We have fanciful notions about spies – the men are dashing James Bond-types and the women are exotic, like Mata Hari. Alas, the reality can often be more prosaic.
Take, for example, Gwilym Williams, who it has emerged, distinguished himself in World War II by becoming a double agent, pretending to work for Hitler yet all the while supplying vital information to MI5.
Williams, a former police inspector, from Swansea, in Wales, had a less than glittering career as a Keeper of the Peace. In fact, he was once reprimanded for drunkenness and for assaulting civilians. According to his files, it would appear that the most illustrious deed he accomplished while in uniform was to halt a runaway horse.
But then came the war, and Williams, at 52, was given the chance for redemption. When MI5 discovered that the Nazis were planning to forge links with Welsh nationalists they invented an imaginary group of Welsh saboteurs, with the retired police inspector as their leader.
In 1939, he was sent to Belgium by British Intelligence – MI5 – to infiltrate the Abwehr, Hitler’s spy service.
Williams, who had learned French and German during the First World War, had virtually no training for his dangerous role. Nevertheless, he managed to meet his German handlers in Antwerp and carried out his spy duties with huge success. He was so convincing that he managed to uncover a series of secrets which would not be amiss in a spy novel.
Among his coups were the discovery of a plot to land a German U-boat on a South Wales beach, and even a dastardly plan to pour poison into the Cray Reservoir near Brecon, which would have caused havoc had it been successful.
In fact, he became so deeply entrenched with the Nazis that at one point he was offered £50,000 to fly a British Spitfire over to France so it could be examined by them.
Williams died ten years later, in 1949. His escapades were uncovered by author John Humphries while researching declassified security files at Britain’s National Aechives.
Humphries has written a book, Spying for Hitler, in which the Welshman’s spy story is told. He says of the Welshman: ‘John Masterman, chairman of the Twenty Committee which ran the double-cross system, regarded Gwilym Williams as Britain’s best agent.’
Thanks to John Humphries, Williams – the former copper who liked his drink – is now finally getting the credit he thoroughly deserves.
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Is that the BBC’s John Humphries? (Of Mastermind and The Today Programme)
No, it’s not him, Frank. Different fellow.
I must buy this book. I love it when a quiet and unsung hero comes to light. It would be great to see a memorial to him in Wales, assuming there isn’t one.
Interesting man right enough, and he certainly made an impact
What a fascinating find! I’d say this guy more than redeemed himself and found something that he was really good at!
He certainly did Noelle. His story would make a great movie
Gwilym Williams was my ‘Great Uncle ) born in Morriston, Swansea. He married his first wife whose maiden name was Alice Catherine WATKINS. She was my paternal grandfather ( Willie WATKINS ) sister, making him my ‘Great Uncle’ ( by in-law ). My late father, Kenneth Watkins, who also lived in Morriston, knew Gwilym Williams briefly through him being married to his Aunty ( my Great Aunt ). Gwilym later divorced and married a second time.
Gwilym Williams joined the Swansea Borough Police Force as Constable in 1910 and attained the rank of Inspector. He was a very fit man and a well known hardened character. He patrolled the then rough area of Swansea Docks. He was known to swim from Swansea Pier to Mumbles Pier ( distance approx. 5 + miles. In 1938 he was called upon and drafted into MI5 and eventually became a planned ‘Double Agent for MI5. Parts of his story can be read in a book entitled ‘SNOW’ . SNOW was another Welshman involved in spying . The book makes brilliant reading.
How great to have such a link to such a remarkable man. You must be so proud of him, John. He sounds like a really tough cookie. His story would make a great film
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