Friday, 12 January 2018

Watch out for Spies

From Woman’s Weekly, 12th January 1918.


Read here how one woman used a child in the service of the Kaiser.

IN these days when thousands and thousands of men and women are employed in making. Munitions and war machinery, even the humblest worker must have some knowledge of secret inventions which are so jealously guarded by our Government.  It is to these that I would first address a word of warning.  Make a solemn vow never to discuss anything of a secret nature connected with your work with anyone.  Spies are abroad everywhere, and the chance remark which you may perhaps deem of no consequence will fit in with other little scraps of information gathered in the same way, and give the enemy the information he wants.

TAKE a case to point.  A young, educated lady, who had volunteered for war-work in a very important factory, was dining with her sweetheart in the grill-room of a popular hotel.  She was speaking, after the meal, of a new process that had been introduced, and in order to explain it better, began to draw diagrams on the tablecloth.  Neither she nor her sweetheart noticed that the waiter was lingering behind them, but suddenly a gentleman sitting opposite rose and upset his coffee over the diagrams.  As he apologised profusely, he whispered to the girl's sweetheart: "Follow me out."
On reaching the lounge, he turned to the young man and said: "1 am in the service of the Government, and I have reason to suspect that the man who waited at your table is a spy.  He was watching every line your lady friend drew, so I purposely spilt my coffee over the diagrams to foil him.  Tell your friend that she must be more careful in future."  We must take it that the lesson was not lost on that young lady.

ANOTHER story which illustrates the danger of discussing military secrets in hotels and restaurants was told me by an officer who holds an important position at one of our base camps in France, 
He was dining in a West End restaurant with a brother officer, and although they were talking nothing but harmless military "shop," he noticed that the waiter was hovering around their table and neglecting other customers.  When the man disappeared for a moment, he whispered his suspicions to his friend, and the two formed a plan.  When the waiter came around their table again, they began to discuss in whispers— just loud enough for the man to hear—details of a new bombing aeroplane which had been specially and secretly constituted at the base.  On they went from one detail to another; the waiter edged nearer, making notes on the pad which' he was supposed to use for putting down the items on the bill. Before the officer had finished, he had enough information to fill a couple of foolscap sheets, but had he known that every scrap of the conversation was pure invention on the part of the officers, and that no such machine existed, he would not have been quite so pleased with himself.  What Berlin said to him when they discovered the truth, the writer knoweth not.

WHETHER the Turkish bath possesses some mysterious attribute which loosens men's tongues, or whether it is that men visit them after having dined "not wisely but too well," the fact remains that German spies find them a profitable resort.  Not very long ago, a well-known London journalist overheard a Government official talking State secrets in a Turkish bath, and a very sharp note appeared in that journalist's paper pointing out the danger of talking in cubicles.

BUT perhaps the most dangerous spy of all is the woman secret agent.  A favourite dodge of this person is to pose as a war widow.  Usually she is accompanied by a very pretty child, and takes up her quarters at the best hotels, especially those frequented by officers.

A friend of the writer's had rather an alarming experience of the cunning of the woman spy.  He was staying in a Midland town, engaged in testing a new invention.  It was necessary for him to visit the works and bring back to his hotel certain plans and fittings day by day.  These he kept in an attaché case.  A very fascinating war widow, with a little girl about eight years old, stayed in the same corridor, and the little girl often peeped into his room while he was working.

The mother chided the girl for "interrupting the gentleman," but being a father, he said: "Oh, let her come in.  I'm very fond of children." 

And so the child became a constant visitor to his room.  One day he found it necessary to go downstairs to telephone.  When half-way down he suddenly remembered he had forgotten the particular paper about which he wished to ask a question at the works.  On reaching the door of his room he was amazed to see the innocent little girl opening his attaché case with a key, his own key being in his pocket.

As she heard his footsteps, the little girl turned round, concealed the key in her hand, and, with the art of a consummate actress, said: "What a pretty case!  I should like one like that."  My friend pretended that he had not noticed anything, but that day he sent a message to our Secret Service, and the widow and her child suddenly disappeared from that hotel — where to it would not be wise to state.

[The general advice not to discuss war work in public seems valid (as in the WW2 slogan 'Careless talk costs lives').  The specific stories related in the article don't seem very plausible to me  - but they would undoubtedly be exciting to the Woman's Weekly readership.]

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