Recently, there has been some controversy regarding a suggestion for a blue plaque for Admiral Sir Hugh Francis Paget Sinclair (1873-1939). However, English Heritage apparently ruled that he was not ‘historically significant’ enough to be recognised with a blue plaque at his official London residence in Queen Anne’s Gate, which was linked by a secret tunnel to MI6 HQ. If you’ve been reading the news over the last few months, you’ll be aware that certain individuals in English Heritage have lost the plot, and this could be construed as another example of their arrant political correctness.
Sinclair certainly achieved a lot. He joined the Royal Navy aged 13 and entered the Naval Intelligence Division at the outset of the First World War. By 1919 he had become the Director of Naval Intelligence. In 1923, he took over from Sir Mansfield Cumming as the director of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, aka MI6).
As early as 1919 he was concerned about the influence of Bolshevism, but in the main his concerns were ignored. By 1936 he discovered that the Gestapo had infiltrated several SIS stations; at about this time Lieutenant Colonel Sir Claude Edward Marjoribanks Dansey set up Z Organisation, intent on working independently from the compromised SIS.
Sinclair was asked in December 1938 to prepare a dossier on Adolf Hitler, for the attention of the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister. The dossier received short shrift as it was believed that it did not gel with Britain's policy of appeasement. Sinclair had described Hitler as possessing the characteristics of ‘fanaticism, mysticism, ruthlessness, cunning, vanity, moods of exaltation and depression, fits of bitter and self-righteous resentment; and what can only be termed a streak of madness; but with it all there is a great tenacity of purpose, which has often been combined with extraordinary clarity of vision’ (Foreign Office files)
In 1938, with war looming, Sinclair set up Section D, dedicated to sabotage and in the spring of 1938, using £6,000 of his own money, he bought Bletchley Park to be a wartime intelligence station. He died of cancer in 1939 so did not see the fruits of the code-breaking group at Bletchley that shortened the war.
When writing my first Tana Standish novel, Mission: Prague, one of my characters, the head of International Enterprises (‘Interprises’), an adjunct of SIS, was loosely based on both Sinclair and Dansey: Sir Gerald Hazzard, born 1909. His entry in Who’s who reads: Winchester and Magdalen College, Oxford; Recreations, yacht-racing, crosswords and chess; ‘attached to Foreign Office, 1939-present’ which is polite British jargon for working in the SIS [the ‘present’ was 1975-1978]. However, his physical stature was based on my first civilian boss after leaving school…
Hazzard’s recruitment of psychic Tana Standish is related in Mission: Prague:
“Tread carefully,” was Sir Gerald’s high-pitched warning to her as she boarded the train at Waterloo ten years ago, destined for the Fort, one of MI6’s training establishments, an old Napoleonic stone-walled edifice on the Gosport peninsula on the south coast of Hampshire.
Standing beside the middle-aged yet cadaverous man had been her grey-haired mother, bravely trying to fight back tears.
“Mum, I’m a big girl now, you know?” Tana said.
“Twenty-eight last May, dear, I know.” Her mother smiled back. “But I’m worried about what Gerald’s letting you get into. It’s dangerous.”
“She’ll be all right, Vera, my dear,” Sir Gerald piped. “In fact, I actually pity the instructors!”
The totally inappropriate falsetto voice of Sir Gerald had taken some getting used to, as had his emaciated appearance. There seemed to be little flesh on his face. Tana had seen survivors from the concentration camps and the facial features of the majority had been drawn, almost corpse-like, the skull’s bone structure clearly visible. She knew for a fact that Sir Gerald dined well and often, yet his head and, judging by how his clothes hung on his gaunt frame, his body too closely resembled some unfortunate who had endured a Nazi death-camp.
Sir Gerald had been like an uncle to her since Hugh Standish died in her childhood yet, officially, he only came into her life when she was twenty-eight, ostensibly to recruit her into his fledgling organisation, ‘Interprises’.
Ten years ago. When she’d qualified for the Intelligence Officers’ New Entry Course.
The day had been bleak and wind-swept as she hurried from the draughty Portsmouth Harbour railway station to the pontoon where she caught the little steam craft Ferry Prince, which seemed to be overloaded with commuters, among them Royal Navy sailors in square rig hanging onto their white hats. Halfway across the harbour, she saw one sailor lose his hat overboard and the young man swore, no doubt fearing that he’d be on a charge when he turned up at his submarine base, HMS Dolphin. Away on their left, she noticed the distinctive ten-storey tall tower, rumoured to have been built by German prisoners-of-war. Below it were the motley brick buildings of Fort Blockhouse, the submarine base, with two menacing black boats moored alongside.
On the Gosport side she’d been met by a Ministry of Defence driver in dark serge who had commented disparagingly on the weather then bundled her suitcase into the back of the highly-polished Rover.
The journey seemed circuitous – the driver explained that there was a crossing called Pneumonia Bridge over the creek but it was only capable of taking pedestrians and cyclists, not cars. “One day they might get round to building a proper road, I suppose,” he moaned, “but it’ll be after I’m drawing my pension, I shouldn’t wonder!”
Eventually, they turned onto Anglesey Road, part of the district of Alverstoke where many retired admirals were supposed to live, and this led down to the coast road and Stokes Bay, which offered a sweeping panoramic view of the Solent and the Isle of Wight.
Turning left, they passed several fenced-off military establishments.
Further along still, beyond the narrow hedge-bordered coast road, she knew, were the high brick walls of the submarine base and the Royal Navy’s Hospital Haslar. However, after a short drive they turned off to the right onto what appeared to be an unadopted road with a sign on their left indicating,
FORT MONCKTON ONLY.
NO UNAUTHORISED VEHICLES
BEYOND THIS POINT.
They passed this and the 15 mph sign and headed towards an unprepossessing collection of brick buildings partially concealed by an overgrowth of brambles and weeds, all behind barbed wire.
Their car crossed over a drawbridge and it seemed they were expected as Fort Monckton’s ponderous studded steel doors swung wide on well-oiled rails and hinges.
I lived in Alverstoke for many years and often passed the secret Fort Monckton...
Then, in the sequel, Mission: Tehran, we learn more about Hazzard’s acquisition of the British SIS psychic HQ, Fenner House, motivated in part by the logic of Dansey:
The Georgian mansion was built in 1810 and had a chequered existence before being bought by Sir Gerald Hazzard in 1958 to establish the Psychic Institute. As a top intelligence officer in the MI6 hierarchy, he was following in the footsteps of two chiefs of the secret service – Mansfield Cumming, who often supplemented the fledgling secret service from his own pocket, and Admiral Sinclair, who bought Bletchley Park himself because he couldn’t get any funding.
Unofficially Sir Gerald had been interested in psychic research since encountering Tana as a child. However, abiding by Vera Standish’s wishes, he didn’t officially announce his friendship and interest until 1965.
Two years earlier ‘C’ had been Dick White and with his connivance, Sir Gerald had created his own particular offshoot of MI6, International Enterprises, in February, shortly after Philby flew out of Beirut for exile in Moscow. In July 1963 Sir Gerald actually set Fenner House aside for the sole use of Interprises, retaining the Psychic Institute as a convenient cover. His brief was to recruit agents who didn’t belong to any ‘old school’ – and he scoured the armed forces to that end. Inevitably, there were exceptions and he head-hunted Tana in 1965.
Changes to the interior structure of Fenner House were kept secret: the large bedroom at the west rear end was converted into a conference room and encased in a Faraday cage to prevent electronic eavesdropping. The upstairs closets and changing rooms on the north side had been converted into two separate rooms – the psychic training laboratory and the Communications Centre and a door from the latter opened into Sir Gerald’s bed-sitting room at the northeast corner which he occupied whenever he was visiting.
The servants’ quarters on the ground floor at the north side were knocked into two rooms – becoming the Gym – with its first-aid annex – and the Armoury.
Sitting cross-legged in the centre of the Gymnasium’s dojo, Tana maintained the yogic Sukhasana position, her arms limp and the backs of her hands resting on her bare feet. She wore a black leotard and her hair swept back in a tight bun.
This easy pose for meditation was suitable for her purposes. (Mission: Tehran, pp 178-179)