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Cases of general interest


Arthur Ransome (KV 2/1903-1904)

Ransome (1884-1967), the author of Swallows and Amazons, came to MI5's attention in 1917 when, as a journalist for the Daily News in Russia, he witnessed the October Revolution at first hand and was on friendly terms with many prominent Bolshevik figures.

These two reconstituted files document MI5's intense interest in Ransome in the years 1917-1920, as he produced propaganda for the Bolsheviks, travelled between Moscow, Stockholm and the UK, and aroused a great debate as to whether he was a genuine Bolshevik, or was feigning an interest to enable him to continue his journalistic work, or to gather information for the British authorities. The files contain some details of his relationship with Evgenia Shelepin, Trotsky's former secretary, who Ransome married in 1924 having played a large part in arranging her emigration from Russia.

KV 2/1903, covering 1918-1919, is full of scraps of reports about Ransome's activities, interspersed with more detailed analysis of his work and views. The initial reports all suggest that he is a genuine supporter of the Bolsheviks - his supposed marriage to Trotsky's secretary is one of the first events reported (in August 1918), and he is described as "a keen supporter of Trotsky and is himself an ardent Bolshevik." At serial 16 he is reported to have identified himself using the phrase "in the name of the Soviet." On his arrival in Stockholm in August 1918, however, it is reported that he has changed his views - though many are unconvinced and one unidentified MI6 officer states that Ransome had named him as a British agent to two Russians. Unsurprisingly, a close watch was kept on Ransome. This contrasts with a description in March 1919 which indicates that he was acting for the British authorities in developing close ties with the Bolsheviks: "[Ransome is] not a Bolshevik…his association with the Bolsheviks was begun, and has been continued throughout, at the direct request of responsible British Authorities. He was first asked to get into the closest possible touch with them by Mr Lindley when he was Chargé d'Affaires." The file continues to gather information on Ransome, including from his interview on return to the UK in April 1919. Ransome returned to Russia in 1919 despite the opposition of MI5, after pressure was applied by the Manchester Guardian.

There is further correspondence, but tracing Ransome's movements and career at a lower level of detail, in KV 2/1904 (covering 1918-1937). The debate as to his true political sympathies continues, and there are reports about his visit to Ceylon and China later in the 1920s. The file closes with a copy of Ransome's passport renewal form in 1937 (which includes a relatively poor copy photograph of Ransome), at which time it was agreed that his name could be removed from the blacklist.

Anthony Brooke (KV 2/1855)

Anthony Brooke was the son of Bertram Brooke, who was the brother and heir presumptive to Sir Charles Vyner Brooke, the last "White Rajah" of Sarawak. Anthony Brooke opposed the cession of the Rajah's territory to the British Crown after the end of the Second World War, and was associated with anti-cessionist groups in Sarawak. Sarawak became a British colony (it was formerly an independent state under British protection) in July 1946, but Brooke's campaign continued. The chief interest in this file (which covers 1942-1956), apart from the light it throws on the activities of Anthony Brooke at this time, is in the restraints shown to work on the Security Service in initiating investigations. In January 1950, when there was evidence to hand that Brooke was linked, through his legal representative, to groups believed to be responsible for the murder of the governor of Sarawak, staff in the Security Service recommended that a Home Office warrant be secured to intercept Brooke's mail. Consultations took place with the Colonial Office, and the recommendation was rejected. In February the Colonial Office returned to the Service and asked it to investigate Brooke and his associates, and this request was taken up. The question of a warrant was again considered, and again rejected, this time following the intervention of the Deputy Director General. The file contains a detailed summary of Brooke's career at serial 20a.

(Archibald) Fenner Brockway MP, later Lord Brockway (KV 2/1917-1921)

Brockway, 1888-1988, was a life-long campaigner in his chosen causes, of which his most firmly held, pacifism and the cause of conscientious objection to warfare, was the one that brought him to MI5 attention during the First World War. Brockway was then editor of The Labour Leader, the organ of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), which was publishing anti-conflict pieces. The export of The Labour Leader from the UK was prohibited in 1917, and around this time MI5 began collecting information about Brockway in his role as editor.

KV 2/1917 (1915-1917) mostly contains MI5 papers about The Labour Leader, but there is some correspondence about Brockway rather than the paper he edited, including cuttings about his frequent brushes with the courts martial system for his conscientious objection and his anti-war and anti-conscription activities. A minute of June 1916 (on sub file H 2058) declares "The Labour Leader is an old offender…it seems most desirable to suppress the paper." Nevertheless it continued publication, and there are copies of the paper dated 7 December 1916 and 13 September 1917 on the file. The file also contains an intercepted copy of a 1915 letter from Lenin (under his given name of Ulyanov) to the editor of The Labour Leader.

There is more similar material in KV 2/1918 (1917-1920) which includes copies of The Labour Leader from March, June and September 1918, the 14 November 1918 edition containing Philip Snowden MP's front-page article on the armistice, and June and July 1919. A particular issue taken up by the paper at this time was the ill-treatment of Russian conscientious objectors. KV 2/1919, covering 1921-1940, becomes a much more typical Security Service personal file over time, turning its attention away from the ILP and The Labour Leader and more onto Brockway's own activities. The volume of correspondence decreases as the First World War passed into history and the importance of conscientious objection as an issue faded, and there is little material from the 1920s, when Brockway was elected to Parliament for the first time, in June 1929 for Leyton East. The file includes a copy of the pamphlet Which Way for the Workers? Harry Pollitt, Communist Party versus Fenner Brockway, Independent Labour Party. A warrant to intercept Brockway's mail was first considered in May 1933 by the Security Service, and revisited in January 1934 (when the Director General minuted to the Home Office "Brockway has gone considerably to the left since our last discussion"). On both occasions the Home Office refused the request.

In fact, a warrant to intercept Brockway's post was not granted until 1942, as recorded on KV 2/1920 (1940-1950), when it was approved following the argument that "this man is an associate of Harold Whitten, on whose correspondence a check is already imposed. Both these men are suspected of receiving secret information from a government official." The selected product of that warrant is on this file, which also includes a photograph of Brockway, a detailed history sheet, and a copy of The Way Out, Brockway's war-time pamphlet. As in the First World War, Brockway's position during the Second (for which he was too old for combat duty) was to support conscientious objectors, though he himself now had doubts about the correctness of this choice in the face of European Fascism and Nazism. In the post-war period, the correspondence on the file is chiefly about Brockway's involvement with anti-colonial and pro-independence movements and organisations, and there is a detailed report of his visit to Uganda in 1950. The final file in this release covering 1951-1954 (KV 2/1921) continues in a similar vein.

Reports of suspected cases of German espionage activity in Britain (KV 3/92-97)

These six files contain accumulated papers relating to various suspected German espionage cases in the UK from 1922. The first of these (KV 3/92), covering 1922-1931, begins with a summary of the post-war German intelligence effort and organisation, and includes a copy of a 1924 questionnaire supposedly issued to German intelligence officers containing key information to be obtained about the British military. Various cases where reports of possible German espionage product came into British hands are assessed. They include, for example, documents provided by the Director-General of the Romanian police in 1927, which were dismissed as routine and unimportant. KV 3/93 (1931-1935) contains similar material, but by 1935 the cases start to be investigated more extensively. In KV 3/94 (1935-1937), for example, the case of a receipt issued by the firm of Woodyears in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, the reverse of which was found to include a pencilled note in praise of Hitler, was thoroughly examined. The receipt was sent in to the Director of Military Intelligence and then passed to the Security Service, which gathered information on all Woodyears employees to try to trace the origin. The original invoice is on the file, along with copy passport papers and photographs of one of the suspect employees, Hilda Morris of Newport. The file also includes a report on German espionage in the UK prepared at the request of the Deuxième Bureau in Paris in 1937. There is further similar material in KV 3/95 (1937-1938), which is chiefly concerned with German interest in British anti-tank weaponry, and KV 3/96 (1938-1941) and KV 3/97 (1941-1943).

Enemy use of the BBC European Service (KV 3/99)

This file concerns an investigation launched in 1942 into the BBC's practice of sending radio messages via its European Services on behalf of European escapees to let relatives know that they had arrived safely in Britain. There were concerns that this service was being used by German agents to send messages conveying their safe arrival in the UK, especially after the case of Lecoq, which is detailed on the file. The same method was used to convey messages to SIS and SOE agents in Europe, and after the capture of agents Pelletier and Petin by the Germans it was clear that the Germans had discovered this ploy and intended to use it for their own advantage. It is clear that the BBC was unwitting in being used in this way by the Germans (though not of course by the British services). Several individual cases of messages transmitted in this way are considered in the report, which makes up the bulk of the file.

Post-war British policy on detention camps (KV 4/245)

In 1948, the Home Office began laying emergency plans to intern Communists in Britain in the event of war or an emergency, and this file begins with its request to the Director General for assistance. There are notes of meetings to discuss the plans between the Security Service, the Home Office and the War Office (which would be responsible for setting up internment camps). There were initial plans for six camps, one for each War Office command, plus two interrogation centres. The Security Service was to furnish a list of people to be interned, though this list is not on the file. The seriousness of the plans can be judged from minuted comments such as "It was agreed that the need should be stressed for action before legislation…" It was estimated that over 1,000 British and alien Communists or suspects would be interned in the first 3-4 days. As the plans developed, the Home Office assumed responsibility for the main camp, which was to be on the Isle of Man. Other camps were to be established in a holiday camp in Rhyl, and at Ascot and Epsom racecourses. The plans, however, got bogged down in red tape and disputes. As late as February 1954, when the file closes, Sir Frank Newsam is quoted as saying that in his view "it was very important that we should get the arrangements for these camps in such a form that they can be put into operation at a few days' notice." This was five and a half years after the first emergency meeting.

MI5 role in the General Strike (KV 4/246)

This 1926 file includes a summary of the events of the General Strike as they affected MI5, and of the actions taken by MI5 and the Emergency Section set up by MI5 and Military Intelligence Security during the strike, known as MI (B). The summary includes contemporary working papers (including such minutiae as the lunch and late working rotas for MI5 officers during the strike), reports of the sections involved written during and after the strike and lists of officers involved. The file includes the Director General Vernon Kell's manuscript draft letter of thanks to his "Officers, also the Ladies of the Office", and a signed copy of the printed letter.

Second World War defence of Gibraltar (KV 4/259-261)

This release contains three files relating to the wartime history of Gibraltar, in the form of contemporary unit histories. KV 4/261 is a reconstituted copy of the history of the Neutral Shipping Security Control unit, which operated from Gibraltar between 1941 and 1945 overseeing neutral shipping passing through the straits.

Of greater interest is the 2-volume History of the Security Intelligence Department of the Defence Security Office in Gibraltar covering 1939-1945, written in October 1945 by the head of the department, David Scherr. Although Gibraltar was spared a direct assault during the war, and suffered relatively few air raids that caused limited damage, it was nevertheless, because of its strategic position and the flow of foreign labour through it on a daily basis, a hotbed of espionage, sabotage and intrigue throughout the war. The Security Intelligence Department was responsible for Gibraltar's security against these threats, and waged a constant battle, which included operations to penetrate the enemy's sabotage organisations. The extensive accounts of this history in KV 4/259-260 are well illustrated with contemporary photographs of places, personalities and equipment (see table). Piece 259 also includes a table listing the various sabotage attempts against Gibraltar, with a description of the outcome, and a collage of Axis propaganda material distributed in Spain bordering Gibraltar. Piece 260 includes various annex tables listing, among other things: known and suspected enemy agents (many with photographs); Allied agents; captured sabotage equipment; and one intriguing list of the overheard "careless talk" noted by one sergeant in the bars of Gibraltar.

Specimen 5th column activity case files (KV 6/50)

The Security Service investigated reports of suspect activity in the UK during the Second World War where there might be any possible 5th column connection. This file, covering 1940-1945, contains the four surviving case files preserved when the rest of the run of papers relating to 5th column cases was destroyed in 1945. There is no indication now of how representative these cases are of the whole series, or of how many cases there were, but they do present an insight into the type of cases dealt with at the time.

The first relates to suspicious markings in a field in Cornwall, reported in 1940 after being sighted from the air as possible markings designed to assist enemy pilots. They turned out to be piles of agricultural lime waiting spreading. The second case involves a member of the public informing his MP of an individual in Yorkshire he suspected of using holiday caravans to hide transmitters in 1940: the MP passed the message to the Home Office, and the Security Service investigated, to find no evidence of any wrong-doing. The third case relates to a map with manuscript amendments including one showing an airplane flight path found at Welwyn Garden City in 1941. This case was taken quite seriously and a thorough investigation was carried out, but the conclusion in the end was that it was the work of a hoaxer. There is a copy of the map on the file. Finally, a paper containing encoded text was found at Combe Florey, Somerset in 1943. The code was analysed, but it was eventually decided that it related to some legitimate UK practice transmissions.