours by Foreign Office advisers tended to come up with.

Thus an eminently readable, but obviously sanitized, account of Gubbins’s career has been put together. You will find no entry for ‘Dericourt’ or ‘Suttill’ in the Index (although the ‘PROSPER’ circuit receives two brief mentions), since discussions of those two individuals would inevitably detract from the positive aura the authors wish to promote. Inevitably, the events of 1942 and 1943 are represented in much of a muddle, with erroneous dates, and dubious claims made. Gubbins is presented, at the time Mockler-Ferryman (‘still relatively inexperienced in clandestine techniques’) was introduced to set up ‘a new directorate responsible for operations in Western Europe, and for liaison with COSSAC’, as not having confidence in the professionalism of some of the individual country officers.

The fact that many circuits were believed to have been penetrated by the Germans, required, according to the authors, ‘Gubbins’ personal attention and decision’. But what the Chief of SOE Operations did about it is not stated: the record suggests he either did nothing, or was complicit in woeful mismanagement. Leo Marks recounted how Gubbins, on learning about the dire problems in the Netherlands, promised an investigation, but then stalled, and demanded that Marks say nothing to other country section heads, with the result that the Prosper disaster followed. Marks was horrified, and believed that Gubbins engaged in the cover-up since he was terrified of Dansey and MI6 learning about the security breaches and German penetration.

Moreover, the record is shockingly erratic. I pointed out earlier that Wilkinson contradicted himself across his writings. Here, he writes: “It was no secret in Baker Street that the British planners had tacitly accepted as long ago as October, 1942, that there was no prospect of undertaking a major cross-Channel invasion in 1943. Consequently SOE’s French sections were counting on at least twelve months in which to lay their plans.” Yet in his personal memoir, which appeared just four years later, he wrote: “In the autumn of 1942, our plans were based on the assumption that an invasion of the Continent would take place in the summer of 1943 and would trigger a wave of spontaneous insurgency in occupied Europe.” That is presumably what is meant by ‘lack of academic pretensions’. At this stage, the careful reader might opt to give up on the work as a serious study, and classify it as an item of Foreign Office propaganda.

Since these examples are typical of the lack of scholarship applied, it is difficult to know which are the true assessments of the authors, and what is the spin imparted by the SOE Adviser. Several muddled judgments are made, in a background of erratic chronology, and the passive voice is used too frequently. Critical paragraphs (such as on the SOE mission to Moscow) are presented with questionable logic, but without any sources given. Thus the appointment of Captain Richard Truskowski to the 1941 SOE mission is explained as reflecting Gubbins’ hope that the Soviets would allow RAF flights to Poland to refuel on Soviet territory before returning, but why Gubbins’ opinions in this matter were dominant, or in what way anyone felt the reactionary Truskowski might help the cause by his presence in Moscow, is left unexamined. It is all very unsatisfactory.

Yet what is noteworthy is that a more sceptical undercurrent, expressing some doubts about SOE’s overall mission, and Gubbins’ ability to execute it, can be detected in the text. Thus we learn that: Gubbins’ decision to move to SOE was surprising because he had little confidence in sabotage and subversion (p 76); his arrival (as a regular soldier) was regarded with disdain by the country heads (p 78); Dalton’s belief that Occupied Europe was ‘smouldering with resistance’ was false, as most people wanted to be left in peace (p 79); Gubbins aggressively promoted the use of patriot armies at a time that was premature (p 100); Gubbins was ignorant of the problems with agents in the Netherlands in early 1942, and even expressed his satisfaction with affairs (p 105); Gubbins’ sense that his organization in France was unprepared for invasion in 1942 led him to approve several ill-considered operations (p 109); the assassination of Darlan was severely mismanaged, and Gubbins had to spend too much time on the clean-up (p 118); Gubbins deemed German penetration of his networks in 1943 ‘ an acceptable risk’, but such situations required his personal involvement and decisions (without any declaration of what they were) (p 123); Gubbins found the guerrilla adventures in the Balkans more interesting than the clandestine activities in North-west Europe for which he was directly responsible, with the implicit neglect of the latter (p 133); when challenged over the Netherlands fiasco, Gubbins did not become directly involved, but sent Sporborg to sort it out (p 154); Gubbins was lax in communicating the decisions of the Chiefs of Staff to his country heads (p 203); and Gubbins spent a disproportionate amount of time on Polish and Czech affairs (p 226).

Whichever way you look at it, this was not a stellar performance.

If a reader expected at the close of the book a balanced assessment of Gubbins’ overall contribution, however, he or she would be disappointed. The authors describe how, when SOE was disbanded and handed over to MI6, Gubbins prepared a paper that tabulated SOE’s string of successes – not just in sabotage, but also in political operations, which was a dubious claim to make – and outlined a completely unrealistic set of proposals for maintaining a dormant SOE organization ‘ready to spring into action on the outbreak of the third world war’, an event that Gubbins clearly expected. Predictably enough, the new Labour government, and a more cool-headed Sir Alexander Cadogan, quickly dampened any such plans, and Gubbins was forced to retire. What final assessment of Gubbins’ contribution that was prepared had to wait for his eulogy in 1976, when Wilkinson addressed the gathering at St. Martin-in-the-Fields as follows:

. . . Of the decisive importance of Colin Gubbins’ personal contribution to the allied victory, there can be no question. His name is honoured officially in many lands. For in the dark hours it was his duty to fan the spark and keep alive the flame of freedom. It was his exertions that gave hope to thousands of patriots in occupied countries all over the world. These men and women are unlikely to forget him.

This was arguably a suitably positive encomium at his death, but surely over-the-top. Almost all those ‘patriots’ seeking freedom could never have known his name, and not all had undivided admiration for what SOE had done. A more balanced accounting was certainly called for.

‘Rediscovering Irregular Warfare’ by A. R. B. Linderman

A. D. B. Linderman’s Rediscovering Irregular Warfare: Colin Gubbins and the Origins of Britain’s Special Operations Executive is not that book. Based on his doctoral thesis at Texas A & M University, and published in 2016, Linderman’s work provides a useful integration of the history of guerrilla activity in the twentieth century, but greatly overstates Gubbins’ contribution to its theory and practice, and fails to address the multiple contradictions and paradoxes in his prosecution of subversive activities. The thesis was originally titled ‘Reclaiming the ungentlemanly arts: the global origins of SOE and OSS’, but either the author or his editors must have concluded that a tighter focus on Gubbins, and the personalization of the story, were more appropriate.

And, indeed, the credits do redound heavily on Gubbins. I was not encouraged when, after reading Linderman’s list of academics who had given him expert advice (are drafts of doctoral theses really passed around to members of other universities before being reviewed by the candidate’s committee?), I read that ‘this work relies heavily on the pioneering research of M. R. D. Foot and the impressive work of Peter Wilkinson and Joan Bright Astley’. This was a surprising admission, given the very exhaustive primary and secondary sources that the author lists in his Bibliography. His overall thesis is that Gubbins deployed his considerable experience in Russia (during the Revolution), in India, and in Ireland to develop a solid blueprint for how guerrilla warfare should be undertaken.

One might ask how relevant these experiences were. Foot wrote that Gubbins’ service ‘on the losing side’ in the Anglo-Irish war of 1919-21, as well as his few months’ time in Russia in 1919 caused him to be ‘impressed by the weakness of formed bodies of troops faced by a hostile population that was stiffened by a few resolute gunmen, and determined to exploit these impressions against the next enemy’. But leading an alien and probably weakly motivated expeditionary force to support the Whites against fierce Communist forces in a civil war in the expanses of northern Russia can hardly be compared with being part of a brigade trying to maintain order in a tight colonial territory, and being attacked by civilians, as was the case in County Kildare. Moreover, when it set its mind to it, the Wehrmacht, as ‘formed bodies of troops’ was occasionally able to wreak horrible destruction on a hostile population stiffened by many resolute gunmen in central France in 1944.

Yet SOE rarely engaged in managing guerrilla warfare –  or when it did, it executed it disastrously, as in the ploy to encourage uprisings in France in 1943. The main role for SOE was sabotage, an activity in which Gubbins was clearly not so interested as he was in the possibility of patriot armies supporting regular troops, which phenomenon did not become realizable until the Normandy assaults in June 1944. Moreover, other sources indicate that much of the guerrilla army playbook was derived from practitioners with experience in the Spanish Civil War, where Gubbins was not a witness. Linderman highlights Gubbins’ creation, in response to a call by J.C. F. Holland of MI(R) in May of 1939, of two short pamphlets titled ‘The Art of Guerrilla Warfare’ and the ‘Partisan Leader’s Handbook’. Linderman makes the elevated claim that these two brief items are ‘the essential links in the intellectual history of SOE’s doctrine’.

Yet he goes on to write:

For unknown reasons, Gubbins’ works are general guides and not country-specific; as a result, they are some of the broadest doctrinal statements of the war, focused not on a particular aspect or location but irregular warfare writ large.

This is, to me, a fairly withering criticism. I recall Wilkinson’s statement that Gubbins’ lectures were ‘superficial’. And the failure to create country-specific policies for sabotage and guerrilla action was probably the biggest failing of SOE, since the characteristics of each territory under the Nazis (area, terrain, distance from the UK, accommodation with the Nazis, strength of communist groups, temperament of the populace, stance of government-in-exile, etc. etc.) demanded a highly-tailored approach. The struggles with defining such would have made a far more provocative and interesting thesis, since the country heads resisted interference from their superiors, but were not necessarily adept in forging the appropriate policies. Those ‘unknown reasons’ would have been a suitable case for treatment.

Bickham Sweet-Escott

In his 1965 memoir, Baker Street Irregular, Bickham Sweet-Escott (who held a variety of jobs with SOE) pointed directly at this dilemma. “Colin Gubbins’s appointment to us was primarily to take over liaison with the secret armies which the Poles and Czechs had been preparing . . .”, he wrote, indicating that SOE’s long-term objective had to be ‘to assist or create in western Europe – in France, Belgium, Holland and Norway, and if possible elsewhere – organizations similar to the secret armies which we believed [my italics] to exist in Poland and Czechoslovakia’. So maybe these secret armies did not exist, and Poland and Czechoslovakia were out of reach by the allotted aircraft, anyway. Thus, like the drunkard looking for his keys under the lamppost, SOE switched attention to France and the Low Countries, because they were accessible, and convinced themselves of the policy that, given that the allied forces would not be returning to the continent soon, such secret armies could in the meantime ‘be used to sabotage the war effort and thereby to improve the morale of the local population’. But this was in early 1941 – over three years to hold out until D-Day.

(Incidentally, Sweet-Escott also held Gubbins’ leadership in high regard, writing:

             . . . he was man of immense energy and vitality with a quick wit, and an imagination and grasp of principle are in a professional soldier. He enjoyed life to the full; he never forgot a face or a name, and he had a gift for inspiring confidence in those working under him. He was in fact a born leader of men.

That suggest that he also came under Gubbins’ spell, and was perhaps willing to overlook his boss’s failings. Ironically, Sweet-Escott discovered that his estimation of Gubbins had been stolen from his manuscript, word for word, by Hugh Dalton in his memoir The Fateful Years.)

Thus, in his quest to apotheosize, Linderman bypasses some of the more controversial aspects of Gubbins’ leadership. He skips over the events of France in 1943 completely: no mention of PROSPER and Dericourt appears in his work. Nor does he explore Gubbins’ extraordinary wooing of the NKVD, and the PICKAXE projects, where SOE helped land Communist agents in Allied countries. The objectives of these persons were to foment Communist takeovers after the war, an activity that would have shocked the relevant governments-in-exile. Fortunately the outcomes of these exploits were normally disastrous, but the operation displayed extraordinarily bad judgment by Gubbins, who was notoriously opposed to Communism, and (as I showed earlier), was earnestly preparing for World War III when SOE was disbanded.

Some quotations support the idea that Gubbins had not developed a subtle enough perspective on how subversive elements should be managed. From his SOE Handbook:

In every community will be found certain individuals so debased that for greed or gain they will sell even their own countrymen. Against this contingency close watch must be set, and wherever proof is obtained of such perfidy, the traitor must be killed without hesitation or delay. By such justifiably ruthless actions others who might be tempted to follow suit will be finally deterred.

And Linderman adds: “To further heighten such deterrence, Gubbins advised that the local population should be convinced that the enemy would soon be expelled, at which time support for the resistance would be rewarded, but collaboration with the occupiers ‘ruthlessly punished’.” It was easy for him to impose such lofty – or heartless – conditions on a subdued populace, but the local inhabitants had to deal with the threats of reprisals and torture, and the promises that ‘the enemy would soon be expelled’ turned out to be a tragic deception in France in 1943.

Gubbins had to amend his ideas, certainly over the topic of reprisals, which became an awkward reminder of Nazi terror. He had to revise his 1939 opinion that ‘guerilla warfare was something that a regular army has most to dread’. Linderman cites W. J. M. Mackenzie’s view that ‘General Gubbins’s recollection is that this [the question of reprisals] was deliberately omitted, as a point passed by in silence’. But it was then that he countered the paradox that bedevilled the supply to secret armies: if he recognized the dangers of reprisals and premature activity (as Linderman states) how could SOE keep up morale, and how exposed would its supply of arms become? Linderman refers to this historical tension, but does not crisply dispense with it.

Gubbins became SOE chief in September 1943, after political battles had caused Hambro’s resignation. The discovery of the disasters in France, and the clandestine use of SOE resources in deception through the TWIST Committee, may have forced the issue, although Gubbins managed to avoid most of the blame. In July 1943, Stewart Menzies had attempted to undermine SOE by sending a memo to the War Cabinet that claimed that SOE had no proper control of its affairs in France. As Robert Marshall wrote, in All The King’s Men:

On 1 August, a Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee pronounced that on the basis of Memo CX108 and despite Gubbins’ protestations, they were forced to the view that SOE had been less than frank in their reports about the situation in France. Moreover, because the JIC had been obliged to learn the truth from MI6, they felt doubly disappointed with SOE, who had a responsibility to keep them and the Chiefs of Staff informed.

Hambro took the rap, and Gubbins, probably because of his close relationship with Hastings Ismay, survived. SOE then came under greater military control, a symbiosis that Gubbins had endorsed all along. In Linderman’s words: “This left Gubbins, a man who had argued since his GS(R) days that irregular forces need to be closely coordinated with regular operations, the most senior SOE officer.” In Setting the Med Ablaze, Peter Dixon reinforces this opinion, stating that Gubbins’ early experiences with the Brandon mission in North Africa in early 1943 had convinced him that ‘irregular forces must be integrated into the regular chain of command’. But then why did Gubbins then increase the shipments of arms to French ‘irregulars’ so irresponsibly for the remainder of 1943? And when Gubbins replaced Hambro, he concluded that efforts had to be more closely co-ordinated with governments-in-exile, and shifted his attention to creating more of a paramilitary organization, but it was too late by then. It was all a rather reactive strategy. After all, relations with the Belgian government-in-exile had been so acrimonious that they were broken off in 1942.

‘SOE’s Mastermind’ by Brian Lett

The title of the last book on Gubbins that I review here, SOE’s Mastermind, does not suggest that it is going to act as any corrective. And, indeed, the book is another flattering account, promoted as ‘an authorized biography of Major General Sir Colin Gubbins, KCMG, DSO, MC’, intimating that the Gubbins family was involved. Major Gordon Lett, the father of the author, Brian Lett, served in SOE, and the younger Lett approached Gubbins’ grandson, Michael, with the concern that he might be competing over a new biography. The result was that Michael happily abandoned his own plans, and co-operated with ‘an experienced author’. SOE’s Mastermind thus presents a lot of fresh information about Gubbin’s personal life, but has little new to say about his career in SOE.

The book is divided into two parts. The first section describes, in twelve chapters, Gubbins’ life and experiences before he joined SOE. As Lett puts it: “The author has endeavoured in Part 1 of this book to detail the qualities and experiences that equipped him so well for the role. Part 2 sets out to give the reader some idea of the organization that Gubbins commanded, and the contribution that he made to its success.” Lett presents some fascinating accounts of Gubbins’ military career, especially as it related to dealing with guerrilla warfare. It is pertinent that his three main exposures were on the counter-insurgency side, in Russia in 1918, against the Bolsheviks, in Ireland in 1920-1921, against the IRA, and in India, from 1923 to 1930, against the Indian Congress Party. His lessons for guerrillas were all developed from the side of suppressing them.

Each period in Gubbins’ military career is thus presented however as a positive influence, and ideas are attributed to him even though the evidence of his contribution as a ‘mastermind’ is scanty, with some lip-service made to the fact that not all these ideas were appropriate. You could not support guerrilla armies where there was no place for them to hide, for instance (such as in the Netherlands). Lett echoes the point made by others that Gubbins was not sensitive enough to the danger of reprisals when he set out how secret armies should behave under occupation.

The Wedding of John Tiltman & Tempe Monica Robinson, Simla, April 7, 1927 (Photo reproduced with the kind permission of John Tiltman’s family)

Lett also adds some useful anecdotes about Gubbins’ personality and character in his pre-WWII years. In India, he joined the Freemasons (a membership he tried to play down in conversations with M. R. D. Foot). He also developed some important relationships, one of which is overlooked by Lett. (I insert it here for the historical record.) Gubbins acted as best man at the wedding of his friend John Tiltman, the future famous cryptologist at the Government Code and Cypher School, in Simla on April 7, 1927. Brian Lett describes the two years that Gubbins spent at Simla decrypting Soviet signals, but does not refer to the close friendship he had with the very significant Tiltman. (As I noted this fact, I recalled that Bernard Montgomery had acted as best man at the wedding of St. John Philby, in Rawalpindi in September 1910. There must be other similar connections to follow up, I am sure.)

The second Part of the book constitutes mostly a series of descriptions of the most famous of SOE’s exploits, interspersed with too much of what Gubbins himself said about them, such as his delivery of a lecture to the Cambridge University Officers Training Corps in October 1962, where he oversimplified the process of building up ‘secret armies’. There is little crucial exploration of the precise contribution that Gubbins made to the success of the major projects that Lett describes at some length, such as Operation Anthropoid (the plot to kill Heydrich) and Operation Gunnerside (the plan to destroy the Germans’ heavy-water supply in Norway). These exploits have been well-described elsewhere, and Lett’s analysis brings nothing new to the table. He even presents the burden of the horrors of the reprisals that took place in Czechoslovakia as somehow enhancing Gubbins’ status, since he was strong enough to be able to ‘stand back and appreciate the whole picture’. That could be said to be an opinion that stepped just over the borderline of good taste. Lett repeats this sentiment when he concludes his analysis of the twenty-six civilian losses in Norway resulting from the sinking of the ferry carrying the heavy water.

In this scenario, there are no real failures, and, like Linderman, Lett completely ignores the Nordpol fiasco in the Netherlands, and the betrayal of the Prosper network in France. (This is a recurring oversight: the compilation edited by Mark Seaman, Special Operations Executive: a new instrument of war, published in 2006, completely ignores the operations in France, and Gubbins receives little attention overall.) SOE is represented as playing a crucial part in the victory in Italy (where Lett’s father is featured strongly as part of Mission Blundell Violet), while the more problematic episodes involving Peter Wilkinson and Alfgar Hesketh-Prichard with the partisans in Croatia and Slovenia (as described above) receive no treatment at all. The book winds down abruptly without any summarization or assessment of what justifies Gubbins’ sobriquet of ‘mastermind’, or a serious evaluation of how SOE had contributed to the Allies’ victory, the author transferring quickly into the subject’s retirement years. It all consists of a very shallow and disappointing work.

Lynne Olson has described how Gubbins in 1949 gave evidence to a commission that was investigating the Nordpol disaster, and how he dishonestly claimed that SOE in London bore no responsibility for the Abwehr’s ability to round up agents and send controlled messages back to England to encourage further personnel to be despatched. Even M. R. D. Foot admits the incompetence, the truth of which was reinforced by such as Leo Marks. Other witnesses, such as William Stephenson (to Anthony Cave-Brown), and Sporborg (to Robert Marshall) attest that Gubbins believed that his networks had been betrayed by Dansey. Yet that was a disingenuous claim by the SOE chief: all evidence suggests that Gubbins must have been aware of the whole Déricourt fiasco, and went along with the plan. The fact that he was out of the country (in Algeria) for some of the critical time in early 1943 is no excuse.

The inevitable conclusion from reading these books could be that SOE had an impossible role, and that Gubbins was under enormous political pressure to deliver. Some critics, such as John Keegan and Douglas Porch, have underlined its several disasters. Others have claimed that, for the expense and loss of life, SOE was a much more profitable undertaking than was Harris’s Bomber Command, with its deluge of raids on Germany that so frequently missed their targets, while consuming so much energy, fuel, and lives. Gubbins’ role in the execution of SOE’s mission demands a very careful analysis that has not yet been engaged upon, so far as I can judge. The thorough documentation of those daring raids needs to be complemented by critical accounts of the less reputable exploits that ended in failure.

Gubbins was probably more complex than his biographers have described him. Like many military men, he concealed his emotions. He was crushed by the death of his son in Italy in 1944, and it brought home to him how every death in war represents an almost unbearable local tragedy. Yet he could be quite ruthless: he once said, when asked about the possibly unnecessary deaths of SOE officers in Europe that they had known when they signed up what the risks were. In A Life in Secrets, Sarah Helm quotes his statement about probable losses in France:

            Strategically France is by far the most important country in the Western Theatre of War. I think therefore that SOE should regard this theatre as one in which the suffering of heavy casualties is inevitable.  But it will yield the highest possible dividends. I would therefore increase to the maximum  . . . SOE aid to the French field from now on and maintain it until D-Day.

The possibility of arrest and execution was one thing, however: the conscious betrayal by the placement of a traitor and the dissemination of false promises about an imminent invasion, which must be held at Gubbins’ door, were a completely different phenomenon. That he commanded great loyalty is true, but he could be harsh and demeaning to those who challenged him, as Leo Marks testified in Between Silk and Cyanide.  The Free French politician Emmanuel d’Astier de la Vigerie dubbed Gubbins ‘the mysterious manipulator of the initials SOE’. Patrick Howarth thought that, in a world dominated by rank, Gubbins (like Selborne and Hambro) lacked the deviousness required to achieve political goals. That straight-shooting lack of deviousness may have contributed to his blindness over the hazards of treachery and double-dealing.

M. R. D. Foot offered a flowery and unsubstantiated appraisal of Gubbins in SOE in France:

His influence soon percolated all round the SOE pyramid, affecting colleagues, staff subordinates, and agents alike. Through the months of worst disaster, through the fog of battle, through all the complexities of a large, confused, impromptu organization, he pursued steadily the course that he and Holland had dreamed of long ago in Dublin, and had worked out months before the war. He combined a Scottish highlander’s insight [eh?] with a regular officer’s tenacity, a keen brain, and much diplomatic and intelligent experience, and before SOE was two years old an incomparably well placed observer described him as a linchpin.

The reputation of SOE and Gubbins was also bolstered by General Eisenhower, who in his memoirs issued a generous appraisal of SOE’s contribution to winning the war that has been frequently quoted by the SOE champions. Yet one has to consider the overall track-record, not just the guerrilla activity that SOE arranged after the Normandy landings. SOE worried the Norwegians, upset the Belgians, betrayed the Dutch, sacrificed the French, mortified the Czechs, misled the Poles, was abused by the Soviets, and fooled by the Germans. SOE in Baker Street lost control of Yugoslavia to Cairo: Nigel West writes that far more Yugoslavs were killed with SOE weaponry than German or Italian troops. Thousands of innocent lives were overall lost. Was the human sacrifice worth the few spectacular sabotage successes?

Gubbins’ career at SOE should better be analyzed as a case-study in leadership and management. For his direct and second-level reports, he had to recruit overall trustworthy figures who were all novices at the game, while some even lacked the motivation. The selection of Buckmaster was a case in point: mustard keen, but incompetent, and hopelessly out of his depth. In that environment, according to Situational Leadership principles, careful close-handling and coaching was necessary to guide the country section leaders in strategy and operations. There is no evidence that Gubbins gave them that advice and direction: he let the ‘chaps’ get on with it, sometimes with disastrous results. He frequently delegated (e.g. to Sporborg, over the Netherlands) when he should have become directly involved. Even Wilkinson describes the events of November 1943 as ‘a major crisis which might have been thought to demand Gubbins’ instant return’.

Much more attention was paid to the training of the agents themselves, what with all the detailed classroom studies on good tradecraft, and the physical tests in the highlands of Scotland, such as at Arisaig. That is where the important lessons of security and isolation, and discipline and mental and physical toughness, were instilled. Agents should have been well-prepared for the ardours of the field, but, again, many mistakes in selection and deployment were made, such as the approval of the unsuitable Noor Inayat Khan as a wireless operator, the unauthorized contacts among cells, and the calamitous failure to acknowledge security checks in agents’ messages.

But were the lessons themselves reasonable? Gubbins’ ideas were perhaps a bit too inflexible, and sometimes out of touch, while those that were important were frequently neglected. In his pamphlet, he had insisted that traitors be executed immediately, but when Mathilde Carré (la Chatte) was arrested and then became the mistress of Abwehr Officer Bleicher, Pierre de Vomécourt, instead of killing her, tried to manipulate her as a ‘triple agent’ [erroneous term], with disastrous consequences. Gubbins had surely not anticipated that his first traitor would be a woman. Gubbins had also preached that no paper records should be carried by agents, and contacts’ names and addresses committed to memory, but that was either too much of a hurdle for many operatives, or else they merely got careless. Wireless operators stayed on-line for far too long, thus exposing themselves to radio detection-finding: the pressure of communicating volumes was too great. The insertion of agents into hostile territory, where identity and ration cards were essential for surviving was very different from the subsistence of communist partisans in their homeland, as Gubbins had witnessed in Russia.

Thus the elevation of Gubbins’ frequently half-baked ideas and occasionally disastrous supervision of events to a level of innovative heroism, no matter how inspiring a leader of men he was, represents a missed opportunity in the writing of history and biography. Gubbins was brave, inspiring, imaginative and energetic. Yet he was also two-dimensional, ruthless, evasive and sometimes irresponsible – a military man out of his depth in the complexities of subversion and dissimulation. This piece is a study of the existing literature, and does not claim to be an original analysis of all the material. A fresh approach would undoubtedly be highly desirable. I am not looking for a hatchet-job, like Richard Aldington’s biography of T. E. Lawrence, or even the ‘harsh, aggressive and uncompromising’ terms (the author’s words) of Andrew Roberts’ Eminent Churchillians. Maybe more along the lines of Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s recent study of Winston Churchill, Churchill’s Shadow, something uncluttered by Foreign Office advisers, or self-appointed champions of SOE. Our war heroes are allowed to have flaws, and to have made serious mistakes.

(This month’s Commonplace entries can be seen here.)

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Filed under Espionage/Intelligence, General History, Management/Leadership, Personal, Politics

The Strange Life of George Graham

Nadine Nikolaeva-Legat, George Graham’s Aunt

Before I present this month’s main course, on George Graham, I want to comment on a few other items:

When I published the 2021 Year-end Round-up last month, I was either tempting fate, or articulating a very sensible long-term strategy. Three days afterwards, on January 3, I suffered a heart attack, was rushed to hospital (after which I lay in a corridor for four hours), and the next day was moved to another hospital where I had a stent inserted in the artery that had undergone the big blockage. I was discharged on January 5, at mid-day, but was back in the Emergency Room at 1:30 the next morning, suffering from fever, wheezing, and chronic shortage of breath. I imagined such symptoms might be what serious COVID patients experienced, but I was fully vaccinated, and had had a negative test the day before. It turned out that I had pulmonary edema, a build-up of fluid in the lungs, caused by the somewhat erratic behaviour of the heart trying to re-adjust the system after the assault. Oxygen pumps and powerful diuretics soon stabilized me. I was discharged four days later.

In order to explain my lethargy in concurrent email exchanges, I have described the events to those of my communicants with whom I was in active contact at the time, but thought that I should post a notice here, even if it will be Too Much Information for many, and there is nothing more boring than an Old Fogey rabbiting on about his medical problems. I expect this event will mean some operational changes (although I have been very attentive to diet in the past few years). My heart is, fortunately, overall in good health – and has always been in the right place, of course – and I do not believe the pace of my research activities will have to be slowed down at all. Indeed, I should have more time available for cerebral pursuits since such activities as tree-felling, bush-hogging and yard work will clearly be proscribed by the doctor. No more for me the Reaganite removal of brush and repairing of boundary fences on the ranch. I most cordially thank all of you who have passed on your messages of goodwill.

With a new regimen of medicines to be taken, I told my wife that I felt like one of those old persons who cannot read the small print on the vials, and have to have instructions laid out to be sure of taking the correct purple oblong pill after breakfast. I now realize that I am officially one of those persons.

When I was discharged, I was earnestly encouraged to sign up for a Cardio Rehab course in a week or two, to handle with my fellow-sufferers such items as appropriate exercise and strategies for handling stress. I am very wary of such collegial activities: you will not see me standing in a pool with other rehabilitants, waving my hands in the air. I know best, because of the scar tissue from multiple back surgeries, and resultant neuropathy, what exercise I must avoid in order not to irritate further the heel (where the stabbing occurs). Moreover, several sessions on stress avoidance will be offered. Yet there has been no stress in my life in recent years (apart from the tribulations of dealing with local service contractors of any kind, and reading laudatory reviews of Agent Sonya), and nothing would be more stressful to me than having to listen to a lecture on ‘Mindfulness’ when I could be spending my time more fruitfully among the archives.

Thus it was with some chagrin that, when I picked up my copy of the January 6 issue of London Review of Books on my return home, I found a review of Ben Macintyre’s Agent Sonya by someone called Malcom Gaskill, described as an ‘emeritus professor at UEA’. His webpage at the University of East Anglia records the following as his ‘Areas of Expertise’: “Social and cultural history of Britain and America 1550-1750; history of crime, witchcraft, magic and spiritualism.” So one might naturally wonder why he was selected to review the book, so late in the day, unless he had some alarming new theory about Sonya’s dabbling in the black arts, or the story of her reincarnation. I accordingly wrote a letter to the Editor, as follows:

            I was both astonished and dismayed by Malcolm Gaskill’s review of Ben Macintyre’s ‘Agent Sonya’ in the LRB (January 6). Astonished, since, while your description informs us that the book was published in September 2021, it was actually issued a year beforehand. It is difficult for me to imagine how you judged that a review after all that time was justified. Dismayed, since Gaskill, while producing a very competent and readable synopsis of Macintyre’s work, appears to bring no external knowledge or expertise to his analysis, and has been taken in by many of Macintyre’s fictions in the same way that Macintyre was hoodwinked by Ursula Kuczynski’s GRU-driven memoir, and his conversations with her offspring.

I have a special interest in a corrective to the mostly laudatory reviews of the book, and my review of it appeared in the on-line version of The Journal of Intelligence and National Security as far back as December 2020, under the title of ‘Courier, Traitor, Bigamist, Fabulist: Behind the Mythology of a Superspy’. (Please see: http://www.coldspur.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Courier-traitor-bigamist-fabulist-behind-the-mythology-of-a-superspy.pdf ) I have received multiple congratulatory messages on this piece, thanking me for setting the record straight, and for pointing out Macintyre’s errors and flights of fancy. I am surprised that Professor Gaskill did not come across it in his researches or, if he did, why he ignored its conclusions.

Professor Gaskill touches lightly on the major enigma of Sonya when he writes: “A puzzle emerges from Macintyre’s telling of Kuczynski’s life: how did she not get caught?” Yet a predecessor question, just as important, would be: “Why did MI6 facilitate a bigamous marriage for Sonya, a known Communist subversive, in Switzerland, and then facilitate her passage to the United Kingdom at a time when the Soviet Union was in a pact with Nazi Germany, and providing materiel to support the German war effort against Great Britain?” I would refer your readers to my observations, and the sources listed in my review, so that they may learn about the machinations of Claude Dansey and other MI6 officers, abetted by their counterparts in MI5, to deceive lower-level counter-espionage officers in MI5, such as Milicent Bagot, and deter them from doing their job.

I would be the first to praise Ben Macintyre’s superb story-telling expertise, but would challenge his boasts of commitment to factual history-telling (as expressed in conversations with John le Carré before the latter’s death). The bare bones of Sonya’s life and career are no doubt true, but Macintyre has greatly exaggerated her role as a ‘spy’, misrepresented her ability to escape detection, and studiously ignored the evidence of collusion by British Intelligence over her survival. Bland and uninformed reviews by such as Professor Gaskill sadly reinforce the mythology instead of taking a critical eye to one of the most astounding mis-steps by British Intelligence in World War II.

To my letter I attached a postscript – not intended for publication, which ran as follows:

I attach a highly relevant letter that I sent to Mary-Kay Wilmers a few months before Macintyre’s book was published. I never received any acknowledgment or reply. The London Review of Books could have accomplished a scoop of considerable proportions.

And here is the text of this earlier letter, sent on April 9, 2020:

Dear Ms. Wilmers,

I should like you to consider an article for publication. I am approaching you, exclusively, since I believe that you may have a personal interest in the story, that the LRB is the best vehicle for getting a piece like this out quickly, and that it would be of compelling interest to your readers.

In essence, it a scoop about a woman who has been called the ‘greatest woman spy in the twentieth century’, Ursula Hamburger/Beurton, née Kuczynski, aka ‘Sonia’ (or ‘Sonya’). Ben MacIntyre will be publishing his book on her in September of this year. MacIntyre claims access to privileged sources in Russia, Germany and the UK, but I strongly doubt whether he has investigated her life with the depth that I have.

I gained my doctorate in Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham in 2015, and my book based on it, Misdefending the Realm, was published in 2017. Since then, I have been delivering further research on Sonia on my personal website, www.coldspur.com.

My main claim is that SIS (MI6) tried, with the connivance of MI5’s senior management, to manipulate Sonia in World War II. It facilitated her marriage to Len Beurton in Switzerland in 1940, an event that allowed her to gain a British passport, and then contributed to her safe passage to Britain. This was presumably an attempt to get Sonia to lead them to her networks, to pass disinformation through her, and to gain access to Soviet codes and ciphers. When Len Beurton, who was a communist and had fought with the International Brigades in Spain, was also aided in getting to Britain through a faked passport in the summer of 1942, MI5’s anticommunist section woke up, but was essentially stifled.

Yet the exercise went horribly wrong when Sonia managed to act as courier for Klaus Fuchs and Melita Norwood, right under the noses of SIS and MI5, while her husband, Len, transmitted clandestinely on her behalf. The intelligence services have never been able to admit their mistake.

What makes this story especially newsworthy is the analysis of an overlooked document in the Kuczysnki/Beurton files at Kew. It is a letter from Victor Farrell, the Passport Control Officer in Geneva, to Len Beurton, written as if from a private address. It offers incontrovertible proof that, early in 1943, SIS in Switzerland tried to encourage the communist Len Beurton to communicate with them by wireless, betraying that they had some kind of agreement with him. Beurton would inevitably have passed that information on to his wife, Sonia. Thus she would have known for certain that SIS and MI5 were surveilling her.

I attach the version of the story that I have been preparing for my website. As you will see, it is a work in process, and continually evolving. It assumes readers will be familiar with my earlier research, and I look to them to provide information and tips. I know the piece would require some fundamental rework for publication as an LRB article, to set the context properly, remove detailed comments, and provide a more definitive conclusion. I can do that quickly. The main story is very solid.

I do ask you to read at least the introductory few paragraphs, and the latter sections headlined ‘Analysis’ and ‘Conclusions’. Please let me know if this sparks your interest in publishing a revision of the piece. And, if you decide that it is not suitable, I shall simply proceed with posting it on my own website.

If you need to have a second opinion, my doctoral supervisor, Emeritus Professor Anthony Glees, is very supportive of my research and findings, and has agreed to act as a reference. He can be contacted at xxxxxx@xxxxxx.

Thank you for reading this far.

The very next day, I received an email from the Editor, saying that they were considering my letter for publication (as well they should have). Yet it did not appear in the issue of January 27. Maybe there is a natural delay. Maybe Mary-Kay Wilmers (who retired last year, but is still around as ‘consultant editor’) would prefer the story to be buried. I shall keep an eye out for the next issue. If nothing appears, it is not exactly censorship, but it is irresponsible. The guardians of officialdom (Ben Macintyre at the Times, Mark Seaman and Nigel Perrin at the Times Literary Supplement, and Mary-Kay Wilmers at London Review of Books) keep the contrarians at bay. I am not saying that they are acting conspiratorially, of course. It just looks like it.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

And now to this month’s main story:

The Strange Life of George Graham

1. Introduction

2. Leontievs in exile

3. Alexander Shidlovsky

4. Paul Dukes

5. Nadine Nikolaeva-Legat

6. Dukes in the 1930s

7. WWII – Dealing with the NKVD

8. George Graham – marriage and SOE

9. Post-War Tragedy

10. Summing-Up

*

  1. Introduction:

For someone of my generation, the name ‘George Graham’ summons up the rather lugubrious figure of the Arsenal football player, and later manager, perhaps accompanied by grainy video of Chelsea’s Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris taking down Graham’s team-mate Charlie George on the edge of the penalty-box. ‘George Graham’ is a decidedly Scottish appellation, neither common nor rare, and has a pleasing solidity to it.  At some time, however, this same moniker was chosen to signal the new identity of one Serge Leontiev, a Russian émigré who was recruited for a dangerous mission with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Moscow in 1941. This report outlines what I have so far been able to discover about his life, and explores how a callow and inexperienced young man was carelessly plunged into the cauldron of espionage on Stalin’s home turf.

I reproduce first the brief snippet from Guy Liddell’s Diaries that brought my attention to him. The entry occurs soon after the defection of the Soviet cipher-clerk Igor Gouzenko in Canada in September 1945. After receiving hints about a possible spy named ELLI, Liddell started to investigate possible security leakages in the Moscow SOE station, led by George Hill. He had a meeting with Alexander Boyle, the chief security office for SOE (the wartime sabotage unit which would shortly be disbanded and absorbed into MI6). The date is November 16, 1945, and the text runs as follows:

            I went to see Archie Boyle about the ELLI case and discussed with him at length SOE’s set-up in Russia. He again expressed to me confidentially his grave suspicions about George Hill, and also about one George Graham whose real name is Serge LEONTIEFF, a White Russian. The two are very closely tied and one always backs up the other.

I have written before about the highly dubious decision to employ a tsarist émigré for intelligence work in the Soviet Union (a phenomenon that does not appear to have fazed Liddell) and shall recapitulate it later in this bulletin. My primary objective in this report is to tread back to Mr. Leontiev’s early years (the transcription of his name that I shall primarily use, even though many of the documents favour the alternative spelling) to his arrival in the United Kingdom, and to his exposure to new influences. All information given here (unless I indicate otherwise) has been derived from records publicly available in the United Kingdom.

2. Leontievs in exile:

The Peterhof Palace

Serge was born on August 18, 1910, in Peterhof, the palace in St. Petersburg built by Peter the Great, modelled on Versailles, thus implying fairly grand connections. His father was Alexander Ivanovitch Leontiev, described as a musician: his mother Olga Leontiev, née Briger, was born on January 2, 1892, the daughter of Alexander Briger, a Lieutenant-General in the Russian Navy. (In a Gilbertian touch, Olga’s sister wrote that her father ‘was an officer in the Russian navy, but at no time that I remember was he actually at sea’.) Olga and Alexander Leontiev had been married on April 26, 1909, and escaped at some unspecified time during the turmoils of the Revolution.

Yet the marriage appeared to have broken down relatively early: Mrs. Leontiev had been living separately from her husband for several years when Serge made his request for UK naturalization on June 20, 1933. She divorced her husband on November 4, 1929, on account of ‘desertion’, and then married her second Alexander, surnamed Shidlovsky (described as a bank-clerk), on November 23 of that year. In his naturalization request, Serge gave his address as 31 Longridge Road, Earl’s Court, in London: his father lived nearby, in 46 Colet Gardens, London W.14. He had a brother, Dimitri, younger than him, born on May 2, 1915, who lived at 3 Ridge Close, Hendon, London NW 14, and who died on November 27, 1938, aged 23. Olga’s address was given in the naturalization papers as 5 Ridge Close, next door. This will be seen later to be a slight error.

Dimitri, whose profession was given as ‘journalist’ on his death certificate, died at home of cancer of the bile-duct – which must surely have been rare in someone aged only 23. The informant, present at the death, was his father-in-law. Maybe his mother was too distraught, but his father’s continued absence from the scene is puzzling. His body was cremated (according to the cemetery records on March 3, 1938, which must be wrong) and his ashes reinterred at the Kent and Sussex Cemetery in Tunbridge Wells on March 17, 1977. Tunbridge Wells, the home of so many disenchanted letter-writers to the Daily Telegraph, will come to play an increasingly important role in this story.

Serge likewise had lived with his mother for most of the time he had been in England. After their escape from Russia the family had arrived –  according to Serge’s statement –  in Malta in the summer of 1918, where they spent nine months before moving on to Rome. After ten months there, they arrived in England on January 17, 1921. (The dates do not compute, however: nineteen months back from January 1921 would take them back to June 1919.) As a minor, Serge presumably did not need separate identification papers, but he was granted a certificate of identity T. C. 4761, issued by the Home Office on September 20, 1926, which was due to expire on August 30, 1933. Strangely, he could not produce a birth certificate, something one would imagine his mother would have maintained a close eye on: indeed, when his step-father was naturalized, on July 31, 1931, the record states that documentary proof of the births of both sons was seen.

Serge provided some rich details about his career in England. He attended St Paul’s School, in Baron’s Court, and Heath Mont School, in Hampstead until the age of 16, whereupon (so he claimed) he studied in France for a year (1926-1927?), and then was hired as a clerk with E. W. Tate and Company. After a few months, Serge left for a similar position with M.D. Aminoff, carpet merchants, where he worked for two years. What is provocative is his asserting in his 1933 naturalization application that he in 1930 took the name ‘George Graham’ for journalistic purposes, as he was publishing articles for The Skating Times. (He was also described as a ‘BBC artist’.) The minutes to his naturalization papers rather enigmatically state: “When he becomes a [subject?] he will be at liberty to use any name he pleases, and S. of S. [Secretary of State] does not propose to take any action regarding his past use of the name ‘George Graham’.” Why this might have been controversial is not made clear. Yet, around 1929, his life had been significantly changed by his relationship with a prominent intelligence officer, as I shall explain.

The pattern of Serge’s movements will be shown to have some special significance. When he listed in detail his periods of residency – in His Majesty’s dominions – in order to complete his naturalization request, he gave ‘Malta’ for the period April 1919 to January, 1920, and then skipped over the time in Rome to an address of 94 Kensington Park Road, where he had arrived on January 17, 1921, and stayed for five months. Thereafter he recorded a rather peripatetic existence (three months in Quainton, Bucks.; seven months back at Kensington Court; one year and eleven months at Northway, N.W. 11; five months in Kilburn; a month in Southend-on-Sea in August-September 1924 – which sounds like a holiday; three years at Gloucester Walk, W8; three years and nine months at 3 Ridge Close in Hendon; and finally one year and nine months at 46 Colet Gardens, the address he was living at when he made his submission, the home of the  Russian School of Ballet. (The last claim is a little puzzling: one sheet in his application states that his permanent address has changed to 31 Longridge Road, in Earl’s Court, while another indicates that he was ‘temporarily’ residing at 294 Earl’s Court Road.) He totalled that up as living in the United Kingdom for eleven years, seven months, with nine months spent in the dominions (Malta). The year in France seems to have been conveniently overlooked: elsewhere in his naturalization application, he described a two-month absence in France undertaken to recover from pneumonia.

Little appears to be recorded about Serge’s father, mainly because he never applied for naturalization. A newspaper report (in the Winnipeg Tribune) shows that ‘Alexander Leontieff, a former Colonel of the Imperial Guard, led the Old Moscow Balalaika Orchestra at a concert in London on May 30, 1931’. On Serge’s marriage certificate, he is described as ‘Colonel Retired’. And when he died at Middlesex Hospital, on August 28, 1957, his profession was given as ‘musician’. Serge was listed as the informant, with the given name of ‘George Graham’, and an annotation on the death certificate provocatively states: ‘Son’s name changed by War Office instructions’ – presumably referring to the occasion of his original new appellation rather than an interference in the procedures of the registrar, with George having to explain why, as a son, he carried a different surname. Thus the story about Serge’s already having assumed that name for his journalism appears to look rather suspect. Alexander Leontiev was buried in Hendon, and his gravestone is clearly marked.

3. Alexander Shidlovsky:

In fact the naturalization papers of Serge’s step-father, Alexander Shidlovsky, shed much more light on Serge’s background. Shidlovsky was born in Voronezh on June 25, 1896, was educated at the University of Petrograd [sic], and was a member of the Imperial Page Corps in that city. He had joined the Russian Army on June 1, 1915, serving as lieutenant until the end of 1917, when he was discharged due to ill-health. He then joined the White Russian volunteer army, and in April 1919 arrived at St. George’s Barracks, Malta, where he resided until September 1919. (Thus Serge’s arrival in Malta coincided exactly with that of Shidlovsky.) The record then indicates that Shidlovsky served in General Denikin’s Army in 1919-1920, and next obtained a position as an interpreter with the British Military Mission in South Russia, with which he was engaged for a month or so before the complete withdrawal of the expeditionary force. If the statements made by Olga and her second husband are true, there would not appear to be any overlap in their presences in Malta, but since Olga’s declaration about the Mediterranean movements does not hang together, one might conclude that there was an attempt to muddy the waters in this respect.

Moreover, Shidlovsky’s statement of residential addresses almost directly mimics those of Serge, detailed above. He arrived in the United Kingdom on March 27, 1921, and hied immediately to Kensington Park Road on that same day, where Olga and sons were presumably awaiting him, moved with them to Quainton, and then returned en quatre to Kensington Park Road. Shidlovsky then accompanied Olga and family to Northway, although he described the location as Hampstead Garden Suburb, not Hendon, and moved with them all to Brondesbury Villas in Kilburn, in March 1924. Likewise, he shared the holiday in Southend with Olga and her sons, and spent the following two years at Gloucester Walk. His statement breaks off at this point, but the address provided on his application (of July 2, 1931) is his marital home at 3 Ridge Close, Holders Hill Avenue, NW 4. Thus Olga and Shidlovsky had been living together quite openly for more than a decade, and the question of her husband’s ‘desertion’ must be highly questionable (unless he abandoned her in Malta). Yet they all came to England, Alexander Shidlovsky making a definitive choice of coming to the UK to follow Olga when his relatives primarily opted for France or Estonia as their place of exile.

The list of referees for Shidlovsky’s naturalization application includes one or two distinguished names. Sir Bernard Pares, then lecturer at the School of Slavonic Studies at University College, London, claimed that he had known the applicant for over twenty years, having been friends with his father. Retired Vice-Admiral Aubrey Smith testified to his good character and loyalty, and likewise dated his friendship as lasting over twenty years, when he (Smith) had been British Naval Attaché in Russia between 1908 and 1912. Yet Sir Aubrey wrote a more cautionary letter in responding to a communication from ‘Sir John’, suggesting that the application may have been made to further his career at the Ottoman Bank, and that his case was perhaps not of the highest priority.

Sergey Shidlovsky

A quick search on the Web brings more facts about Alexander’s lineage to the table. When he married Olga Leontiev, he gave his father’s ‘rank or profession’ simply as ‘Russian nobleman’, He did indeed come from an illustrious aristocratic background, his father being a prominent member of the Duma (see https://prabook.com/web/sergei_iliodorovich.shidlovsky/3775124). This page indicates that Alexander ‘finished the Page Corps, worked as poruchik [‘lieutenant’] in horse artillery lifeguard’ before migrating to England. He, his brother, and his father all appear to have been educated at the Tsarskoe Selo Lyceum, while Nikolay Shidlovsky (1843-1907), who chaired the 1905 Commission named after him, was probably a semi-distant relative. Alexander’s mother, still alive in Paris when he applied for naturalization, was named Alexandra, née Saburov. (I shall leave further exploration and explication of the Shidlovsky family to other genealogists who may chance upon coldspur.)

Thus, at first glance, the story of the Leontievs-Shidlovskies would appear to be like many other accounts of exiled White Russian aristocrats: déraciné, nomadic, slightly louche, mixing with their fellow-sufferers, perhaps vainly hoping that tsardom would somehow be restored in their native land and that they would be able to recover their lost estates. Yet this clan is somehow different: they do not seem to be short of money, and they go about their business with confidence. No humble careers of taxi-driving or washing dishes (in the way that so many Russian aristocrats ended up in Paris) for them: Serge was sent to good schools, and could afford to spend a year in France. Shidlovsky settled down to a solid job as a ‘bank clerk’, which may understate his role: elsewhere he is described as a ‘bank official’. There seem to have been no furtive counter-revolutionary gatherings, with risks of infiltration by Soviet spies, as happened so frequently in Paris. Yet they were definitely ‘former people’, with counter-revolutionary tendencies, and to be watched by Soviet intelligence. In addition, there was one common figure behind much of their life-events. And his name was Sir Paul Dukes.

Paul Dukes

4. Paul Dukes:

The archives supporting George Graham show three key events where the name of Paul Dukes appears. Chronologically, Dukes’s name first appears in the marriage certificate for Olga and Alexander, dated November 23, 1929, since he and N. Nicolaeva-Legat are listed as witnesses to the event. It next comes up in Serge’s statement about his employment, made within his naturalization request in June 1933. After the period with Aminoff, Serge’s application states that he became secretary to Sir Paul Dukes, Chairman of British Continental Press Ltd., probably in 1930. Dukes acted as referee for Serge’s naturalization request, and described Serge as ‘an upright and conscientious young man’. And these connections present a whole new dimension to the fortunes of George Graham and his extended clan, and their links to British Intelligence, since Dukes networked with British military personnel with experience in Russia after the revolution, intelligence officers in MI5 and MI6 in World War II, and an influential Russian émigré community in between. Serge Leontiev’s career appeared to take on a dramatically new – and superficially positive – turn after he met Paul Dukes in 1929, and began his metamorphosis into George Graham.

Dukes’s career has to be viewed in two dimensions: one, as a prominent musician and conductor; two, as an informant to the Foreign Office and recruit to MI6. His life is infused with much mystery: he was not granted any DNB entry until 2004, despite an illustrious early career, and what has been published (written by Michael Hughes) is a very sparse and vague affair that does not exploit any archival material. Dukes’s Wikipedia entry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Dukes) is likewise imprecise on dates, and erratic in its facts. Much of the information about him derives from his own memoirs: Red Dusk and the Morrow (1922); The Story of ‘ST 25’ (1938): and An Epic of the Gestapo (1940), a source genus that is frequently unreliable. Some snippets of information have percolated into the writings of Christopher Andrew, Keith Jeffery, and Michael Smith, with the latter alone providing identifiable archival sources to support his account. Thus contradictions in the timing of events have to be resolved in order to present a cohesive story.

The musical side of things is relatively simple. In 1908, he took up a teaching position in Riga, Latvia, and the following year moved on to St. Petersburg, where he was accepted at the Petrograd Conservatoire. He was encouraged by Albert Coates, who was the Principal Conductor of the Russian Imperial Opera at the Mariinsky Theatre, and also served as English tutor at the Naval College. In 1913 he graduated from the Conservatoire, and Coates hired him to assist in the training of soloists in their operatic parts. It is highly unlikely that he would have been recruited by Mansfield Cumming of MI1c at this time, although he probably did act as an informant to the Foreign Office, ‘ostensibly as a King’s Messenger’, as Jeffery writes. The milieu, however, allowed him to be introduced to several illustrious names in the world of dance, and guided his introduction to eastern mysticism.

The war caused his artistic plans to stumble, and he was co-opted to the Anglo-Russian Commission in early 1915, where he worked under the leadership of the novelist Hugh Walpole, and was given the task of tracking the Russian press across the whole country. This Commission, according to Phillip Knightley, was an office of the British Department of Information established in 1915 that was involved in arranging war supplies from the United Kingdom to Russia, although more sober descriptions suggest it was much more a propaganda outlet, that it struggled with its task, and was dissolved in March 1918, after the revolution. Hughes indicates that Dukes did return to London during this time, so his importance and reputation were surely further recognized. In a provocative aside in The Story of ‘ST 25’ (a gripping memoir of life evading the Cheka, which merits being re-issued), Dukes wrote: “In the summer of 1916 a lady who was a great personal friend of mine and had much influence on my life at the time confided in me her secret thought of making away with the infamous ‘Monk’ [Rasputin]’ Who was the mystery lady?

The focus now shifts to his espionage role. Michael Smith informs us that Dukes next joined a relief mission in the South of Russia, one funded by the American YMCA, but was soon recalled to the United Kingdom that summer, suggesting that the Foreign Office was keeping close tabs on him. It was then that Mansfield Cumming, the head of MI1c, the emerging MI6, recruited him as agent ST/25, with a mission to help finance and accelerate the plans of the National Centre for insurrections in Petrograd and Moscow. The National Centre was an underground counterrevolutionary movement: as the Great Soviet Encyclopedia recorded: “Between July and November 1919, the VChK [Cheka] eliminated the Petrograd branch of the National Center, which was headed by Shteiniger, as well as the espionage network directed by the head of British intelligence in Russia, Paul Dukes, who was in contact with Shteiniger’s group.”

Paul Dukes: ‘The Man With a Hundred Faces’

For Dukes had succeeded in smuggling out intelligence to MI1c in Finland, which guided the celebrated raids by Augustus Agar on the Kronstadt naval base in June 1919. Dukes was in great danger, but could not easily be exfiltrated: despite gaining a reputation for being a master of disguise (‘the Man with a Hundred Faces’), he was outwitted by the Cheka, and had to make a desperate flight through Latvia back to the United Kingdom. He escaped with the help of Alessandro Gavrishenko, a former Imperial naval commander and member of United Great Russia. Dukes just avoided execution, but Gavrishenko and other allies were shot. Dukes was a marked man. He later admitted, when arriving with his new bride in Paris on January 22, 1923 that the Bolsheviks had ‘put a price on his head for the last three years’. He was more explicit when he published The Story of “ST 25” in 1938. Scandinavian newspapers had printed an interview with him while he was still in Latvia, and given his real name. He wrote: “ . . . long before I reached London I realized that Red Russia was closed to me, perhaps for ever. Moscow, enraged at my escape, was broadcasting denunciatory fulminations to the four corners of the globe and a price was set on my head if I ever returned.”

Dukes’s reputation back home was secured, and he had brought much acclaim to MI6 in political circles. Early in 1920, Agar earned a Victoria Cross, and Dukes was knighted. At this time, he met again by chance Alexander Briger, whom he had known well in St. Petersburg. He was soon employed on secret missions again. In May 1920, he went to Poland, with Rex Leeper, of the Foreign Office’s Political Information Department, masquerading as the latter’s ‘secretary’, and submitting intelligence reports. He toured eastern Europe with Sidney Reilly and Vladimir Orlov, recruiting agents, and, as Jeffery reports, nursed ambitions of returning to Russia as an agent himself. Yet his ensuing activities, lecturing and writing, his contacts with unreliable White Russians, and the attendant Bolshevik interest in his movements effectively disqualified any further exploits. In 1919 he had also joined a cabal of other MI6 officers in becoming members of the Bolshevik (or ‘Bolo’) Liquidation Club, an entity dreamed up by our friend Stephen Alley. That was not a move designed to endear him to the Kremlin. And it would be a significant consideration when I pick up his story in the late 1930s.

Moreover, Dukes could not stop talking about his exploits. As Michael Smith writes: “Paul Dukes wrote a long series of highly-publicised articles in the Times, thus eliminating the possibility of his being used for secret service missions again.”  Jeffery dubbed him ‘an inveterate self-publicist’. Hughes refers, in addition, to the possibility that the establishment was ‘uneasy about Dukes’s somewhat eccentric interest in various forms of eastern mysticism’. He also promoted himself in the USA, and his career took on a new-agey turn in that country. Hughes again: “About 1922 he joined a tantric community at Nyack, 15 miles from New York, led by Dr Pierre Arnold Bernard (known as the ‘Omnipotent Oom’)”. While living there, Dukes married Margaret Rutherfurd (whom he would divorce in 1929): she was the former wife of Ogden Livingston-Mills, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and the daughter of Anne Harriman, the second wife of William Vanderbilt. Rutherfurds, Harrimans, Vanderbilts, capped with the Omnipotent Oom: it was all a heady mixture.


Lady Dukes
The Omnipotent Oom

But before I move forward to the intelligence plots of the late thirties and early forties, an investigation into his partner at the Olga Leontiev-Alexander Schidlovsky wedding in November 1929 is called for. Who was N. Nicolaeva-Legat?

5. Nadine Nikolaeva-Legat:

Nadine Nikolaeva-Legat (as her name is more commonly spelled) was born Nadezhda Briger in 1895, the daughter of Alexander Briger (1861-1931), a Lieutenant-General in the Russian Navy (see above), and the sister of Olga, Xenia and Vladimir. She became a dancer with the Imperial Russian ballet, and married another dancer, Nicolas Legat (1869-1937), as his second – or possibly, third – wife, probably around 1915-1916. He was notably almost twenty-seven years older than she: she describes him in her memoir as ‘principal soloist to his Majesty the Tsar of Russia, Ballet master and Professor at the Imperial School of St. Petersburg’. According to the Wikipedia entry of her husband, she rose to become the Prima Ballerina of the Imperial State theatres of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Because of the age difference between the couple, and parental disapproval, they had to elope. During World War I, they performed in Paris and even in London, at the Palace Theatre, in The Passing Show, before returning by minesweeper to their parents’ home in St. Petersburg, with Nadine now pregnant.

Nicolas Legat and Nadine

The Legats were separated from the family at the Naval College after the revolution, and arrests and shootings dominated their lives. In a somewhat cryptic passage in her memoir [see below], Nadine indicates that Rose, her loyal dresser, was a Bolshevik, and might have been able to obtain a pass for her. Yet her sister Olga was designated to try to reach the family and possibly arrange for their escape. (“My sister, Olga, pointed out that it was better that she should go, for she was married to a wealthy Guards officer with an estate in Kiev and her own position was open to question.”) Indeed, Olga did engineer the escape of the parents and sister Xenia to Kiev, although Xenia had by then lost her husband in the fighting. Olga’s trials were nevertheless not over: she and her husband were threatened with shooting by the Communists in Odessa, and only intervention by the French Commandant, and an exchange of twenty Bolshevik prisoners for the lives of Nadine’s father and brother-in-law (Serge’s father), allowed them to gain a ship to Constantinople. King George V himself intervened to offer the refugees hospitality in Malta. Since Alexander Briger was a Director of the Anglo-Baltic Shipping Company, he was able to take advantage of a job offer by the company in London, and moved there with his wife, with Xenia, and with the daughters of Xenia and Nadine.

After the revolution, however, Nicolas and Nadine were celebrated enough to put on balletic exhibitions around what was then the Russian Soviet Republic. According to Nadine, their plans for reforming the Moscow State Ballet School were met with approval, and in 1922 they were eventually able to gain permission to go abroad for six months, partly because Lunachatsky [sic, actually Lunacharsky], the highly influential Superintendent of Education, was a family friend. They then toured Europe for several years. They travelled to Berlin, where Nadine encountered her brother, Vladimir, and learned that her family was safe in London, although her father had struggled with finding a regular job after the Anglo-Baltic Company had been dissolved. They landed up in the United Kingdom in 1923, but after a couple of years, left to spent several seasons touring in Europe, primarily with Dhiagilev. In 1928 they returned for good, to teach the Legat System of Ballet, at 46 Colet Gardens. They thereby fostered such prominent stars as Anton Dolin, Margot Fonteyn, Andre Eglevsky, Moira Shearer and Nathalie Krassovska. The Russian Ballet Association was formally registered in 1938.

A member of the Briger family in Australia let me know about Dukes’s relationship with Nadine. The Australian side of the Briger family has been well documented. Nadine’s nephew, Andrew (born in Berlin in 1920), the son of her brother Vladimir (1885-1971), travelled between Paris and London, and occasionally helped run the ballet school while he was studying architecture at the Regent Street Polytechnic. Because of his connections with the famous ballerina, when he emigrated to Australia, he was introduced to Elizabeth Mackerras, who was the sister of the famous conductor Sir Charles Mackerras, and he and the family found common interests in opera and the Russian heritage. Andrew and Elizabeth married in 1957. My contact described Dukes in these terms: “I knew Sir Paul Dukes quite well – he was a very distinguished man in his day, knighted for his work – ended up travelling the world (including Australia) teaching yoga and I have his yoga book. Apparently he was also Madame Legat’s lover for a while, certainly gave the school a lot of money, for no particular reason.”

Thus, if Dukes was squiring Nadine Nikolaeva-Legat in November 1929 (and openly enough to be companions at a prominent marriage ceremony, and official witnesses to the event), it is perhaps no surprise that he had been divorced from Margaret Rutherfurd that year. The New York Times announced, on January 20, 1929, that Lady Dukes had been awarded a divorce in Paris on the grounds of her husband’s desertion, and added, provocatively, that ‘among her friends, there have been persistent rumors that she intends to marry Prince Charles Murat’. (The Prince’s desires in this arrangement are not recorded, but it appears that the determined Margaret Rutherfurd gained her objective.) The fact of Dukes’s generosity to the Ballet School should be noted also, as the behaviour would point to a certain carelessness with money.

Margaret Rutherfurd marrying Prince Murat

Yet there was another aspect of this relationship. While it is not central to my story, the matrilineal line of Nadine and her brother, Vladimir, has an incidental fascination all of its own. Vladimir’s cousin, Prince Felix Youssoupoff, had led the group that assassinated the Russian court lothario Rasputin. That would, in turn, link the family to Stephen Alley who, though without definitive proof, has been noted (for example, in Douglas Smith’s biography of Rasputin) as having been involved in Rasputin’s murder while working for the British Control Office in Saint Petersburg. What is more interesting is the appearance of other family members in the photographic record.

Memorial in Tunbridge Wells

Nadine died in 1971, and the memorial at her grave in Tunbridge Wells (above) is an informative artefact. It memorializes Alexander Briger (her father), Ludmilla Briger (probably her mother, 1861-1954), Vladimer de Briger – in an alternative Frenchified form of the name (her brother), Zenaida de Briger (Vladimir’s first wife, fully Zenaida Pavlovna Sumarokov-Elston, 1886-1954) and her husband, Nikolay [Nicolas] Gustavovich Legat. The person who surely arranged for this memorial to be set up was her sister, Olga, mother of Serge aka George Graham, and widow of Alexander Shidlovsky who had died, also in Tunbridge Wells, in 1969. Olga died in the same town on December 14, 1975.

In 2021 Nadine’s memoir The Legat Story was published by Cadmus Publishing. It is an appealing but slender offering, dedicated to showing her devotion to her husband and an admiration for his legacy. But it is also deceptive. She has little to say about her sister Olga (about whom she appears a little jealous), restricting her observations to a few comments such as ‘my sister Olga always asserted that a man without a uniform was scarcely a man at all’. She.maintains the fiction that Olga and her first husband were living together in London (“Later Olga and her husband also came to England and found a house in Golders Green where they could all be together”), and writes nothing about Serge and Dimitri. It is almost as if she disapproved of her sister’s liaison, although she was, of course, the prime witness at Olga’s marriage to Shidlovsky.

‘The Legat Story’

Nadine also reveals more about Paul Dukes, although she is silent on any question of an affair. She met him again in Paris, and they discovered a shared interest in yoga, vegetarianism, and the teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. She must have found in Dukes a soulmate, since Nicolas was very dismissive of her spiritualist enthusiasms. And then Dukes started to realize one of his own ambitions, taking ballet classes from Nicolas and Nadine. She considered him ‘an unusually apt pupil’ and even started partnering him, billed as ‘Paul Dukaine’, in such dances as Le Jardin Exotique, for which Dukes created a new score. While on tour (unaccompanied by Nicolas) they ‘argued’ far into the night; Dukes’s role was not well publicized until they reached Hull in May 1930, and he was unmasked.  Soon after, Dukes was invited on a speaking tour in America, and the professional partnership was broken up. But they must have enjoyed their period of intimacy.

Paul Dukes, dancer & yoga enthusiast

6. Dukes in the Thirties:

A possible sequence of events emerges. Having concluded his world tours in the late 1920s, including the conducting of his own musical compositions for the Ballet Moderne in New York, Dukes returned to London. His exploits in the ballet, and his relationship with Nadine, passed unnoticed by the world at large (and indeed his ODNB entry is silent on the accomplishments of Paul Dukaine). Here Dukes struck up again his acquaintances with the Brigers and other exiles from the musical world of pre-war St. Petersburg, most notably Nicolas and Nadine Legat. Since his divorce for desertion came through in early in 1929, his misconduct must have become public some time before that (as Nadine’s account of their balletic exploits would tend to confirm), and Nadine was courageous enough to be seen as her lover’s companion when they both witnessed the marriage ceremony of her sister and Shidlovsky in November 1929. Meanwhile, Nicolas’s heath was fading. He was taken ill with pneumonia, and then pleurisy, and eventually died on January 24, 1937.

The occasion of Olga’s second marriage makes perfect sense as the time when Dukes would have been introduced to her nineteen-year old son. The following year, Dukes was appointed chairman of the British Continental Press, and gave his protégé an opportunity by appointing him his secretary. It would not be capricious to suggest that Dukes at this time decided to groom the young Leontiev for a role that he could no longer perform himself. He managed to have Serge (and his father) installed with the Legats at 46 Colet Gardens, where their Dance School was housed.

Dukes’s relationship with Nicolas Legat appears on the surface to have been cordial still. In 1932 the firm published Legat’s The Story of the Russian School, a volume that had been translated from the Russian by Dukes, who also provided a Foreword. Other books on dance appeared, such as Lincoln Kerstein’s study of Fokine, in 1934. It is difficult to imagine that the Press thrived on such a limited range of works, and, as the decade progressed, Dukes was perhaps feeling a lust for further adventure. He gave up his chairmanship of the Press in 1937, according to his New York Times obituary. In any event, some very bizarre press releases were suddenly issued indicating the demise of Sir Paul, perhaps designed to ward off any Soviet persecutors who might still be wanting to have him eliminated.

On May 20, 1935, the Perth Daily News (of Western Australia) published a report from Paris that ‘the death occurred here today of Sir Paul Dukes, K.B.E., the English composer and author, aged 46’. This was echoed in the Melbourne Herald the same day. Yet I can find no trace of the story being reported anywhere else in the world. Dukes certainly had an interested audience in Australia, but why he (or his bosses) would try to channel the message of his demise so clumsily is a mystery. To mount a comprehensive disinformation campaign is one thing: but to launch a half-hearted one, and then not disappear from this earth, so that the opposition would be wised up that some deception was planned, was simply amateurish.

What might Dukes have been thinking? The only possible clue that I have detected is the factoid that I cited in an earlier report. A short piece (in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram) announced that on November 10, 1934, Alexey Leontieff, a former colonel in the Czarist Army, and manager of a local machine supply office, faced a firing-squad in Novosibirsk, for failing to provide proper machinery to a nearby collective farm. Out of all the possible events, why on earth would the NKVD release such a gobbet, when so many millions were being murdered during Stalin’s purges? Was Alexey a brother of Alexander? Was the announcement provocation? Did the NKVD intend to lure ‘the Man with a Hundred Faces’, its Public Enemy Number 1, to the Soviet Union? Was Dukes asked by the Leontiev family to help rescue a relative? I have no answers.

In 1938 he published his memoir The Story of “ST 25”, which was essentially a richer version of Red Dusk and the Morrow. To this he added a bizarre and equivocal Epilogue where he appeared to have been hoodwinked by Stalin’s new constitution of 1937, and, despite the turbulence of the Show Trials, suggested that the Soviet Union was making moves towards democracy, and was supporting capitalist impulses. One can interpret this only as his attempt perhaps to get back into Stalin’s good graces (not that he would ever have been in them) so that he might visit the country again, but all he achieved was to ruin his reputation as a sworn enemy of totalitarianism, and undermine his position as a reliable analyst of the Soviet Union. (In a report written by Elena Modrzhinskaya, Head of Department 1, Third Section, of the First Directorate of the NKVD, in April 1943, cited in Nigel West’s Triplex, p 319, appear the following sentences, which would appear to confirm Dukes’s intentions: “A senior British intelligence officer, Paul Dukes, is involved in training intelligence personnel on Soviet matters. Before the war he spent some time in Berlin, where he is said to have been linked with Goebbels; in 1939 he attempted to re-enter the USSR, citing his ‘pro-Soviet’ views.”)

The record is disappointingly thin about his exploits after leaving the Press. The ODNB entry states: “On the eve of the Second World War he was asked by some acquaintances to visit Germany in order to trace the whereabouts of a wealthy Czech businessman who had fled from house arrest following his imprisonment by the Nazis.” He wrote up those exploits in his 1940 book An Epic of the Gestapo, which describes his confrontations with the Gestapo in the summer of 1939. Yet here he renewed his expressions of antipathy to both fascism and communism, drawing the attention of any watching NKVD officer, and had thus abandoned any attempt at subterfuge. In his Introduction, he wrote:

Despite the antagonism that existed between the Nazi and Bolshevist leaders until August, 1939, I was struck from the outset of the Hitlerian regime by the remarkable similarity of its methods to those of Moscow. In the spring of 1939 I began a study of these resemblances. Somewhat paradoxically, I conducted negotiations at the same time for the publication in Germany of my Russian memoirs in which I strongly criticized the Moscow administration, and assistance was spontaneously offered me in this by the hardy diplomat, Richard von Kuhlmann, who played a prominent part on the German side in the framing of the treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Soviet in 1918. Furthermore, at the suggestion of the Japanese Ambassador in London, M. Shigemitsu, I had a number of conversations with General Oshima, the Japanese Ambassador in Berlin, on the subject of the Anti-Comintern Pact, of which he was one of the authors.

Paul Dukes had arisen from the dead. Meanwhile, after the death of her husband in 1937, Nadine Nikolaeva-Legat was left to run the studio classes alone. When war broke out, she sought an alternative location, first in Mersea Island, near Colchester, Essex, and then in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. At the end of the war she moved her Russian School of Ballet to the town of Tunbridge Wells, in Sussex, and later to larger premises at Finchcocks Manor, in Goudhurst, Kent.

Finchcocks Manor (the ‘Peterhof of the Weald’)

7. WWII – Dealing with the NKVD:

After his mission in Germany, Dukes joined British Ambassador Sir Nevile Henderson on the last plane to leave Berlin before Britain declared war on Germany, on September 3rd 1939. Obviously wanting to assist the war effort, he looked around for appointments. His ODNB entry merely states: “In the Second World War, Dukes lectured on behalf of the Ministry of Information, and served as a director of companies involved in aircraft production.”  Certainly, in his final paragraphs of An Epic of the Gestapo, he predicted that, despite the short-term accommodations, the autocracies of Germany and Soviet Russia, even though they had so much in common, would come to blows eventually. “Where Nazi Germany and Bolshevist Russia must eventually come into conflict is in the contradiction between the hypernationalistic ideals of Hitler and the neo-imperialistic and ultimately world-revolutionary aims of Stalin. Here clash is inevitable.”

Thus, like other Tory grandees opposed to both forms of totalitarianism (e.g. Sir Robert Vansittart), Dukes, with his expressed anathema to Communism, was probably taken aback by Churchill’s over-expansive embrace of the Soviet Union when Hitler invaded it in June 1941. Yet he would have swiftly realized that some accommodation with Stalin’s regime was necessary to defeat the Nazi foe. And the overtures towards some intelligence-sharing with the Soviets came quickly. Hugh Dalton, the Minister responsible for the Political Warfare Executive (and SOE) came to an agreement with Menzies, the head of MI6, that approaches should be made to Moscow. George Hill, the veteran agent from 1918 in Russia, was appointed head of an emergent Russian Section of SOE in August 1941.

The SOE-NKVD agreement was a strange one. While the Foreign Office was very sensitive to the opinions of the (mostly conservative and aristocratic) governments-in-exile, SOE was notoriously gung-ho about co-operating with leftist elements, and thought that native communists in western Europe would be a valuable source of subversion and sabotage. Hugh Dalton had, ever since his push to be appointed SOE’s minister, seen the agency as a mechanism for introducing socialism to western Europe after the war, while MI6 was institutionally nervous about having anything to do with the Reds. For their part, the Soviets were desperate to use the British to help replace their sources of intelligence in Western Europe. Their Rote Kapelle network was being mopped up, and their courier-lines were broken. Their aircraft could not travel far enough to drop spies in western Europe, and make the return home. Yet, if the Soviet objective was primarily to gain information about German military strength and deployment, the mission did not harmonise well with what was the business of SOE, namely sabotage. Fortunately (for the health of the accord, anyway), the NKVD appeared not to discriminate between MI6 and SOE: the agencies were both seen as ‘British Intelligence’, and whoever arrived on Russian soil to operate would necessarily be regarded as a spy, since espionage was what Soviet citizens abroad were required to do, and hence such activity was automatically ascribed to imperialistic foreigners who were admitted to the Soviet Union.

As the heads of MI6 and SOE strategized about the mission to Moscow, it might appear that Paul Dukes carried clout beyond his current authority. Yet the influential figures in intelligence were all familiar with his WWI role. Churchill himself, who frequently directed SOE’s business behind the back of his War Cabinet, had urged intervention in Russia in 1919. Desmond Morton, Churchill’s intelligence adviser, had in 1919 been head of MI6’s Section V, spurring anti-Bolshevism efforts. Colin Gubbins, director of operations for SOE, had served on General Ironside’s staff in Murmansk in the summer of 1919. And then there were Dukes’s old colleagues: Robin Bruce Lockhart, imprisoned for his role in the ‘Lockhart Plot’ (which Dukes claimed was not a ‘Lockhart’ plot at all, but a scheme engineered by Sidney Reilly), was head of the Political Warfare Executive; his 1920 partner in Poland, Reginald Leeper, was again head of the Foreign Office’s Political Information Department; George Hill was the head of the new SOE Russian Section; and Stephen Alley in MI5 was guarding any challenge to British interests from intruders from the Baltic States.

Stewart Menzies thus saw the Anglo-Soviet agreement of September 1941 as an opening to build some espionage capability in the Soviet Union. As I have written elsewhere, George Hill effectively reported to Stewart Menzies, not Colin Gubbins, during his time in Moscow and Kuibyshev. And it was through the exploitation of his reputation, and his long-established relationships, that Dukes was able to introduce George Graham to the SOE mission to Moscow.

8. George Graham – Marriage & SOE:

The Anglo-Soviet agreement between SOE and the NKVD was not signed until September 30, 1941. Yet Hill, on HMS Leda, and his staff members Truskowski and Graham (on another ship in the convoy) left the Clyde on September 20, clearly anticipating the formality. Thus Graham’s preparation as a cipher clerk must have begun a long time beforehand. In his memoir, George Hill claimed that he had selected Graham himself out of the Intelligence Corps. Yet the official historian of the Intelligence Corps has informed me that there is no record of his service in that distinguished cadre.

But first, Graham himself entered marriage. Whether this event was arranged for him, in order to boost the solidity of his curriculum vitae, or whether it was a true love-match, cannot be easily determined. On June 30, 1941, the Register Office in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, solemnized the marriage between Serge Leontieff, bachelor, of First House, Seer Green, and Edith Manley Axten, four years older at 34, spinster, of Twitchell’s End Gardens, in Beaconsfield. Serge’s mother and step-father were the witnesses. Graham gave his rank as Private 10850488, in Intelligence, and declared his father as Alexander Leontieff. Another marriage certificate was created, however. In the second version (which clearly describes the same event, as the names, date, and addresses are otherwise identical), Graham/Leontiev gives his parents’ names as Philippe Leontieff and Anna Grigorieva. Presumably, with obvious capabilities as a native Russian speaker, any identity as ‘George Graham’ would not have fooled the Soviet authorities, so he had to have a lineage invented to distance himself from the aristocratic Leontievs. Maybe the NKVD, when vetting Hill and the members of his team, demanded to see some supporting documentation.

There may not be much significance in the timing of this late June marriage, so soon after Churchill’s announcement of support for the Soviet Union, yet, two days earlier, Mason Macfarlane’s advance guard of 30 Mission had arrived in Moscow and started passing on veiled ULTRA secrets to the Soviets. If a role had already been identified for George Graham, the final steps in the procedure were being out in place.

[I shall now re-present what I wrote in my May 2021 bulletin about Graham’s time in the Soviet Union.]

About Graham, Hill said little, only that the Lieutenant was in the Intelligence Corps, and that Hill had selected him as his A.D.C.  Nevertheless, he relied upon him extensively. One of the items that the Hill party took with them to Moscow was a heavy Chubb safe in which to lock the codes and ciphers each night, but when the embassy was evacuated to Kuibyshev, soon after their arrival, because of the proximity of Hitler’s army, the safe had to be left behind. When an apartment had been found for the SOE office in Kuibyshev, Hill wrote in his diary: “We take care never to leave the flat alone; poor Graham is practically chained to it. Our files and codes are kept under lock and key when not in use. Not in a safe, deary – we ain’t got one – but in our largest suitcase, which is nailed to the floor.” [Much of Hill’s memoir derives from letters that he sent his wife.]

Yet a few months later, Graham and Hill were separated. When it was safe, after a few months, to return to Moscow, Ossipov went first, followed by Hill in early February. But Hill had to leave ‘Trusco’ and Graham behind, much to Hill’s chagrin. “I don’t like being separated from Graham, though, especially on account of coding,” he wrote. Trusco was scheduled to return to England in mid-February, so Graham would have sole responsibility for the flat. Before Hill left (by train), he had to write out orders for Graham, ‘covering every likely eventuality’. “Codes and cash we deposited with the Embassy, otherwise poor Graham would have been tied to the flat for keeps: he will do his coding at the Embassy”, he continued.

Hill’s chronology is annoyingly vague (and not much helped by Peter Day in Trotsky’s Favourite Spy), but it seems that Hill did not see Graham again until he returned to Kuibyshev in about July 1942, to renew his passport, as he had been recalled to London for discussions. Even (or especially) in wartime, strict diplomatic protocols had to be obeyed. Thus Graham had been left for several months without any kind of formal supervision. As a member of the Intelligence Corps, his credentials were presumably considered impeccable.

I add a few annotations. In his memoirs, entrusted to his daughter, Truskowski made fleeting mentions of Hill and Graham. “My little mission was composed of a swashbuckler called Hill, a rather dim type. There was an equivocal type who spoke excellent Russian called Graham; he was not what he purported to be but he really was dim.” And in 1988, in a letter to Mark Seaman (the ‘SOE historian’), Truskowski wrote: “As for Graham, he was rather a colourless type, no match for his boss.” On what aspect of his personality Graham let himself down it is not clear, but it must certainly have been dangerous to have left him alone under the surveillance of the NKVD.

Truskowski’s Report

And then there appears more damaging suggestions. My informant in the Briger family (who had been told by relatives that Graham ‘had been a spy for the English in Russia’) wrote to me with the following tidbit about Graham: “He also fell in love while spying in Russia, which made it so difficult and worse. A real spy story.” Yet foreigners in the Soviet Union did not simply ‘fall in love’ after chance meetings. Any encounter would have been arranged by the NKVD, as a ‘honey-trap’, and the amoureuse would have been selected, instructed, and then been required to report in full to the secret police. Clandestine photography would have been employed, in the fashion that the British Ambassador to Moscow, Sir Geoffrey Harrison, was blackmailed by the KGB in 1968. Thus Graham would have been threatened with disclosure if he did not reveal information – probably his codes there and then, and surely further secrets when he returned to the United Kingdom.

One has to assume that all communications between London and Moscow at this time were intercepted and decrypted by the NKVD. If one inspects file HS 4/334 at the National Archives, for instance, one can find dozens of cables discussing SOE activity in eastern Europe (such as incursions into the Baltic States) that were laid open for the Soviets to interpret, and change their negotiation tactics. These matters deserve a completely independent study which could be dramatic enough to cause the history of the onset of the Cold War to be re-written.

Graham’s time in the Soviet Union was undeniably a disaster. He was ill-prepared, an obvious plant, and utterly unsuited to the position that required a high degree of maturity and attention to security procedures. Archie Boyle’s comment to Guy Liddell that Hill and Graham were ‘very closely tied and one always backs up the other’ takes on a new significance. Hill very openly took up with his mistress, Luba Polik, the hotelier, and would have defended his aide and cipher clerk if security breaches occurred because of the latter’s carelessness or romantic dalliances.It is no wonder that Guy Liddell dropped any further reference to him when he discovered the gory details. And the experience would lead to serious problems with Graham’s mental health.

9. Post-War Tragedy:

The Grahams had two children, one born during the war, after Graham’s return on leave, and the second after he had been demobilized. Again, the official records are a little troubling. On www. ancestry.com, the primary indicator of the birthdate of Christopher Graham is given as March, 1945. Thus Serge should have been in the UK in June 1944: indeed the archives of the Russian section of SOE show that Graham (D/P 103) arrived in London on leave on May 4, 1944.  According to HS 4/331, on April 19, Hill had cabled London to suggest that Graham could accompany two Pickaxe agents [NKVD agents to be parachuted behind German lines by the RAF] to Bari before proceeding on to the United Kingdom: he had been in the Soviet Union for fifteen months without a break. Hill requested that Graham be returned after four weeks’ leave, something that was not fulfilled. Graham did, however, soon leave Moscow, unaccompanied.

His leave must have been extended while SOE discussed the future of the troubled Moscow Mission, where co-operation with the NKVD was steadily breaking down. A very enigmatic and incomplete telegram from Hill to London, dated October 30, 1944 (in HS 4/334) suggests that, while Captain Maclaughlin (D/P 106) was currently in Moscow, the NKVD would prefer to have Captain Graham (D/P 103) return to his post. Graham (recently promoted to Major) was reported to be with Hill at the latter’s farewell dinner in Moscow in May 1945, and had apparently returned from another visit to London with him in March. The father could therefore have been present at the birth.

Yet the actual birth certificate shows that Christopher John Graham was born on January 10, 1945. That would have required George to be in the United Kingdom in April 1944, which appears not to have been possible. [I plan to develop a stronger chronology for Hill’s and Graham’s movements after studying further files in the HS/4 series.] Irrespective of such irregularities, the birth of Jane Ann Graham followed after George’s demobilization in July 3, 1946, by which time George was described merely as ‘Journalist’. His skills as a Russian speaker meant that he eventually found a position with the BBC. Bush House records indicate that he worked as Assistant Programme Organiser in the Russian Section of the Eastern European Service of the BBC from 29 December 1947 to 31 October 1949. Yet no reference points to any particular contribution he made: it appears that the Russian Section had problems attracting suitable staff, and the issue of what tone talks should take in the climate of the intensifying Cold War must have been contentious.

And then the Grahams’ life was shattered by an unspeakable personal tragedy. The Buckingham Free Press reported on December 2, 1949 (a Wednesday):

            When the offside rear tyre of an articulated lorry burst at Dashwood Hill, near High Wycombe, on Sunday afternoon, the lip of the wheel disintegrated, flew across the road and struck four-years old Christopher John Graham, who was walking on the footpath with his mother, his small sister, and another child.

            Christopher, who lived at 8, King-street, Piddington, was seriously injured about the face and neck and died on arrival at High Wycombe War Memorial Hospital.

This must have been a devastating event for George and Edith. Yet stresses had already begun to appear. According to the news item, Mrs Graham had attended the inquest to identify the body, and stated that her husband ‘was formerly head of the Eastern European broadcast service of the B.B.C. at Bush House, London, but had not been working for some time because he was suffering from a nervous breakdown’, adding that he was ‘at present living at Tunbridge Wells’. This assertion was obviously not quite accurate: Edith exaggerated her husband’s role in the service, and did not point out that his official termination had occurred between the date of the accident and the inquest itself. Maybe George did not tell her the full story of his work at Bush House.

A further coroner’s report was issued a week later, adding some bizarre touches:

            Mr. R. E. M. Proust, a superintendent of Colonial police, of 5 Albert Mews, N.W.1, said he was driving a car overtaking the lorry, which was going at five to seven miles per hour, when there was a loud bang and he heard a child screaming. He had noticed nothing unusual about the rear of the lorry.

            Police-sergeant E. Smith said the lorry was loaded with aluminum ingots which were evenly spaced, and the load was well within the legal limits.

Should these reports be taken at face value? What were the chances of such a freak accident? How was it that a police officer happened to be overtaking the lorry at the exact time of the accident? And why would Proust trouble himself to have taken a look at the rear of the lorry if it was merely a routine encounter? What with the timing, and the precision, one has to consider that some devilish attempt had been made to scare (or punish) the Grahams, but the circumstances are beyond analysis.

Yet Graham’s nervous breakdown showed that he was probably being threatened. My Briger informant again: “When he retired he lived at the Legat School in Tunbridge Well for a while and went mad as he thought everyone was trying to kill him. He used to come out only at night and run from tree to tree in case he was spotted. Ending up paranoid, he didn’t know if he was Russian or English or which language he was speaking.” This speaks of justifiable terror, but, if the family lore is reliable, also provocatively indicates that George believed that his oppressors were not just the Russians, who were presumably dissatisfied with his performance after he returned to the United Kingdom. Did his erstwhile employees in SOE/MI6 likewise want him silenced, since he knew too much about the security breaches in Moscow and Kuibyshev?

Perhaps not surprisingly, the marriage broke up. On August 16, 1955, George re-married, in Willesden. George may have been rehabilitated somewhat by then, as his residence at the time of the marriage is given as 5 Greenhurst Road, N.W.2. His bride, who lived in Edgware, was Valentina Ivanov, at the age of fifty-four ten years older, whose previous marriage had also been dissolved. She was described as ‘Cook-manageress’, the daughter of Constantin Kikin, a Russian army general. She had studied in Belgrade in the 1920s and then worked in Yugoslavia as a teacher, where she married and had a daughter. She was deported to Germany during the war (and must surely have suffered there) before making it to the United Kingdom. At some stage George and Valentina returned to the support mechanisms of the Legat institution. Their home from May 1964 (at least) was 17 Sutherland Road, Tunbridge Wells, by which time Valentina was working as a needlework teacher at the Legat School, and as an art and craft teacher at Rosemead School in Tunbridge Wells. The official witnesses at the ceremony had not included George’s mother: they were his loyal aunt, Nadine, and his step-father, Alexander Shidlovsky.

Of the extended family, George’s father died first, in 1957. Next was George himself, of hepatic cirrhosis on February 8, 1968, at the house in Tunbridge Wells. Alexander Shidlovsky followed him on March 26, 1969, succumbing to coronary thrombosis and arteriosclerosis, nearby in Tunbridge Wells. Nadine died in 1971, and her sister Olga followed her on November 14, 1975, with cardiovascular degeneration given as the cause. Edith Graham died at her daughter’s house in Horsham, Sussex, on November 2, 1980, with cause of death given as myocardial infarction and coronary thrombosis and atheroma.

Paul Dukes (1948)
Paul Dukes in 1948

Paul Dukes did not enjoy a happy ending, either. The photograph used in his ODNB entry, taken in 1948, shows a man seemingly beset by a world of worry. He married his second wife, Diana Fitzgerald, in 1959, and died in Cape Town, South Africa, on August 27, 1967. In a local obituary notice, Lady Dukes was reported as saying that her husband’s death ‘was a direct result of serious injuries he suffered in a car accident in England last year’. The notice added: “They had come to South Africa hoping the climate would help him recover.” Was it a suspicious road accident, like that which took the life of former MI5 officer Tomás Harris in Majorca in 1964? In any case, there was no Omnipotent Oom around to save Paul Dukes. He left £374 in probate.

Diana Fitzgerald

10. Summing-Up:

This is a story of exploitation, stupidity and secretiveness. It points to a massive breach of security that would have put any putative ‘ELLI’ problem in London in the shade. MI6 and MI5 later recognized that their premises in Moscow had been electronically bugged, but an admittance that the Soviets had had access to their ciphers and code-books would have knocked such goings-on into a cocked hat. Yet it is difficult to come to any other conclusion.

Serge Leontiev was exploited – by Paul Dukes, who seemed to have selected Serge as a surrogate for his own thwarted ambitions, and by the officers in MI6 and SOE (and maybe politicians, too) who connived with the misbegotten plan to send him into Soviet Russia without a serious thought of the consequences. The inevitable devilry by the NKVD occurred, and George Graham (as he now was) was left hanging high and dry.

The naivety shown by the officers of MI6 and SOE (surely Menzies, Dansey, Gubbins, Boyle and Hambro) over the NKVD’s methods, and how they would treat an obvious White Russian inserted into the Moscow mission, is breathtaking. Any perceived lack of acuity in poor George Graham was dwarfed by that displayed by those giants of ‘Intelligence’. The failure to consider essential security procedures and techniques reflects an amateurism that equals the appalling carelessness over German Funkspiele against SOE networks, primarily in the Netherlands and France, during the war.

If Guy Liddell had not made that single entry in his Diary, or if the censor had been careful enough to redact the name of Graham/Leontiev, presumably none of this story would have emerged. And SOE and MI6 were sensible in stifling the details, as the revelations would have caused damage far beyond their own province. Relevant papers were surely destroyed, and it is possible that all the ‘SOE advisers’ at the Foreign Office were shielded from these events. Thus the secrecy behind them is no conventional cover-up: it just represents one of probably many intelligence mis-steps that were capably buried at the time. Yet the story I have laid out above proves that the final word on any incident can never be written. I direct that message specifically at you, Mr. Mark Seaman.

New Commonplace entries can be seen here.

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2021 Year-end Roundup

Joyous New Year Wishes to all coldspur readers from the entire Editorial Team!

Contents:

1. The Future of coldspur

2. On the Archives

3. The Biography of Ter Braak

4. George Graham & “The Spies’ Spy”

5. Paperback Editions

6. The Non-Communicants

7. Guy Liddell’s Diaries: TWIST and Scout

8. In Memoriam: Geoffrey Elliott (1939-2021)

9. Philbymania

10. Letters to the Editor

1. The Future of coldspur

In headlining this section, I am not raising questions about the future of coldspur the blogger, but coldspur the website. Having just achieved my seventy-fifth birthday, I believe that I shall remain in control of my faculties for a few more years before I prepare to join the ranks of the great conspiracy theorists in the sky. Moreover, I have plenty of material to keep me occupied at least through 2022, and am looking forward to several more years of doughty research and spirited writing. And the publishing model will not change. Readers will not be asked for donations; coldspur will not carry advertisements; I shall not be moving coldspur to Substack. This is my hobby, and I shall carry on my practice of publishing monthly bulletins on intelligence matters, with the occasional self-indulgent foray into personal memoir, without worrying about revenues, popularity ratings, or commentary in the Twittersphere.

Yet what will happen to www.coldspur.com? I know that there are mechanisms on the Internet that store all content in some dark place, but I should like the coldspur archive to be available for future researchers even if I am not around to husband it. As new files are released to Kew, and younger students assume a role in reconsidering MI5’s history, I should like them to be able to tap in to my hypotheses and conclusions, which will presumably not be published anywhere else. To begin with, it presumably means that the domain name has to be maintained, through annual payments to GoDaddy. For the url to be active, it has to have a paid-up agreement with a hosting site, as I have arranged with a company down the road in Ocean Isle. That sounds minimally satisfactory, even if I make testatory arrangements for payments to continue for a number of years. I would much prefer some respectable institution to take coldspur under its wing, and make it available via its native directories, such as the Hoover Institution Library and Archives at Stanford University, or the Bodleian, or Churchill College, Cambridge. Does any reader have experience with any such arrangements, and would he or she be able to advise me?

And then there all my personal files – and my library. I am no longer confident that the Ethel Hays Memorial Library at the University of Eastern Montana in Billings (see http://www.coldspur.com/homo-sovieticus ) will be a suitable repository for my collection, and it would probably be too far off the beaten track for all but the most intrepid researchers. I have files of electronic correspondence, notes taken from hundreds of books, chronologies, etc. etc. which I am not keen to share without constraints while I am still active but should, I believe, be most useful to posterity. Added to that are numerous articles and clippings that I have collected, in paper format, as well as a library of about 7,500 books, primarily on intelligence matters, general history, and biography, but also comprising a rich set of rare titles in poetry, literature, humour, language and reference. I would guess that the section on intelligence matters is unmatched in any private – or even institutional – collection. I should hate to see it split up and dispersed. My obvious choice would be to donate it to the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, NC (about thirty-five miles away), since that institution has connections with the CIA, and I have used its facilities over the past twenty years. I understand that I would have to set up an endowment to house and maintain the library. I started to approach the University on this topic a few years ago, but my contact moved on. I shall retry in 2022, conscious of the following: “  . . . no one cares about a library collection as much as the person who has assembled it  . . . one man’s passion project would be nothing but a burden to whom the responsibility of curation was passed on.” (Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen, in The Library)

Meanwhile, I am considering a number of projects for 2022. I have several more episodes in the Déricourt saga to unroll. I need to report on my discoveries concerning the life and career of the SOE officer George Graham, aka Serge Leontiev. I hear the call to follow-up on my investigations into ELLI, and explore the indications of treachery in MI5 that so excited Peter Wright and Chapman Pincher, and later Nigel West. I still have to study the records concerning the post-war activities of Roger Hollis, how close he was to the functions of counter-intelligence against the Soviets, and how MI5 evolved its organization during those years. I want to return to Alexander Foote, the peculiar interest he showed in the Gouzenko trial, and the links between Canada and Switzerland in passing money to the Rote Drei. There is further research to be performed on Claude Dansey and his attempt to make contact with anti-Hitler factions in the Wehrmacht and the Sicherheitsdienst. I recall numerous loose ends such as my investigation into Donald Maclean and his photographer, and the matter of Peter Wright and HASP (and my communications with the Swedish Professor Agrell). I have to study the Petrov files in depth. There remains more to be told about the struggles of RSS during and after the war, and its role in tracking illicit wireless usage. I am interested in studying in detail the records concerning the evolution of SOE in France, and how the authorities succeeded in stifling accurate analysis for decades. I want to investigate more deeply the phenomenon of disinformation through controlled (or ‘probably controlled’) agents, and what the legacy of the Double-Cross System was. Lastly, in collaboration with another remote coldspur contact, I am engaged in a highly secret project involving the RAF, SOE and the NKVD in World War II.

So what is my objective in all this? I am not seeking any fame or awards – or even an invitation to tea by Christopher Andrew. I should indeed like greater recognition of my efforts, but I am not sure where such a statement would derive, and the overall unimaginative (as I see it) state of intelligence scholarship in the UK is reinforced by a mutual admiration society of persons not willing to take risks and challenge the establishment. What continues to drive me is frustration over the secretive policies of government institutions, not willing to release archival material that has long passed its expiry date under the guise of a probably imaginary security exposure, and despair over the arrogant attitudes of bureaucrats who believe that the public should not be trusted with information that may show less than perfect credit on the way the intelligence services executed their mission. I am also in a perpetual philosophical tussle with the ‘authorized’ historians, and those who seem to accept that, since an official historian has covered a topic or department, there cannot be anything else to be said about the topic. And I get very irritated by the appearance of lazy or deceptive books on intelligence matters that get absurdly hyped in the media by critics who should know better.

(Given my recent diatribes over the shenanigans of the authorised historians and Foreign Office advisers concerning SOE, I was amused – and saddened – to read the following item from Guy Liddell’s Diaries, entered after a Joint Intelligence Committee meeting on January 2, 1946: “We also took the paper about the publication of information relating to SOE. The Deputy Chiefs of Staff had reversed the decision of the JIC and had ordered that a revised version of the SOE memo should be given to the press. They thought that if some official publication went out it would damp down some unauthorised publications. I confined myself to saying that it would be almost impossible to prosecute under the Official Secrets Act if an official release was made, and I suggested that when making the handout something might perhaps be said to the press to the effect that the Official release did not authorise them to publish all sorts of stories that they might have already got written up in their lockers.”

I was also dismayed to learn, from a letter published in History Today of November 2021, that the historian E. P. Thompson had been cruelly frustrated in his attempts to discover more about the SOE mission of his brother Frank, who had been executed for working with Bulgarian partisans in 1944. Thompson went to consult the records in 1974, believing that they would be declassified under the thirty-year rule, but was peremptorily advised that the records had been reclassified for fifty years. He died in 1993, just before his planned return to the archives. I note that the file, HS 9/1463, was made available on February 18, 2003.)

I should like to recognize here all readers of coldspur who have got in touch with me – a group that I shall resolutely refuse to call ‘the coldspur community’. I have no idea how many regular readers of coldspur there are, but each year there are dozens of persons with whom I communicate solely because of something they have read on the site, none of whom I have ever met. (I have spoken to a few on the telephone, and some have warned me that I should be using something called ‘WhatsApp’ or ‘Skype’, but I have resisted, as no one really needs to see my face, and I am comfortable working my PC while the speakerphone is on.) I thank you all for your interest, hints, and advice, and earnestly encourage anyone to email me, or post a comment on the website, if he or she has a comment or question. I respond to every message, as promptly as I can, and, while I know I have not followed up religiously on all tips and leads, I hope that I have tidied up each thread of correspondence politely and adequately. (I admit that I occasionally overlook aspects of an earlier exchange with a correspondent.) Thank goodness for the software on WordPress that traps nearly all junk posts: at the last count I had a total of 6,437,245 messages rejected, which means that I don’t have to go and inspect and delete more than a handful each day (which task I did have to perform in the early days before the special software was introduced). If you have tried to post a comment, and have been ignored, please use my personal email address instead. And do stay in touch.

2. On the Archives

For the past three or four years, I have performed my research exclusively from my home in the North Carolina boondocks, supplied constantly by the invaluable services of abebooks, and my chief photographer in London, Dr Kevin Jones. Yet I have missed visiting the archives, and the excitement of leafing through original documents, and encountering unexpected clues. Most of my time amongst the repositories has been spent at Kew, but I have also visited The Bodleian Library, and Balliol College Library, in Oxford, as well as the excellent resource at Churchill College in Cambridge. Many years ago I visited the Stanford University Library in Palo Alto, but that was when I was researching the life of Gordon Kaufmann, architect, for my ODNB entry, and I have not visited any other home of archives in the United States. The University of North Carolina in nearby Wilmington does not even carry a useful subscription to JSTOR material. Since I am not a faculty member, I cannot, moreover, access any material (such as the ODNB) on-line from home.

I have, however, occasionally requested digital information from such institutions. Many years ago I acquired photocopies of some of David Dallin’s papers on Alexander Foote from the New York Public Library – and wish now that I had ordered far more than I did. I did commission some marginally useful photographs of the E. H. Cookridge files on Guy Liddell from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Earlier this year I requested information on Stephen Alley’s biography from Glasgow University, but Covid had prevented any action, and I shall try again in the New Year. I never heard back from St. Edmund Hall in Oxford about information on the mysterious Mr. Snelling who featured in the Portland Spy case (see ‘Trevor Barnes Gives the Game Away’ at http://www.coldspur.com/year-end-wrap-up-2020 ). Dr. Chris Smith (see below) introduced me to some material from the John Cairncross archive at the Special Collections Department of Cambridge University Library.

Hoover Institution Library & Archive

A visit to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California would be very rewarding, what with the archives of such as George Hill, Kenneth de Courcy, Robert Conquest, and many more available for inspection. The Library is located just down the road from where our son and his family live, in Los Altos, and in theory should be the most convenient facility to visit when next we voyage out west. Yet, after two years of separation, I can hardly see myself happily absenting myself from son, daughter-in-law and grand-daughters for days at a time, however fruitful such a visit might be. I would prefer to have a round of golf with Sylvia, James and Ashley (now 10, and very keen on the game) instead. There will not be many more such opportunities.

Yet I did recently bring part of a fascinating archive to my home. This summer I acquired, via an on-line auction, a portion of the papers of Donald McCormick, aka Richard Deacon, who wrote several books on intelligence (such as the notorious British Connection). It comprises a mixed set of letters to McCormick (but none written by him) from such luminaries in the intelligence world as Natalie Wraga, Arden Winch, Isaiah Berlin, Nigel West, and Steven Dedijer, as well as a copy of Lord Inverchapel’s last Will and Testament, and a typed statement by Alexander Foote, complaining about the quality of his interrogation by MI5 officers. Perhaps the most unusual of the items is a long handwritten letter, in German, by Karl Friedman to his sister Lizzy (Kim Philby’s first wife), written to her from the Afikim kibbutz in December 1967. It is accompanied by a few photographs, including one of Lizzy herself (below). I have no idea how these pieces arrived in McCormick’s hands, but the whole package cries out for comprehensive analysis and reproduction at some time.

Lizzy, Karl, Rina, Denny (Rifikim, 1967)

3. The Biography of Ter Braak

I wrote about my communications with Jan-Willem van den Braak in February 2019, when I indicated that his biography of the Abwehr spy, Willem Ter Braak, whose real name was Engelbertus Fukken, was going to be translated from the Dutch, and published soon thereafter in English. Well, that did not happen, but I believe a much better outcome has now been arranged. Mr. van den Braak and I had several fruitful discussions, and he embarked upon a project of deeper research that resulted in considerable changes and extensions to the original text.

I became very excited about Mr van den Braak’s discoveries, and the outcome was that I very happily agreed to part-underwrite the translation exercise. Jan-Willem worked very diligently on delving further into the sources of Ter Braak’s life, and the events leading up to his being parachuted into the English countryside in October 1940. Consequently, the new edition of his book will be available in the spring of 1922, published by Pen and Sword.  I believe that he has performed some brilliant research, and done an outstanding job in explaining the complex environment in which the spy was brought up, and how he was eventually recruited by the Abwehr. What is more, the author invited me to contribute an Afterword to his book: in it I express my great enthusiasm about his account while reserving the admission that he and I may draw slightly different conclusions from the circumstances of Ter Braak’s apparent suicide. Moreover, I was also able to review the translation, and offer my own idiosyncratic comments on the text. The translator selected, while showing great skill with the English language, was not a native English speaker, and I thought that showed on occasions. I was happy to apply my own standards of English style, grammar and composition (hidebound and antiquated as they may be) in order to prepare a story that, in my opinion anyway, would provide a more fluid narrative.

The Dutch book, which appeared in 2017, was titled Spion tegen Churchill (‘Spy against Churchill’), and I pointed out to Jan-Willem that I did not think it was a very accurate, or even compelling, choice. After all, every Abwehr spy sent to the United Kingdom clearly had a mission of undermining Churchill’s campaign, and the case that Ter Braak might have been sent on a mission to assassinate the Prime Minister was tenuous at best. Spies did not normally engage in such violent acts, which might have had unexpected consequences. About a year ago, we agreed that The Spy Who Died Out in the Cold (which Jan-Willem had selected from a newspaper headline) was a more accurate and engaging title, and would provide a scenario that succinctly described Ter Braak’s unique fate – dying alone on a cold winter night in an air-raid shelter in Cambridge.

‘Hitler’s Spy Against Churchill’

Yet the publisher unfortunately has decided otherwise – as the picture shows. She overruled our submission, based on some ‘market research’, that Pen and Sword had undertaken, where the word ‘Churchill’ is believed to be a big draw in attracting prospective buyers to a book. What it means is that the cover of the book is in my opinion a little cluttered, as the preferred title has been included as a nominal subtitle. The density of information is increased by the fact that Jan-Willem generously requested that ‘with an afterword by Antony Percy’ appear on the cover as well. That slogan does not have the appeal of a ‘Nigel West’ endorsement, but I am happy to receive a little publicity. On the other hand, the style editor at Pen and Sword was mercifully quite impressed with the fluency and drive of the text, which means that, apart from such whims that may arise from the application of the corporate ‘house style’, we should not expect too many unpleasant surprises when the book is eventually released. (It seems nearly ready to go, but I have not found an announcement on the company’s website, even though over 250 books ‘coming soon’ are listed for publication up to August 2023. We received the proofs from the publisher as I was putting this month’s coldspur to bed, with my editorial team generously giving up some of their holidays to accomplish the task.) I shall post further news of the book’s availability as soon as I receive it. It has been a great pleasure working with Mr van den Braak, who has made a major contribution to the history of espionage.

4. George Graham & “The Spies’ Spy”

I recently wrote about the strange case of George Graham, the SOE officer deputed to accompany George Hill as his cipher-clerk when Hill was sent out to Moscow in November 1941 to set up the SOE mission. The diaries of Guy Liddell had revealed that Archie Boyle, the SOE Security Officer, had informed the head of MI5’s B Division, during the investigation into the Gouzenko disclosures in October 1945, and the quest for ‘ELLI’, that Graham’s real name was Serge Leontiev. That news had in turn provoked Liddell to carry out a thorough investigation into the man’s background, and to determine what security exposures might have been raised.

I expressed my amazement that any intelligence officer worth his salt would have recommended the son of a White Russian officer for such a sensitive post in the nest of the NKVD. The Soviet intelligence service would surely have wanted to find out the man’s background and credentials, and whether he had any relatives living in the Soviet Union, and, even if they had not closely tracked the Leontiev family, would have been prompted by the man’s native speaking of Russian to take a very close interest. And, in my initial investigation into Graham’s immigration, naturalisation and matrimonial records, I discovered some rather challenging anomalies.

Since then, I have engaged a couple of London-based researchers to perform a much deeper inspection of Graham’s life and career, one from a general genealogical and biographical perspective, the other approaching the topic from more of an intelligence and military angle. That exercise is now almost concluded, and I am ready to present a startling account of Leontiev’s rise and fall in the United Kingdom, which starts with a connection to Sir Paul Dukes, and ends with a stumbling post-war role with BBC Foreign Broadcasts. I also succeeded in making contact with the family of George Graham’s uncle, Alexander Briger, whose grandson of the same name is an illustrious Australian conductor, and they have shared some remarkable reminiscences about George. I shall dedicate my January 2022 coldspur bulletin to his story.

At the same time that I wrote about Graham, I mentioned the fact that Stephen Alley (an officer in MI5, and a possible candidate for ‘ELLI’) had made a claim that he was fired from MI6 because he refused to assassinate Joseph Stalin, an assertion that appears in Michael Smith’s Six. The source of this statement lay in his archive deposited at Glasgow University, but, because of Covid, the librarians there had not been able to access the records for me. I was just considering inquiring again when I received my package from the McCormick archive, and I was bowled over to find a confirmation of the story within.

It appeared in a letter written by Arden Winch, dated June 7, 1979. Now Arden Winch (1928-1991) was not a name I knew, but I have discovered that he was a prominent writer and director of crime and intelligence TV series, such as ‘Cold Warrior’, in the 1970s and 1980s. Having just read McCormick’s (Deacon’s) history of the British Secret Service, Winch wrote to offer a couple of anecdotes. He had been performing research for a film on Sidney Reilly, which project never came to fruition, and after mentioning George Hill and Robin Bruce Lockhart, he came to Stephen Alley. The next paragraph runs as follows:

Anyway, I eventually met Stephen Alley, then retired to Bray. All the previous agents I had met had been in awe of Alley obviously the spies’ spy. I don’t know if you knew him. He was, in appearance, the classic retired gentleman. He treated his wife with splendid old-world courtesy, which, in a way is a pity in that he carefully avoided telling her much about his work, partly because it would be dangerous for her, partly because he believed that you didn’t involve the Fair Sex in these sordid matters. He remarked that he had never risen far in the Service as he should have done. I happened to know his position, and there wasn’t much further he could have gone, and asked, why. I didn’t always obey orders, he explained. What sort of orders? He glanced, to make sure his wife couldn’t overhear, then said, “Well, it’s a little confidential. But like the time I was ordered to murder Stalin. Never liked the chap much, but he regarded me as a friend, and the idea of walking into his office and killing him no, I said, I wouldn’t do it.” Then he lowered his voice still further. “Anyway, I wasn’t at all satisfied with the arrangements for getting out afterwards.”

Stephen Alley

The lessons from this anecdote must be 1) that spies indeed are not reliable assassins, and 2) that, if you want a long and successful marriage, you should never tell your spouse that you were once ordered to kill a foreign despot. (Although she might, of course, rebuke you for not sacrificing yourself for the greater good of humanity, and then remind you to take out the garbage.) But I liked that bit about the Exit Strategy. And, even if an admission of ‘not liking much’ someone who was responsible for the deaths of millions of his own citizens is a troubling example of British litotes (and, after all, Churchill did go on about how much he liked Stalin), it all throws some revealing light on the Mystery that Stephen Alley became. You will not read about that in Jeffery.

5. Paperback Editions

An exercise that always intrigues me is checking what changes have been made in the paperback (or any second) edition of any book on intelligence. As I have documented before, it is well-nigh impossible to release a book on this subject that contains no errors, but the implications of fixing them are highly problematic. Of course, if egregious mistakes are discovered when it is too late to change the galley-proofs, errata slips can be inserted, but that can be very messy, and just draw attention to the oversights and misrepresentations. I made a few stupid errors in compiling Misdefending the Realm, but, in my own defence, I was editor, fact-checker and proof-reader, and one can read one’s own outpourings for only so long before succumbing to ennui and somnolence. And it is unlikely that a second edition will come out, although, for a few months a couple of years ago, an editor at the company that took over the University of Buckingham Press did express to me interest in bringing out a new edition. Nothing came of it, however.

One of the challenges is that any dramatic change to the text – apart from the correction of minor facts – will probably require changes to the Index, and that is not a task to be assumed lightly. I notice that the 1968 version of M. R. D. Foot’s SOE in France managed to maintain the same Index from the 1966 first edition verbatim. The changes demanded by the threat of lawsuits were able to be accommodated by replacing paragraphs with new text of the same length. When Patrick Marnham informed me of the upcoming paperback version of War in the Shadows, I became temporarily excited at the prospect of a radically new account of Henri Déricourt’s recruitment, based on my discussions with him. Yet, while Marnham was able to provide a fascinating new Afterword (which did not affect the Index), the text appears to be completely unchanged from that of the original hardback version.

I understand that substantial changes to a text conventionally require a new edition to be identified, and a new ISBN to be allocated. In 1968, there were no ISBNs, and SOE in France was presented as a ‘second impression with amendments’, while the reader had to work out him- or her-self exactly what had changed. By virtue of allowing more text on each page of his Preface, Foot was able to add commentary that summarized his changes, including the need to ‘modify a number of passages which gave some quite unintended personal offense’, and to respond to reviewers’ critiques. In 2002, with a wholesale re-drafting, Foot was able to supplement his 1968 Preface with a couple more pages of explanation for changes made to what the Publishers vaguely identify as ‘this edition’. It does have an ISBN now, of course, but, again, exactly what textual amendments have been made can only be determined by painstaking analysis that I have not yet undertaken. Moreover, it is astounding, to me, that, after all that passage of time, Foot did not make wholesale changes to his narrative. Yet there were surely political reasons for that.

Patrick Marnham’s paperback edition of War in the Shadows is described purely as that – ‘the paperback edition’ of the 2020 hardback version, with no obvious indication that the Postscript is new. I am grateful for it, since it refers to coldspur, and my joint research with Professor Glees, but the Postscript is undated. Nevertheless, a new ISBN has been granted: 978-0-86154-058-7, as opposed to 978-1-78607-809-4, which strikes me as an odd system, with a completely fresh set of numbers, while the ebook ISBN (978-1-78607-810-0) remains unchanged. What does that mean? That the Postscript does not appear in the current e-book version? I have no idea. What is going on here? Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

And then there is Andrew Lownie’s Stalin’s Englishman. Again, perceptive and dedicated readers will recall that, a few years ago, I had to rebuke Mr. Lownie strongly in person when, after I had supplied corrections to his first edition of the book, he incorporated the changes without giving me any credit at all. The publication of these two editions presents further paradoxes. (Both were British versions: the republication of such works in the USA, often with different titles and Americanization of spelling, is a topic that I shall not venture to explore here.) The original (2015) edition came in three formats: the hardback (ISBN 978 1 473 62736 9); the Trade paperback (978 1 473 62737 6); and ebook (978 1 473 62739 0). The 2016 paperback edition is described blandly as ‘first published in paperback in 2016’, and is given an ISBN of 978 1 473 62738 3, with the fact that a ‘trade paperback’ has already been issued apparently irrelevant. The wording does not indicate that any textual amendments have taken place. Lownie, however, made some substantive additions to his text, starting in Chapter 29, which means that the ensuing chapters start on higher page numbers, and the Index has had to be re-drafted. Some very subtle adjustments to the very lengthy Acknowledgements have been made, but without including my name (which was what really galled me!). Apart from the reproduction of extracts from some very flattering reviews, inserted as a Frontispiece, Lownie gives no indication, however, that his text has changed. That strikes me as irresponsible. It is all very strange.

Dr. Chris Smith, on the other hand, behaved impeccably. In 2019 he published The Last Cambridge Spy, a biography of John Cairncross. I tactfully pointed out to him a few chronological and logical errors concerning Arthur Martin’s visit to the USA, and Cairncross’s ‘confession’ there. Smith was very professional and thorough in his replies: we both understand the challenges of working through what can be very deceptive memoirs or archives, and he thought my published criticisms were fair. He committed to incorporating some changes for the paperback edition, but, when we were last in contact in May of this year, Dr. Smith expressed uncertainty as to whether the publisher was going ahead with the paperback edition.

This all leads up to Trevor Barnes and Helen Fry. I purchased Helen Fry’s Spymaster: The Secret Life of Kendrick, her biography of Thomas Kendrick, in 2014, the year in which Marranos Press published it. Its ISBN-13 is given as 978-1500418830. I recall it as an amateurish production, strewn with errors, and delivering little new of any substance. When the book was re-issued this summer, as Spymaster: The Man Who Saved MI6, I expressed mild interest, with no real desire to re-inspect it, but was persuaded by one or two correspondents to acquire it, as it reportedly has a brand new chapter on Kim Philby (see below). Thus I now possess a volume with a totally new identifier: ISBN 978-0-300-25595-9. Yet neither the frontispiece nor the author gives any indication that this is a new edition of a previously published book, or what changes have been incorporated. It is not clear whether the blurbs refer to this new edition, or the original. It is all highly irregular and deceptive, in my opinion. Andrew Lownie is Fry’s agent, and presumably managed the whole affair.

Helen Fry’s ‘Spymaster’

As for Trevor Barnes’s Dead Doubles, I own it in the First U.S. Edition (978–0-06-285699-9). I had submitted a number of comments (and corrections) to the author after reading the book a couple of years ago (see http://www.coldspur.com/five-books-on-espionage-intelligence ). I enjoyed, for a while, a productive exchange with Barnes, from which I gathered that he was overall in sympathy with my observations. And then he suddenly closed up, perhaps after I publicized on coldspur revelations that tended to overshadow his rather coy attempt to keep an identity a secret. Ever since then, I have been waiting for the new paperback edition to come out, in order to discover whether he incorporated any of my recommendations – and gave me credit! Well I read recently that it has been published, but I really do not want to have to purchase it just to verify those facts. Does anyone out there in coldspur-land have a copy, and have you managed to notice what changes and acknowledgments have been made? Please let me know if you have. (But I suspect most readers are not very concerned about these details. . . . )

6. The Non-Communicants

I do not intend to discuss here those persons who have declined to participate in the rites of the Church, but instead to indulge in some curmudgeonly and unseasonal complaints about those members of academia and journalism who maintain a stand-offish stance when approached on matters of intelligence. I have enjoyed mixed success in trying to engage prominent ‘experts’ in the field – some very fruitful, not the least of which must be the warm and detailed response from Professor Glees when I wrote to him about Isaiah Berlin and Jenifer Hart many years ago, an exchange that brought me down this long path of research. Yet I have experienced several blank responses, of which the behaviours of Christopher Murphy and Dónal O’Sullivan were the most egregious in 2021.

Earlier this year, I underwent an extraordinary series of experiences with The Journal of Intelligence and National Security. After my review of Agent Sonya was published (incidentally nominated as ‘Book Review of the Year’ by Lady Gaga), I thought that I would not offer my services again. It is a rewarding exercise if one needs the publicity, or feels a charitable need to enlighten the world, but it is very time-consuming. The Journal does not pay reviewers, it works very slowly, and makes strenuous demands on the identification of sources (a practice I heartily endorse). Thus, if I have something to say, I can more speedily distribute any commentary or critique on coldspur. Moreover, it is not as if the Journal enjoys broad readership: the institution resolutely shows that it targets it product at universities, and it is supremely expensive for an independent or retired researcher to acquire individual reports that it publishes.  Its owner Taylor & Francis also publishes enhanced extracts from intelligence files at the National Archives (see http://www.secretintelligencefiles.com/unauthenticated). Professor Glees himself promotes the collection by writing here that “Few resources can be of greater use to the student of 20th century history than easy access to the original documentary evidence of how Britain’s foreign policy was shaped by secret intelligence”. But it is hardly ‘easy’ if a student is not a member of a subscribing library.

Earlier this year, however, the Journal (through the University of Aberystwyth) approached me to inquire whether I might want to review David Burke’s Family Betrayal: Agent Sonya, MI5 and the Kuczynski Network? If there was one subject that could grab my attention, this was it, and I wondered what new material Burke (who wrote The Lawn Road Flats, and The Spy Who Came in from the Co-Op, about Melita Norwood) had managed to dig up. I thus agreed – on the basis that the publisher would supply me with a hard copy, as I do not review e-books – to deliver a review for the periodical. I then waited, and waited, for the book to arrive. After about six weeks, nothing had happened, so I emailed my contact at Aberystwyth, and he promised to harass the History Press. A week or so later the book arrived, and I set to work.

I was not very much impressed. Burke did not have much new to say, repeated some erroneous claims from Co-Op, padded out his story with much familiar material, and elided even the yarns that Ben Macintyre had spun. So I wrote up my review, but, before performing the task of adding all the references required, thought I should pass my 1600-word offering by the editors in order to verify that it met their needs. But I never heard back – not even an acknowledgment. That was in August. A couple of weeks ago, however, another copy of Family Betrayal arrived in my mail-box – presumably the original dispatch, although I could not espy a date anywhere. So now I have two copies of the book, and an unpublished critique that I can surely use when I next decide to have a set of book reviews as a coldspur offering. And that will definitely be my last venture with The Journal of Intelligence and National Security.

Another academic whom I tried to contact was Calder Walton. I had rather enjoyed his 2013 book, Empire of Secrets, and noticed that he had taken up a position as Assistant Director of the Belfer Center’s Applied History Project and Intelligence Project at the Harvard Kennedy School in Boston (see https://www.belfercenter.org/person/calder-walton). Walton’s bio indicates his association with Christopher Andrew, and ‘for six years, privileged access to the archives of MI5’, a provocative claim in its own right. But what really grabbed my attention was the following: “Calder is currently undertaking two major research projects: he is general editor of the multi-volume Cambridge History of Espionage and Intelligence to be published by Cambridge University Press. Over three volumes, with ninety chapters by leading scholars, this project will be a landmark study of intelligence, exploring its use and abuse in statecraft and warfare from the ancient world to the present day.”

It occurred to me that Dr. Walton (with his very WASPish-sounding name: it is said that you can tell a true WASP if, by transposing Christian name and surname, no noticeable jarring occurs, such as with Winthrop Rutherfurd or Hudson Swafford) might not be familiar with Misdefending the Realm, or with my subsequent work on coldspur, and that the Cambridge History might be needlessly impoverished without someone in authority taking stock of some of the latest research. I thus wrote a very warm email to him, welcoming him to New England (where I used to live), and encouraging him to read a few essays on coldspur, highlighting the one concerning Dick White,that I thought would be of particular interest. And I never heard back. I notice now that I also sent him a flattering message, accompanied by a series of questions, back in 2014 after I had read Empire of Secrets, and did not receive any response then. Walton Calder – another of the Great Non-Communicants.

7.  Guy Liddell’s Diaries: TWIST and Scout

I have been revisiting the full digitized version of Guy Liddell’s Diaries, this time with the objective of picking up everything he wrote about GILBERT (Henri Déricourt), Nicolas Bodington, and SOE in general. Each time I return to the journals I discover something new, since, in previous projects, I have been focused on other persons and operations, and have had to close my mind to much of the wealth of information that resides there. What I may have overlooked as insignificant when I first passed through them can appear highly important on a later project: for example, I have just discovered several nuggets involving (primarily) Liddell, Frost, Maltby and Gambier-Parry on the severe deficiencies of RSS in 1942. I wish I had used in The Mystery of the Undetected Radios this gem from September 24, 1942, when Liddell is trying to convince his boss, Petrie, about the need for more efficient mobile units to track down new spies arriving. It confirms my analysis precisely (and Liddell does not even mention the fact that the operator might move his or her location):

If he transmitted three times a week for about 10 minutes or quarter of an hour at a time we might reasonably expect to pick him up in due course. We should then have an area of some 60 miles in which to operate the M.U.s. These units were not however particularly satisfactory since unless we happen to be fairly near at the time of transmission and searching on the direct frequency we should not pick up the transmission. If the man only came up occasionally on the call sign and changed his frequency and time it was on the whole improbable that we should pick him up at all. The technical tool was not therefore a particularly efficient one. If we were called upon to operate on the Second Front we should find ourselves singularly ill-equipped.

Moreover, a major item that I had completely ignored beforehand now seems to be a pointer to the creation of the highly secret TWIST Committee (see http://www.coldspur.com/special-bulletin-lets-twist-again/). On August 15, 1942, Liddell wrote: “I saw Archie Boyle with T.A.R. [Robertson], Senter and Lionel Hale. We agreed that on matters of deception it was desirable to persuade the Controller to set up a small committee consisting of T.A.R., Lionel Hale for S.O.E., Montagu for the services and someone from S.I.S.  T.A.R. will take this up with Bevan.” What I find remarkable about this observation is the fact that SOE, which was of course responsible for sabotage, appeared to be driving the intensified deception plans. Liddell does not explain in this entry why the London Controlling Section was not itself adequate for this role, or why the XX Committee was also considered inappropriate. Soon afterwards, however, he took pains to explain to Rear-Admiral Godfrey, the Director of Naval Intelligence (who wanted Bevan to chair the XX Committee) that that Committee’s prime role was viewed at that time as counter-espionage, not deception, a claim that is borne out by other evidence.  In addition, I suspect that the group wanted a more private cabal away from the prying eyes of the LCS’s American partner (the Joint Security Control). The timing from this record looks far more accurate than the two claims that have appeared in print.

The document passed on to the Soviets by Anthony Blunt (reproduced in Nigel West’s Triplex) claimed that the Committee was set up in September 1941: that seems improbably early, as Bevan was not appointed as Controller (replacing Stanley) until May 1942. On the other hand, Roger Hesketh placed its creation as late as April 1943, which would now appear to be a deliberate ploy to minimize its operation and influence by representing it as a short-lived phenomenon taking place after the controversial events. Moreover, August 15, 1942 happened to be the exact day on which Déricourt and Doulet escaped from southern France on the trawler Tarana, which would mean that the small meeting convened by Liddell constituted a timely intervention to authorize the role of SIS/SOE in managing agents in the cause of deception. The essential members are the same as listed in the Blunt document, which makes clear that the scope and opportunities for sowing disinformation transcended the functions of the so-called ‘double agents’ working under MI5’s B1A. What is also intriguing is that Liddell describes Hale as representing SOE: Hale in fact joined SOE as Press Adviser that very same month, but it sounds as if he had a more important role if he was already having meetings with the head of MI5’s Counter-Espionage section. It also shows that Liddell was quite au fait with what was going on, and knew about SOE’s strong presence behind the scenes. In essence, this brief episode represents another shocking and important lead to follow up, with its strong evidence that the TWIST sub-committee constituted the true deception agency before the XX Committee had matured, and provided authorization for SOE’s plots. The disastrous results all originated in this initiative.

[I plan to return to this business in February 2022. I have recently read Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s excellent Churchill’s Shadow, which is predictably scathing about Churchill’s ventures with SOE, but offers little detail. More interesting is David Stafford’s Churchill & Secret Service, from which I took copious notes several years ago. At that time, however, I paid little attention to what he wrote about the Déricourt period. I shall include consideration of his treatment in my coming analysis.]

But back to the Diaries in general. They are, in my opinion, an immensely rich and largely untapped source for the study of World War II and its aftermath. Liddell reveals an extraordinary capacity for tracking any number of complex events around the world, and combines an excellent memory with attention to detail. Yet, at the same time, they disclose the weaknesses of the man, both in the way he spent his time, and in the confessional way he entrusted his true opinions to the apparently temporary secrecy of his regular record. For he must certainly have expected that they would see the light of day some time.

Nigel West’s publication of portions of the Diaries, in two volumes, is useful up to a point. Eunan O’Halpin has written a cool and incisive criticism of West’s rather erratic approach to the selection and editorial process in Volume 1 (1939-1942) – see Intelligence and National Security (2005), “The Liddell Diaries and British Intelligence History” – and I shall not try to embellish his observations here. Moreover, the published version presents extracts only from the years 1939 to 1945 – less than half of the total coverage – and many of the most controversial episodes in MI5 counter-intelligence and counter-espionage occurred in the post-war years up to Liddell’s retirement in 1953. It is a shame that nobody has commissioned a highly capable expert to edit and publish the lot: they are replete with all manner of abbreviations, acronyms, nicknames, and operations and projects apparently unnamed elsewhere that require some deep knowledge and even powerful imagination to work out. Liddell will refer to such as ‘Buster’, ‘RJ’, ‘Anthony’ in quick succession, while mostly referring to subordinates by their surnames. Many names are usually redacted (such as Jane Archer and Kim Philby), although both have escaped the censor’s blue pencil on occasions. Whole entries and paragraphs have been blanked out. Overall the Diaries range from the ordinariness of Mrs. Dale’s Diary (“I am a bit worried about J.C. [Curry]” to the high politics of the Maisky or Lord Alanbrooke Diaries. And that is one reason why they are so compelling.

What perpetually astonishes me is the amount of time that Liddell spent dictating his record, with accounts of long meetings that have taken place, or summaries of reports that he has read, or discussions he has had with civil servants, other intelligence officers (especially those in MI6, such as Menzies and Vivian and Philby), military men, or politicians, as well, of course with the regular meetings he has with his boss Petrie and with his subordinates such as Dick White, ‘Tar’ Robertson, Herbert Hart, Anthony Blunt, John Curry, Stephen Alley, etc., etc. And then there are the numerous lunches, the dinners at his club with, say, visitors from the USA such as William Stephenson, and the parties he attends that are held for departing FBI or OSS officers, or even the Soviet NKVD contingent. Moreover, MI5 officers seem to be regularly going on leave, as well as taking lengthy time off for colds and ‘flu. One would hardly conclude there was a war on, given the way that social life went on, and leave arrangements were considered sacrosanct. (see also: http://www.coldspur.com/the-diary-of-a-counter-espionage-officer/) I have been reminded that their equivalents in SOE worked seven-day weeks, and sixteen-hour days. It does not sound just.

And that time usage gets reflected in Liddell’s effectiveness. He did not manage B Division well. He admitted, in the run-up to the succession question as Petrie spun out his day of retirement, that he was not a good administrator, not a solid delegator, and allowed a very flat organization to operate that resulted in a good deal of confusion. Moreover, he was not a strong champion and salesman of ideas, reluctant to take an issue by the throat. His diary entries are liberally scattered with the expression ‘I personally think’, as if his private being and his professional role, and how they tackled the urgent matters of policy and practice, could be separated, and in that way he betrayed the fact that he was not forthright and persuasive enough to promote and defend what he thought should happen. It is no surprise to me that he was not seriously considered for the Director-General job –  twice.

In addition, he was a poor judge of character. He was quick to criticize those in other agencies who, out of incompetence or malevolence, frustrated him, such as Vivian, Cowgill, Gambier-Parry and Maltby, but was hoodwinked, like so many others, by Philby. Yet he surrounded himself with shady characters and hollow men like Hart, Rothschild, Blunt, and Hollis – even Guy Burgess, who crops up frequently in his journals although he was not directly employed by MI5. Capel-Dunn, the model for Anthony Powell’s ghastly Widmerpool, makes some brief appearances. Meanwhile, a cast of solid, dependable characters moves around in the background – Sclater, Moreton-Evans, Cimperman, Mills, ‘Tar’ Robertson, Brooman-White, Bagot, Jane Archer and Loxley (tragically killed in an aircraft accident on his way to Yalta). Lurking continuously is the ambiguous figure of Dick White, who would outmanœuvre his boss on the path to the Director-Generalship. The whole saga would make an excellent TV series – ‘MI5 at War’, first at war with the Nazis, then with MI6, next with the Soviets, and lastly with itself. Just an idea.

So we are left with the rich insights of a highly intelligent but flawed individual, too cerebral, and not tough or political enough even for his job as Director of Counter-Espionage, let alone MI5 Director-General. Dick White outwitted him with his sharp elbows, and cool manner. Yet MI5 was betrayed overall by a ponderous government bureaucracy, and continually had to deal with the competitive wiles of MI6, which appeared to have more clout through its relationships with the Foreign Office, and through Menzies’ direct contact with Churchill. It astonishes me how, in the midst of war, so much time and energy was spent by so many persons considering the overlap of counter-intelligence activity in MI5 and MI6, and whether amalgamation of the two services should occur. Throughout the war, the debate about combining the two services, or parts of them, is ponderously engaged upon, and in the last year Findlater Stewart’s ‘terms of reference’ for investigating the two services are a constant theme.

Liddell, moreover, never came to grips with the Communist threat, always assuming that the only subversive risk would come from the Communist Party. His trust of characters like Anthony Blunt (who appears regularly in the Diaries), is quite remarkable. An article, or coldspur bulletin, on the Liddell-Blunt relationship and exchanges alone could be framed quite easily. This month I picked out a few observations from 1944 that I had overlooked before. On June 28 he wrote: “For example at the moment at any rate Russian espionage could not possibly be carried out except in the background of the CPGB”. On October 21 he cited his friend Peter Loxley, who had just returned from a discussion with Kim Philby: “Peter said he thought that Section IX were perhaps going a bit wide. He had had a talk with Kim about this. Anything in the nature of pursuing prominent communists all over the world was, he thought, a waste of time. The sort of thing should be done on a more selective basis. In other words in areas where the Soviet Govt. had vital interests.” Quite so. Thank you, Kim. Lastly, on November 27, Blunt tried to take control of Soviet counter-espionage: “Anthony came to see me about the possibility of getting assistance from Shillito. He thought the latter might bring his Russian espionage up to London and do part time in B1B. I am rather doubtful as to whether this would be a satisfactory arrangement, but I will have a talk with Roger.” Hollis would no doubt have some firm ideas.

8. In Memoriam: Geoffrey Elliott (1939-2021)

Apart from a brief conversation with Mark Seaman at Lancaster House, I believe I have ever met or corresponded with only two acknowledged alumni of MI6 (or MI5). The senior of the two was Geoffrey Elliott, who died in Bermuda earlier this year. The reason that I may have gained an entrée was that he had been taught by my father, at Whitgift School (the same institution that I attended), after the war. I gathered from reading his memoir about his father, Kavan, who was an SOE agent dropped into Czechoslovakia, that his memories of the school were not wholly negative – an impression that surprised me a little, given his exotic background and later enterprises. I thus got in touch with him through St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and we spoke once or twice by telephone, and communicated more by email. He turned out to be a very helpful supplier of insights to me during the time I was researching my thesis, and maintained a caustic and engaging sense of humour in the confidences he shared with me.

His memoir, I Spy; The Secret Life of a British Agent is perhaps his best book. He wrote another fascinating study (Secret Classrooms), co-authored with Harold Shukman, of the Joint Services School for Linguists, where he learned Russian, and he also collaborated with Igor Damaskin on a valuable biography of Donald Maclean’s mistress, Kitty Harris: The Spy With Seventeen Names. His brief profile of ‘Tar’ Robertson, Gentleman Spymaster, is no doubt his weakest book, as he admitted to me, full of anecdotal information, much of which is irrelevant to the story. He was also a very busy translator. He is listed as the translator of Rufina Philby’s Private Life of Kim Philby, and is also credited, by Nigel West, in his Acknowledgements to Triplex, as the co-translator (alongside Didna Goebbel) of the Russian documents that the NKVD itself translated from English sources when they were passed on by such as Anthony Blunt and Kim Philby. This achievement has a singular historical significance, as the British Government has not seen fit to release the English originals (if they still exist, of course). We owe it to Soviet espionage to be able to inspect valuable historical records that should be part of our documentary heritage.

When I heard about Geoffrey’s death, I sought out his other family memoir, From Siberia, With Love, published in 2004, which tells of the adventures of his grandparents’ (on his mother’s side), and which I had completely overlooked beforehand. They brought him up in London when his father was on some of his many absences. Having once escaped from Irkutsk to the United Kingdom in 1907, they somewhat improbably returned to the area, only having to flee again when the Bolsheviks took over, thus proving life’s contingency on very slender threads. I was somewhat startled to read a sentence in Elliott’s book which directly echoes (or anticipates) what I wrote in my piece A Rootless Cosmopolitan:

            There is really no comparison between my grandparents’ iron-spiked experiences and my marshmallow life. They could never go back to where they were born. I can; though when I do, I feel ever more disconnected, déraciné, what Stalin called a ‘rootless cosmopolitan’, while at the same time till the day I die I shall be seen as a foreigner in the place I now regard as home.

Of all the books I have read in 2021 this is the one I have enjoyed the most. It is well-researched (although it includes a certain amount of speculation concerning his grandfather’s experiences), rich in its description of life in Odessa and in Siberia – and in London – at the beginning of the last century, and occasionally very amusing. Elliott shows a very dry wit, and a deep sense of history. I regret that I never made the hop over to Bermuda to shake his hand. St. Antony’s College offers him a tribute at https://www.sant.ox.ac.uk/about/news/geoffrey-elliott-22-april-1939-%E2%80%93-1-may-2021.

9. Philbymania

Nikolay Dolgopolov’s ‘Kim Philby’

I am astonished by the number of books on Kim Philby that continue to be published. I have been gathering some volumes on intelligence by the Russian Nikolay Dolgopolov, including a biography of Philby. It is a rather unsatisfactory composition, lacking an index or any kind of sources (indexes and footnotes are so bourgeois, don’t you agree?), with the Contents placed at the back, in the conventional Russian manner. I was hoping to find some original inclusion of documents that Philby had passed on to his masters, but they do not seem to be there. No telegrams from the period between June 1941 and May 1948 are reproduced. Instead, I read some extraneous padding in chapters dedicated to each of his comrades in the Cambridge 5, and one dedicated to possible members beyond the Five. It seems that Dolgopolov does not even mention ELLI, and dismisses the idea of Hollis’s guilt with a snort. But I shall persevere with the text in the hope of gleaning something new.

Then there is Helen Fry’s book. I have not yet read it cover to cover, but the chapter on Philby seems to suggest that Philby and Hugh Gaitskell may have been working unofficially for MI6 when they were in Vienna in 1933 and 1934, a hypothesis provoked by the fact that Kendrick did not call Philby out for his aid to the communists. It sounds a bit unlikely to me (Would Philby really have taken all those risks, including marrying Litzi Friedman? What about Maurice Dobb, and his advice to Philby? What was all that subterfuge with the Anglo-German Friendship Society for? And how come Kendrick was The Man Who Saved MI6 if he was hoodwinked by Philby?), but I shall have to read the whole work, and come to some carefully considered judgment. [Postscript, December 30: I have now read the book. Much of it is practically unreadable: the author has no analytical sense, writes clunky prose, and makes all manner of unverifiable assertions, dismal errors of fact, and sophomoric observations about the war and intelligence. I am amazed that Yale University Press has put its name to it. Maybe I shall return to it at some other time.]

This summer saw the appearance of two more volumes, Kim and Jim, by Michael Holzman, which explores the linkage and conflict between Philby and James Angleton, his counterpart at the CIA, who was (according to Holzman) heavily influenced by the MI6 officer in World War 2, and then Love and Deception, by James Hanning, which analyses Philby’s time in Beirut, and the circumstances leading up to his escape to Moscow in January 1963. I have affectionately dubbed this book Kim and Tim, after his longstanding friend from Westminster School, Tim Milne, who features prominently.

I have been in contact with both authors over time, and I even get a mention in the Acknowledgments of Hanning’s work, but what I say should come as no surprise to either of them. While there may be aspects of Philby’s life on which new light can be directed (such as his journalism, as Holzman claims), I wonder whether it is worth anyone’s time packaging such insights into a new publication where so much familiar material has to be trotted out to pad the story.

Michael Holzman’s book makes much of the influence that Philby was assumed to have exerted on Angleton during World War II, but this evidence is tenuous. The intersection of their careers, moreover, appears to be focused on double-cross operations, and in this arena Holzman seems to be unfortunately at sea, since he continually misrepresents the dynamics of what ‘double agents’ involve, and their role in disinformation campaigns. Thus his book relates some very familiar accounts of Philby’s activities, complemented by a large amount of material of some historical interest that is irrelevant to the main thread. Holzman appears not to have read or internalised what I have written in Misdefending the Realm, or on coldspur, and acknowledges no references to my researches. Moreover, the book has been compiled in a bizarre way: the chapters are unnumbered, and the sources are even more inscrutable than in most such works, with no easy indication to which passages the references relate. What Holzman has shown, however, is an enterprising inspection of the work of Dolgopolov.

Likewise, Hanning (who, I know, has seen my pieces on Blunt) does not appear to have read Misdefending the Realm, and does not consider any of my evidence about Blunt’s culpability. (I am relegated to a minor footnote, with an inaccurate url, on page 299, where I have to share space with that erratic potboiler, Roland Perry, which is not very comforting.) Hanning’s highly speculative book does admittedly contain some mildly absorbing details about Lebanese politics, but they really reveal no fresh insights on the enigma of Philby’s tip-off. The enthusiastic blurbs that bedeck the cover do not seem justified to me. His text appears to consist of a long series of rhetorical questions about Philby’s motivations and behaviour, and his discoveries (such as they are) do not shed much fresh light on his subject. Inexplicably, the author William Boyd selected it as his Book of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement.

Yet the spate of books on Philby continues, all claiming to display a new angle on the enigmatic personality of the traitor. I select here a gamut of titles exploiting Philbymania that I have spotted in the publishers’ lists for 2022:

Barbara Pym

Kim and Pym: The whimsical novelist Barbara Pym met Kim at an Anglo-German Friendship dinner in 1937, and was instantly smitten. Her passion was not fully reciprocated, but the couple carried on a brief tempestuous relationship, and the trove of their correspondence was discovered –  and then authenticated –  by Hugh Trevor-Roper shortly before the patrician historian’s death. Kim and Pym analyzes what was one of the most intriguing romances of the twentieth century. Philby has been declared by some to be the model for Francis Cleveland in Pym’s Crampton Hodnet. Others say: ‘No way’.

The Brothers Grimm

Kim and Grimm: Philby accompanied his friend Tim Milne on a trip to Germany in 1933, about which we know little. In his book Stalin’s Agent, Boris Volodarsky reveals the existence of agent GRIMM, hitherto unidentified, who was recruited by Arnold Deutsch in Berlin, and became active in London in 1934. This book closes the circle, explaining Philby’s recruitment much earlier than has been supposed to date, and describing how the master-spy was given the cryptonym of the Nazis’ favourite folk-tale authors, whose work was compulsory reading in schools. It also had a serious influence on Philby’s internal tussles with Good and Evil.

Kim Il-Sung

Kim and Kim: In the early days of his premiership, the North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung was considering breaking away from Soviet hegemony, but his advisers convinced him to engage Philby as a consultant, to remind him of the righteousness of the communist cause. Kim1 persuaded Kim2 not to ‘go wobbly’, and millions of North Koreans have subsequently had reason to thank the Westminster School Old Boy for their country’s happy development, celebrating their hero’s birthday every January 1 with fireworks, singing of the school song, and fan-dancing.

Cardinal Richelieu & Inspector Dim

Kim and Dim: The inspiration for Monty Python’s Inspector Dim (who exposed Ron Higgins as a professional Cardinal Richelieu impersonator) was none other than MI5’s Roger Hollis, who was known not to be the sharpest knife in the drawer. Yet he had a more subtle side. Kim and Dim exposes the ploys that Philby and Hollis engineered to subvert British intelligence, including the mythology of ELLI that confused their colleagues so much, and brought much fame and fortune to Chapman Pincher.

Wim Duisenberg

Kim and Wim: When bouffant-haired Dutch Labour Party minister Wim Duisenberg retired suddenly from politics in 1978, no one suspected that he was being groomed to be President of the Central Bank. This was a scheme contrived by the KGB and Philby to undermine Dutch finances, and Kim and Wim had several furtive meetings on neutral territory to prepare for the coup. With a Foreword by Margrethe Vestager.

Slim Whitman

Kim and Slim: One of Kim’s private passions was a love of country-music, and listening to the Greatest Hits of Slim Whitman in the evenings with a bottle or two of brandy gave him much solace in those bleak last days in Beirut. Yet, when he escaped to Moscow, and tried to have Whitman invited on a concert-tour, the Soviet authorities refused to grant a visa to the Smilin’ Starduster, thus contributing largely to Kim’s growing malaise in the Workers’ Paradise.

Alastair Sim

Kim and Sim: Philby was a keen aficionado of stage and screen, and had been very impressed by the performances of Alastair Sim. The oyster-eyed thespian from Edinburgh was introduced to him, and then educated him in how to control the stage. Thus Philby was able to take the entourage of reporters for a dance when he denied his role as the ‘Third Man’ at his mother’s flat in 1955. Judi Dench, citing the assessment of that performance by her husband, Michael Williams, has described it as ‘a complete lesson in acting’.

The ZIm12

Kim and Zim: When Philby arrived in Moscow in 1963, one of his first requests was to be given a ZIM-12 limousine as a mark of his membership of the nomenklatura. He was immediately rebuked as a dangerous ‘capitalist-roadster’, since the ZIM, named after the sometime Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, had been rebranded after Molotov’s fall from favour in 1957. The two forged a bond from this episode, and Kim and ‘Stonearse’ would regularly get together to drink Molotov cocktails, listen to Slim Whitman, and read the Grimm Brothers’ Kinder- und Hausmärchen to each other until Molotov’s death in 1986.

Vyacheslav Molotov

Kim and Nym: [That’s enough ‘Kim’ books. Ed.]

10. Letters to the Editor

One of these days, when I am behind in my research, I shall fill my monthly column with a selection of (mostly unpublished) Letters to the Editor of various publications. I am frequently provoked to spend the time on such exercises when I am troubled by some error, occasionally a matter of simple fact, but more frequently the expression of a misguided opinion by someone who ought to know better. One of my pet peeves is the attribution of purposefulness to the process of evolution, and I noticed that Anna Katharina Schaffner, described as Professor of Cultural History at the University of Kent and Director of Perspectiva’s Emerge project (don’t ask) had committed this error in her review of Charles Foster’s Being a Human in the Times Literary Supplement of October 15. I was thus happy that the periodical printed my letter on November 12. It read as follows:

Could Professor Schaffner be a bit more precise about her categories (review of Being a Human, October 15)? She states that ‘our woes started in the Neolithic period’, and that ‘we traded awe for convenience and control’. But then she goes on to write: “How can we ever truly understand people whose sense of self was so different from our own?” If the Professor is evidently so confused about who ‘we’ are, it does not help the rest of us in sorting out these vexing questions. Furthermore, she appears to misunderstand how evolution works, writing that our ancestors’ “brains grew in size to help them navigate ever more complex relationships”. Such relationships would have foundered irretrievably by the time such changes occurred, and, if evolution were driven by need, waiters and mothers would presumably have acquired two pairs of hands by now.

Professor Schaffner displayed that annoying manner of the preachy journalist, namely using the term ‘we’ when it is not clear whether the writer means ‘you and I’, ‘all right-thinking persons’, ‘the whole of the human race’ or any entity in between. Thus we may read of what ‘we’ have to do to achieve certain goals (e.g. ‘saving the planet’, ‘eradicating world poverty’, ‘delivering racial justice’, ‘shutting out Greta Thunberg’) without having any idea as to what the plan of action is. I noticed that Martin Vander Weyer, the financial correspondent for the Spectator, had written a book titled The Good, the Bad and the Greedy: Why We’ve Lost Faith in Capitalism. Since I regarded him as a champion of free enterprise, I wrote to ask him in what way he belonged to the ‘We’ of the title, wondering, perhaps, whether he was planning to move to North Korea. He replied: “You’ll find the book is in fact a vigorous defence of the good aspects of capitalism”, which is encouraging, I suppose, but merely shows that the choice of title was supremely silly and misleading.

On a slightly less serious note, Literary Review runs a series of modest cartoons titled ‘Illustrations to Unwritten Books’, and the example given in the October edition was ‘How Green Was My Valet’, showing a manservant suffering from severe dyspepsia. Now I very clearly recalled Kenneth Williams treating Richard Llewellyn’s 1939 classic in a similar fashion in a segment of Beyond our Ken on the BBC Light Programme about sixty years ago, only on this occasion the ’greenness’ that the valet displayed was a tint of envy rather than of biliousness. I was gratified to see that the magazine printed my correction.

I suppose this response was unique. After all, one had to be old enough to be a radio-listener from those days, one had to be an avid Kenneth Horne fan, one had to remember the episode clearly, one had to be a contemporary Literary Review reader, and one had to be eccentric enough to believe that it was worth spending a few minutes writing up the observation.  Step forward, coldspur! My brother Michael came closest, reminding me of the following: “That was an excerpt from How Green Was My Valley, another in our series of a film worth remembering, which is more than can be said for the next half-hooouur”, but for some inexplicable reason he is not a Literary Review subscriber.

Christmas Cards from ‘Prospect’: 2020 & 2021

Lastly, those Christmas cards from Prospect magazine. I gave the Editor, Tom Clark, a very hard time a year ago for signing a card to me that included the horrible phrase ‘Myself and the whole team wish you a very happy Christmas’. Well, someone must have taken notice, as the curse of coldspur fell upon him, and he is no longer Editor. I see that Clark has been appointed a Fellow at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation: I am not sure what these chaps do at such institutions, but I hope he learns to write good English there, and gets lots of free chocolate. In his final editorial at Prospect, Clark stated that he would now ‘pass the reins to the legendary former Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger’. Now I had long imagined that Rusbridger was not a mythical being, however, but a real person, and my suspicions were confirmed when I received a Christmas card from the piano-playing ex-principal of Lady Margaret Hall, this time addressed to ‘Mr Percy’, not ‘Richard’. As you can see, Mr. R has improved the syntax, although it appears that Guardian journalists are still not quite sure that ‘the team and I’ (or ‘the team, including me’) would be an appropriate way of identifying themselves. Or perhaps, simply ‘we all’, like the Gang I introduced at the beginning of this post?

This month’s Commonplace entries can be seen here.

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The ‘Prosper’ Disaster

Major Francis Suttill, aka ‘Prosper’

1. Introduction

2. The Historiography

3. The Authorised History

4. ‘SOE in France’

5. ‘All The King’s Men’

6. Mark Seaman’s ‘Glass Half Full’

7. The Foot-Suttill Collaboration

8. ‘PROSPER: Major Suttill’s French Resistance Network’

9. Mark Seaman’s Final Judgment

10. Conclusions

Introduction

(For explanatory background to this report, please refer to my previous posts on the betrayal of French SOE circuits: ‘Claude Dansey’s Mischief’, and ‘Special Bulletin: Let’s TWIST Again’.)

When I dipped my toe into the waters of the Henri Déricourt affair, I was not aware that I was going to be grappling with one of the most controversial topics of 20th-century British intelligence. Almost eighty years after the events of 1943, when the leader of an SOE F Section network was captured by the Germans, alongside his wireless operator, the analysts who have written about the incident fall into two sharply opposed camps. On the one side, supported by the tradition of authorised historians and tacitly encouraged by government institutions, are those who downplay the significance of Déricourt’s evident treachery in the betrayal of Francis Suttill (the eponymous Prosper) and Gilbert Norman, ascribing their downfall to poor security procedures and bad luck. They describe the other camp, who claim that malign and misguided deception policies deriving from SOE, MI6 and, vicariously, the Chiefs of Staff, were responsible for Déricourt’s ability to provide the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) in Paris with revealing information about the Prosper network, as ‘conspiracy theorists’, a term that carries implicit abuse for the first camp, but in fact accurately describes what the second camp is properly trying to investigate – a conspiracy.

What astonishes me is how vitriolic the dispute has become. I have received email messages, and have noticed comments on chat group sites, that are utterly intemperate and equally misinformed about the arguments made by those writers who question the official story that maintains that no betrayal of the circuit, nor any cover-up, occurred.  Such commentators (for example) use partial errors in such analysis to discredit completely all aspects of the work they criticise. This phenomenon encouraged me to dig much deeper, in an effort to understand how the whole business could have grown so divisive. In this report, therefore, I plan to describe how the controversy evolved, and review the major events and publications that gave rise to the dispute over the betrayal of the Prosper network. I shall then offer a detailed analysis of the current ‘establishment’ case, as made by Francis Suttill’s son, and endorsed by the nearest person we have to a current ‘authorised’ historian of SOE, Mark Seaman. In further bulletins I shall relate what I have learned from a detailed study of the Déricourt archive, an exercise that I believe sheds dramatic new light on the affair, as well as explore the 1943 decisions and directives of the War Cabinet that led to activities that were later regretted.

Henri Dericourt

Both camps would probably agree on the basic facts. Déricourt, a French aviator who had had pre-war contacts with the Germans, managed, in August 1942, to gain a place on the MI9 escape-line from Vichy France through Gibraltar to Scotland. At some stage during his interrogations he was recruited by SOE, and trained as an Air Movements Officer to plot and execute the landing of F Section agents in occupied France. Between February and July 1943 he successfully carried out this role, although the head of the growing Prosper network, Francis Suttill, expressed fears that his network had been penetrated. Indeed, Déricourt had been in touch with the Gestapo, and had provided them with mail destined for England that they were able to copy. In June 1943, Suttill and Norman were betrayed and arrested, along with hundreds of resistance operators, and many arms caches discovered. Henri Frager, another network leader, voiced his doubts about Déricourt to his SOE bosses, and Déricourt was recalled in February 1944. The investigation was inconclusive, but Déricourt did not work for SOE again. After the war, he went on trial in France for assisting the enemy, but the assistant head of F Section, Nicolas Bodington, in an extraordinary statement to the military court, declared that Déricourt had been working under SOE direction, and the latter left the court a free man.

Yet several strands have to be unravelled. The Prosper network was definitely betrayed, but was its demise attributable to bad practices, such as careless meeting or talk, or undisciplined use of wireless? Was it infiltrated by agents working for the German Abwehr or Sicherheitsdienst? To what degree were Déricourt’s actions responsible? And was SOE in London merely negligent, in tolerating or encouraging poor spycraft, and not paying enough attention to wireless security techniques, or was it more seriously culpable in allowing the network to be sacrificed for broader deception goals?

The Historiography

[The following two sections are largely reliant on the following sources: the Introduction to Nigel West’s Secret War; the Preface, Acknowledgments and Appendices to E. H. Cookridge’s Inside S.O.E; David Stafford’s Introduction to M. R. D. Foot’s SOE 1940-1946; M. R. D. Foot’s Preface to his SOE in France; Bickham Sweet-Escott’s Foreword to his Baker Street Irregular; M. R. D. Foot’s Foreword to William Mackenzie’s Secret History of SOE 1940-1945; The Origins of SOE in France, by Christopher J. Murphy, published in the Historical Journal (2003); and A Glass Half Full – Some Thoughts on the Evolution of the Study of the Special Operations Executive by Mark Seaman, published in Intelligence and National Security (2005).The analysis is augmented by my own interpretation of events, and by my reading of most of the source books mentioned.]

Ever since SOE’s functioning was revealed after the war, a hint of betrayal was aired. The controversy started when memoirs and biographies of SOE agents began to be published in the 1950s. Bickham Sweet-Escott had tried to gain approval for his memoir Baker Street Irregular in 1954, but was sharply rebuked by the War Office, and had to wait a further eleven years before being allowed to publish it. E. H. Cookridge, whose Inside SOE appeared in 1966, in particular identified Jean Overton Fuller’s Double Webs, and Elizabeth Nicholas’s Death Be Not Proud, which were both published in 1958, as drawing attention to the fact that all was not as well as perhaps claimed in the administration of undercover work in France in World War II. Nigel West also highlighted those two works. Yet (as West also points out) Maurice Buckmaster, who led the British-controlled F section of SOE (as opposed to the Fighting French section RF that consisted of native Frenchpersons, and liaised closely with de Gaulle’s intelligence and sabotage apparatus, the Bureau Central de Renseignements et d’Action – BCRA) had published a memoir in 1952 that recorded some tragic deaths – especially of women agents – and referred obliquely to penetration by informers of their networks.

‘Specially Employed’ by Maurice Buckmaster

Buckmaster’s memoir, titled Specially Employed, was a very coy work. He had surely been encouraged by the War Office, or by the Foreign Office, to publish his book as an item of propaganda, to counter the growing message that the deliverance of countries overrun by the Nazis had largely been abetted by Communist partisans. Yet he did not identify the unit he worked for, the Special Operations Executive (even though Colin Gubbins had revealed its name in a lecture in 1948), describing it as ‘a secret organization in the War Office’ (p 15), but then later as part of the Ministry of Economic Warfare (p 66). Moreover, he was rather cavalier with the facts – even admitting so, in his Foreword – including some egregious and embarrassing errors, such as the claim that the unidentified Prosper and Denise (the codename of Andrée Borrel) were both shot in 1945. He did draw attention to the risk posed by informers, and that such revelations must have caused many agents to be arrested and later killed, but he completely avoided any notion of errors on the part of the ‘Western European Directorate’. While naming both Park (his ‘Cerberus’ at the flat near Oxford Street where agents were briefed), and his personal assistant ‘Vera’ (Atkins), he failed to include his deputy Nicolas Bodington in his narrative.

The author must have believed that his untruths and misrepresentations would not be found out. Yet he would have to adjust his story because of two primary phenomena – not so much the over-dramatised and unreliable memoirs and biographies that appeared, but a) the individual sleuthing of enterprising individuals who had friends who had been killed, and b) memoirs from abroad, notably by members of the German intelligence services, which of course the British authorities could not control or censor. And some of the statements that Buckmaster made in his book would turn out to be very incriminating, as I shall show later.

‘Madeleine’ by Jean Overton Fuller

In the same year in which Buckmaster’s first book appeared (1952), Jean Overton Fuller had published Madeleine, about the SOE wireless operator Noor Inayat Khan, who had been a friend of hers. Noor had been flown into France, alongside Diana Rowden and Cecily Defort, in June 1943, where they were met by Déricourt, to support the Prosper network, but she had been captured in October, and was executed at Dachau in September 1944. In 1953, H. J. Giskes, the German officer who had managed the infamous Englandspiel deception game with captured British wireless apparatus in the Netherlands, published London Calling North Pole, which unveiled how SOE in London had been duped for over a year, and had consequently sent further agents to their doom. And in 1954, Hugo Bleicher, who had been an Abwehr officer in Paris, and through dissimulation had encouraged the Prosper network member Roger Bardet to transfer his allegiances to the Germans, with disastrous results for several SOE agents, published Colonel Henri’s Story.

Thus Fuller, one of the prime investigators into the deaths of agents that were insensitively not openly recognised by the British authorities, had a lot of material to work with. Fuller was an enigmatic character. After Madeleine, she wrote several books about France and the SOE: The Starr Affair (1954), Double Webs (1958), Double Agent? (1961 – described by the author as ‘the expanded and revised edition of Double Webs’), Horoscope for a Double Agent (1961), The German Penetration of SOE (1975), and Déricourt: The Chequered Spy (1989), as well as a compilation of Déricourt’s writings, Espionage as a Fine Art (2002). What is extraordinary is the fact that her later books have become very rare and expensive: only a single copy of Déricourt: The Chequered Spy can be seen as available on abebooks, at a price of over $2,000. It is as if the Foreign Office had bought up as many of the extant copies it could afford, because it found its revelations too damaging. (There have been precedents for such behaviour. Nonetheless, Patrick Marnham, who borrows the volume from the London Library, informs me there appears to be nothing especially damaging or subversive in it.) Another troublesome aspect of Fuller’s work is that she tended to move too close to the persons she wrote about. Double Webs has her reading Déricourt’s palms, devising his horoscope, and discussing theosophy with him. As her obituary in the Guardian put it: “Yet her judgment could suffer from a tendency to become emotionally attached to her subjects.”

Jean Overton Fuller

Her book on John Starr shows such tendencies. Nigel West describes Starr in the following terms: “ . . . an SOE turncoat who had given the Germans his parole in 1943 following his second ill-fated mission to France”, and West compliments Fuller’s Double Webs for revealing that captured British agents were greeted at the SD headquarters in the Avenue Foch by Starr, ‘a genial British officer’. West goes on to write that Starr ‘after the war narrowly escaped prosecution for treason and went to live in Paris’. Yet Fuller’s book on Starr (published in the USA as No. 13, Bob) characterised him as ‘a man of honor and a considerable largeness of heart’ who was let down by the Foreign Office when it had tried to stifle his revelations about German use of SOE radio sets. In a move to absolve Starr, she concluded her book with the following equivocal and clumsy assessment: “Naïveté which may leave one at the mercy of unscrupulous persons is perhaps a failing, especially on the part of those holding respectable positions; but failure to recognize decency, and equivocation when the greater safety would lie in frankness can, even from a practical point of view, be equally a blunder.”

Double Webs, on the other hand, shows Fuller’s pertinacity as a sleuth. It is remarkable in that it offers a comprehensive analysis of Déricourt’s recruitment and operation without ever naming him. She had been introduced to the betrayal of Suttill and Norman through her study of Noor Inayat Khan, and relentlessly tracked down members of SOE (both F and RF sections), members of the Abwehr and the SD, and relatives of the dead. Among the German contingent was a highly important Abwehr officer, Richard Christmann, who had impersonated a Dutch SOE agent, and infected the SOE networks around Paris. The problem, however, with carrying out such extensive interviews with such shady characters, who for various reasons had much to conceal, is that they are probably lying half the time, and it is very difficult to determine which part of their testimony is reliable. Fuller also dug out the proceedings of Déricourt’s trial in Croydon in April, 1946, after he had been arrested for smuggling, and unveiled the personal and voluntary plea that Nicolas Bodington had made on Déricourt’s behalf.

‘Double Webs’ by Jean Overton Fuller

Fuller interviewed Déricourt at length, and was clearly seduced by his charm. (He was a very Philbyesque figure.) Thus, while pointing clearly to Déricourt’s involvement with the SD, she ended up very confused about his role, and the extent to which it was condoned by the British authorities. Nigel West credits her with ‘unearthing the appalling truth’ that Déricourt ‘had worked as a double-agent for the Sicherheitsdienst’. Yet she floundered around on the vexed issue of ‘double-agents’ (as indeed does West: it is a paradoxical matter to which I shall return in depth next month), and she was thus unable to come to a clear statement about her subject’s guilt. Indeed, she allowed Déricourt to review her manuscript, and to provide a paragraph at the end of her work that allowed him to ‘approve’ of nearly all she wrote. “I can sleep at peace because I know that I was not responsible for the arrest of ‘Prosper’, ’Archambault’, or any others”, he wrote.

In many ways, Fuller did a sterling job, having no access to any archival material, and having to deal with the fog of disinformation that descended when she tried to push behind the scenes. She laid out many important facts about the life of SOE’s agents in France, and the problems of administration, covered up by Buckmaster and others, that had contributed to the penetration of the networks. Her work has rightly been cited in many accounts – although rather sparsely by Foot in his authorised history – and she has been recognised, alongside Elizabeth Nicholas, for enabling the prodding of questions in Parliament that led to the project to authorise an ‘official’ history of SOE.

‘Death Be Not Proud’ by Elizabeth Nicholas

Elizabeth Nicholas was also spurred to action by a friendship with one of the deceased, namely Diana Rowden, and her book is a memorial to seven courageous women who lost their lives working for SOE. Death Be Not Proud is a very impassioned, but still calm, exploration into why seven women who worked for SOE were murdered in concentration camps. She did not take a ‘feminist’ line by arguing that the women were treated especially badly by the organisation that recruited them, but she was scathing about the insensitivity shown by the British authorities after their deaths, by not being straight with their relatives, or acknowledging what actually happened. Like Fuller, she painstakingly uncovered an armoury of facts about their demise, travelled far and wide, met and interviewed scores of people, and wrote several hundred letters. One of those whom she interviewed was Hugo Bleicher, and she concluded that all the women ‘were linked with the webs spun by Hugo Bleicher, with Prosper, and Henri Frager and Roger Bardet, and with the radio sets that had, week after week, sent false messages to London’.

Thus Nicholas added another strong arrow to the bow that Dame Irene Ward, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Tynemouth, took with her to Question Time on February 22, 1956 (i.e. before Nicholas’s book came out) in the House of Commons, pleading for the relevant files to be made open. Those files had been formally closed after Fuller published her Starr Affair in 1954. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Lord John Hope) nevertheless riposted that ‘the grant of access on the occasion in November 1947  . . . was subsequently considered to have been ill advised in respect of precedent, and for reasons of security no further access has been or can be allowed’. Lt.-Col. Cordeaux (whom Nigel West identified, in the context of December 1958, as an MI6 officer who actually investigated the Nordpol disaster in the Netherlands) supported the decision, drawing attention to the harm caused by ‘amateur authors rushing into print and cashing in on two years’ wartime experience in some of our secret services’. For a couple of years the cover-up was allowed to remain in place.

Yet one of the establishment’s own echoed his earlier deed as an ‘amateur author’ by bringing out a picaresque account of SOE’s activities in France, Maurice Buckmaster himself. In the same year that Double Webs and Death Be Not Proud appeared, Buckmaster was allowed to publish They Fought Alone, a highly misguided endeavour to bring some glamour to the exploits of some of SOE’s more adventurous agents. By this time, Buckmaster was confident enough to be able to identify his wartime employer as the Special Operations Executive, and name its address as 64 Baker Street.  He declared that he had led the French section, and explained how he was somewhat hampered because he could recruit only British subjects, the Free French section having a monopoly over French citizens. He named the man who recruited him in 1941 as Sir Charles Hambro, and indicated that the SOE reported to the Ministry of Economic Warfare. It was thus a step in the right direction towards greater openness.

‘They Fought Alone’ by Maurice Buckmaster

Yet his book is a mendacious work, sowing the seeds of the author’s subsequent bluster, drawing attention to the highly valorous and dangerous missions of some of those he recruited for work in France, but staying silent over any broad wireless deception games, or any serious strategic errors made by Baker Street. Yes, mistakes were made, some agents underwent horrible deaths, but it was almost entirely due (in Buckmaster’s narrative) to informers and to underhand and vile practices by the Abwehr. Neither Bodington nor Déricourt ever gets a mention in this highly readable but essentially fallacious tale of derring-do. There are crass errors in it (such as Gilbert Norman’s being landed in France some time after he had been arrested), but also some very subtle but careless historical flaws, over which Buckmaster has apparently never been challenged. The most egregious of these relates to the military instructions that SOE and Buckmaster received in the summer of 1943, and these are so critical that I shall return to them later in this posting.

The Authorised History

What this commotion eventually led to was the appearance of M. R. D. Foot’s authorised history of SOE in France. I do not intend to re-present the full trajectory of this exercise, but do want to highlight some important episodes in its delivery. Pressure was applied by Dame Irene Ward for a public account; there were discussions in the House of Commons; MI6 vicariously objected; retrospective justifications of the project, as a counter to Soviet propaganda, were voiced; Harold Macmillan, the Prime Minister, eventually agreed; Professor Mackenzie (who had written an unpublished in-house history of SOE) gave advice on treatment and possible authors; the decision to move forward, despite continuing objections from the Cabinet Office, was made on May 18, 1960; Foot accepted the invitation in early November, and set to work immediately.

Dame Irene Ward, M.P.

My first point is the indication that the exercise might have been very embarrassing, as revealed in the long parliamentary motion tabled by Dame Irene Ward in the House of Commons on November 13, 1958, which is reproduced in an Endnote in West’s Secret War, as well as in Appendix A of E. H. Cookridge’s Inside SOE. While Ward drew attention to Double Webs and Death Be Not Proud, and cautiously undermined the accounts of SOE given by Buckmaster, her motion including the following clauses:

             . . . that had the Official Secrets Act been adequately enforced by authority and proper care exercised to protect in Great Britain and France the reputations of those who became the unwilling victims of Nazi German success, much painful recrimination would have been avoided, but that under the circumstances the question of whether the Air Movements Officer of the Special Operations Executive, the central figure in the book Double Webs, was a German agent working in a British organization, must be cleared up; that although the disclosure of German penetration of the Dutch Sector of Special Operations Executive was the subject of an international inquiry, the fact of this penetration extended from Holland to a vitally important area in France, causing the arrest of many men and women, has been deliberately concealed, has led to disclosures damaging to our security and to our relationships with those friends in France in the years of danger going unchallenged and without official factual comment; this House therefore urges Her Majesty’s Government to publish a book giving an authoritative account of the successes and failures of the Special Operations Executive.

This is a very convoluted statement that contains its own paradoxes: for example, how, if the fact of penetration had been concealed, did it lead to exposures damaging to security? Had Ward bitten off slightly less, and presented her motion in somewhat simpler language, she might perhaps have gained more attention. It was nevertheless still a menacing submission. As it unsurprisingly turned out, the Motion was never called out by the Speaker, and she had to work behind the scenes. Yet she dramatically gave unmissable clues concerning the unnamed Déricourt, the ‘Air Movements Officer’ (described in great depth by Fuller, but of course also never identified) as a ‘German agent’, and threw the gauntlet down to Buckmaster, in whose book published that same year no mention of that officer had been made. Those who knew the full story must have had qualms.

Secondly, a revealing observation was made by the Foreign Secretary, John Selwyn Lloyd, in a letter drafted for Dame Irene some time in May 1960. (It may not have been sent: Christopher J. Murphy, who cites it in his article, does not say.) Lloyd expressed great caution:

            But I have to think of the national interest; and I have to think in terms of the present and future than of the past  . . . Some of our activities, moreover, although justifiable in war, could cause us a lot of embarrassment if publicly admitted now. Then I have to consider the effect of our relations with our wartime allies, and whether the inevitable revival of old controversies and re-opening of old wounds would not do more harm than good.

Selwyn Lloyd did not have to ruminate on these questions for long: he was transferred to the Chancellorship of the Exchequer two months later, to be replaced by the very laid-back Alec Douglas-Home, who may have been confused by the whole business. But to what dark deeds was Selwyn Lloyd referring, justifiable in war, but potentially embarrassing? Surely nothing as monstrous as the massacres at Lidice, Oradour, Monte Sole, or Telavåg, or the concentration camps, or the cold killing of British commandos, as ordered by Hitler? This was SOE, after all, not Bomber Command. The assassination of Heydrich was surely not an issue: the reprisals were horrific, but no revelations would have caused embarrassment with British wartime allies in 1960. Yet Selwyn Lloyd gave the impression that malefactions had been perpetrated, and done so as part of a conscious but possibly misguided strategy, albeit with good intentions. The reference to ‘allies’ must surely mean the French, since the rumours about British maltreatment of French resistance fighters had been a recurring element in stories across the Channel. Was Selwyn Lloyd referring to those scars hinted at in Ward’s paper? In any case, his words do serve to counter the claim that Foot made in his Preface: “Nor is it true that irresponsible staff officers made such fearful errors that there is a whole discreditable story to be hushed up.”

Selwyn LLoyd

The third aspect I wish to bring up is Foot’s terms of reference, and the guidance given to him. In his Preface and Acknowledgements to Inside SOE (apparently written in 1966, after Foot’s book appeared in May of that year, while Cookridge’s book was about to be published), the author wrote that “Mr Foot stated that at one stage during his research he had been ‘forbidden’ to make personal contacts with former SOE officers, and had to rely on official archives only.” Cookridge added: “He wrote: ‘SOE’s own archives are of course in many respects sadly incomplete.’” Now those phrases cannot be found in my 2004 edition of SOE in France, which – presumably faithfully – reproduces Foot’s original Preface. That Preface, however, is dated September 1967, and we know, from Foot’s own testimony, that, after circulating the galley-proofs to interested parties, he had to make a number of changes, as he had offended some veterans of SOE.

Mark Seaman expands on these tribulations in his essay A Glass Half Full, where he records that Buckmaster himself was ‘utterly horrified’ and ‘amazed by the number of mistakes’ that appeared in the galley-proof, and offered thirty-five pages of corrections. Yet, even though Foot was able to rectify most of those errors, the publication still provoked controversy, even lawsuits, with substantial damages being settled out of court, the events leading to a second impression. “Foot’s uncompromising and profoundly iconoclastic approached veered on occasion into some ill-judged observations”, wrote Seaman. And Seaman was not impressed with how the 2004 edition worked out, given the passage of time and the fresh information that had emerged: “A classic history has been little improved by slight tinkering with the text, and expanded bibliography and some additional footnotes”, he wrote. But the great iconoclast had not been willing to tilt at the windmills of Foreign Office sensitivity.

In 2004, Foot made it clear, however, that, since the original edition, he had been able to speak with former SOE officers, and others. He wrote as follows:

Since this book first appeared in April 1966 I have had further help, for which I am much indebted, from various former members of SOE and of the forces of French resistance, particularly from Colonel Dewavrin. Their aid has enabled me, in the little time I have had available for work on the book, to improve it in several minor respects and to revise the account of the arrangements made in London for calling resistance into activity at the time of the invasion of Normandy.

This suggests to me two important conclusions. It was not until after Cookridge’s book appeared, compiled without any access to SOE Archives, since the Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, John Profumo, had denied Cookridge such access ‘for security reasons’, that the authorities had second thoughts, seeing what a rich story Cookridge was able to tell by inspecting foreign archives in which many of SOE’s records had been stored, and interviewing scores of people. (Intriguingly, Patrick Marnham informs me that Foot suspected that Cookridge was being fed information by MI5 that was denied to him.) On the other hand, Foot explicitly had to rely on non-archival sources (or have what constrained interpretation he had been able to make from the official records enhanced by figures who supposedly knew more) for his account of the vital period in the war when the D-Day preparations were being made. And that is highly dubious and ahistorical in its own right.

Patrick Marnham has been able to provide some valuable insights into Foot’s process (see War in the Shadows, pages 167-172). He makes the points that Foot was rarely allowed to quote from the archive itself, and was reportedly not allowed to mention ‘the existence of his most important unpublished source, which was The Secret History of SOE by William Mackenzie’, let alone meet the author. In a footnote, Marnham states that Mackenzie’s work was not published until 2000, after Mackenzie’s death: the Sources in Foot’s 2004 edition lists Mackenzie’s History – which he edited – as ‘completed 1948; graded secret until 1988; a gold-mine’. (Foot claimed, in 2000, in his Introduction to Mackenzie’s work, that he had been forbidden from consulting William Mackenzie personally, while admitting that he had had access to the Secret History text itself. In his blurb promoting the Secret History, however, he also had the effrontery to pretend that the book had ‘been kept secret for over fifty years’, and that ‘many books now need to be re-written’.)  And later in his book (pp 237-238) Marnham again introduces some highly interesting observations that shed light on how Foot was required to change his story in the light of public information.

Marnham’s major claim is that Foot was brought in to put to rest ‘the allegation that in the interests of strategic deception the British authorities had “sold” a French Resistance network run by SOE to the Gestapo’, and he cites Mackenzie’s own testimony that SOE possessed ‘unique facilities for deception’, but that, owing to the risk of deceiving the Resistance forces as well as the Germans, ‘SOE took no more than a subsidiary part [in] Operation Starkey’ [that feature of the COCKADE deception plan that involved a landing in Northern France]. To prove how Foot had ignored this hint in Mackenzie’s compilation, Marnham wrote that Foot, in his 1966 Introduction to SOE in France, referred to the ‘Starkey-Prosper’ connection as ‘the conspiracy’ theory, and, in the main text followed up with: ‘It is undoubtedly the case that no use was made of SOE’s work in France for any purposes of deception then [i.e. June 1943] or later: no one trusted the agents enough for such delicate tasks.” (p 308) In other words, Foot completely discounted any Starkey involvement. According to Marnham, Foot had a letter published in the Observer on May 11, 1986 which echoed his claim about the non-use of SOE for deception purposes. Fuller wrote that this letter was provoked by the BBC TIMEWATCH programme (see below): Robert Marshall recalls that it was written in response to an article on the front page of the newspaper, supplied by Anthony Howard under Marshall’s guidance.

Yet that statement about the Starkey-Prosper connection and the conspiracy theory does not appear in the revised Introduction published in 2004. On the other hand, as Marnham has explained, the latter sentence about SOE’s use of deception (on p 274 in the 2004 edition) has a brief phrase, namely ‘STARKEY apart’ inserted after ‘the case that’, suggesting that information that came to light afterwards had had to be taken into account. (Marnham presents this information, but cites the wording as ‘except in the case of Starkey’: he was using the French translation.) Foot does not explain this anomaly, however: there is no entry for STARKEY in his Index. Maybe Foot believed he could evade any responsibility for performing justice to this controversial matter, but, with the Mackenzie volume now no longer secret, had to make a token gesture in the direction of the STARKEY deception element.

Foot’s observation in his Foreword to Mackenzie’s book runs: “Colonel Bevan, who came to head the deception service [London Controlling Section] did not think SOE secure enough to take part in his exceedingly secret work, and hardly ever used it to achieve his devious ends; Operation ‘Starkey’, ill-fated as it was, in the summer of 1943 provided the only exception, apart from a single sharp stroke in Belgium in the summer crisis of 1944.” Yet there is no mention of Colonel Bevan or COCKADE in Mackenzie’s book – merely a brief mention of STARKEY, in terms of an innocuously-sounding project that SOE ‘should somewhat increase its encouragement to Resistance’ and broadcast bogus coded messages just before the invasion of September 1943 that was never going to happen (p 615, as noted by Marnham). By referring to an unexplained ‘ill-fated’ operation, however, something quite out of proportion to what Mackenzie described, Foot merely drew attention to a probable cover-up. (Describing an otherwise unexplained event as ‘ill-fated’ is not a recommended practice for a professional historian.) Marnham also writes that ‘quite a lot more was known about Operation Starkey at this time’. He is referring to Michael Howard’s Volume 5 of British Intelligence in the Second World War, and Hesketh’s Fortitude, but both works cover STARKEY very superficially, and no connection between STARKEY, Bevan and SOE can be seen in either.

M R D Foot

Foot’s History thus has to be approached as a volume with perspectives that evolved over time – rather like Goethe’s Faust. It is beyond my capabilities (since I have direct access solely to the 2004 version) to perform a detailed exegesis of the book’s evolution, but I can offer glimpses into the stresses that were forcing Foot to present the travails of SOE French section in a less damaging light. For example, in between the first edition and the so-called ‘revised’ edition of 2004, Robert Marshall published in 1988 All the King’s Men, a searing exposé of the damage caused by Déricourt, to whom the author ascribes the collapse of the Prosper network, stage-managed by Claude Dansey of MI6 (which I shall analyse later on in this piece). It was based on some thorough research that had fuelled a BBC TIMEWATCH television program. No matter how dubiously Foot considered Marshall’s sources, or how strongly he disagreed with his conclusions, Foot should have at least taken into account the details of Déricourt’s career that Marshall revealed.

Yet Foot could find no room in his Sources even to list All The King’s Men: in his Introduction to the books he does list, he wrote: “No useful purpose is served by putting into a book list books which confuse the issue, instead of widening knowledge, I have therefore left out several titles, some of them only too well known: their evidential value is nil. They testify to zeal, but do not spread wisdom.”  One has to conclude that Marshall’s book fell into that category. It is a sad reflection on Foot’s historical judgment that he dismissed so pompously and so casually a vital contribution to the debate, and refused to engage with the very serious questions and hypotheses raised by Marshall and his team.

Such unprofessional behaviour is even more shocking when one is reminded of Foot’s involvement with the BBC. Robert Marshall has recently informed me that, when the BBC started working on its series on SOE in 1980, Foot was engaged as an historical adviser to the series. Marshall was told by a colleague that Foot had declared that there were two areas that the research team could not touch: SOE in the Far East, and Déricourt. Of course that statement had the opposite effect, setting off the researchers hot-foot to investigate the Déricourt story. However, when Marshall came to work on the TV program All The King’s Men in 1983, and interviewed Foot, the latter let slip some statements about Déricourt’s recruitment by Bodington (and, vicariously, MI6), and the claim that Suttill may have met Churchill during his return to the UK in May 1943, that he later came to regret. When Marshall and Foot lunched together, at the time Marshall started working on his book, in 1987, Foot recounted to Marshall all the restrictions that had been placed on him, and, in Marshall’s words ‘he had changed his views about Déricourt and insisted there had been no link with MI6’. Foot had clearly been nobbled.

‘SOE in France’

‘SOE in France’ by M. R. D. Foot

I base my analysis of SOE in France on the 2004 text. Chapter Ten is titled ‘A Run of Errors: 1943-1944’. Foot starts off with a bold judgment: “The connected series [of slips] arose from a single injudicious posting: the head of the FARRIER circuit, whose only task was to organize clandestine air landings for F in northern France, was after the war described by SD officers under interrogation as perhaps the best agent they had had.” Foot goes on to opine that Déricourt’s ‘only unswerving loyalty was to himself’. [FARRIER was designed as being subsidiary to PROSPER, but grew to extend beyond it.]

Foot then offers a lengthy and fairly conventional account of Déricourt’s progress, sanitized and distorted in some places by Déricourt’s own misleading version of events, with a full story about the many successful landings he arranged in occupied France. Yet Foot dances somewhat around the issue of Déricourt’s recruitment by the SD, and whether the pressure applied to him was inevitable, and how Frager (an F section agent) had learned of Déricourt’s treachery from the Abwehr officer, Henri Bleicher. Nor does he analyze why Déricourt, or those of his bosses at Baker Street who knew about the collaboration (Bodington, certainly, and probably Boyle, too), would have interpreted the obvious signals from the SD about not interfering with the airdrops as an indication of long-term goodwill, or why the release of agents’ correspondence to them was a necessary quid pro quo. He explains that Bodington’s presence at Déricourt’s military trial in Paris in June 1948 was in an unofficial role, as a civilian, yet it enabled Déricourt to leave the stage a free man.

And then Foot feels the obligation to debunk the suggestion that the network was betrayed by the British. He uses the Hinsleyesque evasive reference to rumour without explaining it properly: “It is said to be widely believed in France that Suttill’s circuit was deliberately betrayed by the British to the Germans; even ‘directly by wireless to the Avenue Foch’”. Yet such a statement is both arrogant and sophistical. He does not inform readers of the source of the rumours, apart from a ridiculous reference to wireless to the Avenue Foch (where the Gestapo headquarters resided). If one looks up the source of this particular item, it reads as ‘private information, 3 August 1961’. So why would Foot waste time on such an unreliable leak as that instead of examining the more serious critiques? This gambit is a familiar and much-loved technique of the establishment camp: Marshall’s All The King’s Men has been trashed by them since it includes an assertion about a meeting between Suttill and Churchill (revealed by Buckmaster, as it happens) that could not have taken place since the Premier was reportedly out of the country at the time. They then use this error to try to discredit the whole work.

Yet (as Patrick Marnham has reminded me), Foot himself contributed to this deceit. As Marnham writes (War in the Shadows, p 245): “Furthermore, the legend of Suttill’s meeting with Churchill did not spring from ‘something that first appeared in a novel published in 1985’ [as Suttill & Foot claimed in their joint article: see below. Coldspur]. It emerged from an error that first appeared in an official history. This rumour had sprung up because Professor Foot in SOE in France had mistakenly given Suttill’s return date as ‘about 12 June’ (after Churchill’s return to London) when it was in fact 20 May.” Foot was either being very sloppy, or very devious. Moreover, Robert Marshall has recently explained to me that, at the time of his TIMEWATCH research, Churchill’s appointment diary for that period had unaccountably been lost. This vital part of the story must therefore be judged unresolved.

Immediately thereafter, Foot does introduce, perhaps reluctantly, the only ‘conceivable object’ of British strategy that could have been served by a conscious decision to betray Prosper – an elaborate deception plan to draw the Germans’ attention away from the invasion of Sicily. (This is the section where the insertion of ‘STARKEY apart’ appears.) He describes the plan as an operation to ‘send a few SOE agents into France armed with rumours that France was going to be invaded in 1943, on the off chance that some of them would fall into German hands’. This casual aside concerning the fate of loyal agents embarking on a dangerous mission is simply astounding. He then adds: “In fact of course [‘of course’ – that weaselly donnish insertion to indicate how foolish anyone would be to disagree with him] PROSPER’s troubles had no impact whatsoever on the decision about when the invasion should take place, which was made on other and weightier grounds.”

The assertions made in this paragraph are simply absurd. It was not the goal of the war planners to threaten landings in France as a diversion from Sicily, as they knew the Germans would not take such a threat seriously. The decision had already been made by May 1943 that no wholesale invasion of France was possible until 1944. The main goal of COCKADE was to keep German troops in France, away from the Eastern Front, as a gesture to Stalin. The rumours about an imminent invasion were (according to Buckmaster in one of his accounts, anyway) already rampant in the spring of 1943, and Buckmaster wanted to quash them, not foster them, even though Suttill demurred. If a serious plan to suggest landings were imminent had existed, it would have been reflected in massive shipments of arms and ammunition – which is exactly what did happen – not by agents just talking the topic up. Of course [!] Prosper’s troubles had no impact on the decision about the invasion. That is a total non sequitur. What was going on in SOE circuits (which was at a level the Chiefs of Staff did not concern themselves, and did not really understand) had no influence at all on the decision, which was based on the unavailability of landing-craft, and the necessity for massive movements of troops and supplies from the USA to the United Kingdom before any serious assault on the northern French coastline could be attempted.

Foot then digs a deeper hole by citing Buckmaster’s revelation in They Fought Alone that SOE had received, in the middle of 1943, a ‘top-secret message’ telling them that D-Day might be closer than they thought. In a much later communication to the Foreign Office, in 1964 (when he might have been invited to explain himself), Buckmaster claimed that his orders had been to accelerate preparations to support an invasion, in case fortunes changed, and it proved possible to mount the landings. Giving an obscure authority, Foot then indicates that Suttill was sent back from London to Paris in late May with an ‘alert’ signal, which Foot then attributes (without indicating whose judgment this is) might have arisen because of a misunderstanding about the probability of an early major landing.  “Only a few people, in the innermost circles of Westminster and Washington, then knew how small the chances of making such a landing were; and Suttill returned to clandestine duty in the belief that an invasion was probably imminent”, concludes Foot. Moreover, Buckmaster told Fuller (as she recounts in Madeleine) that, as late as September 1943, ‘so great was the military [sic!] interest in her [Noor Inayat Khan’s] remaining’ in France, that he accepted her wish to stay there.

Apart from the manifest unlikelihood of miscommunications over such a straightforward matter occurring, Buckmaster had contradicted this testimony in his earlier work Specially Employed. There (p 85), he had written: “The Chiefs of Staff were naturally enough unwilling to allow us to know more than was essential of their long-term plans. Apart from every other consideration, any foreknowledge of military secrets imparted to an agent constitutes an intolerable burden to him.” Thus, no ‘top-secret ’messages would have been received. He went on to write (p 186) that rumours of the invasion ‘spread like wildfire’ in France as early as April 1943, and that Suttill had to be recalled for discussions on how to quell them, as the ‘patriotic surge of enthusiasm was dangerous’. (One might ask where these rumours might have originated, apart from SOE and MI6? I had discounted the BBC, as the idea seemed too absurd, and it went against all sound policy, but Marnham has reminded me (War in the Shadows, p 248) of a letter from Eric Siepmann, a British intelligence officer, who described the damaging broadcasts from the BBC French service in the summer of 1943 ‘driving people to death’. Further research is necessary to determine who in the Political Warfare Executive authorised these broadcasts.) In any event, while Suttill promised ‘magnificent support’ when the invasion occurred, Buckmaster noted (p 187) that the ‘Allies were not ready to return to the Continent in the summer of 1943’. Thus a) he claimed that he knew then that the invasion was deferred, and b) he presumably was able to pass that message on to Suttill. So how could Suttill have got the message so drastically wrong?

Buckmaster perpetrates other untruths. In They Fought Alone, he said that he and Suttill had many conferences about D-Day planning (what was there to discuss?), and that Suttill returned to France a fortnight later. He was in fact in Britain for only five days, arriving on Saturday May 15th, and returning the following Thursday.  Buckmaster also wrote that, from the middle of 1943, SOE shifted from sabotage to the planting of arms dumps, and the training of the secret army. Yet in Specially Employed he reported that the whole of Paris was short of arms, and that ‘at the beginning of 1943, arms and ammunition began to flow to the different groups’. That fact is borne out by the record of arms shipments made by SOE in the spring of 1943, as recorded by Marshall and others. The truth is that Buckmaster was a devious and unreliable witness, and Foot did not bring any serious analysis to bear on what he wrote and said, or internalize the sequence of events that was driving the strategies of the Chiefs of Staff in London.

The outcome was that Foot fell into the more comfortable conclusion that the demise of the Prosper network was ‘brought on by its agents’ own incompetence and insecurity’. In this analysis, he is no doubt correct that the circuits had been infected by cross-movement and interaction of agents from different sectors, by the borrowing of wireless-operators in a period of real dearth, and by some careless approaches to setting up meetings and rendezvous. But he grossly underplays the naivety by which agents were inveigled into Bleicher’s net by that Abwehr officer’s claims that he was a Nazi sympathetic to the Allied cause, and he remains stubbornly uncritical of the treacherous role that Déricourt played, or why SOE persevered with him. He also does not perform enough justice to the insidious effect that the impersonations of the Dutch Abwehr agents Christmann and Boden played in the affair. And he carefully forgets his own testimony about agents being casually sacrificed in the belief that they might talk.

The matter of the betrayal of the Prosper circuit is largely orthogonal to the issue of whether the Chiefs of Staff decided to exploit its exposures in the cause of deception. Prosper might have collapsed anyway. Déricourt’s malfeasance might have undermined it even if his contacts with the Gestapo were not known by his SOE bosses. SOE should surely have withdrawn its agents (as Buckmaster actually discussed) when its suspicions about betrayal were confirmed. If the London Controlling Station did use F Section for deception purposes, it probably accelerated and expanded the list of those who were in any event betrayed and destroyed. But what any self-respecting historian must not do is steer clear of investigating any possible relationship between military strategy and the destruction of resistance forces simply because it is politically embarrassing to do so.

‘All The King’s Men’

‘All The King’s Men’ by Robert Marshall

Robert Marshall’s book thus appeared, in 1988, as an asynchronous contribution sandwiched directly between the two versions of the authorised hjstory, in 1966 and 2004. It projects a very bold assertion, as it is subtitled ‘The Truth Behind SOE’s Greatest Wartime Disaster’, and the flyleaf proclaims: “It is the story of two men; Claude Dansey, deputy head of MI6, and Henri Déricourt, double agent extraordinaire, who was planted within the rival wartime secret service – SOE – at Dansey’s instructions, and from there began a terrifying twelve-month trail of destruction and betrayal that led to the loss of over four hundred British and French agents.” The reader is exposed to two highly controversial notions, one, that Dansey was responsible for the undoubtedly questionable recruitment of Déricourt by SOE, and two, that it was policy of deception and betrayal that led to the destruction of the Prosper circuit. Marshall dangled the notion of ‘double agent’ before his readers without specifying whether Déricourt was a Nazi agent who was turned by the British, or vice versa.

One of the major strengths of Marshall’s book is that he carried out his research when some of the participants were still alive, and he thus had direct access to many of them (‘interviews with over fifty veterans and survivors of the secret war’). One of its weaknesses is that he sometimes relied too heavily on what these persons told him, when many had reasons for dissimulating. (The archives were of course not available to him.) Maurice Buckmaster was one such unreliable witness, and critics have pounced on Marshall’s description that Churchill had requested an interview with Suttill when he returned to England at the end of May 1943, and at that meeting (which Buckmaster did not attend) Suttill was informed that the invasion at the Pas-de-Calais would take place during the first week of September. Research performed by Suttill’s son has shown that Churchill was out of the country at the time, and thus the meeting could not have taken place [but see below for further commentary]. He and his supporters thus feebly designate Marshall’s work overall as ‘fiction’.

Yet there may be some truth in Suttill’s being briefed by some officers with authority. Buckmaster, in They Fought Alone, wrote (p 186): “We had many conferences with Allied high-ups and then, a fortnight later, Francis returned to France.”  Moreover, Buckmaster used the Churchill fiction to reinforce the instructions to Suttill when briefing other historians. In his 1988 work F Section SOE: The Story of the Buckmaster Network, Marcel Ruby quotes a letter that Buckmaster wrote to him on October 17, 1984, where Buckmaster stated that Churchill had asked Suttill to step up the networks’ activities even if this meant disregarding the agents’ personal security. Churchill, he wrote had added: “I must be able to show Stalin that we are doing our best to make the German divisions return from the East.” This was a monstrous lie, Buckmaster clearly trying to blame on Churchill a decision that had been taken lower down. But he presumably believed he could get away with it. Such are the problems in trying to dispel the fog of misinformation concerning SOE activities.

All The King’s Men is not without unique archival leads, however. For example, when Déricourt arrived in Scotland on September 7, 1942, he immediately declared that he had [sic, not the pluperfect ‘had had’] contacts with German intelligence, a claim he made at his trial a few years later.  In an important footnote, Marshal reports that this fact was confirmed in 1958 by Lord Lansdowne, a junior Minister from the Foreign Office. The Foreign Officer, however, in a communication with Marshall, retracted this statement, declaring the Lansdowne was ‘incorrectly briefed’. Marshall gained corroboration of Déricourt’s claim from other sources, and identifies a series of files concerned with his arrival that were listed at the (then) Public Records Office, namely Z 7300, Z 9571 and Z 9958. On August 6, 1986 the Foreign Office told Marshall that the files had been destroyed some time ago. Verily, the records at TNA concerning Déricourt’s arrival in Gourock are sparse, as I shall report on next month.

Other interviewees, such as Harry Sporborg, who was deputy to Colin Gubbins when the latter was head of SOE Operations, and then SOE itself, come across as much more dependable, and Sporborg is quoted with some statements that must have caused tremors within MI6. For example: “Make no mistake about it, MI6 would never have hesitated to use us or our agencies to advance their schemes, even if it meant the sacrifice of some of our people,” and “It is the modus operandi of all double agents to provide thin material to begin with, coupled with an undertaking to deliver the earth tomorrow.” Marshall is insightful over such matters as the influence the London Controlling Section had over SOE, and a contrast between Oliver Stanley, who was replaced as its head by the more ruthless John Bevan. According to Marshall, Stanley resigned after the Dieppe raid. “The particular principle over which he [Oliver Stanley] felt so strongly was a suggestion that the SOE should be asked to deliberately misinform its agents in France to expect an imminent invasion. It was the kind of deception for which Stanley had no stomach,” he writes. It is insights like these which make his book so compelling.

The reasons for the replacement of Stanley are not clear-cut, however. Patrick Marnham initially questioned Marshall’s conclusion, since Stanley was ‘promoted’ to Secretary of State for the Colonies, having in May 1942 requested the Prime Minister for a return to conventional politics. Yet two years beforehand Stanley had declined exactly the same role (not a wise choice, one would imagine), and he was not actually confirmed in his new appointment until November, which suggests that the changeover occurred under some pressure. He had become very frustrated in his very clandestine role, and, temperamentally, he may have been a bit too upright and orthodox for the job. He was not informed about ‘double agents’, for instance, as Michael Howard informs us (p 23). Why so? Moreover, his wife died after a long illness in 1942, so he must have been emotionally shattered, and that might explain the long sabbatical in the summer of 1942. Marnham now agrees that Stanley was probably unsuited to the post, and that Churchill needed someone tougher.

I cannot do justice to the richness of Marshall’s narrative here, but simply recommend it as compulsive reading for anyone interested in the Déricourt saga. He uncovers Déricourt’s pre-war history, and his friendship with Nicolas Bodington (whom Dansey placed in SOE), and Karl Boemelburg, who later became a Gestapo officer in Paris. He skilfully outlines all the complex relationships of the F Section networks in France, how the Germans infiltrated them, and how suspicions about Déricourt were eventually communicated to London by Henri Frager. He concludes his story by giving a detailed account of the extraordinary trial of Déricourt at Reuilly Barracks, near Paris, in May 1948, where Bodington made his dramatic statement, saying the ‘he had total trust in Déricourt and recommended he maintain his contacts with the Germans’, probably thereby saving his friend from the gallows.

Marshall does not cleanly tidy up, however, the enigma of Dansey’s involvement. Was he merely naïve in believing that Déricourt might reveal useful information about the structure of the SD in Paris? Did he sincerely believe that Déricourt was already an agent of the Gestapo when he was recruited in London, but successfully ‘turned’? Did he really want to destroy much of the SOE F Section because it interfered with MI6 intelligence-gathering, or because Charles de Gaulle believed it was an intolerable insult to the latter’s Free French ambitions? Was he wickedly working behind the scenes with Bevan and the TWIST committee to betray the Prosper network for what he thought was a good cause, even though the Chiefs of Staff had given contrary instructions? And in what way was Marshall categorizing Déricourt as a ‘double agent’ – under control of which authority, and doubling for whom?

I have discussed some of these questions – especially the last – with Marshall himself, and we agree that, without a confirmation of exactly when Déricourt was given the codename B.048 (as Boemelburg’s 48th agent) it is impossible to determine who officially recruited the agent first – MI6 or SOE or the SD. He was more probably an amoral individual, trying to exploit anybody he could, and then trying to survive, and I shall explore that issue in my coldspur posting next month. I plan also, soon afterwards, to return to the many intriguing points that Marshall offers about COSSAC, the Chiefs of Staff and the London Controlling Section as they planned real and deceptive operations in May 1943. But what is intolerable is that Marshall’s valuable research should have been totally ignored by Foot, and the intrinsically vital issues disclosed in it left uninspected. And that is why it is so important that Patrick Marnham has picked up the baton with War in the Shadows.

Mark Seaman’s ‘Glass Half Full’

Mark Seaman

Seaman’s paper (cited above in the discussion of the release of SOE in France) merits a brief analysis, as much for what it does not say as much as what it does express. The precise role of Seaman in the government intelligence ‘machinery’ is something of a puzzle to me. He is variously described as an ‘historian’ attached to the War Office, or the Imperial War Museum, and now the Cabinet Office. He has written a few books on SOE and related matters, and contributed several article and chapters to books. Yet I have not been able to determine his academic credentials, or who actually employs him. He and Nigel Perrin appear to be used exclusively by the Times Literary Supplement to review books on intelligence, which means they have a dominant influence over discussions of questions concerning SOE.

I must declare an interest. It was Seaman who reviewed my Misdefending the Realm in the TLS. Alert readers may recall that I had to order a copy of my own book from amazon.uk and have it sent to Seaman’s address in Streatham, since my publisher had left for a holiday in India without telling me, and without leaving anyone to mind the store. (I do not believe Andrew Roberts has that problem.) Seaman performed a workmanlike job, although I doubt whether he read the whole book, as he completely missed its main points. But I hold no grudge, as I was delighted to gain any coverage at all. I thus treat him as an insider who has access to a lot of material, while I lay on him large responsibilities as some kind of ‘official’ historian.

I am not sure why Seaman wrote this piece: its conclusion is that ‘there is some cause for considering that the glass is half full rather than half empty’, which is not an insight likely to excite anyone. He provides a useful history of the evolution of SOE studies, rather in the manner in which I set out, although with broader coverage of SOE beyond France, in some areas providing detail that I have omitted, in others offering much thinner gruel. He has some informative observations on the role of the ‘SOE Adviser’, and how the first incumbent treated the job as a function more of obstruction (‘inhibiting research’) more than disclosure. Yet he utterly disappoints in his failure to fulfil the charter he set out in his Introduction: “The question has to be asked whether access to the records has inspired a radical improvement in the study of the subject”.

Is this a veiled insult to Foot? Not overtly, as he generally praises Foot. What is astonishing is the superficiality with which he treats the controversy over the disasters in France. He introduces the Foreign Office desire for ‘a more authoritative voice on SOE matters’ by referring to the allegations made in the media (books and press) in the 1950s and early 1960s that ‘activities in France had been mishandled’, and goes on to write that ‘the most persistent and resonant topics concerned the fate of captured F Section women agent, the activities of double agents and the alleged incompetence of SOE staff officers in London’. Yet he lists none of them, instead directing readers to a chapter he wrote in a rather obscure book of essays dedicated to M. R. D. Foot. His contribution is titled Good Thrillers, but Bad History: a Review of Published Books on the Special Operations Executive Work in France During the Second World War, a generalisation that might suggest that Foot was good, all the rest bad. It is in fact an unbalanced and inconsequential essay that makes a fleeting reference to All The King’s Men, but studiously avoids inspecting any of the serious matters with which Marshall’s book engages, such as the controversial role of Déricourt.

In Glass Half Full, Seaman makes a brief reference to Jean Overton Fuller, but lists only her first work, Madeleine. He has no room for Nicholas, or Fuller’s more challenging publications about Déricourt. Even more startling is the fact that he pays only symbolic homage to BBC’s TIMEWATCH: ‘The BBC ‘Timewatch’ programme has paid several visits to SOE . . .’ He refers neither to the original All The King’s Men episode, nor to Robert Marshall’s subsequent book of the same name. Thereafter he fades away with some brief references, including a rather dismissive dispatch of Leo Marks’ Between Silk and Cyanide. Those allegations he described earlier are simply forgotten, and he concludes his very professorial and condescending survey. ‘There is much work to do’, he writes, but it is not Seaman who is going to perform any of it. I shall re-examine this bizarre attitude in a later section.

The Foot-Suttill Collaboration

Major Francis Suttill’s son, also called Francis, in 2014 published Shadows in the Fog, a book dedicated to explaining the truth behind his father’s betrayal. It was re-issued as an updated and revised work as PROSPER: Major Suttill’s French Resistance Network in 2018. A few years beforehand, Suttill had developed a close relationship with the authorised SOE historian, M. R. D. Foot, and later worked with the so-called ‘SOE historian’ Mark Seaman, and it is these somewhat bizarre alliances that consume my interest in these last sections.

In February 2011, Francis J. Suttill co-authored with M. R. D. Foot, shortly before the latter’s death, an article in Intelligence and National Security titled SOE’s ‘Prosper’ Disaster of 1943. It is a strange piece: it defines its objective as seeking ‘to clear up what went wrong’ in the German mopping-up of the ‘Prosper’ circuit, yet describes the mystery as lying in French press speculation from the mid-1940s that PROSPER himself was responsible, as if no other analysis had been published since. Moreover, this claim assuredly misrepresents the target of French resentment after the war, which was the British Intelligence authorities rather than Suttill himself. This article asserts that fresh insights can be derived from ‘previously unused material in SOE and air ministry archives’, but represents a very narrow and selective trawling of the records.

The authors recapitulate the activities of Prosper in building his network, drawing attention to the careless practices of some of his agents (Gilbert Norman, Andrée Borrell and the Agazarians) in meeting in Montmartre to play poker, and also to the fact that confusion between Norman and the officer bearing the codename GILBERT (Henri Déricourt) often occurred. This gives Foot and Suttill an opening to place ‘the now notorious’ Déricourt in context, asserting that he was working for himself, neither the Germans nor the Allies. While that may be true, confirming the illusory power of the ‘double-agent’, their analysis becomes more suspect when they blandly declare that ‘he showed the Germans all the mail that passed through his hands’, with the result that ‘they thus secured a big advantage in interrogations’. Why such a treacherous act had become necessary for Déricourt’s survival, or the degree to which it contributed to the demise of Prosper, is not explored.

Yet it is their coverage of the role of the Prosper network in the STARKEY deception operation that is the most provocative section. Here the authors attempt to debunk the ‘legend’ that Suttill’s circuit was deliberately betrayed by the British, and Foot may have been looking for a last chance to absolve himself of his own deception over the affair. All the article says about STARKEY is that it ‘was mounted in too much of a hurry in summer 1943 to mis-persuade the Germans that an invasion of France was imminent and would take place in early September’, and that SOE played a minor role in the operation without realizing it. Their evidence for this claim is that the Mauritian Antelme returned to France in May ‘to organize food supplies and finances for a landing force’. The idea that a single SOE officer, working from the Paris area, could in some way contribute so effectively to the logistics for a multi-divisional assault in the Boulogne-Calais area is simply absurd.

Foot’s and Suttill’s exercise would have benefited from an examination of War Cabinet records, since they show a common confusion about the timing of the STARKEY deception plan. The initial plan for STARKEY (as a prong in the COCKADE deception plan) was not presented by General Morgan to the Chiefs of Staff until June 3. (In following Patrick Marnham’s references to Michael Howard’s account of deception at this time, I wondered whether Howard had misread the War Cabinet minutes of January/February 1943 when coming to his assessment of the early approval – that is, pre-STARKEY – by the Chiefs of Staff of such plans for a 1943 assault on northern France, but I realise now that I need to inspect other London Controlling Section records that Howard had accessed, and shall therefore return to this topic in a later posting.) Thus any initiative in May must have been sanctioned outside that operation. The authors also state that both men (i.e. Suttill and Antelme) ‘assumed that there would be a major landing in 1943’, and that ‘F Section did not know till July that it was to be postponed unto 1944’. If this is true (and it may not be appropriate to treat Section F as a monolith), Suttill and Antelme were being cruelly deceived. The decision not to stage an assault on France before 1944 had been taken some months before, and, as I have shown, Maurice Buckmaster was disgracefully equivocal about what he knew, and what he had told Suttill, when he wrote his memoirs.

More fascinating still is what Foot and Suttill write about STARKEY. Sir Michael Howard told Foot in February 2004 (i.e. just before the revised version of SOE in France came out) that John Bevan, the head of the London Controlling Section responsible for deception, had in turn told Howard that he had been ‘deeply unhappy about the unintended consequences of the operation for the resistance movements’. This statement is again left unexamined. I managed to ask Suttill what the implications of it were, and he wrote me a rather confusing reply that I shall pick up when I analyse his book. It points, however, to a rather startling conclusion, namely that Bevan may have been carrying out a rogue deception exercise, retrospectively gathered under the STARKEY umbrella, that did indeed involve SOE in France, and severely damaged the resistance infrastructure.

The article peters out after these highly controversial disclosures. The authors move to place most of the blame on the unfortunate Norman, who is claimed to be the sole author of the infamous pact that Suttill and Norman were supposed to have signed with the Sicherheitsdienst and the Gestapo that, if the subordinate agents handed over their arms, and led the Germans to the arms dumps, they latter would be spared the death penalty, which would still be meted out to the circuit’s leaders. They conclude: “It is irresistible to conclude that Norman made it up, as a cover for his own co-operation with the Germans.” Thus the point of the piece seems to be to absolve Suttill himself at the expense of his fellow-officer, while ignoring the implications of the more complex issues, and thus hoping they will go away. It is all a shabby epitaph to Foot’s less than honourable work.

Yet Foot might have tried to leave some subtle clues to redeem himself. In 1995, the Oxford Companion to World War II appeared, for which Foot was Consultant Editor to the General Editor, I. C. B. Dear. Foot provided entries for Maurice Buckmaster, Colin Gubbins, and Claude Dansey, while Dear himself provided that for Henri Déricourt, On Buckmaster, Foot wrote: “He was occasionally outwitted by the Gestapo”. A sentence on Gubbins starts as follows: “Although he was sometimes outmanoeuvred by Dansey, he showed unexpected gifts of diplomacy in his dealings with governments-in-exile  . . .”. Dansey is characterized in these terms: “Although he had a great gift for rubbing other secret staff officers up the wrong way, he had several successes in persuading the governments-in-exile to provide him with spies for Europe”. Yet Déricourt’s entry is the most shocking and startling of all: “French airman, pre-war *V-man for the Nazi security service, the Sicherheitsdienst. He may then have been recruited by MI6, which knew of his SD connection, brought to London in September 1942 to join SOE’s French section  . . .”

[* A cross reference to the entry on ‘V-man’ leads to a definition that a Vertrauensmann (trusted man) was an agent recruited by the Abwehr and the Nazi security service. It continues, citing a Sicherheitsdienst instruction issued in 1937, that such persons were to be recruited ‘among those having as little culture, common sense, objectivity, and logic as possible’, but then, astonishingly, again highlights Henri Déricourt as an example of how the rule was often ignored.]

Why would Foot, who provides lengthy entries on Deception, and SOE, as well as a brief item on Double-agents, delegate the task of compiling the somewhat speculative entry on Déricourt to Dear when he (Foot) was the expert on F Section of SOE? Moreover, the significance give to Déricourt seems totally out of proportion. Neither General Morgan, nor John Bevan, nor London Controlling Section – nor of course the Twist Committee – was awarded separate entries, and one has to delve into COSSAC before finding any reference to COCKADE. Neither the SOE entry, nor the long essay on France (by Roderick Kedward) helps to explain what significance Déricourt carried in the conduct and outcome of the war. It is all delightfully – and maybe deliberately – vague, although the overall picture at which Foot hints is highly provocative.

‘PROSPER: Major Suttill’s French Resistance Network’

‘Prosper’ by Francis J. Suttill

In his book dedicated to the memory of his father, Francis Suttill has painstakingly compiled a valuable record of the build-up of the Prosper network. Yet a large part of his work is really of little relevance to the central point of its betrayal, recording in detail the succession of drops, landings and infiltrations into France in the last few months of 1942 and the first half of 1943. The overwhelming feature of vital importance, however, is the continued emphasis on the beliefs of Prosper and his team that an invasion was imminent when Suttill returned to France from London on May 21. This story has its origins in instructions to SOE as far back as November 1942, when it was hinted that it was ‘unlikely that invasion could be undertaken until the early spring of 1943’ [sic]. Yet all this happened before the Casablanca Conference that took place between January 14 and 24, 1943, when the Allies (without Stalin’s presence, although Suttill has the Generalissimo attending) made firm decisions to shift emphasis on assault plans to Italy and defer any entry to northern France until 1944 – with some vague provisos given for reviewing plans if the Germans unpredictably collapsed. Thus, at some level, SOE (and especially Section F) was being willfully deceived by the Chiefs of Staff.

Thus Suttill writes (p 191) that his father visited Trotobas in Lille when he arrived in France to pass on instructions: “These confirmed that everyone was still anticipating an imminent invasion as the instructions are remembered as ‘Attack in June, July, August, as quickly as possible in view of the events which can take place at any moment.’”  (The source is a Frenchman, L’Heureux.) On June 13 (or soon afterwards) Suttill instructed Culioli to continue arranging receptions, as he felt that the invasion was imminent. What it meant was that an increasing number of SOE officers and agents, and their associates in the resistance movement, were caught up in clandestine importation of weaponry just as the Germans were exploiting the security holes that had been allowed to appear because of faulty tradecraft, the treachery of Déricourt, and the dissimulations of Bleicher in the Abwehr that had managed to suborn Roger Bardet.

I shall skip over Suttill’s account of the arrests, and move to his intriguing Chapter ‘Theories and Lies’, where he sets out to debunk the ‘conspiracy theories’ that inevitably develop ‘in the absence of the truth’.  Suttill introduces the COCKADE plan (but does not date it), and then provides a brief history of relevant contributors, from the head of COSSAC, General Morgan himself, through Buckmaster and Fuller, as well as some much romanticized narratives by Barry Wynne and Charles Wighton (the pen-name of Jacques Weil). Suttill then moves on to Foot’s History, but prefers to cite the 1966 edition that denied any use of SOE in deception, and he next confirms Morgan’s recommendation that resistance groups not be encouraged to adopt any greater activity, as it would be counter-productive.  Suttill identifies memoranda from June 16, July 18, and July 22 that show how the Chiefs of Staff approved this policy. He then observed: “It was only after this date (a month after the arrest of my father) that Buckmaster, and the other SOE country chiefs, were told that the invasion had been put off to 1944.”

Yet Suttill somehow tries to exploit the obvious fact that SOE was misled before the COCKADE plan was revealed to try to show that undue activity by resistance groups could never have happened. He dismisses Anthony Cave-Brown’s claims that Prosper and his agents were deliberately misled: he expresses his very positive first reactions to All the King’s Men, but then quotes Foot’s comment that it was ‘an imaginative fiction, an ingenious story, but not a true one’, discounting it because it relied too much on private information, such as in the story that Boemelburg, Déricourt and Bodington knew each other before the war. Again, his conclusion is that SOE was justifiably used in the spring of 1943 since the decisions of the Casablanca Conference were not translated into an action plan until April 1943. “  . . . So the existing deception strategy had to be continued to protect the value of the double agents passing false information and to keep the Germans constantly confused,” he writes. But his father did not think he was part of a ‘deception strategy’: he was told that the real thing was imminent. Furthermore, Suttill provides no sources for the execution of this strategy, with its unnamed double-agents. Was this the TWIST Committee?

Another area where Suttill falls down is in his analysis of the outcome from the Casablanca Conference. He makes the claim that the sacrifice of the French resistance would have been pointless, and a deception exercise to convince the Russians of ‘Second-Front’ resolve nugatory, since ‘the postponement had already been agreed at Casablanca by Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin in January 1943’. Stalin did not attend Casablanca, however, and the War Cabinet Minutes reinforce the fact that Churchill, throughout the first half of 1943, was desperate to lead Stalin to believe that an assault on Northern France would occur in 1943. Stalin surely picked up what was really going on from his multiple spies in various government ministries, but that is another story.

Lastly, Suttill brings up the matter that the arrests may have been the ‘unintended consequences’ of the deception plan, and mentions that the ‘exponential increase in drops to the circuit in June was set to continue in July’. Yet he does not examine why all this hectic activity of weapons-dropping had been allowed to continue unless it had been a deliberate part of a deception plan. His weak explanation runs as follows: “Some visible increase in resistance activity in the northern half of France was compatible with what the deception planners wanted and so the fact that an increase was already happening meant that there was no need for them to become involved with SOE to arrange such an increase.” The logic is astounding: SOE was importing arms (with the help of Bomber Command, who was loth to supply planes for such purposes) in the belief that invasion was imminent, even though the Chiefs of Staff disapproved of such activity; Bevan’s team allowed this to happen since it contributed clandestinely to the overall deception goals, even though the deception plan had not yet been approved; SOE chiefs, while knowing that the invasion had been called off, and that the Prosper circuit had been penetrated, did nothing to arrest the arrival of weaponry.

Suttill cites what Bevan told Howard shortly before his death, namely that he ‘still had feelings of guilt about it [the collapse of the Prosper organization] as he considered that this collapse had resulted from pressure on the circuit to increase their activities for what they thought would be an imminent invasion.” (The ‘their’ clearly refers to the members of the circuit, Bevan excluded.) He added that he thought the risk would have been acceptable if there really had been a landing planned in 1943, implying, therefore, that it was unacceptable since SOE had been deceived. Moreover, Suttill compliments Bevan on his hindsight that the collapse of the circuit had been counterproductive to both STARKEY and the overall strategy. I found this an extraordinary conclusion: Suttill seemed to be reinforcing the claim that Prosper had been sacrificed, even if it was made more by a lesser charge of thoughtlessness and callousness than through malevolent betrayal.

I asked Suttill (via email) how he interpreted the ‘unintended consequences’ of the operation, and what the ‘intended consequences’ of it had been. After partially disowning the article he co-authored with Foot, indicating that he made a few adjustments to Foot’s text (even though his name appears before Foot’s as author), he finessed my question by merely paraphrasing the statement he had made in his book, and gave me a rather rambling answer: “Briefly, as the French Section was not told until the end of July 1943 that the plan for an invasion that year had been deferred, they were still working on the assumption that it was imminent. The deception planners, knowing that SOE was therefore planning to continue increasing drops to France, thought this would be useful as part of their plan but the deception planners had not asked SOE to do this as a deliberate part of their plan and it became irrelevant anyway at the end of June with the collapse of the Prosper circuit.”

I showed this message to Patrick Marnham, and we agree that Suttill is reluctant to face up to the truth. The French Section could not work on ‘assumptions’: it received clear indications during May and June that the invasion was imminent, and could not have worked independently without considerable RAF support. Suttill claims here that Bevan had not asked SOE to continue with their airdrops, yet he asserted in his book that Bevan told Howard that the Prosper circuit had indeed been put under pressure to increase its activities (p 285). SOE did not take its orders from ‘deception planners’ in any case (unless a cowboy operation was taking place behind the scenes). SOE received direct instructions from the Chiefs of Staff, but knew that Déricourt had been in communications with the Sicherheitsdienst. As Marnham put it to me in an email: “The Resistance and F Section were encouraged to put their head in a noose”. For some strange reason, Suttill appears to believe that his account dispels any possible accusation that his father’s circuit was betrayed by domestic ill deeds as much as by German counter-intelligence.

Mark Seaman’s Final Judgment

While Suttill hooked in M. R. D. Foot at the beginning of his project, he succeeded in reeling in Mark Seaman at its conclusion. The latter has provided a flattering Foreword to Prosper. In this he signs himself as ‘SOE Historian’: it is not clear what his qualifications are, whether this is an official title, or whether he prefers to describe himself in that way above his other interests, or whether he merely considers himself an SOE historian like all the rest of us who dabble in this sphere. As Katrina Gulliver wrote recently in the Spectator: “You’d be surprised by the number of ‘historians’ whose qualification seems to be liking books about Napoleon – and who get quite shirty if you suggest someone with a PhD in the field might have more claim to the title.” Mr Seaman was awarded the MBE in the Queen’s Birthday List of 2014 for ‘services to the history of espionage’: it is not clear to me whether he received this award for simply doing his job (since he has is currently described as ‘an historian with the Cabinet Office’, who previously held a similar job with the Imperial War Museum). His publications have been meager, and one can only wonder what he does is his official capacity if he does not write history.

In this Foreword Seaman gives the inappropriate impression that he wants to close down historical inquiry into this matter. Moreover, he offers a very unprofessional account of what went on, and of his assessment of Suttill’s work. I present a few examples:

i) “As speculation grew on both sides of the Channel that an Allied invasion was imminent, the increased recruitment of local personnel and the delivery of stores by the RAF’s supply drops began to turn PROSPER into a veritable army.” No explanation is given of the causes for the speculation, no indication of why the RAF was increasing supply drops, no dates, and he presents the great hyperbole in categorising a penetrated network as a substantial military force. As reputable historians (e.g. Stafford, Wieviorka) have pointed out, the value of an untrained and immobile secret army, lacking heavy equipment and facing the regular formations of a professional military force, was accepted by the Chiefs of Staff and Colin Gubbins as being almost negligible.

ii) “In the 1970s a series of revelations began to emerge about intelligence in the Second World War and, in particular, the British exploitation of deception stratagems. Speculation began to be voiced that PROSPER had been sacrificed on the altar of operations BODYGUARD and FORTITUDE, the schemes devised to mislead the Germans of the time and location of the Allied invasion of the Continent.” More vagueness, and excessive use of the passive voice. Seaman does not identify these ‘revelations’ (were they official, and accurate?). He does not identify who voiced the speculation, while his comments about BODYGUARD and FORTITUDE are massively anachronistic, since those operations were not conceived until after Suttill was arrested. The plan for BODYGUARD was not presented to the Chiefs of Staff until December 25, 1943 (Hesketh’s FORTITUDE, p 17): if Prosper had been sacrificed, it was on the altar of COCKADE and STARKEY.

iii) “While others might have drifted into speculation about what personalities might have thought or said, the story has an exemplary grounding in fact derived from a mass of documentary evidence and the oral testimonies of survivors.” Who are those others? And did they drift into speculation, or not? Why is their evidence assumed to be valueless? Suttill indeed shows that he has delved into many archives thoroughly, but he ignored many that were pertinent, such as Déricourt’s MI5 files, and War Cabinet records. Oral testimonies contain their own dangers, as Maurice Buckmaster has taught us. Seaman fails to note that Suttill’s account is not universally ‘grounded in fact’, since it places Stalin at Casablanca.

iv) “This book will surely be the definitive account of Francis Suttill and the tragic story of his PROSPER circuit.” No, it will not. Promoting ‘definitive accounts’ should be the bane of the professional historian, as further evidence will always come to light. What about the TWIST Committee, Mr Seaman? Suttill’s account is so partial, so selective, and so problematical, while at the same time encouraging further researches by the obvious self-contradictory statements that he makes about deception operations, that the story will have to be revised.

v) “The mistakes and failings of the British agents and their French colleagues are generally characterised as human weaknesses not treachery, although such a word still seems applicable to the double agent Henri Déricourt.” More use of the passive voice: by whom are these characterisations ‘generally’ made? And given Déricourt’s dominant role in the whole affair, if he was a ‘double agent’ (an idea that Seaman does not explore, leaving his readers to decide whether he was a ‘double-agent’ for the Germans or the British), the disposal of the ‘treachery’ phenomenon would seem to be a trifle hasty.

vi) “Secondly, it finally puts to rest a 70-year-old debate and, one hopes, will stifle the persistent, indiscriminate conspiracy theories that have continued to besmirch the memories of a group of brave, volunteer secret agents who risked their lives for the liberation of France from Nazi tyranny.” Of course it does no such thing, despite Seaman’s lofty pronouncements from his bully pulpit. Trying to banish ‘conspiracy theories’, as if they were inherently evil, when large traces of conspiracy and deception are admitted by Suttill himself, is the behaviour of a charlatan. Such investigations, moreover, are not intended to, and do not in practice, ‘besmirch’ any of the SOE heroes, but are simply vehicles for reducing the fog of disinformation that Seaman’s employers have tried to deploy over some dedicated and objective researchers.

Duncan Stuart, the last ‘SOE Adviser’ added his endorsement of what Seaman wrote. But Seaman’s text is an item of propaganda, not history.

Conclusions

This article has referred to a set of minimally explained phenomena, namely: Selwyn Lloyd’s admission of misdeeds by SOE; the obstructiveness of SOE adviser Boxshall; the unorthodox recruitment of Déricourt by SOE or MI6; SOE’s tolerance of Déricourt’s contacts with the Sicherheitsdienst; the numerous descriptions of Déricourt as a ‘double agent’ that unavoidably cast questions over which intelligence force he was ‘doubling’ for; an apparent maverick deception operation by Bevan of the London Controlling Section; Bevan’s subsequent regrets over the ‘unintended consequences’ of the STARKEY exercise; the secret proceedings of the TWIST committee, which was stated to have manipulated ‘double agents’ in the cause of deception; the testimony of SOE officer Harry Sporborg, who investigated the Déricourt business at the time;  the equivocal comments by Mackenzie and Foot about SOE’s contributions to the deceptions of Operation STARKEY, including Foot’s assertion that agents may have been casually sacrificed in the cause of disinformation; Foot’s clumsy reference to Suttill’s meeting with Churchill; Suttill’s acknowledged belief in May 1943 that an assault on northern France was imminent; the BBC’s broadcasts to France that encouraged the same idea; SOE’s premature supply of arms to the French Resistance in contradiction of instructions from the Chiefs of Staff; the lack of a decision to withdraw members of the Prosper network when SOE knew it had been penetrated; Bodington’s flamboyant rescue of Déricourt at his trial;  the restrictions placed on the authorised historian, Foot, and his subsequent disclosures in the Oxford material; and the duplicity of Buckmaster in his memoirs and statements. One might add to this list the summary execution of Kieffer of the Sicherheitsdienst and the timely accidental death of Boemelburg of the Gestapo, the elimination of these key characters preventing their giving witness at Dricourt’s trial.

Their interpretation of these events divides the establishment (Suttill, Perrin, Seaman) from the conspiracy-theorists (Marshall, Marnham, Percy), while Foot somewhat straddles the two camps. The establishment believes that any possible theory about SOE manipulation of Resistance forces is a cruel hoax, and somehow besmirches the reputation of those who lost their lives, as if it were more honourable for Prosper and his colleagues to have perished because of their carelessness and poor tradecraft than by the machinations of remote deception units. They thus regard all attempts to explain the mysteries as ‘fiction’. The conspiracy-theorists attempt to explain what is assuredly a conspiracy of sorts by analysing closely the remaining evidence, looking for a pattern of clues that might shed light on some bizarre and disturbing actions. They are dogged and patient, accepting that archival evidence is vital in moving their case forward, but strongly affirming their belief that ‘the last word’ on any historical event can never be written.

The archives can still reveal startling new facts that challenge the old orthodoxies. In War in the Shadows, Patrick Marnham revealed how an apparently inconsequential handwritten note by ‘Tar’ Robertson indicated his close familiarity with Henri Déricourt. In next month’s posting, I shall explain how a careful analysis of Déricourt’s MI5 files displays some breathtaking new information about his recruitment and status.

(I thank Patrick Marnham and Robert Marshall for providing me with feedback on earlier versions of this article. As I was making finishing touches to it, I gratefully received from Mr. Marnham the paperback edition of War in the Shadows, just published, which includes a vital new Postscript containing references to research on coldspur, as well as to information coming from other readers that reinforces the theory of SIS-led deception. I urge those of you who have not bought the hardback edition to acquire this item.)

This month’s Commonplace entries can be seen here.

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A-Rovin’ with Greensleeves

Dene Farm, Chipstead. September 24, 1976.

I take a break from intelligence matters this month to celebrate Sylvia’s and my forty-fifth wedding anniversary, and to exploit the occasion by indulging in some mostly reliable reminiscences and reflecting upon them.

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On occasions, when conversing with Americans at social gatherings, I am asked at which ‘school’ (= ‘college’) I was educated. When I reply ‘Christ Church, Oxford’, a beatific smile sometimes takes over the face of my interlocutor, as if he (or she) believed that Christ Church was the British equivalent of Oral Roberts University, and they start thinking about whether they should invite me to be one of their lay preachers or readers at the local Methodist or Episcopalian Church. I am always quick to ward them off any such idea, as I do not believe I would delight their congregation, and it normally turns out that, when I start explaining the peculiar history of Christ Church (the ‘House’ – Aedes Christi, and never referred to as ’Christ Church College’), and its role as an independent college in the Oxford University framework, their eyes start to glaze over, and they look instead for someone they can discuss the football with.

1952-1956

But there was a time! I happened recently to retrieve from my archives my Report Cards from my years at St. Anne’s Preparatory School in Coulsdon, Surrey, for the years 1952 to 1956. In my Kindergarten report of Summer 1952, Mrs. Early’s assessment for ‘Scripture’ runs: ‘Listens to Bible Stories with interest’. Was this true absorption? Or a well-managed bluff? Or a view of astonishment? I cannot recall. A year later, I was third in the exams, although I dropped to sixth by Christmas. The following summer, there was apparently no exam, but it was recorded that I ‘attended morning assembly regularly’. I suspect I did not have a choice, but maybe others did? By Summer 1955, ‘Scripture’ had been replaced by ‘Divinity’, and I achieved a creditable second place in the exams, followed by more excellent results. But then, in my last term, in Summer 1956, I dropped to 18th in the standings, from a class of 27. ‘Very fair’, was the comment, which is English-teacher speak for ‘pretty awful’. What had happened? Obviously a crisis of faith had occurred. And it happened because of a convergence of music and history.

I had been intrigued by the History lessons, where we learned about Cavemen, and the Stone Age, and perhaps I found these a more plausible account of the Birth of Man than the rather saccharine Bible Stories. At about the same time, I recall we had music and singing lessons, where we were encouraged to trill lustily some English (and Irish, Scottish and Welsh) folksongs. Apart from such standbys as ‘Bobbie Shaftoe’, I particularly remember two songs: the first one that I had for long imagined was by Rabbie Burns – ‘A-Rovin’’, the second, ‘Greensleeves’. Looking the former up today, I see that its title is ‘The Maid of Amsterdam’, and is a traditional sea shanty that first appeared in London, in 1608, in a play by Robert Heywood. The chorus went as follows:

            A-rovin’, a -rovin’, since rovin’s been my ru-i-in

            I’ll go no more a-rovin’ with you – fair – maid.

I can recall to this day the atmosphere in the classroom as we took up the refrain, with the smell of cabbage and dirty socks wafting in from other rooms, and my seat, bottom left, where I was always trying to catch the teacher’s attention.

But isn’t that extraordinary – that a prim preparatory school in postwar England would encourage its eight-year-olds to sing about ‘roving’? Assuredly we did not sing the whole song, as I note that the third verse runs as follows:

I put my hand upon her thigh
Mark well what I do say
I put my hand upon her thigh
She said: “Young man you’re rather high!”
I’ll go no more a-rovin’ with you fair maid

Needless to say, we did not get further than the first verse, but I think I was already enthused enough to think that this roving business was something I needed to investigate. I now wonder whether I already had at that time enough imagination to reflect that wasn’t it more likely that the Fair Maid would face Ruin than the Rover would? I was certainly not looking for ruination at that age, but I was very keen to learn more about this frightening prospect, and how beautiful maidens could indeed be the cause of the complete collapse into desolation or penury of innocent young lads like me.

But where to find ‘fair maids’? My father owned a handsome, tall, glass-lined – but locked – bookcase, and I could inspect the titles there through the panes. One title was The Fair Maid of Perth, which sounded promising. Perhaps Perth was a fertile location for the incipient Rover? So I looked up ‘Perth’ in the atlas: it seemed a bit far away. Requiring quite a substantial rove, in fact. My absence might have been noted, and I would have been pushed to get back in time for my favourite baked-beans-on-toast supper, so I abandoned that plan. Another potential source was Roy Race, of Melchester Rovers, who featured in Tiger magazine, but I soon saw that his adventures did not involve exploits with girls but instead such feats as rescuing the Rovers’ French import, Pierre Dupont, from a lighthouse where he had been kidnapped, so that they could get him back in time for kick-off. (“Who’d play the Rovers with Pierre on our wing ?” Tra-la-la.) All stirring stuff, of course, but not really relevant to the Quest.

Rossetti’s ‘Greensleeves’

And then there was Greensleeves. That glorious tune, and the illustrations, at the back of some encyclopædia or annual that I possessed, that showed a comely young girl, draped in muslin or something similar, sitting on a bough of a tree in some medieval forest. Was Greensleeves one of those maids who could ruin you? She didn’t look as if she were someone who could cause permanent damage. At the same time, I couldn’t see myself taking her home to meet Mum and Dad. (“Sit down, dear, and have a cup of tea. But why is your frock all green? Have you been frolicking in the grass?”) Nevertheless, maybe it would have been safe to do a little roving with her, to see what it was like, without getting into trouble.

Another permanent memory is attending Sunday School. I would inwardly seethe at being sent off, on an afternoon when playing outside beckoned far more energetically, to the church at the top of the hill in Coulsdon, Surrey. (It was St. Andrew’s, where my parents were married in August 1940, as the bombs started falling.) It was utterly boring, and prominent among the tedious exercises that we had to carry out was the recitation of the Apostles’ Creed, which, even then, I regarded as the most ridiculous mumbo-jumbo I had ever heard. (This was especially so with the St. James version in use then, that contained ‘the Holy Ghost’, ‘hell’, and ‘the quick and the dead’, making it particularly opaque.) It was never explained to us what these statements meant, how they were derived, or why they were important. We were just indoctrinated: “I believe in . . .”.  I fail consistently to understand how any inquisitive child would not rebel against such nonsense, and the way it was drilled into us. But eight-year-olds in my world did not ask questions. We did what we were told. Moreover, the girls at Sunday School were all very soppy and outwardly very pious. Not a single green sleeve to be found among the lot of them.

But to return to school. At the end of one of the lessons, probably in the spring of 1956, I went up to speak to Mr. Robinson and Mr. Wilder, who for some reason were both present during the session. Mr. Robinson was a kindly, Pickwickian figure, who blinked at us, and always wore a three-piece-suit with a fob watch in his waistcoat. He taught us English and History. Mr. Wilder was much younger, tall and athletic, half-French. He taught Arithmetic, French, and sport, and impressed me and other pupils once when he said he could think in French. I had two questions for the pair of them: Who wrote ‘Greensleeves’? And which account of Man’s origins was right – the Garden of Eden or the Story of the Cavemen?

Mr. Robinson and Mr. Wilder looked at each other awkwardly. The Greensleeves question they were able to dispense with fairly quickly: ‘traditional’, ‘no known composer’, but the other one was challenging. I am not sure exactly what they said: they may have used the word ‘allegory’, but probably not, but I do recall having the impression that I should not take those Bible stories all very literally. And I think that did it for me, as far as religion was concerned. They confirmed for me that it was all bogus. I had sorted out something significant, and from that day on, I knew what I wanted to do. When cringe-making friends of my parents patted me on the head, and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say I wanted to be an ‘influencer’, and would seek to monetise my content-creation as soon as I could. (That quickly shut them up.) Unfortunately it took sixty-five years for that idea to take off.

‘Born 1820: Still Going Strong’

Now, I have to say that I was a very literal-minded little boy at that stage. I had great problems differentiating between fiction and reality, and no one had yet introduced me to William Empson and his Seven Types of Ambiguity. For example, I recall seeing the advertisement for Johnny Walker whisky on the front page of the Illustrated London News, where the slogan declared: ‘Born 1820. Still going strong!’, and it displayed a regency gentleman, in red jacket, shiny black boots, and a golden top-hat breezily striding somewhere. 1954 minus 1820 was 134. How could a man live to be that long, I asked myself, and where could I meet him?

‘The Blue Lamp’

And then there were the movies (pictures). We went to see The Blue Lamp, where Jack Warner played P.C. Dixon, and was eventually shot by the Dirk Bogarde character. (It came out in 1950. Did I really see it that early?) I was distraught. The very likable policeman was dead, definitely not ‘still going strong’, and it must have been ages before it was explained to me that it was all illusory. About that time we must also have seen a trailer for King Kong (children would not have been allowed to watch the full movie), and I had nightmares for months, since I believed that great apes could actually grow to that size and might terrorize our neighbourhood. And I know I was puzzled about ‘The Dark Ages’, concluding that for hundreds of years the sun did not come out, and people must have groped around in the murkiness until the light returned.

I recall, also, my bewilderment over my father’s occupation during the day. He would set off on his bicycle to school each day (a journey of about five miles along the busy Brighton Road), but I could not work out why a man of his age was still attending school. My sister eventually explained to me that he was not a pupil there, but a teacher. Somehow, even though I saw men of his age teaching at St. Anne’s, I had never made the connection.

Yet that summer of 1956 must have been very important. I remember being introduced to the Daily Telegraph cryptic crossword, and solving my first clue. (The answer was ‘OSCAR’.) I discovered – and delighted in – nonsense verse. I recall being fascinated by my father’s meagre store of one-liners, such as ‘She was a good cook, as cooks go, but, as cooks go, she went’, and was exceedingly happy to sort out why the linguistic twist worked, and why it made me laugh. I suddenly started to appreciate allusion, metaphor, irony, bathos, and paradox. The real world was far more subtle and multi-layered than I had ever imagined. At the same time, I felt a distinct disdain for the mythical and the mystical, a distaste that has never gone away. (The Greek Myths left me cold, as did C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. Though I loved Arthur Ransome’s Old Peter’s Russian Tales.) But not the mysterious: mystery was captivating. And Greensleeves lay in the field of mystery.

1956-1965

Geoffrey Marlar

In September 1956 I started at Whitgift School in Croydon. Like many such independent schools, it had a charitable foundation, and the assumption seemed to be that all the pupils should be trained to be solid Christian gentlemen. That was assuredly something that the Headmaster, Geoffrey Marlar (who had ridden with the cavalry in WWI) believed. Coincident with my arrival at the school, our family had moved house – to more spacious accommodation rented from the school Foundation, on the playing-fields, about four hundred yards from the Headmaster’s house. If, on a Sunday, my brother and I played any ball-game that caused us to stray far from Haling Park Cottage, and Marlar espied us while gardening, he would shake a fist at us for breaking the Sabbath, and our father would get a roasting from him the next day.  I found this all very strange, and the arrival of Cavaliers cricket on Sundays soon afterwards must have dismayed Marlar. (He retired in 1961.)

I had to attend daily Assembly, careful to be carrying my hymnbook for inspection. (For one week when I had mislaid that item, I recall taking in a pocket dictionary, and not being spotted.) I would never even have thought of getting exempted as a pagan, but then I learned that there was a category of boys called ‘Jews’ who were allowed to sit it out. This seemed to me grossly unfair. I couldn’t tell why these characters were any different from the motley crew of youngsters from all quarters of Europe, both friendly and inimical, that I had to deal with, and thus could not work out why they were allowed to escape all the mumbo-jumbo. Later I would learn that there were atheist Jews, and agnostic Jews, and Protestant and Catholic Jews, and Jews for Jesus, and non-Jews who had converted for marital reasons, but it all seemed to me like an Enormous Category Mistake at the time, even though I had not worked out why. Much later, after looking into the matter, I decided that dividing the world into Jews and Gentiles was patently absurd, and I was encouraged to learn that Schlomo Sands (in The Invention of the Jewish People) gave historical authority to my doubts and inclinations.

Then I got recruited to the Choir. Not because I liked singing, but because I apparently had a decent voice, and obedient boys did not challenge what their elders and betters decreed. The only trouble was that the times for Choir Practice and Rugby Practice collided, and it was an easy decision for me to pick the activity I preferred. Thus, when the first performance of Iolanthe was staged, in December 1957 (I think), one Fairy who had missed out on the rehearsals was able to give a startling innovative and true-to-life interpretation of the first chorus ‘Tripping Hither, Tripping Thither’, something which my classmates were quick to point out to me the following morning. Mortification came easily.

‘Tripping Hither’ (not the Whitgift School performance)

Hymn- and carol-singing was, however, quite enjoyable, and even the less devout masters joined in lustily (with my father notoriously singing out of tune, another embarrassing fact that was swiftly communicated to me by one of his colleagues). But it was important not to study the words too closely. I do not know how many of us inquisitive ten- and eleven-year-olds worked out, when singing the stirring Adeste Fideles, what ‘Lo, he abhors not the virgin’s womb’ meant, but it was a line that Frederick Oakeley (if indeed it was he) should have stifled at birth when he faced the challenge of translating

Deum de Deo, lumen de lúmine,
gestant puellae viscera
Deum verum, genitum non factum
.

What was extraordinary to me then, and remains so, is how many of the school staff, presumably intelligent and well-educated persons who were supposed to be encouraging their pupils to think critically, swallowed up such nonsense unquestioningly.

In fact my sister confided in me an awful truth, in about 1959. She told me that our father (not Our Father, I hasten to add, since His views on the matter are for ever indeterminable) did not believe in the Apostles’ Creed. What a shock! I was like: ‘Hallo!’, and in my best Holden Caulfield style responded that surely no one believed in that stuff any more. Why Daddy had vouchsafed this truth to my sister, and not to me, was a mystery, but I concluded that, in my resolve not to accompany the rest of the family to church, something they did only at Christmas and Easter, I had perhaps been working my ‘Influencer’ magic on him for the good. (Those who knew my father will know how unlikely a story that is.)

But back to the choir. After a while, my voice broke, of course, and I became an alto. Something was wrong, however, and I was jolted out of my complacency when a fellow chorister – name of Balcomb (where is he now?) – pointed out loudly, to no one in particular, that ‘Percy just sang the treble part one octave lower’. Apparently I was supposed to sight-read the alto part from the hymnal, and thus harmonise with the basses and tenors. But I couldn’t do that! No one had told me what to do, or taught me how to sight-read. Another colleague informed me that most of the choir actually sang at their church, where they learned such tricks, but that his main objective in joining the church had been ‘to meet girls’. So maybe that was the route to take! But there was no way that I was going to sacrifice my irreligious principles for a bit of skirt-chasing (‘that’s not who I am’), so the hunt for Greensleeves was temporarily abandoned, and the choir permanently discarded.

Yet my teenage years were filled with things that I really did not want to do. I had joined a local Scout group, because a new master at the school had a son my age who was keen, and my parents thought it was ‘a good idea’ for me to join. I was made by my unmusical parents to take up piano-playing, something I was not adept at. I hated practising, and dreaded the weekly lesson, dearly hoping that the scheduled time would clash with an away cricket match. Later came the Combined Cadet Force, much harder to avoid, as the alternative was the Boy Scouts, but Monday night, preparing my uniform for CCF day, was the most dismal evening of the week.

This all left very little time for roving. I attended the Yates-Williams School of Ballroom Dancing, at the Orchid Ballroom in Purely, but that was all rather chaotic, and dancing was not my shtick, either. No time for careful wooing of Greensleeves. And glimpses of such a life were few and far between. When we studied Molière’s Bourgeois Gentilhomme, I recall Henry Axton trying to make the play a little more spicy for us (I was fourteen at the time), by suggesting, in the scene where M. Jourdain meets Dorimène, that he was probably trying to look down her cleavage. This was unbearably saucy for my liking, but indicated that Mr. Axton probably knew a bit about roving. I did not seek him out after the class, however, to quiz him on the details.

Thus, by the time the Sixth Form Socials arrived, where the girls from the local high schools were invited, I was hopelessly disadvantaged. (Well, there had been a few romantic roving episodes – none of Turgenevian proportions, I should add –  but I must stay silent about them, as any account would be too shy-making.) I bet all those blighters sporting ‘Crusader’ badges were winning the roving spoils. And, bewilderingly, the Religious Knowledge classes continued into the Lower Sixth Form, where a dreary three-quarters of an hour was wasted each week in studying some Bible extract, and poor Don Rose was brought into relative despair in trying to fire evangelical enthusiasm in the few obvious non-believers in the class. On the other hand, John Chester, our Sixth Modern form-master, as a dedicated Count Bernadotte internationalist, was perplexed at any admission of atheism, seeing it as a symptom of Communism. Presumably the same impulse that provoked the US Congress to adopt ‘In God We Trust’ as the national motto in 1956.

There were not many women at Whitgift. In the early years, we had Miss Scott in the Art Room, and the Headmaster’s secretariat contained two ladies, a very pleasant person called Mrs. Haynes, and her rather dour assistant whom we nicknamed ‘Olga’, as she looked as if she had just stepped out of a Chekhov play. In a sincere attempt to bring more joy to their lives, I posted the following clerihew on the Poetry Wall in the Prefects’ Room:

Mrs Haynes

Goes jiving in Staines,

While Olga

Dances the polga.

I do not know whether Life imitated Art in this particular case, but such musings formed a creative break from our cheerless studies.

The themes from the German literature we were given as set books were too frequently beyond the ken of secluded and protected sixteen-year-olds like me. Thus Gretchen’s passion and torment in Goethe’s Urfaust were rather bewildering (‘abhorrence of a virgin’s womb’? Mr. Chester would never have discussed sex or pregnancy with us), although the role of Mephistopheles in introducing Faust to Roving was unmistakably evil. (Was Gretchen’s  “Meine Ruh’ ist hin” a ghostly echo of  “my ru-i-in”?) And Goethe’s development of the ending, where Gretchen’s Old Testament fate (“ist gerichtet” – “judged”) evolved eventually to one of New Testament salvation (“ist gerettet” – “saved”) cut no ice with me. On the other hand, the Cambridge Examiners, in their fashionable wisdom, set the Communist Bertolt Brecht’s turgid Leben des Galilei as the second set book. Definitely no cleavages on view there. The last book, Heinrich von Kleist’s Der Prinz von Homburg, was an extraordinarily modern psychological study, Shakespearean in its combination of historical drama with study of period-independent human failings. It was thus for me the most accessible of the three set texts. Kleist died in a joint suicide with his Greensleeves, the mortally ill Henriette Vogel, in 1811. No more a-rovin’ for you, Heinrich old chap. But your work lives on: ‘Born 1777 – Still Going Strong’.

Heinrich von Kleist

Thus a rather confused and hesitant candidate applied for entrance to Oxford University.

1965-1976

Christ Church, Oxford

It was a strange business, landing up at Christ Church, of all places, the home of the Oxford Cathedral, and alma mater of countless Prime Ministers. My acceptance was surely not because of my scholastic record or potential, and I can only assume that they must have picked me for one of three reasons:

            1) They thought I was a fairly close relative of the Duke of Northumberland, they hadn’t had many Percys enrolled in recent years, and imagined I might be a useful addition to the beagling set;

            2) They hadn’t filled their quota of infidels for the year, and needed to take some immediate affirmative action to balance the numbers;

            3) They needed a versatile rugby three-quarter, who could play fly-half, centre, or full-back, and preferably someone who could bowl a bit as well.

In fact, I may have been admitted through a misunderstanding. When I had my interview, one of the dons suddenly asked me: “Have you done any roving?”, to which I immediately piped up, replying: “Not much, but I certainly expect to take it up enthusiastically if I am accepted!”.  One or two heads nodded at this, which was quite encouraging. It was not until a few hours later that it occurred to me that the distinguished academic had perhaps been impressed with my strapping 6’ 4” physique, and that the question might have been: “Have you done any rowing?”.  I must have disappointed the Senior Common Room when I did not take my place on the boats.

Yet it was a bit of a culture shock. The cathedral was obviously a dominant presence, and there was a fairly vigorous Church Militant group from such places as Wellington and Marlborough.  I was not even like the agnostic worshipper at the Cathedral quoted in Peter Snow’s Oxford Observed: “I am conscious of communicating if not with Christ then with the whole of English history and tradition.” And I soon found that I, as an obvious non-cathedral-service attendee, was to be excluded from some of the key social events – such as the Chaplain’s sherry parties. (Such discrimination would not be allowed in 2021, where chaplains, now probably called Spiritual Care and Outreach Officers, presumably have to administer to everyone, including Buddhists, Rosicrucians and atheists, and to attend to their emotional needs when they are offended by the presence of statues of benefactors of less than stellar integrity. And I notice that Harvard University recently appointed an atheist as its Head Chaplain.) One of my few god-fearing friends did however encourage me to gatecrash one of those parties, but I was sent away with a flea in my ear – not what I considered very charitable behaviour. Yet I learned one thing: One did not go to the Chaplain’s sherry parties to meet Greensleeves. No sirree.

But the theologians! I could not believe how many canons and readers and students of Theology there were. What on earth was ‘Theology’ and how could one pursue a course of study in it? The study of ‘God’ or of ‘gods’? Even today, when I pick up a recent copy of Christ Church Matters, the House magazine, I find that most of the books by Christ Church alumni that receive reviews are on matters of religion (e.g. ‘Theologically Engaged Anthropology’, ‘The Study of Ministry’, ‘Theology and Religion: Why It [sic] Matters’; ‘Interfaith Worship and Prayer: We Must Pray Together’;  etc. What is going on? How can such superstition occupy so many serious minds for so much of their time? I find it astounding. And then there are the editorials from the Dean, written in language that has no meaning at all for persons like me.

This lesson was brought home to me recently when I read an article in Prospect, titled ‘How to Build a New Beveridge’. It was written by someone called Justin Welby, who I assumed was perhaps the offspring of Marcus Welby, M. D., until the footnote informed me that he apparently occupied a role described as ‘Archbishop of Canterbury’. Welby started his article as follows: “An apocryphal riddle for theology students goes thus: ‘Could God create a rock so heavy that God couldn’t lift it?’ The problem, of course, is that if God can’t, then he’s not omnipotent. If God can, he can’t lift it, and so he’s not omnipotent.” (The rest of the essay was a depressing parade of preachy homilies, worthy of Private Eye’s J. C. Flannel.)

Apocryphal, eh? We all know about the Apocrypha, don’t we, and how they relate to truly genuine canonical texts. So that is what theology students were doing to earn their degree, discussing nonsensical questions like that, while I was slaving away, doing really useful stuff, such as trying to make sense of the High German Consonant Shift, and exploring the use of symbols in Chekhov’s plays! It reminded me of that other no doubt apocryphal essay question on the PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) finals paper at Oxford: “Is this a question?”. One candidate was inspired enough to write simply: “If it is a question, this is an answer”, and was awarded a First on account of it. That is presumably how the Church, the Cabinet, and the Foreign Office were staffed – with people who could so ably tackle such urgent questions, and such achievements led them on to believe that they could ‘solve’ the pressing problems of their time, like ‘the problem of social welfare.’ Harrumph.

J. I. M. Stewart & ‘Michael Innes’

‘But enough of politics, what about your social life?’, I hear you cry. Well, a little roving went on. I’d like to report that, as in Philip Larkin’s imaginings with the women he encountered in books, ‘I broke them up like meringues’, but that would not be strictly true, and the National Profiterole and Meringue Authority might have had something to say about such a micro-aggression. Yet I shall necessarily have to draw a veil over such activities. More engaging for a mature audience, perhaps, might be some of my other social encounters. When I was a member of the Nondescripts, the Christ Church sporting club, I recall attending a cocktail party hosted or attended by J. I. M. Stewart, the English literature don who had rooms on my staircase in Meadows 3. Now, not all of you may know that Stewart wrote detective novels under the name of Michael Innes, so I thought I would be very clever, showing off how familiar I was with his œuvre, and I thus asked him something about the plot of Landscape with Dead Dons. He paused, looked at me rather quizzically, and observed: “Forgive me if I am mistaken, but wasn’t that work written by Robert Robinson?”. I suddenly felt very small, and wanted to hide behind the sofa.

Christ Church JCR Officers with the Senior Censor

Now it has all changed. The latest issue of Christ Church Matters, received last month, celebrates ‘Forty Years of Women at the House’, and a wonderful milestone it is, indeed. The magazine is dedicated completely to women, with a very impressive Introduction by the Senior Censor, Professor Geraldine Johnson, who informs us that ‘Unlike Catherine Dammartin, whose corpse was temporarily buried in a dung heap in 1557 for daring to live within the confines of Christ Church despite being the wife of a Regius professor, today’s women know that they belong at the House, front and centre.’ And indeed they do, as all the little darlings [Is this usage wise? It sounds very patronising and 1970s  . . . Ed.] can be seen in a wide range of glittering photographs, in their blue stockings, green sleeves, and black gowns, alongside the senior members of faculty, and all those in the Cathedral, Steward’s Office, Hall, Lodge, Library, etc. etc. who make the place hum. Completely unexpected in 1965, when I arrived and was matriculated.

Staff and Students at Christ Church, June 2021

And then came a passage to the real world: teacher training, with a term at Bognor Regis Comprehensive School (where I was sent on an emergency mission to teach Russian and German, since the previous incumbent had turned out to be far too energetic a rover with one of his pupils), and then a move away from academia to business, and IBM. After a while, I met my Greensleeves, as I have described in http://www.coldspur.com/my-experience-with-opioids/. It all started because, during my extended stay in hospital (four months, in fact), I saw the invitation outside the hospital window: ‘Please Help Our Nurses’ Home’, and somehow failed to notice the apostrophe. That was in the summer of 1973, and Sylvia and I were married in September of 1976.

1980-2021

We have lived more than half our lives in the United States, and nearly half of that period in Southport, North Carolina – far longer than I have ever lived in one place. My accent still seems to be a source of fascination to many, and I am accustomed to being asked by the check-out personnel in the supermarket, even when I have explained that I have lived here for twenty years: ‘Do you like it here?’.

Bill Bryson & ‘The Road to Little Dribbling’

In The Road to Little Dribbling Bill Bryson lists some of the features of his adopted country that he likes: Boxing Day; Country pubs; Saying ‘you’re the dog’s bollocks’ as an expression of endearment or admiration; Jam roly-poly with custard; Ordnance Survey maps; I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue; Cream teas; the 20p piece; June evenings, about 8 p.m.; Smelling the sea before you see it; Villages with ridiculous names like Shellow Bowels and Nether Wallop. I could quickly add a few from my own collection of favourite UK phenomena, namely Stonehenge; the Listener crossword puzzle; Promenade Concerts; Jeeves; sheepdog trials; clerihews and limericks; the Wisden cricketers’ almanack; the Bluebell Railway. Yet if I had to come up with a list of similar Americana, it would run: Thanksgiving, the Grand Canyon  . . . and, er, that’s it.

Thus, while the USA has been an overall very positive experience for us, it does not contain many truly endearing features. And several things about the country and its habits and customs sometimes drive Sylvia and me to distraction. But, if they came to be really unbearable and unavoidable, we presumably would move elsewhere – but whither? In our seventies, an upheaval moving to some remote island, like my wife’s St. Vincent, or Maui, or Mauritius, or the Isle of Wight, does not seem very appealing It would be a hard adjustment: moreover, once you have kids who really have not lived anywhere else, and then the grandchildren arrive, that effectively seals the deal. So we live with all the oddities and frustrations of the USA, and its Bible Belt.

It is a droll irony that, while the Protestant Church in the United Kingdom is established (i.e. recognised as the official church, in law, and supported by civil authority), but the level of public unbelief is distinctly high, in the United States, there is supposed to be a constitutional separation between Church and State, while Christian fervour is an unavoidable presence in the public sphere. A few years ago, the local electricity company, Brunswick County Public Utilities, decided to have ‘In God We Trust’ inscribed on all its support vehicles. Lord knows how devolving everything to a deity would help in the reliable delivery of power to the local citizenry, and I found this an unnecessarily divisive and pointless initiative, at an unjustifiable expense. It was my Micro-Aggression of the month. (I was effectively told to clam up, and was referred to the minutes of the council meeting where the majority decision had been made.)

When we first moved to Southport, one of the first questions our neighbours asked us was: ‘What Church do you belong to?’, something that would still be considered horribly crass in the UK, I imagine, as what one’s friends believed in, or what they worshipped, was none of anyone’s business, but the interrogation seemed perfectly natural to Americans who did not even know us. I think they got the message when we held our first dinner party, and did not offer a prayer of ‘Grace’ before the meal, a ceremony that can be seen quite frequently in public restaurants, with participants holding hands around the table. In Brunswick County can be found churches of practically every conceivable Christian denomination: Pentecostal, Evangelical, Baptist, Lutheran, Quaker, Methodist, Presbyterian, Reformed, Unitarian, Mormon, Apostolic, African Methodist Episcopal, Catholic, as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists. I have no idea what doctrinal differences separate these institutions, and have no wish to find out.

We attended the memorial service for a neighbour at the Episcopal Church in Southport a few months ago. I was astonished at how high-church it was. Swinging censers, the ritual of the eucharist, and the congregation all declaiming earnestly their belief in the Apostles’ Creed, and especially Eternal Life. When obituaries in the local paper state that the deceased (who normally has not ’died’, but ’passed’) has ‘gone to be with Jesus’, or ‘taken by the angels’, those who mourn him or her mean it quite literally. The after-life is ‘a better place’. But I can’t help but feel that if such people accepted that this life on earth is the only one they are going to have, they might value it rather more than they do. Ascribing disasters and premature or avoidable deaths to ‘God’s will’, or to His ‘Plan’, in the belief that everything will be well when we are all re-united, is a deeply depressing philosophy, in my opinion. It suggests that life is merely some dire metaphysical project akin to the Communist Experiment. And it is also a little hypocritical. When survivors of a tornado are pulled from the wreckage of their houses, their first statement is frequently: ‘The Lord saved me’, the implication being that the person down the street who did not survive was unworthy of such grace.

And yet. The charity . . . . The organisation of food-pantries when disasters like tornadoes and hurricanes strike  . . . The helping hands offered to neighbours and strangers. All very splendid and admirable, but not a little perplexing.

Someone (Meister Eckhart, C. S. Lewis, Teilhard de Chardin, Cardinal Newman?) once said that one believes in this rigmarole purely because it is utterly irrational and inexplicable, which seems to me an argument for anything, like believing in the Tooth Fairy. And that line can take you into the Paul Johnson school of theology, namely that ‘because Christianity inspired great art, it must be true’. What is astonishing to me is that if otherwise smart persons are taken in by such nonsense, are they not likely to be taken in by a lot of other absurd theories that circulate – especially on the Web? Why should the particular mythology that was instilled into them at primary school have any greater significance and durability than any other? And what happens – heaven forbid! – when politicians take some disastrous course of action to which they say they were divinely inspired? Or fundamentalist Christians (or those claiming to be so) resort to quoting the Bible to avoid having to be vaccinated against Covid-19?

Bishop John Spong

As I was putting the finishing touches to this piece I read, in the New York Times, an obituary of John Shelby Spong, a bishop in the Episcopal Church. He was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1931. His mother was a strict Calvinist ‘who refused to sing hymns because they were not the word of God’, and it was apparently such fundamentalism that prompted Spong’s subsequent rejection of Christian orthodoxy. Thus Spong called on his flock to reject ‘sacrosanct ideas like Jesus’ virgin birth’ (no questions of womb-abhorrence for Spong, then) and ‘the existence of heaven and hell’, and in 2013 he preached that several of the apostles were ‘mythological’, also claiming that the notion that Jesus’ blood had washed away the sins of Christians was ‘barbaric theology’. But why stop there? If you start dismantling the whole edifice as superstition, there will not be much left. I was not surprised to read that the Bishop of Brisbane had barred Spong from speaking in his diocese.

God granted episcopant Spong

A life that was wondrously long;

This in spite of the breach

When Spong started to preach

“What the Bible reveals is all Wrong!”

Still, not much else I can do about it all, especially if some insiders have woken up to the truth. And it is not as if we atheists get together in pressure-groups, or go on marches. No point in having meetings to discuss policy: “Still no God, then?”; “So who brought the donuts?”; “Same time next month?”.  I do occasionally venture out into the public sphere, however. Several years ago, the local paper printed a letter from a local citizen who had become angered that Walmart had replaced its ‘Happy Christmas’ welcome sign with one saying ‘Happy Holidays’. I was moved to respond, and the State Port Pilot published my letter, which ran as follows:

May I respond to Mr Livingston’s letter (‘Xmas’) with a few anecdotes?

In the country where I was born, the UK, where there remains an established church, the religious aspects of the Christmas festival had long been melded with pagan traditions. And to me, the beautiful Festival of the Nine Lessons and Carols, from King’s College, Cambridge, was as much a cultural event as a religious ceremony. Thirty years ago, there was no awkwardness about calling the period ’Christmas’, although today the members of the European Union are divided as to the degree to which they should acknowledge their Christian heritage.

When I came to the US, in 1980, I was quickly reminded how socially inept it was to send a Christmas card to friends who were Jewish, no matter how loosely religious they were. And a few years later, the new (Jewish) wife of an old friend of mine stormed out of the room when I – a non-believer  ̶  put on some ‘Christmas’ music. (And it wasn’t Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer). But how was I supposed to know? And wasn’t that a bit of an overreaction?

When I came to Southport a few years ago, I was astonished that a Christian prayer was said at a secular business meeting, and I am still surprised that your columnists refer to ‘our Lord’, as if the Pilot were a parish magazine. But it does not surprise me that Walmart should have decided that it wanted to post a message of seasonal goodwill to all its customers, whether they be Jews, Sikhs, Moslems, Buddhists – or even atheists – as well as the dominant sects of Christianity. Mr Livingston can continue to enjoy making his personal celebrations in his church.

Finally, Happy Holidays to you and all your readers!

In conclusion, this extended anecdote is really a celebration: I did not find God, but I found my Greensleeves. I look back on my life of almost seventy-five years, with many important decisions made and a good number of lucky breaks accepted, of which meeting Sylvia was the best. My thanks to my beautiful and adorable wife for supporting me for so long.

James (son), Coldspur, Sylvia, Julia (daughter), with Alyssa, Alexis and Ashley (granddaughters): St. James Marina, 2018

Greensleeves was my delight,
Greensleeves my heart of gold
Greensleeves was my heart of joy
And who but my lady Greensleeves.

(This month’s Commonplace entries can be seen here.)

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Filed under Geography, Literature/Academia, Personal, Philosophy, Travel, Uncategorized

Four Books on MI5

MI5, the Cold War, and the Rule of Law by K. D. Ewing, Joan Mahoney, and Andrew Moretta

Security and Special Operations: SOE and MI5 during the Second World War by Christopher J. Murphy

Intelligence, Security and the Attlee Governments, 1945-51: An uneasy relationship? by Daniel W. B. Lomas

How Spies Think by David Omand

In fact three of the books reviewed this month are about MI5. The fourth relates more to general intelligence, but it is a noteworthy addition, and marginally concerns MI5, and I wanted to keep the title of the piece simple. ‘Three Books About MI5 – and One Not’ didn’t seem very catchy.

Regular readers will recognize that the main focus of my research into intelligence agencies has been MI5, with occasional ventures into MI6, GCHQ, and SOE. If ever I were to attempt a second book, it would be called The Authoritative But Unauthorised History of MI5 (hereafter referred to as TABU). Christopher Andrew’s authorised history of MI5 is a monumental work, very readable, and a valuable companion, but I have consistently maintained that it is too ambitious in its scope, flawed in its methodology, unscholarly in its references to sources, and far too delicate in its avoidance of controversy. That last aspect may have been forced upon its author, but then he should not have succumbed to such pressures if he wanted to preserve his academic prestige.

Above all, there is a wealth of information that needs to be incorporated in any comprehensive history of MI5, with hundreds of files released to the National Archives that require a concentrated and disciplined amount of cross-referencing, a process that would then shed much light on the activities of MI5 officers. I could start TABU with my research into Fuchs, Peierls, Pontecorvo, Philby, Maclean, Blunt, Ursula Kuczynski, Gouzenko, etc. etc. and package the stories into a book on its own. Then there are the figures who have not been properly covered: for example, Alexander Foote, Oliver Green, Dave Springhall, Guy Liddell, Roger Hollis, and Jane Archer.

A more serious approach would carve MI5’s history up into more manageable sections. Thomas Hennessey and Claire Thomas attempted something similar in their three-volume ‘Unofficial History of MI5’, titled Spooks (2009-2011), but their compilation inexplicably lacks an index, which is a fatal flaw. It provides a measure of useful chronicling, but contains numerous errors, and is overall unusable. Another project is required, perhaps covering separately the era of each MI5 director-general. Thus Volume 1 would take us to 1940 with Kell (1909-1940), with perhaps a chapter on Harker’s interregnum, Volume 2 with Petrie (1940 to 1946), Volume 3 with Sillitoe (1946 to 1953), Volume 4 with White (1953-1956), Volume 5 with Hollis (1956-1965), and Volume 6 with Furnival-Jones (1965-1972) – furnished perhaps with an appendix on Hanley’s molehunts, while the remaining Volumes would await further release of archival material. Whoever is charged with managing this enterprise, I hope that he or she has access to the TABU sources available on coldspur.

Meanwhile, some potentially valuable books exploring lesser-known aspects of MI5’s history continue to appear – some absurdly priced – and it is my allotted task this month to analyse what I found in them.

MI5, the Cold War, and the Rule of Law by K. D. Ewing, Joan Mahoney, and Andrew Moretta (Oxford University Press, 2020)

This hefty volume is described in the following terms:  “[It] is concerned with the powers, activities, and accountability of MI5 principally in the period from 1945 to 1964. It was a body without statutory authority, with no statutory powers, and with no obvious forms of statutory accountability. It was established as a counter-espionage agency, yet was beset by espionage scandals on a frequency that suggested if not high levels of incompetence, then high levels of distraction and the squandering of resources.”

This is all very stirring stuff, in the tradition (it would appear) of that overlooked classic of counter-intelligence analysis, Misdefending the Realm, which the authors unaccountably do not list in their Bibliography, while giving ample recognition to those renowned chroniclers of the truth, Chapman Pincher, Kim Philby and Peter Wright. Since my attention was focussed on the period 1939-1941, with some projection into 1949 and 1950 on account of the Klaus Fuchs case, one might expect a smooth transition from MTR into the post-war challenges posed by Gouzenko, Nunn May, Fuchs and Pontecorvo, followed by the growing controversies surrounding Burgess and Maclean up to Philby’s disappearance in 1963.

Yet this is not a conventional study. Ewing, Mahoney and Moretta are lawyers – and their book is therefore a ‘lawyerly’ approach to the mission of MI5, with an emphasis on rights, and discrimination and surveillance. Readers should thus not be surprised when they encounter sentences such as: “That said, it must also be recognized that the consequence of vetting was to discriminate against individuals, either on grounds of their political affiliations or beliefs, or on the ground of their lifestyle.” (p 303)

To an audience in 2021, ‘discrimination’ is clearly a highly negative term. After all, MI5 recently put out a press release stating that ‘in the interests of diversity’, and ‘to ensure that our personnel accurately reflect the community they serve’, the agency would ‘begin a recruiting campaign to hire all manner of riff-raff, ne’er-do-wells, losers, and subversives to its counter-intelligence staff’. [That was intended as a joke. I do not believe any such statement has been made – yet.] In 1950, however, such a policy of ‘discrimination’ should have been seen as eminently sensible, as it should be now. Why on earth should a government department, or a company with governmental contracts engaged on secret work, not discriminate against persons whose avowed objective was to destroy the whole liberal democracy? For we are talking about Communists (Party members), and communists (fellow-travellers), here.

Be that as it may, the authors start off by providing a very useful and detailed inspection of the movements between the electoral success of Clement Attlee in July 1945, flushed with the recent victory between the western allies and their counterpart, the Soviet Union, and Attlee’s recognition, a few years later, after detection of spies and warlike impulses from Stalin, that communist influence in government needed to be stamped out. Attlee was suddenly not beholden to his Left Wing any more. This period was well summarized by Christopher Andrew in Defend the Realm (pp 382-386), and Ewing and Co. exploit the rich archival sources now available to track the important contributions of civil servants like Findlater Stewart and Edward Bridges (neither of whom appear in Andrew’s book), and the efforts by MI5 to resist any controls over its independence.

The focus of the authors is very much on the constitutional authority of MI5, and especially its involvement in ‘surveillance’. Indeed, the word ‘Surveillance’ appears in six of the fifteen chapters’ headings, and is a dominant theme throughout. This expressed dislike of ‘surveillance’ concerns these lawyers the most. It even leads them into some unfortunate misconceptions. As early as page 7, in the Introduction, they write: “Yet we too had a secret police . . .” While MI5 operated secretly, however, it was not a police force with powers of arrest and prosecution, and suggestions that it was somehow akin to the Gestapo and the NKVD are irresponsible. The motif is picked up later, on page 51, where the following interpretation appears: “Quite apart from the form of words used, further evidence that MI5 was being authorized to act as a secret political police force rather than a counter-espionage agency is to be found  . . .”.

These lawyers admit to sympathies for ‘progressive’ views. “Lawyers had no immunity from MI5 surveillance during the Cold War, and progressive lawyers had even less”, they write (p 168). They hail ‘the progressive National Unemployed Workers Movement “ (p 11). They lament how certain presumably ‘advanced’ members of parliament were treated: “In terms of MI5’s mandate (defence of the realm, as threatened by subversion and espionage), what we have here is a situation in which progressive MPs were the subject of fairly intrusive MI5 and Special Branch surveillance on two grounds.” (p 150)

Now, I am not certain what distinguishes a ‘progressive’ lawyer from a ‘regressive’ one (after all, should they not simply be interpreting the law?), but if they are borrowing from the world of economics and politics, they are entering dangerous ground. I could just about accept that ‘progressive’ taxation has an accepted definition concerning the increasing confiscation of wealth from those who either earn a lot or possess substantial assets, but the idea of a ‘progressive’ politician (as espoused by the New York Times and its Nobelist idol of American academia, Paul Krugman) in fact indicates someone on the loony Left who wants the government to pay for free childcare, fund reparations for slavery, forgive all student loans, distribute a universal minimum wage, offer free healthcare, community college tuition, etc. etc. with monies that it does not have, and will never have a chance of collecting.

I do not believe that historians or lawyers should ever start classifying people as ‘progressives’, as they end up sounding like a Pravda editorial, or a functionary from the Politburo. For example, here is Molotov speaking on the new Soviet constitution in 1937, quoting Stalin: “We are entirely on the side of those who have at heart the interests of ‘the whole of advanced and progressive humanity’”. Thus one has to question exactly what sort of world Ewing, Mahoney, and Moretta are progressing towards when they champion the protection of subversive elements whom the government is funding, and analyze the poorly-named ‘Purge’ Procedures. With some apparent sense of regret, they write (p 248): “Although in practice most civil servants at the time [1948] enjoyed secure tenure and relatively good conditions of service, they could nevertheless be hired and fired at will, with no remedy in the event of a transfer or termination on security grounds”. This is a commentary on Attlee’s statement to the Cabinet of March 25, where he essentially expressed exactly that policy. (And Attlee went so far as to include the shocking statement: ‘Even promotion does not come of right’. The injustice! The iniquity!)  If it was good enough for the socialist Attlee in 1948, why question it now?

The authors are on much stronger ground when they analyze MI5’s policies being carried out in practice against the broader public. I have commented before on the colossal waste of time, and the occupation of yards and yards of filing space, that was driven by MI5’s vague and all-encompassing policy of ‘keeping an eye on’ possibly disruptive elements. Literally hundreds of intellectuals, academics, union leaders and CP members were at large, spreading falsehoods about the phenomenon of Soviet Russia, and denigrating what they viewed as the oppressive, exploitative nature of western democratic society. There was thus a continuous hum that abetted Soviet propaganda, and apologists for the relatively free and enlightened United Kingdom struggled to find the right voice and outlet. The ‘scandal’ that erupted when Encounter magazine was found to have been funded by the CIA was typical of this: why on earth should a government organisation not assist a publication that promoted western values?

Nearly all these dubious characters were never going to be caught in any illegal act, such as bomb-throwing, or passing state secrets to a Soviet contact. Dave Springhall was a notable exception, and his arrest caused alarm and dismay in Moscow. As the authors point out, the most dangerous activity was taking place under the noses of MI5’s and MI6’s senior officers, by traitors who had concealed their ideological loyalties. Thus most of the surveillance energy was a wasted effort. As the authors conclude (p 424): “True, we have become accustomed to MI5 – a counter-espionage agency – being over-obsessed with fears of subversion and ill-informed about espionage threats, going back to Nunn May and Klaus Fuchs, and of course to ‘Sonya’.” (‘Of course’?)

On more prosecutorial issues, Ewing, Mahoney and Moretta proceed painstakingly through the 1950s and early 1960s, albeit with some confusing jumping around in time, explaining in detail the ramifications of such overlooked but much cherished phenomena as The Radcliffe Report on Positive Vetting, the Maxwell Fyffe Directive and the George Wigg Codicil. With their published concern about the fashionable leftist bogey of ‘witch hunts’, they offer a barbed criticism of Lord Denning as the Grand Inquisitor, but cover the Vassall case well, and are very incisive and accurate in their criticism of the government’s performance in the Profumo case. One probably long-forgotten grievance they document is the case of one John Lang, a solicitor with ICI who had lost the confidence of its board because he had, in 1951, married a woman who had been a member of the Communist Party, and has thus appeared on MI5’s radar trail. The authors fail to make any comparison with the romantic affairs of Dick White, the director-general of MI5 a couple of years later, who had himself married a communist at the end of the war.

One highly useful component of the volume is the Appendix on the Post-War Structure of MI5. (This was the feature that introduced me to the book, when I was conducting a Google search.) The neglect by Christopher Andrew of this important facet of MI5’s operations is one of the severest failings of Defend the Realm, and I had been strenuously trying to establish (for instance) exactly the extent to which Roger Hollis was working in Soviet counter-espionage after the war. His rump Division F became reconstituted into the new B Division at the end of 1946, after which Hollis headed B1 for a couple of years. The preliminary conclusions from this narrative indicate that Hollis became Director of C Division in December 1948, and was for some years involved in relatively inconsequential vetting procedures away from the main spy-fighting unit when the Fuchs and Pontecorvo cases were rumbling, a fact that I have since confirmed from a closer inspection of Liddell’s Diaries. The authors’ analysis of the records that source their inquiry (KV 4/162 and KV 4/166, primarily) is close and detailed, but patchy and error-prone. I have ordered photocopies of the relevant material, and plan to provide a fuller account on coldspur at some time, as a follow-up to my piece from November 2018, B2B or Not B2B?.

The standard of copy-editing in this book from the venerated Oxford University Press is sadly lamentable. Thus we read of ‘invetigations’, ‘a corrigenda’, and ‘enior judiciary’. One sub-chapter is headed ‘The Expulcation of MI5’. Persons’ names are mis-spelled: ‘Gielgud’ appears as ‘Gilguid’; ‘Beurton’ as ‘Buerton’; on a single page (219) Evelyn McBarnet appears as ‘McBarnet’ and ‘Barnet’. Sir Burke (later Lord) Trend is introduced as ‘Sir Burke’ on page 302 (without a respective index entry), and referred to thereafter as ‘Sir Burke’.  One or two incomprehensible sentences obtrude, such as the verbless creature on p 369: “It is disappointing, nevertheless, that the official trade union structures co-operative in both the development of the Radcliffe exclusion policy and its extension and implementation.” Percy Sillitoe is described as being the director-general of MI5 in September 1945 (p 236), when he did not accede to the position until the following April. A similar mistake is made over Roger Hollis, when he is presented as being the director-general in November 1952 (p 320). The authors make several mistakes about Soviet espionage, such as asserting that Dave Springhall ran the Cambridge Five (p 233), and a puzzling judgment about the need for secrecy at GCHQ (p 352). They claim that the trials of Nunn May and Fuchs were both held in camera, when in fact both were public.

In conclusion, this is a bit of a clunker; a useful compendium for the earnest scholar of constitutional law, with hundreds of valuable references to archival material that might otherwise have been overlooked, but a bit laborious in its repeated plaints about MI5 as a secret police force, and its obvious bias in favour of (disputable) rights and entitlements for the left-wing cause. Nevertheless, it properly raises some important points about the constitutional and legal basis on which MI5’s surveillance powers are based, which never go away.

Security and Special Operations: SOE and MI5 during the Second World War by Christopher J. Murphy (Palgrave MacMillan, 2006)

I had to make a further raid on my wife’s gardening budget to acquire this volume, which had somehow lain undetected by me since its release fifteen years ago. I cannot recall where I encountered it, but its title beckoned unavoidably, since earlier this year I was earnestly trying to hunt down information on the decision to send the enigmatic George Graham (né Leontieff) to Moscow as George Hill’s special assistant and cipher-clerk in 1941. Murphy is described as ‘an independent scholar . . . formerly Leverhulme Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for Contemporary British History at the Institute of Historical Research’. I was not familiar with that institution, which is apparently celebrating its centenary this year. Unfortunately, its resources seem designed for research libraries and universities through a subscription service, and, like Taylor and Francis, offers no flexible subscription package for a retiree like me.

The book arrived, and I re-inspected the blurb: “The first comprehensive account of the work of the Security Section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War,  . . .”, and Richard Thurlow, of the University of Sheffield, added his commendation: “Security and Special Operations is a significant addition to the burgeoning literature of the history of the Special Operations Executive.” Thurlow, I see, wrote a book titled The Secret State, published in 1994, that I should perhaps read. So I turned eagerly to the Contents and Index, to discover what Murphy had written about the Russian Section of SOE in his ‘comprehensive’ account.

The answer was – not one word. That was a colossal disappointment. How could this be a ‘comprehensive’ account if it neglected to cover the most controversial of all of SOE’s undertakings – its attempt to ‘co-operate’ with the NKVD, the most suspicious, unyielding, aggressive and demanding ‘intelligence’ organisation in the world? And how did Murphy’s sponsors (“The archival research on which this book is based was made possible by a Leverhulme Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Centre for British History at the Institute of Historical Research”) not supervise adequately Murphy’s project to ensure that it delivered the goods? Leaving the Russian Section out was like recounting the tale of Harry Potter without mentioning Voldemort. [Is this correct, Thelma? I was going to write ‘Hamlet without the Prince’, but I wanted an analogy that today’s readers would understand  . . .  Please emend as necessary. Tony].

What is notable is the fact that Murphy also thanks one Duncan Stuart (‘former SOE Adviser at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’) for his help, ‘pointing me in the right direction with a single sheet of paper’. Is it not strange that the F&CO would need an ‘adviser’ for a unit that was dissolved in January 1946? Was he perhaps appointed in 1943, and kept his position for several decades, forgotten and untroubled? His status sounds rather like that of Peter Simple’s Dr. Heinz Kiosk, ‘chief psychiatric adviser to the National Meringue and Profiterole Authority’. Yet it is an important position, and was in fact designed to ‘help’ historians, not the Foreign Office itself.  E. G. Boxshall was the first appointee, in 1959, but for much of the period my record is bare. Christopher Woods occupied the post from 1983 to 1988, and Gervase Cowell (of Oleg Penkovsky/Greville Wynne fame) followed him until 1996, with Duncan Stuart, the last Adviser, succeeding him, and retiring in 2002. Thus to Dr. Murphy I would say: ‘I am sure Stuart did indeed orient you, squire, and pointed you away from the files on the Russian Section, which you were not capable of finding by yourself.’ The last thing an SOE Adviser would want is someone digging around in files he did not understand, whose revelations might be embarrassing, and which the Adviser was trying to get withdrawn, in any case . . .

Despite its obvious oversights, I of course read the book. As the image above shows, the cover displays the determined visage of the ‘double agent’ Henri Déricourt, taken in November 1946. When I read the volume several months ago, I had only a very hazy idea of who Déricourt was, but, now that I have become involved with Patrick Marnham and War in the Shadows, he is a subject of immense interest to me. Murphy dedicates ten dense pages to the aspects of the Déricourt affair which intrigue him, but it is symptomatic of his methods that he completely misses the point, starting his investigation only with the events of November 1943, when all the damage had been done in the preceding twelve months. I shall return to this analysis later.

Murphy has clearly applied some serious delving into the archives to put a story together. He lists an impressive Bibliography, but his detailed and very useful Endnotes are almost exclusively from files at the National Archives, and they thus for some reason ignore the published sources. Concerning the establishment of the Security Section of SOE – a unit that was much resented by the Country Sections – Murphy painstakingly explains the struggles that Air Commodore Archie Boyle experienced after he was appointed Director of Intelligence and Security in July 1941. There was ‘physical’ security (maintaining the secrecy of what went on in SOE’s various establishments), and ‘esoteric’ security, which former SOE security officer Peter Lee described as work ‘including the double cross system, running double agents [and] the very high grade interrogation of people coming out of occupied territories.’ The latter were the functions that the country sections resented, as they felt their judgments were being questioned, and the bureaucrats were putting obstacles in the way of their achieving results.

While Murphy understands well the question of how relationships between SOE and MI5 (what he calls, in the familiar jargon of our time, ‘adequate liaison machinery’) should work, he is somewhat ponderous in explaining its ramifications. He really gets going with the MI5 connections only in Chapter 4, when Geoffrey Wethered was appointed in early 1943 as the SOE Liaison Officer. The need for such had intensified. As Murphy writes: “MI5 had good reason to be concerned over the security of SOE agents in the field. Fears about the extent of undetected German penetration of SOE networks in Belgium, raised during the winter of 1942-1943, were compounded by the ‘increasing number of cases’ of agents returning to the UK having been captured by the German and ‘turned’, a staged escape preceding their return to the UK with a German mission’” In other words, MI5 had every reason to be petrified about the influx of such persons, and their not being vetted stringently enough as they passed through the London Reception Centre in Wandsworth, and how secrets about the Double-Cross Operation might be inadvertently revealed.

Yet Murphy struggles to discriminate clearly between the insignificant and the important episodes. His narrative attempts to pick up every detail of who said what to whom, and how Wethered groped through his difficult task, and the responses by SOE security officer John Senter to Wethered’s recommendations and intrusions. Murphy describes the tensions as the two organisations grappled. The Country Sections continued to act in a blasé fashion. MI5 warned SOE about its ‘shockingly irresponsible’ conduct in sending a dubious character, Barry Knight, to France, and the dispute almost reached the level of Lord Selborne, the minister responsible for SOE, but Duff Cooper backed off. Guy Liddell wanted a softer approach, by talking with Senter’s boss, Archie Boyle.

Thus Murphy introduces the Déricourt story only with the investigations in late 1943, when allegations were made against him, by Jacques Frager (another SOE agent), that he was working for the Germans. Murphy painstakingly goes through the records of the discussions over Déricourt, logging the testimonies of various witness, and the plans to bring Déricourt back to the United Kingdom for interrogation. He thereby ignores all the fracas about Déricourt going back to 1942, when he had been snapped up by Dansey’s henchman, Bodington, in SOE and bypassed all the recommended investigations into his biography that MI5 tried to insist upon. His shady past was suspected then and confirmed in early 1943: Murphy misses all the nuances and sub-plots of this investigation.  As with nearly all other historians of this period, he also does not seem to be familiar with the TWIST committee, and the way that MI6 was managing SOE’s ’double agents’ for them. That is understandable (given that the revelations on TWIST appeared only in 2009), but Murphy displays a lack of imagination in not providing the well-documented background material to Déricourt that did exist at the time, and not putting the events of 1946 and after into context.

There is more, on the Double Cross System and the plans for OVERLORD, which the enterprising reader may wish to follow up him- or herself, but overall my judgment is that this book was an opportunity missed. Too much of ‘what one clerk said to another’, in the immortal words of A. J. P. Taylor, and not enough imaginative synthesizing investigation. No risks were taken in the creation of this work, and no endangered species harmed. Murphy draws no integrative conclusions from his study, and the book ends very abruptly, with a Chapter he titles ‘Unfinished Business’. He covers some of the post-mortems, especially the ‘Nordpol’ operation in the Netherlands, and a fruitless interrogation of Hugo Bleicher of the Abwehr at Camp 020, in an attempt to learn more about Déricourt, but his only conclusion is to suggest that MI5’s interest in SOE soon waned after the war, ‘as the new security priorities of the Cold War emerged’.

I suspect the reality is more complex than that. For example, the failure to even consider the Russian Section is unpardonable, in my opinion. I of course wrote to Murphy about this oversight, and then, failing to gain any response from his email address, tried to call him on the telephone, leaving him a message on his answering machine. He never responded, and I thus add him to my list of appalling academics who advertise an email address, but never want to engage with any of the public who read their books. As Ko-Ko might have sung:

The reclusive annalist, I’ve got him on my list.         
I don’t think he’d be missed! I’m sure he’d not be missed!

[What do you think, Thelma? Will my readers recognise The Mikado?]

Intelligence, Security and the Attlee Governments, 1945-51: An uneasy relationship? by Daniel W. B. Lomas (Manchester University Press, 2017)

I do not think it is a sensible idea to introduce a question in the title of a serious book on intelligence: it makes it sound like a conference presentation where you want to keep your audience in suspense. But, if you haven’t made up your mind by the time you have completed writing its 250-plus pages, you have probably chosen the wrong topic. It is not as if the eager reading public is walking around thinking: ‘Gee, I wonder whether the relationship between Intelligence and Security during Attlee’s premiership was uncomfortable in any way, and I wish some capable academic would sort it all out for me’, partly because ‘Intelligence’ and ‘Security’ are merely abstract nouns, and do not have relationships with governments, and I do not believe that anyone has made the claim that the Attlee administration was exceptional in that dimension. So not a good start. Yet, according to his biographical profile at Salford, Lomas’s book was shortlisted for the Royal Historical Society’s Whitfield Prize for first academic monograph.

Dr. Lomas is described as Lecturer in International History at the University of Salford, and an early warning signal is communicated in the second sentence of his ‘Acknowledgements’, where he thanks his colleague, Dr. Christopher J. Murphy, of renown in this parish above, for ‘his cherished advice and support’ throughout his research. And here is another academic who manages to gain sponsorship from a charitable institution – this time the Arts and Humanities Research Council. How do these guys do it? All that money flowing around, simply to spend some hours in the dusty archives? Moreover, he lists a whole stream of eminent persons who gave him ‘valuable advice’, such as Countess Attlee, Professor Richard Aldrich, Dr Gill Bennett, Tom Bower, Professor Keith Jeffery, Dr Christopher Moran, Professor the Lord (Kenneth) Morgan, etc. etc. (I did not see David Hare, John le Carré or Ben Macintyre on the list.) What did they tell him?: ‘Go West, young man’? ‘Don’t forget to floss’? And how does one handle all that advice, and what happens if their advice clashes? To whom would one turn? It beats me. Perhaps Lomas would have won that Whitfield Prize if he had used fewer advisers.

In fact the book starts out promisingly, with an Introduction that offers an insightful tour d’horizon of the state of play in historiography of the Labour Party and MI5 and MI6. He suggests that the phenomenon of ‘the missing dimension’, first formulated by Christopher Andrew and David Dilks, is still at work in writings about political history, although he lets off certain biographers (including one of his advisers) because they did not have access to relevant archival material at the time. He crisply describes the effect of the 2005 Freedom of Information Act, and how its good intentions are often hindered by bureaucratic trudgery. And he sensibly reminds his readers of the large number of other sources, including private papers, that need to be mined to cover the era properly. He provides a rich bibliography, comprising a wide array of papers from various Ministries, as well as MI5 records, although his ‘primary’ source documents are dominated by possibly dubious memoirs from notable participants, with presumably more objective accounts from eminent (and not so eminent) historians relegated to ‘secondary’ level.

He then provides a brief history of the British Labour party’s relationship with ‘intelligence’, in which he unfortunately deploys the 21st-century cliché of ‘the intelligence community’, as well as that misplaced metaphor of ‘the machinery’.  (If historians want to refer to ‘intelligence agencies’, they should do so: classifying them, alongside GCHQ, as a ‘community’ distorts the battles and rivalries that flourished then, and still do, just as with the FBI and the CIA. If they were a ‘community’, they would not be separate units.) Lomas highlights the background to the Labour Party’s electoral victory in 1945, and the historical reasons why socialist politicians might have had cause to be suspicious of more ‘reactionary’ intelligence organisations, going back to the Zinoviev Letter affair of 1924, a fake stage-managed by the Tory Joseph Ball. Yet his conclusion is tentative: “The legacy of the Zinoviev Latter meant that relations between ministers and the intelligence community may have suffered during the initial stages of the second MacDonald government, elected in June 129.” That ‘may’ demands a lot more analysis.

Yet Lomas effectively destroys his straw man at the outset. The concluding clause of this section runs:  “ . . . the legacy of Zinoviev was not as damaging as popularly [by whom?] suggested, showing that Labour-intelligent relations were on the mend”. His synopsis of Chapter 1 reinforces this idea by stating that, since Labour ministers in Churchill’s coalition government had access to, and use of, intelligence, ‘the experience ended any lingering animosity that remained from the Zinoviev Letter affair.” So the notion of debunking the rumour of ‘an uneasy relationship’ quickly appears to be an artificial one. And, if the reader jumps forward to Lomas’s conclusion, one reads: “Rather than intelligence novices, many senior figures in the Attlee government were experienced intelligence committee consumers, having used intelligence products in office.” (p 259). So what was the whole controversy about?

Another example of how Lomas attempts to present his argument as innovative is in his treatment of Attlee. “While it has been argued that Attlee, a committed internationalist, was opposed to any hostility towards the Soviet Union”, he writes, “the chapter shows that he was kept fully aware of Soviet interests and intentions despite his commitment to renewed Anglo-Soviet relations.” But of course he was kept informed. There is no conflict there. Moreover, Lomas introduces his Chapter 6 (‘Defending the Realm: Labour Ministers, vetting and subversion’) with a quote from Attlee expressed as early as 1940: “The Communists have no right to the name of socialists or Communists. They are Stalinists. Whatever Stalin says is right for them . . .” The antithesis of ‘internationalism’ and ‘anti-communism’ is a false one. Attlee saw through Stalin from the start, as did his Foreign Minister, Bevin. It would have been more interesting if Lomas had focused on why the Edenic Tory policy of ‘co-operation’ with the Soviet Union had been forged in the first place, and if he had explored why a Labour administration had had to undo the appeasement strategies of Attlee’s Conservative predecessors.

Thus what Lomas has compiled is a very readable, well-sourced, integrative study of the fascinating few post-war years where any illusions about Stalin were quickly dispelled. It is overall well-edited (although the U.S. Secretary of State James Byrnes appears several times in Chapter 5 as ‘Brynes’, and is not indexed). If the reader is new to this subject, he or she can gain a well-written and widely-sourced account of the Gouzenko affair, the Soviet threats with the atomic bomb, the espionage of Fuchs, Nunn May, and Pontecorvo, the Foreign Office’s propaganda offensive, the disastrous operations against Albania, relations with the USA and the Commonwealth, Attlee’s policy of ‘positive vetting’, and the disappearance of Burgess and Maclean. Lomas has gathered many fascinating accounts of politicians and intelligence, such as Christopher Mayhew’s discussions with Attlee about setting a middle way between American capitalism and Soviet totalitarianism. Topics like these could well have been extended into a novel analysis, but immediately an opportunity seems to appear to develop an innovative study, the text returns to the more platitudinous generalisations. The author tries to wrap it all in a message that is simply not invigorating or imaginative.

Thus for any reader who has performed even only occasional study of these topics, there will be little new to be found here, apart from some incidental minutes and observations from ministers and diplomats, and Lomas misses many of the darker undercurrents that affected the surface appearance of many events. Another example: if the relationship between ministers and MI6 was so good, how was it that Attlee, Bevin and Strang approved the calamitous incursions into Albania? Lomas simply concludes: “The results were far from positive”, and reports that Bevin and Strang then decided to suspend any such activities. These episodes could have provided a stirring stretch of useful analysis, but Lomas simply moves on. At the Conclusion, one reads: “It [this book] has shown that, contrary to existing views of the relationship, ministers enjoyed what could be described as an excellent working relationship with the intelligence community  . . .”. Not much of a breakthrough, that, and not really true, anyway.

It is not that the subject of his ‘monograph’ is unworthy of study. Attlee and his period certainly deserve attention, as he was probably the finest British premier of the century, skilled in both management and leadership. The reality otherwise was that ministers came and went, and some were good, and some were duds, while civil servants and the intelligence services went on for ever (with the exception of SOE, of course, which was absorbed by MI6). The intelligence ‘community’ had its rivalries, just as the individual agencies had their internal plots, conspiracies, and competition. Their bosses sometimes lied to their political masters, and intelligence was frequently concealed from those who should have received it – both outside and within the service, such as frequently happened with MI5, where senior officers withheld vital information from the grunts. Lomas seems to want us to believe that everything was hunky-dory, and that the Whitehall ‘machinery’ acted according to well-oiled routines, with politicians and intelligence officers all executing their roles in an exemplary manner. But that was not the case. Unfortunately, his book reads very much as if it had been written by a committee, and maybe that court of advisers helped bring about that result.

The bland monographist, I’ve got him on my list.

He never will be missed! He never will be missed!

How Spies Think by David Omand (Penguin Viking, 2020)

When I first saw this title, I imagined that it might sit handily on my shelf next to the SOE handbook How To Become a Spy, and that I could learn more about what made Anthony Blunt and Richard Sorge tick. Yet it all seemed a little unlikely that a book could be written about such a subject: would not spies be simply concentrating on the topic of ‘How can I get this document to my controller without being spotted?’ But then, inspecting further, I discovered that the book is not really about Spies at all. The subtitle is Ten Lessons in Intelligence: the PR boys must have got hold of it, and told their bosses that the author would never get invitations to the late-night TV shows unless they sexed up the title a bit.

For the author is the distinguished Former Director of GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), and more recently ‘the first UK Security and Intelligence Coordinator, responsible for the professional health of the intelligence community [yes, that dread word again], national counter-terrorism strategy and “homeland security”’. (Why that last phrase appears in inverted commas, I have no idea.) And Omand’s book focuses on how seasoned intelligence analysts think, how they sort out fact from fiction, and thus build a reliable picture of the world. Espionage (or ‘Spying) may play a part in that process, but the fact that GCHQ has traditionally picked up electronic signals from the ether that have been transmitted with the awareness that adversaries will intercept them, and attempt to decrypt them, is not indicative that spying went on. Intercepting citizens’ private telephone calls or email messages without legal authority would be another matter, however.

How Spies Think turns out to be a very practical, and riveting, tutorial in how (good) intelligence analysts process information, and the author presents his analysis as a guide to how the rules for sound decision-making can be applied to everyday life. He outlines a four-step process, the SEES model, as a method for developing confident judgments about uncertain intelligence that may be arriving in a variety of forms. It consists of the following levels (and I quote directly):

* Situational awareness of what is happening and what we face now.

* Explanation of why we are seeing what we do and the motivations of those involved.

* Estimates and forecasts of how events may unfold under different assumptions.

* Strategic notice of future issues that may come to challenge us in the longer term.

All his explanations are liberally illustrated with examples from military and intelligence history, such as the D-Day landings, the Iraq War, the Falklands War, the Invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I must confess a personal fascination with these ideas. I spent the most important part of my career as an analyst at the Gartner Group, where we were charged with assessing the situation in our area of interest and expertise, and presenting forecasts for a five-year time period based on our analysis of trends, technologies, vendor capabilities, market dynamics, and buyer preferences and profiles. (The acid test of such processes occurred when a five-year cycle was completed, and one’s forecasts from the past were dredged up for review.) I was always intrigued as to why so many smart persons would have contrary opinions as to what outcomes would be, and it turned out that a certain hard-headedness, even cynicism, and a good dose of practical experience in the field, were required to cut through much of the idealistic waffle that attached itself to many technological initiatives. Thus the analysts who believed they could change the world, or who imagined vendors to operate against their own interests (as opposed to the emissaries they sent to industry consortia), who were simplistically influenced by the more skillful of the vendor marketing campaigns, or who ignored the dynamics of buyer politics, were essentially lost. The most serious defect they displayed was viewing the world as they hoped it could be rather than as it was.

Furthermore, my last job, as VP of Strategy for a small software company, showed me how even skilled executives can ignore intelligence if it gets in the way of their personal agenda and use of power. As part of the strategic planning process, I developed a simple scheme for separating Facts about the market and technology from Assumptions about such matters as competitive threats and future innovations, and started to determine why different executives in the company sometimes maintained conflicting ideas about the unknowns we were addressing. It turned out that the CEO was really not enthusiastic about a formal strategy, as she regarded it as possibly inhibiting her desire to act spontaneously and whimsically: moreover, she paid too much attention to Wall Street, where the analysts looked to her to be a ‘deal-maker” (i.e. engage in precarious acquisition strategies), as it would enhance her reputation (and maybe the stock-price in the short run). The VP of Research and Development (who worked 1500 miles away from Head Office) believed, as creator of the product, that she had a unique insight into what features the product needed, but would change the schedule according to which large customer walked into her office. The VP of Sales did not want his creative energies to be limited by being told what market segments he should pursue to make his numbers. Thus cool assessments can always be undermined by personality traits and private ambitions.

But back to Omand. His text is studded with accurate and useful observations. He offers a clear-headed analysis of how Bayesian approaches of conditional probability can help develop alternative hypotheses to explain events, and how new evidence thus enables new situational awareness, such as in the Cuban Missile Crisis. He presents some cogent insights on topics relevant to historians as well as intelligence analysts, such as the following, on the reliability of a source: “Like the historian who discovers a previously unknown manuscript describing some famous event in a new way, the intelligence officer has to ask searching questions about who wrote the report and when, and whether they did from first-hand knowledge, or from a sub-source, or even from a sub-sub-source with potential uncertainty, malicious motives or exaggeration being introduced at every step of the chain.” (p 27) He offers a provocative section on ‘Reluctance to act on intelligence warnings’, although he fails to delineate a clear linkage about general intelligence about inhuman crimes (e.g. genocide in Bosnia: ‘something has to be done’), and how that intelligence is converted into political action. He laments the communal ‘magical thinking’ at the time of the Falklands crisis that prevented anticipatory action in time – a clear echo of my point about self-delusion over realities.

Since the four SEES items comprise Lessons 1-4, the rest of the book covers Lessons 5-10. Again, Omand offers a very lively lecture, almost impossible to simplify. I thus recapitulate these Lessons for the eager reader, the first three grouped under the heading of ‘Checking our Reasonimg’:

5. It is our own demons that are most likely to mislead us

6. We are all susceptible to obsessive states of mind

7. Seeing is not always believing: beware manipulation, deception and faking

The final three are characterized under ‘Making Intelligent Use of Intelligence’:

8. Imagine yourself in the shoes of the person on the other side

9. Trustworthiness creates lasting partnerships

10. Subversion and sedition are now digital.

This section includes several insightful passages, such as his coverage of conspiracy theories, where he cites Peter Wright as noted delusionist. He provides (on pages 142-143) a useful checklist of memes that characterize a conspiracy narrative, and admits that today’s world of social media makes it much more difficult to debunk or dismantle such theories. He adds, somewhat beguilingly, that his experience ‘is certainly that even in the world of secret intelligence cockups outnumber conspiracies by a large margin’. He recommends a number of steps that an analytic team should perform to check their models in the light of new information, since even such disciplined teams can fall in love with their own theories. I found all this accurate and hard-hitting advice.

I thought, however, that Omand’s arguments became a little slack, the further on he went, and even presented some contradictions. For instance, I considered a phenomenon of Number 8 that Omand does not cover: the appeasement of Stalin in the belief that he would behave like a decent English gentleman after sitting in meetings with the likes of Anthony Eden, and the completely misguided strategy of ‘co-operation’ that the Foreign Office tried to forge as the Soviet Union and the Western Allies fought together against the common enemy. It was the inability to imagine that Stalin was an irredeemably ruthless individual, an autocrat who did not have to listen to ‘the hard men in the Kremlin’ (or even to his own people, as he claimed) that resulted in a disastrous misjudgment of his intentions.

And, as for 8 and 9, whom should one trust? Should the USA and Great Britain really have sat down at the conference table with the amorphous and undisciplined Taliban, for instance, knowing that that body was utterly untrustworthy? Would one of Omand’s ‘negotiated agreements’ have meant anything? On Lesson 9, Omand concentrates on ‘trust’ between natural affiliated allies, such as the USA and Great Britain, and the long-term value that such strategic alliances can bring. But how enduring are they? Are they institutional, or too dependent on personalities? Can President Trump, or a Brexit, disrupt them in both directions? Do the FBI and the CIA, or MI5 and MI6 trust each other? Do members of NATO trust each other over controversial issues like Afghanistan? Does the public trust the government? It is in this section that Omand’s advice tends to become a bit preachy and idealistic, and I should have liked to read more on when and why the process of intelligence analysis fails.

Moreover, even if the analytical process is correct, the problem will be one of political will, made all the more difficult by the fact that everyone and his sister will be out there on a public platform criticising policy, or recommending populist change. The recent withdrawal from Afghanistan is turning out to be disastrous: one expert stated on television that the USA had given the Afghan government the materials, the training, and the intelligence, but that it lacked the political will to resist. Yet an assessment of the integrity and fortitude of the Afghan administration should have been one of the factors in intelligence-gathering before planning the withdrawal. (Bayesian reasoning does not appear to have helped here.) On the other hand, from intelligence gained, China’s intentions regarding territorial expansion and authoritarian control seem evident enough, what with the suppression of the Uighurs, the closing down of democracy in Hong Kong, and its claims on Taiwan, but does President Xi’s policy represent an existential threat to the West, and how can it be resisted given how economies are interlocked?

Omand’s argument disappointingly starts to get mushier in lesson 10 (‘Subversion and sedition are now digital’), where, after covering the dangers from cyber-crime and -espionage, he tries to summarise: “Finally, in Part Three I have wanted to persuade you that to manage our future sensibly we all need effective partnerships based on trust and the ability to establish constructive relationships with those with whom we have to deal.” Who is that ‘we’? – the familiar plea of the journalist with his or her heart on the sleeve, appealing to an undefined audience. And a page later, he follows with: “We are on notice that there are further developments in information warfare capabilities over the horizon that will further damage us, unless we start to prepare now.” All very vague and unspecific, more like an article by the Archbishop of Canterbury: not a useful call to action.

In a more puzzling denouement, Omand appears to discard his own Lessons in his final chapter 11: ‘A final lesson in optimism’. It is as if his Editors told him that he had to leave his readers with some hope among the chaos. The chapter concludes with an analysis of the rules of today’s digital byways, and the author then rather fancifully projects forward to ‘a warm spring day in Trafalgar Square in 2028’. After welcoming a return to representative democracy, Omand attributes the success to three schemes. The first was a major five-year programme in schools to teach critical thinking for the digital world; the second was ‘a marked reduction in the vulnerability of the public to online manipulation and disinformation’. He illustrates it as follows: “There was praise for the leadership of the new US President in calling a 2025 global conference on internet norms that had brought together democratic governments, civil society groups, the major internet companies and the global advertising industry.” (p 291) This is pure Kumbaya wish-fulfilment: maybe Osman’s own demons trying to mislead him, his own ‘magical thinking’. The third scheme was a stronger defence against cyber-coercion. However realistic that third plank may be, the chapter constitutes a weak ending to an otherwise strong book.

As a coda, I offer this suggestion. In a recent LRB review of Scott Anderson’s book on the CIA, The Quiet Americans, Charles Glass presented a long list of US intelligence failures, including many of Omand’s examples, from the Soviet atom bomb to 9/11, which he tantalisingly attributed to a ‘neglect of intelligence gathering’, rather than to a failure of analysis. So perhaps a broader study is required: how ‘spies’ collect information, whether they all cogitate over it according to Omandian principles, what happens when they disagree, and what occurs when they present their conclusions to their political masters. ‘How Politicians Think’ would be a valuable follow-up. All politicians who set out to ‘change the world’ should be interrogated to determine why they think they know best what ‘the world’ needs, and why their enterprises will necessarily make it better, not worse.

Finally, I noted a few questionable assessments in the text overall.

P 139   “The paranoia even crossed the Atlantic. Under the charismatic influence of Angleton, a small group of MI5 officers in London led by Peter Wright caught the obsession with long-term Soviet penetration. Angleton sent the defector Golitsyn to London to brief them and help them uncover the Soviet weevils presumed also to be burrowing away within the British intelligence agencies.” They did? What ‘weevils’ were those? ‘Presumed’ or ‘real’? If ‘uncovered’, presumably the latter. But who? I think we should be told.

P 141   “We now know that he [Hollis] was cleared by high-level British government inquiries, confirmed by evidence from later KGB defectors.” Well, actually not quite true. And who are ‘we’, again? The question was very much left open: Gordievsky may have pooh-poohed the idea, but his and Christopher Andrew’s explanations about ELLI muddied the waters. If it were only that simple.

P 174   “The Cabinet Secretary would have been all too aware that the incoming Prime Minister [Wilson] had been, as we saw in the previous chapter, the subject of unofficial inquiries by a clique of MI5 officers in response to the CIA’s Angleton into whether Wilson was a KGB agent of influence.” A clique? Who, in particular? Is that intelligence or rumour? That claim deserved greater detail. Was it an example of ‘How Spies Think’?

P 175   “Eric Hobsbawm knew he had been discriminated against  . . .” Of course, Hobsbawm should have been discriminated against! See my comments under MI5, the Cold War, and the Rule of Law, above.

P 215   “That led to the uncovering of the Russian spies Donald Maclean  . . . and Klaus Fuchs.” Maclean and Fuchs were British citizens, but Soviet spies.

P 243   “We all carry, for example, unconscious fear about others who appear different. This instinctive xenophobia is the result of our evolutionary history as a species.” This is a very risky and debatable generalization, a dangerous step into the domains of anthropology and biology.

P 275   “The individual Western citizen is thus already, and will be for the foreseeable future, the recipient of digital information of all kinds  . . .” Both a statement of the obvious, as well as a feeble prediction: ‘the foreseeable future’ (like ‘only time will tell’) represents a vague prognostication that should NEVER be used by any reputable intelligence analyst, let alone an officer of Omand’s stature. The period could be five minutes or fifty years.  I forbad my team at Gartner Group to use either of the two phrases.

But definitely the best book of the four. The ‘wise cryptanalyst’ is not on my list.

(New Commonplace entries can be found here.)

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The Hoax of the Blunt Confession (Part 2)

Anthony Blunt after his exposure

This month, I conclude my analysis of the accounts of Anthony Blunt’s Confession, and describe what I think really happened, and what the lessons are.

Primary Sources:

1          Defend the Realm [The Defence of the Realm in the UK] by Christopher Andrew (2009)

2          The Prime Minister’s Statement to the House of Commons: November 21, 1979 (extract)

3          The Fourth Man by Douglas Sutherland (1980)

4          Their Trade is Treachery by Chapman Pincher (1981: paperback version 1982)

5          MI5: British Security Service Operations 1909-1945 by Nigel West (1981)

6          MI5: 1945-72, A Matter of Trust by Nigel West (1982)

7          After Long Silence by Michael Straight (1983)

8          Too Secret Too Long by Chapman Pincher (1983)

9          Conspiracy of Silence by Barrie Penrose and Simon Freeman (1986)

10        Molehunt: Searching for Soviet Spies in MI5 by Nigel West (1987)

11        Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer by Peter Wright (1987)

12        Mask of Treachery by John Costello (1988)

13        Seven Spies Who Changed the World by Nigel West (1991)

14        My 5 Cambridge Friends by Yuri Modin (1994)

15        The Perfect English Spy by Tom Bower (1995)

16        The Enigma Spy by John Cairncross (1995)

17        Anthony Blunt: his lives by Miranda Carter (2001)

18        Open Secret by Stella Rimington (2001)

19        Last of the Cold War Spies by Roland Perry (2005)

20        Triplex by Nigel West (2009)

21        CIA files on Straight (released March 2007)

22        The FBI Vault: Michael Straight

23        Treachery by Chapman Pincher (2012)

24        The Shadow Man by Geoff Andrews (2015)

25        FCO 158/129 – ‘Foreign and Colonial Office file on John Cairncross, 1953-1982’ (released 23 October, 2015)

26        Spymaster by Martin Pearce (2016)

27        CAB 301/270 – ‘John Cairncross, former member of the Foreign Office: confession to spying’ (released July 20, 2017)

28        Enemies Within by Richard Davenport-Hines (2018)

29        The Last Cambridge Spy by Chris Smith (2019)

30        Agent Moliere by Geoff Andrews (2020)

Secondary Sources:

The Historian as Detective: Essays on Evidence, edited by Robin W. Winks (1969)

With My Little Eye by Richard Deacon (1982)

The Secrets of the Service by Anthony Glees (1987)

The Haunted Wood by Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev (1999)

The Art of Betrayal by Gordon Corera (2012)

The Secret World by Hugh Trevor-Roper (2014)

Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence by Nigel West (2014)

The Black Door by Richard J. Aldrich & Rory Cormac (2016)

A Question of Retribution? edited by David Cannadine (2020)

How Spies Think by David Omand (2020)

MI5, the Cold War and the Rule of Law by K. D. Ewing, Joan Mahoney and Andrew Moretta (2020)

I see four major topics encapsulating the study of the Hoax of the Blunt Confession: the circumstances of the encounter itself at the Courtauld Institute; the contribution made by Michael Straight; the details of Cairncross’s confession in Ohio; and the role and character of Arthur Martin. All these issues are coloured by the actions and objectives of Roger Hollis and Dick White.

The Courtauld Institute (in Portman Square)

The Events at the Courtauld Institute:

It must be borne in mind that all reports of the circumstances of Anthony Blunt’s confession derive from one source – Arthur Martin, who apparently carried out the project singlehandedly. The unnumbered and unidentifiable archival record that Christopher Andrew claimed to have seen must have been written by him. Martin was the source for the accounts adumbrated by Chapman Pincher, Nigel West, and Barrie Penrose and Simon Freeman, even though some of them they may have been channelled through Martin’s fellow officer, Peter Wright. All subsequent narratives rely on one or more of these five authors. Thus the analyst has to deal with the disquieting fact that Martin disseminated conflicting accounts of what happened, and I shall inspect later to what degree I think this aberration was due to artifice or to indiscipline.

To begin with, the encounter’s externalities clash. In the official record, Martin called on Blunt on the evening of April 23, as if on an unscheduled visit, in the hope of finding his quarry at home (1). Alternatively, it occurred in the mid-morning of April 22 (10), or perhaps in the morning of the following day (12). By all accounts, Martin carried out the interview alone (a fact which American intelligence officers found astounding (12)), although a report in the Washington Post of November 22, 1979 quoted Sir Michael Havers, the Attorney General, as informing the House of Commons that ‘When officials [sic] went to Blunt’s Home in April 1964 to question him for the 12th time  . . .they revealed new information implicating him’. The report in Hansard simply states that Blunt was interviewed ‘by the Security Service’.

Thereafter, the accounts diverge further. The authorised version runs as follows (1): Martin asked Blunt about Michael Straight, at which Blunt started to twitch. He disagreed over Martin’s account of Straight’s recruitment, at which point Martin offered the assurance of immunity should Blunt confess. A minute of silence followed, before Martin informed Blunt that he had recently put John Cairncross through such an exercise, and gained a confession. Blunt declared that he needed ‘five minutes to wrestle with his conscience’. He then left the room for five minutes, returning to pour himself a drink. He stood at a tall window for several minutes. Martin appealed to him again, whereupon Blunt came back to his chair and confessed.

Several aspects of this account are highly unlikely – or pure melodrama. The fact that Blunt apparently expressed no shock or surprise on learning of Cairncoss’s confession, and asked no questions about it, suggests that the claim was a later insertion to the archival record (as I have earlier suggested), or that Blunt already knew about the events in Cleveland, but fluffed his lines. Instead, he is reported to have made the ludicrous remark about his ‘conscience’ – an item in the screenplay that Alan Bennett would not have considered including even on an off day. To give the game away about having a guilty conscience before making the confession would have been an astonishing mis-step by someone who had successfully weathered almost a dozen interrogations beforehand. And what was the evidence from Straight that incriminated Blunt? That Blunt had tried to recruit him in Cambridge twenty-seven years ago, maybe acting on behalf of Guy Burgess? After all, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had said in 1979 that Blunt had come under suspicion ‘as a result of information to the effect that Burgess had been heard in 1937 to say that he was working for a secret branch of the Comintern and that Blunt was one of his sources’. The whole scenario seems like a bad comic opera.

One might also question the wisdom of a single junior officer’s being charged with such an assignment, especially since Blunt was allowed to leave the room for several minutes. Would he come back? Might he have done a runner, or even topped himself? Was a posse of Special Branch constables waiting outside to apprehend him should Plan B have been required, in the event that a saloon from the Soviet Embassy rolled up to steal him away? One cannot imagine the KGB goons indulging Oleg Penkovsky or Oleg Gordievsky with permission to leave the room for a few minutes while either gathered his thoughts. (‘Certainly, comrade. But don’t be too long, mind.’) Pincher very early on thought the whole performance was bogus (8), that Blunt had been pre-warned, and no plans had been made for the eventuality where he did not confess. Martin echoed this opinion to Costello (12): he may have thought that he was breaking fresh ground in having been granted the peachy assignment, and executing it so successfully, but the way that it developed make him think otherwise, and no doubt contributed to his frustrations.

Yet the evidence that Martin provided to other journalists added further wrinkles. In his first testimony to Pincher (4), Martin offered differing evidence (without mentioning Cairncross), describing a scenario where Blunt never left the room. According to Nigel West (6), Blunt took only a few seconds to confess. In Pincher’s next offering (8), he also echoed the point that Blunt capitulated too soon, and that Martin never articulated the conditions of the immunity deal. Moreover, Pincher introduced the fact of the tape-recorder as a substitute for any written record. One might think that Blunt would have reacted to such an obvious device with some alarm or mis-giving, but nothing appeared to faze him. He agreed to the recording, knowing that it would have no legal status. Penrose and Freeman (9) even state that Blunt ‘nodded in assent’ when the tape-recorder was presented.

The evidence of these latter two authors was dependent upon letters that Martin had conveniently supplied to them in 1985. In this deposition, Martin said he had ‘unequivocal evidence that Blunt had been a Soviet agent during the war’: the authors state that Blunt denied this, ‘as the assertion simply wasn’t true’. It is not clear whether they are expressing their own opinion, or Martin’s, but the fact is that the assertion was true (the business with Leo Long in MI14), but had been conveniently been buried. If Martin truly did have access to this information at the time, it could have appeared to him as more damning evidence than the stories Straight old, but White and Hollis had known about it, and tried to minimise its significance. No conceivable new source of this allegation is given, but perhaps Martin had been given this ammunition just beforehand. Since that gambit provoked no response, Martin next turned to his interviews with Straight, but Blunt was ‘expressionless’ (no ‘twitching’ then), walked to the window, poured himself a large drink (without leaving the room), and immediately admitted to Martin that it was all true. In this version, Martin played back the recording, so that Blunt could agree that it was an accurate record of the conversation. (How could it have been otherwise?) The meeting was over after twenty-five minutes.

According to West (10) and Wright (11), the events were collapsed to a shorter time-frame, with Wright indicating that Blunt admitted his espionage ‘almost immediately’. While gin has been shown to be the preferred tipple up till now (4), Miranda Carter suggests that Blunt ‘poured himself a large Scotch’ (17). In his last work on the subject (23), Chapman Pincher picked up from Penrose and Freeman the thread of Blunt’s wartime complicity and detection, but did not investigate the source of this new intelligence. He echoed the story that Martin had told Costello that Roger Hollis had warned Blunt about the coming confrontation.

The whole charade is a mess. Amid all these conflicting stories, however, one thread appears prominent: that Michael Straight had provided breakthrough evidence of Blunt’s guilt. And it was that external evidence, rather than MI5’s mismanagement of its suspicions, that had given the senior officers of the Security Service an alibi, and had provoked Blunt’s confession.

Michael Straight

Michael Straight & Anthony Blunt:

Michael Straight was a somewhat sad actor in this whole pantomime. His life and career were characterized by irresolution, privilege and lack of purpose. He was pliable and weak. Critics of his memoir have challenged him as to why he did not confront his own missteps earlier, instead of conniving at the activities of his erstwhile Cambridge colleagues in espionage. He vacillated, admitting his failings, but was also deceptive and misleading in his explanations. A review by a CIA officer of his memoir concluded: “As to Michael Straight himself, no semantic contrivances can avoid the conclusion to which he guides us; as both man and agent he was too gullible, too idealistic, too self-serving, and too long silent.”

For example, when Straight made his long-winded confession to the FBI in June 1963, he emphasised his contacts and friendships in Cambridge, and admitted his recruitment by Blunt, but minimised the level of espionage he had undertaken, and understated Blunt’s close association with Moscow (see below). He claimed tentatively that, during his assignments with his contact Michael Green (Akhmerov) in Washington, ‘he may have furnished Green with memoranda which he prepared from public material and his personal knowledge’. When Pincher broke the story of the investigations into Hollis in Too Secret Too Long in 1983, and pointed indirectly to Straight, Straight claimed to David Binder of the New York Times that he had declined Blunt’s 1937 invitation to spy. (Pincher may well have alerted the journalist. The column about Straight’s denial appears on the same page of the March 26, 1981 issue as the news on Hollis.) In After Long Silence, Straight admitted that he had ‘failed to reject Anthony’s scheme out of hand’, but again claimed that he had passed on to Akhmerov only papers he had written himself, or publicly available material.

Yet, reluctant spy that he claimed to have been, Straight was indeed persuaded to hand over important classified material. In The Haunted Wood (1999), Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, the latter having inspected relevant KGB archives, record the usefulness of agent NIGEL (Straight’s cryptonym). They write, for example, “Nevertheless, in June [1938], he finally delivered his armaments report to Akhmerov, and, the following month, the Russian noted that Straight had passed on a report from the American consul in London about British war reserves of raw materials.” While Straight’s contributions waned after the announcement of the Nazi-Soviet pact, his Moscow bosses still considered him an important ‘agent in place’, and obviously had a hold over him by then. The US authorities would surely have not have been as indulgent with Straight after his confession had they known the true extent of his treachery.

Commentators have asked: ‘What took him so long to confess?’ And ‘Why did he confess so much?’ After all, was it really necessary to introduce Blunt as his recruiter, given that all his espionage was carried out in the USA? Yet Straight was aware that his Communist affiliations in Cambridge were known by a few, and probably believed that, if he did not tell a comprehensive story, and then further unpalatable facts emerged, he would face fresh challenges. By 1963, however, the McCarthyite climate of the early nineteen-fifties had ameliorated, and previous communist sympathies would not have been so harshly treated. That does, however, provoke, a further question that I do not believe has been analysed: ‘Did Straight warn Blunt of his proposed confession?’ And if so, ‘how and when?’

Since there was a sort of childlike simplicity and decency in Straight, I believe that he would not have betrayed Blunt’s role without informing him of his intentions, and I thus suspect that the two of the must have prepared the ground before June 1963. They surely met some time after that as well, before the improbably late and apparently harmonious encounter in September 1964 that Straight describes in his memoir (7), on an occasion which is strongly referred to in the CIA and FBI records (21 & 22), and implied, with supporting evidence, by Perry (19). Moreover, we have the perplexing series of events described by Costello (12). Costello also believed that Blunt would have been given a warning, but presented messy evidence from various items of Courtauld correspondence. Lastly, we have Costello’s suggestion that Blunt made a late decision to travel to Pennsylvania for his summer lecture series (12), when published evidence confirms that the commitment with Blunt had been forged a year earlier.

The University of Pennsylvania

The timing of Straight’s confession, as articulated by the agent himself, is driven by his coming nomination to the Advisory Council on the Arts, and set in June 1963. But it is quite probable that he had considered such eventualities earlier than that. In his memoir, he tells how he had completed two novels in 1962, was looking for other ‘good causes’ to pursue, and that his mother-in-law had been trying to secure him a prominent position several times before he was approached about the position of Chairman of the Fine Arts Commission in May 1963. With his interests (he had been editor of the New Republic from 1948 to 1956, and on the board since), he would surely have heard about Blunt’s public invitation by the University of Pennsylvania, and Perry records his visit to the United Kingdom in April, where he stayed at Dartington Hall in Devon (‘his third trip inside a year’) and then spent time at 42 Upper Brook Street in London, ‘a short walk from Blunt’s flat in Portman Square’. Straight did not disclose this visit in his memoir: he conceded to Costello that he had been in the UK that April, but claimed that he had not visited the Courtauld.

If Straight was reconciled to making a (partial) confession at this time in the confidence that he would emerge without penalty, Blunt may also have felt emboldened. Philby had absconded to the Soviet Union from Beirut in January of that year, and Blunt had made a provocative and controversial visit to that city the month before. On November 18, 2013, the BBC posted a bulletin by George Carey (https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-24803131), who pointed out that Blunt had gone to Beirut in December 1962, staying with his friend the British Ambassador (Sir Moore Crosthwaite), on a quest to find a frog orchid. But frog orchids apparently do not grow in the Lebanon, so Carey assumed that Blunt was lying. The conventional interpretation of this visit is that Blunt came to warn Philby about the imminent arrival of MI6 officer Nicholas Elliott, sent to unmask him at last, and that Blunt had been sent by his Soviet controllers.

Blunt had previously visited Philby there, some time in 1961. In Their Trade Is Treachery (p 142), Chapman Pincher relates how Blunt later admitted to helping Philby escape, describing how he had visited Philby in his flat, in an event that is undated. His host had said: “I have been asked by our friends to make contact with you, Anthony, but I have told them that you are not in a position to do anything useful”, an opinion to which Blunt gave his immediate assent. Yet this encounter seems incongruous to me. If Blunt took advantage of his presence in Beirut to look up Philby, why would Philby show the initiative by saying that their ‘friends’ (Moscow) wanted to re-establish contact with Blunt? Would that not have been simpler for the KGB to do in London, without drawing attention to an unusual rendezvous in Beirut? And, if Blunt had not been in contact with his KGB masters for a long time, while Philby apparently still was, how come that Blunt had been sent by them to warn Philby, when they could have relayed a message to Philby through their own networks? Moreover, 1961 would have been very early for aiding Philby in his escape plan, unless Blunt was conflating two visits into one.

It is thus plausible that Dick White, continuing to use Blunt as a ‘consultant’, knowing him to be tainted, but believing him to be far less dangerous than Burgess, Maclean and Philby, sent Blunt out to alert Philby of Elliott’s impending arrival. White knew that the best place for Philby was Moscow, rather than being repatriated for an embarrassing trial. After all, how would Blunt have learned of this highly secret mission? That would explain how Philby was prepared for Elliott’s visit, as he explained when he told his former fellow-officer that he had been ‘expecting him’ (10).

Be that as it may, and given that the evidence, like all other material in this investigation, is largely circumstantial, Blunt did not appear unduly embarrassed by Straight’s actions if he knew of them in the summer of 1963. The garbled statements from Mrs Jefferies about Blunt’s chagrin that Straight was ‘going to shop them’ are impossible to analyse properly unless the original letters surface (12). For instance, why is the letter dated August 1962? Moreover, it seems highly unlikely, to me, that Straight would have been allowed to visit the UK so soon after his interrogation, in July 1963, before the FBI and MI5 had discussed the case properly. After all, Sullivan asked him only that month whether he would be prepared to repeat his story to British intelligence!  And it also seems very improbable that Blunt would be able to make a decision to fulfil his commitments for a summer school in the USA as late as that, and then depart for a six-weeks adventure. (Of course, if all these events at the Courtauld did occur in 1962, it would bring an entirely new perspective to the discussion.)

Lastly, some commentators have pointed to Blunt’s probable irritation at the continuing deceit and subterfuge, and his fear that Guy Burgess might return to the United Kingdom and unmask him. Andrew Boyle raised this question in The Climate of Treason, suggesting that Blunt wanted to get his story out first, and control the narrative. Yet Burgess died on August 19, while Blunt was in the USA. Yuri Modin suggested that he confessed as a reaction to Burgess’s death (14), a counter-intuitive idea if one accepts the previous premise. In his review of The Climate of Treason in the Spectator on November 17, 1979, Hugh Trevor-Roper echoed this notion, since Burgess in Moscow had threatened to expose him, which, in the historian’s words, ’would have been fatal for Blunt’. Trevor-Roper overlooked the fact, however, that, if Burgess had successfully negotiated a guarantee of immunity, it would have had to be applied to Blunt (and others) as well, in the fashion that Blunt’s eventual deal was extended. Trevor-Roper then made the rather illogical statement that Blunt’s confession ‘may have been unnecessary, since Burgess then died in Moscow, having revealed nothing.’. Either the writer was pointing to an earlier confession (something clearly not indicated by the rest of his text), or he was confused by the chronology. It is all very strange.

William Sullivan & Edgar J. Hoover

The FBI & MI5:

Thus it seems more fruitful to start by inspecting the intentions of the FBI to inform their colleagues in MI5 of what had transpired with Straight. The assertions of a delay until January 1964 are made by Nigel West (6 & 7), on the grounds that Hoover did not trust MI5 with the material. He again attributes the lack of action to ‘petty inter-agency rivalry’ (13), presumably suggesting competition between the FBI and the CIA, though why that should be, given the clear territorial responsibilities, is not clear. Admittedly, J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI’s chief, never told the CIA anything. Carter (17) says that the FBI waited several months before telling Martin.  To select Martin as their target would have been highly irregular, as it would have bypassed the proper level of communication. Even if Hoover and Sullivan had trusted Martin more than they trusted Hollis, it would have been a crass political move.

Yet the FBI and MI5 appeared overall to enjoy a positive relationship. Roger Hollis went back with Hoover a long way. As the Liddell Diaries inform us, in the summer of 1945, Hoover had made repeated requests to MI5 Director-General Petrie for Hollis to visit the FBI to help them with plans for countering Soviet espionage. In 1950, during the Pontecorvo investigations, Hollis had felt impelled, when head of F Division, to tell George Strauss, the Ministry of Supply of the ‘special relationship’ between the two organisations. As Edward Perrin reported on November 9: “Roger Hollis of M.I.5 was present at the meeting with our Minister last Monday and he made it very clear that the utmost care should be taken to avoid release of this information [concerning BSC, RCMP, and US Embassy in London], particularly in view of a recent agreement reached between Sir Percy Sillitoe and Mr. Edgar Hoover of the F.B.I. to the effect that neither organisation would say anything about the other’s actions without consultation and agreement.” (FO 371/8437) (In the light of the Fuchs and Pontecorvo fiascos, Hoover may have been assuaged by the fact that he had just been awarded an honorary KBE.) And Richard Deacon, in his 1982 memoir With My Little Eye, wrote (p 226) that Hollis ‘had been on exceptionally good terms with the allegedly anti-British J. Edgar Hoover to be given a signed photograph and a set of golf clubs.’ Strangely, Andrew offers no analysis of the relationship between the FBI and MI5 between 1950 and 1963. Liddell refers frequently to Hoover’s temper, but it seems that the FBI director was much more concerned about his personal reputation and status than he was about relations with MI5.

There appear to be no available archival records of any early communications on the Straight business from the FBI to MI5. Andrew states, however, that Hollis flew out to Washington at the end of September, having been encouraged to do so by the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan (1). Hollis had been barraged by a cabal of MI5 officers (Wright, Martin, Winterborn, and one other), who each threatened to resign unless MI5 were open with the FBI about the Mitchell investigation – a worrisome lack of group judgment, as it turned out. Wright claimed in Spycatcher that Hollis faced opposition from his officers when he was more cautious about revealing MI5’s embarrassing inquiries to the Americans (11): it is not clear whether Andrew extracted this fact from Wright’s book, or had access to an alternative source, so readers should be naturally cautious. In any case, Hollis had been unnerved enough to have to consult with White over the visit, and then gain the approval of the Prime Minister. Since Macmillan had been required to inform President Kennedy of the possible exposure caused by the suspicions over Mitchell, and had been ‘humiliated’ by the experience, he was anxious that no more secrets be withheld from the Americans, and gave the nod.

For some reason, Martin followed a day later, to go into the details of which American intelligence sources might have been compromised (1). Yet, if Hollis did glower across the table at Martin, and say he would brief the Americans himself, he might have decided to do so in order to request of his counterparts that the rewards from the Straight confession not be shared with Martin when he followed. As West claimed, Hoover’s deputy, Sullivan, had been ordered not to reveal Straight’s existence (20). And, if Martin did indeed fly over the following day, Hollis could hardly have succeeded in convincing his team that he perform the briefing exclusively himself, since he was not familiar enough with the details.

Another version of the story has Dick White playing a more active, almost interfering, role. In this scenario (15), White recommends that Hollis inform the FBI and the CIA about the state of the Mitchell inquiry, at which Hollis ‘reluctantly’ flew out. If this is true, it shows that Hollis was even more under the influence of White, taking instructions from him on how to handle the situation. Hollis certainly would have bridled at revealing what had occurred to the arch-molehunter James Angleton of the CIA, but, since the latter would otherwise have been informed by Maurice Oldfield, White’s man in Washington, it was something he had to swallow.

In any case, it would seem hard to imagine that the meetings in late September would not have presented the perfect opportunity for Hoover and Hollis to discuss the Straight confessions. And, when he returned to the UK, Hollis surely shared what he learned with White, but probably with none of his subordinates in MI5 – certainly not with Martin. That is what Pincher surmised (8). The intelligence from Straight provided Hollis and White with a perfect opportunity to inform their political masters that proof of Blunt’s guilt had come from an outside source, thus distracting attention from their own fumblings. The two of them may then have decided that a further session with Blunt was called for, and prepared to invite Straight to come over to confront him.

That would explain the suggestion that Straight was in London in the October-November period (19), and what Straight himself admitted to the CIA (21), where he actually stated that he had a private fifteen-minute meeting with Blunt before the MI5 officers entered the fray. This visit was confirmed by what Straight ‘later’ told the FBI about confronting Blunt in London, claiming that his challenges to Blunt ‘broke’ him and made him admit his espionage (22). Pincher refers to a letter concerning Straight sent to the US Embassy in November (8), but does not present the details. It may have referred to Straight’s coming visit. Of course, the ‘confrontation’ may have been a staged act by the pair of them, but the event surely occurred. Straight may have lied to the FBI about the nature and extent of his own espionage, but it is hard to imagine why he should have deceived them over the external circumstances of this encounter.

As for the secrecy within MI5, Pincher wrote that Martin ‘was not informed about Straight in the November time-frame’ (8), which represents a very strong indication that an important meeting did occur then, but that events were not explained to Martin until some time in 1964, when Martin’s career crisis occurred. (Pincher declares that, at the time, in January 1964, Martin believed that the Washington encounter was the first occasion where MI5 had heard about Straight and his information.) The source for this assertion is, tantalisingly ‘the Straight-Martin correspondence’. *  Obviously, if Martin had been told about the November agreement at the time, he would not have been interested in listening to Straight in Washington in January. Correspondingly, Straight must have been sworn to an oath of secrecy about his visit to London: otherwise, he would have briefed Martin about it in Washington. It seems highly likely that Martin and Straight exchanged letters after April 1964, and Martin thereby learned the whole story. Pincher also makes the strange claim that Straight ‘was ignored by MI5 during the November visit’ (8), but that can be interpreted as the fact that he was overlooked by the rank and file because they were not aware of his presence in London.

[* In Too Secret Too Long (p 360), Pincher refers to ‘Correspondence Between Straight and Martin in 1982’, but his note suggests that Straight corresponded with Pincher in 1982, referring to earlier letters exchanged with Martin. These letters have not been located, so far as I know.]

The conclusion must be that the immunity agreement with Blunt was made at the end of 1963. The primary source evidence is scarce, admittedly, but no scarcer than that supporting the April 1964 confrontation, and the secondary indications are stronger and more consistent. Blunt presumably successfully sought immunity as well for Leo Long and John Cairncross (at least), who were the leading lights that he identified to his interrogators. Hollis and White were surely the only intelligence officers who knew about it, and Hollis hoped to keep it that way. Whether Dick White had any ulterior motives must be an issue for debate. Yet the situation was thrown into rapid turmoil through the fortuitous but unfortunate entry of Cairncross himself into the drama.

John Cairncross

Cairncross and His Visa:

John Cairncross’s appearance in London, probably in December 1963, can only be an extraordinary coincidence. The existence of the Graham Greene-Cairncross correspondence proves that Cairncross had approached the author as early as August 4, 1963 for a reference for the position at the Western Reserve University (30), so it is impossible that MI5 could have lured him from Karachi to be interrogated in London as a result of Straight’s involvement. Thus Cairncross’s appearance there, before travelling to Rome to pick up his paperwork, must have caused much embarrassment. First of all, Blunt had very recently named him as a fellow-conspirator, a fact that MI5 would have to address. Secondly, Cairncross had applied to the USA authorities for a visa. If MI5 concealed from US Customs and Immigration (via the FBI) what they had learned from Blunt, it would no doubt turn out to be a frightful indictment when the FBI found out about it later. If MI5 informed the FBI, Cairncross’s visa would surely be denied, and the publicity risk of preventing an apparently harmless citizen from pursuing his career would have to be faced. In fact, even without the recent unveiling of Cairncross, if he had been honest in any interviews he had with the US immigration authorities, his previous political sympathies should have excluded him, as the Foreign Office files suggest (25).

All this leads to explain the extraordinary shenanigans that were displayed by Cabinet Secretary Burke Trend and his colleagues (27). MI5 wanted the job appointment to go ahead, and to pursue the serious interrogation of Cairncross on foreign soil, where any testimony would have less standing. Thus they had to ‘fix’ the FBI. If we are to believe Pincher (23), Martin flew out to Washington in early January, presumably to explain the dilemma, and to convince the FBI to go along – at least temporarily – with the plan to indulge Cairncross. The Foreign Office files prove that Cairncross had applied for the visa some time before February 7, 1964, albeit with a degree of urgency. Martin must have performed his task effectively, because a later memo confirms that his visa had been granted (25).

Thus the conflict over Martin’s presence in Washington appeared to be quickly resolved. It was not as a follow-up to the ‘Mitchell inquiries’, as Pincher was led to believe early in the cycle (8). The need to talk to the FBI about Mitchell had evaporated, and nothing of that nature would have required such an extended stay. (Pincher’s claim that Hollis deputed the task of interviewing Straight to Martin, and then recalled him before the interview (8) is patently absurd.) It did not arise as a result of Martin’s accepting a long-standing invitation by Sullivan to talk to Straight (7). West asserts that Sullivan had been ordered by Hoover to be very discreet about Straight, and not reveal what had occurred (20). It is impossible to imagine that Martin would have been given permission by Hollis to visit Washington on such a pretext, and again, such a project would not have taken weeks. Martin had been sent to handhold the FBI through the Cairncross project.

Martin was in ignorance about the recent Blunt confession. As laid out above, Martin told Pincher that he did not know about the ‘November confession’ (8). He was assuredly also not told about the Cairncross interview that must have occurred, where Cairncross was instructed in the role he had to play. And then, when he arrived in Washington, Martin was told by Sullivan that he needed to meet an important person. This is the encounter that Straight describes in his memoir, expressing surprise that he had not been called ‘before January 1964’ (7). Where they met is a matter of dispute, though probably immaterial. Straight’s Daily Telegraph obituary says Martin ‘attended a lunch given by the FBI’s Bill Sullivan, where he met Straight, who volunteered to confront Blunt’. Nigel West has told me that Penrose and Freeman were wrong in indicating that the meeting took place at the Mayflower Hotel, and that the lunch was held at Straight’s club in Washington.

What is more important is why the encounter was arranged. One can believe that the molehunters in the CIA – enthusiastically led by Angleton – would by now have become extremely frustrated by the lack of follow-up on MI5’s part after Straight’s unmasking of Blunt. The meeting was surely set up without Hoover’s knowledge, and I have pointed out that Sullivan had been forbidden to mention his name to any MI5 officer. That, in itself, must have bred resentment. Martin had been working closely with Angleton ever since the arrival of the defector Golitsyn, and Martin disclosed that he had had to be discreet about Straight because Sullivan had been ordered not to reveal his existence (20). What is potentially ominous, however, is the possible involvement of Maurice Oldfield. In the memoir of his uncle, Martin Pearce makes the claim that Sullivan liaised with his ‘MI6 associate’, Oldfield, and that Oldfield ‘arranged for Arthur Martin to fly out to interview Straight’. This is a provocative statement, as the official lines of communication were MI6-CIA and MI5-FBI, and the FBI and the CIA were jealous enemies. Yet Martin had gained the confidence of Angleton, showing that the contacts were by now more flexible. I have not been able to gain a confirmation of this item from Pearce, but, for the multiple reasons given above, it sounds totally implausible that Dick White, notwithstanding his influence over Hollis, would have been able to arrange for Martin to fly out on such a mission.

Martin was no doubt astonished and energised about Straight’s revelations, thinking he had fallen on a scoop. Yet he did not immediately return home in excitement, contrary to what Penrose & Freeman, Bower and Perry all asserted (9, 15 & 19). Nor did he meet Straight after his interrogations of Cairncross, as West claims in his books on MI5 and in Molehunt (5, 6 & 10). Pincher distorts the events utterly (8 & 23). Whether Martin subdued his excitement until he returned home, or whether he sent a cable to alert his bosses, cannot be determined. If Sullivan warned him appropriately, he probably kept it to himself until his return. For Martin was to stay out in the United States for several weeks, as the Cabinet papers prove (27).

Finally, an analysis of Straight’s evidence is in order. Martin was impressed enough by what Straight told him to believe that it was the information that MI5 needed to nail Blunt. He was ‘elated’ (7). But what did Straight tell him? If he repeated to Martin what he had told the FBI, as he claimed, his account did not point to espionage on Blunt’s part, but to his role as a messenger. It referred to ‘anti-fascism’, ‘the Third International’, to an opinion that Straight was required to gather economic data in New York, that Straight’s ‘protests had been rejected’, and that Blunt was a ‘mild communist’, and was acting on behalf of Burgess (22). Yet in his memoir, Straight clearly indicates whence Blunt was getting his instructions, as the latter refers to the fact that Straight’s reluctance had been discussed in ’the highest circles of the Kremlin’.

Reliable information indicates that MI5 already knew that Blunt was not just an ‘intellectual communist’, and had direct links to Moscow. Professor Glees wrote an article for the Journal of Intelligence and National Security in 1992 (Volume 7, Number 3), titled War Crimes: The Security and Intelligence Dimension, resulting from an assignment with the British Government. In this piece, Glees wrote that, in 1952 (the Sillitoe era), MI5 had discovered from an Eastern European ex-Soviet intelligence officer that an ‘art adviser of HM the King worked for Soviet intelligence’. This is, to me, an astonishing revelation, indicating a far more serious indictment of Blunt than a casual supplier of military secrets to a wartime ally, which is how White and Hollis probably viewed him at that time. Even if, again, the evidence would not stand up in court, the direct identification would surely have been something that Blunt would have struggled to deny. Glees stated that this item would have been presented ‘to the very highest level in the Security Service’. *  Assuredly so, and Martin, and the other officers who repeatedly interrogated Blunt, were not made aware of it.

[ * The information did not apparently reach Guy Liddell, deputy Director-General in 1952. His Diaries show that he continued to seek Blunt’s advice over problematic communists in the summer of 1952, and even came to the spy’s defence when he was warned – probably by Goronwy Rees – about Blunt’s shady past. Did Sillitoe pass on the information to White on the latter’s accession in 1953? I imagine so.]

(Case) Western Reserve University

The Cairncross Confession:

The confession all happened very quickly. Andrews suggests that Cairncross had been ‘pleasantly surprised’ that MI5 had done nothing to stop his visa application, and confidently travelled to London to perform research at the British Museum and see his estranged wife, Gabi (30). Yet it was a while before the application was approved. In a rather breathless minute, Street in the Foreign Office reported, on February 18, that not only had Cairncross’s application been approved at last, but the subject had also already confessed! Cairncross had flown to New York on February 11, and had been notified by a Customs official that he would be needed for further questioning when he reached his destination. Martin had visited him at his hotel in Cleveland on Sunday, February 16, and apparently gained a confession immediately. The haste and efficiency of the whole operation were almost unseemly, and certainly suspicious.

Why had Cairncross confessed so rapidly? The explanations are hardly convincing. Cairncross’s own story is unreliable, primarily because he sets the event as occurring in April (16), presumably to grant the timing rather more credulity. In his version, an FBI officer arrives first, informing him that Arthur Martin will be calling shortly. When the MI5 officer declares that he believes that Cairncross has not told the whole story, Cairncross folds, out of a desire to ‘make an end to this cat and mouse game once and for all’. He guesses that someone has informed on him, and concludes that it must have been Blunt, a notion espoused by Costello (12), thereby giving ammunition to the theory that Blunt confessed first, as Geoff Andrews boldly indicates (24). West has a slightly different representation: the meeting was ’by appointment’, and Cairncross ‘attended’ because he was fearful about his job (20). That goes against the grain of Smith’s account, which states that Cairncross was ‘doorstepped’ (29), suggesting an element of surprise.

But what would one expect the normal reaction of a person in Cairncross’s position to be, as an innocent academic who has just been cleared for employment in the United States? He is warned at US Customs, but seems to express no alarm. When Martin and the FBI turn up, he does not reflect: why on earth did these people allow me to come all this way, and then immediately harass me about these long-ago events? When Martin approaches him with the soft-ball challenge that he may not have told him all before, why does he not send him away with a flea in his ear, and tell him he has nothing more to say? It must have been because he was primed for the whole episode before he left London, and it was explained to him that Blunt had confessed, and that he likewise would be given immunity from prosecution if he admitted everything on foreign soil.

So all the references to ‘a second bite of the cherry’ –  after twelve years (10), ‘D Branch retracing its steps’ (7), and Cairncross’s being ’thrown to the wolves’ by Blunt (29), must be discarded. So must any assertion that Cairncross received no immunity, and thus risked returning to London at his peril (30), although.in his book on Klugmann (24), Andrews singularly does state that Martin offered Cairncross an immunity deal. Claiming that Klugmann had been his recruiter, and thus distancing himself from Blunt, was part of that agreement. Now Hollis and Trend have to go through the machinations from the Cabinet Office (27), trying to establish what the FBI and the US Immigration Authorities will do, hoping to avoid publicity, and attempting to ensure that Cairncross finds a safe haven in a foreign country (Italy) where he will not be able to cause any trouble. And the FBI duly expels him in June – not to Cairncross’s obvious surprise, it seems.

As I have shown, Martin did not rush back after this interview. He had to stay while the panjandrums discussed what had happened, and decided what to do next (27). On February 19, Trend informed the Prime Minister of the confession. Douglas-Home convened a meeting, at which it was determined that gaining a statement under caution should be attempted. On March 2, Martin was thus instructed to return to Cleveland, and the news quickly came back (on March 4) that Cairncross had declined the invitation. So, probably in mid-March, Martin was able to return to London, and brief Hollis and White on the Straight breakthrough. According to Bower, White, in true Captain Louis Renault style, was ‘shaken’ by the news (15).

Hollis must have been furious, however. First of all, how and why could Sullivan of the FBI break the commitment that Hoover had given him about keeping the Straight business confidential? And why had Martin been snooping around in Washington, communicating with CIA people without instructions to do so, when he had been sent specifically to liaise with the FBI on Cairncross? Moreover, on his return Martin must have pressed for interrogation of Blunt, and prosecution. He was probably told that the evidence that Straight provided would not stand up in court, and that Blunt would continue to deny everything. Fresh from his triumph in Cleveland, however, Martin probably believed he was on firm ground. Even though Hollis was infuriated by Martin, he was probably encouraged by White to appease him, and that is where the rumour started that it was Martin’s idea that Blunt should be offered immunity (despite Martin’s lack of sympathy for the idea), and that Martin would be chosen to interview Blunt in his flat (4). And that is what led to the pantomime of late April, where the key players (except for Martin) repeated their roles from the previous November.

The Role of Arthur Martin:

Arthur Martin remains an enigmatic figure. Why was such an ordinary but volatile officer selected for such an important task? How much did he know? Why had he become such an enthusiastic acolyte of James Angleton? Why did Dick White recruit him after Hollis had suspended him? And, most intriguing of all, why did he spread such conflicting stories about the Blunt confession?

(A profile of him can be found at https://spartacus-educational.com/SSmartin.htm, but it contains several egregious errors, primarily on chronology.)

Martin had his champions. Michael Straight found him ‘sophisticated and urbane’, in contrast to FBI agents (7), and told the CIA that he was ‘the original for George Smiley’ (21)  – an unconvincing comparison.  According to William Tyrer (who accessed the Cram archive), Cleveland Cram, CIA officer and historian of the agency, may have been echoing what Straight told him when he observed that Martin was ‘generally agreed to have been the counterintelligence genius of the British services’, surely an over-the-top assessment. Penrose and Freeman, while characterising him as ‘unprepossessing, self-made, and down-to-earth’ (does the suggestion of plain speaking jibe with ‘sophistication and urbanity’?), went on similarly to portray him as ‘a creation of John le Carré; a brooding spycatcher’ (9). Furthermore, they wrote: “His mind was a constant blur of bluffs and double-bluffs and, although he never claimed to be an intellectual, he was quick-witted and open-minded.” (Martin may have helped promote that image himself.)

In his Guardian obituary, Richard Norton-Taylor referred to Martin’s ‘sharp, analytical mind’ (but that could surely be said of most intelligence officers worth their salt), and in his BBC piece, described him as ‘a hardened interrogator’. Cairncrosss described him as ‘one of the most effective intelligence officers I have ever met’ (16), yet, since Cairncross probably met few such animals, and doubtless wanted to provide a solid explanation as to why he had quickly confessed, he probably over-egged the pudding. And Nigel West offered Martin praise for his performance at the Courtauld, writing of ‘the carrot dangled skilfully’, which appears a bit of a travesty when the record is inspected carefully. Peter Wright claimed that Martin proved himself ‘a brilliant and intuitive case officer’ (11).

Yet Martin had his critics and detractors, too. His close associate, Peter Wright, was also one of the most outspoken, writing that he was ‘temperamental and obsessive’, and ‘never understood the extent to which he had made enemies over the years.’ Bower expressed some surprise at White’s ‘tolerance’ for Martin (15). White was told that Martin ‘had a chip on his shoulder’, a judgment echoed by Gordon Corera, but then White was overall too trusting of people until it was too late. Christopher Andrew depicted Martin as follows: ‘a skilful and persistent counter-espionage investigator . . . , but he lacked the capacity for balanced judgement and  a grasp of the broader context.’ (1) Andrew also considered him and Wright  ‘the most damaging conspiracy theorists’, one of the most damning dispensations the historian can deliver (see https://www.mi5.gov.uk/mi5-in-world-war-ii ), and this characterisation was echoed by John Marriott of MI5, who wrote in an earlier memorandum: “In spite of his undeniable critical and analytical gifts and powers of lucid expression on paper, I must confess that I am not convinced that he is not a rather small minded man, and I doubt he will much increase in stature as he grows older.” (1; 28)

Martin had worked for the Radio Security Service (RSS) in World War II, and then moved to GCHQ, where he was liaison officer to MI5. Andrew informs us that it was Kim Philby who recommended him to MI5 in 1946, having met him in his RSS days. (Martin was apparently disappointed to have been replaced by Elliott for the mission to Beirut to interrogate Philby, though why an MI5 officer would have been considered for the job is not clear. Gordon Corera claims that White believed that Philby would be more likely to confess to an old friend.) Martin’s Guardian obituary stated that he was the first to learn – from the CIA – that Klaus Fuchs was a Soviet agent. Yet this would appear to contain some grandstanding. Serial 260/9 in KV 6/134 shows that Maurice Oldfield communicated the breakthrough news to Martin on August 17, 1949, and that it resulted from the efforts of Dwyer and Paterson (the MI6 and MI5 representatives in Washington), working on research performed by Philp Howse of GCHQ. Thus the first symptoms of Martin’s vainglory appear. In his Historical Dictionary of British Intelligence, Nigel West reinforces Martin’s contributions, but it is hard to identify any specific counterespionage feat he accomplished, apart from those placed in his hands by such as VENONA and the disclosures of defectors.

It was Martin’s encounter with the defector Golitsyn that set him on the trail of believing that the British intelligence services were infested with moles, and I turn the reader to Chapter 10 in Section D of Andrew’s Defend the Realm to learn more about his dogged efforts, and the obstacles and objections he faced in his pursuit of traitors (although the details of some events, such as the transfer of Cumming, and the reorganisation of D Division, are wrong). In the episodes when first Graham Mitchell, and then Roger Hollis, were suspected of being Soviet agents, Martin gained an inappropriately sympathetic ear from Dick White, who had been his mentor when Martin acted as White’s emissary in 1951. Then Martin had helped to plant hints on the CIA that Philby was the primary candidate for abetting the escape of Burgess and Maclean (see DickWhite’sDevilishPlot.) White, of course, had been a senior officer in MI5 at the time, and shifting the blame to MI6 helped him protect his position and career. In 1963 and 1964, from his vantagepoint as chief of MI6, White was now quite happy to suggest that MI5 was the leaky vessel, in order to achieve a similar goal.

Thus Martin was an unlikely choice to carry out a careful interrogation of Blunt. It was not that he had similar successes under his belt, unlike the experienced (but overrated) Jim Skardon, for instance. His noted successes with the Portland Spy Ring and Vassall cases were prompted by information from defectors rather than superlative sleuthing. Gordon Corera credits him with his persistence in trying to pin down Philby’s guilt, and convincing Dick White of the fact, but White himself had understood that back in 1951. The exercise was probably set up as a sop to his vanity: having believed that he was going to impress Hollis and White with his news from Straight, he was rebuffed by their lack of enthusiasm. Hollis and White had their hands forced, but would later be able to represent the faux confession as something imposed on to them by Straight’s revelations, when in fact they knew about the facts all along. They needed to try to keep Martin loyal. Martin had not been told of the November-December 1963 negotiations with Blunt (as his comments to Pincher indicate (8)), or the details of the Cairncross interviews in London, but he must have been informed of the requirements of the Cairncross case, as he was sent on a delicate mission to strategise with the FBI some weeks before Cairncross’s arrival in the United States.

And then he got into trouble with Hollis, becoming such a disruptive influence, frustrated that Blunt was continuing unpunished, demoralised that Cumming was moved into the D Division as his boss, and next having key personnel removed, that he had be suspended, and then dismissed. Corera writes: “Even his friends acknowledged that he lacked tact, but he became increasingly reckless, even self-destructive, in his single-minded pursuit.” (The Art of Betrayal, p 204) Yet for White to then hire him, in November 1964, was very controversial. As Aldrich and Cormac write in The Black Door (p 241): “Remarkably, Dick White, who had been director-general of MI5 and was now chief of MI6, was inclined to agree with Martin, and felt that suspicions lingered around his former colleagues Hollis and his deputy, Graham Mitchell.” The whole episode is redolent of what happened to Jane Sissmore, when Guy Liddell had to fire her in 1940 under dubious pretexts, whereupon she was picked up by MI6. White’s action was a monstrous insult to his protégé Hollis.

Lastly, what could Martin’s motivations have been, in adopting such a scattershot approach to leaking information to journalists and writers? Was he undertaking an official disinformation exercise? And, if so, was he simply chaotic and disorganised, with a faulty memory? I think not. In his 2020 poorly titled but overall engrossing study of how intelligence analysts should approach their tasks, How Spies Think, David Omand, former head of GCHQ, explains what is essential to detect a successful disinformation project. “The corollary is that to detect deception as many different channels should be examined as possible. It requires great skill to make the messages consistent on each channel and avoid errors. One inconsistency may be enough to reveal the deception.” (p 267) Thus, if an agency is going to peddle a Big Lie on any target audience, it has to have a watertight, well-conceived story – such as the legends developed by the Double Cross team in World War II.

Yet Martin’s (and Wright’s) stories are all over the place, riddled with inconsistences, conflicting chronologies and details, and unconvincing psychological portraits. I have come to the conclusion that Martin probably did this deliberately – to draw attention to the fact that a gross injustice had been performed, and a cover-up perpetrated, and to provide solid hints for the more intrepid and inquisitive of those who chronicled the events that the story was not as it seemed. Andrew Boyle got a portion of the way there, but the baton was scandalously dropped by every analyst afterwards. And one of his stories even reached the authorised history, thus receiving officially blessing.

Guy Liddell (with secretary Joan (?), Arthur Martin’s second wife)

Martin retired from MI5 in 1969, and took on a job as a clerk at the House of Commons. In 1984, he collaborated with Stephen de Mowbray in writing an Editor’s Foreword for their ghosting of Golitsyn’s New Lies for Old. He died in 1996, after expressing public doubts that Hollis had been a spy. As Anthony Glees records in the Secrets of the Service (p 316), Martin had written in the Times, on July 19, 1984, that only new evidence could shed light on an inconclusive case. His second marriage was to Guy Liddell’s secretary, Joan. According to West, both he and his wife ‘abhorred’ the notoriety that his doggedness over KGB penetration had brought him.

Summary:

Here follows my version of events.

Sometime in 1963, probably in April, Michael Straight and Anthony Blunt agreed to try to regularise relations with their respective intelligence authorities. In June, Straight confessed to the FBI, and the news was passed on to Roger Hollis, who kept it to himself and Dick White. In September, Hollis in person impressed upon Hoover the need for secrecy. Straight was invited over to the UK in October, where he briefed Hollis and White, and a highly confidential immunity agreement for Blunt was made with the help of Cabinet Secretary Trend, Home Secretary Brooke, and Attorney General Hobson. Blunt revealed the involvement in espionage of (at least) Cairncross and Long, and pointed the finger at several other dubious characters. Cairncross unexpectedly sprang on the scene in December, when he arrived in London in the process of trying to gain a USA visa to work in Ohio. MI5 convened a hurried session with Cairncross, where they explained to him the situation, promised him immunity if he would talk, and explained that they would prefer to interrogate him formally in Cleveland. MI5 started negotiations with the FBI for the approval of Cairncross’s visa.

Martin was sent on to Washington in advance, to finalise the visa arrangements, prepare the ground for Cairncross’s interrogation, and to alert the FBI of the sensitivity of the situation. With Oldfield’s assistance, Martin was immediately introduced to Straight, as Angleton and the CIA had grown impatient with the lack of evident action on the interrogation of Blunt. Cairncross arrived in the USA in February, and swiftly confessed, but Martin had to stay on to try to gain a statement from him under caution, which Cairncross not surprisingly declined. Martin returned to London, armed with the new evidence and expecting a hero’s welcome, but was chagrined at the lack of enthusiasm for interrogating Blunt. Hollis and White then decided to re-stage the confession, with Blunt’s obvious compliance. But Blunt remained not only unprosecuted but unscathed. Martin quickly realised that he had been hoodwinked, and started to make boisterous objections, which eventually cost him his job. He landed on his feet under Dick White in MI6, but the resentment lingered, and White became an enthusiastic supporter of his theories about a mole in MI5.

Conclusions:

I present five main areas of conclusion, on the essence of the hoax, on the policy of offering immunity, on Hollis’s lack of leadership, on White’s duplicity, and on the failures of authorised history.

The Hoax:

Some might argue that this was no hoax, since no obvious victim was deceived. Perhaps the events were just part and parcel of the cloak-and-dagger activities that are intrinsic to the business of the ‘Secret World’. Yet a large deception was undertaken. And why did MI5 plant a bogus document in the archives, unless they intended seriously to mislead someone? The authorized historian was deceived, swallowed the whole story, and everyone who followed him trusted what appeared in Defend the Realm.

In a partial sense, Blunt’s confession was a hoax. He committed to give a full confession, but prevaricated and dissembled, so that his interrogators never gained the full story. But the major hoax was that perpetrated by Hollis and White, in the deceptions they played against various agencies. They claimed to the Home Secretary and the Attorney General that that it was Straight’s testimony that proved Blunt’s guilt, when they already had powerful evidence of his traitorous activities that they had kept to themselves. They concealed from their own officers in MI5 the fact that a very private deal with Blunt had been concluded in December 1963. They prepared documentation for posterity that indicated that an authentic confession had been elicited from Blunt in April 1964, when the whole episode had been choreographed. In addition, in a supplementary plot where they tripped over themselves in the chronology, they suggested to the Foreign Office that Cairncross had confessed for the first time, in Cleveland, in February 1964, when they had in fact followed up Blunt’s revelations the previous December and interrogated Cairncross in London.

In The Historian as Detective: Essays on Evidence, edited by Robin W. Winks (1969), Jacques Barzun and Henry F. Graff made an important distinction between the genuine and the authentic. They wrote: “The two adjectives may seem synonymous but they are not: that is genuine which is not forged; and that is authentic which truthfully reports on its ostensible subject.”. In this scheme, the Hitler Diaries would be ungenuine and inauthentic, a counterfeit copy of a book would be ungenuine but authentic, and Arthur Martin’s description of the Blunt Confession would be genuine but inauthentic. It is that document – if it exists – that is the kernel of the hoax.

The Failure of Immunity:

Offering immunity from prosecution in exchange for full cooperation is not a strategy.

This policy might be called the Macmillan Doctrine, since the Prime Minister, when admonishing Roger Hollis for proudly informing him that MI5 had caught the spy John Vassall, declared: “When my gamekeeper shoots a fox, he doesn’t go and hang it up outside the Master of Foxhounds’ drawing room; he buries it out of sight”. Yet Macmillan overlooked the fact that, while dead foxes may tell no tales, pardoned spies usually have witnesses, who will frequently seek that fairness and equity be observed. As Ewing, Mahoney and Moretta remind us in their recent book on MI5, MI5, the Cold War and the Rule of Law, in 1961 Macmillan pressed for immunity to be granted to George Blake, in exchange for his full co-operation, but Dick White insisted that the business go to trial. Blake was sentenced to forty-two years, and the later comparison of the fate of Blake (a Dutchman with a Jewish father) with that of the aristocratic Blunt helped fan the flames of the protestors’ cause.

The problem is that the authorities will never know how much co-operation they are getting from their suspect. In his August 7, 2020 Times Literary Supplement review of A Question of Attribution (the British Academy and the Matter of Anthony Blunt), edited by David Cannadine, Richard Davenport-Hines wrote: “The compact between the Security Service and Blunt was broken by a novice prime minister fifteen years later.” Yet that is a perversely one-sided interpretation of what happened: the news had escaped through no fault of Margaret Thatcher, but Blunt remained unprosecuted. Blunt did not fulfil his side of the bargain, as his wishy-washy written ‘confession’ shows. Moreover, one condition of Blunt’s immunity deal, insisted upon by the Attorney General, John Hobson, was that he admit that he had not spied after 1945, as Miranda Carter reported (17). So what did Blunt do? He made that assertion to Martin, one which turned out to be untrue.

That does not necessarily mean that Blunt should have been prosecuted. A public trial – or even one held in camera – would have been very embarrassing, and even the Arthur Martins and Peter Wrights of this world would have recognized that. But, apart from the fact that he should never have been recruited by MI5, Blunt should never have been treated so leniently when he was found assisting Leo Long in espionage in 1944, should never have been trusted during the Burgess-Maclean fiasco, should never have been used as a ‘consultant’ in the Philby business, or by Liddell in further investigations of dangerous communists, and certainly should never have been sent to Beirut to warn Philby of Elliott’s impending arrival (as the evidence strongly suggests). He should have been asked to resign his posts, have his perks and privileges taken away, and found his own new niche – perhaps even a minor chair at Liverpool University, which he might have regarded as only slightly more appealing than exile to Moscow. And this should have been effected with a promise that he would maintain his silence. The secret might still have leaked out eventually, but at least the objections to his tolerant treatment would not have been so strong. (Contrary to what Professor Sir Michael Howard claimed in a letter to the Times, Blunt was never used as channel of disinformation to the Soviets: see http://www.coldspur.com/double-crossing-the-soviets/ for a debunking of this absurd notion.)

Thus the policy as executed for Leo Long and John Cairncross  – and maybe others unknown – and planned for Kim Philby, was a misguided show of passivity and evasion.

The Weakness of Roger Hollis:

Roger Hollis must be held accountable for much of this failure, since most of it occurred on his watch (1956-65). One must recall that, during this eventful year of 1963 (so far as the actions surrounding Blunt, Straight and Cairncross were concerned), Hollis also had to deal with the Profumo case. This had problematic outcomes: Stephen Ward had committed suicide, while John Profumo had been let off extremely lightly, considering the misdeeds and lies he undertook. Ewing, Mahoney and Moretta (see above) make a strong case that, even though Hollis was cleared by Lord Denning in the latter’s inquiry, Hollis had in fact acted very indolently in not informing the Home Secretary of what MI5 knew about Profumo, Ward, Keeler and Ivanov, and that he had avoided the truth that it was an issue of ‘defending the realm’.

Hollis clearly had more important matters on his mind. But that is no excuse: as the saying goes, ‘it came with the territory’. Hollis was yet another senior MI5 officer who let himself be taken aback by events, and had not worked out what the agency should do if unpleasant surprises came along. Maybe that was an outcome of MI5’s exact statutory footing’s being indistinct, but that had been clarified to a certain extent by the Findlater Stewart report at the end of the war, and the following Attlee and Maxwell Fyfe Directives. Hollis had enough time to attempt to resolve such issues, but preferred to keep his head down, and try to maintain a quiet life. Moreover, Hollis was apparently far too much under the influence of Dick White, with MI6 officers also appearing to be meddling in MI5 affairs far more than was suitable.

Thus the strategy over Blunt and Cairncross, of trying to keep the secret to as small a number of persons as possible, was bound to fail in the long run. It was one thing to conceal important facts from the incoming and possibly naïve Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home (where Hollis was abetted by the Cabinet Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Attorney General), but the policy of deceiving junior officers, with their natural inquisitiveness and interest in internal gossiping, did not inspire trust as the story went around. Perhaps it is surprising that the secret remained in the private sphere so long as it did. Hollis died in 1973, and thus did not live to see his handiwork unveiled.

The Duplicity of Dick White:

Dick White’s contribution to the whole affair is controversial, even sinister. He had recommended Roger Hollis as the officer who should succeed him when he was appointed head MI6 in 1956. And maybe Hollis looked for guidance from his mentor when he took over the reins as director general. In any case, White appeared to maintain a very active involvement in MI5 affairs. No doubt he kept in close touch with Arthur Martin, who had been a loyal servant to him during the machinations of the Burgess-Maclean business. It is White who encourages Martin to pursue the Mitchell inquiries, and Hollis is regularly consulting with White, for example when the information from Straight arrives. It is White who encourages Hollis to fly out to Washington to explain the details of the Mitchell case to the FBI and the CIA.

Yet White apparently did not have a high opinion of Hollis’s capabilities. Chapman Pincher, in Treachery (p 428), cites a letter that White wrote to Hugh Trevor-Roper (Lord Dacre) in 1984: “Hollis was never interested in CE (counter-espionage) work, having one of those crabbed minds that prefer protective security measures to the fun of sniffing things out.” This was a highly unprofessional statement for White to make. Either he deliberately wanted MI5 to fail under the leader he had recommended, or MI5 had no other candidates who could have competed. But, if White had always had this opinion of Hollis (‘never interested’), it would have been incumbent upon him to recommend that someone be appointed from outside. (Cleveland Cram dubbed Hollis ‘the biggest dolt to come down the pike in years’.) After all, there had been two recent precedents for such a decision (Petrie and Sillitoe).

White had as much to lose in the Blunt business as anyone, having been the sole surviving officer in the agencies who had witnessed his recruitment in 1940, and he had been hoodwinked by him and his cronies ever since. White had believed that Philby was guilty back in 1950, or earlier, but had avoided MI5-M6 strife by channeling his accusations through the FBI. On taking over MI6, he had banished Philby, but the spy had managed to get back on the books as an unofficial contributor. Now Philby had disappeared, and it suited White to suggest that someone within MI5 (where the main molehunt was occurring) had been responsible for leaking the news of the impending visit by Nicholas Elliott. Gordon Corera writes (p 194) that ’it was Martin’s theory that his old foe had been tipped off that most intrigued the MI6 chef’, but, in light of Blunt’s visit to Beirut, it is safe to assume that White played along with Martin, and saw a great opportunity for camouflage.

So was White a serious believer in the presence of an ELLI in MI5, whether Mitchell, Hollis, or anyone else? I doubt it. Yet he very quickly turned against Hollis. When Hollis fired his troublemaker, Martin, White quickly recruited him. Shortly afterwards, Hollis’s deputy, Furnival Jones, after discussing the problem with Dick White, agreed that an inter-agency investigative committee needed to be set up, and White convinced a reluctant Roger Hollis that it was a good idea Thus the FLUENCY sub-committee, under Peter Wright’s chairmanship, was established, and it soon had to consider whether Hollis himself was a spy. The outcome was inevitably destructive, and may have contributed to Hollis’s early death in 1973.

White retired from MI6 in 1968, somewhat detached from the fray that he had set in motion. In 1974, however, after the less eventful tenure of John Rennie, a fresh anti-MI5 thrust emerged from MI6. As Professor Glees described in The Secrets of the Service, Stephen de Mowbray of MI6 (a member of the FLUENCY team) ‘broke his cover’ to write an article in Encounter magazine that revivified all the theories of Soviet subversion within MI5, and the probable guilt of Roger Hollis. The new head of MI6 was Maurice Oldfield, White’s molehunt facilitator from Washington.

Authorised History:

My final observations concern the phenomenon of authorised history – and specifically Christopher Andrew’s work. Readers who are swayed by my theories about the confessions will agree that the exposition in Defend the Realm is, in the coverage of Blunt and Cairncross, erroneous. It contains misrepresentations and oversights. Yet Andrew’s book is generally regarded as biblical in its authority, even to the extent that historians and biographers will ignore evidence before their own eyes that suggests an alternative story in favour of Andrew’s account. In May 2017, in my piece ‘Officially Unreliable’ (http://www.coldspur.com/officially-unreliable/), I laid out my objections to authorised histories in general, with Defend the Realm as one of my examples, and I withdraw nothing I wrote at that time. In fact my message is reinforced by the Blunt case.

In many respects Defend the Realm is an impressive work, with a masterful synthesis of complex issues. Yet it is deeply flawed, primarily in its indiscriminate use of dubious sources, and in its vast number of citations of anonymous archival records that cannot be verified independently. The passage describing Blunt’s confession is the latest notorious example. I see no reason why the document that is claimed to play such a major role in Andrew’s narrative, and those related to it, should not be released by MI5, so that independent historians could make their own assessment of their authenticity, and how they shed light on the events of 1963 and 1964. Moreover, I suspect that Andrew, and those who assisted him, may not have maintained a scrupulous cross-reference of documents and citations so that a full concordance could be constructed if and when the authorities see fit to make the archival material accessible. (It is not as if relevant Freedom of Information requests can easily be made, as there are no identifiers to refer to.) I made this point in my original script, and I know at least one distinguished historian who maintained such a system in his researches and writing.

The scope of Defend the Realm is surely too ambitious. So much released material exists that a new History could probably be divided up into volumes covering the stewardship of each Director-General. That would have to be complemented by a judicious and methodological treatment of other literature (memoir, biography, other government sources, etc.). I happen to believe that my own contributions in this area, covering such as Fuchs and Peierls, Agent Sonya, Dick White and the Burgess-Maclean affair, Liverpool University, the RSS and the Double-Cross System, the LENA spies, VENONA and HASP, the Portland Ring – and now Blunt and Cairncross – constitute a valuable corpus of material that should be used in any fresh enterprise.

Yet it is difficult to see how such a programme would evolve. For example, despite the best efforts of Professor Glees and me, it has been a struggle to gain serious attention over the hubbub of publicity given recently to Agent Sonya, and correct Ben Macintyre’s story. Serious historians do not seem to want to challenge the establishment history of MI5. A few years ago, the FBI gave serious airtime to the debate about ELLI and Roger Hollis (see https://fbistudies.com/2015/04/27/was-roger-hollis-a-british-patriot-or-soviet-spy/ ), but it fizzled out. I do not see any mechanism in the UK for performing a similar exercise on MI5 molehunts, but, if anyone decides that it should be pursued, I am very willing to contribute.

Late-Breaking News!

I have not yet received my copy of the February 26 Times Literary Supplement in the mail, but my on-line colleague Michael Holzman has just informed me that the following item appears on the back page:

‘Antony Percy writes from Southport, NC, to point out a near-enough coincidence: as we were quoting John le Carré (January 22) wondering if the future might bring about a “fairer, less greedy world” than the present (with its “jingoistic” England – “an England I don’t want to know”), Hunter Davies was recalling in The Times (January 21) how le Carré, fifty-odd years ago, “handed over £2.6 million to a tax avoidance schemer in the West Indies – and lost it all”. The top rate of tax at the time, Mr Percy omits to mention, was 95 per cent.’

What the columnist fails to consider is that, if John le Carré had been serious in wanting to contribute to a ‘fairer, less greedy world’, he would presumably (unlike me) have supported the government’s ‘progressive’ tax policies, as it obviously would have been far wiser in spending (ahem, ‘redistributing’) his hard-earned income than he himself was.

New Commonplace entries can be found here.

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Special Bulletin: Denis Lenihan – In Memoriam

I recently heard the sad news that Denis Lenihan had died of Covid-19 on December 29 in London.

I never met Denis: we started corresponding in September 2019, after I tracked him down from an article of his that I had read. Yet we soon realised that, in our interest in intelligence matters, we had a common enthusiasm for treating ‘official’ history with a quizzical eye, for patiently inspecting archival records, for reading broadly and deeply, and for recording what we found as honestly and plainly as we could. Denis became an eager supporter of coldspur, contributed a few pieces, and always very calmly challenged my conclusions when he judged they were not watertight.

We enjoyed a very fruitful email correspondence over fifteen months. He was still doggedly going through the Petrov archives when he was taken ill, and, in his last message to me before Christmas, when he was about to be admitted to hospital, he told me how much he was looking forward to picking up the Molehunt research in the New Year.

I shall miss him greatly, and offer my sincerest condolences to his family. If I learn more about Denis’s career and life, I shall post them here. I hope all coldspur readers stay healthy in these dark times.

Update on January 20

I heard more from Denis’s daughter, Siobhan, who provided me with a bio of Denis, and details of his funeral service.

He was born in Invercargill, New Zealand, in 1937, and moved to London, the residence of his second wife, Bridget, in 2009. I cite two paragraphs verbatim:

“Except for a little while at the start and at the end of his career, Denis was a Commonwealth public servant (that is, a person working for the Australian Government). He worked in education, with some of the earliest international university students; immigration, including a wonderful period as Counsellor (Migration), Scandinavia, when he and his family lived in Stockholm as diplomats (harder work than you might think, but rewarding and the experience of a lifetime); and on various royal commissions and other bodies investigating organised crime. He was the founding CEO of the National Crime Authority. Somewhere in here lies the seed of his consuming interest in espionage and its practitioners in Australia and New Zealand.

He was kind, funny, clever, gregarious, ethical, devout, generous and modest. He enjoyed people, books, newspapers, travelling, golf, rugby union, food, wine and cognac, cryptic crosswords and bridge. He read non-stop. (Both his wives marvelled at how he could spend ‘all day’ reading the newspaper.) Faith, vocation, family and accident combined gave him NZ, Australian and Irish loyalties, strongly reflected in his interests and reading. He took to the internet as a duck to water, relishing the communication and information it afforded and keeping in contact with a wide international circle of family and friends. He became a researcher later in life, exercising his interest in solving puzzles in a different way and making a new group of friends and contacts. He loved his family and we loved him and will miss him for ever.”

While I cannot match Denis in moral qualities, the list of his interests mirrors mine almost exactly. We discussed golf and rugby, but for some reason never touched bridge or cryptic crosswords. What a distinguished life he led, and I am sorry I never had the pleasure of meeting him.

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Year-End Wrap-up – 2020

At the end of this dreadful year, I use this bulletin to provide an update on some of the projects that have occupied my time since my last Round-Up. I shall make no other reference to Covid-19, but I was astounded by a report in the Science Section of the New York Times of December 29, which described how some victims of the virus had experienced psychotic symptoms of alarming ferocity. Is there a case for investigating whether traditional paranoiacs may have been affected by similar viral attacks, harmed by neurotoxins which formed as reactions to immune activation, and crossed the blood-brain barrier?

The Contents of this bulletin are as follows:

  1. ‘Agent Sonya’ Rolls Out
  2. The John le Carré I Never Knew
  3. The Dead Ends of HASP
  4. Anthony Blunt: Melodrama at the Courtauld
  5. Trevor Barnes Gives the Game Away
  6. Bandwidth versus Frequency
  7. ‘History Today’ and Eric Hobsbawm
  8. Puzzles at Kew
  9. Trouble at RAE Farnborough
  10. End-of-Year Thoughts and Holiday Wishes

‘Agent Sonya’ Rolls Out

Kati Marton

Ben Macintyre’s biography of Sonia/Sonya received an overall very favourable response in the press, and it predictably irked me that it was reviewed by persons who were clearly unfamiliar with the subject and background. I posted one or two comments on-line, but grew weary of hammering away unproductively. Then Kati Marton, a respectable journalist who has written a book about one of Stalin’s spies, offered a laudatory review in the New York Times (see: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/15/books/review/agent-sonya-ben-macintyre.html?searchResultPosition=1)  I accordingly wrote the following letter to the Editor of the Book Review:

Re: ‘The Housewife Who Was A Spy’

Even before Ben Macintyre’s book appears, enough is known about Agent Sonya to rebuff many of the claims that Kati Marton echoes from it.

Sonya was neither a spy, nor a spymaster (or spymistress): she was a courier. She did not blow up any railways in England: the most daring thing she did was probably to cycle home from Banbury to Oxford with documents from Klaus Fuchs in her basket.

A ‘woman just like the rest of us’? Well, she had three children with three different men. Her second marriage, in Switzerland, was bigamous, abetted by MI6, whose agent, Alexander Foote, provided perjurious evidence about her husband’s adultery. As a dedicated communist, she went in for nannies, and boarding-schools for her kids (not with her own money, of course). Just like the rest of us.

She eluded British secret services? Hardly. MI5 and MI6 officers arranged her passport and visa, then aided her installation in Britain, knowing that she came from a dangerous communist family, and even suspected that she might be a ‘spy’. The rat was smelled: they just failed to tail it.

Her husband in the dark? Not at all. He had performed work for MI6 in Switzerland, was trained as a wireless operator by Sonya, and as a Soviet agent carried out transmissions on her behalf from a bungalow in Kidlington, while her decoy apparatus was checked out by the cops in Oxford.

Living in a placid Cotswold hamlet? Not during the war, where her wireless was installed on the premises of Neville Laski, a prominent lawyer, in Summertown, Oxford. Useful to have a landlord with influence and prestige.

A real-life heroine? Not one’s normal image of a heroine. A Stalinist to the death, she ignored the horror of the Soviet Union’s prison-camp and praised its installation in East Germany after the war. Here Ms. Marton gets it right.

It appears that Mr. Macintyre has relied too closely on Sonya’s mendacious memoir, Sonjas Rapport, published in East Germany at the height of the Cold War, in 1977, under her nom de plume Ruth Werner. And he has done a poor job of inspecting the British National Archives.

(For verification of the true story about Sonya, see https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8467057/Did-staggering-British-blunder-hand-Stalin-atomic-bomb.html and http://www.coldspur.com/sonia-mi6s-hidden-hand/ )

My letter was not published.

As I declared in my Special Bulletin of December 8, I was, however, able to make my point. Professor Glees had introduced me to the Journal of Intelligence and National Security, recommending me as a reviewer of Macintyre’s book. Agent Sonya arrived (courtesy of the author) on October 8. By October 16, I had read the book and supplied a 6,000-word review for the attention of the Journal’s books editor in Canada. He accepted my text enthusiastically, and passed it on to his team in the UK. Apart from some minor editorial changes, and the addition of several new references, it constituted the review as it was published on-line almost two months later. It will appear in the next print edition of the Journal.

The team at the Journal were all a pleasure to work with, and they added some considerable value in preparing the article for publication, and providing some useful references that I had thought might be extraneous. But the process took a long time! Meanwhile, Claire Mulley had written an enthusiastic review of the book in the Spectator, and picked it as one of her ‘Books of the Year’. Similarly, the Sunday Times rewarded Macintyre by picking the production of one of their in-house journalists as one of the Books of the Year. I have to complement Macintyre on his ability to tell a rattling good yarn, but I wish that the literary world were not quite so cozy, and that, if books on complicated intelligence matters are going to be sent out to review, they could be sent to qualified persons who knew enough about the subject to be able to give them a serious critique.

Finally, I have to report on two book acquisitions from afar. It took four months for my copy of Superfrau iz GRU to arrive from Moscow, but in time for me to inspect the relevant chapters, and prepare my review of Agent Sonya. The other item that caught my eye was Macintyre’s information about the details of Rudolf Hamburger’s departure from Marseilles in the spring of 1939. I imagined this must have come from the latter’s Zehn Jahre Lager, Hamburger’s memoir of his ten years in the Gulag, after his arrest by the British in Tehran, and his being handed over to the Soviets. This was apparently not published until 2013. I thus ordered a copy from Germany, and it arrived in late November. Yet Hamburger’s story does not start until 1943: he has nothing to say about his time in Switzerland.

His son Maik edited the book, and provided a revealing profile of his father. Of his parents’ time in China, when Sonia started her conspiratorial work with Richard Sorge, he wrote: “Als sie nicht umhinkann, ihn einzuweihen, ist er ausser sich. Nicht nur, dass er sich hintergangen fühlt – sie hat die Familie aufs Spiel gesetzt.“ (“Since she could not prevent herself from entangling him, he is beside himself. Not just that he feels deceived – she has put the whole family at stake.”) When Sonia decided to return to Moscow for training, the marriage was over. And when she published her memoir in 1977 Maik noted: “Hamburger ist über diese Publikation und die Darstellung seiner Person darin hochgradig verärgert.“ (“Hamburger is considerably annoyed by this publication, and the representation of his character in it.”) Indeed, Maik. Your father suffered much on her account.

The John le Carré I Never Knew

John Le Carre

I noted with great sadness the death of John le Carré this month. I imagine I was one of many who, during their university years, read The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, and was blown over by this very unromantic view of the world of espionage. Perhaps it was that experience that led me into a lifelong fascination with that realm. He was a brilliant writer, especially in the sphere of vocal registers. I wrote an extensive assessment of him back in 2016 (see Revisiting Smiley & Co.), and do not believe I have much to add – apart from the inevitable factor of Sonia.

In our article in the Mail on Sunday (see: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8467057/Did-staggering-British-blunder-hand-Stalin-atomic-bomb.html , Professor Glees and I had characterized Sonia’s story as real-life confirmation of le Carré’s verdict that ‘betrayal is always the handmaiden of espionage’ , and I concluded my detailed explanation of the saga (see: http://www.coldspur.com/sonia-mi6s-hidden-hand/ ) with the following words: “What it boils down to is that the truth is indeed stranger than anything that the ex-MI6 officer John le Carré, master of espionage fiction, could have dreamed up. If he ever devised a plot whereby the service that recruited him had embarked on such a flimsy and outrageous project, and tried to cover it up in the ham-fisted way that the real archive shows, while all the time believing that the opposition did not know what was going on, his publisher would have sent him back to the drawing-board.”

I had rather whimsically hoped that Mr. le Carré would have found these articles, and perhaps reached out to comment somewhere. But my hopes were dashed when I read Ben Macintyre’s tribute in the Times (see: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/john-le-carre-the-spy-who-was-my-friend-svr8tgv82 ). This is a typical item of Macintyrean self-promotion, as he encourages the glamour of le Carré to flow over him (‘Oh what prize boozers we were! How we joked and joshed each other!’), while the journalist attempts to put himself in a more serious class than his famous friend: “We shared a fascination with the murky, complex world of espionage: he from the vantage point of fiction and lived experience, whereas I stuck to historical fact and research.” Pass the sick-bag, Alice.

And then there was that coy plug for his book on Philby, A Spy Among Friends. “On another long ramble, between books and stuck for a new subject, I asked him what he thought was the best untold spy story of the Cold War. ‘That is easy,’ he said. ‘It is the relationship between Kim Philby and Nicholas Elliott,’ the MI6 officer who worked alongside the KGB spy for two decades and was comprehensively betrayed by him.’ That led to another book, ostensibly about the greatest spy scandal of the century, but also an exploration of male friendship, the bonds of education, class and secrecy, and the most intimate duplicity. Le Carré wrote the afterword, refusing payment.” Did ELLI not even touch the Great Man’s consciousness? What a load of boloney.

Thus, if le Carré really believed that the Philby-Elliott relationship was the best untold story of the Cold War, I knew we were on shaky ground. And, sure enough, a discussion on Sonya followed. “We met for the last time in October, on one of those medical toots, in the Hampstead house. A single table lamp dimly illuminated the old sitting room, unchanged over the years. Having read my latest book [‘Agent Sonya,’ for those of you who haven’t been paying attention], he had sent an enthusiastic note and a suggestion we meet: “You made us over time love and admire Sonya herself, and pity her final disillusionment, which in some ways mirrors our own. What guts, and what nerve. And the men wimps or misfits beside her.”

Hallo!! What were you thinking, old boy? Macintyre had hoodwinked the Old Master himself, who had been taken in by Macintyre’s picaresque ramblings, and even spouted the tired old nonsense that Sonya’s disillusionment ‘in some ways mirrors our own’. Who are you speaking for, chum, and what gives you the right to assume you know how the rest of us feel? What business have you projecting your own anxieties and disappointments on the rest of us? ‘Loving and admiring’ that destructive and woefully misguided creature? What came over you?

It must be the permanent challenge of every novelist as to how far he or she can go in projecting his or her own emotional turmoils into the world of outside, and claiming they are universal. As le Carré aged, I think he dealt with this aspect of his experiences less and less convincingly. And there have been some very portentous statements made about his contribution to understanding human affairs. Thus, Phillipe Sands, in the New York Times: “David [not King Edward VIII, by the way, but oh, what a giveaway!] was uniquely able to draw the connections between the human and historical, the personal and the political, pulling on the seamless thread that is the human condition.” (Outside Hampstead intellectuals, people don’t really talk like that still, do they?) With le Carré, one was never sure if he believed that the intelligence services, with their duplicities, deceits, and betrayals, caused their operatives to adopt the same traits, or whether those services naturally attracted persons whose character was already shaped by such erosive activities.

I believe the truth was far more prosaic. MI5, for example, was very similar to any other bureaucratic institution. In the war years, recruits were not subjected to any kind of personality or ideological test. They received no formal training, and picked up the job as they went along. Rivalries developed. Officers had affairs with their secretaries (or the secretaries of other officers), and sometimes they married them. Plots were hatched for personal advancement or survival. (White eased out Liddell in the same way that Philby outmanoeuvred Cowgill.) What was important was the survival of the institution, and warding off the enemy (MI6), and, if necessary, lying to their political masters. The fact is that, as soon as they let rogues like Blunt in, did nothing when they discovered him red-handed, and then tried to manipulate him to their advantage, White and Hollis were trapped, as trapped as Philby and his cronies were when they signed their own pact with the devil. Only in MI5’s case, these were essentially decent men who did not understand the nature of the conflict they had been drawn into.

On one aspect, however, Macintyre was absolutely right – the question of le Carré’s moral equivalence. With his large pile in Cornwall, and his opulent lunches, and royalties surging in, le Carré continued to rant about ‘capitalism’, as if all extravagant or immoral behaviour by enterprises, large or small, irrevocably damned the whole shooting-match. Would he have railed against ‘free enterprise’ or ‘pluralist democracy’? He reminded me of A. J. P. Taylor, fuming about capitalism during the day, and tracking his stock prices and dividends in the evenings. And le Carré’s political instincts took on a very hectoring and incongruous tone in his later years, with George Smiley brought out of retirement to champion the EU in A Legacy of Spies, and, a couple of years ago, Agent Running In The Field being used as a propaganda vehicle against the Brexiteers. (While my friend and ex-supervisor, Professor Anthony Glees, thinks highly of this book, I thought it was weak, with unconvincing characters, unlikely backgrounds and encounters, and an implausible plot.)

I could imagine myself sitting down in the author’s Hampstead sitting-room, where we open a second bottle of Muscadet, and get down to serious talk. He tells me how he feels he has been betrayed by the shabby and corrupt British political establishment. It is time for me to speak up.

“What are you talking about, squire? Why do you think you’re that important? You win a few, you lose a few. Sure, democracy is a mess, but it’s better than the alternative! And look at that European Union you are so ga-ga about? Hardly a democratic institution, is it? Those Eurocrats continue to give the Brits a hard time, even though the two are ideological allies, and the UK at least exercised a popular vote to leave, while those rogue states, Hungary and Poland, blackmail the EU into a shady and slimy deal over sovereignty, and weasel some more euros out of Brussels! Talk about moral dilemmas and sleaziness! Why don’t you write about that instead?  Aren’t you more nostalgic, in your admiration for the ‘European Project’, than all those Brexiteers you believe to be Empire Loyalists?”

But I notice he is no longer listening. I catch him whispering to one of his minions: “Who is this nutter? Get him out of here!”

I slip a few uneaten quails’ eggs into my pocket, and leave.

(A product of coldspur Syndications Inc. Not to be reproduced without permission.)

The Dead Ends of HASP

Professor Wilhelm Agrell

I had been relying on two trails to help resolve the outstanding mysteries of the so-called HASP messages that GCHQ had acquired from Swedish intelligence, and which reputedly gave them breakthroughs on decrypting some elusive VENONA traffic. (see Hasp & Spycatcher). One was a Swedish academic to whom Denis Lenihan had introduced me, Professor Wilhelm Agrell, professor of intelligence analysis at the University of Lund in Sweden. Professor Agrell had delivered a speech on Swedish VENONA a decade ago, and had prepared a paper in English that outlined what he had published in a book in Swedish, unfortunately not (yet) translated into English. The other was the arrival of the authorised history of GCHQ by the Canadian academic, Professor John Ferris. It was perhaps reasonable to expect that the VENONA project would undergo a sustained analysis in this work, which was published in October of this year.

Professor Agrell’s work looked promising. His paper, titled ‘The Stockholm Venona – Cryptanalysis, intelligence liaison and the limits of counter-intelligence’, had been presented at the 2009 Cryptologic History Symposium, October 15 and 16, 2009, at Johns Hopkins University in Laurel, MD. His annotations indicated that he had enjoyed extensive access to Swedish Security Police files, as well as some documents from the military intelligence and security services. Moreover, his analysis had benefitted from declassified American, German and British intelligence, along with some recently declassified Swedish files. His references included two useful-sounding books written in English, Swedish Signal Intelligence 1900-1945, byC.G. McKay and Bengt Beckman, and the same McKay’s From Information to Intrigue. Studies in Secret Service based on the Swedish Experience, 1939-1945. I acquired and read both volumes.

The experience was very disappointing. The two books were very poorly written, and danced around paradoxical issues. I prepared some questions for the Professor, to which he eventually gave me some brief answers, and I responded with some more detailed inquiries, to which he replied. He had never heard of HASP outside Wright’s book. He was unable to provide convincing responses over passages in his paper that I found puzzling. Towards the end of our exchange, I asked him about his assertion that ‘GCHQ has released agent-network VENONA traffic to the National Archives’, since I imagined that this might refer to some of the missing SONIA transmissions that Wright believed existed. His response was that he was referring to the ‘so called ISCOT material from 1944-45’. Well, I knew about that, and have written about it. It has nothing to do with VENONA, but contains communications between Moscow and guerilla armies in Eastern Europe, decrypted by Denniston’s group at Berkeley Street. At this stage I gave up.

In a future bulletin, I shall lay out the total Agrell-Percy correspondence, and annotate which parts of the exchange are, in my opinion, highly important, but I do not think we are going to learn much more from the Swedish end of things. The Swedes seem to be fairly tight-lipped about these matters.

I completed John Ferris’s Behind the Enigma on November 30, and put its 823 pages down with a heavy thud and a heavy sigh. This book must, in many ways, be an embarrassment to GCHQ. It is poorly written, repetitive, jargon-filled, and frequently circumlocutory. The author is poor at defining terms, and the work lacks a Glossary and Bibliography. Ferris has an annoying habit of describing historical events with modern-day terminology, and darts around from period to period in a bewilderingly undisciplined manner. He includes a lot of tedious sociological analysis of employment patterns at Bletchley Park and Cheltenham. One can find some very useful insights amongst all the dense analysis, but it is a hard slog tracking them down. And he is elliptical or superficial about the matters that interest me most, that is the interception and decipherment of Soviet wireless traffic.

One receives a dispiriting message straight away, on page 4. “This history could not discuss diplomatic Sigint after 1945, nor any technicalities of collection which remained current.” Yet this stipulation does not prevent Ferris from making multiple claims about GCHQ’s penetration of Soviet high-grade systems, and promoting the successes of other apparent diplomatic projects, such as Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Cuba. For example, he refers to Dick White’s recommendation in 1968 that more Soviet tasks be handed over to the US’s NSA (p 311), but, not many pages later, he writes of the Americans’ desire not to fall behind British Sigint, and their need to maintain the benefit they received from GCHQ’s ‘power against Russia’ (p 340). On page 355 we learn that GCHQ ‘ravaged Soviet civil and machine traffic’. I do not know what all this means.

It seems that Ferris does not really understand VENONA. His coverage of MASK (the 1930s collection of Comintern traffic with agents in Britain) is trivial, he ignores ISCOT completely, and he characterizes VENONA in a similarly superficial fashion: “It [GCHQ] began an attack on Soviet systems. Between 1946 and 1948, it produced Britain’s best intelligence, which consumers rated equal to Ultra.” (p 279). He fails to explain how the project attacked traffic that had been stored from 1943 onwards, and does not explain the relationship between the USA efforts and the British (let alone the Swedes). His statement about the peak of UK/USA performance against Soviet traffic as occurring between 1945 and 1953 (p 503) is simply wrong. VENONA has just four entries in the Index, and the longest passage concerns itself with the leakage in Australia. He offers no explanation of how the problem of reused one-time-pads occurred, or how the British and American cryptologists made progress, how they approached the problem, and what was left unsolved. Of HASP, there is not a sign.

It is evident that GCHQ, for whatever reason, wants VENONA (and HASP) to remain not only secrets, but to be forgotten. All my appeals to its Press Office have gone unacknowledged, and the issue of Ferris’s History shows that it has no intention of unveiling anything more. Why these events of sixty years and more ago should be subject to such confidentiality restrictions, I have no idea. It is difficult to imagine how the techniques of one-time pads, and directories, and codebooks could form an exposure in cryptological defences of 2020, unless the process would reveal some other embarrassing situation. Yet I know how sensitive it is. A month or two back, I had the privilege of completing a short exchange with a gentleman who had worked for GCHQ for over thirty years, in the Russian division. He said he had never heard of HASP. Well, even if he had, that was what he had been instructed to say. But we know better: ‘HASP’ appears on that RSS record.

Anthony Blunt: Melodrama at the Courtauld

Anthony Blunt
Anthony Blunt

Every schoolboy knows who murdered Atahualpa, and how in April 1964 the MI5 officer Arthur Martin elicited a confession of Soviet espionage from Anthony Blunt. Yet I have been rapidly coming to the conclusion that the whole episode at Blunt’s apartment at the Courtauld Institute was a fiction, a sham event conceived by Roger Hollis and Dick White, in order to conceal Blunt’s earlier confession, and to divert responsibility for the disclosure on to an apparently recent meeting between MI5 officer Arthur Martin and the American Michael Straight, after the latter’s confession to the FBI in the summer of 1963. By building a careful chronology of all the historical sources, but especially those of British Cabinet archives, the FBI, and the CIA, a more accurate picture of the extraordinary exchanges MI5 had with Blunt, Straight and the fifth Cambridge spy, John Cairncross, can be constructed.

The dominant fact about the timing of Blunt’s confession is that all accounts (except one) use Penrose and Freeman’s Conspiracy of Silence as their source, which, in turn, refers to a correspondence between the authors and the MI5 officer Arthur Martin in 1985. Only Christopher Andrew claims that an archival report exists describing the events, but it is identified solely in Andrew’s customarily unacademic vernacular of ‘Security Service Archives’. The details are vaguely the same. On the other hand, several commentators and authors, from Andrew Boyle to Dame Stella Rimington, suggest that Blunt made his confession earlier, though biographers and historians struggle with the way that the ‘official’ account has pervaded the debate, and even use it as a reason to reject all the rumours that Blunt had made his compact some time beforehand.

This project has been several months in the making. I was provoked by Wright’s nonsense in Spycatcher to take a fresh look at the whole search for Soviet moles in MI5. I re-read Nigel West’s Molehunt, this time with a more critical eye. Denis Lenihan and I collaborated on a detailed chronology for the whole period. I reinspected the evidence that the defector Anatoli Golitsyn was supposed to have provided that helped nail Philby. The journalist James Hanning alerted me to some passages in Climate of Treason that I had not studied seriously. I was intrigued by David Cannadine’s rather lavish A Question of Retribution (published earlier this year), which examined the furore over Blunt’s ousting from the British Academy after his role as a spy had been revealed, and I pondered over Richard Davenport-Hines’s misleading review of Cannadine’s book in the Times Literary Supplement a few months ago. I went back to the source works by Boyle, Andrew, West, Costello, Pincher, Penrose and Freeman, Wright, Bower, Straight, Cairncross, Perry, Rimington, and Smith to unravel the incongruous and conflicting tales they spun, and acquired Geoff Andrews’s recent biography of John Cairncross. I inspected carefully two files at the National Archives, declassified in the past five years, that appeared to have been misunderstood by recent biographers.

The dominant narrative runs as follows: Golitsyn created interest in the notion of the ‘Cambridge 5’, and helped to identify Philby as the Third Man; Michael Straight confessed to the FBI that he had been recruited by Blunt at Cambridge; the FBI notified MI5; MI5 interviewed Straight; MI5 could not move against Blunt (the Fourth Man) simply because of Straight’s evidence; MI5 concocted a deal whereby Blunt would essentially receive a pardon if he provided information that led to the ‘Fifth Man’; Blunt revealed that he had recruited John Cairncross; at some stage, MI5 interrogated Cairncross who, on similar terms, confessed; Cairncross’s evasions deflected suspicions that he could have been the ‘Fifth Man’; other candidates were investigated. Blunt’s culpability, and the fact of a deal, remained a secret until, in 1979, Andrew Boyle revealed the role of ‘Maurice’ in Climate of Treason, Private Eye outed ‘Maurice’ as Blunt, and Margaret Thatcher admitted the unwritten compact that had been agreed with Blunt. Yet a muddle endured.

The archives show that this was not the actual sequence of events. The timing does not make sense. And it all revolves around Arthur Martin’s two interrogations of Cairncross in Cleveland, Ohio, in February and March 1964, i.e. before the date claimed for Blunt’s confession to Arthur Martin. Wright’s Spycatcher is perhaps the most egregious example of a work where the chronology is hopelessly distorted or misunderstood, and the author is shown to be carrying on a project of utter disinformation. All other accounts show some manner of delusion, or laziness in ignoring obvious anomalies. The fact is that Hollis, White, Trend & co. all hoodwinked the Foreign Office, and withheld information from the new Prime Minister, Alec Douglas-Home.  In my report at the end of January 2021 I shall reveal (almost) all. In the meantime, consider these priceless quotations (from a FO archive):

“It is desirable that we should be seen to be doing everything possible to bring him [Cairncross] to justice.’  (Sir Bernard Burrows, Chairman of the JIC, February 20, 1964)

“At the same time I am bound to say I think MI5 are taking a lot on themselves in deciding without any reference not to pursue such cases at some time (in this instance in Rome, Bangkok, and U.K.) and then to go ahead at others (here in USA). The political implication of this decision do not appear to have been weighed: only those of the mystery of spy-catching. However effective this may now have been proved, it is apt to leave us with a number of difficult questions to answer.” (Howard Caccia, Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, February 20, 1964)

“It is essential that I should be able to convince the F.B.I. that we are not trying to find a way out of taking action but, on the contrary, that we are anxious to prosecute if this proves possible.” (Roger Hollis to Burke Trend, February 25, 1964)

“We must not appear reluctant to take any measures which might secure Cairncross’s return to the United Kingdom.” (Burke Trend to the Cabinet, February 28, 1964)

The tradition of Sir Humphrey Appleby was in full flow.

Trevor Barnes Gives the Game Away

Trevor Barnes

Regular Coldspur readers will have spotted that I frequently attempt to get in touch with authors whose books I have read, sometimes to dispute facts, but normally to try to move the investigations forward. It is not an easy task: the more famous an author is, the more he or she tends to hide behind his or her publisher, or press agent. Some approaches have drawn a complete blank. I often end up writing emails to the publisher: in the case of Ben Macintyre, it got ‘lost’. When Ivan Vassiliev’s publisher invited me to contact him by sending a letter for him to their office, and promised to forward it to his secret address in the UK, I did so, but then heard nothing.

With a little digging, however, especially around university websites, one can often find email addresses for academics, and write in the belief that, if an address is displayed publicly, one’s messages will at least not fall into a spam folder. I am always very respectful, even subservient, on my first approach, and try to gain the author’s confidence that I am a voice worth listening to. And I have had some excellent dialogues with some prominent writers and historians – until they get tired of me, or when I begin to challenge some of their conclusions, or, perhaps, when they start to think that I am treading on ‘their’ turf. (Yes, historians can be very territorial.). For I have found that many writers – qualified professional historians, or competent amateurs – seem to prefer to draw a veil of silence over anything that might be interpreted as a threat to their reputation, or a challenge to what they have published beforehand, in a manner that makes clams all over the world drop their jaws at the speed of such tergiversation.

In this business, however, once you lose your inquisitiveness, I believe, you are lost. And if it means more to you to defend a position that you have previously taken, and on which you may have staked your reputation, than to accept that new facts may shake your previous hypotheses and conclusions, it is time to retire. If I put together a theory about some mysterious, previously unexplained event, and then learn that there is a massive hole in it, I want to abandon it, and start afresh. (But I need to hear solid arguments, not just ‘I don’t agree with you’, or ‘read what Chapman Pincher says’, which is what happens sometimes.)

Regrettably, Trevor Barnes has fallen into that form of stubborn denial. When I first contacted him over Dead Doubles, he was communicative, grateful, open-minded. He accepted that the paperback edition of his book would need to reflect some corrections, and agreed that the several points of controversy that I listed in my review were all substantive. But when I started to quiz him on the matter of the disgraced MI5 officer (see Dead Doubles review), he declined to respond to, or even acknowledge, my messages. (And maybe he found my review of his book on coldspur, since I did take the trouble to point it out to him.) The question in his case revolves around a rather clumsy Endnote in his book, which, instead of achieving the intended goal of burying the topic, merely serves to provoke additional interest.

Note 8, to Part One, on page 250, runs as follows:

“Private information. James Craggs is a pseudonym. The name of the case officer is redacted from the released MI5 files. The author discovered his real identity but was requested by MI5 sources not to name him to avoid potential distress to his family.”

The passage referred to is a brief one where Barnes describes how David Whyte (the head of D2 in MI5), swung into action against Houghton. I reproduce it here:

“He chose two officers to join him on the case. One was George Leggatt, half-Polish and a friend, with whom he had worked on Soviet counter-espionage cases in the 1950s. The case officer was James Craggs, a sociable bachelor in his late thirties.”

That’s it. But so many questions raised! ‘Private information’ that ‘Craggs’ was ‘a sociable bachelor’, which could well have been a substitute for ‘confirmed bachelor’ in those unenlightened days, perhaps? (But then he has a family.) What else could have been ‘private’ about this factoid? And why would a pseudonym have to be used? Did ‘Craggs’ perform something massively discreditable to warrant such wariness after sixty years? Barnes draws to our attention the fact that the officer’s name is redacted in the released file. But how many readers would have bothered to inspect the files if Barnes has simply used his real name, but not mentioned the attempts to conceal it, or the suggestion of high crimes and misdemeanours? By signalling his own powers as a sleuth, all Barnes has done is invite analysis of what ‘Craggs’ might have been up to, something that would have lain dormant if he had not highlighted it.

For ‘Craggs’’s real name is quite clear from KV 2/4380. Denis Lenihan pointed out to me that the name was apparent (without actually identifying it for me), and I confirmed it from my own inspection. The MI5 weeders performed a very poor job of censorship. Indeed, ‘Craggs’s’ name has been redacted in several places, in memoranda and letters that he wrote, and in items referring to him, but it is easy to determine what his real name was. On one report, dated May 25, 1960, Leggatt has headed his report: “Note on a Visit by Messrs. Snelling and Leggatt  . . .”. Moreover, on some of the reports written by Snelling himself, the initials of the author and his secretary/typist have been left intact in the bottom left-hand corner: JWES/LMM.

So, J. W. E. Snelling, who were you, and what were you up to? As I suggested in my review of Dead Doubles, the most obvious cause of his disgrace is his probable leaking to the Daily Mail journalist Artur Tietjen the details of Captain Austen’s testimony on Houghton’s behaviour in Warsaw. Yet it seems to me quite extraordinary that the institutional memory of his corruption could endure so sharply after sixty years. If there is no other record of what he did, the weeders would have done much better simply to leave his name in place. I can’t imagine that anyone would otherwise have started to raise questions.

Snelling is not a very common name, although, in an extraordinary coincidence, a ‘Freddie Snelling’ also appears in Dead Doubles. He was an antiquarian book-seller friend of the Krogers. From an inspection of genealogical records, however, it does not appear that the two could have been related. I performed some searches on ‘J. W. E. Snelling’, and came up with a couple of intriguing items. The name appears in the St. Edmund Hall Magazine of 1951-52 (see https://issuu.com/stedmundhall/docs/st_edmund_hall_magazine_1951) , and the Statesman’s Yearbook of 1966-67 shows that he was a First Secretary in the British Embassy to South Africa (see https://books.google.com/books?id=DdfMDQAAQBAJ&pg=PA1412&lpg=PA1412&dq=j+w+e+snelling&source=bl&ots=8Pd9Dd0J97&sig=ACfU3U3DEgUt_KnJ2KZn_gbi9MbtoEjL8Q&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjxjsmI06rtAhXFjVkKHf6pAmoQ6AEwCHoECAgQAg#v=onepage&q=j%20w%20e%20snelling&f=false).  I wrote to the Librarian at St. Edmund Hall, asking for further details on Snelling. She acknowledged my request, but after several weeks the Archivist has not been able to respond.

Can any reader help? Though perhaps it is over to Trevor Barnes, now that he has opened up this can of worms, to bring us up to date. Moreover, I do not understand why Barnes was working so closely with MI5 on this book. Was he not aware that he would be pointed in directions they wanted him to go, and steered away from sensitive areas? In this case, it rather backfired, which has a humorous angle, I must admit. Intelligence historians, however, should hide themselves away – probably in some remote spot like North Carolina – never interview anybody, and stay well clear of the spooks. Just download the archives that are available, arrange for others to be photographed, have all the relevant books at hand and put on your thinking-cap. I admit the remoteness of so many valuable libraries, such as the Bodleian and that of Churchill College, Cambridge, represents a massive inconvenience, but the show must go on.

Bandwidth versus Frequency

Dr. Brian Austin

My Chief Radiological Adviser, Dr. Brian Austin, has been of inestimable value in helping me get things straight in matters of the transmission, reception and interception of wireless signals. Sometime in early 2021 I shall be concluding my analysis of the claims made concerning SONIA’s extraordinary accomplishments with radio transmissions from the Cotswolds, guided by Dr. Austin’s expert insights. In the meantime, I want to give him space here to correct a miscomprehension I had of wireless terminology. A few weeks ago, he wrote to me as follows:

Reading your July 31st “Sonia and MI6’s Hidden Hand”, I came across this statement:


“Since her messages needed to reach Moscow, she would have had to use a higher band-width (probably over 1000 kcs) than would have been used by postulated Nazi agents trying to reach . . . ”

This requires some modification, as I’ll now explain.  The term bandwidth (for which the symbol B is often used) implies the width of a communications channel necessary to accommodate a particular type of transmitted signal. In essence, the more complicated the message (in terms of its mathematical structure not its philological content) the wider the bandwidth required. The simplest of all signals is on-off keying such as hand-sent Morse Code. The faster it is sent, the more bandwidth it requires. However, for all typical hand-sent Morse transmissions the bandwidth needed will always be less than 1000 Hz.   On the other hand, if one wishes to transmit speech, whether by radio or by telephone, then the bandwidth needed is typically 3000 Hz (or 3 kHz).  Thus, all standard landline telephones are designed to handle a 3 kHz bandwidth in order to faithfully reproduce the human voice which, generally speaking, involves frequencies from about 300 Hz to 3300 Hz meaning the bandwidth is B = 3300 – 300 = 3000 Hz or 3 kHz.

By contrast, TV signals, and especially colour TV signals, are far more complicated than speech since even the old B&W TV had to convey movement as well as black, white and grey tones. To do that required at least a MHz or so of bandwidth. These days, a whole spectrum of colours as well as extremely rapid movement has to be transmitted and so the typical colour TV bandwidth for good quality reproduction in our British Pal (Phase Alternating Line) system is several MHz wide.  As an aside, the North American system is called NTSC. When Pal and NTSC were competing with each other in the 1960s for world dominance, NTSC was known disparagingly by ourselves as meaning Never Twice the Same Colour!

So your use of the term band-width above is incorrect. What you mean is frequency.  It is related to wavelength simply as frequency = speed of light / wavelength.  And it is also more common, and more accurate, to specify a transmitter’s frequency rather than its wavelength. All quartz crystals are marked in units of frequency. The only occasion Macintyre took a leap into such complexities in “Agent Sonya” was on p.151 where he indicated that her transmitter operated on a frequency of 6.1182 MHz. That sounds entirely feasible and it would have been the frequency marked on the particular crystal issued to her (and not purchased in the nearby hardware shop as BM would have us believe).

You are quite correct in saying that to communicate with Moscow required a higher frequency than would have been needed for contact with Germany, say. But it would have been considerably higher than the 1000 kcs you mentioned. 1000 kcs (or kHz in today’s parlance) is just 1 Mcs (MHz) and actually lies within the Medium Wave broadcast band. Such low frequencies only propagate via the ground wave whereas to reach Moscow, and indeed anywhere in Europe from England, will have necessitated signals of some good few MHz.

In general the greater the distance the higher the frequency but that is rather simplistic because it all depends on the state of the ionosphere which varies diurnally, with the seasons and over the 11-year sunspot cycle. Choosing the best frequency for a particular communications link is a pretty complex task and would never be left to the wireless operator. His or her masters would have experts doing just that and then the agent would be supplied with the correct crystals depending on whether the skeds were to be during daylight hours or at night and, also, taking into account the distance between the transmitting station and the receiving station. In my reading about the WW2 spy networks I have not come across any agent being required to operate over a period of years which might require a frequency change to accommodate the change in sunspot cycle that will have taken place.

An example from the world of international broadcasting illustrates all this rather nicely.  The BBC World Service used to operate on two specific frequencies for its Africa service. Throughout the day it was 15.4 MHz (or 15 400 kHz) while at night they would switch to 6.915 MHz (or 6 915 kHz). The bandwidth they used was about 10 kHz because they transmitted music as well as speech and music being more structurally complicated than speech needs a greater bandwidth than 3 kHz.

Thank you for your patient explanation, Brian.

Puzzles at Kew

The National Archives at Kew

I have written much about the bizarre practices at the National Archives at Kew, and especially of the withdrawal of files that had previously been made available, and had been exploited by historians. The most famous case is the that of files on Fuchs and Peierls: in the past three years, Frank Close and Nancy Thorndike Greenspan have written biographies of Klaus Fuchs that freely used files that have since been withdrawn. Then, in my August 31 piece about Liverpool University, I noted that, over a period of a couple of days where I was inspecting the records of a few little-known scientists, the descriptions were being changed in real-time, and some of the records I had looked at suddenly moved into ‘Retained’ mode.

My first reaction to this event was that my usage of Kew records was perhaps being monitored on-line, and decisions were being made to stop the leakage before any more damage was done. I thus decided to contact one of my Kew ‘insider’ friends, and describe to him what happened. He admitted to similar perplexity, but, after making some discrete inquiries, learned that there was an ongoing project under way to review catalogue entries, and attempt to make them more accurate to aid better on-line searchability. Apparently, I had hit upon an obscure group of records that was undergoing such treatment at the time. It was simply coincidence. (Although I have to point out that this exercise did not appear to be undertaken with strict professional guidelines: several spelling errors had in the meantime been introduced.)

A short time ago, however, another irritating anomaly came to light. I had been re-reading parts of Chris Smith’s The Last Cambridge Spy, when I noticed that he had enjoyed access to some files on John Cairncross which showed up as being ‘Retained’, namely HO 532/4, ‘Espionage activities by individuals: John Cairncross’. This sounded like a very important resource, and I discovered from Smith’s Introduction that, among the few documents on Cairncross released to the National Archives was ‘a Home Office file, heavily redacted’, which he ‘obtained via a freedom of information request.’ I asked myself why, if a file has been declassified by such a request, it should not be made available to all. It was difficult to determine whether Smith had capably exploited his find, since I found his approach to intelligence matters very tentative and incurious. I have thus asked my London-based researcher to follow up with Kew, and have provided him with all the details.

Incidentally, Denis Lenihan has informed me that his freedom of information request for the files of Renate Stephenie SIMPSON nee KUCZYNSKI and Arthur Cecil SIMPSON (namely, one of Sonia’s sisters and her husband), KV 2/2889-2993 has been successful. The response to Denis a few weeks ago contained the following passage: “Further to my email of 14 October 2020 informing you of the decision taken that the above records can all be released, I am very pleased to report that, at long last, these records are now available to view, albeit with a few redactions made under Section 40(2) (personal information) of the FOI Act 2000. The delay since my last correspondence has been because digitised versions of the files needed to be created by our Documents Online team and due to The National Archives’ restricted service because of the Coronavirus pandemic, this has taken the team longer to complete than it normally would. However the work is now compete [sic].”

This is doubly interesting, since I had been one of the beneficiaries of a previous policy, and had acquired the digitised version of KV 2/2889 back in 2017. So why that item would have to be re-digitised is not clear. And yes, all the files are listed in the Kew Catalogue as being available – and, by mid-December, they were all digitised, and available for free download.

Lastly, some business with the Cambridge University Library. On reading Geoff Andrews’s recent biography of John Cairncross, Agent Moliere, I was taken with some passages where he made claims about the activities of the FBI over Cairncross’s interrogations in Cleveland in early 1964. I could not see any references in his Endnotes, and my search on ‘Cairncross’ in the FBI Vault had drawn a blank. By inspecting Andrews’s Notes more carefully, however, I was able to determine that the information about the FBI came from a box in the John Cairncross papers held at Cambridge University Manuscripts Collection (CULMC) under ref. Add.10042. I thus performed a search on those arguments at the CULMC website, but came up with nothing.

My next step was thus to send a simple email to the Librarian at Cambridge, asking for verification of the archival material’s existence, whether any index of the boxes was available, and what it might cost to have some of them photographed. I very quickly received an automated reply acknowledging my request, giving me a ticket number, and informing me that they would reply to my inquiry ‘as soon as they can’. A very pleasant gentleman contacted me after a few days, explaining that the Cairncross boxes had not been indexed, but that he would inspect them if I could give him a closer idea of what I was looking for. I responded on December 17. Since then, nothing.

Trouble at RAE Farnborough

RAE Farnborough

Readers will recall my recent description of the remarkable career of Boris Davison (see Liverpool University: Home for Distressed Spies), who managed to gain a position at the Royal Aeronautical Establishment at Farnborough, shortly after he arrived in the UK, in 1938. I wondered whether there was anything furtive about this appointment, and my interest was piqued by a passage I read in Simon Ball’s Secret History: Writing the Rise of Britain’s Intelligence Services (2020). As I have suggested before, this is a very strange and oddly-constructed book, but it does contain a few nuggets of insider information.

On page 199, Ball introduces a report on Russian (i.e. ‘Soviet’) intelligence written in 1955 by Cedric Cliffe, former assistant to Cabinet Secretary, Sir Norman Brook. Its title was ‘Survey of Russian Espionage in Britain, 1935-1955’, and was filed as KV 3/417 at the National Archives. Ball explains how Britain suffered from penetration problems well before the Burgess and Maclean case, and writes: “The most notable UK-based agents of the ‘illegal’ [Henri Robinson] were two technicians employed at the time of their recruitment in 1935 at the Royal Aeronautical Establishment, Farnborough. They had been identified after the war on the basis of German evidence, but no action was taken because one was still working usefully on classified weapons and the other one was a Labour MP.”  But Ball does not identify the two employees, nor comment on the astonishing fact that a spy’s role as a Labour MP presumably protected him from prosecution. Who were these agents?

Then I remembered that I had KV 3/417 on my desktop. Only I had not recognized it as the ‘Cliffe Report’: the author’s name does not appear on it. (That is where Ball’s insider knowledge comes into play.) And in paragraph 96, on page 24, Cliffe has this to say:

‘Wilfred Foulston VERNON was also [alongside one William MEREDITH] an aircraft designer employed at Farnborough. He was active in C.P.G.B. activities from about 1934 onwards and visited Russia twice, in 1935 and 1936. From 1936 onwards he was, like MEREDITH, passing secret information through WEISS, first to HARRY II and later to Henri Robinson. He was probably present when MEREDITH was introduced to WEISS by HARRY II. In August 1937, a burglary at VERNON’s residence led to the discovery there of many secret documents. As a result, VERNON was suspended from the R.A.E., charged under the Official Secrets Acts, and fined £50 – for the improper possession of these documents, it should be noted, and not for espionage, which was not at this time suspected.’

Cliffe’s report goes on to state that, when Vernon’s espionage activities first became known, he was the Member of Parliament for Dulwich, which seat he won in 1945 and retained in 1950, losing it the following year. It was thought ‘impracticable to prosecute him’, though why this was so (parliamentary immunity? not wanting to upset the unions? opening the floodgates?) is not stated. Cliffe closes his account by saying that Vernon ‘admitted, under interrogation, that he had been recruited by Meredith and had committed espionage, but he told little else.’ An irritating paragraph has then been redacted before Cliffe turns to Vernon’s controller, Weiss.

This man was clearly Ball’s ‘Labour MP’. So what about his confession? MI5’s chunky set of files on Vernon can be inspected at KV 2/992-996, and they show that, once he lost his parliamentary seat in October 1951, MI5 was free to interrogate him, and he was somewhat ‘deflated’ by Skardon’s approach. After consulting with his sidekick, Meredith, he confessed to spying for the Soviets, and giving information to his controller. In 1948, Prime Minster Attlee had been ‘surprised and shocked’ to hear that MI5 had evidence against Vernon. Now that the Labour Party had lost the election, the case of Vernon & Meredith seemed to die a slow death. Vernon became a member of the London County Council. He died in 1975.

Little appears to have been written about the Weiss spy-ring. (Nigel West has noted them.) Andrew’s Defending the Realm has no reference to Cliffe, Weiss, Meredith, Vernon, or even the RAE. The Royal Aeronautical Establishment was obviously a security disaster, and a fuller tale about its subversion by Soviet agents, and the role of Boris Davison, remains to be told.

Eric Hobsbawm and ‘History Today’

Eric Hobsbawm
Eric Hobsbawm

Over the past six months History Today has published some provocative items about the historian Eric Hobsbawm. It started in May, when Jesus Casquete, Professor of the History of Political Thought and the History of Social Movements at the University of the Basque Country, provided an illuminating article about Hobsbawm’s activities as a Communist in Berlin in 1933, but concluded, in opposition to a somewhat benevolent appraisal by Niall Ferguson quoted at the beginning of his piece, that ‘Hobsbawm ignored entirely the shades of grey between his personal choice of loyalty and became blind to genocide and invasion, and the other extreme.’

The following month, a letter from Professor Sir Roderick Floud headed the correspondence. “As Eric’s closest colleague for 13 years and a friend for much longer”, he wrote, “I can testify to the fact that Casquete’s description of him as ‘a desperate man clinging to his youthful dreams’ is a travesty.” Floud then went on to make the claim that Hobsbawm stayed in the Communist Party because of his belief in fighting fascism, and claimed that Hobsbawm ‘did not betray his youthful – and ever-lasting – ideals’. Yet the threat from fascism was defunct immediately World War II ended. What was he talking about?

I thought that this argument was hogwash, and recalled that Sir Roderick must be the son of the Soviet agent Bernard Floud, M.P., who committed suicide in October 1967. I sympathize with Sir Roderick in the light of his tragic experience, but it seemed that the son had rather enigmatically inherited some of the misjudgments of the father. And, indeed, I was so provoked by the space given to Sir Roderick’s views that I instantly wrote a letter to Paul Lay, the Editor. I was gratified to learn from his speedy acknowledgment that he was very sympathetic to my views, and would seriously consider publishing my letter.

And then further ‘arguments’ in Hobsbawm’s defence came to the fore. In the August issue, Lay dedicated the whole of his Letters page to rebuttals from his widow, Marlene, and from a Denis Fitzgerald, in Sydney, Australia. Marlene Hobsbawm considered it an ‘abuse’ to claim that her late husband was ‘an orthodox communist who adhered faithfully to Stalinist crimes’, and felt obligated to make a correction. He did not want to leave the Party as he did not want to harm it, she asserted. Fitzgerald raised the McCarthyite flag, and somehow believed that Hobsbawm’s remaining a member of the Communist Party was an essential feature of his being able to contribute to ‘progressive developments’. “He was not to be bullied or silenced by Cold Warriors” – unlike what happened to intellectuals in Soviet Russia, of course.

So what had happened to my letter? Why were the correspondence pages so one-side? Was I a lone voice in this debate? Then, next month, my letter appeared. My original text ran as follows:

“I was astonished that you dedicated so much space to the bizarre and ahistorical defence of Eric Hobsbawm by Professor Sir Roderick Floud.

Floud writes that Hobsbawm ‘stayed in the Communist Party’ after 1956 ‘because of his belief in fighting fascism and promoting the world revolution, by means of anti-fascist unity and the Popular Front’. Yet fascism was no longer a threat in 1956; the Popular Front had been dissolved in 1938, to be followed soon by the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939, which Hobsbawm and Floud conveniently overlook. Even though Stalin was dead by 1956, Khrushchev was still threatening ‘We shall bury you!’

Floud concludes his letter by referring to Hobsbawm’s ‘youthful – and ever-lasting ideals’, having earlier described the statement that Casquete’s description of him as ‘a desperate man clinging to his youthful dreams’ is ‘a travesty’. Some contradiction, surely.

Like his unfortunate father before him, who was unmasked as a recruiter of spies for the Soviet Union, and then committed suicide, Floud seems to forget that communist revolutions tend to be very messy affairs, involving the persecution and slaughter of thousands, sometimes millions. If Hobsbawm’s dreams had been fulfilled, he, as a devout Stalinist, might have survived, but certainly academics like Floud himself would have been among the first to be sent to the Gulag.”

Lay made some minor changes to my submission (removing references to the suicide of Floud’s father, for instance), but the message was essentially left intact. And there the correspondence appears to have closed. (I have not yet received the November issue.) I was thus heartened to read the following sentence in a review by Andrew Roberts of Laurence Rees’s Hitler and Stalin in the Times Literary Supplement of November 20: “That these two [Hitler and Stalin] should be seen as anything other than the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of totalitarianism might seem obvious to anyone beyond the late Eric Hobsbawm, but it does need to be restated occasionally, and Rees does so eloquently.”  Hobsbawm no doubt welcomed George Blake on the latter’s recent arrival at the Other Place, and they immediately started discussing the Communist utopia.

End-of-Year Thoughts and Holiday Wishes

Tom Clark

Towards the end of November I received a Christmas Card signed by the editor of Prospect magazine, Tom Clark. The message ran as follows: “Thank you for your support of Prospect this year. Myself and the whole team here wish you a very happy Christmas.” I suppose it would be churlish to criticize such goodwill, but I was shocked. “Myself and the whole team  .  .” – what kind of English is that? What was wrong with “The whole team and I”? If the editor of a literary-political magazine does not even know when to use a reflexive pronoun, should we trust him with anything else?

I have just been reading Clive James’s Fire of Joy, subtitled Roughly Eight Poems to Get By Heart and Say Aloud. I was looking forward to seeing James’s choices, and his commentary. It has been a little disappointing, with several odd selections, and some often shallow appreciations by the Great Man. For instance, he reproduces a speech by Ferrara from My Last Duchess, by Robert Browning, which contains the horrible couplet:

            But to myself they turned (since none puts by

            The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)

This is not verse that should be learned by heart. To any lover of the language, the phrase ‘They turned to me’, not ‘to myself’, should come to mind, and, since ‘but’ is a preposition, it needs to be followed by the accusative or dative case, i.e. ‘but me’. How could James’s ear be so wooden? Yet syntax turs out to be his weakness: in a later commentary on Vita Sackville-West’s Craftsmen, he writes: ‘. . . it was a particular focal point of hatred for those younger than he who had been left out of the anthology.’. ‘Him’, not ‘he’, after ‘for those’, Clive.

Of course, another famous ugly line is often overlooked. T.S. Eliot started The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock with the following couplet:

                Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

It should be ‘Let us go then, you and me’, since the pair is in apposition to the ‘us’ of ‘Let us go’. Rhyme gets in the way, again. What a way to start a poem! What was going through TSE’s mind? So how about this instead?

Let us go then, you and me,

When the evening is spread out above the sea

But then that business about ‘a patient etherized upon a table’ doesn’t work so well, does it? Poetry is hard.

It’s ROMANES EUNT DOMUS all over again.

Returning to Clark and Prospect, however, what is this ‘support’ business? Does Clark think that his enterprise is some kind of charity for which his subscribers shell out their valuable shekels? I recall our very capable and inspiring CEO at the Gartner Group offering similar messages of gratitude to our customers, as if he were not really convinced that the product we offered was of justifiable value to them. I shall ‘support’ Prospect only so long as it provides insightful and innovative analysis, and shall drop it otherwise. Moreover, if Clark persists with such silly and pretentious features as ‘the world’s top 50 thinkers’ (Bong-Joon Ho? Igor Levit?, but mercifully no Greta Thunberg this year), it may happen sooner rather than later. I was pleased to see a letter published in the October issue, as a reaction to the dopey ’50 top thinkers’, where the author pointed out that there are billions of people on the planet whose thinking capabilities are probably unknown to the editors. The letter concluded as follows: “I know it’s a ‘bit of fun’, but it’s the province of the pseudo-intellectual pub bore to assert a right to tell us who the 50 greatest thinkers are.”

I wrote to Clark, thanking him, but also asked him how many people were involved in constructing his garbled syntax. I received no reply. Probably no Christmas card for me next year.

I wish a Happy New Year to all my readers, and thank you for your ‘support’.

December Commonplace entries can be found here.

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