Exhibition captions

The Second-Oldest Profession
The Atterbury Plot
Spy Fever
The Test of War: 1914–1918
Samuel Hoare
Between the Wars
‘The Distemper of the Thirties’: The Cambridge Spies
Secrets, Security and Escape: 1939–1945
Uncovering the ‘Cambridge Five’
The Other Side of the Hill

The Second-Oldest Profession

The Book of Joshua, 2:16–3:17
Syria-Palestine, Tenth or Eleventh Century CE

The second chapter of Joshua relates the story of two spies sent by Joshua into Jericho prior to his laying siege to the city. They lodged with Rahab the harlot, who, fearful of the military reputation of the Israelites, betrayed her city by protecting the spies in return for a guarantee of safety for her household. This manuscript leaf, preserved in the Genizah (or document storeroom) of the Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo until being removed to Cambridge in 1898, gives details of the oath sworn between Rahab and the spies. The sixth chapter of Joshua confirms that the oath was honoured by the Israelites after the fall of Jericho.

T-S A6.10 leaf 1

Gaius Julius Caesar (100–44 BC)
Commentarii, edited by Johannes Andreas, Bishop of Aleria
Rome: In domo Petri de Maximis [Conradus Sweynheym and Arnoldus Pannartz], 25 August 1472

In Book 4 of The Gallic War, Caesar gave an account of his first foray into Britain at the close of the campaigning season in 55 BC. The entire exercise may be regarded as a reconnaissance mission, since Caesar’s stated aim was to observe the peoples, localities and harbours of the island. Before landing with the main force Caesar sent ahead a lieutenant to spy out the terrain: Gaius Volusenus thereby became the first known individual to undertake an espionage mission against the British Isles, even though, in the event, he did not endanger his safety by disembarking from his ship.

Inc.3.B.2.1 [1131]

William of Malmesbury (c. 1090–1142 or later)
Gesta regum Anglorum
England, Twelfth Century

William of Malmesbury’s History of the Kings of England was composed in the early twelfth century. William told how, at a low point during his wars against the Danes, Alfred the Great left his island refuge of Athelney and entered the Danish encampment disguised as a minstrel, where ‘there was no object of secrecy that he did not minutely attend to both with eyes and ears’. The information he obtained as a spy enabled him to win the decisive battle of Ethandun (878). In time this story became almost as well known as the episode of the burnt cakes, and was important in the formulation of Alfred as an English hero.

MS Ii.2.3, ff. 33v–34r

An Ordinance of the Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament, Concerning Those That Shall Come in from the Kings Quarters, Without Giving Accompt Thereof Within Five Dayes to the Committee at Goldsmiths Hall, to be Taken as Spies, and be Proceeded Against by Martiall Law
London: printed for Edward Husband, Printer to the Honourable House of Commons, 14 November 1645

Movements of civilians during wartime have recurrently given rise to anxiety about the opportunities they present for espionage. This ordinance, issued towards the end of the English Civil War after information had been received that ‘divers persons that have been in Arms against the Parliament, and some who have deserted it, and others that have assisted the Enemy, do resort to the City of London, or the city of Westminster, and give no accompt of their coming in or aboad there’, required such persons to register their names, ‘qualities’ (social rank) and lodging-places with a committee appointed by Parliament, on pain of being prosecuted as spies.

Syn.7.64.143(35), title page

Matthew Smith (c. 1665–1723 or earlier?)
Memoirs of Secret Service
London: printed for A. Baldwin near the Oxford Arms in Warwick-lane, 1699

Matthew Smith volunteered his services as a spy to William III’s Secretary of State, the Duke of Shrewsbury, in 1694. As the nephew of the Jacobite conspirator Sir William Parkyns, Smith was able to pass on accurate reports of plots to kidnap and assassinate the King, but – largely because of his dubious personal character and erratic behaviour – his information was disbelieved by the authorities and he failed to obtain the rewards he thought he was owed. Memoirs of Secret Service was published by Smith in an attempt to discredit Shrewsbury.

R.5.20, pp. 48–9

John Ker (1673–1726)
The Memoirs of John Ker, of Kersland in North Britain Esq; Containing his Secret Transactions and Negotiations in Scotland, England, the Courts of Vienna, Hanover, and Other Foreign Parts…
London: published by the author, 1726

During the reign of Queen Anne (1702–14), Scots from both Protestant and Catholic backgrounds found common cause against the Union of England and Scotland, giving rise to unstable but dangerous alliances which cut across established political and religious divides. In the midst of this unrest, John Ker succeeded in penetrating and exposing a Jacobite scheme to capture Edinburgh Castle. To facilitate Ker’s intelligence-gathering, the Queen granted him a royal licence to ‘keep Company and Associate himself with such as are disaffected to Us and Our Government’, which he printed opposite the title page of the memoirs of his ‘secret transactions’ published at the end of his life.

Huntingdon.56.11, title page

James Caulfield (1764–1826)
Portraits, Memoirs, and Characters, of Remarkable Persons, from the Revolution in 1688 to the End of the Reign of George II
Vol. IV, London: T. H. Whiteley, 1820

The printseller James Caulfield issued several compilations of copies of portrait prints of subjects deemed ‘remarkable’ for their curious habits of life, unusual disabilities, advanced ages, or criminal or disreputable characters. The ambiguous status of the spy is indicated by the inclusion in these works of both John Ker and Florence Hensey, a physician who, after residence on the continent for some years, returned to England to spy for the French during the Seven Years War (1756–63). Hensey was in due course arrested and sentenced to death, but notwithstanding the grisly view from the window of his cell in Caulfield’s print, he received a free pardon in 1760.

Eb.15.21, p. 11


The Atterbury Plot

John Plunket (1668–1738)
Letter to Christopher Layer
London, 8 September 1720

This letter, passed between two principals in the plot at an early stage of its gestation, was later seized among Layer’s papers by government agents. John Plunket had been active in Jacobite affairs for about ten years, living in Paris between 1713 and 1718, while Layer was a Norfolk lawyer with strong family and professional connections to Tory and Jacobite circles. Plunket tells Layer that ‘our friend’s business looks with a better aspect than ever it did. When he gains his point he will make amends for all delays’ – presumably a reference to the hoped-for restoration of James III. A few months after this letter was written, Plunket and Layer travelled together to Rome to confer with James in person.

MS Ch(H) 69/2/33

Copy of a letter of 20 April 1722, purportedly from ‘T. Illington’ [i.e. Francis Atterbury] to ‘Mr Musgrave’ [i.e. John Erskine, Jacobite Earl of Mar], but possibly a forgery by British government agents
London, 1722

Code-names and ciphers are hallmarks of conspiracies, but this document, labelled as a ‘true Copy’ taken ‘from the Original Letter’, may not be what it was intended to appear. To convict Atterbury of involvement in the conspiracy, Walpole’s administration needed evidence of his treasonable correspondence, and this letter was one of three supposedly dictated by him to George Kelly for transmission to James III and his associates overseas. These letters have, however, been viewed as government forgeries, both at the time of the plotters’ trials and by later historians.

MS Ch(H) 69/4/11

Examination of Jane Barnes before a Committee of the Council
London, 23 May 1722

In the course of the investigations into the plot, the question arose of the true intended recipient of ‘a very fine spotted Dog’ named Harlequin, brought from France by George Kelly. Harlequin was a gift from Lord Mar to Atterbury’s wife, but to admit this would be to link Atterbury with the Jacobite leadership, so Kelly claimed instead that the animal was a present from himself to his former landlady, Jane Barnes. Mrs Barnes was duly called before the investigating committee, where she confirmed that Harlequin had indeed been meant for Atterbury. This remarkable document is Jane Barnes’s signed testimony, and shows some of the great office-holders of England, headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, interrogating an obscure widow about ‘whether she knew of a little dog’.

MS Ch(H) 69/5/4

James Francis Edward Stuart (1688–1766), styled James III
Declaration of James the Third King of England, Scotland and Ireland, &c.…, with a cover addressed to M. Lunelle at Slaughter’s Coffee House
Lucca, 10 September 1722

While his agents were working on his behalf in England, James remained in Italy. In September 1722 he issued a declaration from Lucca offering to make peace with George I, provided that George would ‘deliver quietly to us the possession of our own Kingdoms’. In a postscript James referred to his knowledge ‘that divers of our Subjects continue dayly to be question’d and imprison’d upon pretence of intelligence with us’, and that ‘informers, Spy’s and false witnesses are become so numerous… that no innocence is safe’. Atterbury had been taken into custody in August, and within weeks of the declaration Kelly, Plunket and Layer had all been arrested.

MS Ch(H)69/5/23

Deposition of William Squire concerning the arrest of Christopher Layer
29 September 1722

On 18 September 1722 Layer was arrested on a charge of high treason. In this disposition the arresting officer, William Squire, reported on the hoard of firearms and swords found in Layer’s room. On being challenged about the guns Layer vainly tried to exculpate himself, saying ‘You must know my clerk and I are great shooters when we are in the country’. The day after his arrest Layer escaped from Squire’s custody by climbing through a second-floor window, but he was swiftly recaptured.

MS Ch(H)69/2/28


Spy Fever

William Le Queux (1864–1927)
The Great War in England in 1897
London: Tower Publishing Company Limited, 1894

Early examples of ‘invasion scare’ fiction commonly had France and Russia as Britain’s putative enemies. In The Great War in England in 1897, first commissioned as a serial by the newspaper entrepreneur Alfred Harmsworth (later Lord Northcliffe), the progress of the assaulting French and Russian forces is furthered by the capture of British charts and codes by the spy von Beilstein, who obtains them by befriending and then poisoning a Royal Naval officer. Le Queux aimed at producing more than simply an exciting novel, and the book was published with a preface pointing to the ‘important lesson’ underlying the work: ‘the French are laughing at us, the Russians presume to imitate us, and the Day of Reckoning is hourly advancing.’

1899.8.119, front cover

William Le Queux (1864–1927)
The Invasion of 1910 with a Full Account of the Siege of London
London: Eveleigh Nash, 1906

A ‘Great War’ with France and Russia having failed to materialize in 1897, Le Queux followed up his earlier novel in 1906 with a volume in which Germany was posited as the enemy. Catching the British off guard by invading on a Sunday morning, the Germans land in Suffolk, and their agents impede the defenders’ response by severing the telegraph links between East Anglia and London. Le Queux’s attempt to stoke fears of the infiltration of Britain by enemy agents is shown by the caption to this proclamation published by the German commander, which is said to have been ‘posted by unknown hands all over the country.’

Misc.7.90.1887, pp. 126–7

L’Assiette au Beurre
No. 444, Paris: 2 October 1909

In France too there was anxiety about German spies. The satirical anarchist journal L’Assiette au Beurre, published from 1901 to 1912, tellingly dedicated an issue to this theme in October 1909. Each issue of this publication, composed of 16 full-page illustrations drawn by a single artist, revolved around a noted social problem of the age. The caricaturist Jules Grandjouan (1875–1968), in charge of the ‘spies special’ on display, was prosecuted several times and eventually fled France to avoid a prison sentence for his anti-militarist drawings. As shown here, Grandjouan did not spare the French army and used the spies craze to depict what he perceived as the vain amorality of its officers. With the drawing of a courtesan trying to extort military information from her lover, he also prefigured the character of Mata Hari.

Collection of Dr Nicholas Hiley; pp. 1276–7

William Le Queux (1864–1927)
Spies of the Kaiser: Plotting the Downfall of England
London: Hurst and Blackett, Ltd, no date

Spies of the Kaiser was published at the height of the Edwardian German spy scare and gained widespread circulation through its serialisation in Lord Northcliffe’s Daily Mail. It was a fanciful tale masquerading as truth (the serialization was juxtaposed with genuine news stories), demonising the German Kaiser and Crown Prince and increasing political tensions between Britain and Germany. The book purported to show how Germany had been plotting against Britain for many years and had in place a large and well-prepared network of spies. The book’s impact was far-reaching since, under political pressure, the committee that went on to recommend the formation of the Secret Service Bureau was initially created to investigate this and other spy scare stories.

1919.6.197, front cover

Paul Lanoir
The German Spy System in France
London: Mills & Boon, Limited, [1914]

This translation by ‘an English Officer’ of Paul Lanoir’s L'Espionnage Allemand en France: Son Organisation – Ses Dangers – Les Remèdes Nécessaires was first published in 1910 and reissued in the year the First World War broke out. Lanoir, a leader of the counter-revolutionary and nationalist ‘yellow syndicates’ who probably had links with the French counter-intelligence services, claimed that the security of France was deeply compromised by extensive networks of German spies and secret police agents. In a preface, the anonymous translator warned of the ‘undeniable feasibility’ of the Germans ‘applying these, and similar methods, under present conditions in England’, and of ‘the enormous advantage such practices confer on a nation contemplating offensive war.’

Collection of Dr Nicholas Hiley; front cover


The Test of War: 1914–1918

The Daily Mirror
No. 3,439, London: 31 October 1914

The spy Carl Hans Lody (1877–1914) was a merchant seaman and Lieutenant in the German naval reserve. Arriving in Newcastle in August 1914 under the alias Charles A. Inglis, he travelled to Edinburgh, taking note of warships on the Forth and attempting to communicate with Berlin via neutral Sweden. Arrested under the provisions of the Defence of the Realm Act in Killarney, Ireland, in October, he was taken to London and court-martialled on a charge of ‘War Treason’. Subsequent spy trials were held in camera, but Lody’s was open to the public and was widely reported. On 6 November 1914 Lody became the first of 11 German spies to be executed by firing squad in the Tower of London during the First World War.

Collection of Dr Nicholas Hiley; front page

‘British Espionage Stamps of Germany’
England, 1918

During the First World War the British forged small numbers of Austrian and German stamps for secret service purposes. These copies of German 10 pfennig and 15 pfennig stamps were printed for use by Richard Tinsley, who ran British intelligence operations into Germany from his base in Rotterdam. Tinsley worked with local German deserters' organisations, which had contacts with socialist groups inside Germany. As well as providing military information, these groups were prepared to circulate British propaganda smuggled over the border. These forgeries were designed to assist the bulk circulation of anti-war pamphlets and journals within Germany, although the evidence suggests that they did not appear until September and October 1918, by which time the War was nearly over.

Collection of Dr Nicholas Hiley

‘Alfred Hagn, Alleged German Agent. Arrested in London, on May 24th, 1917’
London, 1917

Alfred Hagn was a Norwegian national arrested in London in 1917 for espionage activities. This paper was prepared by MI5 for the prosecuting authorities and outlines the case against Hagn. It is clear that Hagn was successfully identified by the scientific section of British Intelligence, who detected secret messages written in special inks in his correspondence with his German controllers. Hagn was successfully prosecuted and received a sentence of death, which was later commuted.

MS Templewood III:1 (47), pp. 5–6

Eric Holt-Wilson (1875–1950) and John Byam Liston Shaw (1872–1919)
‘The Hidden Hand’
[London, 1917]

‘To Liberty and Security’
[London, 1919]

By the end of the War MI5 was producing an annual Christmas or New Year card to send to its correspondents. The first of these was designed by the Deputy Director of MI5, Eric Holt-Wilson, and drawn by the distinguished artist Byam Shaw. The designs contained ‘in-jokes’ and allusions to MI5: for example the spines of the trident in the 1917 card are in the form M I V (i.e. the Roman numeral 5), and in the 1920 card the phrase ‘Malevolence Imposes Vigilance’ again plays on M I V.

Collection of Dr Nicholas Hiley


Samuel Hoare

Mansfield Cumming (1859–1923)
Letter to Sir Samuel Hoare
London, 11 May 1916

In 1916 Mansfield Cumming (known as ‘C’), the founding head of Britain’s foreign intelligence service, MI6, recruited Sir Samuel Hoare MP and sent him to Russia as station chief. Intelligence-sharing between Britain and the Russian secret services (whose agents had successfully penetrated Germany) was critical to the war effort and in this letter Cumming instructed Hoare to deepen and develop the links between the services. Although Cumming set out what he intended to be Hoare’s relationship with the British embassy and the ambassador, Sir George Buchanan, it was eventually Buchanan’s opposition to Hoare’s activities that forced his withdrawal in January 1917. Note the signature in the green ink for which Cumming was legendary.

MS Templewood II:1 (38)

Sir Samuel Hoare (1880–1959)
Copies of telegrams to ‘C’ [Mansfield Cumming]
Petrograd [Saint Petersburg], 31 December 1916 and 2 January 1917

On 31 December 1916 the monk and mystic Grigori Rasputin, one of the most influential and loathed figures connected with the tsarist regime, was murdered by a group of Russian aristocrats. As ‘C’s man in Russia, Hoare’s links to the Russian secret service made him the first foreigner to learn of and report the murder to Britain and the West. These telegrams conveyed the news that made headlines and sparked the crisis which preceded the tsar’s abdication in March 1917. Down to the present day, conspiracy theorists have asserted that the British authorities, fearing Rasputin’s influence with the German-born tsarina, ordered Hoare and MI6 to murder him. 

MS Templewood II:1 (47) and (50)

Stephen Alley (1876–1969)
‘Alphabetical List of Enemy Agents: K. P. Series’
Petrograd [Saint Petersburg], 16 June 1917

On the outbreak of war in 1914, the British intelligence services were tiny organisations, staffed mainly by gentleman amateurs. By the middle of the War, however, both MI5 and MI6 had grown dramatically and drawn into their ranks highly professional personnel: among these was the Russian-born Stephen Alley. By 1917, when this Russian-derived list of German agents operating in the Baltic region was produced, the use of modern data technology, tradecraft and intelligence-sharing arrangements were bearing fruit. This extraordinary list (the only one of its kind known to have survived from this period) would have gone on to form part of MI5’s monthly ‘Black List’ of German agents.

MS Templewood II:2 (25)

Identity card for Sir Samuel Hoare
Rome, 11 August 1917

John Fillis Carré Carter (1882–1944)
‘Plan of Intelligence Police: Italian Expeditionary Force’
Rome, 1 April 1918

In the summer of 1917 Hoare went to Italy as head of the British Military Mission, a part of MI5. Soon after his arrival the disastrous battle of Caporetto, where Italian armies were routed by the Germans and Austro-Hungarians, quickly followed by the Bolshevik revolution in Russia and the collapse of the Russian war effort, aroused concerns in Britain and France that Italy would sue for peace. The Italy Hoare came to was rife with defeatism and anti-war, pacifist and communist sentiment, and was suffering the effects of inflation and the breakdown of the food distribution system. With around a hundred British intelligence officers and thousands of Italian agents and support staff, Hoare played a leading role in keeping the Italians in the War.

These documents are Hoare’s identity card, issued on his arrival in Rome, and a diagram by one of his subordinates illustrating the structure of part of the British intelligence organisation in Italy.

MS Templewood III:1 (9)
MS Templewood III:3 (22)

Sir Samuel Hoare (1880–1959)
Copy of a letter to Sir George Macdonogh
Rome, 3 January 1918

Sir George Macdonogh (1865–1942)
Decode of a telegram to Sir Samuel Hoare, London, 8 January 1918
Rome, 9 January 1918

As part of the British Military Mission’s effort to shore up the Italian commitment to the War, it engaged in propaganda work (including financial support for the Milan-based newspaper Il Popolo d'Italia, edited by the future fascist dictator Benito Mussolini), and even promoted popular agitation to pressurize the elected government of the country. These documents reveal Hoare’s proposal to devote funds towards a pro-war demonstration, and show that his suggestion was rapidly acceded to by his superiors in London (Sir George Macdonogh was Director of Military Intelligence, in overall control of MI5 and the British Military Mission). As far as the British government was concerned, the expense was insignificant compared to the danger that Italy might exit the War and thereby release enemy troops for deployment against the British on the Western Front.

MS Templewood III:2 (5)
MS Templewood III:2 (10)

Sir Samuel Hoare (1880–1959)
Copy of a telegram to Sir George Macdonogh
Rome, 30 March 1918

As part of the British Military Mission’s brief, Hoare had responsibility for surveillance of the Vatican bureaucracy. He was particularly active in identifying the pro-Central Powers faction within the Vatican, and succeeded in tracking the waxing and waning influence of this group and its main leader, the Papal Nuncio to Munich, Eugenio Pacelli, who twenty-one years later became Pope Pius XII. Hoare’s telegram referred to the Spring Offensive of 1918, the Germans’ last throw of the dice on the Western Front, and implied that its best potential outcome would be to enable the Central Powers to undertake peace negotiations from a position of strength.

MS Templewood III:3 (23)

Decode of a telegram to Sir Samuel Hoare, London, 12 June 1918
Rome, 13 June 1918

SUBSIDED was the London telegraphic address for MI5. This decoded telegram from the Service illustrates how volatile Europe had become at the end of the First World War and how British Intelligence needed to maintain a close watch on revolutionary movements. Indeed, by the end of the War Bolshevism had replaced German militarism as the principal problem facing Britain, its Empire and its intelligence community.

MS Templewood III:3 (89)


Between the Wars

Sir Basil Home Thomson (1861–1939)
Memorandum concerning intelligence services and the monarchy
England, 1919

The son of an archbishop of York, Sir Basil Thomson had a varied career, serving as assistant premier of Tonga, governor of Dartmoor prison, and assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. As head of the Scotland Yard C.I.D. during the First World War he was involved in the arrest of numerous German spies. A flamboyant self-publicist and conspiracy theorist, he allied himself with right-wing elements in the wartime coalition government, and at the end of the War sought to consolidate all intelligence activities under his newly-formed Home Office Directorate of Intelligence. He circulated this memorandum to hardliners and others seeking to undermine moves towards representative democracy in Britain (note his assumptions respecting ‘disloyal Prime Ministers’), aiming to place himself in a determining position. Out of political control, he was dismissed by the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, in 1921.

MS Templewood I:2 (37), pp. 4–5

George Nathaniel Curzon, Marquess Curzon of Kedleston (1859–1925)
Letter to Stanley Baldwin, with a transcript of a telegram from the Comte de St Aulaire to Raymond Poincaré
London, 9 November 1923

The targets of espionage are not limited to enemy powers: it can also be useful to know what one’s nominal allies are thinking. In the autumn of 1923, during a period of tension between Britain and France arising from the French occupation of the Ruhr, the British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon, who received decrypts of secret French diplomatic telegrams, became convinced that the French premier Raymond Poincaré was plotting with embassy officials in London to sow discord between him and the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin. In a series of outraged letters preserved among Baldwin’s personal papers, Curzon revealed the intercepted telegrams to the Prime Minister. The Comte de St Aulaire was the French ambassador.

MS Baldwin 249/3/6, i and iv

Winston Churchill (1874–1965)
Letter to Stanley Baldwin
London, 5 February 1925

Winston Churchill was one of the first modern political leaders to use intelligence briefings as a tool in the formulation of policy. In this letter, written as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Churchill complained to the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, about being denied access to intercepted Japanese diplomatic telegrams seen by relatively junior personnel: ‘How can I conduct the controversies on which the management of our finances depends, unless at least I have the same knowledge of secret state affairs freely accessible to the officials of the Admiralty? The words “monstrous” & “intolerable” leap readily to my mind.’ Like the Curzon documents on the left, this letter was under Cabinet Office embargo until 2007.

MS Baldwin 249/3/9

Sir William George Tyrrell (1866–1947)
Note to Stanley Baldwin, with a memorandum on ‘Soviet Policy in China as Shown in Recent Secret Documents’
London, 17 December 1926

This memorandum is an example of the product of intelligence gathering: a document prepared from secret sources for the purpose of briefing decision-makers. Forwarded to Baldwin as Prime Minister by Sir William Tyrrell, Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, the document drew on Special Intelligence Service (MI6) reports and assessed the progress of Soviet activities in China aimed at undermining British interests in the country. The ‘raw’ intelligence is set in the context of political analysis, including the striking assertion that Russian foreign policy is and always has been motivated by ‘Love of intrigue for intrigue’s sake’.

MS Baldwin 249/3/10, i–ii

Photograph of Eric Holt-Wilson
London, late 1920s?

Eric Holt-Wilson was the founding Deputy Head of MI5 and creator of the Imperial intelligence service. A career army officer in the Royal Engineers, Holt-Wilson was recruited by Vernon Kell in 1912 as his deputy. He drafted the wartime defence regulations in 1913 and during the First World War was responsible for counter espionage, at the same time developing the Imperial service. In the inter-war years Holt-Wilson made several tours of the Empire, and in 1935 insisted that internment of British subjects would be necessary in the event of a war emergency. Along with Kell, he was dismissed by Churchill in June 1940.

MS Add. 9794/7/7

Compton Mackenzie (1883–1972)
Greek Memories
London: Cassell and Company, Limited, 1932

The writer Compton Mackenzie served as MI6 station chief in the Eastern Mediterranean during the First World War. In 1932 he published his recollections of the period, Greek Memories, in which wrote extensively about his clandestine activities and revealed the names of colleagues in the intelligence services. He was subsequently prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act and fined £500.

This copy of Greek Memories was Holt-Wilson’s. In it he marked up the passages which contravened the Official Secrets Act, and this formed the basis of a subsequent expurgated version of the book.

MS Add. 9794/8/8, pp. 162–3

Eric Holt-Wilson (1875–1950)
Letter to Audrey Holt-Wilson
London, 12 June 1933

Sir Eric Holt-Wilson’s first wife died in 1927 and four years later he married Audrey Stirling, who was thirty years his junior and also worked for a short period in the MI5 office. This letter is a sample of the frequent correspondence between the two when Holt-Wilson stayed in London to work. The letterhead incorporates the Security Service's all-seeing eye with the crests of the British armed forces and a Latin tag, which loosely translates as 'Security is the reward of unceasing vigilance'.

MS Add. 9794/2/32

Sir Eric Holt-Wilson (1875–1950)
Letter to Lady Holt-Wilson
London, 11 June 1940

When in June 1940 Vernon Kell and Eric Holt-Wilson were dismissed (they both regarded it as resignation) Holt-Wilson wrote this letter to his wife. In a frank reply, she observed that the notice he had been given was less than a domestic servant might expect. Churchill’s unsentimental action in dismissing the two men ended the espionage careers of the founding heads of the modern British domestic and Imperial intelligence service.

MS Add. 9794/2/294


‘The Distemper of the Thirties’: The Cambridge Spies

Student record cards for Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Kim Philby and John Cairncross
Cambridge, 1926–34

Between 1889 and 1970 the University recorded the academic progress of its undergraduate students on cards similar to these. The University Archives contain over 300 boxes of such cards, recording more than 125,000 Cambridge careers. The cards for the ‘Cambridge Five’ are entirely ordinary examples of these records, indistinguishable in form from many thousands of others, a quality which symbolizes the ease with which the future spies were able to settle into the British establishment without drawing attention to themselves.

In Cambridge University Archives, Graduati 12

The Granta
Vol. XLIII, No. 968, Cambridge: 8 November 1933

The series of articles titled ‘The Undergraduate in the Box’ was initiated by the student magazine The Granta in the Michaelmas Term 1933, in response to a perceived interest on the part of London newspapers in ‘what Cambridge is thinking’. In this mock-interview, Donald Maclean adopted three stock undergraduate personas: the aesthete, the hearty and the swot. Although clearly intended for comic effect, the article has subsequently been interpreted as evidence of the ease with which Maclean was able to conceal his true self beneath assumed personality traits.

Cam.b.41.16.41, pp. 90–91

Anthony Blunt (1907–1983)
Letter to an editor at Cambridge University Press
Munich, 4 August 1934

In the early 1930s the political sympathies of the Cambridge Five were not hidden from their contemporaries. Later the men were instructed by their handlers to eschew visible links with Communism (Kim Philby going to the extreme of being awarded a medal by the Spanish fascist leader General Franco), although Anthony Blunt continued to publish academic work praising socialist realism in art. In this letter to an editor at Cambridge University Press, written during a residence in Nazi Germany, he indicates a propensity for ideological disputes: ‘I nearly got assaulted the other day for having a political argument with an Innkeeper!’

Cambridge University Archives, CUP PrA B674/2


Secrets, Security and Escape: 1939–1945

German – Swiss Frontier 1:300,000, from a double-sided fabric map showing France, Spain, Belgium and Holland at 1:1,000,000 and the Pyrenees at 1:500,000, 43A/B
London: MI9, 1943

December 1939 saw the establishment of a new military intelligence section, MI9, whose objectives included facilitating the escape of British Prisoners of War. Christopher Clayton Hutton, one of the intelligence officers employed by MI9, realized the importance of maps in this respect – ‘the escaper’s most important accessory’ he wrote – and played a key role in the mapping programme. The early escape and evasion maps were printed on silk, prized for its durability but not the easiest material to print on, and tissue, which could be compressed into a tiny volume, but rayon was increasingly used as stocks of silk declined. The map on display was produced in 1943 as part of a series of 10 covering the European theatre, apparently printed by John Waddington Limited of Leeds, a company better known for its board games.

The maps, along with other escape equipment, were carried by airmen, sometimes in specially designed flying boots with hollow heels. They were also sent to POWs hidden in playing cards, books, pencils and sets of the board game Monopoly (although never in Red Cross parcels so as not to compromise that organisation). POWs often used ingenious methods to reproduce them in the camps.


1:25,000 Bogus map, sheet 8 showing B.M.A. [Base Maintenance Area] layout. Oslo
519th Field Survey Company, April 1944

The crucial importance of maintaining absolute secrecy with regard to the target area of D-Day (the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944) presented particular problems when planning and rehearsing such a huge and intricate operation. The solution was to produce special maps of the invasion area which were accurate in every detail but had randomly-chosen and meaningless place-names. This example shows the extreme eastern flank of the area, where the Orne River and the ship canal from Caen flow into the English Channel at Ouistreham. Ouistreham is named ‘Oslo’, the canal the ‘Portugal’ and the river the ‘Prague’.

The twin bridges over the canal and river at ‘Venice’ were seized at the very start of the invasion in a glider-borne assault by a small unit of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. The one over the canal was later nicknamed Pegasus Bridge, after the symbol of the British airborne forces.


John Harold Goodland (1919–1978)
‘Security Lecture (Based on The Next of Kin)’
England, c. 1942

These notes were made by John Harold Goodland of the British Army’s Intelligence Corps for a lecture to service personnel on the importance of security. Goodland described his role as being to stop the troops being ‘stabbed in the back’. His lecture drew on Thorold Dickinson’s 1942 Ealing Studios feature film ‘The Next of Kin’, which starred Mervyn Johns as a German agent in England whose hunt for information about a planned Commando raid is made easier by careless gossip. After D-Day Goodland served in France and the Low Countries as part of a Field Security unit, and continued to work with the Intelligence service in Germany until the early 1950s.

MS Add. 9704/5/1

Norman Wilkinson (1878–1971), artist
A Few Careless Words May End in This –
London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1940

Abram Games (1914–1996), artist
Your Talk May Kill Your Comrades
London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1942

The ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’ campaign was launched by the Ministry of Information in 1940 to raise awareness of the need for security in everyday situations and to discourage gossiping about war-related matters. Many of the campaign’s posters were humorous, but others, like these two, were bleakly chilling. Cambridge-born Norman Wilkinson, who developed the ‘dazzle’ camouflage for shipping in the First World War, was the artist responsible for a famous series of travel posters used as advertisements for the London Midland and Scottish Railway between the Wars. Abram Games designed over a hundred posters during the Second World War, and from 1942 was an Official War Artist with the rank of Captain; his aim in poster design was to extract ‘maximum meaning’ from ‘minimum means’.

War Poster 24
War Poster 44


Uncovering the ‘Cambridge Five’

Cyril Connolly (1903–1974)
The Missing Diplomats
London: The Queen Anne Press, 1952

Burgess and Maclean fled England in May 1951. The journalist Cyril Connolly, who had known them both in London, published two articles in The Sunday Times in September 1952 which he expanded for this book publication. Connolly offered no definite conclusions on the reasons for the men’s disappearance, but equivocally weighed up the likelihoods of their departure from England being made voluntarily or under duress. In common with many others, he was reluctant to accept that Burgess and Maclean had spied for the Soviet Union: ‘they are members of the governing class, of the high bureaucracy, the “they” who rule the “we”…. If traitors they be, then they are traitors to themselves.’

9250.c.546, title page

Donald Seaman and John S. Mather
The Great Spy Scandal
London: A Daily Express Publication, 1955

In the five years between Burgess and Maclean’s disappearance and the press conference in Moscow in February 1956 at which they reappeared in public, journalists were actively piecing together clues to the mystery, reporting on messages sent to the men’s families in the West, covering the parliamentary questions on the affair put down by the MP Marcus Lipton and others, and responding to the few guarded official statements that were made. The Daily Express published this digest of journalistic enquiries in December 1955, describing it as ‘a story of pressure by newspapers to get the news and of determination in high places to conceal the news.’

9250.c.572, pp. 8–9

Arthur Koestler (1905–1983), Sir Isaiah Berlin (1909–1997) and Graham Greene (1904–1991)
Letters to Andrew Boyle
London, 19 April 1977; Headington, 22 June 1977; and Antibes, 6 March 1979

In 1976 the broadcaster and biographer Andrew Boyle (1919–91) began research on a project which set the treachery of the Cambridge spies in the historical context of the previous half-century and sought to analyze the ‘unhealthy political and social climate’ which he termed ‘the distemper of the thirties’. The resultant book, The Climate of Treason: Five who Spied for Russia, although it did not name Blunt and Cairncross as the Fourth and Fifth men, contained enough clues for their identities to be established by newspapers. Boyle obtained written and oral testimony from nearly 500 ‘witnesses’ who had known the spies; letters from three of his correspondents are displayed here.

MS Add. 9429/1G/13, 97 and 148

Daily Express
No. 24,690, London: 21 November 1979

Blunt’s unmasking occurred at a tense period of the Cold War, a time underlain by fears of a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union, and before the Gorbachev era of glasnost and perestroika. The response of the British tabloid press, not only to Blunt’s treachery but to the protection he had been offered since the mid-1960s, was virulent. ‘The Voice of Britain’, at least as represented by the Daily Express, spoke in tones that revealed class grudges and anti-intellectualism as well as genuine disquiet at the damage the revelations inflicted on the reputation of the security services. Blunt’s longstanding link to the Royal family, as Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, gave rise to particular anger.

MS Add. 9429/1G/451(i)


The Other Side of the Hill

Selection of items from Militärgeographische Angaben über England. Abgeschlossen am 31. August 1941
Berlin: Generalstab des Heeres, Abteilung für Kriegskarten und Vermessungswesen (IV. Mil.-Geo.), 1940–41

In September 1940 Adolf Hitler abandoned – or, officially, postponed – his plans to invade Britain (Operation Sealion). However, the German Army General Staff (Generalstab des Heeres) continued to collect detailed information in preparation for any future invasion or occupation. The information thus gathered was published in dossiers which were ‘For Official Use Only’ (Nur für den Dienstgebrauch) and distributed to the German military forces. This pack for England contains general maps but also thematic maps showing road and rail communications and other aspects of transport, including river and canal systems, industrial areas, power stations, ports, telephone and telegraph networks and population distribution and density.

The maps are supported by booklets containing town plans, a pronunciation guide for place names, an index to the general map and a gazetteer. A booklet also describes the geography of the area – weather, geology and soils, industry, and the miles of roads of different classes and with different surfaces – and includes a phrasebook with a few useful sentences such as ‘Where are the barracks?’


Profiles of the coast to the west of Cromer and photographic view of Cromer, from Militärgeographische Angaben über England: Ostküste (südlicher Teil von Margate bis zum Humber). Text- und Bildheft mit Kartenanlagen. Abgeschlossen am 30. August 1940
Berlin: Generalstab des Heeres, Abteilung für Kriegskarten und Vermessungswesen (IV. Mil.-Geo.), 1941

This volume describing the East coast of England for the benefit of German military planners contains, as well as text, a number of photographs of coastal areas, rivers, industrial sites and towns. Some of these may have been taken especially for the publication, although many will have started life as picture postcards on general sale to the public. The coastal profiles would have aided identification of locations from offshore. On a fold-out map the nature of the coast – steep, flat, cliffs and so forth – is indicated by thick coloured lines.

Maps.c.F.022.6, pp. 66–67

From Militärgeographische Angaben über England: Sudküste. 3. Nachtrag zum Text- und Bildheft. Geneigtaufnahmen vom Ostabschnitt (Littlehampton bis Margate) mit Text und Kartenanlage. Abgeschlossen am 31. Mai 1941
Berlin: Generalstab des Heeres, Abteilung für Kriegskarten und Vermessungswesen (IV. Mil.-Geo.), 1941

This dossier for the South coast of England includes, on one sheet of paper, printed on both sides, a series of 115 oblique aerial photographic views of the coast from Littlehampton in West Sussex to Foreness Point in Kent. Features of interest are occasionally marked with numbers, crosses or circles.

Maps.c.F.022.4, pp. 51–58

Evidence in Camera
Vol. 6, No. 3, London: Air Ministry, 17 January 1944

This weekly (later fortnightly) publication featuring aerial reconnaissance photographs was distributed to Officers’ messes and service Reference Libraries for official use only; although not classified as Secret, it bore a warning against the disclosure of its contents, which might ‘occasionally be of value to the enemy’. This issue contained a set of photographs of ‘Landmarks on the Normandy Coast’, including sites which only a few months later were among the primary objectives of the D-Day assault: Ouistreham, at the Eastern end of Sword Beach, and the river Orne and the Caen Canal.


France 1:25000, Ste. Marie du Mont (G.S.G.S. 4347, sheet no. 34/18 N.W., with defence overprint)
Map Reproduction Section 16, Stop Press edition of 20 May 1944

The long gestation of the Allied plans for re-establishing themselves on the Continent of Europe (from which they had been evicted in 1940) meant that they had the luxury of mapping the target areas in great detail.

In addition to physical reconnaissance by Combined Operations Pilotage Parties, which secretly took soundings of coastal waters and examined the beaches for gradient (important for landing craft) and firmness, large numbers of photographic reconnaissance missions were flown.

The maps were regularly updated as new intelligence was received, as can be seen from this example which includes the south-eastern section of Utah Beach. The designation BIGOT denoted a special level of security, for information only available to a chosen few – known as Bigots. In contrast to the more widely-distributed maps with bogus place-names (an example is in an adjacent case), BIGOT maps made clear which areas were being depicted.

Maps.H.09, 34/18 NW

Notes on G.S.G.S. Maps of France Belgium and Holland
London: Directorate of Military Survey, 1943

Notes on G.S.G.S. Maps of Germany Denmark and Central Europe
London: Directorate of Military Survey, 1944

As well as making maps, the Geographical Section of the General Staff, or G.S.G.S., produced a number of guides to its mapping of various regions. These Notes on G.S.G.S. Maps showed the maps available for each area and described the source material – usually foreign mapping native to the areas concerned – used in their preparation. Aerial photographs, many taken by aircraft flying from RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, were used to update the maps. On display is a map showing the approximate extent of the areas for which photographs were available to the Central Interpretation Unit of the Royal Air Force in January 1944.

S696.a.94.48, p. 34 and map opposite

Air Photo Mosaic, 1:10,560
Southampton: Ordnance Survey, 1947 (modern copy) and 1949

By the end of the Second World War Ordnance Survey mapping of the United Kingdom had become outdated and the Government embarked on a photographic survey of the country as a timely way of providing the required revisions. The resultant photo-maps were produced between 1947 and 1953 at six inches to the mile (1:10,560) and, for selected towns, at the more detailed scales of 1:2,500 and 1:1,250.

Aware of the extent to which its maps might aid foreign intelligence agencies, the Government wished to avoid showing sensitive sites on the imagery and issued censored sheets of some areas, usually identified as edition ‘B’. Comparing the two versions of the photo-mosaic maps of Dover on display, it can be seen that in the later sheet (published in April 1949), fields have replaced fortifications south-west of the town. In addition, radar installations to the east have been excised from the mosaic and replaced with open grassland.

Copies of those sheets that were published can be found in the Legal Deposit Libraries although access to the uncensored sheets, which the libraries had been allowed to keep, was not permitted until 1995 when they were officially derestricted.

Map Room Air Photo Mosaic 1:10,560, sheet 61/34 SW
Original of censored edition, and modern copy of section of uncensored edition

The Powers’ Case: Material of the Court Hearings in the Criminal Case of the American Spy-Pilot Francis Gary Powers: Moscow August 17–19, 1960
London: Soviet Booklet No. 76, 1960

Overflying national territory without permission is regarded as an illegal breach of sovereignty, and the celebrated ‘U-2 Affair’ led to a severe diplomatic rupture at the height of the Cold War. The shooting down near Sverdlovsk (Yekaterinburg) on 1 May 1960 of a United States spy plane en route from Pakistan to Norway led the Soviet Union to withdraw from a planned summit conference in Paris, and embarrassed the United States President, Eisenhower, who was forced to offer to suspend espionage flights over Russia. The propaganda value of the incident for the Soviets is illustrated by this booklet issued in London. Gary Powers was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, but was freed in 1962 in exchange for the Soviet spy Rudolf Abel.

Squire Law Library TVL.m.62.001

Великобритания, Норидж, Генеральный Штаб, 1:500,000
(Velikobritaniia, Noridzh, General’nyi Shtab: Great Britain, Norwich, General Staff, 1:500,000)
Sverdlovsk: General Staff, 1985

One of the estimated 1,100,000 map sheets – of most of the world at various scales – produced by the Soviet Military for over 50 years before, during and after the Cold War. Classified as ‘Secret’ or as ‘For official use only’, these maps were unknown outside the Soviet Military until the break-up of the Soviet Union, when they became available on the open market.

The print code in the bottom right of the sheet – E-2 III 85-Ср – tells us that this sheet was printed March 1985 at the map factory in Sverdlovsk (code Cp), now Yekaterinburg, one of the largest cities in the Urals. Although printed in 1985, a statement in the bottom right states that the map was compiled from 1:200,000 scale maps published from 1972–4. It is likely that these were re-scaled British maps supplemented by aerial photographs and local observations.

This sheet clearly indicates the many military and civilian airfields in the area – not all so clearly shown on British mapping. Off the coast, such features as ferry lines, undersea cables and oil fields are marked.

Maps.H.062, N–31–B