Black Boomerang - Chapter Two - Sefton Delmer

THE AGED P. & O. Liner Madura, that had picked us up in Bordeaux after the fall of France, took five days to zigzag home to England across the grey, U-boat haunted Atlantic seas. On her decks camped the refugees. Indian Army colonels and their wives, scared out of their retreats on the Riviera, swapped escape stories with business men who had also been forced to flee. Long-legged girl dancers from the night spots bewailed the loss of their make-up kits to mannish, uniformed women from the Volunteer Welfare services. Brooding disapprovingly over them all sat the original passengers of the Madura, bitterly resenting our intrusion.

" Disgusting rabble," said one matron from Mombasa as she stumbled over my feet. Next to my deck chair-I had managed to secure a pair of them in the first assault for my wife and myself-sat an elderly man with a wooden leg who talked of the rabbit skin business and the felt factory he had left behind in France." How many skins a year do you think I used to buy? It ran into millions. Made them into felt in my own works and exported it to Britain-for the hat-making industry you know. Never see my factory or my home again, I don't suppose. The Germans'll get it all."

Anna McLaren, a bewilderingly beautiful blue-eyed Irish girl from a volunteer Transport Corps called the S.S.A.`Sans Sex Appeal' she said the letters meant teased him with more and more questions about rabbits and hats. But I hardly listened to them. I listened to the talk of my war correspondent colleagues. Throughout the five days they talked of little else but how they were going to join the fighting services as soon as they landed. George Millar, the ablest writer of us all and the youngest, had a commission waiting for him in the Rifle Brigade. Geoffrey Cox, a bright and energetic little New Zealander, was going to join the New Zealand Army.

I envied them. For I had no plans to reveal. Sitting there on the deck in my nest of sleeping bags and luggage, with Isabel, my artist wife, chattering away beside me, I felt miserable and useless. What I had seen during those weeks that had followed the German breakthrough, had made me fiercely determined to abandon my work as a reporter and get myself a job more directly connected with the conduct of the war than writing articles about it. But what was I going to do? At the age of thirty-six and with a weight of seventeen and a half stone to drag around, I did not feel that I would be much use as a soldier.

Of course, with my special qualifications and experience there ought to be something I could do in the field of intelligence work-if the powers that be would have me. Perhaps I could become a spy? After all, I did speak German like a German. Or I might be able to help with the interpretation and evaluation of intelligence. I knew something of the mentality of Germans at war from having been at school as a lone English boy in starving Berlin during the first war. I had travelled around Germany with Hitler and his retinue during the Nazi struggle for power. I was personally acquainted with Goring, Goebbels, Hess, Himmler and many other Nazi leaders. I knew the way their minds worked. Also I had spent much time in the Balkans since the war began and watched German agents at work there. Surely there must be some job in the secret side of the war, in which all this would come in useful. But would the mysterious `THEY' give me the chance to do a secret job?

Ever since the war had begun, I had been suggesting to those of my friends whom I knew to be connected with the secret departments that they should find me some work in which my experience would be of service. But although my friends did their best to get me in, every time they were close to succeeding the shadow of suspicion had intervened to baulk me. The very fact of my having been born in Berlin militated against me. My acquaintance with the Nazis was held to be not a qualification, but a ground for distrust. Stool-pigeons had been sent to test me. I remembered how on my return to London from Poland in October 1939 a young stranger had contacted me and sounded me out on the best way of getting in touch with the Fascists. Colleagues had been instigated to watch and report on my `secret Nazi activities'. M.I.5 officers got into oh so casual conversation with me on leave trains and tried to catch me out as a German agent.

The whole thing had been as idiotic and as wounding to my pride as the same suspicions had been to that of my father twenty-three years earlier, when he and we, his family, much to our and everyone else's surprise had been allowed to leave Germany and return to Britain in May 1917. But I had welcomed the investigations, stupid as they were, because I believed that sooner or later I would be cleared, and that then I would at last be able to play the part for which I was fitted.

All through those five days on the Atlantic I kept asking myself, was I clear now? Would `THEY' be ready to make use of me at last? And then, shortly after reaching England, on a drizzly July afternoon of 1940, a message reached me in our flat in London's ancient Lincoln's Inn, which suggested to me that the answer was going to be 'Yes!'The message was from Duff Cooper, the new Minister of Information. Duff wanted me to help `improve' the B.B.C. German broadcasts, as he flatteringly put it, by doing one or two talks a week myself. " Don't drop your reporting for the Daily Express," he said, "that is valuable war work. But if you could fit in the occasional German broadcast on the B.B.C. we shall all be most grateful."

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