Eddie Chapman

Eddie Chapman had told his new girlfriend Betty Farmer, that he was in the film industry. That wasn’t entirely true, yes he had worked as an extra in a couple of films but she had no idea his main income came from crime. Eddie was a career criminal. He began with burglary, graduated to blackmail and was now the leader of the Jelly Gang, a notorious criminal group known for using the new explosive, gelignite to crack safes. She also didn’t know that he had a fiancé, nightclub dancer Freda Stevenson, and even Eddie didn’t know that Freda was pregnant.
One night in the spring of 1939, Eddie had appeared at Betty’s door saying breathlessly “Do you want to come to Jersey?” She quickly packed a bag and jumped into the car waiting outside and thus began the adventure of a lifetime.

Betty also didn’t know that Eddie had just been caught by the Scottish police, was out on bail and on the run as he had no intention of appearing in court. His plan was to go to the little island of Jersey in the English Channel, and then escape to France. They landed on Jersey that night and checked into the Hotel De Le Plage as Mr and Mrs Farmer. After a night of roulette and dancing they were having lunch in the hotel dining room when Eddie looked up from his trifle and saw two men in overcoats having an animated discussion with the headwaiter. That they were wearing overcoats told Eddie that these men weren’t on holiday and that they were probably looking for him. He stood up and kissed Betty once and said “I shall go, but I shall always come back.” And with that he turned, ran to the closed window overlooking the beach and jumped clean through it. The two policemen gave chase but could not catch him. Eddie needed money to get away so he cracked open another safe, a crime which set him on a path of international intrigue and espionage. Ironically it was this crime that ensured that he would be tried and sentenced on the island before he could be sent to the mainland to be tried for the crimes he committed there. And it was this crime that made sure he would not spend the next 14 years in an English prison.

Eddie was caught the next day but he made sure that the Jersey authorities knew that Betty Farmer had no knowledge of and took no part in, his many crimes, so she was allowed to leave for England and would not see him again for five years.
Eddie served three years in the little prison on Jersey. Meanwhile, momentous events were taking place in Europe. Hitler had invaded France and the British evacuated from Dunkirk. The island of Jersey is much closer to France than it is to England and so the British government had no choice but to abandon it to occupation by the Nazis. When Eddie was released, he found the island occupied and run by the Germans for the Germans. Eddie had no intention of going straight so he and his cellmate started up a barbershop from which they ran the island’s black-market operation. The pair cooked up a scheme to offer to spy for the Germans in the hope that they would send them to England on a mission where they would surrender to the British secret service – MI5. They submitted the proposal to the German commandant of the island and heard nothing of it and then some months later they were both arrested on charges of sabotage. They both thought that as they were innocent of the charge that this was some sort of ruse by the German authorities to get them off the island and into the hands of the Abwehr – the German military intelligence arm. But they were mistaken and they were taken to a notorious prison outside of France where beatings and starvation were the norm. However, with the glacial speed of bureaucracies everywhere their application to spy for Germany was wending its way through to the people that could actually do something about it. It seems that Eddie Chapman was just the sort of fellow the Abwehr was looking for.

He was taken out of the French prison and trained in the espionage techniques of explosives, weapons and Morse code. He became fluent in German and quite friendly with his captors. Months later he was in a German aircraft flying over the countryside of England. He got stuck in the hatchway and had to be pushed through into the darkness below. Landing in a celery field he immediately went to the closest farmhouse to call the police and surrender. He offered his services to MI5 as a double agent. His mission from the Abwehr was to blow up part of the factory making the Mosquito fighter-bombers as well as to gather intelligence of a general nature along the way. Fortunately for Eddie MI5 had a structure and process ready to deal with German spies – they gave them a choice, work for the allies or be shot. Almost all chose to work for the allies, but these threats were not necessary in Eddie’s case – this was his plan all along. And so began a career of a double agent, full of danger and threat of discovery.
His principal mission for the Abwehr was to blow up part of the de Havilland Mosquito aircraft factory at Hatfield. MI5 concocted a plan to fool the Abwehr into thinking this had been done using the skills of a professional magician. To this end one night they scattered rubble, bent gates and overturned machinery around where the explosions were to take place and arranged for a newspaper to print a small article about an attack on the factory. It was hoped that German reconnaissance aircraft would photograph the building and confirm Eddie’s story. Eddie then made his way back to Germany by posing as a sailor on a ship bound for Portugal, but not before Eddie convinced MI5 to take in his fiancé, Freda Stevenson and look after her while he was away. After days of interrogation his German masters accepted his story presented him with a lot of money and the highest award given to a German soldier, the Iron Cross – Eddie Chapman was the only Englishman ever to receive this honour.

de Havilland Factory

Eddie’s Abwehr unit was then sent to Norway where he met a beautiful Norwegian underground operative Dagmar Lahlum. At which point he thought she was collaborating with the Germans and thus a traitor to Norway and she thought he was a German spy and a traitor to his country. Despite this the two fell in love and he proposed marriage to her as well. Eddie then prepared for another mission back to England during which he convinced the Abwehr to look after Dagmar. So Eddie Chapman, known as ZIGZAG to the British and FRITZ to the Germans had Betty Farmer and Freda Stevenson waiting for him in England (and being looked after by MI5) and Dagmar Lahlum being looked after by the Abwehr. Before his next mission to England he confided with Dagmar that he was in fact a British spy and she responded telling him she was actually working for the underground. It is fair to say that both were pleased to hear the other’s news. He parachuted again into the English countryside with three new missions. He was tasked with stealing a portable radar unit from a British warplane, discovering the technology that was enabling the British to destroy so many submarines in the Atlantic and to correct the aim of the German missiles known as the V1. He also brought back intelligence of inestimable value. He had a roll of film that had photographs of every senior Abwehr agent in Norway, numerous potential targets like ammunition and fuel dumps and he had committed to memory addresses of much of the military establishment in Oslo.

MI5 did nothing about his first mission but for the second they concocted fake plans and letters describing a type of proximity fused depth charge that simply did not exist. Eddie duly sent these to Oslo where they sent the German scientists off on a wild goose chase trying to solve a problem that wasn’t there. His next mission was a little trickier. The V1 missiles were in fact dropping a little short but in consultation with some physicists they worked out how to mislead the German scientists into thinking that their missiles were going too far. This meant that rather than landing in the centre of London, the missiles would fall even further short, many into open countryside. This deception meant that Eddie Chapman, master criminal, saved thousands of lives.
By this time the V1 launching sites were being overrun by the Allies in France and of those that were still being launched many were able to be shot down by radar guided aircraft. As the V1 threat was substantially overcome that the British establishment decided that they had no further need for criminals in MI5 and with a lecture on going straight they unceremoniously kicked him out of his flat and sent him on his way. He received no honours or medals or even recognition for what he did for his country, save that from the Nazis – just a threat that if he told anyone about it he would go back to prison.

Eddie hired some former policemen to find Betty Farmer the blonde he left at the Hotel De La Plage some five years before, but in wartime England, finding a woman without a photograph or an address was a near impossible task. He was having lunch with these men and discussing the problem and how she might be found when one asked “Is there anyone here that looks a little bit like her?”

Eddie looked around, and saw a woman at the other end of the dining room and said “That girl, she looks just like from behind.” At that moment Betty Farmer turned around and Eddie said “Jesus!” He got up and walked over to her. They were married within a couple of months and stayed together, despite his numerous affairs, for the rest of their lives. He kept his promise, then and always “I shall go, but I shall always come back.”

© Paul Hannah 2019 

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