Saturday, June 30, 2018

Was he or was he not? Who knows? Who cares? Well, not me particularly, but it is interesting. Then there’s the matter on which I shall say nothing, nothing at all...

In a previous entry, I promised to conclude a - rather long-winded - account about why I think it more likely that my father, who I had so far thought was a BBC journalist helping out with MI6 now and again, was actually a full-time spook. Not that it matters and he died almost 30 years ago, but a number of things an aunt told me on a trip to Germany in May cast a rather different light upon what I knew.

Briefly, my father served in the Army Intelligence Corps during World War II, and then worked for the British Military Government in Germany for a few years, probably until a few months before I was born in 1949.

By the time I was born, he had joined the BBC Monitoring Service at Caversham Park, Caversham near Reading, which, he told me, entailed the BBC monitoring radio (and, I suppose, later TV) stations from around the world. I
often wondered why the BBC should bother doing that and when, as a young lad, I asked him, he told me that the BBC could thus hear about news they might otherwise have missed and could put it in it’s own bulletins.

I’ve since discovered it, or possibly just part of it, was a division of the CIA known by the somewhat innocuous name Open Source Enterprise. In 1959, he was appointed as the BBC’s representative in Berlin (note, there was also a BBC correspondent who, for some of the four years we lived in Berlin was Charles Wheeler. Wheeler a more liberal-minded chap and my father rather further to the right apparently did not get on very well).

In Berlin, he was part of the BBC’s German Service, a department which existed for 60 years from 1939. It was in Berlin that he, by his own account and in response various questions I put to him in the last few years of his life, ‘helped out the security services’. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it might account for Charles Wheeler’s antipathy. Wheeler was a hack to his core and most certainly would not have agreed with a journalist working hand-in-glove with his country’s government, if only for the very practical reason that it would cast doubt on his integrity as an honest journalist, and even though that integrity might be wholly unsullied, even the possibility that a journalist was not entirely independent could be damaging.

Incidentally, and as I have pointed out in the blog before, when I talk here of a ‘journalist’, I do mean the professional man or woman who reports on news and sometime provides analysis as opposed to the guy or gal thinking up puns for captions to pictures of vegetables that look like celebrities - or celebrities that look like politicians if you like. This second kind of hack might be beavering away on Tunnels & Tunnelling, a very useful publication which now has an online presence for those with a keen interests in, well tunnels and tunnelling.

The first kind of journalist is one the public - ‘civilians’ - imagines you are when they discover you ‘are a journalist’ and assume you spend your days hob-nobbing with politicians and high-end businessmen and are generally ‘in the know’. In fact, the other sort, those who staff Trout & Salmon, for example, are equally justified in calling themselves journalists. It’s just their work is not quite as apparently sexy as that of the first kind. Me, I’ve never called myself ‘a journalist’, I always said I worked for newspapers. Nothing hard news about me, dear friends.

. . .

I mentioned in the entry I link to above a guy called August Löning, a distant relative and strong anti-Nazi by virtue of the fact that he was a supporter of Der Stahlhelm, a rival far-right group which was mainly distinguished from the National Socialists by the fact that it wanted to ‘bring back the Kaiser’ and the Nazis didn’t. Onkel August as I, part of the ‘extended family’ - and boy can Germans extend families, although I must admit I rather like it - called him was a founder member of the German CDU (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands) and served as a member of the stare parliament of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen). But Onkel August was also part of a secret government in waiting set up by - well, partly by the British security services - which was destined to take over in the event of a Soviet invasion. That, at least, is what my father informed me.

Several years ago, Irmgard, one of August Löning’s daughters told me that a few times every year throughout the 1950s a mysterious Englishman would visit her father in Lathen, the village about 12 miles from the Dutch border in which he lived, and when he arrived, they secreted themselves somewhere quietly and everyone else was told not to disturb them. Irmgard said she couldn’t remember his name. But on my recent trip to Germany her younger sister Helma, who I had lunch with, could remember who it was: my father.

Was she sure? I asked her. Because her sister Irmgard, I told her, who knew my father just as well as she did, would certainly have remembered it was my father. She was certain, Helma said. My father visited her father - August Löning - regularly throughout the 1950s. And then, she added, as we ate, there was ‘the radio transmitter in das Alte Wehrhaus’.

August Löning had owned das Alte Wehrhaus (the old weir house) on the river Ems since a new weir had been built further down the river. We spent many holidays there when we lived in Berlin, and it was also where a radio transmitter was kept. There’s obviously nothing particularly unusual about having a radio transmiter as part of plans to be ready to put in place a provisional German government if the Soviets ever invaded West Germany (as it was then), but it did take me a little by surprise when Helma told me. She said her brother Heinrich had been trained to use if as and when.

The question I am asking myself is why would a member BBC monitoring service, by his own admission, help to set up a provisional German government and, furthermore, make regular visits to see August Löning throughout the 1950s? But if he were a serving member of the security services, it would make a lot more sense.

That possibility also made me ponder on something else which has in the past struck me as odd. My father, who once later in life described himself as a ‘right-wing radical’ when I asked him what his politics were, also once told me he had campaigned for the then Liberal Party during the general election of either 1950 or 1951.

Now, anyone meeting my father would never have put him down as a liberal, but it is always possible that he, then 27/28. was a tad more idealistic at the time and, well, thought Britain could do with a Liberal Party government and it was worth campaigning to get one elected. It has since dawned on me that the security services might also very much like to have an inside man among the Liberals, given the number of Communist sympathisers out and about and the steadily deteriorating relations with the Soviet Union. But that is just surmise.

So there you have it. I can still not say with any certainty what my father was - a BBC man who ‘helped out’ or a spook with a BBC cover. To be frank it doesn’t matter either way, but when Helma insisted it had been my father who had arrived regularly throughout the 1950s, I did get to thinking again.

A few years ago I discussed some of this with my sister, and we decided to ask MI6 straight out. So almost four years ago, on November 1, 2014, I wrote them a letter explaining who I was and who my father was, and asking whether my father had been a member of their staff. I didn’t get a reply for several months, but then I did get a response from MI6. It was bland in the extreme.

It purported to be from a suburban street somewhere in South London and was extremely short. I know it was from MI6 because I had addressed my letter - I got the address from the MI6 website - to ‘General Inquiry, MI6, PO Box 1300, London SE1 1BD’. I think I still have it somewhere though I can’t say where as when I put stuff away

for ‘safekeeping’, I invariably forget where it is (but at least it is still safe). I can only remember the gist of the very short reply, but it was along the lines of ‘such matters are never discussed’ and it advised me to get in touch with The National Archives in Kew, South-West London, to see if they had any info on my dear old dad. Nowhere in the letter was there any mention of the ‘security services’, ‘MI6’ or ‘MI5’.

Oh, and here’s tip: if anyone in Britain (or in your own country) volunteers the information that they are working or once worked for the security services, you know one thing for certain: they are not or did not, and are just total bullshitters. Spooks don’t talk or brag. It’s not in their nature, and an ability to keep quiet is one of the traits which makes them attractive as potential agents. For the record, I am not and have never been a member of the security services.

Former colleagues might not that I am far to outspoken, indiscrete (or indiscreet - subs please check, as I can’t be arsed), noisy and tactless to be considered spook material. But then I would have thought that having a reputation as a loudmouth might well be excellent cover. If it worked for the Scarlett Pimpernel . . .

 . . .

There is another matter I should dearly like to write about, but wisdom - yes, wisdom - advises against it. As I confessed to a friend a week or two ago, rather shamefacedly I must admit, I might not be much wiser than I was, but I have learned to listen to small voice inside me that occasionally counsels ‘nah, wouldn’t do that, or at least not yet’. So, zilch, dear friends, zilch on the matter.

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