A cross-dressing spy arrested in Madrid, an attempt to cover up leaked news about the abdication of King Edward VIII and Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin bonding over a ‘sucking pig and innumerable bottles’. These are just a few of the fascinating insights into British History, revealed in secret documents released by The National Archives for the first time.
Yahoo! News has been given access to the records from the Foreign Office and Cabinet Secretary’s papers - including telegrams, handwritten notes and private letters. Here are some of the highlights from the files which offer a rare glimpse into the workings of the British Government and intelligence agencies in the first half of the twentieth century.
Cross-dressing spy arrested
A British spy, working under the guise of a correspondent from the Times newspaper, was arrested in Madrid dressed as a woman in 1941.
In correspondence from the British Embassy in Madrid to the Foreign Office it is relayed that Dudley Clarke was arrested on a busy street ‘dressed down to a brassiere as a woman’.
Under police interrogation he said he was a novelist who wanted to study the reactions of men to women in the streets.
The telegram says: "His luggage contained another complete set of women's clothes, a war correspondent’s uniform and a notebook with a number of names of people in London in it. Also papers and a roll of super fine toilet paper which particularly excited the police who are submitting each sheet to chemical tests."
Later Clarke changed his story, explaining that he was taking the feminine garments to a lady in Gibraltar and thought he would try them on for a prank.
But his tale didn’t wash with the diplomat who wrote the telegram. He notes: "This hardly squares with the fact that the garments and shoes fitted him."
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The police apparently considered the whole episode a ‘homosexual affair’ and it was thought Clarke would be fined and released. However the writer warned: "I need hardly point out the damage this incident will do to us and the ‘Times’ here. Jokes have already begun about the ‘editor’ of the ‘Times’ masquerading as a woman."
Responding to the telegram, permanent under-secretary for foreign affairs, Sir Alexander Cadogan, advised the Embassy they ‘should get him back to Gibraltar by quickest means’ and ‘in no circumstances should it be revealed that he is a British officer’.
An additional note from the war office to British officials in Lisbon instructs that they should wire if Clarke ‘shows signs of mental derangement’.
Clarke was eventually released and ordered to leave Spain within 48 hours. No explanation was given for why he was dressed as a woman.
Churchill and Stalin bond over a pig and alcohol
Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin bonded over a ‘sucking pig’ and bottles of alcohol according to an amusing letter from one member of his Conservative party to another.
"I suppose you will get the official records of the talks and assuming that background I will proceed to add some trimmings," writes Sir Alexander Cadogan - the permanent under secretary for foreign affairs, to the former foreign secretary Viscount Halifax.
The talks took place in Moscow in 1942 where it seems Stalin attempted to be an entertaining host. However, initially his efforts seemed to be a bit lost on Churchill.
"Nothing can be imagined more awful than a Kremlin banquet but it has to be endured," the letter states. "Unfortunately Winston didn’t suffer it gladly."
Cadogan goes on to say how he was summoned to Stalin’s room late one night. "There I found Winston and Stalin and Molotov who had joined them, sitting with a heavily laden board between them; foods of all kind crowned by a sucking pig and innumerable bottles.
"What Stalin made me drink seemed pretty savage: Winston, who by that time was complaining of a slight headache, seemed wisely to be confining himself to a comparatively innocuous effervescent red wine. Everything seemed to be as merry as a marriage-bell."
In response to Churchill’s questions about internal policy, Stalin was apparently giving ‘long lectures on the benefits of the Soviet system’.
However, despite finally retiring to bed in the early hours of the morning, Cadogan felt 'the two great men really made contact and got on’ even with the difficulty of communicating through interpreters.
He writes: "Certainly Winston was impressed and I think that feeling was reciprocated. Anyhow conditions have been established in which messages exchanged between the two will mean twice as much or more than they did before."
However, a couple of months later, Churchill and Stalin’s bonding may have hit a little setback. A telegram from British officials in Moscow to the Foreign Office sent on the 21st October 1942, told of ‘an unfortunate story’ about Churchill doing the rounds in Moscow.
The telegram said the story, which had reached the Russians, was to the effect that in Cairo, the Prime Minister - when Stalin's name was mentioned - referred to him as ‘that monstrosity’. The source of the story was thought to be 'a very indiscreet representative of Harper’s magazine'.
The King’s abdication – the cover-up
News about the imminent abdication of King Edward VIII was leaked to the press prior to the official announcement - but a cover-up took place to try to prevent it being printed, it has emerged in the new raft of documents released by The National Archives.
Authorisation was also given for the bugging of calls between Buckingham Palace and Fort Belvedere – the country home of King Edward VIII - which became the scene of his abdication.
Typed minutes describe how a civil servant received a call from a clerk at the General Post Office at 11pm on Sunday 6th December 1936 to inform him about a telegram being sent to news publications in South Africa.
The telegram, formulated by journalist Neil Forbes Grant, says: "King has abdicated leaves England tomorrow. Arrangement may possibly be altered but that is agreement reached tonight."
The minutes reveal the civil servant instructed the clerk to stop the telegram and any similar telegrams. Later, in a note to the clerk the Government officer who was alerted said: "We rely on you keeping a watchful eye for the present and consulting us in any case of doubt. The Home Secretary was most grateful to have this particular case brought to his notice so promptly."
The sender of the telegram, Grant, was then questioned by the Home Secretary himself Sir John Simon on December 7, 1936.
In Sir John's written account of the meeting between the two men he detailed how he told Grant there was ‘no truth in the statement’ the telegram conveyed and ‘if it had reached South Africa and had been telegraphed back here the reactions might have been of a most serious character'.
It continued: "I reminded him that in 1815 a false rumour that we had lost the battle of Waterloo produced a financial crisis and ruined many people. I asked him if he did not realise that as a journalist and an Englishman made the sending of such a message, without definite authority as to its truth, very improper and reckless."
In response, Grant had apparently insisted his information came from a ‘highly placed source’ who had convinced him the decision had been taken and would be announced within the hour.
The Home Secretary then wrote: "I avoided saying anything which could be regarded as either lecturing or threatening though I made it plain to Mr Grant how gravely I regarded the matter. He expressed himself as deeply appreciative of the way in which I had spoken to him."
However, the attempts to stop the news spreading failed as a report of the King’s abdication appeared in South African and Indian papers before the official announcement on December 10, 1936.
A handwritten note also included in the archives marked ‘most secret’ gives authorisation for the tapping of phone lines over the matter of the abdication.
Sent from the Home Office to the head of the General Post Office, Sir Thomas Gardiner,
it says: "The Home Secretary asked me to confirm the information emerged to you orally with his authority, by Sir Horace Wilson, that you will arrange the interception of telephone communications between Fort Belvedere and Buckingham Palace."
Keeping the King’s lover safe
King Edward VIII secretly ordered police to assist in making his lover's house 'burglar proof' and to ensure she wasn’t 'annoyed' by members of the press.
A handwritten letter from the Palace to the Home Secretary explains the King himself had instructed his senior detective to arrange for the local police to advise Wallis Simpson ‘on how best to make her house, 16 Cumberland Terrace, Regents Park, burglar proof’ and ‘to take steps to prevent Mrs Simpson being annoyed by press men, press photographers and other curious persons.’ The detective was also instructed by the King ‘to keep the matters to himself’.
The letter goes on to describe how police put on ‘an inconspicuous short beat’ in the vicinity of the house which had resulted in preventing ‘press men and photographers making a nuisance of themselves on one or two occasions’. The letter comes with a hand drawn diagram of the area around Simpson's house, complete with trees and the footsteps of the short beat marked out in blue crayon.
The correspondence explains the King had given instructions that Simpson was to be accompanied by an inspector whenever she left the house and describes other steps taken to keep his lover safe.
A senior policeman was advised ‘to get in touch very confidentially’ with the agents of an empty house next door to Simpson ‘and ask them to have the house visited fairly frequently by their own people and also to let the police have a key'.
The letter says: "This he did and had the house searched the same evening by a special branch officer dressed as a workman who found nothing whatsoever unusual."
Secret Service pays for the transportation of a lion
Records reveal the Secret Service paid £158 17s 3d to transport a lion from Abyssinia to the UK; a gift from the Emperor to King George V.
The lion, given by the Emperor of Abyssinia to mark the accession of the King, was donated to Dublin Zoo.
A letter from the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland to the Foreign Office says: “I am glad to inform you that the animal arrived in Dublin on Wed (sic) night in good condition accompanied by the Somali keeper.” The letter goes on to say that a present of £4 would be a suitable amount to give the keeper.