Title: Hitler’s British Traitors
Author: Tim Tate
Publisher: Icon Books
Pps: 454 including notes and index
Publication date: September 6 2018
I would have thought that it was well nigh impossible to publish a book containing reams of factual material about events before and during World War II (WWII) that most people will never have read before.
But Tim Tate has done just that with this book, subtitled The Secret History of Spies, Saboteurs and Fifth Columnists, ‘drawing on hundreds of declassified official files – many of them previously unpublished’ as the blurb inside the front cover states.
As the blurb continues, this book ‘uncovers the largely unknown history of more than 70 British traitors who were convicted, mostly in secret trials, of working to help Nazi Germany win the war, and several hundred British fascists who were interned without trial on evidence that they were working on behalf of the enemy’.
The stakes were high. Four were condemned to death; two were executed.
The book is prefaced by a marvellously apt quote from Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC), proving the old adage that a man might be judged by the company he keeps.
A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly.
But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, head in the very halls of government itself.
For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments…
I find that rather chilling, in the more traditional sense of the word.
The first of the traitors to whom we are introduced by Tim Tate is a small, unremarkable woman in a drab Scottish town, three years before WWII started: Jessie Jordan, the owner of a small hairdressing salon in a working-class district of Dundee (having my own origins in the working-class housing schemes of Airdrie, the buckle in central Scotland’s rust belt, I can immediately sense the atmosphere). But a spy? In Dundee? Best known for jam, jute and journalism, the birthplace of Oor Wullie, The Broons, Desperate Dan, The Sunday Post and People’s Friend. A spy? The central figure in a major espionage ring stretching throughout Europe and across the Atlantic to New York and Washington, DC.
Jings, crivvens and help m’boab, as our cartoon Dundonians might say. I would never have thought it.
She married a German, a waiter working in a Dundee hotel, and gave birth to a daughter partly named after Kaiser Wilhelm, so one can understand split loyalties.
But even at this remove there is something distinctly unsavoury about someone who felt no remorse at betraying the country of her birth by providing sketches of government buildings and acting as a courier for further betrayals coming to her from the USA.
Tim Tate writes concisely about her discovery, arrest, trial, conviction and sentencing, including a short extract from the Dundee Courier suggesting that ‘there must be a considerable number of British woman in a position closely akin to that of Mrs Jordan, and we get a hint here that the German Secret Service has its eyes upon them as possible serviceable tools’.
The stories of similar women, and men, duly unfold, very well told. Another excellent potential Christmas present for the WWII enthusiast.