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Webster, Thomas Bertram Lonsdale, 1905-1974

Memoir

• Eric Handley

Extract relating to military intelligence work:

The war service that separated the two periods of work in Manchester was for many years, as was appropriate, left without precise reference. Duties at one time included interrogating captured airmen; at another, there was a brave notion for identifying the sources of enemy morse-code signals from the individual style of the operators (whether it came to anything, we were not told); most significantly, there was an attachment to Bletchley Park, the centre of the code-breaking operation in which many people known as prominent academics were inconspicuously involved, among them A. M. Dale, who had left her book on Greek metre behind her, half-finished, in Oxford. They married in 1944. Many stories used to circulate on the theme, so well-liked by the English, of the amateur at war: they were an offset to the grimmer realities. There was a time in 1940 when Tom Webster was a solitary soldier among Guards officers at London District Headquarters. Amongst air raids at night and daily fears of invasion, he would sometimes join a kindred spirit engaged in parallel work for a run round Hyde Park, or lunch at the Athenaeum, or shop-talk. John Marsden, well-remembered as a Master at Eton, recalled this with affection. He added the story about the meeting with the Commanding Officer that began: ‘Gentlemen, I would only have asked you to come here because of something extremely serious.’ Someone had been seen returning a salute from one of the men, rather than acknowledging it in the way that a Guards Officer should. The culprit was the newly commissioned A. J. Ayer, Welsh Guards. He was known to his two temporary colleagues since undergraduate days at Christ Church, and was later, as Grote Professor of Mind and Logic at University College London, to be a colleague of one of them in a more lasting sense.


(See: List of humanities scholars who worked in military intelligence in the Second World War)


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