A woman has discovered that a diary preserved by her grandmother reveals the identity of a WWII British spy codenamed Agent Mullet.
Stunned Debra Britton, 65, was given the journal by her grandmother, Florence Gearing, who was once a housekeeper for a woman named Irene Thornton.
Gearing was entrusted with the diary, which was then passed down to her family.
The diary is written in a mixture of English and French, and records details of Thornton’s life living in the town of Coombe Dingle near Bristol in southwestern England during the Second World War.
Irene, who was originally from Belgium, moved to Britain with her English-born husband, Eric, to escape the Nazis early in the war.
Researchers have now studied the diary and cross-referenced it with war files kept by the British military intelligence agency MI5. They say they have been able to prove that Eric’s nephew Ronald was a British double agent known as Mullet.
Mullet assisted fellow agents Puppet and Hamlet to pass disinformation about British invasion plans back to the Nazis.
They were all “double-cross” agents – the Nazis believed that they were loyal to them but actually they were working for the British.
The MI-5 files are heavily redacted, which means finding the real people behind the code names has always been a challenge, but experts say the diary has helped them find Ronald’s surviving family, who were able to provide details about his movements during the war.
Researchers say the new information confirms he was Mullet.
Britton said, “I remember my dad showing the diary to me when he was reminiscing about the war.
“He told me to look after it as it was local and family history.
“It has always been in this house – just placed on his bookshelf with hundreds of others and it remained in the family home until my parents passed away.”
Britton described the diary as “a day-by-day account of the 1941 Bristol blitz air raid,” which depicts a “very different war to what most were living.”
On January 2, 1940, Irene wrote: “It snowed. Coombe Dingle is marvelous under its white coat.
“This morning, 6 a.m. – alert followed by all clear. Then 7 a.m., new alert and all clear at 8 a.m…. 6.50 p.m. air raid warning, spent the evening in our shelter.
“A quantity of Jerrys passing above us and some serious rounds of gunfire.”
Extracts of Irene’s diary were published online as part of the Sea Mills 100 project’s website to mark Victory in Europe (VE) Day.
They caught the interest of independent researcher Andrew Drake, who found released MI-5 files at the National Archives in London, which detailed the activities of Mullet, Puppet, and Hamlet.
In them, Mullet is described as “a British subject born [redacted] in Belgium, of a [redacted] father and a [redacted] mother.
“He was educated in Belgium and in Paris, and has been in business (principally [redacted]) in Belgium most of his life.
“He is in many ways more Belgium than English and his wife, [redacted] is a member of a well-known Belgium family.”
Having read about the diary on the Sea Mills 100 website, Drake looked for family members whose movements matched those of Mullet.
His attention turned to Eric’s nephew, Ronald.
Drake traced Ronald’s grandson Alan Thornton, now living in London, who confirmed Ronald’s wartime movements matched Mullet.
Thornton says the research done by Drake has helped him fill some gaps in his family history and confirm his grandfather’s role as a spy.
He said: “Ronald told my dad about some of his wartime capers, but that was all just word of mouth.
“I’ve scanned over some of the extensive files related to Mullet and many details tie in exactly with what my dad told me, as well as my dad’s accounts of escaping Belgium and a journey to Lisbon, so we’re 100 percent sure.
“It was nice to finally pin down Ronald’s code name and to learn that all the second-hand information turned out to be backed up by the files.
“It was nice to see that this European background helped him to play his role in the liberation of Europe.
“Some of Ronald’s colleagues had been killed by the Belgian resistance as they were seen as collaborators.”
Thornton ran a shipping business in Bristol – E Thornton and Son Ltd.
He died in 1945, but Irene, who was 22 years his junior, remarried and lived until 1981.
Ronald, who died in 1969, could not return to Belgium after the war.
Irene returned to Belgium after the war but left her diary with the Thornton’s housekeeper.
The National Archives and “selected Historical Papers relating to MULLET: British” from 1943 state:
“MULLET worked pre-war in Brussels.
“Having escaped to Lisbon via France he was cultivated by HAMLET (see KV/2/327), who purported to represent anti-Hitler Germans who wished to establish contact with the British Authorities.
“In fact, as is confirmed by ISOS traffic, HAMLET appointed MULLET as his commercial representative in Great Britain, assisted by PUPPET (see KV/2/329).
“MULLET and PUPPET provided commercial cover for secret writing correspondence between ‘agents’ in Great Britain and HAMLET in Lisbon until 1944 when the Abwehr lost interest in the case. PUPPET’s material included British disinformation concerning, among other things, the invasion plans.
“With background summary of MULLET’s and HAMLET’s early dealings, an original paper by HAMLET on ‘Morale in Germany’, Abwehr questionnaires to HAMLET, a summary of ISOS traces on PUPPET.Date: 1941 Nov 08-1943 Aug 25.”
Ronald had three sons: Norman, Eric and Reginald.
This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.
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