CHRISTIE’S CLUES TO BLETCHLEY PARK
Author DJ Kelly examines Agatha Christie’s wartime interrogation
DURING the early 1940s, Britain’s best brains were assembled together at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire where they were engaged in trying to crack Germany’s Enigma codes.
Doing so would enable them to interpret the enemy’s intercepted military signals, thereby anticipating their every move.
Bletchley had been chosen as the site for Britain’s wartime code and cipher school because its railway station was located on the ‘varsity line’, equidistant between Oxford and Cambridge universities with their ready supply of academics.
The man overseeing the work of Bletchley’s cryptanalysts was Alfred Dilwyn Knox.
Seconded from Naval Intelligence and known to his staff as ‘Dilly’, he lived at Courn’s Wood in Naphill and is remembered as being rather eccentric.
For instance, though hot water was in limited supply at Bletchley, he insisted on having a private bathroom installed in his office, arguing that he did his best thinking whilst immersed in a hot bath.
Despite the high level of secrecy attached to both his work and his place of work, his friendly, open nature endeared him to his Polish counterparts who, when they cracked Enigma themselves, agreed to share this knowledge with Knox.
Something which was no secret, was Knox’s close friendship with writer Agatha Christie.
MI5 were understandably concerned, therefore, when, in 1941, Christie published her novel entitled ‘N or M’, including amongst the characters one Major Bletchley.
The main characters in the book, Tommy and Tuppence, are occupied with flushing out German fifth columnists, when they encounter the Major, a retired Indian army officer with an in-depth knowledge of Britain’s wartime secrets.
MI5 investigators were wary of interviewing Christie directly about the issue, however, lest she reveal their interest in order to publicise her book.
They approached Knox instead and he agreed to subject his writer friend to a little gentle interrogation over scones and tea at his Naphill home.
Asked why she had chosen the name ‘Bletchley’ for her intelligence-savvy character, Christie is reported to have replied: ‘Bletchley? My dear, I was stuck there on my way by train from Oxford to London and took my revenge by giving the name to one of my least lovable characters.’
Let us examine the facts: Knox is playing a leading role in wartime intelligence. Knox is working at a secret location in Bletchley. Christie is Knox’s close friend. Christie writes a story about a man with inside knowledge of Britain’s strategic intelligence. Christie names that character Major Bletchley.
Surprisingly perhaps, MI5 were duly reassured by Knox that this was pure chance.
However, MI5 seemed unaware of another ‘coincidental’ link between a Christie character and another of Britain’s intelligence chiefs.
During both world wars, Knox worked with another Naval Intelligence man, Captain Edward George Godolphin Hastings RN, CBE, OBE.
Hastings has also been identified as being in charge of code-breaking at Bletchley Park during WW2.
From 1920, another ‘Captain Hastings’ would appear regularly in Christie’s novels as side-kick to her famous detective, Hercule Poirot. Another coincidence? I doubt it. Buckinghamshire Spies and Subversives [ISBN 978-1-78510-847-1] by DJ Kelly is on sale in paperback at all good book shops and via Amazon.
Will the real Hastings step forward?: Left, Edward George Godolphin Hastings was in charge of code breaking at Bletchley Park during the Second World War and right, Arthur Hastings as portrayed by Hugh Fraser in the popular TV series featuring her detective Hercule Poirot