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.