Untold lives blog

189 posts categorized "Politics"

24 March 2020

General John Jacob ‒ A Man of Strong Opinions

Somerset-born John Jacob sailed to India in 1828 aged just 16 as a second lieutenant in the Bombay Artillery of the East India Company.  He never again set foot in England and died 30 years later of ‘exhaustion’ brought on from over-work.

Portrait of John Jacob

Portrait of John Jacob, from an engraving by T L Atkinson, (photographed by Walter L Colls, Photographic Society). Reproduced in Alexander Innes Shand, General John Jacob, Commandant of the Sind Irregular Horse and founder of Jacobabad (London: Seeley and Co. Limited, 1900)

Jacob is primarily known for his ‘pacifying’ achievements as political and military governor in Upper Sindh, which in the 1840s and ‘50s formed the ‘unruly’ north-west frontier of British India.

Map of SindhMap of Sindh from Sir Richard Francis Burton, Sindh, and the Races that inhabit the Valley of the Indus; with notices of the topography and history of the Province. (London,1851) BL flickr

An expert administrator and inventor, Jacob built roads, irrigation systems and canals, turned arid desert into fertile land and improved the local economy.  His attitude towards the local Baloch inhabitants was unusually progressive, his benevolence causing them to name his headquarters ‘Jekumbad’ which the British converted to ‘Jacobabad’.

John Jacob’s house at JacobabadJohn Jacob’s house at Jacobabad.  Reproduced in Alexander Innes Shand, General John Jacob, Commandant of the Sind Irregular Horse and founder of Jacobabad (London: Seeley and Co. Limited, 1900)

Jacob’s accomplishments and ‘eccentric’ nature are well documented. His correspondence in the India Office Records, however, provides some less well-known insights into a dogmatic man who would brook no challenge, perceived or otherwise, to his authority.

In March 1857 Jacob arrived in Bushire to assist his old friend Lieutenant-General James Outram, commanding the British forces fighting Persia.  A few days later he was placed in charge of the forces at Bushire after the previous incumbent committed suicide.  When news of an armistice came in April Jacob had to organise the British evacuation.

He soon came into conflict with of Charles Murray, HM British Ambassador to the King of Persia.  Murray was a well-travelled diplomat with a privileged, aristocratic background. He and Jacob clashed repeatedly over who was the superior representative of the British Government in Bushire, and over the timing of troop shipments back to India.  Their quarrels spilled over into other operational matters.

Portrait of Charles Augustus MurrayPortrait of Charles Augustus Murray by Willes Maddox from an engraving by George Zobel (photographed by William H Ward & Co Ltd Sc).  Reproduced in Sir Herbert Maxwell, The Honourable Sir Charles Murray KCB, A Memoir (Blackwood, 1898)

Jacob dismissed Mirza Agha, a Persian official who acted as secretary to Murray at the British embassy.

Jacob objects to Mirza Agha’s letter of complaintJacob objects to Mirza Agha’s letter of complaint, 26 April 1857 (IOR/H/549, f 604v)

Murray went to great lengths to defend his secretary, arguing he was neither intentionally insolent nor deserving of the public censure and humiliation to which Jacob subjected him.

In May 1857 Jacob arrested and imprisoned two messengers sent to the British camp by the Persian Commander-in-Chief on charges of spying.

Image 7 - Jacob to Persian Cmdr in Chief  IOR_H_550_f295r

Extract from Jacob’s letter to the Persian Commander-in-ChiefExtracts from Jacob’s letter to the Persian Commander-in-Chief, 13 May 1857 (IOR/H/550, ff295-296)

The Persian Commander-in-Chief attempted to placate Jacob:

Extract from a letter from the Persian Commander-in-ChiefExtract from a letter from the Persian Commander-in-Chief, 16 May 1857 (IOR/H/550, f 312)

He reminded Jacob that ‘Friendship requires genial intercommunication and not severity that is freezing of relationships’.

Murray, condemning Jacob’s ‘extremely offensive expressions’ refused to forward copies of Jacob’s letters to the Persian Government, fearing they would inflame Anglo-Persian relations.

Extract from a letter from Murray to Lieutenant-General Sir James OutramExtract from a letter from Murray to Lieutenant-General Sir James Outram, 9 June 1857 (IOR/H/550, f 340)

In August Jacob poured scorn on Murray’s warnings of a Persian plot to attack departing British troops at Bushire. Believing the smooth-talking diplomat was trying to protract negotiations with the Persian Government, he wrote to Captain Felix Jones, Political Agent in the Persian Gulf: ‘the contemptible soul of the man was laid bare to me in the Meerza Agha affair. Everything I have seen of him since is in accordance with his base nature..’

Whilst Jacob could be irascible, high-handed and given to hyperbole, there is evidence that Charles Murray was regarded with considerable contempt, even in high circles, as this extract shows:

Extract from a letter from Henry Bartle Frére, Governor in Sindh, to Jacob

Extract from a letter from Henry Bartle Frére, Governor in Sindh, to Jacob, 6 June 1857. Quoted in Alexander Innes Shand, General John Jacob, Commandant of the Sind Irregular Horse and founder of Jacobabad (London: Seeley and Co. Limited, 1900), p.274.

Back at his post in Sindh in December 1858, an official letter arrived for Jacob from Lord Clarendon, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, entreating the two public servants to ‘allow any differences which may have arisen to be buried in oblivion’.  It is probably just as well they never worked together again!

Amanda Engineer
Content Specialist, Archivist
British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership

 

28 January 2020

Sir Francis Drake: the deluded history of an English Hero

The anniversary of Drake’s death on 28 January 1596 seems an appropriate time to share news of an interesting heritage acquisition, a 16th-century Italian 'avviso' (newsbook), New and Latest Report from Portugal concerning the success of the English Armada led by Dom Antonio and Drake

This newly discovered account of the calamitous English Armada of 1589, co-commanded by Drake and Sir John Norris, is likely the unique surviving example of the report.  It appears to be entirely unknown to bibliography and scholarship.

Pages from 'New and Latest Report from Portugal'Nuovo et ultimo avviso di Portogallo, per il quale s’intende il successo dell’ Armata d’Inghilterra, condotta da D. Antonio, & dal Drago in quei paesi. Con altri particolari d’importanza. ['New and Latest Report from Portugal concerning the success of the English Armada led by Dom Antonio and Drake in those countries. With other important particulars']. Ferrara: per il Baldini, 1589.  British Library shelfmark C.194.a.1452.

'Avvisi' news media circulated by letter or in print have a reputation for being factual, concise and reliable.  They did not seek to exaggerate, impress, or sensationalise for effect.  This avviso is an eyewitness account from a Spaniard in Lisbon with the English at its gates.  It describes the frustrating wait for Spanish or Portuguese reinforcements and the losses suffered by their enemy.

The objectives of the English Armada were to hammer home the advantages gained from the failure of the Spanish Armada the year before.  Elizabeth sought to facilitate Dom Antonio’s claim to the Portuguese throne and so undermine the Spanish Monarchy and its Empire.  The largest English expeditionary force ever assembled - 25,000 men - would finish off the weakened Spanish navy left in port.

The ragtag English forces, largely made up of jail birds and beggars were more interested in pillaging than military glory.  They lacked proper funding (as usual), organisation and discipline.  With no baggage train or cavalry, Norris needlessly marched an army across country instead of sailing up the Tagus to take Lisbon.  Sickness and starvation began to deplete their vast numbers.  Frustrated by the absence of a Portuguese rising in favour of Dom Antonio, the English waited for Drake to sail up the Tagus; but Drake’s ships did not turn up instead busying themselves taking rich prizes from ships in the Roads off Lisbon.  The approach of Spanish reinforcements led the English to retreat.  Sick, starved and dying of wounds, no more than 5,000 returned to England.

The Queen was furious; it was clear that Drake’s and Norris’s thousands had failed.  Disgruntled demobbed survivors brought only plague back and the recently emboldened reputation of the Tudor State was in peril across Europe.  Drake’s reputation eclipsed with accusations of cowardice added to his well-known avarice.

The main contemporary English source describing the expedition was written by a participant, Captain Anthony Wingfield, immediately upon the survivors’ return to England.  It is an expert piece of spin and propaganda.  Written in a heroic literary style, it played down the heavy losses and amplified the ‘glory’ of taking the fight to 'offend' the King of Spain 'in his neerer territories'.

Page from A True Coppie of a Discourse written by a Gentleman, employed in the late Voyage of Spaine and Portingale Wingfield’s apology spent much time condemning “false prophets gone before us”, “telling strange tales” and “sectaries against noted truth”.  Page from A True Coppie of a Discourse written by a Gentleman, employed in the late Voyage of Spaine and Portingale [under Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Norris]: sent to his particular friend, and by him published, for the better satisfaction of all such, as, hauing been seduced by particular report, haue entred into conceipts tending to the discredit of the enterprise, and Actors of the same. British Library shelfmark 292.e.7.

 

Illustration from a 1590 Frankfurt edition of Ephemeris Wingfield’s account in English (for influencing opinion at home) formed the basis for Latin translations printed in Frankfurt and Nuremberg designed to affect informed opinion further afield on the continent.  Illustration from a 1590 Frankfurt edition of Ephemeris (based on Wingfield’s True Coppie of a Discourse) Brevis et fida Narratio, et continuatio rerum omnium a Drako et Norreysio (post felicem ex Occidentalibus insulis reditum) in sua expeditione Portugallensi singulis diebus gestarum. British Library shelfmark G.6516


It is significant that Wingfield’s account has prevailed. Drake’s posthumous reputation steadily revived.  The self-congratulatory, self-exonerating poltroonery of Wingfield’s ‘true’ copie makes for a deluded national history.  The existence and discovery of this Italian newsbook shows the importance of paying attention to wider sources.  Its acquisition adds a new source from a traditionally reliable genre - the avvisi - a counterbalance to facts concealed from English historiography and perpetuated national mythologizing of the Drake Legend.
 

Illustration from The English Hero; or, Sir Francis Drake, reviv'dThe English Hero; or, Sir Francis Drake, reviv'd. was first published in 1681 by Nathaniel Crouch, updating The World Encompassed by Sir Francis Drake (Drake’s nephew) written in 1625 in an attempt to revive his reputation and status.  Published in many editions, a 1750 edition can be seen online.

Christian Algar
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

We are very grateful for the contribution made by the British Library Collections Trust towards the cost of acquiring the avviso.

Thanks to Stephen Parkin for providing a translation of the Italian newsbook.

Further reading:
One of the best accounts of the 1589 English Armada can be read online The year after the Armada, and other historical studies by Martin Hume (1896)

A reliable English language biography of Sir Francis Drake is Sir Francis Drake: the Queen's pirate by Harry Kelsey (1998)

A stimulating examination of the English treatment and understanding of the events is given by Luis Gorrochategui Santos in The English Armada: the greatest naval disaster in English history (2018)

 

21 January 2020

George Orwell and the Strange Case of the Three Anarchists Jailed at the Old Bailey

In 1945 George Orwell signed up as a sponsor of the Freedom Defence Committee in defence of three anarchists who had been jailed at the Old Bailey.

List of members of Freedom Defence CommitteeList of members of Freedom Defence Committee from pamphlet 1899.ss.4.(29.) Noc

It was just before the end of the Second World War, and a small group of anarchists in Britain had been publishing anti-war articles in a publication called War Commentary since 1939. The anarchists believed that governments with a strict top-to-bottom hierarchy were to blame for war and that Britain’s mistreatment of colonies in the empire was unjust. They didn’t approve of borders, and thought that private property caused conflict.

The intelligence service MI5 had been aware of the anarchists’ subversive publications for many years, but it wasn’t until the end of the war neared in 1944 that MI5 began to be concerned.  They feared that returning soldiers might try to overthrow the British government, and that the anarchists were telling servicemen to hold on to their guns for the revolution!

Freedom is it a crime? Header from pamphlet about trial of anarchists at Old Bailey 1945Freedom - Is it a Crime? Header from pamphlet 1899.ss.4.(29.) Noc

Eventually, four anarchists—Marie Louise Berneri, Vernon Richards, John Hewetson, and Philip Sansom—were charged on 22 February 1945 with dissemination of seditious materials.  Only three anarchists were prosecuted, however, as Marie Louise Berneri was married to Vernon Richards and technically could not conspire with her husband.  Outside their trial, art historian Herbert Read gave speeches in support of their cause: ‘I speak to you as an Englishman, as one proud to follow in the tradition of Milton and Shelley –the tradition of all those poets and philosophers who have given us the proud right to claim freedom of speech and the liberty of unlicensed printing’.

In addition to Herbert Read’s speeches, the Freedom Press Defence Committee was set up to help raise funds for legal fees.  George Orwell was a part of this committee which stated its aims as existing as a ‘vigilance’ against cases ‘concerning the infringement of civil liberties’.  While MI5 were worried about revolutions, many well-known writers and politicians were worried about the British government keeping military law after the war was over.  Famous sponsors of the committee included Aneurin Bevan (who would go on to establish the NHS) and Alex Comfort (who would go on to write The Joy of Sex).

A copy of the speeches was kept by Orwell in his collection of political pamphlets which is now held at the British Library.  He himself would go on to write Nineteen Eighty-Four, a novel about a government suppressing the free speech of citizens in England.

Claudia Treacher
University of Brighton PhD candidate on conscientious objection during WWII
@ClaudiaTreacher

Further Reading:
Read, Herbert. Freedom, Is It a Crime?: The Strange Case of the Three Anarchists Jailed at the Old Bailey, April 1945. London: Freedom Press Defence Committee, 1945.
Honeywell, Carissa. ‘Anarchism and the British Warfare State: The Prosecution of the War Commentary Anarchists, 1945’. International Review of Social History 60, no. 2 (2015): 257–84.
George Orwell 
Collection of pamphlets, mainly political, formed by George Orwell 
Pamphlet literature by George Orwell

 

03 January 2020

Cache of hidden letters in the Granville Archive

The Granville Archive recently acquired by the British Library includes a collection of supplementary material previously hidden from public view.  When Castalia Leveson-Gower prepared her edition of the private correspondence of diplomat and statesman Granville Leveson-Gower (1773-1846), her father-in-law – the bulk of them are letters from his lover, Harriet Ponsonby, Lady Bessborough (1761-1821) – she carefully omitted any letters referring to the couple’s passionate affair, the secret births of their two children, and the delicate discussions between them and Lord Granville’s eventual wife, Harriet’s niece.  Even letters that were chosen for inclusion in the published edition had to be carefully filleted to cut out any tender endearment or reference to their illegitimate daughter and son.  The entire collection of original letters, including those published, was retained in private hands.  Its whereabouts was unknown to researchers until its acquisition by the British Library (along with Castalia Leveson-Gower’s research papers and her own private correspondence with her husband, the second Earl Granville).  The collection arrived at the Library, bundled in boxes and trunks, at the same time as the main, larger, Granville Archive (Add MS 89317).  Now the supplementary collection has been catalogued (Add MS 89382), and it provides a fascinating complement to the main family archive.

Trunk of papers from the Granville Archive Trunk of papers from the Granville Archive Noc

The new cache of letters will be a rich new source for researchers into late 18th and early 19th century politics and upper class society.  They shed particular light on the personal and political lives of aristocratic women of the period.  Besides the intimate letters between Lady Bessborough and Lord Granville relating to their clandestine affair and children, there are letters from other members of their circle of friends and relations, including Lord Granville’s mother, Susanna Leveson-Gower, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (Lady Bessborough’s sister), and Caroline Lamb (her daughter).

Letter from Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire to her daughter Harriet, written before leaving for France, 1789 'I leave you and give you the only valuable gift in my power, wrote in my blood, my blessing.'  Letter from Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire to her daughter Harriet, written before leaving for France, 1789 (Add MS 89382/3/4) Noc

Alongside discussion of the latest books and politics, perennial concerns about reputation, scandal and money run throughout this correspondence.  Huge gambling debts were a worry for many in their circle: in a bundle of letters to Lord Granville, the Duchess of Devonshire pleads urgently for funds to stave off creditors.  When the Duke of Devonshire died in 1811, a litigious dispute arose between his heir, the sixth Duke, and his widow, former mistress Lady Elizabeth Foster, over the family diamonds.  Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum there are smaller sums, such as the itemised accounts for housing and educating their illegitimate children which feature in Lady Bessborough’s letters to Lord Granville.

Expenditure on the two children 1805-1807.  Letter from Lady Bessborough to Lord Granville, June 1807. 'I have just given 30 guineas for a piano forte for tho it is a lump down it is cheaper in the end than hiring.'  Expenditure on the two children 1805-1807.  Letter from Lady Bessborough to Lord Granville, June 1807 (Add MS 89382/2/27) Noc

The letters from Lady Bessborough to Lord Granville tell a vivid story of their long relationship.  Frequent, often daily, letters passed between them, from their first meeting in Naples in 1794, when she was a married woman of 32 and he a 20 year old ‘Adonis’, until her death in Florence in 1821.  They describe the course of their affair through flirtation, intimacy, subterfuge, and passion, and the enduring friendship that survived it, cemented by the birth of their two children and his eventual marriage into her family in 1809.

Tabitha Driver
Cataloguer Modern Archives & Manuscripts
 
Further reading:
Lord Granville Leveson Gower: Private Correspondence, ed. Castalia Granville (London, 1916)
Amanda Foreman, Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire (London, 1998)
Janet Gleeson, An Aristocratic Affair: the Life of Georgiana's Sister, Harriet Spencer, Countess of Bessborough (London, 2006)

01 January 2020

A New Year card from MI5

This New Year Card was sent 100 years ago to Sir Malcolm Seton of the India Office by Colonel Sir Vernon Kell and the staff of MI5.  They wished him a happy and peaceful New Year for 1920.  The main message on the card is 'To Liberty and Security 1914-1919. Malevolence Imposes Vigilance 1920'.  The Great War had ended recently but threats to peace and stability continued.

New Year card MI5 1920

MI5 Greeting card from the Papers of Sir Malcolm Seton, India Office official 1898-1933 - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E 267/10B Images Online

 

We wish our readers a happy and peaceful New Year 2020.

 

01 December 2019

100 years of women in Parliament: Nancy Astor MP takes her seat

On 1 December 1919, Nancy Astor became the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons.  She was only the second woman elected to the British Parliament after Constance Markievicz , who did not take her seat in the Commons because of Sinn Fein’s policy of abstention.  Nancy Astor was the only woman among 634 men, but, as a vocal member of the House, she would illustrate to others that women could fulfil the role of MP.

Photograph of Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor 1923Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor, by Bassano Ltd, 18 June 1923 NPG x18820 © National Portrait Gallery, London CC NPG

Nancy Witcher Langhorne was born in Danville, Virginia.  She moved to the UK in 1905 after her first marriage broke down.  In England, she met Waldolf Astor whom she married in 1906.  He introduced her to English aristocratic society.  She became well known and well liked for her wit and humour. 

Waldolf Astor began his career in politics in 1910 and inherited his father’s peerage in 1919, leaving his constituency seat open for a by-election in November 1919.  Nancy Astor saw the opportunity to take her husband’s seat and she embarked on a swift and successful campaign to become Unionist Party MP for Plymouth Sutton.

Upon taking up her post, she would face hostility and sexism from members.  She would soon learn how to hold her own in the Chamber, contributing frequently to debates and becoming an avid heckler.  Likewise, she infuriated the other members by adding her own running commentary to parliamentary debates.

Her political interests were wide-ranging and often contradictory.  One of her lasting legacies was a successful Private Member’s Bill which raised the drinking age from 16 to 18.  From her relative distance from the women’s suffrage movement, she grew to support several women’s rights issues including the provision of nursery schools, widows’ pensions, equal employment, equal suffrage and maternity leave.  However, her outlook was not wholly progressive: she opposed equal rights in divorce and she displayed some prominent prejudices that would affect her reputation, including anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic views.  These views, alongside her strong anti-communist feelings would lead to her being branded as a member of the Cliveden Set - a group of powerful individuals rumoured by the press as having pro-Nazi sympathies, which Nancy Astor later described as a myth.

Nancy Astor retired from politics in 1945 and she left 24 female MPs in the House of Commons.  Those women may have heeded the advice she offered when she was the only female sitting MP:
’It is not an easy job for a woman to stand for parliament, and it is not an easy job when one gets there; but the work waiting to be done is almost unlimited, and the need for the help of women is great and urgent’.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Nancy Astor Correspondence in the British Library Manuscript Collections:
- With Marie Stopes, Add MS 58555
- With Lytton Strachey, Add MS 60656
- With Sir Sydney Cockerell, Add MS 52703
Musolf, Karen. From Plymouth to Parliament: A Rhetorical History of Nancy Astor’s 1919 Campaign. (London: Macmillan, 1999)
National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship: Pamphlets. 08415.k.61

 

14 November 2019

Contravening the Official Secrets Act in World War II – Part 2

Continuing our story of Arthur Thomas Williams and the Peace Pledge Union….

The fake telegrams were carefully run off on a duplicator and then planted. 

One of the spurious telegrams planted at the India Office One of the spurious telegrams planted at the India Office - from The National Archives file KV 2/1093 Crown copyright

On 18 December 1942 Williams left the India Office carrying an attaché case and made his way to Endsleigh Street.  Before he could reach the PPU offices, he was arrested and taken to New Scotland Yard.

Williams told the police that he was taking home documents to read for his own interest before returning them to the India Office. Fourteen official deciphered telegrams were found in the case; none were the planted ones.

A thorough search was then made of the offices of the PPU.  Stuart Morris made no attempt to obstruct this and it was ‘carried out in the friendliest and politest manner possible’.  Morris said he looked at the documents brought by Williams and then burned them.  Five India Office deciphered telegrams were found in one drawer, and a second batch in a sealed envelope in another drawer including one of the spurious telegrams.  Stuart Morris was then also arrested.  

Williams’s statement made on 18 December stated that he had heard someone in Hyde Park talking about India. He thought that the speaker was being unfair to the British government and told him that he saw documents at the India Office showing that the government was interested in Indian reform and independence.  Williams then took documents from the secret waste and delivered them to the PPU about once a week.  Morris returned the telegrams from the previous visit and William put them back in the sack for pulping. However the authorities did not believe that Morris had returned the documents and they judged Williams to be disloyal to the British government and to the India Office in particular.

The next day Williams and Morris were charged at Bow Street with ‘retaining’ and ‘receiving’ under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Acts. They were remanded in custody and taken to Brixton Prison. The proceedings were held in camera and no reference to the case was to be made in newspapers.

However the Daily Worker reported on 21 December that Stuart Morris was being held on unknown charges.  Evening newspapers mentioned the Official Secrets Act.  The Censorship Department moved to stop further press speculation.

Visits to Williams in Brixton Prison from Annie, Rose, his son Sid, his brother and a friend are recorded in the Security Service file with details of their conversations.  Williams was heard to say that his conscience was clear and he had only been guilty of a ‘grave indiscretion’.

The trial was held in camera at the Old Bailey on 19 January 1943.  Williams’s defence said he had been interested in India since serving eight years there with the Army.  He was described as a foolish and simple man, without political motivation. The judge accepted that it was not a case of treachery.

Williams was sentenced to twelve months in prison, Morris to nine.  Further interviews were conducted with both men in Wormwood Scrubs.  A notice about the case was drafted for the press – the India Office insisted that it was not identified as the government department involved.

Report of Official Secrets Act trial -  Western Daily Press 17 February 1943Report of trial of Williams and Morris Western Daily Press 17 February 1943 British Newspaper Archive

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The National Archives KV 2/1093 The Security Service: Personal (PF Series) Files - Arthur Thomas Williams - available as a download
British Newspaper Archive

Contravening the Official Secrets Act in World War II – Part 1

 

12 November 2019

Contravening the Official Secrets Act in World War II – Part 1

Our last post told the story of how India Office Records were stored in a Cheshire salt mine during the Second World War.  I felt sorry for paperkeeper Arthur Thomas Williams who worked in very uncomfortable conditions in Winsford.  What had happened to him after he returned to London?  I was very surprised at what I discovered!

A staff list revealed that Arthur Thomas Williams left the India Office suddenly in December 1942.  And the reason why is found in a Security Service file at The National Archives.  Williams was tried in January 1943 under the Official Secrets Act.  The file reads like the plot of a spy novel. 

MI5 Christmas card croppedDetail from MI5 Christmas card 1924 in papers of Sir Malcolm Seton, India Office official 1898-1933 Mss Eur E267/224

On 15 September 1942 a letter was sent by MI5 to the Indian Political Intelligence section at the India Office.  A man, referred to as ‘Q’, had attended a public meeting in Hyde Park and introduced himself to Stuart Morris of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU).  ‘Q’ told Morris that he was sympathetic to Morris’s views on India.  He worked for the India Office and could pass on information from secret telegrams.  Every effort was being made to identify ‘Q’ as quickly as possible.

MI5 was still trying to put a name to ‘Q’ on 10 October 1942.  He was described as ‘a nondescript, middle-aged Civil Servant paid at a comparatively low-grade rate, and who had been previously employed in the Records Office either at Chester or in Cheshire’.  The words salt mines had been overheard.  ‘Q’ dealt with cables in his work.

By 22 October, the India Office had reported that the only person who fitted the description was 57-year-old Arthur Thomas Williams who had worked there since 1927.  One of Williams’s tasks was to collect waste paper from the Telegrams Branch.  His wife Rose had a temporary wartime job in the India Office External Department Registry, where she might possibly have had access to most of the telegrams cited in the case.

A description of Williams was provided to MI5: ‘Height about 5’ 5”, fairly slim build, clean shaven, somewhat pointed chin, black hair rather thin but well plastered down, going bald on crown: does not wear glasses; young looking for his age’.  Williams had not supplied his home address to the India Office since his return from Cheshire and it was established that he was not living with his wife Rose in Clapham.  Rose was observed meeting her husband in Parliament Square shortly before 9am and then continuing to King Charles Street with him, thus giving the impression that they had travelled in together.

MI5 reported in November that Arthur Williams lived in Hounslow.  Unfortunately their agent had mistakenly followed a messenger called Earney home from the India Office.  On 23 November Williams was successfully tracked back to Red Lion Square where he was found to be living with a woman called Annie Homard.

Surveillance of Williams continued throughout December.  He bought beer and cigarettes, had tea at Lyons, changed his library books, visited relatives and went to the offices of the PPU in Endsleigh Street.  The authorities wanted sufficient legal evidence against him for a prosecution.  A plan was devised to place fake telegrams in the waste which Williams collected from the Telegraph Branch.  If these appeared at the PPU offices, then MI5 would have their man!

To be continued…

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The National Archives KV 2/1093 The Security Service: Personal (PF Series) Files - Arthur Thomas Williams – available as a download
IOR/L/AG/30/18/58 India Office Establishment List

 

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