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There's more news on The Man Who Never Was

01:00 Mon 01st Apr 2002 |

A.Yes - and in a sense he's been honoured for work that he did without knowing.< xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Q.Without knowing How

A.He was dead.

Q.I think you'd better begin at the beginning.

A.Good idea. A 69-year-old Englishwoman has just been made an MBE in Spain. Over the last four decades, Isabel Naylor de Mendez has tended three British war graves at Huelva, an industrial city on Spain's southern coast.

One of them is of an illegitimate Welsh tramp who played a pivotal role in the defeat of Hitler's Germany - several months after his death.

Q.Who was he

A.Glyndwr Michael, an illiterate lunatic from the valleys who had apparently committee suicide by drinking rat poison. His corpse was put in uniform, kitted out with false documents, and left to wash ashore in Spain in 1943.

Q.And did this mission work

A.Superbly - but first, some more details. Charles Chomondeley of MI5 devised the plot. It became known as Operation Mincemeat and was run by Ewen Montagu, a naval intelligence officer who later became a judge.

Operation Mincemeat was hatched in 1943, when Winston Churchill was planning to invade Sicily and on to the Italian mainland. Hitler was tricked into rushing reinforcements to Sardinia and Greece at the expense of Sicily, the real target of the successful Allied invasion of Italy.

Q.How, precisely

A.Squadron Leader Chomondeley, a member of the British Intelligence XX Committee (XX for Double Cross), had the idea of planting false documents on the waterlogged corpse of a staff officer whose plane had apparently crashed at sea.Montagu began by acquiring the body of a recently deceased 34-year-old man in a London hospital, and placed it in cold storage. The corpse was given an identity: Acting Major William Martin of the Royal Marines.

Fake documents suggesting the Allies would attack through Sardinia and Greece were put into a briefcase chained to his wrist. Into his pockets were inserted two love letters from his fianc�e and a photograph of her (actually an MI5 clerk), along with a letter from his bank manager complaining about his overdraft.

Q.And dumped in the sea

A.Yes - with some ceremony. Major Martin was packed into a canister of dry ice and put on board a submarine that surfaced near Huelva, where the British knew there was a German agent. The captain read Psalm 39, and tipped the life-jacketed body overboard alongside an upturned dinghy. A fisherman spotted the body.

The Spanish authorities - as British intelligence hoped - showed the documents to the Germans. Soon, intercepted German communications showed Hitler was rushing reinforcements to Sardinia and Greece. Montagu cabled Churchill: 'Mincemeat swallowed whole'.

Q.This was made into a film

A.Yes, The Man Who Never Was - based on a bestselling book by Montagu. The official version of the story suggested that the dead man's relatives had given consent for his corpse to be used in the war effort. But it now seems likely that the body was appropriated without permission.

Historian Roger Morgan discovered the man's identity among declassified top-secret documents in 1996. Glyndwr Michael, they said, had been born in the mining village of Aberbargoed, barred from military service owing to insanity, and was living on London's streets at the time of his death.

To the bottom of his headstone in Spain the Commonwealth War Graves Commission added the words: 'Glyndwr Michael - Served as Major William Martin RM'.


Q.And now the woman who tended his grave has been honoured

A.Quite rightly so - but Mrs Naylor is almost embarrassed by the honour. 'I don't think I deserve it. It's my duty to my country,' she said. 'Whoever he may be, he's the hero.'

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Steve Cunningham

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