My Father, The Man Who Never Was by Nicholas Reed
reviewed by Wilf Taylor
Older members of the Dulwich Society may well remember Ronnie Reed, an active and enthusiastic member of the Society until his death in 1995. He was a member of the Trees Committee and will be particularly remembered for regularly supplying and operating amplification equipment for lectures. His interest in amateur radio led him to training and work for the BBC for several years before the 2nd World War.
However, it was always noticeable that Ronnie, a quiet man, never did talk about his work or his wartime career, and even his two sons knew very little about it until many years later. The reason for this was that when he was called up in 1940 his radio skills led immediately to work with the security services and, like many of his generation who worked in this field, secrecy became a way of life which was difficult to break. However in 1994 shortly before his death Nicholas, his elder son, persuaded him to record his experiences and this book is the result.
It reveals an astonishingly varied career, including playing a part in two major security operations during the war. The first of these, known as 'Operation Mincemeat' involved leaving a dead body floating off the coast of Spain dressed as a Royal Marine officer carrying highly secret letters addressed to Allied military leaders in Africa. The apparent victim of a disaster mislead the Germans into believing that the Allied attack on southern Europe would be centred on landings in Greece and Sardinia rather than Sicily, and made the Allied operation much easier. Ronnie Reed's rather bizarre part in this involved supplying a photograph of himself, suitably dressed as a Royal Marine, to go on the identity card on the body because he was thought to provide the best likeness for the fictitious officer. The story of this extraordinary deception was told in the book 'The Man Who Never Was' published in the 1950s, but the identity of those involved in the planning was not revealed for another 40 years.
The second operation involved Ronnie being the case officer from 1942 to 1944 for perhaps the best known double agent of the War. Eddie Chapman, found in prison when the Germans occupied the Channel Islands, volunteered to be trained and dropped in Britain as a German spy. However, he immediately revealed himself to the British authorities and became a hugely successful double agent. As a natural man-about-town with a liking for an extravagent life-style including expensive cars and many women friends he must have been quite a handful for his case officer. His success is marked by the fact that Chapman passed on to Ronnie the Iron Cross he had received directly from Hitler as a supposed German agent! The medal is still kept in the family.
After D-Day Ronnie was drafted into the Army to liaise with American Intelligence and ended the war as Major Reed. He imagined he would return to the BBC after the war but instead was persuaded to stay in intelligence and worked for MI5 for the rest of his career. If only he could have given us a talk on his many experiences! However, Nicholas Reed has produced a detailed and interesting book which is also something of a biography of his father's life. All credit to him for persuading Ronnie to talk.
My Father, The Man Who Never Was by Nicholas Reed 200 pages, 160 illustrations is published by the Lilburne Press £9.95 (telephone number 01303 257 659)