Black Boomerang - Chapter Five - Sefton Delmer

DURING THE first few days after my arrival in Lisbon I had been like some hopeful debutante at a ball, as I waited for Christopher's `they'll get in touch with you' to be made good. I inspected each new British face I met, wondering `can this be he?' But after nearly three weeks in the place without anyone making even the hint of an approach, I had decided that I was not wanted. The Security bureaucrats I felt sure, had once more imposed their veto on my employment.

I had forgotten about the whole thing, when one of my new Lisbon acquaintances, whom I shall call John Burgoyne, invited me to lunch with him at his flat. John was a cheerful, rabbit-toothed Old Etonian who was in Lisbon on business. I had met him in the bar of my hotel. He was buying wolfram from the Portuguese at outrageously exorbitant prices for the British Government, he told me, to prevent the Germans from getting it. I wanted to write a piece about this blockade by preemption and also about the rival German buyers. And John had promised to give me some information about all this over lunch. It did not seem at all strange to me that another guest at the lunch should be an Irishman who told me that he knew my father and had been interned by the Germans with him in Ruhleben camp during the First World War.

The conversation had been more or less equally divided between the wolfram war, Lisbon as a centre of international intrigue, and Ruhleben. Then, just as he had poured me a glass of magnificent Spanish Carlos XIII brandy to go with the coffee, my business man host shot a startling challenge at me.

" You have been working in England for M.L6," he said. I shook my head and tried to look very innocent." I work for no one but the Daily Express," I said, "unless ofcourse M.L6 has something to do with the B.B.C. broadcasts to Germany," I added, with splendid guilelessness. "I did a few broadcasts in German on the B.B.G. before coming here. Is that what you mean?" Burgoyne laughed, and so did my father's Ruhleben friend. "A very good act, Tom," he said, "but you can cut out the comedy with us. I represent M.L6 here. You were told in London, I believe, that we might be getting in touch with you?" "Yes," I said, feeling rather sheepish, "but I understood the chaps I was working with in London were M-I-5 not M.1.6." "No," said Burgoyne drily, "they were M.I.6."

And on that sombre mathematical note began my brief guest role as a 'sub-source, untried' of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service. The trouble was that Burgoyne had not realised how very inexperienced his new helper was. He had thought, as he confessed to me after he had scanned my first all too Daily Expressish reports, that his forces were to be augmented by a fully-trained operator. Now he realised he would have to train me himself, step by step. Which may be the reason why my new job had none of the glamour of James Bond about it. In fact it seemed to me to difler from my normal one in only one respect. This was that, while my reports for the Express were read by about twelve million people before being used to light a fire, those I delivered to John Burgoyne were distributed to several hundred persons, read by no one, and then incinerated as secret waste. Burgoyne however was enthusiastic about the material I was getting from the incoming Jewish refugees. And frankly I was amazed myself, that the Gestapo should have allowed men and women to go abroad who could give so much information about such important electronic firms as Askania and Lorenz to mention but two of them.

I was just beginning to build an interesting new contact with an Italian Travel Agency which regularly sent couriers across Hitler-occupied Europe to Spain and Portugal, when a telegram arrived for me from Leonard Ingrams.

" Suggest you return earliest possible, and resign from Express," it said, "important job awaits you." This time it was no false alarm. The Security Officials had been persuaded at last to waive their obiection to me. Presumaably my brief employment by S.LS. had done the trick. Within ten days of receiving the cable, I had flown back to London, obtained my release from the Express, and was proudly riding around London in a huge black Rolls Royce with the magic letters O.H.M.S. on the wind-screen. And I was rather proud too, of the fact that I had signed up with my new bosses for a salary which was less than a third of what I had been earning as a newspaper reporter.

Not that there was any real need for this financial sacrifice. I could have been much better off during the four years of my absence from Fleet Street that now began, had it not been for my lack of tact and my almost idolatrous respect for official regulations. It prompted me into one of the most absurd gaffes of my life. Full of curiosity about my new work and my new surroundings I had been driven down to the secret `Country Headquarters' in a vast Daimler, which, apart from myself contained a German Jewish woman economist from the Bank of England, a goatee-bearded Harrow schoolmaster who was the expert on Spain, a portrait painter in R.A.F. uniform and a couple of girl typists. Not even, once the car was on its way, would any of them tell me where `C.H.Q.' as they called it was situated. That was a `secret', they said. But at last we drove into the little village of Woburn, turned right, and a few minutes later I found myself at the gates of Woburn Abbey, the centuries-old residence of the Dukes of Bedford. A police sergeant came to the door of the car and inspected our passes.

" I am afraid you'll have to get out Mr. Delmer, sir," said the Sergeant politely. "You'll have to come into the guard house to sign the Official Secrets Act. Everyone has to the first time." So out I got and inspected an imposing document setting out the regulations of the Official Secrets Act. I read it carefully and noted that one of its solemn provisions laid down that I would disclose to no one, but absolutely no one, what I was being paid by the department or anything else about the financial affairs of the Organisation-which of course was financed out of the secret vote. Then I signed a declaration that I had duly taken it all in, and realised the appalling penalties I would incur if I committed a breach of security.

" Aha!" I said to myself, "Now I understand why they would not tell me where we were going, even though they knew I was bound to find out ninety minutes later." I was deeply impressed. And that was the origin of my gaffe. For hardly had I been taken across to Dick Crossman's little office in a long, much partitioned hall, which in time of peace, was the ducal riding school, when a breathless messenger burst in on Dick and me.

" Mr. Delmer, you are wanted on the telephone, sir," he panted." I'll take the call in here," I said." You can't, sir," said the messenger, "It is Lord Beaverbrook who wants you, and the call is on the green line. You'll have to take it in the box." I had no idea what the `Green line' could be, other than a bus service. `Some sort of a special ministerial telephone, I expect,' I said to myself, as I ran through the long corridors with my guide. When, at last, I got to the telephone, there waiting for me was the deep rasping voice that had ruled my destiny for the last fourteen years of my life." Tom," said the Minister of Aircraft Production in Winston Churchill's government, "how are you getting on? How are they treating you?"" I am only just settling in, sir," I replied, "But I hope to do all right."" What are they paying you?" Into my mind flashed the Official Secrets Act and its penalties, also the exceptional discretion of my companions in the car. Without a moment's further thought I replied as stiffly to Lord Beaverbrook as they had done to me.

" I am afraid, sir," I said, "that is something I am not allowed to disclose." From the other end of the `green line' came an exclamation of gurgling anger and disgust." Ugh," said Lord Beaverbrook to this young puppy whom he had trained, and who was now biting the hand that had been about to feed him. "In my position I can know any man's salary. Goodbye to you, Tom!" and he hung up.

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LEONARD INGRAMS was among the select few of my friends whom I knew to have something to do with the Cloak-and-Dagger side of the War, and he looked the part of the mysterious Mr. X to perfection. He was tall and athletic (he won a Half-Blue at Oxford for the long jump immediately after the first War), and his eyes and mouth had just the right expression of drawling sardonic pity for the world around him.

LEONARD INGRAMS was among the select few of my friends whom I knew to have something to do with the Cloak-and-Dagger side of the War, and he looked the part of the mysterious Mr. X to perfection. He was tall and athletic (he won a Half-Blue at Oxford for the long jump immediately after the first War), and his eyes and mouth had just the right expression of drawling sardonic pity for the world around him.

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