During World War II, the British Secret Services had their work cut out for them. Not only did they have to deal with foreign agents infiltrating the corridors of power, but they also had to monitor more than 500 home-grown hardline fascists (known as “fifth columnists”) who would have liked nothing better than to see the Fuhrer standing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Two of these fanatics, Marita Perigoe and Eileen Gleave, were being watched by London legend agent ‘Jack King.’ He was reputedly Hitler’s ‘top man’ but Jack was Eric Roberts, an ex-bank clerk from Epsom in Surrey.
However, Roberts was not to be underestimated. With patience and guile, he managed to snare dozens of would-be Nazi spies who believed that the information they were passing on to him was going directly to Berlin. He posed as an undercover officer of the German Gestapo and exploited a taste for cloak and dagger “melodrama” amongst the would-be fifth columnists by supplying invisible ink and setting up a meeting room in the basement of an antique shop. When he met Perigoe, he wrote that she “was not neurotic, she is a masterful and somewhat masculine woman, an arrogant Hun.” Her violent anti-British sentiment merited special attention. She would search their meeting room for bugs and would often talk about killing Roberts, suspecting him of being a double-agent. She was paid four pounds a week, and in return, she kept MI5 busy with contacts and intelligence throughout the war years.
Gleave, on the other hand, had become bitter following the death of a cousin at Gallipoli, for which she blamed the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. This developed over time into an irrational hatred which was to set her on a path to find revenge. Perigoe was a Swedish German and married to a member of Oswald Mosely’s notorious British Union of Fascists, a “black-shirt” who had been imprisoned in Brixton Prison. However, Moseley’s fascism didn’t go far enough for Perigoe, so she teamed up with Gleave to devise a plot to secure a Nazi triumph.
In early 1944, Field Marshal Montgomery and General Eisenhower were planning Operation Overlord or D-Day as it is otherwise known, from the Headmaster’s office at St Paul’s School in Hammersmith, West London. The children had been removed to East H
Hampstead Park in Berkshire to escape the German bombardment of London. Although neither Perigoe nor Gleave knew what was going to be discussed behind the doors of the evacuated school, they knew that killing both men would be both a morale-breaker for the Allies and a coup for the German Forces. The tide was beginning to turn against Germany, with a stalemate on the Eastern Front and the Atlantic supply lines opening up once more for Britain. Their plan involved looting of the local Wembly Home Guard Arms Depot and then storming the school.
Spy-master “Jack King” was in no doubt as to the motivation of the two women but was worried that if he tried to stop them, his cover would be blown. He was able to warn Eisenhower, who failed to take his concerns seriously. Indeed, on 15 May 1944, plans for Operation Overlord were presented to Churchill and the King in the lecture theatre at the school. In the end, the attack planned by the two women never went ahead, and Operation Overlord became the successful invasion the Allies had banked on to loosen the Nazi grip on Europe.
Of the five-hundred or so fascist fifth columnists identified by MI5’s Eric Roberts and others, there were no efforts to round them up after the fall of the Third Reich. MI5 had apparently not kept the British Home Secretary informed of its activities among the fifth columnists, and reference to the Montgomery-Eisenhower plot was only recently uncovered by author and researcher, Robert Hutton. His new book ‘Agent Jack’ is based on information that has recently been declassified by the British Government. Eric Roberts kept up his dual role as Jack King for three years, evading discovery by those who would be all too keen to dispatch him in the name of the Fatherland. He eventually retired with his wife and children to Canada. Perigoe and Gleave went to their graves convinced they had done their best for Germany.
[Source: Together We Served November 2019]