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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 7
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 9

 p97  8  The Journey North

Our party consisted of George and myself, together with Jock Horsfall, the racing motorist, who was on special duty with the War Office, one of whose 30‑cwt. Ford vans we had borrowed — and, of course, Major Martin in his canister.

The journey nearly ended almost before it had started for, as we drove out from the "cold storage" to start back to George's flat in London, we caught sight of a queue waiting to see a spy film at the local cinema; the same thought flashed into each of our minds: what would those people think if we were to stop and say to them, "Don't bother about the film. We can tell you a much better story — and ours is true. Just look inside this canister"? And we all burst out laughing to such an extent that Jock almost rammed a tram-standard.

But we got safely back to George's flat. There we cooked ourselves some dinner and ate it, taking turns to keep an eye on the van outside; if a thief had got away with the canister, he would have had a disappointment  p98 — and a shock — when he opened it, but his disappointment would have been nothing to ours. So we made ourselves some sandwiches and filled thermos flasks as we realized that we could not leave the van during the journey north.

Our preparations completed, we set off for Greenock; Jock and I taking it in turns to drive. It was a long and tiring journey, as we could, of course, only use masked headlights; at one point we drove straight across a "roundabout" which, fortunately, only had smooth grass in its centre once we had mounted the kerb. The sound of aircraft overhead added to our worries; for although the Seraph was not due to sail until the 19th and we had got a fair amount of time in hand in which to cope, without any really serious consequences, with any traffic diversions through bomb damage, Lieutenant Jewell had asked that we should arrive before midday on the 18th, in case there were any last-minute difficulties in stowing the canister. However, we did not crash the van and, as far as I know, all the aircraft were friendly, so we drove on through the night, taking it in turns to sleep on the floor of the van.

Early on the morning of the 18th we arrived at Greenock and drove to the dock, where we had arranged to meet the launch that was to ferry us out to H. M. S. Forth, the submarine depot ship lying in the Holy Loch.

 p99  Here we ran up against a snag. I had visualised that there might be some difficulty in lowering the canister into the launch, so I had carefully said in the signal from D. N. I. arranging for our arrival that I would have "one, repeat one" package weighing over 400 lb. and request assistance in embarking it. In spite of that particularity, the signal had been read as if our total baggage weighed 400 lb. in several packages. As a result, we found ourselves faced with a launch surging up and down some feet below the quay and the "party" for which we had asked consisted of one rating. He was very obliging, but no rope was available and to lower the canister without disaster was clearly impossible.

Anticipating all sorts of trouble and delay before I, a complete stranger, could arrange for a party to be got together, I hurried off to the Flag Officer in Charge's headquarters — and my luck still held. The Duty Officer on duty turned out to be a Wren who had been serving as a rating in the signal office at Hull when I was on Staff there. We greeted one another as old friends and, all difficulties having been quickly smoothed out, I returned to the dock with half a dozen ratings and some rope with which to lower the canister.

We were soon ferried down to H. M. S. Forth, where I handed Major Martin over to Lieutenant Jewell. I also gave him the rubber dinghy which he was to launch with the body; so as to give the impression of  p100 an accident and haste, the dinghy was to be launched upside down, and it seemed better to leave only one of the collapsible aluminium oars in it; I therefore kept the other one, and I still have it as a souvenir. As it turned out, however, the launching of the dinghy made of difference; a body might be of no value to a Spanish fisherman, but a rubber dinghy certainly was — so ours was never heard of again. I hope the finder made good use of it.

We had been advised that, if a Catalina flying boat sank out at sea, it was unlikely that any wreckage would float ashore, so we did not provide Lieutenant Jewell with anything more with which to simulate signs of a disaster.

The canister was duly stowed on board H. M. S. Seraph and I had final discussions with Lieutenant Jewell. In these I suggested that he might be able to launch the body with only officers present on deck. If he could, it would reduce the number of persons who were "in the know" and thus make leakage of the story less likely — and it was more than usually important to guard against leakage, as the story of the launching of a dead body off the coast of Spain was one was one that would tempt the best of us to gossip.

If he could launch the body in this way, he would obviously need a "cover story" for the rest of the crew, who would see a package that they had thought to be destined for Malta taken up on deck off the coast of  p101 Spain, after which it would never reappear. I suggested that he might tell them that the so‑called optical instruments were, in fact, a secret weather-reporting buoy and that, if the Spaniards learned of its existence, they would remove it. If he had to have the crew on deck during the launching, either because of rough weather or for any other reason, he would use the cover story that I had given him in the "operation orders."​a

All went well with our arrangements, and on our return to London we were able to end our report with the statement: "On April 19th, 1943 at 1800 British Double Summer Time H. M. s/m Seraph sailed from Holy Loch." Remembering the nature of the cargo, I felt that these names were most suitable and augured well for the success of the operation.

Thayer's Note:

a pp37‑41.

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Page updated: 13 Dec 20