Black Boomerang - Chapter Four cont- Sefton Delmer

The real irony of this security bar against me was that while one branch of M.I5 was telling Leonard Ingrams and his friends that it would be unwise to have me join the Psychological Warfare Department, a red-haired young Oxford man from another branch of the same service was inviting me to help him catch German spies masquerading as American reporters covering the Battle of Britain.

The red-haired young man called on me one morning at my flat-before it had been bombed and, with remarkably little preliminary skirmishing, revealed himself as an officer in Field Security. He asked me whether I would help him in his work. Needless to say I assented with alacrity. And as we lunched at Scott's and Christopher Catamole explained to me in greater detail what he wanted me to do, I once more thrilled to the hope that the real war was beginning to come my way after all.

" If you have to break the law while you are working for us," he said, "do so without hesitation. We shall be behind you. If you are arrested you will be released immediately. There will be no prosecution. All you have to do is to get the police to call this number, and ask for this extension. That will be enough." And he presented me with a card with two numbers on it. It sounded almost too romantic to be true.

But when I came to work on that first assignment, the whole thing petered out most prosaically. What little I did manage to discover did not fit in with any theory of espionage activities. That, however, did not upset `Kit-kat'-a most scholarly young man with an enviable first in Greats, and a praiseworthy thirst for the objective truth. He thanked me effusively for what I had done, and asked me to go on helping him. And as it turned out, there was one fellow I was able to help in catching.

To this day, I don't understand how anyone could have been so simple and naive as this American, and still be a German agent. In compliance with Christopher's instructions, I made friends with him while we were out on a story together. Then back at my flat we had drinks. Fortunately my kind friend John Hill of Hedges & Butler had enabled me to lay in a good stock of their whisky. As glass followed glass we discovered a common admiration for the finer points in National Socialism, the heroism and readiness of the Nazis for self-sacrifice, the cultivation of leadership qualities in the young, and all that. I derided British security.

To my infinite astonishment these transparent and primitive tactics worked. My American boon companion-he was of German stock-began to boast to me of the ease with which he had acquired information which the dilettante British ought to have covered up. I cannot remember now what it was he told me. I do remember, however, that as soon as he had left me, I sat down and wrote a report for Kit-kat. It started off with the over-exuberant and boastful phrase "We have got him!" In a taxi, I then drove round to deliver my report at the house in a Knightsbridge Square which Kit-kat had given me as a post-box in cases of emergency.

I don't know whether it was my un-British fervour that shocked him, or whether I was merely duplicating information he and his department already possessed. My young friend seemed distinctly cold and subdued when next we met. He did not convey to me the congratulations and thanks I had hoped for. All he told me was that he had arrested the American, that it was the first arrest he had ever had to make, and that he had loathed every second of it-the squalid bedroom, the girl, the shock of the man. But the American was a spy all right, he said, and he had confessed. He would be held to the end of the war. I longed to ask what contribution, if any, my little drinking party had made to the spy's undoing. But I refrained. And I suspect it was very small indeed. Most probably M-1-5 had him sewed up all along.

Christopher and I went on meeting regularly. He even made me write him little essays on such pet subjects of mine as the possible Communist infiltration of Home Guard Units in preparation for a coup. When, at the end of October, Christiansen ordered me to fly to Lisbon for him, Christopher Catamole asked me whether I would be prepared to lend his people a hand while I was there.

" Of course," he said, when I had accepted, "I don't know whether they will in fact require your services for anything. But if they should, they will contact you. There is nothing you need do about finding them." Isabel was furious with me for going abroad at this time. For, just before Christiansen had decided I should fly out to Portugal, we had found in a green East Anglian valley running down to the River Stour a deserted but inhabitable 16th-century farmhouse set in seventy acres of derelict land. The Valley Farm was a perfect refuge for our furniture and pictures from bombed Lincoln's Inn. And it would also make an ideal retreat in which to spend restful weekends shooting rabbits. But now there was the moving to be done and, as Isabel indignantly pointed out, I was going to be enjoying myself among the lights of Lisbon, while she would have to struggle alone.

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Sefton Delmer at The Valley Farm in the 1950's


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