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Chapter 5
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 7

 p74  6  The Creation of a Person

From quite an early stage Major Martin had become a real person to us and it was obviously desirable that as much of that feeling as possible should be shared by whoever investigated the body; the more real he appeared the more convincing the whole affair would be. Besides, I was quite sure that in a matter of this importance every little detail would be studied by the Germans in an effort to find a flaw in Major Martin's make‑up, so as to be sure that the whole thing was genuine and not a plant. That I was not mistaken is evidenced by the fact that, as we learned later, the Germans even noticed the dates on the two theatre-ticket stubs that we placed in Major Martin's pocket.

The method that we adopted in deciding on Major Martin's personality was to keep on discussing him — rather as if we were pulling a friend to pieces behind his back. In fact, we talked about him until we did feel that he was an old friend whom we had known for years. I must, however, admit that, although he  p75 became completely real to us, we did tend to mould his character and history to suit our convenience.

As I have just related, we had decided that Major Martin was a rather brilliant officer and was trusted by his superiors: his only visible lapses were the all too common ones of having lost his identity card and having recently let his pass to Combined Operations H. Q. run out of date.

On that foundation we built a character which could be evidenced by documents in his pockets: that was the only means that we had whereby to convey his personality to the Germans.

We decided that he should be fond of a good time, so he could have an invitation to a night club; it was a probable result of a certain amount of extravagance that he would have a letter from his bank about his overdraft; he could have been staying at a Service club while in London, so he might have a receipted bill for the last part of his stay there. In this way he was developing from an abstraction into something rather more definite.

But how could we make him really "come to life"?

The only way to do it was by letting him carry in his pockets letters which would convey to the reader something really personal about him. On the other hand, if one were able to stop a passer‑by in the street and search his pockets, it would be very seldom that one would hit on any occasion when he had letters  p76 about him which covered more than trivial details. When we approached our problem in that way, we came to the conclusion that the only times when a man is certain to be carrying "live" letters conveying a vivid picture of him and his life would be when he had recently become engaged and was carrying love letters on him and making arrangements for married life. We therefore decided that "a marriage should be arranged" between Bill Martin and some girl just before he was sent abroad.

So Major Martin "met" a charming girl called Pam early in April, became engaged to her almost at once (those wartime courtships!); she gave him a snap of herself and he gave her an engagement ring; he had a couple of ecstatic letters from her, one written when staying away the week‑end and one written in the office (while her boss was out) in an agony of emotion, as he had hinted that he was being sent abroad somewhere. He would have with him the bill for the engagement ring — unpaid of course, as he had an overdraft to deal with. Lastly, he could have an old‑fashioned father who disapproved of war weddings and who would insist on his son making a will if he persisted in so foolish and improvident a step.

We felt that we could not hope to build up a personality more definitely than that with only a pocket­ful of letters — but they had to sound genuine and they had to be written by someone. We could, of course, have written  p77 them ourselves — most of us knew only too well what a letter about an overdraft looked like, and some of us had made wills or received love letters, but I thought it best to rely on the expert hand so that there could be no possibility of any mistake.

Some of the items were easy. For instance, one of our number had an invitation to the Cabaret Club with no name on it, so the night club was easily provided for. The letter about the overdraft was only slightly more difficult. Through another of our number we got a letter from Lloyds Bank dated the 14th April calling on Major Martin to pay off an overdraft of some £79. I was asked, later on, whether it was usual for a letter dealing with such a comparatively small sum to have been signed by the Joint General Manager at Head Office; I had already considered this, as I know from bitter experience that such letters are usually signed by the branch manager. When I raised this question at the time, I was assured that, although it was true that such letters were more usually signed by the manager of the appropriate branch, it did quite often happen that the letter would come from Head Office in certain circumstances. As the officer concerned in getting this letter had a "lead in" to the Head Office, it was decided to use that: I did not think that the Germans would have had the experience that we had had of overdrafts and, after all, even if the amount was small, Major Martin's father was clearly a  p78 man of some importance. This letter was drafted for us personally by Mr. Whitley Jones, the Joint General Manager of Lloyds Bank, typed in his office and signed by him. It read as follows:

Lloyds Bank Limited
Head Office
London, E. C. 3.

14th April, 1943.

Major W. Martin, R. M.,

Army and Navy Club,
Pall Mall,
London, S. W. 1.

Dear Sir,

I am given to understand that in spite of repeated application your overdraft amounting to £79. 19s. 2d. still outstands.

In the circumstances, I am now writing to inform you that unless this amount, plus interest at 4% to date of payment, is received forthwith we shall have no alternative but to take the necessary steps to protect our interests.

Yours faithfully,

(Signed) E. Whitley Jones,

Joint General Manager.

It had been arranged that this letter from the bank should be sent through the post to Major Martin at the Naval and Military Club, but it was erroneously posted addressed to him at the Army and Navy Club, Pall Mall; there the Hall Porter marked the envoy "Not known at this address" and added "Try Naval and  p79 Military Club, 94 Piccadilly." This seemed to us to be a most convincing indication that the letter was real and not specially prepared, so we decided that Major Martin should keep this letter in its envelope.

One of us had got the co‑operation of the Naval and Military Club; we had been given a bill dated the 24th April which showed that Major Martin had been a temporary member of that club and had stayed there for the nights of the 18th to 23rd April inclusive; apart from its other purpose of general build‑up of the Major's personality, it afforded a strong indication that he was still in London on the 24th.

Similarly, there was but little difficulty in getting the bill for the engagement ring. I chose S. J. Phillips, the Bond Street jewellers, as I knew that they had an international trade, so that it was probable that there would be bill-heads of theirs available in Germany to prove, if comparison were to be made, how genuine Major Martin's bill was. That bill was dated the 19th April, but showed that the ring had actually been bought on the 15th.

We were in some difficulty in getting these and the other documents. Obviously, the true story of why we wanted them could not be told, but I was convinced that just to ask for them and to give no reason, except that it was for something secret, was liable to cause talk; on the other hand, once a plausible reason was  p80 given we felt sure that we could rely on those whom we approached.

So my "cover story" was that there was someone who seemed suspiciously interested in officers who were temporarily hard up: we wanted to have some documents, building up towards a shortage of money, which a particular person could leave about his room where they would be seen by this individual. We could then observe what his conduct was. This seemed to be a satisfactory story, and we received ready help — and no one ever let us down with the slightest leak.

What might be called the supporting cast among the documents having been provided for, we now had to obtain the "stars."

First of all we needed a suitable snapshot of Pam, Major Martin's fiancée. The scheme which we devised was to ask the more attractive girls in our various offices to lend us a snapshot of themselves for use in a photographic identity parade — the sort of thing where the photographs of one or two suspects are shuffled in among those of a number of perfectly innocent persons and the "witness" is asked to pick out the one of the person whom he had seen; we asked for a variegated lot, and got quite a collection. We eventually chose a charming photograph and returned the remainder. The subject of the photograph was working in the War Office and, as she had access to "Top Secret" papers, we were able to tell her that we wanted to use the photograph  p81 as that of someone's fictitious fiancée in a deception, and she gave her permission.

None of us had felt up to writing the love letters — after all, ours was not the feminine point of view — and it was a bit difficult to ask a girl whether she could write a first‑rate paean of love. So we asked a girl working in one of the offices whether she could get some girl to do it. She took on the job, but never would tell us the name of the girl who produced the two magnificent letters that Major Martin was to carry with him.

I had decided that the first of these should be written on my brother-in‑law's notepaper, for I was sure that no German could resist the "Englishness" of such an address as "The Manor House, Ogbourne St. George, Marlborough, Wiltshire"; this letter, dated "Sunday 18th," ran as follows:

The Manor House,

Ogbourne St. George,

Marlborough, Wiltshire

Telephone: Ogbourne St. George 242.

Sunday, 18th.

I do think dearest that seeing people like you off at railway stations is one of the poorer forms of sport. A train going out can leave a howling great gap in ones life & one has to try madly — & quite in vain — to fill it with all the things one used to enjoy a whole five weeks ago. That lovely golden day we spent together — oh! I know it has been said before but if only time could sometimes stand still  p82 just for a minute — But that line of thought is too pointless. Pull your socks up Pam & dont be a silly little fool.

Your letter made me feel slightly better — but I shall get horribly conceited if you go on saying things like that about me — they're utterly unlike me, as I'm afraid you'll soon find out. Here I am for the weekend in this divine place with Mummy & Jane being too sweet & understanding the whole time, bored beyond words & panting for Monday so that I can get back to the old grindstone again. What an idiotic waste!

Bill darling, do let me know as soon as you get fixed & can make some more plans, & dont please let them send you off into the blue the horrible way they do nowadays — now that we've found each other out of the whole world, I dont think I could bear it —

All my love,


It was followed by two sheets of plain paper, such as was used in Government offices for carbon copies; the letter was headed "Office, Wednesday, 21st," and the writing, which started reasonably good, suddenly degenerated into a scrawl as the letter was hastily brought to an end when the writer's boss was heard returning. It ran:

Wednesday, 21st.

The Bloodhound has left his kennel for half an hour so here I am scribbling nonsense to you again. Your letter came this morning just as I was dashing out — and madly late as usual! You do write such heavenly ones. But what are these  p83 horrible dark hints you're throwing out about being sent off somewhere — of course I won't say a word to anyone — I never do when you tell me things, but it's not abroad is it? Because I won't have it, I won't, tell them so from me. Darling, why did we go and meet in the middle of a war, such a silly thing for anybody to do — if it weren't for the war we might have been nearly married by now, going round together choosing curtains etc. And I wouldn't be sitting in a dreary Government office typing idiotic minutes all day long — I know the futile sort of work I do doesn't make the war one minute shorter —

Dearest Bill, I'm so thrilled with my ring — scandalously extravagant — you know how I adore diamonds — I simply can't stop looking at it.

I'm going to a rather dreary dance tonight with Jock & Hazel, I think they've got some other man coming. You know what their friends always turn out to be like, he'll have the sweetest little Adam's apple & the shiniest bald head! How beastly & ungrateful of me, but it isn't really that — you know — don't you?

Look darling, I've got next Sunday & Monday off for Easter. I shall go home for it of course, do come too if you possibly can, or even if you can't get away from London I'll dash up and we'll have an evening of gaiety — (By the way Aunt Marian said to bring you to dinner next time I was up, but I think that might wait?)

Here comes the Bloodhound, masses of love & a kiss



We felt that we had been well served, and that the letters were ideal for our purpose.

 p84  To take the part of Major Martin's father we chose a young wartime officer who produced a brilliant tour de force; the letter of the 13th April and the enclosure seemed to me to be so redolent of Edwardian pomposity that no one could have invented them — no one but a father of the old school could have written them. The letter and its enclosure read:

Tel. No. 98.

Black Lion Hotel,


N. Wales.

13th April, 1943.

My dear William,

I cannot say that this Hotel is any longer as comfortable as I remember it to have been in pre war days. I am, however, staying here as the only alternative to imposing myself once more upon your aunt whose depleted staff & strict regard for fuel economy (which I agree to be necessary in war time) has made the house almost uninhabitable to a guest, at least one of my age. I propose to be in Town for the nights of the 20th & 21st of April when no doubt would shall have an opportunity to meet. I enclose the copy of a letter which I have written to Gwatkin of McKenna's about your affairs. You will see that I have asked him to lunch with me at the Carlton Grill (which I understand still to be open) at a quarter to one on Wednesday the 21st. I should be glad if you would make it possible to join us. We shall not however wait luncheon for you, so I trust that, if you are able to come, you will make a point of being punctual.

Your cousin Priscilla has asked to be remembered to you.  p85 She has grown into a sensible girl though I cannot say that her work for the Land Army has done much to improve her looks. In that respect I am afraid that she will take after her father's side of the family.

Your affectionate



Tel. No. 98.

Black Lion Hotel,


N. Wales.

10th April.

My dear Gwatkin,

I have considered your recent letter concerning the Settlement which I intend to make on the occasion of William's marriage. The provisions which you outline appear to me reasonable except in one particular. Since in this case the wife's family will not be contributing to the settlement I do not think it proper that they should necessarily preserve, after William's death, a life interest in the funds which I am providing. I should agree to this course only were there children of the marriage. Will you therefore so redraft the Settlement as to provide that if there are children the income is paid to the wife only until such time as she remarries or the children come of age. After that date the children alone should benefit.

I intend to be in London for the two nights of the 20th & 21st of April. I should be glad if you could make it convenient to take luncheon with me at the Carlton Grill at a quarter to one on Wednesday 21st. If you will bring the new draft with you we shall have leisure to examine it  p86 afterwards. I have written to William & hope that he will be able to join us.

Yrs. sincerely,

(Signed) J. G. Martin.

F. A. S. Gwatkin, Esq.,
McKenna & Co.,
14 Waterloo Place,
London, S. W. 1.

We selected the Black Lion Hotel, Mold, not only because it also seemed so British an address that it in itself conveyed an impression of truth, but it was also consistent with Major Martin's birthplace of Cardiff. I hope that they will forgive us for taking and using their notepaper — and especially for questioning the comfort for which that hotel is noted.

Finally, I got a friend who was a partner in the firm to round off the picture by drafting the following letter, and writing it on McKenna & Co.'s note-paper:

McKenna & Co.

14, Waterloo Place,

London, S. W. 1.

Our ref.: McL/EG

19th April, 1943.

Dear Sir,

Re your affairs

We thank you for your letter of yesterday's date returning the draft of your will approved. We will insert the legacy of £50 to your batman and our Mr. Gwatkin will bring the fair copy with him when he meets you at lunch on the 21st inst. so that you can sign it there.

 p87  The inspector of taxes has asked us for particulars of your service pay and allowances during 1941/2 before he will finally agree to the amount of reliefs due to you for that year. We cannot find that we have ever had these particulars and shall, therefore, be grateful if you will let us have them.

Yours faithfully,

McKenna & Co.

Major W. Martin, R. M.,
Naval & Military Club,
94, Piccadilly,
London, W. 1.

When we read all those documents together they conveyed to us the impression of a real person — of a real person who lived — of a man who really was. We did not feel that more could be done with the few papers that a man could reasonably have in his pocket.

However, we took some precautions before we gave the letters to Major Martin. The letters, other than the love letters, I carried in my pockets for the appropriate number of days to get them into the right condition. But the love letters were more of a problem, especially as one of them was on flimsy paper. It was obvious that they would have been read and re‑read and would not be in mint condition, but the proper appearance could not be produced quickly by scrumpling them up and then smoothing them out again (as someone foolishly suggested would be the suitable method); once a piece of paper has been scrumpled no amount of flattening  p88 will erase the fact that it has been treated that way — and the one thing that Bill Martin would never have done to those letters was to crush them up. So I did what he would have done; I folded and unfolded the letters again and again, and in addition I rubbed them carefully on my clothing to get a little patina on to them.

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