Granddad’s part in Hitler’s downfall

Published date04 June 2022
Publication titleMix, The
The email arrives without warning, like an unheralded wartime agent bearing information as thrilling as it is unproven

I have a story that I thought may be of interest ... relating to the movie Operation Mincemeat ...

It is a story of sifting through papers, separating truth from fiction ...

It is a story about ... Admiral John Godfrey, who built up the Naval Intelligence Division from lean beginnings ... Ian Fleming, his PA when he was Director of Naval Intelligence, Bond and M, of course, and to a certain extent, Churchill.

John Godfrey’s actual life story is fascinating but, although he is depicted as Director of Naval Intelligence in the film, his papers show that actually he was in India at the time . . .

Anyway, I have 15 volumes of his memoirs as well as letters, photographs ... a copy of his biography ...

Nga mihi,

Rachel Gibb

This is too enticing to resist.

There is a phone number attached. We soon have an appointment.

Gibb is seated at the cluttered dining room table of her artfully remodelled cottage on the bush-covered Ravensbourne slopes of Dunedin’s tuatara-jaw harbour.

Around her, on table and chairs, are thick biographies; several string-bound volumes of decades-old Naval Memoirs of Admiral JH Godfrey; yellowed newspaper clippings referencing James Bond; historic photos from foreign lands; letters addressed ‘‘Bletchley Park’’; a bronze bust of a stern man, brows furrowed in concentration ...

Gibb (68) is guardian of this legacy material, well-versed in each piece of time-worn evidence. But she does not claim to be an historian, an espionage enthusiast or even a World War 2 buff.

Her claim on the man who has been described as having done ‘‘more towards the winning of the war [than most]’’ is highly personal.

Gibb is the grand-daughter of Rear-Admiral John Godfrey.

‘‘He was a big man ... absolutely imposing and somewhat formidable,’’ Gibb says of her grandfather who she got to know through childhood and teenage trips to Britain during the 1960s.

‘‘At the same time, I remember my cousin and I had taken our bikes and cycled around the countryside where they lived in Sussex. When we got back, we were summoned up to his study — a big study lined with books.’’

The Admiral spread out a large inch-to-the-mile map of the area and ran a map-wheel over the lanes the pair had ridden, working out for his grandchildren how far they had travelled.

‘‘So, he could take an interest. It was more us finding him formidable than him being so.’’

Gibb has been to see Operation Mincemeat, twice.

The feature-length film tells of the Allies’ plan to retake Europe from Nazi control, starting with Sicily. But to do that they need to trick Hitler into thinking their forces are instead going to invade Greece. The British Naval Intelligence Division (NID), under Admiral Godfrey, is tasked with devising the daring, improbable, high-risk deception — planting false information on a dead body off the coast of Spain — that will turn the tide in the war.

In the movie, Admiral Godfrey oversees the operation and reports on progress to Britain’s bulldog Prime Minister Winston Churchill while details are worked out and executed by two of Admiral Godfrey’s intelligence officers, Ewen Montagu and Charles Cholmondeley, and by his personal assistant, a gregarious, budding writer named Ian Fleming.

Gibb says Jason Isaacs’ depiction of her grandfather captures his stern mien, but perhaps takes it too far.

‘‘He comes across as cold.’’

Gibb’s main contention, however, is that her grandfather ‘‘wasn’t actually there for the main action’’ depicted in the second half of the film.

Admiral Godfrey was made Director of NID in February, 1939, where he served until late-1942.

‘‘The date of actually throwing the body overboard was July 10, 1943,’’ Gibb says.

By then, she says, the Admiral was more than 7000km away, in charge of the Royal Indian Navy.

Her argument is well-founded, based on multiple sources but primarily on her grandfather’s own multi-volume memoirs.

‘‘The memoirs don’t cover Operation Mincemeat at all,’’ Gibb says.

Who, then, was...

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