Operation Kronstadt: British Secret Intelligence Service

Captain Mansfield-Smith Cumming

By Anonymous circa 1900-1920 - Own work (Private post-card collection), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66147574

In the beginning of Operation Kronstadt, Lieutenant ‘Gus’ Agar has a very odd meeting with the head of the British Secret Intelligence service, Captain Mansfield Cumming, a man known simply as ‘C’.

…His commanding officer at HMS Osea had ordered him to report to the Admiralty that morning where he would have a meeting with a Commander Goff of the Naval Intelligence Department about ‘Special Service’. However, once he had finally found the commander’s office admidst the warren of passages at the Admiralty, Gus had been surprised to be taken back out of the building and then on a deliberately confusing route through the side streets of Whitehall. They had entered another building which housed, amongst other things, the Royal Automobile Club and had taken the lift to the top floor. They had then taken the stairs to the roof where they proceeded to walk up and down through a disorientating maze of temporary offices and gantries. Finally the pair had arrived at the ante-room of this office where, after a brief word with the Commander, an attractive secretary had ushered Gus straight inside. Since then he had been left to wait with nothing to do but watch this old man reading through the file slowly and methodically. He wondered why on earth he was there.

That passage reminded me strongly of something in Tim Powers’ supernatural spy novel Declare, so I looked up when Andrew Hale had a meeting with ‘C’ as a young boy of only seven years:

Their escort stopped at a door on the first landing and pulled a ring of keys from his trouser pocket, and when he had unlocked it and pushed it open Andrew was startled at the sudden sunlight and fresh river-scented air. An iron pedestrian bridge stretched away for twenty feet over the rooftop to a rambling structure that looked to Andrew like a half-collapsed crazy old ship, patched together out of a dozen mis-matched vessels and grounded on this roof by some calamitously high tide.

The black-haired man now led Andrew and his mother through a succession of doors and narrow climbing and descending hallways, and if Andrew had known where north was when he came in, he would not have known it any longer.

The man who Andrew meets in that mysterious rooftop office then stabs himself in his wooden leg with a letter opener, something that Cumming used to like to do with new recruits. However, in our world, Cumming died in 1923. Andrew Hale didn’t meet ‘C’ until 1929, but then again, Cumming was certainly the sort who would have enjoyed faking his own death.