Saturday, 27 July 2013

Female Intelligence Agents in World War One and the British Army's Official WW1 Ratcatcher

I am now busy preparing the panel on 'female spies' of World War One and I have found some amazing stories.

I also discovered another book in the little re-cycling shop at our local Re-cycling Centre - this one is later than the RN Sick Berth Attendant's Manual I told you about earlier.   This book is a gathering of "Fifty Amazing Stories of the Great War" and is dated 1936, published by Odhams Press Ltd., London.

There are a few pages missing from the end of the book and it is not in very good condition but it is possible to read some of the stories and the one that interested me most was 'Marthe McKenna's "A Journey to Brussels" from the book "I was a Spy", Jarrolds, London Ltd.

Marthe was an agent for British Intelligence during WW1.   Her family were rendered homeless when their house was burnt down in August 1914 and the family became separated.  Marthe, a trained nurse, was sent to work in a German military hospital in a town called Roulers in Belgium, where she was reunited with her family.

Marthe's parents ran a cafe and she worked there in her free time, that along with her work at the hospital enabled her to collect valuable intelligence to pass on to the British.  The story in the book tells of a hair-raising trip to Brussels that Marthe undertook during the War in the company of a German Army Officer, hoping to obtain valuable information.   She mentions how shabby and forlorn Brussels looked and how little there was in any of the shops.

Marthe was found out and arrested but the fact that she had nursed wounded German soldiers so well, for which she had been awarded an Iron Cross medal, meant that her sentence was commuted to imprisonment.   After the War, Marthe married an English Army Officer and moved to Westroosebeke where she wrote her memoirs.  Winston Churchill wrote a Foreword for her book.

Amazing Find!

The most fantastic thing about finding and purchasing this book is that one of the selection of Fifty Stories was an extract from an account I had read early on last year when I began researching for this project.  It was about the British Army's Official Rat Catcher.   I had lost the Bookmark I made of the account and, in spite of an extensive search, and leaving messages on Forums and Facebook Groups, the one and only answer to my requests asking if anyone knew his name was a rather unhelpful "Roland" - which I am afraid meant nothing to me!

His name was in fact Philip Gosse, his story is fascinating and an extract from his memoirs is included in the book I found last Monday - from his book "Rats" published by Longmans Green and Co. Ltd.

Is that not an amazing find?

I am now planning another sub section to my project - "Interesting Facts of World War One".  What do you think?

Mor Female Intelligence Agents will be featured in my exhibitions.  The next one is to be held at The Ace Centre, Cross Street, NELSON, Lancashire BB9 7NN from Thursday, 15th August 2013 until 3rd September 2013.

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