Jones the Spy.

For many years, as an early morning radio presenter, I had to wake up in the middle of the night and go to work.  When that meant driving to the BBC Studios in Cardiff the alarm would go off at 3.25am.  By the time the show had moved to the Swansea Studios in Alexandra Rd I had it down to a fine art.  I could shout some unrepeatable phrase to the clock at 4.20am and be ready to start broadcasting at 4.55am.

Many years later and in truth the damage has been done.  Ask any milkman, baker or postman and they will tell you that even when you don’t need to get up and at them in the middle of the night anymore your body can’t forget that unnatural routine. That is why I often find myself lying in the stillness listening to podcasts. 

It used to be whatever radio show was on at the unearthly hour but now, with the advent of non linear broadcasting (i.e. you can listen or watch anything you like when you want to), I can choose the podcasts with topics I find of interest.

One of my favourites is Radio 4’s ‘In Our Time’ presented by Melvyn Bragg.  At the start of each podcast he says, this episode is one of over 1000 shows, and to be honest I think I’ve listened to them all and some more than once.  Because of this podcast I now have a working knowledge of ‘Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle’, ‘Virgil’s Georgics’ and ‘The Great Stink of 1858’.

Other ‘go to’ topics include History or Religion.  In recent months I have learned some very disturbing facts about the Father of the Reformation Martin Luther and also how the Plantagenet dynasty took their name from a flower and were also responsible for providing the basis of our current legal system.

Now you might think none of these podcasts sound very exciting and to be honest you would be right.  For me the perfect podcast is interesting, informative and just boring enough to help me fall asleep.  Some nights I wake up after the show has ended and I think to myself, now where did I leave off…can I find that spot and continue until I fall asleep again.

Occasionally I hear something that makes me sit up, rewind to make sure I heard what I thought I’d heard and then make a mental note to follow that up in the morning.

This week I was listening to the BBC Podcast ‘History’s Secret Heroes’ presented by Helena Bonham Carter.

‘Helena Bonham Carter shines a light on extraordinary stories from World War Two. Join her for tales of deception, acts of resistance and courage.’

Every episode tells the story of someone you might never have heard of who did extraordinary things during the war.  Episode one told the story of a one legged American spy who masterminded an amazing prison break and went on to the Gestapo’s most wanted list. Another told the story of a French couple on the Channel Islands who used their art to demoralise the German occupiers.

Episode 6’s title is ‘The Mystery of Garbo’ – One of World War 2’s most successful double agents is finally revealed. 

I’d woken up at around 2am. I reached for my phone, pressed the button and started to drift.  I must have been half asleep again when I found myself sitting bolt upright. I thought I had just heard Helena Bonham Carter announce that Agent Garbo’s network of German spies in Britain included an Indian Poet based in Swansea!!!

One of the other great things about podcasts is that you can very easily rewind to listen again. I wanted to check what I thought I’d heard so that’s what I did.  Yes, I had heard Helena say those words, but that wasn’t he whole story.

Juan Pujol, or Agent Garbo, as he became better known was born in Spain in 1912.  His life had been changed by the Spanish Civil War, a war he claimed to have spent fighting on both sides without ever firing a shot in anger.

The War convinced him that Fascism was the greatest evil in the world and he would do everything in his power to fight it. At the start of World War 2 he contacted the British Embassy and offered to spy for them.  They turned him away.  He then went to the Germans who greeted him with open arms, trained him, financed him and sent him to Britain to set up a network of spies.

Instead of heading for Britain he went to ‘Neutral’ Lisbon which during the war was home to spies of all sorts.  Whilst there he put together a network of British based spies.  The truth was none of them actually existed, he made them all up. Using tourism guides and history books he created a fantasy world that he fed back to the Nazis. 

Having never been to Britain some of his on the ground reports should have rung alarm bells.  When he said that the ship workers of Glasgow would do anything for a litre of wine any proper spy handler might have questioned the drink in question.

The strange thing was that sometimes his reports were uncannily accurate.  During the siege of Malta he reported that one of his agents had seen a convoy of British warships heading out of Liverpool bound for the Mediterranean.  The Germans diverted a lot of resources to tackle Garbo’s ghost ships.  By chance a convoy had left Liverpool around this time. When they were spotted by the Germans Garbo’s credibility was further enhanced.

Convinced there was a spy in British Intelligence MI6 went all out to hunt for the mole.  It was only when Pujol’s wife went to the British Embassy and told them Garbo was her husband that they finally made contact.  They brought him inside MI6 and set him to work on their behalf with enough half truths and lies to convince and confuse the Germans.

That’s where the Indian poet based in Swansea came into the story relaying information of shipping and troops movements especially around D Day. In Garbo’s world Swansea was also home to another traitor, a Welsh Nationalist leading a group of fascists called the ‘Brothers of the Aryan World Order’… probably better known as Jones the Spy.

By now I was like a dog with a bone. Whist Garbo’s Swansea spies might have been fictitious Swansea spies did play a role in the war including Gwilym Williams, a retired police inspector who lived in Mount Pleasant. His only claim to fame during an undistinguished career was stopping a runaway horse.

For some reason he was approached by MI5’s counter spy branch and sent to Belgium to meet German Military Intelligence under the auspices of being a Welsh Nationalist who was prepared to do everything he could to destroy the war effort from the inside. Once trusted by the Nazi’s he passed information onto MI5 about plans to send a U Boat full of explosives to Penmaen, a plot to poison the Cray Reservoir and a conspiracy to steal a Spitfire.  As a Double agent Williams helped save lives in his home town.

But were there any real German spies in Swansea?  There were always rumours that before the Swansea Blitz lights could be seen on Kilvey Hill that maybe helped guide in the Luftwaffe bombers.

Now that sounds like the start of a good Welsh Spy Story.

3 thoughts on “Jones the Spy.”

  1. I thought you were going to tell us the story of the German spy chief who went to Wales.
    Take me to Mr Jones!
    Ah, do you want Jones the milk? – Nein!
    Jones the sheep? – Nein!
    Jones the tailor? – Nein!
    Jones the post? – Nein!
    Jones the grocer? – Nein!
    Jones the tailor? – Nein!
    Jones the candlestick maker? – Nein!
    Ah, it’ll be Jones the spy you want.

  2. “ there’ll be snow on Barry island tonight”
    A joke from the seventies- I can’t remember the comedian

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