History of Intelligence (B), British Expeditionary Force, France, From January 1917 To April 1919

R.J. Drake, Lieut. Colonel, General Staff. 5 May 1919


1. At the opening of the above period the Secret Service was organised into two offices under GHQ, the one situated at FOLKESTONE under Major A.C. CAMERON, the other in LONDON under Major B.A. WALLINGER. At the same time there was a branch office, attached to Major Cameron's FOLKESTONE office, working in PARIS under Captain Hon. G.J.G. BRUCE whose chief function was the recruitment of agents amongst Belgians and French in unoccupied France.

2. Both these organisations operated through Holland and maintained their own system of head-men, couriers, passeurs and agents as well as separate offices. They were, in fact, not only in actual if unconscious competition with each other, but also with parallel systems controlled by the War Office and our French and Belgian Allies.

3. French and Belgian organisations were also established at FOLKESTONE and worked in liaison with our FOLKESTONE office. In the case of the Belgians this liaison was slight.

4. In addition, a nebulous Russian organisation was at work, with the secrecy which one might expect, in PARIS, and it is believed in Holland. Beyond the fact that the officers in charge themselves later became suspected, and so attracted the attention of the Contre-Espionage section of the 1 (b) organisation, no relations were at my time established.

5. Whether the suspicions against them had any foundation or not, the possibility of their entering the field in Belgium and Holland as bidders for our own and other Allied services is not excluded. Nor is it possible to say in whose interests these services, if purchased, were bought; or how much such purchase, if it occurred, contributed to the dislocation of our Secret Service organisations.

6. The competition between services referred to in para 2 was unhealthy and is apt to lead to the downfall of one or other of the many systems working under the head organisations. It is unfair to the agents and other personnel, and in some cases, led to their destruction, owing to the jealousies of the higher subordinates, who, naturally, worked in the keenest competition one with the other, but often without regard to the interests of the agents concerned. Such conduct on the part of unscrupulous persons is bound to lead to disastrous results, as far as the agents themselves are concerned, and the service as a whole suffers. It is only necessary to instance PUTTMAN, ARCHAIN and the courier GEORGE, amongst others in the G.H.Q. services alone.

6A. In spite of the excellent results produced, there is little doubt that denunciations, buying up of other services' agents, duplication of reports, and collaborations between agents of the various Allied systems were not uncommon, so that the information arrived at the various Headquarters in a manner which was not only confusing but sometimes unreliable and apt to be dangerous. This was due to the fact that there was an apparent confirmation of news, really originating from the same source, owing to its being received at Allied Headquarters from what appeared to be different and independent places of origin.

6B. The chief remedy which had been applied to this state of things had been the erection of an artificial delimitation in the areas allotted to the various British services: that is to say, the War Office had reserved to themselves the right to operate east of the line drawn roughly southwards from ANTWERP through BRUSSELS to NAMUR, the remaining portion of Belgium and occupied territory being allocated to the G.H.Q. services.

Germany itself was a barred zone as far as G.H.Q. services were concerned. The consequences of this particular delimitation are referred to later.

6C. This attempt at finding a modus vivendi did not entirely remove the competition between the three British services, nor did it affect the situation as between them and our French and Belgian Allies.

7. It is hardly necessary to point out that the artificial delimitation of territory for Secret Service purposes is fundamentally unsound, both in theory and in practice. Not only does it prevent, in many cases, the natural overflow of an existing sound system, operating on the border of the delimited zone on the other side of the border, and so deprive the forces in the field of useful information from certain portions of the forbidden territory, owing to the fact that individuals who are capable of setting up systems in that territory are unwilling to work for the head-men and other chiefs to whom their territory has been allotted.

8. At this period, all reports were sent over at intervals to the G.H.Q. offices in Folkestone and London after having been previously reduced to a concise telegraphic report by the head-men of the systems concerned, which were known for convenience as C.F. and W.L. Later this was done by officers in Holland, especially in the W.L. Service.

9. The original practice has a double disadvantage. In the first place, as was proved subsequently by the capture of the SS BRUSSELS, the transmission of agents' reports in original is a danger to the lives of those agents which it is unfair to ask them to incur. In the second place, the reduction of purely military reports to concise telegrams by civilians, however able, who are not cognisant of the exact military situation, is apt to lead to the omission of important items of information which may be of the highest value to a commander in the field.

10. All efforts were therefore concentrated to remove these objections, and after consultation with the Military Attaché at THE HAGUE and the various officers concerned in the War Office and elsewhere, a system was arrived at which removed some of them.

11. Under the new arrangements all transcripts of reports (most of which were written in code), were handed in to the Military Attaché by the head-men of the system concerned, accompanied in the case of the C.F. and W.L. Services by a summarised digest of what the head-men considered to be the essential feature of the reports, which was to serve as a guide to the Military Attaché in drawing his own conclusions. At the same time, the latter had access to, and the right to call for, any original report; so that he could satisfy himself as to the correctness or otherwise of any particular point.

12. At one sweep two of the major objections to the ancient practice were removed. The reports were now compiled and collated by one, and that a trained, mind. The power of calling for the original report, and the composition of all reports into one telegraphic digest, also afforded the opportunity for the detection of the sale of information amongst agents, of the provision of similar information from one source to two organisations, and of other opportunities for fraud.

13. The Military Attaché was given at the same time the task of attempting to put an end to the competition which had existed in the past. His task was by no means an easy one, for although there is no reason to suggest that the officers concerned did not work with the greatest loyalty in endeavouring to carry out the new arrangements, it was impossible in some cases to forget the bitternesses of the past and personal feelings which these had left behind, especially amongst the subordinate personnel.

14. At G.H.Q., there was no doubt whatever as to the beneficial results of the new system. The officer to whom had been allotted the task of reducing to graphic form on a map the movements of enemy divisions was able to report that it was considerably easier for him to arrive at a really coherent idea of these movements, that he no longer received so many confusing and contradictory reports or apparent confirmations of news which really originated from the same source.

15. The Military Attaché was also made a referee in all cases of dispute between British services, and had the power to act as the court of first instance in dealing with claims to either organisations as a whole, or to train watching posts, and individual couriers and agents.

16. It should be stated here that the bulk of the work of Secret Service in occupied territory was devoted to train watching, with a view to tracing the movements of enemy constituted units. This information was of vital importance in drawing up the enemy's order of battle. It had a direct effect on the operations and movements of our own forces, and became therefore the first objective of our Secret Service system.

17. Subsidiary efforts were devoted, however, to special tasks allotted to special agents, such as reports on defensive works, reports on movement of shipping from Zeebrugge and Ostend, technical details as to artillery, aviation, aerodromes and similar matters, and the acquisition by theft or purchase of German military compilations, and all military information generally.

18. The erection of the court of first instance at THE HAGUE led to the discovery that, consciously or unconsciously, certain organisations and individuals had undoubtedly been working for more than one British service, in some cases at the same time, in others intermittently or alternately.

19. The introduction of the new system enabled us to prevent disputes such as had arisen in the past, more especially as full responsibility was thrown on any officer who decided that he was unable to abide by the decision of the Military Attaché on the spot. Such cases were to be referred to a higher court in London, composed of the officers in charge of M.I.1., M.I.1c., and 1(b) G.H.Q., with subsequent reference, if necessary, to the Director of Military Intelligence himself.

20. It is difficult after this lapse of time, and almost unnecessary, to trace the varying fortunes of the various services, but it must be recorded as a significant fact that charts drawn up showing graphically the number of posts working for the various services revealed that almost invariably where one service declined another was on the up grade. This was particularly the case as between the G.H.Q. "C.F." Service and the War Office "T" Service, between whom, both as services and as between individual officers in charge, it is necessary to record that the greatest competition and some bitterness had existed.

21. This compensatory movement between the services has been used as an argument against putting all our eggs from the Secret Service point of view, in one basket; but the argument is, in my view, unsound, and I am personally convinced that where one service showed a marked improvement which synchronised with the decline of another, and where such improvement, as was nearly always the case, was practically equivalent to the decline of the other, such improvement was probably due to the fact that service and posts had been "jumped" by the successful concern.

22. This is not intended as any reflection on the officers in charge of these services; such action where deliberate, was due to their subordinates. In other cases services were no doubt taken on in good faith by the officers in charge of the organisations as new services and quite distinct from any which had previously operated.

23. This system was continued until March 1918, and throughout that time no effort had been spared by propaganda and conversation with all persons concerned, to advocate the erection of what could be the only sound system - one Allied Secret Service system in Holland. With Switzerland at that time G.H.Q. had nothing to do, but any argument which is applicable to Holland applies equally to Switzerland, or any other country. At the same time, in saying, "one Allied Service" there was no intention to put out of court any arrangements by which Holland might be handed over to the British, or Switzerland, for instance, to the French. This amounts in effect to the same thing.

24. In September 1917, it was found that the use made of the Paris office by Major Cameron did not justify the continuance of that office as an annex to his organisation, and, of the two alternatives of closing down or allowing Captain Bruce to endeavour to justify the continued existence of that office by successful operations in another direction, the latter was chosen. This decision was thoroughly justified by subsequent events.

25. The previous situation, partly again owing to the personalities of persons engaged, had become unworkable. This was also due chiefly, however, to the fact that long-range control of Secret Service organisations is, in nearly every case, ineffective. Secret Service is not a matter which can be organised or controlled entirely by correspondence; in this work above all other the personal touch and inspiration are what are most required.

26. By mutual arrangement with the War Office and Admiralty Captain Bruce was allowed to enter into two fields hitherto barred to G.H.Q. activities, namely, Switzerland and Spain, the former of which had been reserved entirely for the War Office for operations in Germany, and the latter to the Admiralty on account of the immense importance from a naval point of view of the information they were enabled to acquire in this country.

27. Every assurance was given that, wherever steps were taken, nothing would be done to imperil existing sources of information, and that no steps would be taken to erect Secret Service organisation or to recruit agents in these territories without reference to the authorities concerned. In the case of Spain some difficulty was experienced, owing to a former unhappy misunderstanding as to the question of the recruiting of agents by G.H.Q. in this country.

28. With regard to Spain, it is sufficient to say that no very great results were obtained, and that after a certain period, the officer sent to this country was recalled and paid off. He had, however, done useful work and had been of assistance to the Contre-Espionage Service and the Admiralty organisations; so that it can be said that the expenditure of effort in this direction was not entirely wasted.

29. In January 1918, Major Cameron reported that he was anxious to undertake other work, being actuated to this step chiefly by the strain which he had undergone of some 3 years work in this field.

His train watching services were at a low ebb and practically non-existent, and he felt himself incapable, owing to his state of health, of reviving them on a satisfactory footing.

I must place on record my appreciation of the loyalty and ability with which this officer carried on this difficult work under trying conditions.

In the earlier part of the period under review and before that the results produced by his services had been excellent. Although they do not come within that period I understand that the inception and initiation of train-watching services were largely his. Great credit is therefore due to him for the success which is his won, and other services, achieved in this field.

29A. Any references which have been made to competition and the resulting bitterness in no way detract from either his success or from that of the War Office 'T' organisation. Competition and bitternesses were the natural outcome of the system then in force, and of the vital necessity, coupled with keenness, to obtain information for the Armies in the field.

30. The situation thus created gave the opportunity for an improvement of the organisation for which I had been working, and the two G.H.Q. Services in Holland then became one under Major Wallinger. We were thus a step nearer our goal of one Allied service in Holland. Captain Bruce's organisation remained separate and working directly under the orders of G.H.Q.

JUSTIFICATION FOR ERECTION OF G.H.Q. SERVICE VIA SWITZERLAND 31. The criticism may be made that it is inconsistent on the part of one who was preaching the erection of one single service in Holland, to set up a second and competing service in apparent opposition to the War Office Service in Switzerland.

At first sight this would appear to be a fair criticism, but the circumstances were not analogous and the step can be easily justified.

32. The whole aim and object of this G.H.Q. Service was to establish posts in Luxembourg, an important railway centre, with a view to reporting train movements in that territory, by means of intermediaries in Switzerland. Up to this time no organisation had succeeded in establishing any service in Luxembourg which had proved itself capable of forwarding reports from this territory, either adequate in the ground they covered or in the movements they reported, or useful in the sense of rapidity of their transmission. Owing to certain relations which Captain Bruce had formed in Paris, it was felt that he and he only had particular facilities for the erection of this organisation, and subsequent events proved this to be the case.

ATTEMPTS TO SET UP ONE ALLIED S.S. 33. The goal of one Allied service in Holland had still to be kept in view by all concerned, and eventually a full representative meeting was called in London on the 31st August 1918, presided over by Major-General Sir G. Macdonogh, Director of Military Intelligence, and attended by:

General Boucabeille, French Military Attaché at The Hague
Lt.Col P. Wallner, 2eme Bureau, Ministere de Guerre, Paris
Commandant Smets, Belgian G.Q.G.
Col. R.Van Deman, American Army
Captain Mansfield Cumming, C.B., M.I.1c., War Office
Lt. Col. R.J.Drake, 1 (b), G.H.Q.
Considerable progress was made, after a lunch given in honour of these gentlemen, towards the desired end.

34. As was expected, and as had proved in the past, the chief difficulty in correcting a faulty organisation of the Secret Service arose from the fact that agents who are working and have been working for some time past for one service, the chiefs of which are known to and trusted by them, are unwilling to change over to the tutelage of another, in the personnel of which they may have no confidence.

35. This and other considerations made it impossible, therefore, to set up the ideal, but considerable progress was made towards it in the erection of an Inter-Allied Commission, of which General Boucabeille was nominated as President. This Commission was to exercise the same functions with regard to all the services as those hitherto allotted to the British Military Attaché with regard to the British services; that is to say, it was to receive a digest of all reports received by all services; it was to have access to and power to call for the originals of any reports, and was to be the court of first instance to adjudicate on all questions of dispute. The object of the allocation of these powers to this Commission was, of course, the same, and there is no question that this step formed a considerable advance in Secret Service organisation.

36. It had, however, undoubtedly the curious result that the field was left practically clear in occupied Belgium and France for the British Secret Service, for the services of our Allies diminished to a very inconsiderable organisation. We had, in fact, received no reports from these services worthy of much consideration since October 1917.

37. After the amalgamation of the G.H.Q. Services, it was found possible after consultation with the Military Attaché, to lop off certain redundant posts and organisations. In an earlier examination of this question, for instance, it had been discovered that in some cases there were as many as six train watching posts on quite short lengths of railway line. Apart from the expense involved, it is obvious that the multiplication of posts in this fashion in a restricted area adds considerably to the danger of all those engaged. It means the multiplication of the possibility of capture of original reports. It means also the multiplication of the risk of capture of the couriers and passeurs employed in collecting and smuggling reports out of the country. In spite of a natural unwillingness to obliterate services performing useful functions and so to risk a possible loss of information it was decided to reduce the redundant posts considerably, and orders were issued accordingly. No bad effects accrued, in spite of certain gloomy prognostications in various quarters.

38. Throughout this period there is no doubt that the general average of the value and accuracy of the information received showed a progressive upward tendency. The same remark, however, applies to the expenditure, which may appear strange in view of the abolition of competition, and the suppression of redundant posts referred to above.

39. It must, however, be remarked that the price of espionage, like everything else, had appreciated considerably. In the first place, the patriotism which urged many to undertake this work in the earlier stages of the war had somewhat cooled down. Persons who had been willing to undertake this work without pay in the earlier stages of the war had been driven by sheer necessity and the expense of living, to ask for remuneration. In addition, the execution and imprisonment of considerable numbers of those engaged in this service had the natural effect of forcing those who were willing to embark on these duties to consider the financial future of their relatives and dependant, as well as to assess at a higher rate the monetary value of the risks they themselves were about to incur.

40. Finally for other reasons, agents were very much harder to find. This can readily be imagined when it is realised that at least six competing services had been turning over the ground for agents for the greater part of the war, and had been joined since September 1917 by a newcomer - the American Service - who were not only comparative novices, but had been given apparently a free hand as regards funds as long as they produced information.

41. Every effort, however, was directed to keeping down the expenditure as low as possible. In this connection the question of the pensions for the dependants of agents shot in our service and of the pensions to be allotted to agents permanently injured by accident or imprisonment during the course of their connection with our service, were taken up with the Financial Authorities at the War Office and decisions obtained.

42. Matters continued on these lines until the Armistice and for some time afterwards, though the rapid advance of our armies saw the gradual absorption of our train watching posts and brought us face to face with another of the many unsound situations arising from initial faulty organisation. Luckily, thanks to the Armistice, we were not called upon to solve this problem, that is, the acquisition of information in a territory which had hitherto been completely denied to us and of which we had no knowledge - Germany.

43. There is no question, to my mind, that the Secret Service at home should be organised in such a fashion that, in the event of war in any country, other than in Asia or Africa, a complete section of it could be detached to the Commander-in-Chief in the theatre of war. This section should have not only complete knowledge of the country concerned, but should have been dealing constantly and for some time past with the control and organisation of Secret Service in it.

44. Experience shows that it is impossible to expect from Secret Service sources under war conditions, any information of the nature called for by the strategical and tactical conditions of this war in less than six months. In a war of movement, local and tactical information can be obtained, of course, by agents going through the lines, but their information is bound to be local, tactical and limited.

This, however, is not the place to develop this argument, which will be fully exposed in the 1 (b) section of the Intelligence manual.

45. After the Armistice many of the agents who had worked for us in occupied territory proved to be of the greatest utility to our Contre-Espionage Service in the denunciation of suspects and undesirables who had hitherto been unknown to that service.

46. With regard to the Paris office, in addition to its work of endeavouring to establish a system in Luxembourg which would communicate through Switzerland, Captain Bruce was given the services of a Flying Corps Officer who had recently escaped from Germany - Lieutenant S.E. Buckley - with a view to organising the escape of our prisoners of war, in collaboration with the French, who had already had a very good system working for the escape of their own prisoners. This officer was put in touch with an officer of M.I. 1.c. who had been taking some steps in this direction, but it is believed without very much success.

47. As a result of their efforts, maps, compasses and other necessities were smuggled into prisoners of war in various camps in Germany as well as ciphers and codes by which they could communicate with the outside world. Lectures and instruction were also given to officers of units of the Expeditionary force, and compasses, maps etc. were served out to them, attention being paid particularly to the officers of the R.F.C. and the Tank Corps, who, from the nature of their employment, were more liable to capture than the average officer, and were, from their small numbers and the expense of their training, more desirable objects of attention than the average officer of a fighting unit.

48. It was felt undesirable that instruction in these matters should be given to these latter officers on account of the possible effect on the 'morale ' of the weaker members who might feel that as they had been given full instruction and means of escape, it was not so incumbent on them to fight to the last as might otherwise be the case.

49. A considerable number of officers of the R.F.C. especially were got into touch with, and a gratifying proportion of escapes were effected. Eventually, as was only to be expected, the Germans discovered the method of conveyance of maps, compasses, files etc. to our prisoners, and took such precautions as to render any further attempts most difficult. In addition, they threatened, at a conference on prisoners of war at THE HAGUE, to forbid entirely the further despatch of parcels, should our efforts continue. The organisation, therefore, perforce, ceased then to perform any useful function, and Lieutenant Buckley's energies were directed to assist Captain Bruce in the general scheme of secret service, the field of which had by this time considerably developed.

50. A scheme put forward by Lieutenant Buckley by which he himself should again be taken prisoner with a view to conveying instruction in person as to the methods of escape to other prisoners of war, was negatived, as this officer had already suffered 18 months' incarceration in Germany, and had made five attempts to escape, escaping on the fifth. It was felt that he was already too well known to the German authorities to justify any such proposal being put into effect in fairness to him.

51. Another scheme put forward by him, by which we should attempt to obtain information with regard to the movement of constituted units by train in the interior of Germany, many of which passed along lines in the immediate vicinity of prisoner of war camps, was also negatived. It was felt that not only was it not fair to ask our prisoners of war to undertake the risks involved, but also that the information would deal with matters so far removed from our front as not to justify these risks.

52. In the meantime, Captain Bruce's plans for operating Secret Service in Luxembourg had developed. After several unsuccessful attempts to obtain the necessary papers, a Madame Rischard was granted by the enemy a permit to proceed from Switzerland, where she was then living, to her home in Luxembourg. She was the forerunner of the service, and it was her mission to obtain local persons of reliability to work in our interests. Her social position, and the official position of her husband as doctor to the State Railways in Luxembourg justified every hope of her being able to perform her mission satisfactorily.

53. She was successful in obtaining in due course the allegiance, not only of her husband, but of several of the principal officials of the Luxembourg State Railways, who in turn engaged such of their subordinates as were reliable. Madame Rischard also won over to our side the editor and other necessary personnel of the "Landwirt" a local paper, which was to form the channel of communication for the message she sent.

54. The ground being thus prepared for the arrival of Lieutenant Baschwitz-Meau, this officer was put over the lines by free balloon from Verdun on the night of 18th/19th June 1918. He landed successfully in Luxembourg within a few miles of his appointed objective within the area selected for this operation.

55. Thanks to the spade work performed by Madame Rischard and to certain improvements in the code which past experience in communicating with her had suggested, Lieutenant Meau was able to set up the best train watching service, as far as the reporting of results goes, which had up to that time been established, and this service operated successfully until the conclusion of hostilities, when Luxembourg was occupied by American troops.

56. The various persons engaged in this operation contributed in their several spheres, each one complementary to the other, to the performance of one of the most successful pieces of intelligence work, from an S.S. point of view, within my knowledge, and all credit is due to them.

57. The code, which was constructed by Captain L.G. Campbell, is, I believe, on a principle entirely new and almost undiscoverable. It is capable of use in any letter or newspaper article on any subject. The details of it have been communicated to the responsible authorities in M.I. 1.c. for their future use.

58. As the Germans placed no impediment in the passage of the local Luxembourg paper to Switzerland, it was possible to receive intelligence from that territory regularly and within the space of five days, as opposed to a minimum of three weeks when, as previously, communication came through Holland.

59. On the advance of the army to the Rhine and on its formation into the Army of Occupation, Captain Bruce was despatched with it in order to inaugurate Secret Service from occupied territory and so supplement the Secret Service already in existence and working under the aegis of M.I. 1.c. He took with him Lieutenant Meau who again performed services of a highly meritorious nature.

60. Although, as stated above, it is our experience that no information can be obtained under modern conditions from any new service in any time under six months, or under conditions such as obtaining in occupied territory at that time in probably under three months, Major Bruce and Lieutenant Meau were able within the space of one month to unravel the ramifications of an extensive system of German espionage whose principal object was the promotion of Bolshevism and Separation amongst the troops of the Allies. They were able to produce evidence which tended to show that, in spite of the professed departure of the new Government in Germany from the old conditions and the old regime, it was the Hoeresleitung which was really in power. It was, in any case, in a position to continue its espionage and other anti-Allied activities in spite of its apparent lack of power.

61. Captain R.G. Tangye who succeeded Major Bruce, has since been able to effect the arrest of several Bolshevik agents operating in our zone of the occupied territory.

62. The Paris office having ceased to perform any useful function, was finally wound up on the 15th March 1919, after all its services had been liquidated and paid off.

63. Contemporaneously with the work of what might be called our established Secret Service organisations, subsidiary operations were constantly being carried out with a view to obtaining information.

64. Early in 1917, General Trenchard, then commanding the Royal Flying Corps, decided that the old practice of depositing agents behind the enemy lines by the landing of an aeroplane was too expensive in machines and pilots. Experiments already in progress were pushed forward, and with the aid of the Inventions Board of the Ministry of Munitions, the "Guardian Angel" parachute was perfected. The idea was that agents should be dropped from an aeroplane in flight. Tests having been successfully undertaken in England which proved its reliability, efforts were made to recruit persons willing to undertake this hazardous means of reaching occupied territory. Recruiting was actively carried on by a sub-branch of Major Wallinger's office which was situated at that time at Bruay under the orders of Captain W.A. Hazeldine.

65. Several agents were put over by this means at varying intervals, depending, first on the district from which the information was required, secondly on the recruiting and training of the agent.

66. At first the agents took with them pigeons by which they were to send back their information, and rendezvous were arranged for at which subsequent consignments of pigeons were to be dropped to them.

It must be recorded, however, that, owing to the difficulties of the exact identification of localities by night, and possibly also of the agent attending the appointed rendezvous, no great measure of success resulted from these operations, although many consignments of pigeons were dropped.

67. The limitations, moreover, imposed on this operation by the chiefs of the Royal Flying Corps, which restricted its use to approximately fifteen miles behind the enemy lines and by the fact that flights had to be carried on during a certain period of the moon, during which again the weather had to answer all requirements, restricted considerably the number of agents put over. It therefore became essential to think out some other means of conveying agents to the desired localities.

68. In view of the practical certainty that a proportion of the agents so sent would be captured and might divulge the means by which they had arrived, it was probable that the Germans would shortly be cognisant of the details of the operation, as was, in fact, proved by enemy orders subsequently captured. This meant that they would be on the lookout during the favourable moon periods, that they would be suspicious on hearing behind their lines at night an aeroplane which did not drop bombs, and that the agent therefore so landed would have decreased chances of escape.

69. Silence therefore became an essential desideratum and it was eventually proved after experimental flights conducted by Commander Pollock (in conjunction with Major Wallinger, whose idea this originally was) the well known balloon expert working with the Admiralty, that it was a feasible operation to land agents by means of free balloons, provided weather, wind and other circumstances were favourable. The recruitment of agents for this operation was therefore pressed forward, and a gratifying number of candidates were forthcoming.

70. At the same time, efforts had been directed towards the improvement of methods of communication, and the aid of Captain Round, chief inventor of Marconi's, was invoked, for the second time, the necessary permission having been obtained from Mr Godfrey Isaacs. he had been consulted originally by Major Cameron on an earlier occasion.

71. Captain Round produced a portable continuous wave set, weight about 60 lbs, which was far ahead of anything in wireless apparatus known at that time, and was believed to be incapable of detection by any means of position finding and detective organisation known to wireless experts either on our own or the German side. Weight being not so strictly limited in a balloon as it would be in an aeroplane, the chief factor in this respect to be considered was the weight that an agent could conveniently carry after his landing had been effected. It was found possible to send with the agents a supply of food, pigeons etc., which could be dropped from the balloon, shortly before the man himself landed, in localities where they would be unlikely to be discovered.

72. Considerable success in the landing of the agents at or near the desired localities was attained, and there is little doubt that attempts were made by them to communicate within the specified hours, which were laid down for so many nights in a month and in the special code which had previously been memorised. It is regrettable to record, however, that, owing to a certain lack of interest on the part of local technical experts, no intelligible results were received. Investigation by Captain Round, who was wired for from England for the purpose, proved that a defective receiving apparatus had been put up. This was a matter beyond the control of anybody working in 1 (b), as in such technical affairs one is obviously in the hands of one's experts.

73. One of the agents having had an accident in landing and being subsequently captured by the Germans and executed, there is little doubt that they came into the possession of a complete set of wireless apparatus and further efforts in this direction were therefore negatived.

74. From March 1917 onwards, a system of despatching pigeons broadcast to the inhabitants of occupied territory had been in operation. These pigeons were despatched by free balloon to any desired neighbour hood and were dropped by a clockwork apparatus, after a specified time. This was arrived at according to the speed of the wind and the distance to be traversed, their point of departure being again determined by the direction of the wind.

75. When this system was initiated it was calculated that we should be lucky if 5 per cent of return messages were received. Experience showed, however, that on the average some 40 per cent of messages were returned and in some cases even higher. The information in most cases was of a very high order and had the advantage of being fresh and rapidly transmitted. For instance, the balloons were usually despatched about 11 o'clock at night and many of the messages were received at 5 o'clock the next morning.

76. Similar balloons were despatched for the Propaganda Section of the General Staff, who subsequently adopted an adapted form of this system of conveying material over the enemy's lines on a large scale.

77. The prevalent wind in the Western theatre being of a westerly nature, this method was capable of use on a high percentage of nights, and no measures which the enemy thought fit to adopt in occupied territory were capable of preventing either the despatch of the balloons or the picking up of the pigeons and subsequent despatch of the information by the inhabitants. Many of them unfortunately were shot, but this in no way deterred others, although we were later asked by the French Government to desist for a period from putting this operation into practice.

78. After considerable scepticism on the part of our allies the system was adopted by the French, Belgian and Italian services of information and used on several fronts. As regards propaganda, it is of interest to record that a cabled request has recently been recovered from General Knox on the Vladivostok front for the necessary apparatus constructed on these lines.

79. In view of the shortage of pigeons which at one time threatened to prevail on the Western Front, efforts were directed towards their replacement by some mechanical means which would permit of the passage of information from occupied territory over the lines in a westerly direction.

80. Eventually there was devised by major Wallinger and his staff, in consultation with various experts, a system by which small balloons for use by the inhabitants in lieu of pigeons, together with small tin canisters containing the necessary chemicals for the productions of hydrogen or similar gas, were despatched by our pigeon balloons to the inhabitants with the necessary instructions.

81. A hundred were dropped as an experimental measure, together with the usual questionnaire as in the case of the pigeons. Only one message in answer was received and that was picked up off the German wire by one of our men during a raid, who had seen it fluttering on the wire for a few days. This was a very fortunate occurrence for the sender, who had been indiscreet enough, in spite of definite instructions to the contrary, to sign her full name and address.

82. It is probable that the small number received was due to various causes: firstly, that the system was perhaps too complicated for the intelligence of the average peasant, and, secondly, that such balloons as were despatched on an easterly wind either fell on the enemy's side of the line or somewhere in all that large part of France behind our own lines and were never discovered. At this time also only light easterly airs prevailed for considerable consecutive periods.

83. As to the methods of transmission. Our regular transmission of information from the fixed train watching posts and promeneurs was by courier over the electrified frontier wire into Holland. The other methods have been explained.

84. From this explanation it is evident that the only promising avenue of progress lies in the discovery of some improved method of communication, which is incapable of detection by any means known at present.

85. Bearing this in mind, I had approached some time ago various well known scientists among my acquaintances and invoked their help. The suggestion was put to them that experiments should be carried out as to the possibilities of signalling by some such system as radiant heat, sounds above the ordinary range of audibility, the use of certain strata of the earth's surface as conductors of some form of electrical or other signalling, of which the adjacent strata would be non-conductors, and certain other processes which suggested themselves either to myself or to them.

86. Up to date, however, no success has been attained, but if any similar work is to be undertaken against any enemy of wide Secret Service experience and scientific training, I feel sure that this is the only line on which progress can be made.

87. One thing, however, is certain, and that is that in the present state of the world's civilisation and trade the absolute restriction of circulation of the population of a European country is impossible in any war on any large scale. That being so, and trade and the supply of food being equally necessary for combatants and non-combatants alike, there is ample field for the ingenuity of persons engaged in Secret Service in the direction of the transmission of information, either by code in letter or newspaper, by word of mouth or by hand in writing. The actual carriage may be if necessary on the person of an individual, or in goods and merchandise in course of transmission to other countries.

88. Experience in this war has, however, laid bare to all defensive organisations all but the most subtle of these devices, and, as far as my experience goes, there is no ordinary invisible ink or means of carriage of information which is not capable of detection in a high proportion of the number of cases examined.

89. In addition to the efforts to obtain information outlined above there was formed from time to time during 1917 a collection of agents known locally as the "Suicide Club". These were recruited and trained by Captain W.A. Hazeldine and Interpreter J. Ide, assisted on one or two occasions by captain M.G. Pearson. Their mission was to accompany the Cavalry in the event of a breach being made in the line as a result of our various offensives, or even to penetrate through any opening in advance of that arm. They were present at all our offensives on our front during 1917 and showed commendable spirit and readiness to undertake this dangerous task. In no case, however, were we successful in getting any of these men through the lines until the open fighting started during our last offensive in August 1918.

90. Considerable difficulties had to be surmounted in organising this body. In the first place, it was impossible to obtain really adequate notice from the Operations division of the staff, whose policy of secrecy towards even those sections of the Intelligence charged with the duties of Secret Service was perhaps on conservative lines. This meant that with offensives undertaken at short notice on widely separated sectors of the front we had to recruit and train men for this work in a very short period. They had to be instructed, in addition to their ordinary instruction as agents, in riding, map reading and the use of the compass. Special arrangements also had to be made as to their methods of procedure once they had got through the lines and of conveying any information they obtained back to our forward troops.

91. In practice it was found difficult to get anyone beyond the Intelligence staff at the Cavalry Corps and Divisions to take any interest in these men. They therefore suffered unnecessary hardship, of food and blankets, in addition to incurring the risk of being taken for enemy agents and shot. It was also difficult to obtain from the responsible quarter the information that the time had arrived when the operation for which they were trained had become feasible, and to this I think must be attributed chiefly the failures of the scheme. In the opinion of the officers in charge, several opportunities occurred for the successful use of these men on more than one occasion, but, for lack of the necessary information and of the word to go, these opportunities were not taken advantage of.

92. I should, here like to pay a tribute to the excellence of the work done by the officers in charge and Interpreter Ide, and to the personal courage and neglect of danger which were shown by them and the agents on more than one occasion.

93. In the open fighting which ensued on our offensive from the 21st August onwards, several successful attempts were made by agents to penetrate the enemy lines, and information of a useful though not perhaps highly important nature was obtained. The nature of the operations was such at this phase of the fighting that civilians were largely mixed up with the combatant troops on either side, and it is therefore equally probable that the enemy was able to obtain information from our side with as great a facility as we did from theirs. We, however, had the advantage that we were operating amongst a friendly population, every inhabitant of which was potentially an agent working for us.

94. Throughout the whole of the period under review, Major Wallinger's service obtained information of a uniformly high level, both during the period when he was operating independently and subsequent to the amalgamation of the W.L. and C.F. Services. The class of agent employed in Major Wallinger's service was very much above the average, and to this must be attributed the fewer number of casualties and denunciations and the general reliability of the information supplied. To Major Wallinger and all the officers working under him very great credit is due for the assiduity and zeal with which they conducted their labours. I wish here to record my very high appreciation of the work done by all of them.

95.The total number of agents employed by the G.H.Q. Services in the war was roughly 6,000. As far as is known at present, of these 98(a) were executed and 600(b) imprisoned.

(a) Includes:
4 died in prison before execution
2 shot and one electrocuted crossing the frontier.
(b) Includes:
19 sentenced for life
25 sentenced to unknown periods
10 deported

The aggregate of the sentences inflicted on those persons amounted to 700 years, and the actual imprisonment undergone to 175 years.

96. With few exceptions, all these persons have worked from motives of the highest patriotism. Considering the dangers they ran and the value of the information they provided, the cost of the service was surprisingly low. It must be remembered that the maintenance of a single railway watching post often involved the employment of a very large number of persons, and the average rate of payment of agents was extremely low. Every class of person was employed, from abbes, high officials of the Gendarmerie, a Marchioness of some 60 years of age, big industrialists and prominent barristers, down to seamstresses, poachers, smugglers, bargemen and railway officials.

97. The maintenance of this service of information, unchecked in spite of the severity of the enemy throughout the whole of Belgium until the conclusion of hostilities, is the best answer to the often heard opinion that the Belgians as a race are devoid of courage. My experience if that there are no risks which they are not ready to undertake, and that the remuneration for which they are prepared to undertake them is, in most cases, absurdly small.

98. The liquidation of these services has been proceeding since the early part of 1919, but was much hampered by the failure to meet our repeated requests for transport for the officers carrying out this liquidation. For a long time it was impossible to get motors, in spite of our representations that it was urgently necessary in the interest of economy that all these persons should be interviewed, thanked, paid off and rewarded at the earliest possible moment. Eventually motor cars were provided and the work of liquidation has proceeded smoothly and rapidly.

99. With few exceptions, the agents employed have accepted the sums offered them in full liquidation of their claims, few only having shown themselves grasping or recalcitrant. The presentation of 12 selected agents to the Commander-in-Chief at Charleroi shortly before his departure for England had a most gratifying effect on the whole of the services. Recommendations will be made in due course for rewards and decorations of selected members of this personnel and for the distribution of parchment certificates and Mentions in Despatches on lines already concurred in by D.M.I.

100. To Major E.A. Wallinger and his officers again are due all credit for the satisfactory manner in which the liquidation has proceeded. Major Wallinger, as head of the British Military Intelligence Commission in Brussels, has also been in charge of the liquidation of the War Office Secret Service.

101. In submitting the above report on 1 (b) (Secret Service) work in France, during the period in which I was in charge of the section, I wish to protect myself against the imputation of criticising either my predecessors or my superiors.

Within my knowledge the organisation of Secret Service as set up was so set up owing to the exigencies of the situation in the early part of the campaign, and to the urgent necessity of getting information by any means from behind the enemy lines under novel conditions. This purpose it certainly successfully achieved, although the organisation, as was shown by the subsequent attempts on the part of all to improve it, admittedly fell short of the ideal.

102. I would add that all the steps taken to effect any improvement, whether originating with myself or with others, had the full approval of my superiors and of all concerned, and were carried out with their complete knowledge and concurrence.

As far as my share was concerned, I worked under the advantage of benefiting by my predecessor's and others knowledge of the actual working of the organisation during the first 2 1/2 years of the campaign, and took over a working concern which was obtaining good results.

103. Actual experience of Secret Service work is the only real guide to the attainment of the ideal system to be adopted. The defects outlined are the natural accompaniment of starting this work on the grand scale under war conditions, of which neither of which had anyone in this country had previous experience.

R.J. Drake
Lieut. Colonel
General Staff
5 May 1919
N.B. According to "A History of British Secret Service" a Captain R.J. Drake was involved in the organisation of MO5 (later to be known as MI5). He was seconded to the organisation to help Kell, probably in 1909.

MAJOR A.C.CAMERON MAJOR B.A. WALLINGER CAPT. Hon G.J.G. BRUCE Admiralty (formerly War Office directly)        
left Jan 1918 C.F. system W.L system recruitment of agents amongst Belgians and French in unoccupied France (1914? - Sept 1917) - Awarded: Chevalier du Légion d' Honneur, London Gazette, 25.9.17. 9948 Special List. Mentions in Despatches: London Gazette, 4.1.17p -204; 15.5.17p - 4745; 20.12.18 - 14924; 5.7.19 - 8488. Sept 1917 - 1918 - His future wife was on the staff.            

Created: Saturday, March 21, 1998, 14:36 Last Updated: Saturday, March 21, 1998, 14:36