Retelling Camberley’s past as ‘spook central’

Not quite spook central, although a look back at Camberley’s history makes it a close contender in the past. Maybe it was its nearness to military colleges, and its semi-rural location that made Camberley the perfect location for the secret services. Here are three stories about this history.

x126654,Maxwell Knight,by John Gay

Maxwell Knight 

Firstly, Maxwell Knight the wartime head of a section of M15 that ran secret agents, selected Camberley as the location for a ‘safe house’ for his spies and agents. When Knight retired from the secret services at the end of the war he stayed on in Camberley at The Homestead, 47 Park Road, Camberley. He was reputed to be the model for M in Ian Fleming’s James Bond series and Bond’s boss.

In an extract from One Girl’s War: Joan Miller ( 1986, Brandon: Co. Kerry) there’s a reference to the location of the secret safe house used by Maxwell Knight, which I’ve yet to locate,

“At the beginning of May, when the Wolkoff case was at its height, M sent me off one day to Camberley, in Surrey, to look for a house to rent. The one I eventually took was called ‘Llanfoist’; set well back from the main London Road, about a mile and a half outside Camberley, in grounds complete with stables and garages and screened by a row of pine trees, it was ideal for our purposes. M needed the place as a retreat from the stresses of London, as a ‘safe house’ for agents, and as a spot where fellow MI5 officers, journalists and so forth could be …

Maxwell Knight’s post war life is described by Chris Rose in this newsletter,

A secret life as a spymaster combined with a passion for the natural world and an interest in keeping many unusual animals as pets was the life of Major Maxwell Knight who lived in Camberley. At the end of World War Two he started a new life as a much admired radio naturalist. He thought it would be a good idea to bring people together to enjoy and learn about the wildlife in the local area and the wider world. After an announcement in the local newspaper and a public meeting, the Camberley Natural History Society was founded in 1946.


Mrs Rosette Savill

The second story is about Mrs Rosette Savill. Living in Lightwater, I was fascinated to find that the precursor to Paddock Wood Girls Finishing was the secret wartime recovery home for the French Resistance Movement, described in this 1975 article,

“In 1941, Mrs Rosette Savill, her husband and her two sons moved to Paddock Wood, in Lightwater, which was later to become the Finishing School. The place was chosen because there was a French Military Hospital and large French Camp in Camberley. She also set up at her new home, under massive security, a secret reception centre for the French Resistance Movement, where agents could rest between spells of duty in occupied France. At the same time she and her husband converted the coach-house and stable-block of their property into a convalescent home where armless or legless French soldiers were trained to use artificial limbs supplied by Roehampton.”

Kim_PhilbyFinally, about the Philby family and Kim Philby the infamous double agent. His traitorous deeds are described HERE. The Philby family lived at Crossways, Park Road, Camberley, where the young Kim Philby spent some of his early years. This extract from Browsings in Surrey Heath History, 2013, provides the background taken from local historian, Anthony Greenstreet’s , ‘A Camberley Matriarch: May Philby’.

Before he died General Duncan had detected that his second grandson, Harry St John Bridger Philby (1885-1960) known as ‘Jack’, was exceptionally gifted. He paid for his education which ensured that he became Queen’s Scholar at DSC05541Westminster. This boy eventually became a brilliant but controversial Indian Civil Servant, renowned Arabian Desert explorer and orientalist, author, wealthy businessman, adviser to the Saudi dynasty, and Muslim convert. That alone should ensure his reputation as one of CamberIey’s most famous and colourful residents: but, beyond that, he was the father of the notorious traitor and spy for Russia Kim Philby (1912-88), part of whose childhood was spent at Crossways.

Uncovered by the BBC is a previously unseen video of Kim Philby describing his career as a Soviet agent .

Hatip: National Portrait Gallery for Maxwell Knight image.

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