Military history



THREE WEEKS AFTER the invasion of Sicily, Lieutenant Bill Jewell was reunited with Rosemary Galloway in Algiers; they immediately became engaged. While Rosemary went on to serve at Allied headquarters in Italy, Jewell continued to attack enemy shipping in the Mediterranean, eastern Atlantic, and Norwegian Sea. At the Normandy landings in June 1944, the Seraph once again guided the invading forces ashore. The same month, Bill Jewell and Rosemary were wed in a ceremony in Pinner. They remained married and “absolutely devoted to one another”1 for the next fifty-three years. For his part in Operation Husky, Jewell was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the American Legion of Merit, along with the French Croix de Guerre. He rose to the rank of captain in command of a submarine flotilla and died in 2004 at the age of ninety.

HMS Seraph also remained in active service. In recognition of her role in the run-up to the invasion of North Africa, a brass plaque was nailed to the door of the submarine toilet: “General Mark Wayne Clark,2 Deputy Supreme Commander in North Africa, sat here.” She served as a training ship at Holy Loch on the Clyde, the port from which she had set off for Huelva in 1943. The submarine was decommissioned in 1963, twenty-one years to the day after her launch, and finally scrapped at Briton Ferry in South Wales, close to the birthplace of Glyndwr Michael. The Seraph’s conning tower, forward torpedo hatch, and periscope were all preserved and erected as a memorial to Anglo-American cooperation during the Second World War at the Citadel, the American military training college in South Carolina. U.S. and British flags fly jointly over the memorial, the only place in America permitted to fly the White Ensign.

Lieutenant David Scott of the Seraph finished reading War and Peace shortly before the end of the war. He served on ten submarines, in war and peace, commanding five of them, and was promoted to rear admiral in 1971.

Derrick Leverton fought through the Italian campaign, was mentioned in dispatches, took over command of his artillery regiment, and then returned to Britain to resume his rightful place, alongside his brother Ivor, in the family funeral business. Ivor Leverton would boast that he had “played a tiny part3 in ending the war.” He liked to tease Drick that he had saved his life on the beach at Sicily by taking a dead body to Hackney in the middle of the night. In a quiet way, he felt “redeemed”4 by the part he had played. Ivor’s sons took over the business and have since passed it on to an eighth generation of undertakers.

Colonel Bill Darby of the U.S. Army Rangers was killed in northern Italy two days before the final German surrender in Italy. As Darby was giving orders to cut off the German retreat, an 88 mm shell burst outside his command post, killing him instantly. He was thirty-four. Darby was unable to turn down the promotion to brigadier general that was awarded to him posthumously. James Garner played Darby in the 1958 film Darby’s Rangers.

With the success of Operation Mincemeat, and with the Mediterranean under Allied control, Alan Hillgarth looked to new pastures. At the end of 1943 he was transferred to Ceylon as chief of intelligence for the Eastern Fleet, going on to become head of Naval Intelligence for the entire eastern theater. There he “developed an intelligence organisation5 [that] materially aided the Allied war effort at sea against Japan.” Once more his intelligence advice was sent directly to Churchill.

The war won, he retired from the navy and purchased an estate in Ireland, where he planted a forest. “He walked several miles a day,6 inspecting his trees.” But he also continued to cultivate exotic human flora, most notably Juan March, the dubious financier who had helped bribe the Spanish generals, and Winston Churchill. Through a series of questionable financial maneuvers, March’s fortune and notoriety expanded in tandem: by 1952 he was the seventh-richest man in the world. Hillgarth had once described March as “the most unscrupulous7 man in Spain,” but his own scruples did not prevent him from becoming director of the Helvetia Finance Company, March’s nominee business in London. It has been suggested that Hillgarth and MI6 may have helped smooth over March’s business dealings as payback for his help in paying off the Cavalry of St. George. March was killed in a car accident outside Madrid in 1962.

While looking after March’s business interests, Hillgarth continued to act as Churchill’s unofficial adviser on intelligence. Between the end of the war and Churchill’s return to Downing Street in 1951, Hillgarth met regularly with the once and future prime minister at Chartwell, at his Hyde Park Gate apartment, and in Switzerland. Mining his intelligence and diplomatic contacts, Hillgarth briefed Churchill on Spanish affairs, American plans for atomic warfare, and, above all, the threat of Soviet espionage in Britain, which he described as a “quiet, cold-blooded war8 of brains in the background.” The Soviet codes would be far harder to crack than the German Enigma, Hillgarth warned: “The Russians are cleverer than the Germans.”9 Hillgarth’s secret correspondence with Churchill, now no longer in power and disguised under the code name “Sturdee,” lasted six years and played a crucial part in framing Churchill’s attitude in the early years of the Cold War.

A few years after the war, Hillgarth received a letter from Edgar Sanders, his partner in the disastrous Sacambaya expedition, adding a postscript to that fiasco: according to Sanders, the American engineer, Julius Nolte, had spotted an entrance to the treasure cavern while everyone else was digging the huge hole but had not shared his discovery with the others. Nolte had returned to Sacambaya in 1938 with an American team of explorers and heavy digging equipment, extracted eight million dollars’ worth of gold, and then retired to California, where he built himself a castle. “Thus ends the story10 of the Sacambaya treasure,” wrote Sanders, who had visited Nolte and tried, unsuccessfully, to extract some money from him. “Crazy Nolte is rich,11 while you and I are poor, at least I am, certainly. Hell! Let’s have another drink.”

Hillgarth had no idea whether to credit a word Sanders wrote. He had long ago learned not to believe what one reads in letters.

Alan Hillgarth remained a close friend of Churchill, converted to Catholicism, never breathed a word about his wartime and postwar intelligence activities, and died in 1978 at Illannanagh in County Tipperary, surrounded by mystery—and trees.

Salvador “Don” Gómez-Beare was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, although quite what for was never fully explained. He spent his retirement in Seville and Madrid, playing bridge and golf. When a British journalist asked him what he had done during the war, he responded with exquisite politeness: “I am sorry, but I am not12 free to discuss some subjects.”

On December 16, 1947, Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the great forensic scientist, dined alone at the Junior Carlton Club, then went to his rooms in University College London, locked the door, turned on the Bunsen burner tap, and gassed himself to death. Spilsbury had become increasingly conscious that his famed mental faculties were deserting him. He was making mistakes, and Sir Bernard did not tolerate mistakes. The scientist, who had studied, investigated, and cataloged so many thousands of deaths, left no note to explain his own. His friend Bentley Purchase, the coroner, examined Spilsbury’s body and pronounced a verdict of suicide: “His mind was not as it used to be.”13

The cheerful coroner was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1949 and knighted in 1958. Purchase retired the following year, to look after his pigs and listen to Gilbert and Sullivan. He resisted writing his memoirs. “Every time I tell a story14 I am likely to rattle a skeleton in someone’s cupboard.” This applied particularly to his role in Operation Mincemeat. Sir Bentley Purchase died in 1961, after falling off his roof while fixing a television aerial. Having performed some twenty thousand inquests himself, Sir Bentley, typically, left behind a small post-mortem mystery: the coroner in his case could not tell whether he had suffered a fatal heart attack before or after falling off the roof.

Adolf Clauss, the Huelva spy, also declined to discuss his wartime work, although for rather different reasons. At the end of the war, retribution against Germans who had been active in espionage was unevenly applied. Luis Clauss was accused of spying because his fishing fleet had been used to track Allied shipping, and he spent two dreary years under house arrest in the little village of Caldes de Malavella in northeast Spain. Don Adolfo, although far more senior in the Abwehr, was never punished. “His wife was the daughter15 of a powerful Spanish general, and so he was protected.” Clauss went back to collecting butterflies and building chairs that still broke if you sat on them. Years later, when the truth about Operation Mincemeat began to emerge, like the super-spy he was, Clauss invented a new version of reality. His son still insists: “He was always suspicious16 because the papers came into his hands too easily. He immediately realised it was a trick, and warned his superiors in Berlin and Madrid, but they refused to believe him. He thought the people in Berlin were useless for failing to realise they were being duped.” Wilhelm Leissner, alias Gustav Lenz, the Abwehr chief in Madrid, was more honest in defeat. He was arrested and interrogated by the Americans in 1946 but then permitted to return to Spain. When presented, ten years later, with the evidence of what British intelligence had done he “admitted the possibility17with a long-drawn ‘Schön! Ach, if that is so, I really must congratulate them. … I take off my hat.’”18

Karl-Erich Kühlenthal, the linchpin of the Abwehr in Spain, was far too busy trying to save his own skin to worry about keeping up appearances or admitting his own errors.

The finest hour of Juan Pujol, Kühlenthal’s Agent Arabel and Britain’s Agent Garbo, came with the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944. The deception plan covering the invasion was code-named “Fortitude;” its aim was to persuade the Nazis that instead of attacking Normandy, the main thrust would come in the Pasde-Calais. To this end, a vast fake U.S. Army was “assembled” in Kent, wireless traffic was concocted, and hints were dropped to less than reliable “neutral” diplomats. Many strands of deception were woven into Operation Fortitude, but none was more important than the network of double agents, and of these none was more vital than Agent Garbo. From the safe house in Crespigny Road, Hendon, Juan Pujol fired off more than five hundred radio messages between January 1944 and D-day, a fantastic web of deceit from his posse of bogus agents, tiny elements in a jigsaw that would only make sense once completed by the Germans. The deception was astonishingly successful. Six weeks after D-day, Pujol was awarded the Iron Cross by order of the Führer for “extraordinary services”19 to the Third Reich. He was also awarded the MBE, in secret.

As the Nazi power structure crumbled, Garbo kept up a steady stream of Nazi jingoism in messages to his German spymaster. In response to a letter from Kühlenthal bemoaning “the heroic death20 of our beloved Fuhrer,” Garbo wrote with typical bombast: “News of the death21 of our dear chief shook our profound faith in the destiny which awaits our poor Europe, but his deeds and the story of his sacrifice will save the world. … The noble struggle will be revived which was started by him to save us from chaotic barbarism.” Kühlenthal told his star spy that he intended to go into hiding. Their roles had reversed. “If you find yourself in any danger22 let me know,” Pujol wrote. “Do not hesitate in confiding your difficulties fully in me. I only regret not being at your side to give you real help. Our struggle will not terminate with the present phase. We are entering a world civil war which will result in the disintegration of our enemies.” This was all part of an elaborate ruse to find out if remnants of the German intelligence service might be planning to reestablish some sort of underground Nazi network after the war. In the wake of the German defeat, Kühlenthal fled Madrid, having systematically destroyed the Abwehr’s records, and took refuge under an assumed name in Ávila, west of the capital. Britain’s MI5 dispatched Pujol to track him down and find out what the former golden boy of the Abwehr was planning to do next. Pujol traced Kühlenthal to Ávila and knocked on his door. “Kühlenthal was overcome23 with emotion when he welcomed Garbo into his sitting room.” The two men talked for three hours, with Pujol studiously maintaining his guise as a Nazi fanatic. “Kühlenthal made it abundantly clear,24 not only that he still believed in the genuineness of Garbo but that he looked upon him as a superman.”

Kühlenthal explained that Pujol had been awarded the Iron Cross in recognition of his work for the Third Reich and that Hitler had “personally ordered25 that the medal should be granted. Unfortunately the certificate in evidence of this had not reached Madrid prior to the German collapse.” Still, it is the thought that counts. As for himself, Kühlenthal explained that he was desperate to escape Spain and would not consider returning to Germany, where he was sure to be arrested. Pujol told Kühlenthal to “remain patiently in his hideout26 until Garbo could evolve a plan to facilitate his escape.” Pujol was stern, telling his former spymaster “he should obey instructions27 to the letter if he wished to save himself. … This Kühlenthal promised to do.” The Spanish spy explained that he planned to get to South America, via Portugal, and solemnly pledged to work for Germany again, should the Abwehr ever be restored. When Kühlenthal asked him how he intended to get out of the country, Pujol replied, truthfully, with one word: “Clandestinely.”28

MI5 concluded that Karl-Erich Kühlenthal was no threat to the postwar world. The former Abwehr chief waited, paranoid but patient, for word from his former protégé, but no message came. Like Clauss, he later put a rather different gloss on the past. He had stayed in Spain, he explained, because the country was “a melting pot29 of many races, conveying an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding of human nature.” In truth, he was too terrified to budge, waiting for a message from the spy who had double-crossed him so spectacularly. Kühlenthal’s wife, Ellen, was heiress to the Dienz clothing company in Germany, and before 1939 Karl-Erich had worked in his wife’s family business. The company premises were bombed at the end of the war, but the business was slowly rebuilt. In 1950, the couple slipped back to Germany, moved into a house in Koblenz, and took over running the company. Kühlenthal turned out to be much better at buying and selling clothes than at buying and selling secrets. The house of Dienz prospered. In 1971, the former spy was elected president of the Federal Association of German Textile Retailers, representing about 95 percent of German textile retailers, with a purchasing power worth billions of dollars. He inaugurated the first pedestrian shopping zone in Koblenz. He gave long, dull speeches on the subjects of tax reform, business promotion, and parking in downtown Koblenz. No one ever enquired about his past. A more solid member of the German establishment it would be impossible to imagine—worthy, dependable, and predictable. The German spy and textile magnate died in 1975 still wondering, perhaps, whether his star agent would reappear from the past. The most interesting thing his obituary could find to say was that “he always tried to dress correctly30 as an example to his colleagues.”

Kühlenthal’s life perfectly exemplified what Juan Pujol, Alexis von Roenne, and Glyndwr Michael had already proven: it is possible to fit at least two people into one life.

Agent Garbo went to ground. With a gratuity of fifteen thousand pounds from MI5 and an MBE, he moved to Venezuela and vanished. After he was tracked down by the spy writer Rupert Allason (Nigel West), he reemerged briefly to accept formal recognition at Buckingham Palace of the debt owed to him. He then disappeared into obscurity again. Garbo wanted to be alone. He died in Caracas in 1988.

With victory, the denizens of Room 13 emerged, blinking, into the light. An anonymous poet in Section 17M marked the occasion with a verse entitled “De Profundibus.”

In the depths of the fusty dungeons,

In the bowels of NID

Where wild surmise or blatant lies

Are digested for those at sea,

The in-trays are all empty,

The dreary toil is done,

And with mental daze and bleary gaze

The Troglodytes see the sun.

The year after the war ended, Jean Leslie married a soldier, an officer in the Life Guards named William Gerard Leigh, a dashing and handsome polo player with a reputation as a “bold man to hounds.”31 He, too, had gone ashore at Sicily, and then “fought through Italy,”32 the unknowing beneficiary of a plot in which his future wife had played a crucial part. Gerard Leigh, known as “G,” was brave, upright, and utterly correct. He was not entirely unlike the gallant and doomed William Martin.

Jock Horsfall, the chauffeur on the night drive to Scotland, returned to motor racing after the war. He won the Belgian Grand Prix and then took second place in the British Empire Trophy Race in the Isle of Man. In 1947, he joined Aston Martin as a test driver, and in 1949 he entered the Spa 24 Hour Race and finished fourth out of a field of thirty-eight, covering 1,821 miles at an average speed of over seventy-three miles per hour. On August 20, 1949, he entered the Daily Express International Trophy Race at Silverstone; on the thirteenth lap, at the notorious Stowe Corner, the car left the track, hit a line of straw bales intended as a buffer, and flipped over. Horsfall’s neck was broken and he died at once. The St. John Horsfall Memorial Trophy, a race open only to Aston Martins, is held at Silverstone every year in his memory.

Ivor Montagu listed his activities in Who’s Who as “washing up, pottering about,33 sleeping through television.” This was not quite accurate, for “pottering” was never Ivor’s style: frenetic activity in multiple causes, both public and secret, was closer to the mark. In 1948 he cowrote the film Scott of the Antarctic with Walter Meade; he translated plays, novels, and films by a new generation of Soviet writers and filmmakers; he traveled extensively in Europe, China, and Mongolia; he wrote polemical pamphlets attacking capitalism and a book about Eisenstein; he championed cricket, Southampton United, and the Zoological Society; but his two greatest passions remained communism and table tennis, a dual obsession that earned him the lifelong suspicion of MI5. He was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize by the Soviet Union in 1959.

Ivor Montagu was never publicly exposed as Agent Intelligentsia. The Venona transcripts cease abruptly in 1942. Whether Montagu learned of Operation Mincemeat, and whether he passed on what he knew to Moscow, will never be known for sure unless or until the files of the Soviet secret services are finally opened to scrutiny.

What is certain is that Moscow knew all about Operation Mincemeat and very probably obtained its information before the operation took place. A secret report by the NKVD, Stalin’s intelligence service, dated May 1944 and entitled “Deception During the Current War,” provided an astonishingly detailed account of the operation, its code name, planning, execution, and success. The Soviet report described the precise contents of the letters and the exact location of the dummy attacks in Greece and noted that the operation had been “somewhat complicated by the fact34that the papers ended up with the [Spanish] General Staff.” The author of the report also provided a description of the role of Ewen Montagu within British intelligence and noted his position on the Twenty Committee: “Captain [sic] Montagu is in charge35 of the dissemination of misinformation through intelligence channels. He is also engaged in researching special intelligence sources.” Moscow’s spymasters were in no doubt that Operation Mincemeat had worked: “The German General Staff apparently36 were convinced that the documents themselves were genuine,” the report concluded. “When the [invasion] was launched,37 it was clear that the German and Italian commands were somewhat taken by surprise and ill prepared to repel the attack.”

Much of the information on Operation Mincemeat was supplied to the Soviets by Anthony Blunt, the MI5 officer tasked with overseeing the illegal XXX (Triplex) Operation to extract material from the diplomatic bags of neutral missions in London. Blunt was recruited by the NKVD in 1934, and between 1940 and 1945 he passed huge volumes of secret material to his Soviet handlers. Two other members of the “Cambridge Five” spy ring probably supplied additional intelligence on the Sicily deception: John Cairncross, who had access to the Ultra decrypts at Bletchley Park, and Kim Philby, the most notorious Soviet mole of all, who headed the Iberian subsection of MI6’s counterintelligence branch. Some of the material in Soviet intelligence files on Operation Mincemeat may have come from Ivor Montagu.

MI5 and MI6 continued to watch him and Hell closely. Kim Philby was partly responsible for coordinating reports on the shambolic figure of Ivor Montagu as he trailed through Vienna, Bucharest, and Budapest in 1946. In one report, Philby described Montagu as “intelligent and agreeable, and an expert38 at ping-pong.” Philby almost certainly knew more about Montagu than he let on. Montagu’s handler, the Soviet air attaché in London, Colonel Sklyarov, alias “Brion,” left London that year. Did Ivor Montagu continue to supply intelligence to the Soviet Union? If so, MI5 could find no hard evidence, although in 1948 it was reported that “information from secret sources39 shows that Montagu has recently been in touch with the Soviet Embassy.”

By the time the Venona transcripts were decoded in the mid-1960s and Agent Intelligentsia was identified as Ivor Montagu, it was impossible to do anything about him. Venona was simply too secret and too valuable to be revealed in court, and the spies it had unmasked could not be prosecuted. In spite of the many fruitless years spent trying to establish a link between table tennis and Soviet espionage, MI5 had been right all along. Montagu never knew he had been unmasked and took his role as Agent Intelligentsia to the grave, another double life concealed. Ivor Montagu died in Watford in 1984, leaving behind a clutch of Soviet decorations, his correspondence with Trotsky, and the unpublished second volume of his autobiography, misleadingly entitled Like It Was, which avoided any mention of his activities as a secret agent.

The second half of Charles Cholmondeley’s life was, perhaps, the most mysterious of all. The last reference made to him by Guy Liddell of MI5 noted that he was “somewhere in the Middle East, chasing locusts.” This was an accurate, although partial, description of what Cholmondeley was up to. In October 1945 he joined the “Middle East Anti-Locust Unit”40 as “First Locust Officer,” a job that involved chasing swarms of locusts all over the Arab states and feeding them bran laced with insecticide.

Another English locust hunter named George Walford met Cholmondeley in the desert in 1948 and described a man obsessed: “His objective was the destruction,41 at almost any price, of all living locusts in Arabia. It was an impossible task. Only a person with a rare combination of patience, tact and strength of purpose could have achieved any success at all.” The qualities that had served Cholmondeley so well as a wartime intelligence officer were now put to work waging war on the locust. For months on end, he would simply vanish into the desert, disguised as a Bedouin. In Yemen he visited villages so remote that when he arrived, women came out with hay offering to feed his jeep. From Arabia, he moved on, in 1949, to the International Council for the Control42 of the Red Locust in Rhodesia. Cholmondeley was certainly keen on killing locusts (“They are loathsome insects”43). Equally certainly, he was still working for the British secret service, using his cover as a locust officer for more clandestine work, although quite what this may have entailed has never been revealed.

Cholmondeley was appointed MBE in 1948, and two years later he signed up with the RAF for a five-year commission on “intelligence duties.”44 By December of that year he was in Malaya, using his “wide experience of deception work”45 to coordinate with MI5 and Special Branch on bamboozling a rather different enemy—the guerrillas of the Malayan National Liberation Army.

Charles Cholmondeley left MI5 in 1952. He moved to the West Country, married, and set up a business selling horticultural machinery. He regarded the vow of secrecy he had made on joining MI5 as a blood oath, and he never broke it. In the words of his wife, Alison, “He would not give information to anyone46 who did not ‘need to know.’ Infuriatingly I found this included me.” He still enjoyed shooting with a handgun, although his deteriorating eyesight made this extremely hazardous, except for the birds. “He would take a revolver47 when we walked up partridges,” recalled his friend John Otter. “I never saw him hit one.” No one in the Somerset town of Wells had a clue that the tall, shortsighted, courtly gentleman who sold lawn mowers had once been an officer of the secret services, the inspiration behind the most audacious deception of the war. When the story of Operation Mincemeat finally emerged, he refused to be identified or accept any public credit. Cholmondeley died in June 1982. He never wanted to be recognized, let alone celebrated. Even his headstone is discreet and understated, simply bearing the initials “C.C.C.” An obituary letter written to the Times by Ewen Montagu drew attention to his “invaluable work during the war48 … work which, through circumstances and his innate modesty is not adequately known.” As Montagu observed: “Many who landed in Sicily owe their lives to Charles Cholmondeley.”

Ewen Montagu was appointed OBE for his part in Operation Mincemeat. He returned to the law, as he had always intended, and in 1945 he was appointed judge advocate of the fleet, responsible for administering the court-martial system in the Royal Navy. He would hold that post for the next eighteen years, while also serving as a judge in Hampshire and Middlesex, and recorder, successively, of Devizes and Southampton. Montagu lived a double life; alongside the feared judge and pillar of Anglo-Jewish society was another Ewen Montagu: the dashing wartime intelligence officer with an extraordinary story to tell.

As a judge, Montagu proved scrupulously fair, wonderfully rude, and almost always embroiled in one controversy or another. The press nicknamed him “the Turbulent Judge.”49 In 1957, he remarked in court, while trying a merchant seaman: “Half the scum of England50 are going into the Merchant Navy to escape military service.” He apologized. Four years later, he told an audience of Rotarians: “A boy crook should have51 his trousers taken down and should be spanked by a policewoman with a hairbrush.” He apologized again. When deliberations in court displeased or bored him, he would groan, sigh, roll his eyes, and crack inappropriate jokes. Barristers complained often about his offensive behavior. He apologized and carried on. His corrosive humor was usually misunderstood; his wit was so sharp and sarcastic it could humble the most arrogant barrister, and did so, frequently. In 1967, a pimp appealed his conviction, arguing that Montagu had been so rude to his lawyer that he deserved a retrial. The appeal was rejected on the grounds that “discourtesy, even gross discourtesy52 to counsel, however regrettable, could not be a ground for quashing a conviction.”

Often he would impose a lenient sentence on an offender, acting on a hunch that the man or woman genuinely planned to go straight. His hunches were seldom wrong. “If a man can’t have a stroke of luck53 once in his life, it’s not much of a life.” But to those who should know better, or seemed incorrigible, he was merciless. Sentencing the actor Trevor Howard for drinking at least eight double whiskeys and then driving into a lamppost, he said: “The public needs protecting54 from you, you are a man who drinks vast quantities, every night, yet you have so little care for your fellow citizens that you are willing to drive.” Summing up his career, one contemporary wrote: “Few judges have trodden55 so hard on the corns of so many people’s dignity as this tall, witty, testy, wartime naval commander with the sensitive face and the turbulent tongue. But few judges have been so quick to apologise with the air of a boxer shaking hands after a fight.” Montagu was aware of his own shortcomings. “Perhaps I should have been more56 patient,” he once said. “It is fair, I think, to say that I don’t suffer fools gladly.” In truth, he did become more patient and tolerant with age. He also became more devout, plunged into numerous charitable works, and became president of the United Synagogue.

Montagu had lived an extraordinary life, as a lawyer, intelligence officer, and writer: a judge of deep seriousness, he had also retained a boyish side and a talent for self-mockery. Without his combination of “extreme caution and extreme daring,”57 Operation Mincemeat could never have happened. The entire plan was, in a way, a reflection of his sense of the ridiculous and his love of the macabre, of playing a part. In 1980, a photograph of Jean Gerard Leigh appeared in the Times after her husband was made CBE. “Dear58 ‘Pam,’” wrote Montagu, now seventy-nine years old. “It was a voice from the past to see you in today’s papers and I can’t resist being another such voice and sending you congratulations. Ever yours, Ewen (alias Major William Martin).”

Shortly before his death, Montagu received a letter from the father of two young Canadian girls, who had read of his wartime exploits, requesting a memento. He immediately replied, enclosing “one of the buttons I wore59 when carrying out Operation Mincemeat,” along with some advice: “Keep a real sense of humour.60 By real I don’t mean just to be able to see a joke, but to be able to really and truly laugh at oneself.”

Ewen Montagu died in 1985, at the age of eighty-four, believing he had successfully hidden, for all time, the identity of the body used in Operation Mincemeat.

Roger Morgan, a council planning officer and an indefatigable amateur historian, began researching the story of Operation Mincemeat in 1980. He wrote to Montagu and later met him and, like every other would-be sleuth, received a response that was as courteous as it was unhelpful. Like most others, Morgan concluded that the secret of Major Martin’s identity had died with Montagu: the man who never was would never be. But then, in 1996, Morgan was leafing through a newly declassified batch of government files when he came across a three-volume report on Ewen Montagu’s wartime activities, including a copy of the official account of Operation Mincemeat, written just before the end of the war. “There, at the end61 of the last volume, staring out at him was the answer to many sleepless nights.” The official censor, perhaps unaware of the extraordinary efforts of concealment made over the preceding half century, had failed to redact a name. “On 28th January there had died62 a labourer of no fixed abode. His name was Glyndwr Michael and he was 34 years old.”

NUESTRA SEÑORA DE LA SOLEDAD cemetery is a ghostly but tranquil place at dusk. Swallows swoop over the cobbled paths, and the cypresses stand sentry. Far out in the bay, you can see the fishing boats bringing in the sardines. As the sun sinks and dusk settles, the graves seem to merge into one long field of engraved marble, stories of lives long and short, full and empty. One of the gravestones is different. It tells of a double life, one brief, sad, and real, the other a little longer, entirely invented, and oddly heroic. The body in this grave washed ashore wearing a fake uniform and the underwear of a dead Oxford don, with a love letter from a girl he had never known pressed to his long-dead heart. But he was not alone in fitting more than one personality into a single life. No one in this story was quite who they seemed to be. The Montagu brothers, Charles Cholmondeley, Jean Leslie, Alan Hillgarth, Karl-Erich Kühlenthal, and Juan Pujol—each was born into one existence and imagined himself into a life quite different.

Grave number 1886 in Huelva cemetery was taken over by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 1977. In a small local armistice, it is now maintained, on behalf of Britain, by the German consulate in Huelva. Every year, in April, an Englishwoman from the town lays flowers on the gravestone.

In 1997, half a century after Operation Mincemeat, the British government added a carved postscript to the marble slab:

Glyndwr Michael63

served as

Major William Martin, RM


If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!