In an excerpt from Stalin’s Englishman, Andrew Lownie describes how Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean eluded British intelligence and built their escape to Russia.
On the Saturday, Jane Portal, one of Winston Churchills secretaries, was on weekend duty manning the switchboard at Chartwell, a few miles from Tatseld. At 7 p. m. she took a call from the resident clerk at the Foreign Ofce. So I set the call through and listened in as it was our duty to make a note. I remember the resident saying, Your neighbour has own. Churchill replied, Thank you for letting me know. Do maintain me in touch.
Alerts had already run out across the Continent, but only to British intelligence. Anthony Cavendish, at the MI6 station in Berlin, was summoned to the ofce in the Olympic Stadium, where he was handed photographs of the two men, and together with some fty other colleagues, he manned the traverse phases into the Soviet sector until Monday, when the alerting was called off.
William Manser, then at the British legation in Berne, was given the task of nding the missing diplomats. Intelligence had come through that the two were in Switzerland, it was thought at Ascona on Lake Maggiore. I was to go there at once, nd them and stop them. Choosing the most likely place to nd Burgess was a bar, he began to search for them on bicycle , not just in Ascona, but from Brissago to Locarno. He decided if he came here across Burgess, I would invite him to share a bottle of champagne with me something that he was very much odds-on to accept and into his successive glasses I would tip gross sums of Kruschen salts, indistinguishable in savour, colouring and sparkle. That would certainly immobilise him. Failing this, I would do anything. After four days of searching with no success, Manser returned to Berne.
Jack Hewit had expended Saturday doing household chores and store ping for a kind of belated birthday party that evening, before having a drinking at the Bunch of Grapes with some of the working girls he knew in Shepherd Market, in Mayfair. That night he rang Blunt to report that Guy had not returned from his overnight journey and Blunt, in turn, rang Ellis Waterhouse to check if he was there.
On Sunday evening, 27 May, Goronwy Rees returned from All Souls and learnt of Burgesss call. His sister-in-law, Mary Hardy, who lived with the family, recollected the reaction. For Gods sake. Guys gone to Moscow. We must tell someone. They were like people possessed. He instantly telephoned David Footman, with whom he had worked at MI6, to say Guy had apparently vanished into the blue and that MI5 should be told. Footman immediately informed Guy Liddell. Rees then called Blunt, asking for advice.
Realising that there was a danger of Rees going to the authorities, Blunt rushed to Sonning, where Rees told him that he supposed Burgess was a Soviet agent. Blunt tried to persuade him there was no rm proof, Burgess was a fantasist, and Reess belief that he might be a Soviet agent rested simply on one single remark made by him years ago. He pointed out that Burgess was one of his oldest friends and that inducing the kind of allegation he proposed was not the purposes of the act of a friend. Rees, however, remained adamant that the authorities must be told.
On Monday 27 May, Melinda built two calls to the Foreign Ofce. The rst to the American desk to ask if her husband was there. The second, in the afternoon, to Carey-Foster, whom she had is in conformity with Washington a few years earlier and knew was head of security, reporting that Donald had left on Friday night with a Foreign Ofce colleague, Roger Styles, and wondering where he might be.
Writers have argued that this is a sign of Melindas innocence. The popular perception is she had no knowledge of her husbands espionage activities and was an innocent victim of the Cold War. Burgesss visit was a complete amaze and she had no idea her husband would be off that night, or where reference is would return. Even when interviewed by the FBI in September 1981, Melinda insisted, At no time during this period did Mrs Maclean suspect her husband was a Soviet Agent or even that he was a Marxist . . . Mrs Maclean rst met Guy Burgess on the working day her husband ed from Britain, 25 May 1951. Mrs Maclean could not recall her husband ever speaking of Guy Burgess before that time.
The truth is very different. The bellows had been built safe in the knowledge the two men were safely away. Melinda had known throughout the matrimony that her husband was a Soviet agent and in 1943 has really concurred, if required, to act as a go-between for him and the Russians. It was she who had insisted Maclean go, rather than brazen it out, saying she could always join him afterward. Even Modin admitted she knew Burgess perfectly well. When Melindas sister-in-law and her husband, Nancy and Robert Oetking, were interviewed by the FBI in 1954, they said it was obvious Maclean wasnt expected back, as no place had ever been set for him at the table.
According to Patrick Reillys unpublished memoir, there was little fear at the Foreign Ofce, because Roger Makins had thought it possible that he had agreed to Maclean taking the Monday off as well as Saturday, but current realities was different. On Monday, George Carey-Foster and Patrick Reilly instantly arranged to see the head of the Foreign Ofce, William Strang, and were later joined by Percy Sillitoe and Dick White from MI5. Told they needed the Home Secretarys approval for the mens passports to be seized, Carey-Foster, Sillitoe and White then walked over to the Home Ofce, where they waited for ages in the private secretarys ofce, whilst the Home Secretary in conference decided whether or not to reprieve a murderess.
Carey-Foster then rang Robert Mackenzie, who was at the Paris embassy for a security session, to enlist the help of the French police and the French counter-espionage service, the Deuxieme Bureau. By the time Mackenzie rang back it was very late. Assisting Carey-Foster in police investigations was his new deputy in the security department Milo Talbot, Burgesss former Cambridge pupil, whom he had himself brought into British intelligence.
That evening Hewit returned from work, claiming that he expected to see Burgess. I knew from the state of the at that he hadnt been back, as it was still clean and tidy. At 9 p. m. he rang Rees and spoke to Margie, who said shed last spoken to him on Friday morning. He then rang Blunt and asked him if he had any idea whether Guy was going to Paris, or whether he had mentioned going somewhere other than Paris. He told Blunt he was going to telephone the Green Park Hotel to see whether or not Bernard Miller was there. I shouldnt do that, he told. Why not? I asked. It doesnt seem right to upset a comparative stranger, who has no doubt been disappointed at not going on the journey, he replied. When Hewit insisted he should phone Miller, Blunt was quiet for some time, then he told, I dont want you to speak to Bernard. If Guy comes in, ask him to ring me. If I dont hear from him, I will ring you at your ofce tomorrow. Dont worry and please do as I say.
The next morning, Tuesday, Blunt rang Hewit, saying they needed to meet as soon as is practicable. He picked him up from his ofce and asked for the key to the at. Telling Hewit to lie low and stay with friends, he took his key and cleared the at of any incriminating proof and then passed the keys to MI5, to save them the difficulty of applying for a search warrant. Blunt then accompanied MI5s Ronnie Reed in a second search. A guitar instance in a closet was found to hold bundles of love letters going back over twenty years, held as much for blackmail as sentimental reasons. Blunt afterward claimed that hed had an accomplice, telling Rosamond Lehmann, just before his death, that Rees had helped him search the at.
Even with the clearance, Special Branch received a twenty-ve-page bundle of internal Treasury appreciations going back to 1940 in the at, identied by a sharp-eyed MI5 ofcer, Evelyn McBarnet, to have been written by John Cairncross. Cairncross was immediately put under monitoring and a telephone tap revealed a request to meet a Soviet embassy ofcial in a timber in Surrey, to discuss the Burgess and Maclean case. The search also received pen-portraits of various ofcials, some dedicating details of alleged character weaknesses and other features that might be exploited. Blunt had remained with Special Branch as the at in New Bond Street was ofcially searched, and, by chance, himself received a letter to Burgess from Philby, saying that if he ever needed assist he should contact Flora Solomon, as she knew all about his secret life. Blunt pocketed the letter.
Born in 1895, Solomon was the daughter of a banker in Czarist Russia, who had been one of the backers of the deposed Russian “ministers “, Alexander Kerensky. In 1917 she had ed to Britain, where she had marriage a Colonel Harold Solomon and during the course of its 1930 s had been an active Zionist. She had known Philby since he was a boy and had subsequently introduced him to his second wife Aileen both worked for Marks& Spencer and was one of two witness at their matrimony. Through Philby and W.H. Auden, who tutored her son Peter, she had also met Burgess.