The quest for C: Mansfield Cumming and the founding of the secret service - Alan Judd, Harper Collins, 1999


There were meetings and discussions concerning deployment in the Near East, particularly the question of the division of control between the army headquarters in Cairo and Greece. There were also discussions about the Dardanelles, with Cumming handing over reporting on Turkish troops and learning from Hall ‘that we should allow Russia to enter Dardanelles and we have built dummy ships and the Trs know it’. Has was considering a suggestion to ay £3,000 to a Mr Vincent Such [probable] ‘for his friend Mahmoud to go to Shakshish from Constantinople’ and he instructed that all messages from Whittall and Eady, the two secret emissaries, should be sent personally to him on ‘distinctive’ paper, as should all reports dealing with aircraft.

Edwin Whittall and George Eady were Englishmen with a deep knowledge of Turkey. Their deployment by Cumming was, as we have seen, on instructions from Hall, but the story did not begin with him. It apparently began, as Stephen Roskill pointed out in his biography of Maurice Hankey, with a suggestion of Hankey’s, whose diary entered for 4 March 1915 reads: ‘Saw Captain Hall... who said that negotiations have been opened to bribe the Turks to oust the Germans, as I had proposed earlier.’

A summary of this operation can be found in Rhodes James’s Gallipoli. Essentially, Whittall and Eady were offering the Turkish government a bribe of £4 million - authorised by Hall without informing his own superiors, the Foreign Office or the Cabinet - to play no further part in the war. The scheme was not as fantastic as it sounds and might have worked if the British government, unknown to Whittall and Eady, had not promised Constantinople to the Russians. The Turks were reasonably pro-British and were unhappy with the alliance with Germany. Negotiations proceeded some way despite the fact that the Dardanelles operation, that great disaster-in-waiting (foreseen as such by Hankey) had already begun. If Turkey had been bought out of the war it would have made a significant strategic difference as well as shortening the supply lines to Russia, which may have had an effect on subsequent political developments. It was certainly a better idea than the botched forcing of the Dardanelles.

Hankey knew Hall well, possibly from his time as a naval officer in the Mediterranean, and admired and trusted him. Cumming, as we have seen, was involved early on and on 9 January he records that at least one of the agents, Whittall, was not optimistic: ‘Mr Whittall called - sent by DID - He thinks the project a “forlong hope” but will make enquiries out there and will call on Limpus [Admiral, in Malta, the man who had advised the Turks on the fortifications] on the way. His friend will call tomorrow and I am to have codes ready by Monday.’ In fact, he saw them both off over the next couple of days, preparing codes, arranging communications, paying £500 into Eady’s bank and ‘suggesting a scheme for Dedeagatch’, the town where they were to negotiate with the Turkish representatives. It is possible that he also sent others to support them, specifically Major Sampson and two other men, Edmonds and Lafontaine, at least one of whom was experienced in Turkey.The coded communications included ‘three new dictionaries and six new complete shifts’.

On 16 February he submitted reports from Major Sampson on Turkish troops and a few days later recorded sending telegrams to Sampson and Whittall. There were doubtless further communications before the crucial meeting took place in Dedeagatch on 15 March. When Eady returned to London on 21 April Cumming had a ‘long yarn with him re NE matters. He could not negotiate with Talaat [Bey] as he did not know our position with regard to Constantinople. The day he opened negotiations we bombard the Dardanelles. The day his man landed in Smyrna we bombarded it! Money no use. Thinks we could deal if Constantinople internationalised - i.e. left in nominal Turkish possession under international control.

Thus ended one of history’s myriad what-ifs, though it was not, as we shall see, the end of Cumming’s acivities in Turkey.

The Geneva station was opened in March 1917 by Captain Middleton Edwards and at about the same time a meteorologist, Professor N.W. Thomas, was attached to the Berne station for what sounded like a very congenial posting. Also in Geneva in 1917, Mr Whittall inaugurated political reporting, seemingly of his own bat and despite local resistance although the Minister, Sir Horace Rumboldt, was ‘greatly in favour of PC officers and assisted them in their work’.

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