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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Life is stranger than art

It's funny how occasionally you come across little snippets of information that momentarily knock your otherwise stable image of the world a little sideways. Often the information is of little significance in and of itself, but it's like an inverse loose thread, when you pull it things don't unravel, but on the contrary you begin to see how things are connected together.

The other day I was reading about Arthur Henry Ashford Wynn who as "Agent Scott"  turned out to be the major recruiter to the Oxford Spy Ring that the Soviets attempted to establish in the 30s and 40s. He actually had a remarkable life, a distinguished public service career, and appears to have done much good in the world. There is little evidence that anyone he recruited ever passed on anything of much importance to the Soviets.

Wynn's second wife was Margaret "Peggy" Moxon. She was apparently the first girl from Barnsley High School to get into Oxford and, it is alleged by Boris Volodarsky, that as well as being active in Oxford CPGB circles she was the agent referred to in Soviet intelligence files as "Bunny". Now here is the curious fact. The Wynns had four children and if you look their births up in the England & Wales Civil Registration Indexes you will find that for one of them, born in the mid 40s, the maiden name of the mother is given as Moscow! Serendipitous mistranscription or was she leaving a joke for posterity?

That is mildly amusing, but reading a little more about Wynn uncovered another surprising Oxford connection. As well as being a brilliant scientific polymath,  he also qualified for the bar and before the war had intended to form a partnership with his friend Stafford Cripps specializing in trade union law. This plan was scuppered by the outbreak of war. 

Now in 1942 Stafford Cripps returned to Britain from the Soviet Union where he had been  British Ambassador and immediately entered the War Cabinet as Lord Privy Seal. It turns out that he was a close friend of none other than Robert Rene Kuczynski the German refugee scion of an extremely wealthy and well connected banking family. Kuczynski held the Readership in Demography at the London School of Economics and after arriving in Britain in the 1930s he and his family took up residence in the infamous Lawn Road Flats where they were neighbours of, among others, Arnold Deutch (the controller of the Cambridge 5 and Athrur Wynn's recruiter) and Melita Norwood - the so called "spy who came in from the co-op". 

It is now well established that Kuczynski passed on War Cabinet gossip he acquired from Cripps about Britain's attitude towards the Soviet Union to his daughter Ursula  (Sonya) who was a Soviet agent (and later Klaus Fuch's handler) and that Ursula Kuczynski transmitted this information to Moscow from a Heath Robinson radio transmitter she had erected in the cottage she rented in the grounds of Neville Laski's house on Oxford's Woodstock Road. Neville Laski, a distinguished judge, was the older brother of the LSE's Harold Laski, though he did not share his brother's political views. Chapman Pincher makes the case that Neville Laski and Roger Hollis (the head of MI5) were on friendly terms, though the evidence for this seems to be entirely circumstantial. 

The broad outlines of who knew who are rather clear. Much less clear are the outlines of who knew what. Nevertheless there is a fascinating web of connections linking Oxford, Cambridge and the LSE. It wouldn't be at all surprising if British Intelligence took an interest in what was going on in British Universities.

And here is a thought to end with. Wouldn't it be richly ironic if the tremendous growth of sociology as a discipline in the UK in the 1960s was strongly influenced by the security concerns of the 1930s and 40s? The role of the Oxford "spys", in as far as it can be determined,  was essentially to become sleepers in the British establishment.  Of course it's not unknown for the security services to make use of their own sleepers.


pe51ter said...

Was one of the sons the statistician Professor Henry Wynn.

Colin said...

I believe so.

Anonymous said...

Peggy was my fathers cousin on his mothers side. His cousin on his fathers side was an SOE operative and was awarded Krigskorset med Sverd for his actions in Norway during ww2.