Thursday, 9 February 2017

It's about knowing when to stop ... by Julia Jones

I don’t think I’m very good at knowing when to stop. When I wrote the first version of Margery Allingham's biography back in 1991 and had to leave the unsolved mystery of what went wrong in her marriage in the early 1950s it irked me. Discovering the existence of her husband’s unknown child, Tom, conceived in 1951 with lesbian icon Nancy Spain it didn’t answer every question – in fact it posed a few more – but there was a feeling of yes! as puzzle pieces slipped into place. It was enough to persuade me to re-publish the biography in 2009 as The Adventures of Margery Allingham, the title I’d always wanted but which the original publishers didn’t quite get. And that was the first volume under the Golden Duck imprint.

One thing led to another and more pieces of unfinished business pushed their way insistently to the front of the publication queue until GD volume 13, The Cruise of Naromis: August in the Baltic 1939 by my father, George Jones, caught me unawares in a corner of the attic. That too left an irritating loose end. If Dad had been astute enough to take 60 odd photographs of sea marks, bridges, coastal approaches and harbours during his three week trip though Holland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway in the last weeks before the outbreak of the Second World War why did he not sent them to Naval Intelligence until December 1941? He had been quick to show his photos of German warships Gneisenau and Konigsberg to his new Captain within weeks of his first posting. The photographs had been forwarded to the Director of Naval Intelligence and he’d been thanked for supplying them.
So what about the rest of them? Why were they not sent? I've not managed to stop wondering

In the title of my previous blog post, introducing Naromis, I made a facetious reference to James Bond. I didn’t actually expect that I would find the answer to my question in a book about Ian Fleming. It’s called Ian Fleming’s Commandos by Nicholas Rankin and I recommend it for its research and its readability.  Ian Lancaster Fleming (1908-1964) joined the RNVR in the same month as my father, George Jones (1918-1983): both could describe themselves as “stockbrokers” and neither enrolment was mainstream.  There the resemblance ends. Dad was a 21 year old tenant farmer’s son, just at the end of three years as an articled clerk in Birmingham and working for a distant relation whose business activities were made complex (and more than a little flaky) by his bankruptcy. Fleming was the 31 year old son of a Tory MP, educated at Eton, rejecting employment in the family merchant bank in favour of a junior partnership in a firm of City of London stockbrokers.  Both men had lost their fathers when young, both wrote slightly arty poetry but neither of those attributes was unusual in the 1930s generation. 

The signatory is the Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence
Admiral Godfrey's number two
Dad, though a keen sailor, had poor eyesight and was not optimistic about his chances of acceptance into the RNVSR (the "Yachtsman’s Reserve") when he applied in the aftermath of Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. He was lucky that the chaos of aborted mobilisation at the time of the Munich crisis the previous autumn had persuaded the Navy to institute a supplementary list for accountants, volunteers with clerical skills who could become “pussers” – an essential but definitely non-prestigious form of life. He received his commission in July 1939. So did Fleming -- except that the latter had not volunteered, he had been head-hunted by the Governor of the Bank of England as a personal assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiral Sir John Godfrey. Fleming was attached to the RNVR (Special branch) which was for people who might be useful but wouldn’t be going to sea. 

Ian Fleming at the Admiralty.
Photo used in his friend Robert Harling's memoir
Both men, as it turned out, were good at their jobs. Fleming stayed in post throughout the war as “fixer” for the Director of Naval Intelligence. First it was Admiral Godfrey  (the model for ‘M’) then Admiral Rushbrooke, a less proactive Director, where Fleming’s personal influence was possibly greater. Admiral Godfrey, a sea-going commander had much leeway to make up when he arrived at the DNI. The department had grown slack during the years of peace and one astonishing lacuna concerned topography. Naval Intelligence had no data on places where forces might wish to land. One of the reasons the Dieppe raid in August 1942 was a disaster is that landings had been practised on flat sandy beaches whereas the operational beach here was steep and chalky.  Tanks stuck. When Naval forces steamed to Norway in April 1940 someone had rushed round Thomas Cook’s gathering tourist brochures and maps. April, it was assumed, meant spring so when an RNVR sub-lieutenant named Patrick Dalsel-Jobs produced his own photos of Arctic Norway in previous April there was incredulity. No one had expected to encounter thick, white snow. When Churchill was shown the Norway folder it was empty. The letters SFA adorned the cover: Sweet Fanny Adams. Earlier in the 1930s Dalsel-Jobs had offered to chart the Norwegian fjords for the Admiralty but no one had been interested. Dad had gone exploring when Naromis refuelled in Farsund on August 28th 1939. He brought home his own photos of the approaches to the fjord and its harbour but they were not wanted. 

George Jones in 1943
Captain's Secretary
Admiral Godfrey and Ian Fleming set to change this and by the end of 1940 Godfrey had set up the Inter-Services Topographical department. It was a universities-led exercise which eventually produced 58 scholarly volumes but appeal for contributions extended far beyond the academic community. Fleming was a consistent advocate for photographs. In 1941 the BBC Home service appealed for private holiday photos of beach scenes in Europe and when Dad sent his own strategically relevant batch of 61 photos in December it was in response to Weekly Intelligence Report number 80. One of Fleming’s earliest innovations in the late summer of 1939 had been commissioning his RNVR friend Robert Harling to re-design the Admiralty Weekly Intelligence Reports so that they would be read in every ship’s wardroom. This initiative had clearly been a success. The topographical volume on Norway appeared in 1943.

You may remember from a previous blog that I explained Nicci Gerrard's and my failure to keep our date for the John's Campaign farewell dinner. That dinner recedes ever further into the future though we theoretically have control of our choices.   Dad and Ian Fleming had signed up "for the duration", they could not know when they would stop. Well before the war ended both of them knew what they were going to do when their lives were handed back to them. Dad was going to get back to Waldringfield and a life of small boats: Fleming was going to move to Jamaica and "write the spy story to end all spy stories". Which is what each of them did. Such admirable examples.


Wendy Jones said...

This is fascinating. Thanks for sharing

Bill Kirton said...

More please, Julia. Keep digging. The Naromis cruise was intriguing but it seems the plot continues to thicken. You're rediscovering not just your dad, but the times he lived in.

Susan Price said...

"April, it was assumed, meant spring so when an RNVR sub-lieutenant named Patrick Dalsel-Jobs produced his own photos of Arctic Norway in previous April there was incredulity."

Dear god, examples of our officer class. Who are still in charge. See one D Cameron.

What did they think a navy was for? To provide them with a club, presumably.

Jan Needle said...

SG from the bridge. Don't stop!

Dennis Hamley said...

Lovelý post, Julia. Bill is right. keep exploring this unknown but all too typcal example of armed service ineptitude in WW2 - and every other war too. Sue and Jan are right too and even I experienced its effect even in long-ago National Service.

julia jones said...

but ... to be fair Fleming (ghastly man in every other way) was actually very good at making practical arrangements that would benefit troops on the ground (even if he had no intention of being there himself)

Sandra Horn said...

So much intriguing stuff! Thank you Julia - I'll add my voice: please don't stop!

julia jones said...

Dad's file has other examples of good ideas slapped down by Their Lordships. By the time he reached Halifax (Nova Scotia) in 1941 he just borrowed a boat and produced a survey of the harbour anyway. And the joy of his posting to Sierra Leone in 1942-43 was that he had captains who actually listened and encouraged him Far enough away from Whitehall I suppose.