Communists, suspected Communists and Communist organisations

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Communists, suspected Communists and Communist organisations

Frederick Copeman (KV 2/2322-2324)

Copeman's fame rests on two pillars: his leading part in the 1931 Invergordon Mutiny, for which he was discharged from the Navy; and his leadership of the British Battalion in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War. From lowly roots in a Suffolk workhouse, Copeman joined the Navy and first came to Security Service attention, not as a leader of the Mutiny, but as one who continued agitating for better treatment for seamen immediately afterwards.

A note as to his character when he was discharged from HMS Norfolk (in November 1931) describes Copeman as "A bully and general bad character, but a good seaman when he tries which is not often" (serial 1X in KV 2/2322, covering 1931-1932). Copeman soon began working on behalf of the Communist Party – there is a report of his first speech, describing the circumstances of the Mutiny, at serial 16A. Copeman was very active as a speaker and agitator, and his activities are recorded on this file in some detail.

At serial 127B (KV 2/2323, 1932-1938) there is an account of a riot at a meeting in Oxford where Copeman was speaking, when 200 undergraduates invaded the hall and a pitched battle ensued. The file also includes copies of The Unemployed Leader of 21 October 1931, reporting Copeman's arrest for obstruction. This file goes on to detail Copeman's time in Spain with the International Brigade – and at serial 197A there is a letter describing his life and experiences there in some detail. A photograph of Copeman in Spain is included. At serial 200A there is a false report of Copeman's death in July 1937 while leading the British Battalion, and at serial 203 a Metropolitan Police account of his return to Britain.

Though Copeman initially held to the Communist cause after the Spanish Civil War, by 1940 he had become disenchanted with the Soviet system and threw himself instead into air-raid precaution work, in the end running the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) services in Westminster, for which he was awarded the OBE. There is correspondence about his recommendation for this award, and the Security Service's response to it, in KV 2/2324 (1938-1948).

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Sylvia Townsend-Warner (and Valentine Ackland) (KV 2/2337-2338)

Noted writer Townsend-Warner first came to the attention of the Security Service through the activities of her partner and fellow writer Valentine Ackland, who is featured heavily on this file along with Townsend-Warner. Ackland had written to the Communist Party offering her services to distribute literature in Dorset in 1935, and the intercepted letter initiated an investigation.
KV 2/2337 (covering 1935-1937) gives a wealth of detail about the women's domestic arrangements, gathered from intercepted correspondence, police reports, newspaper cuttings and their writings. Typical of this is a report from October 1935 by Wool Police (at serial 24): " Miss Ackland…spends a considerable time shooting rabbits, for which she uses a rifle, and when at home she more often than not wears male clothing in preference to female attire. Miss Warner appears normal in habits." Though no action was taken against the women, consideration of the case continued on until 1955 (KV 2/2338). In 1941 Townsend-Warner was considered as a lecturer to the troops, and the Service blocked this; while in the same year a suspicious telegram from Ackland to Elizabeth White was sent for consideration by the plain code experts – where it was deemed "harmless".

Engelbert Broda (KV 2/2349-2354)

Broda was a leading Austrian scientist who arrived in the UK in 1938 seeking sanctuary from Nazi persecution. Though Special Branch, on information supplied by a reliable informer, was convinced that Broda was an active Communist, the Security Service was less certain. KV 2/2349 (1931-1940) shows that an intermittent watch of his correspondence and contacts was maintained, and that while it showed he was active in London Austrian affairs, there was nothing to confirm Broda as being an active Communist. When no evidence could be found the Service took to trailing Broda in the evenings, and a report of this observation is at serial 61A. There is a photo of Broda from his aliens registration card at serial 2A.

Broda was offered employment at the Cavendish Laboratory and the Security Service advised caution to the Department for Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) in case he was ready to pass intelligence to his undoubted Communist associates. DSIR employed Broda anyway, and this led to a very close watch being kept on his activities, documented on file by intercepted correspondence and other reports (KV 2/2350, 1941-1943; KV 2/2351, 1943-1944; KV 2/2352, 1945-1946; and KV 2/2353, 1946). This last file includes details of the Security Service's alarm at the lack of concern shown by the Department for Atomic Energy when Broda resigned from the Cavendish Laboratory and declared that he wished to return to Austria.

Broda finally left in April 1948. It was only gradually that his connection to the case of atom spy Alan Nunn May began to emerge. Divorced in 1946, Broda's former wife Hildegarde married Nunn May when he was released from prison in 1953. Though no evidence was found to confirm that Broda had played a part in any espionage, he fitted well the sketchy detail provided by Nunn May as to the identity of his recruiter, and a summary at serial 495B (KV 2/2354) confirms the importance now attached to Broda's case: "…we feel sure that BRODA was engaged in espionage during the war, although we have no proof of it…BRODA might well have been the person who recruited NUNN MAY for the R.I.S."

This release also contains files on other foreign scientists involved in the Tube Alloys project: Otto Frisch (KV 2/2421), Hans Halban (KV 2/2422) and Friedrick Paneth (KV 2/2423).

The International Brigade Association (KV 5/46-58)

The thirteen reconstructed files of Security Service information about the British International Brigade Association (IBA) now released give a wealth of detail about the organisation and its activities from 1941 to 1954. The files show that nearly all Security Service records on IBA prior to June 1941 were destroyed at an early date, and there is therefore no contemporary information about the IBA from the Spanish Civil War period. Instead, the files focus on the propaganda and campaigning work of IBA on behalf of Brigade veterans and against the Franco regime. Through intercepted correspondence of leading figures such as Nan Green (to April 1947 when the warrant was suspended) and phone calls, and through reports of meetings around the country, a detailed history of the development of the IBA can be reconstructed. The records of liaison with the Secret Intelligence Service show that in the post-war years most of the correspondence passed through Kim Philby's hands. There is a brief Security Service summary of the IBA's history at serial 570a in KV 5/58.