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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 10
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Man Who Never Was

by Ewen Montagu

published by J. B. Lippincott Company
Philadelphia and New York,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 12

 p118  11  We Tidy Up in England

We (and by this I mean all of us on the Allied side) had by now done our part of the job; if I may use a simile, we now had only to stone-wall, keeping our end up until close of play came with the landings in Sicily, leaving the Germans at the other end to do the scoring for us.

So, on the whole, we sat back and waited developments. However, as the days went by, we remembered that The Times used to reach Lisbon by air and the Germans might be keeping an eye on the casualty lists which were published from time to time. I therefore checked the average period that elapsed between a death and the subsequent announcement in the newspapers; it appeared as a general rule to be not more than about five weeks, and that, from the 24th April, would bring us to the first week of June.

Should we include Major Martin's name in such a list? Was it worth the complication involved? The landings in Sicily were planned for the second week  p119 in July, and the Germans could hardly be certain that the name of a genuine casualty would have to appear before then; and, if the deception had caused them to take any action, they would have done so before the first week of June and could hardly remedy any mistake — or even begin to do so — before we landed. On the other hand, it was always possible that the assault on Sicily might be delayed for some reason. After some hesitation, we decided that an omission to insert the name might do harm and that it was better to be sure than sorry.

Eventually, however, we were indeed sorry that we had added this embellishment to our creation, but fortunately only for the trouble that it gave us and not because it did any harm. As regards our objective of deception, all went smoothly and our phenomenal luck held. It was quite easy to get the Casualty Section of the Commissions and Warrants Branch of the Admiralty to accede to D. N. I.'s request that they should include the name of "Temporary Captain (Acting Major) William Martin, R. M." among the "Killed" in the next casualty list — I forget what explanation I gave when I conveyed the odd request. The announcement duly appeared in the issue of The Times dated Friday, the 4th June, 1943. We will probably never know whether the Germans did in fact spot this name, but, if they did, they would have found, in the same list, the names of Rear‑Admiral P. J. Mack, D. S. O., and of Acting  p120 Captain Sir T. L. Beevor, Bt., R. N. It had already been announced in the newspapers that these two officers, with others whose names had not been given, had died when an aeroplane had been lost at sea. What could be more plausible than that Major Martin had died with them — and the fact that it was that list which happened to be the next one was due to pure chance. It makes me hope that the Germans did spot that list, as it would be a pity if anything so artistic as that had been wasted.

But it was then that trouble started over here; casualty lists were studied by departments of whose existence I was bliss­fully unaware and by others whom I had forgotten. I was given a little experience of the sort of trouble which I would have had on a much larger scale had I allowed the messages passing between us and the Attaché in Madrid to have the normal distribution.

The Naval Wills Department wanted to know whether Major Martin had made a will — and if so, where was it? The Medical Director-General's Department wanted to know whether Major Martin had been killed in action, died of wounds, died on active service or what, so that their statistics could be kept in order.

Fortunately, the precautions that I had taken to ensure that any enquiries about Major Martin (or any of his documents) were adequately dealt with worked satisfactorily. I heard of these enquiries at a sufficiently  p121 early stage for me to be able to prevent their spreading too widely, but I had to deal with the departments concerned. I racked my brains what answer to give. I could not refer the Wills Department to McKenna & Co., the solicitors who had written to Major Martin about his will before he departed.

I had by now fully appreciated the truth of the aphorism, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive," and was getting into the swing of it. I told the heads of each of those departments that they need not worry about Major Martin, or record him or his death. I explained that he was a special agent who had been sent on an important mission after having been given (with the First Sea Lord's authority) the cover of naval rank as an officer in the Royal Marines; after all, that account was perfectly true as far as it went. I only "forgot" to mention that he was already dead before any of that happened.

With D. N. I.'s authority, I impressed on them the vital need for secrecy, and they undertook to deal with the matter in their respective departments. The nearest we ever came to the operation "leaking" was over.

I might, perhaps, add that some years later, after I had been demobilised, people were still compiling other lists, and I suddenly got an urgent request to visit the Naval Intelligence Division. They had received other similar enquiries about Major Martin and wanted to  p122 know how I had dealt with such enquiries in the past, so that the same answer could be given again.

But apart from this matter of the casualty list, "Operation Mincemeat" was no longer in our hands. We had played our part and Lieutenant Jewell and Major Martin had played theirs. What were the Germans doing?

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