What do you know of the Hartlepool Monkey and the “Monkey Hangers”? I certainly knew nothing of the tale until I stumbled across it. Legend says that a shipwrecked monkey was hanged as …
The Orient Express, a luxury train service connecting Paris to Constantinople, was the figurehead of the Belle Époque, and remained closely connected to European history throughout the 20th century. The world’s most famous train gained an aura of thrilling intrigue—partly thanks to popular books and movies.
It was not only fiction, though: real artists and spies did travel by Orient Express and some actual murders did take place.
The first official Orient Express left Paris on October 4, 1883. Around 30 people were invited for the inauguration: officials, diplomats, journalists and railway directors. The host was Georges Nagelmackers, founder of the Wagons-Lits company. In 1868 the young Belgian banker’s son had traveled the US by Pullman sleeper and saw a gap in the European market.
After several experiments he reached an agreement with…
At the height of the Second World War, Allied secret operatives schemed sabotage and assassinations in Fascist Italy – even targeting the Italian leader. Roderick Bailey reviews new evidence…
Today we are releasing over 400 files from the Security Service (MI5), Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Cabinet Office which focus on Cold War investigations that revealed Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean to be part of the Cambridge Spy Ring, one of the most famous spy cases in history. The collection also includes other intelligence […]
The Second World War is the setting for some of history’s greatest espionage tales. Public imagination is frequently captured by the image of a suave and intelligent agent undertaking covert missions for Queen and country. This post will detail one of the more unusual of these espionage stories – ‘Operation Mincemeat. A plan which was masterminded by Ewen Montagu and targeted the German intelligence orginisation, Abwehr.
The agent used in Operation Mincemeat was worlds away from the charming and sophisticated agent popular culture often likes to depict – he was a semi-literate tramp from Aberbargoed, Wales. This agent’s name was Glyndwr Michael. Whats more is that Michael was already dead when he successfully carried out his mission.
Michael’s personal history is one of sadness and tragedy. His father committed suicide when he was just fifteen years old and his mother died sixteen years later. He was left penniless, homeless, and depressed. Shortly after the death…
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In December, I introduced you to my historical boyfriend, Freddy Spencer Chapman. Since then, my research has led me to the more general history of SOE, the Special Operations Executive that operated parallel to – and sometimes in conflict with – established military intelligence during the Second World War.
Chances are, you’ve heard bits and pieces about SOE’s exploits in both fact and fiction. Historian M R D Foot says it was “formed in a tearing hurry during the summer crisis of 1940, at Churchill’s direct prompting” and dismantled in 1946. Churchill’s actual directive was for SOE to “set Europe ablaze”. Now, looking back, what reader or writer could resist such an invitation? Even better, because the organization no longer exists, its six years of secrets can be fully explored without endangering lives. Finally, there’s the romance of it all: clandestine recruitment of a diverse and international group of volunteers who didn’t know what they’d be doing, but were willing to perform “duties of a hazardous nature”.
SOE’s work is at the centre of recent novels like Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name: Verity, William Boyd’s Restless, and many others. I’ve recently been reading some non-fiction sources in an absolute fever of excitement. Currently, I have SOE and the Resistance: As told in the Times Obituaries (ed. Michael Tillotson, 2011) and Forgotten Voices of the Secret War: An Inside History of Special Operations in the Second World War (ed. Roderick Bailey, 2008). Today, I want to share a few highlights in hopes of enticing you to join me.
Skinnarland was an engineer at a hydroelectric plant in German-occupied Norway that was scheduled to produce heavy water for the Nazi plutonium project. In May 1940, Skinnarland took a one-month leave from his job at the plant, joined a group of young Norwegians who hijacked a coastal steamer, and sailed it to Aberdeen to offer their services to the Allies. He brought with him detailed information about the plant’s security systems and volunteered to return for a sabotage operation. After “very basic” parachute training, the RAF dropped Skinnarland back into the Norwegian mountains, in good time for his return to work after a “holiday”! Skinnarland and his associate, Knut Haukelid, spent several months training resisters in…
Continue reading: The History Girls: Setting Europe Ablaze, by Y S Lee.