The Scandal At Bletchley (Hilary Manningham-Butler Book 1), страница 1
The Scandal At Bletchley
Copyright © Jack Treby 2014
Published by Carter & Allan
The Author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.
Cover design by James at GoOnWrite.com
Table of Contents
The Red Zeppelin
The Pineapple Republic
The Gunpowder Treason
Few people have heard of Bletchley Park these days.
The government did a pretty good job of covering everything up after the war. The machines were dismantled, the blueprints destroyed and an entire generation of spotty, bespectacled crossword enthusiasts were sent home to live with their mothers.
Nowadays, I hear, the place is virtually derelict.
Not that I knew anything of the code-breaking activities there during the Second World War. It was only later that I heard all the gory details. Very hush hush, but terminally dull. For my part, I spent the war years abroad, like any decent Englishman, doing work that was a damn sight more useful than anything the boffins at Station X ever managed.
No, my only memory of Bletchley Park was of a rather peculiar weekend there in October 1929.
It was a private residence back then, the country pile of Sir Herbert Leon and his second wife Fanny. The place was renowned at that time for its lavish parties. David Lloyd George – that great Welsh windbag – was a regular visitor. And even though the well-connected Sir Herbert had popped his clogs in 1926, dear old Fanny had kept up the tradition. She was a stern, Edwardian matriarch of the best kind and it was no surprise that Bletchley Park was thought an appropriate venue for a departmental knees-up.
The Security Service was looking to celebrate its twentieth anniversary and as Sir Vincent Kelly, the director of MI5, was a close personal friend of Fanny, it was hardly surprising that Bletchley Park should have been pencilled in.
The Colonel – as we all knew him – had been the head of MI5 since the early days, running the organisation from one small office in Victoria Street from October 1909.
I had been recruited a couple of years later.
Being part of the Security Service in those days was not the glamorous job you might suppose. John Buchan wrote a load of old nonsense about it and Ian Fleming is scarcely any better these days. I spent most of my time at MI5 trawling through 1911 census information, looking for German nationals and deciding whether or not they posed a threat to national security. It was deadly dull work, but it was useful all the same. The day war broke out we arrested damn near every Kraut spy in England (and one or two other people whose names I had surreptitiously added to the list). That was pretty much my only experience as a spy in the pre-war era, apart from one abortive field trip in 1912, which I don’t have time to relate here.
Despite the brevity of my career, the Colonel was kind enough to invite me along to his twentieth anniversary bash, to be held at Bletchley Park over the weekend of 26th and 27th October. A select few former and current employees would be gathering to celebrate (as Sir Vincent put it) two decades of being only slightly less incompetent than MI6. I was happy to accept the invitation.
If I could have foreseen something of the disaster that would ensue, perhaps I would have been less happy to do so.
No records were kept of the events of that weekend. Even Ramsay MacDonald, the Prime Minister of the day, was not informed. The witnesses were sworn to secrecy and only a handful of people ever knew the whole story.
I am the only one left now. Sir Vincent Kelly died in 1942, after thirty years of loyal service and precious little thanks. No, if I don’t put pen to paper, no one will. And they can’t exactly hang me for it now. My doctor tells me I will soon be dead in any case (he’s a cheerful bastard, that one). I must confess the idea of taking the secret to my grave does have a certain perverse appeal – especially as the undertakers are already waiting in the wings – but causing one last bit of mischief before I die holds an even greater attraction.
I only pray I have the time left to do it justice.
This then is the true story of Bletchley Park in 1929. I saw it all with my own eyes and was at least partly responsible for some of it. My name, by the way, is Hilary Manningham-Butler. I was born on 24th April 1889 – a girl, much to my father’s horror, though I have lived most of my life as a man. History will probably judge me a villain, but at the very least I am an honest one. I died, according to an obituary in the Daily Mail, on Sunday 27th October 1929, two days before the Great Wall Street Crash.
But you should never believe anything you read in the newspapers.
Sir Hilary Manningham-Butler
28th July 1967
The gales that struck southern England on Thursday 24th October 1929 could hardly be described as apocalyptic. A ninety mile an hour whirlwind was reported to have thrown great lumps of lead across the Wellington Road, near Lord’s Cricket Ground and the rain certainly battered the windows of No. 93 Curzon Street, where I was comfortably tucked up in bed that evening. It was scarcely a repeat of the Great Storm of 1871, however, and I managed to sleep comfortably through the worst of it. Indeed, the whole affair would have passed me by if my man Hargreaves had not told me of the devastation when he delivered my usual pick-me-up at eight thirty on Friday morning.
The headline on the front page of the Mail was typically sensational: “Whirlwind’s Havoc”. Oddly, it was not the most prominent headline of the day. The banner that really caught my eye as I settled myself down at the breakfast table was “Greatest Crash in Wall Street History”. Needless to say, given the newspaper in question, the story was somewhat overblown. The Times, which I had closer to hand, had relegated the news to an altogether more restrained page fourteen. The markets may have taken a tumble – as they had been tumbling, to a greater or lesser extent, for most of the previous month – but Wall Street had rallied by the end of the day, and things did not seem as severe as the journalists at the Daily Mail would have us believe.
I have never been fond of that particular periodical. If it had been up to me, I would not have allowed it in the house. But my wife – who was sitting opposite me, engrossed as ever in the sordid details of the society columns – had always been partial to a bit of tittle-tattle and as she had control of the purse strings (at least where the household was concerned) I could scarcely object.
For my part, I much preferred the Tim
I poured out some tea from the pot and added a couple of spoonfuls of sugar from the bowl.
Elizabeth glanced up from her newspaper. ‘Are you taking the car today?’ she enquired.
‘No, dear, I thought I’d walk to Buckinghamshire.’
There was an icy pause.
‘There’s no need to be facetious, Hilary.’
I buttered myself a slice of toast from the rack. I had already mentioned that I would be away for the weekend but this was the first time Elizabeth had shown any interest in the matter.
‘I thought you might be going by train,’ she added.
That was hardly likely. Bletchley Park was on the main line from Euston Station, but I would need to take a cab to get across London. Far better to use the car and avoid all that expense.
Why Buckinghamshire? I wondered irritably. It seemed an odd place to hold a reunion. Why not London, where the office was located? And come to that, why invite me? I had left the Security Service on good terms, but that was fifteen years ago. There was no reason for anyone there to remember me.
The invitation had arrived out of the blue on Tuesday morning. It was not part of the regular post. There had been no postmark on the envelope. Quite how it had materialised in my letters tray even our house maid Jenny was unable to say.
The note was written in a typically oblique fashion.
‘The Colonel requests the pleasure of HMB for WW&S to celebrate 20 years of SSB.’
I crunched at my toast.
I was HMB, of course. SSB stood for Secret Service Bureau and my best guess at WW&S was Wine, Women and Song. There was a blank space underneath, but no date or location provided. Lemon juice had probably been used – or some unmentionable bodily fluid – to render the rest of the invitation invisible. Sir Vincent Kelly had a rather peculiar sense of humour. I had to warm the card over a hot stove before the words “Bletchley Park” appeared.
I was not the only one to receive an invitation. An American friend of mine, Harry Latimer, had also been targeted. He’d done a bit of work for MI5 during the war. He phoned me up on Wednesday afternoon, long distance, saying he was away in France for a few days on business but would be back in town on Friday morning and could I give him a lift? I hadn’t told Elizabeth about that. I knew what she would think. But the time had come to tell her now.
I took a quick slurp of tea. ‘I...er...I promised to pick up Harry Latimer on the way.’ That was as good a reason as any for taking the car. ‘Why? Were you planning on going out?’
Elizabeth shook her head. ‘I shall be entertaining at home this weekend,’ she replied, returning pointedly to her newspaper.
Another one of her fancy men, no doubt. For such a profoundly trivial woman, Elizabeth was surprisingly popular with the men. Perhaps it was her frivolity that made her popular. It was certainly not her looks. If Helen of Troy had the face that launched a thousand ships, Elizabeth had the one that scuttled them. She had been plain when I’d married her at seventeen. At thirty-three, she looked positively granular. Yet still the young men flocked around her. I couldn’t tell you why.
I suppose I should have objected to some of these dalliances, but it was not as if our union had ever been anything more than a marriage of convenience.
Elizabeth had been the daughter of a wealthy industrialist and I had married her for her money. She in her turn had married me for my title. I was a baronet and any wife of mine was entitled to be called a lady. It was a comfortable arrangement based on a healthy ignorance of each other’s private lives.
To this day, I cannot say if she ever realised I was a woman. She had certainly never seen me in a state of undress. It was not the done thing in those days. The marital bed was occupied only once, on the night of our wedding, and the combination of a darkened room, a bizarre French marital aid and an astonishingly ignorant bride served to satisfy the legalities of the situation.
Since then, we had lived separate lives. If my wife had any suspicions of me, she never voiced them. I had in any case been blessed with a fairly masculine aspect – stocky shoulders, square jaw and a rather deep voice – which always helped to maintain the illusion. Having spent the greater part of my life masquerading as a man, I pride myself I had become rather good at it. I didn’t just act like a man, I thought like one too (and certainly had more balls than most real men of my acquaintance). It was only the flesh beneath the starched cloth that gave away the biological truth, and that was always kept firmly under wraps. Well, mostly under wraps. But I’ll get to that later.
From a virginal bride, Elizabeth had gradually transformed into a rapacious socialite. She was always discreet, however, and together we maintained a façade of matrimonial harmony.
She kept her hands on the purse strings, though, and in fairness her frugality was probably the only thing that had kept us on an even keel over the years. And at least – with the markets plunging around us that weekend – the bulk of the wealth she had inherited from her father was in the land and not in stocks and shares.
There was a knock at the door and Hargreaves poked his head around the corner. He was a short, balding man, slim and well turned out but with a slightly shifty air born of badly concealed nerves. ‘There’s a telephone call for you, sir. Mr Latimer. It sounded quite urgent.’
I dabbed a napkin to my lips irritably. ‘I’m in the middle of breakfast. Can’t I call him back?’
‘I don’t think so, sir. He’s phoning from a call box.’
‘Oh very well.’ I placed the napkin back down on the table, took a last bite of toast and rose to my feet. ‘Excuse me, my dear.’ Elizabeth was glaring at me once again. She had never approved of my association with Harry Latimer. I can’t say I blame her. He was a man who spent his life on the borders of legality and it was difficult to associate with him without getting one’s hands burnt occasionally.
‘Did you fill up the car?’ I asked as I passed Hargreaves in the doorway.
‘Just seeing to it now, sir. You did say eleven o’clock.’
‘So I did. Get to it, then.’
Hargreaves moved off and I crossed the hall to the telephone. I picked up the receiver and braced myself.
‘Good morning, Harry.’
‘Morning, old man. Sorry to drag you away from the breakfast table.’ Harry Latimer spoke with a smooth transatlantic accent, the kind of voice that oozed charm but lacked any real warmth.
‘I was expecting to pick you up at Claridges at eleven thirty.’
‘Change of plan. Had a bit of trouble with the weather last night. I was meant to catch a train up to London, but there was a tree on the line and nothing was running. Hey, did you hear about Lords?’
‘Yes, I was just reading about it in the Times. So where are you, if you’re not in London?’
‘I wish I could tell you, old man.’
An operator interrupted him, demanding more money in a polite Devonshire brogue. A few moments of silence followed as Harry fumbled for a coin. Bloody telephones, I thought, not for the first time. The world would be a better place without them.
‘I was meant to be in Hastings,’ he continued eventually, ‘but I guess I ended up a few miles down the coast. Looks like I’ll have to make my own way up to Aylesbury, so I reckon lunch is off. But there’s a little business in London that needs taking care of first. That’s why I called you.’
I tried to stop myself from sighing. ‘Go on,’ I said, bowing to the inevitable.
‘I need you to do me a favour...’
The clock at Waterloo Station is possibly the least imaginative place one could think of to arrange an illicit rendezvous. Harry Latimer was known for his style, not for his imagination. The area directly beneath the multi-sided clock was already jam-packed with grubby schoolchildren. It was half past ten and by the looks of them, the children were fresh off the train from Reading or some other god-awful backwater. I was in a foul mood. I had been looking forward to a quiet morning pootling around the house, followed by a l
‘I don’t like to put a price on gratitude, old man,’ he’d told me on the phone, ‘but shall we say...forty pounds?’
‘Make it fifty,’ I said. ‘And you can pay for lunch.’
A schoolmistress in a straw boater was busily checking off the children, making sure none of the little darlings had been misplaced between the train and the concourse. One little girl was throwing a tantrum. ‘I don’t wanna go to the blinkin’ British Museum!’ she bawled. The mistress slapped her across the back of the head.
I took out my pocket watch to check the time. A little boy pulled at my trouser leg and pointed up to the rather large clock looming above us. I took the point – my watch was somewhat superfluous – but I fetched the snotty little brat a solid wallop across the ear for his impertinence.
The school mistress gave me a nod of appreciation. I tipped my hat to her as she began herding the rabble in the direction of the street. It took some moments for the group to depart and for a second or two I thought the woman had made a mistake and left one of the grubby little mongrels behind.
I looked down at the child in irritation, concerned that I might have to drag him after the school mistress, but then did a double take as I realised it was not a child at all. It was a rather small man. He was bald and rounded, an odd looking fellow by any standards, a diminutive baked potato in a cheap suit, with a distinctly menacing air.
In his right hand he gripped a large brown holdall.
This was the fellow I had been instructed to meet. Reluctantly, I introduced myself. The man peered up at me suspiciously. ‘You ain’t Latimer,’ he growled. Harry had obviously failed to pass on the change of plan.