Au­thor DJ Kelly ex­am­ines Agatha Christie’s wartime in­ter­ro­ga­tion

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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

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