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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 4
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 6

 p57  5  Major Martin, Royal Marines

While we were preparing the document which we called the "vital letter" we had to consider the "man" who was going to carry it, for it was obvious that the first question that our opponent in Berlin would ask was: "How did the letter come to be at Huelva?" True, it was the sort of letter which would be carried by an officer, and not in an official bag; nevertheless, the German Intelligence officer would ask: "Was it carried by an officer? Did he seem to be a genuine officer?"

So we had to establish, as a first step, that the body was that of an officer. He had no uniform that we could use, as, for reasons both of security and of keeping my promise to conceal his identity, it was essential that we should provide him with a fresh uniform.

We had taken it for granted that, in his new personality, the body should be that of an army officer; this had, I think, followed in our minds from the fact that he was carrying a letter from the V. C. I. G. S. to the Commander-in‑Chief of an army, and probably  p58 also from the fact that the wartime army was so large.

After a while, however, we decided against putting him in the army. There were a number of reasons for the decision, but the main and compelling one was concerned with the "distribution" of the signals and reports which would pass between the appropriate attaché in Madrid and London after the body came ashore in Spain. Normally telegrams and signals were received in the appropriate office of the Service department concerned, and were then automatically distributed to such officers and departments as might be interested in the subject to which they referred, the distribution being based on a series of distribution lists. As a result, any telegram which reported the finding of a dead body on the Spanish beach would be sent to the Service department concerned and would be automatically distributed to quite a number of people, and any follow‑up telegrams would receive the same distribution. Under the Admiralty system, it would be possible for me to arrange, with the authority of D. N. I., that this automatic distribution should be by‑passed so that the messages resulting from our operation would be distributed to me only — and such an arrangement would not arouse comment. Under the War Office system, it was not easy to make any such arrangement for distribution to be limited either to me or to any colleague in the War Office.

So we decided that body should not "join" the  p59 army, but would have to come under the Admiralty — and at once we found ourselves faced with a number of problems that we had not visualised. He could not easily become a naval officer because, while an army officer could make such a flight as we were envisaging from London to North African Headquarters wearing a battledress, a naval officer would have had to wear proper uniform — and although a battledress need not fit too accurately, naval uniform would have to be made to measure. We formed a horrid mental picture of Gieves' cutter being brought down to measure and fit our corpse for its uniform, and discarded that suggestion!

The only other possibility which would keep this "officer" under naval control was that he should join the Royal Marines: that would ease the problem of uniform, but it would bring a number of other problems. Firstly, we had banked on the fact that the wartime army was so big that there were many units whose officers would not be astonished if they heard of an officer of their unit whom they did not know existed, whereas the Royals are a small corps, and even in wartime most of the officers know one another — or at least know of one another. Secondly, there was the difficulty of obtaining a photograph. For various reasons, we had not got, and could not get, any photograph of the young man whose body we were using which was suitable for an identity card in his new personality, and we had  p60 banked on the fact that army officers did not carry identity cards with photographs when going abroad — but Royal Marine officers did.

We discussed these problems at some length; we easily appreciated the danger that might be caused by the small number that there was of Royal Marine officers, and that if the body was sent by the Spaniards to Gibraltar for burial the danger that we had anticipated if the body of an army officer was sent there would be enormously increased; nevertheless, we decided that, in view of the distance between Huelva and Gibraltar, we could accept even the increased risk due to his being a Royal Marine. We decided also that we could accept the difficulty of providing a suitable photograph, but in this case we had not appreciated how great the difficulty was.

First, we tried the expedient of taking photographs, of the appropriate type, of the corpse; that was a complete failure. It is a common criticism of photographs taken of living people for the subject to say, "Oh, it makes me look as if I were dead!" Such criticism may or may not be justified, but I defy anyone to take a photograph of someone who is dead and to make it look as if he could conceivably be alive: it is impossible to describe how utterly and hopelessly dead any photograph of the body looked.

So a feverish search took place for a "double" of the corpse — or even someone who resembled him sufficiently  p61 for a poor photo to give a reasonable appearance of what the owner of the body must have looked like in life. It was an odd thing, but although we had not thought that our young man had had an appearance which would have singled him out in a crowd, we could not find the man we wanted. All of us walked about for days staring rudely at anyone with whom we came in contact and who might, on some excuse, be persuaded to sit for his photo; eventually I decided to ask a young naval officer working in N. I. D.​1 to put on a battledress blouse and let us photograph him — I forget what excuse I used. The result, as I had anticipated, was not too good, but we decided that the likeness would suffice, bearing in mind the poor quality of such photographs.

And then we had another stroke of luck. Sitting opposite to me at a meeting to deal with quite a different matter, I saw someone who might have been the twin brother of the corpse; he was readily persuaded to let us photograph him, and that obstacle was surmounted.

The final step, before we could "commission" the body as an officer, was to give him a name and a rank. I felt that a very junior officer would be unlikely to be given such a letter as the vital document to carry, but we could not make him too senior for several reasons; the most important was that our body was too young to have achieved very high rank unless he had been so  p62 outstandingly able that all his brother officers would be bound to have heard of him. I therefore decided that I would make him a captain (acting major); then I sat down with a Navy List; I steadily went through the list of Royal Marine officers until I found a little group of about that same rank who all had the same name: that name was "Martin."

There seemed to me to be an advantage in a group of that kind. If the death of a "Major Martin" did arouse discussion in a wardroom, there was always a hope that those present would not know all the Martins in the Royal Marines — or that, if they did, they would think that there was an error in the initial given and would not know whether to write and "condole." It might not have worked out that way (indeed for all I knew all the Martins were brothers), but this was only an added precaution against a not too serious risk — and, of course, there was bound to be some risk in any name that I gave him. So I added the good normal Christian name of "William," and our body became "Captain (Acting Major) William Martin, Royal Marines," with the approval of the Commandant-General, Royal Marines, who agreed to accept him into that corps. Finally, I laid on the necessary precautions in case any enquiries were addressed to the C. G. R. M.'s department.

I had got a blank identity card and spent my time, whenever seated, rubbing it up and down my trouser  p63 leg to try to produce the "patina" which such a document normally gets with time, even when carried in a wallet. I did not do so badly, but I was a little worried by the slow progress of the ageing process when I got another idea. I decided that Major Martin should have lost his original identity card and have had a new one issued. So I got a new blank, stuck in the photograph of Major Martin's double, filled in the particulars and signed it for him, and then got a suitable official to sign it as issued on the 2nd February 1943, "in lieu of No. 09650 lost" — the latter number being that of my own card, which would help to reduce complications if there were any subsequent enquiry — and got the appropriate stamps and seals put on it.

I had decided that Major Martin's "ship" should be Combined Operations H. Q., for reasons that I will deal with shortly, and chose Cardiff as his birthplace for no particular reason. The card being complete, I then proceeded to give it a reasonable degree of ageing by the trouser-rubbing process.

So the basis of Major Martin's personality was established; anyone finding his body could find who he was from his identity card. But I was sure that my German friends in Huelva, Madrid, or Berlin would want to know why Major Martin was going to North Africa: if we could let them find evidence answering that question it would increase faith in the "vital letter."

 p64  Why should a Royal Marine officer be flown out to North Africa? And why should he be flown out in such circumstances that the Vice-Chief of the Imperial General Staff would know of his going so that he could be entrusted with an important letter? Why?

After some thought, I found a reason which seemed plausible to our team. A seaborne operation was being mounted against a defended coast; this would involve the use of landing-craft, and it might well be that some hitch in training would call for assistance from an expert in that line; Major Martin could be that expert, and we decided to give him a document that made that clear.

I therefore drafted a letter for signature by Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Chief of Combined Operations, addressed to Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, Commander-in‑Chief, Mediterranean. It was as follows:

In reply quote: S. R. 1924/43
Combined Operations Headquarters,
1A Richmond Terrace,
Whitehall, S. W. 1.
21st April, 1943.

Dear Admiral of the Fleet,

I promised V. C. I. G. S. that Major Martin would arrange with you for the onward transmission of a letter he has with him for General Alexander. It is very urgent and very "hot" and as there are some remarks in it that could not be seen by others in the War Office, it could not go by signal. I feel  p65 sure that you will see that it goes on safely and without delay.

I think you will find Martin the man you want. He is quiet and shy at first, but he really knows his stuff. He was more accurate than some of us about the probable run of events at Dieppe and he has been well in on the experiments with the latest barges and equipment which took place up in Scotland.

Let me have him back, please, as soon as the assault is over. He might bring some sardines with him — they are "on points" here!

Yours sincerely,

Louis Mountbatten.

Admiral of the Fleet Sir A. B. Cunningham,
G. C. B., D. S. O.,
Commander in Chief Mediterranean,
Allied Forces H. Q.,

I was rather pleased with that letter. It explained why Major Martin had the "vital letter" and why that had not been sent through official channels. It explained why Major Martin was being flown out. And, in view of the Prime Minister's clear realisation that it would not matter if Sicily was pinpointed by a failure of our operation, I was enabled to make a reference to Sardinia; I did this by a joke which was frightfully laboured, but I thought that that sort of joke would appeal to the Germans, who would be able to see the point and understand the reference. This joke, with its indication  p66 of Sardinia, was destined to play a part in our eventual success.

But there was yet one more ruse concealed in it. I was sure that the Germans in Berlin would get the "vital letter" or at least a copy of it, but I could not be sure that they would get more than a précis of what might be called the supporting documents, and I wanted to make certain that they would get this letter in full. I wanted Berlin to have the joke about Sardinia and I wanted them to have the explanation of why this officer was flying out and was carrying the unusual "vital document"; so I put in the bit about Dieppe. I was sure that no German could resist passing on to his superiors what he would feel to be an admission by the Chief of Combined Operations that our raid on Dieppe was not the success that we had hoped it would be. Whether or not I had accurately penetrated the German mind, this was the only one of Major Martin's documents, in addition to the vital document, of which we found a complete copy in the German files and which we know was studied in full by the German Intelligence in Berlin.

The letter was duly typed at Combined Operations H. Q. signed by Lord Louis, and given a fictitious, but plausible, reference number.

In the end we gave Major Martin one more letter to carry in addition to his personal papers. We were a little worried by the fact that an officer would probably  p67 put two normal-sized envelopes into his pocket, or perhaps into his personal kit in spite of the secrecy of one of them. If Major Martin were to do this we had no absolute guarantee that the Spaniards would find them before handing over the body. We did not want to risk the German agent at Huelva having to curse his Spanish minions for not having searched the body. If only Major Martin could have an excuse for carrying the letters in a briefcase! We had to find him one.

It so happened that the official "pamphlet" on the Commandos by Hilary Saunders was about to be published in this country, and was to be accompanied by an American edition. We decided that it would be plausible for Lord Louis Mountbatten to have written a letter to General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Eisenhower asking him for a Foreword for inclusion in the pamphlet. So a letter was drafted, making the request, and enclosing the proofs of that pamphlet and the photographs which it would contain, and we took the opportunity to include another indication that Major Martin was a very responsible officer. This letter ran as follows:

In reply quote: S. R. 1989/43.
Combined Operations Headquarters,
1A Richmond Terrace,
Whitehall, S. W. 1,
22nd April, 1943.

Dear General,

I am sending you herewith two copies of the pamphlet which has been prepared describing the activities of my  p68 Command; I have also enclosed copies of the photographs which are to be included in the pamphlet.

The book has been written by Hilary St. George Saunders, the English author of Battle of Britain, Bomber Command and other pamphlets which have had a great success both in this country and yours.

The edition which is to be published in the States has already enjoyed pre‑publication sales of nearly a million and a half and I understand the American authorities will distribute the book widely throughout the U. S. Army.

I understand from the British Information Service in Washington that they would like a "message" from you for use in the advertising for the pamphlet, and that they have asked you direct, through Washington, for such a message.

I am sending the proofs by hand of my Staff Officer, Major W. Martin of the Royal Marines. I need not say how honoured we shall all be if you will give such a message. I fully realise what a lot is being asked of you at a time when you are so fully occupied with infinitely more important matters. But I hope you may find a few minutes' time to provide the pamphlet with an expression of your invaluable approval so that it will be read widely and given every chance to bring its message of co‑operation to our two peoples.

We are watching your splendid progress with admiration and pleasure and all wish we could be with you.

You may speak freely to Major Martin in this as well as any other matters since he has my entire confidence.

Yours sincerely,

Louis Mountbatten.

General Dwight Eisenhower,
Allied Forces H. Q., Algiers.

 p69  This letter also was signed by Lord Louis and, when put into an envelope with its enclosures, it fully justified Major Martin in using a briefcase in which to carry all his official documents.

But our problem over this point did not end here. We had found an excuse for presenting the official documents to the Spaniards in a way that allowed for any inefficiency on their part and made sure that the documents would be discovered, but had we been too clever? Just as we were congratulating ourselves on our ingenuity, a sudden qualm arose: how on earth were we to ensure that the body and the briefcase arrived in Huelva together? Although it might be possible to place the handle of the briefcase into Major Martin's hand, we could not take the risk, on this all‑important point, that the fingers might open and let the briefcase be dragged away by the sea. I made enquiries about rigor mortis, but, when I had added the complication that the body would have been frozen and then allowed to thaw, it was clear that the imponderables were far too many.

The only solution which we could devise was one which did not appeal to us, because it was the only point in the whole "set‑up" which did not ring true. We decided to assume that an officer who carried really secret and important papers might attach his briefcase to one of the leather-covered chains which some bank-messengers use — wearing them down their sleeves so  p70 they are not visible to the normal glance, but prevent their bag of valuables being snatched out of their hands. Such an arrangement seemed horribly phoney to us, but then we knew that this method was not one used by British officers. We decided that we would have to take a chance and rely on our opposite numbers in Berlin swallowing this feature. After all, they could not be sure that in no circumstances would a British officer adopt this method of safeguarding such documents.

So we decided to take the risk and use a chain. As may have been noted from the instructions to Lieutenant Jewell, we decided that Major Martin would not sit throughout a long flight with the briefcase dangling from his arm, and that it would reasonable for him, instead of leaving this important bag to get lost or forgotten, to keep the bag on the chain, but to gain comfort by looping the latter through the belt of his trench-coat.

It is hard to be dogmatic: maybe we worried too much; maybe, on the other hand, the Germans in Berlin would have become suspicious over this point, had it been reported to them. I will not anticipate at this stage what we learned later, and will therefore only say that our luck was good and that question was never put to the test. Still, I would dearly like to know whether the risk that we took was a justifiable one, for we took it on the basis that the Spaniards would report  p71 accurately on this obviously important point, but that our opponents would not be sufficiently sure that the chain was a flaw in an otherwise convincing picture for them to take the risk of rejecting the genuineness of the documents. We will never know whether we were right or not. Perhaps it is just as well that we won't!

Finally, as Major Martin was serving at Combined Operations H. Q., he needed a special pass, and we got him one. We felt that we were in danger of making Major Martin into too great a paragon of all the virtues, and that it was about time that he should show some human failing in addition to the loss of his identity card. As will be seen, we were also engaged in building up a personal character for him which would reveal him as a little careless in his personal affairs, in spite of his ability as an officer, and we could not divorce his personal characteristics completely from his military ones. Besides (as is recounted in the next chapter), an event had taken place in his life which would be likely to drive such trivialities as the renewal of a pass from his mind. We therefore decided that he should make the same slip as most of us had done at one time or another, and forget to renew his pass. The one that we gave him expired on the 31st March 1943; we were sure that it would not surprise the Germans (any more than it would us) if Major Martin had  p72 been able to get away with the use of this pass until his departure in the third or fourth week of April.

It only remained to provide Major Martin with his uniform. One of us who happened to have approximately the same build as Major Martin got a suitable battledress, to which we added Royal Marine and Commando flashes and a major's crown. An old trench-coat was obtained, and we put similar badges of rank on the shoulder straps after having pierced them for the three "pips" of his substantive rank. Boots and webbing gaiters were got in addition to a shirt and all his underwear; these last were not new, but all old laundry-marks were removed from them and his handkerchiefs, and they were then all laundered together so as finally to have the same marks.

We had bought a shirt at Gieves, and we thought that Bill Martin might well have stuffed the scrumpled bill into the pocket of his trench-coat. This produced the only real brick which we dropped: the officer who actually bought the shirt was not in the Navy, and he took the unbelievable step of paying cash. As Bill Martin hadn't an account there it would have been difficult for the officer to do otherwise without getting the wrong name on the bill, but, after the body was out of our reach, I suddenly realised that few naval officers had ever been known to pay cash to Gieves, least of all one who was being dunned for his overdraft! I could, however, comfort myself with the  p73 thought that it was the Germans that we had to deceive; they could not know for certain whether temporary officers were still granted the same privileges by that long-suffering firm as were given to the Regulars. Still — it was a mistake and inartistic.

So the body of the "man who never was" had become that of an officer, Major Martin of the Royal Marines, and anyone who found the body would have ample evidence of who he was and why he was where he was. But it was still the body of an officer and not that of a person. We had still to provide him with his personal effects and with a human personality to make him "real."

The Author's Note:

1 Naval Intelligence Division.

Thayer's Note:

a The theater tickets will be discussed in chapter 7.

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