Members’ Military History Lecture - Espionage During the First World War: Spies and Spy Fiction

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A lecture by Gill Bennett OBE MA, Associate Fellow, Royal United Services Institute.


Secret intelligence was a growth industry during the Great War, in Britain and other countries. Between 1914 and 1918, both military and civil authorities deployed agents throughout the world to gather information (and spread disinformation) that might help to win the war. Some of these are famous, like Mata Hari or Lawrence of Arabia, some less so; sometimes it was the less famous who were most effective. In addition, thousands of civilians put their lives at risk in order to collect intelligence for the war effort.

In her lecture, Gill Bennett will discuss the major organisational and technical developments that took place during the war. She will assess some of the extraordinary personal stories of spies, professional and amateur, invaluable and inept, working alone or together. Gill will also consider their portrayal in literature by the many writers, from John Buchan to Somerset Maugham, who were involved in secret intelligence themselves. 

Gill Bennett OBE MA was Chief Historian of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 1995-2005 and Senior Editor of the UK's official history of British foreign policy, Documents on British Policy Overseas. As a historian working in government for over thirty years, she offered historical advice to twelve Foreign Secretaries under six Prime Ministers. A specialist in the history of secret intelligence, she was part of the research team working on the official history of the Secret Intelligence Service, written by Professor Keith Jeffery and published in 2010. She is now involved in a range of research, writing and training projects for various government departments. Her biography of Desmond Morton, Churchill's Intelligence Adviser, was published in October 2006 as part of the Cabinet Office Official History series entitled, 'Churchill's Man of Mystery: Desmond Morton and the World of Intelligence’ (Routledge, 2006). Her latest book, 'Six Moments of Crisis: Inside British Foreign Policy', was published by Oxford University Press in February 2013.



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