Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Did "James Bond" live in the Moorlands?

I came across the name of Admiral Sir Guy Gaunt whilst researching a piece on Baden Powell the founder of the Scout Movement who visited Leek in the summer of 1920. Sir Guy was part of the welcoming party that accompanied the hero of Mafeking as he visited Scout troops eventually staying with Sir Guy and his wife at their home Swainsley Hall in the Manifold Valley. Entirely in character Baden Powell spent the night under canvas in the grounds of Swainsley Hall much to the amusement of his hosts. Sir Guy's wife was Margaret Worthington ,daughter of Thomas Wardle the Leek industrialist. Thomas Wardle had owned Swainsley the house passing into his daughter's ownership in 1909 after his death.

I thought that I would find out a little more about Gaunt. He sounded intriguing

He was born in Australia in 1869. He attended Melbourne Grammar School and despite a parental desire that he go into law had a yearning for the sea eventually joining a training ship for Merchant Navy officers. He soon transferred to the Royal Navy where his dashing, reckless manner bought him to a wider public. In 1897, while serving on HMS Porpoise he came to the defence of the British Consulate at Samoa repelling a rebel attack. In following uprisings he raised and led a native force that became known as “Gaunt’s Brigade”, earning him a mention in despatches and rapid promotion. He was a natural leader, extremely able, a formidable linguist- he spoke several languages, ruthless and a very good shot. Gaunt was also debonair, dashing and something of a ladies man.

His commands included ultimately the battleship HMS Thunderer. With a scintillating career as naval officer established he seemed the ideal candidate to become the naval attaché to the United States, an appointment he took up in June 1914, just as the First World War was about to break out.

It proved an ideal appointment as he was able to prove to his superiors his drive and adaptability in a situation that was vital to the successful prosecution of the war. He was fully engaged in intelligence work countering the activities of secret agents and saboteurs from enemy powers, he worked closely with various nationalist groups such as the Czechs looking to form their own country in the aftermath of the war .Gaunt successfully infiltrated the Hindu-German conspiracy that attempted to ferment rebellion in British India was involved in the British machinations surrounding the infamous Zimmerman telegram that drew the US into the war. Gaunt captured one high profile German saboteur and killed or captured a number of other enemy spies. He also helped to run the spy network set up by Balkan nationalists in major American cities and disrupted German intelligence efforts to such good effect that he was the automatic choice to become the senior liaison officer to the USA when President Wilson reluctantly declared war in 1917.

In 1918, with the United States now firmly on the Allied side American intelligence officers took over responsibilities that he had handled so effectively, and Gaunt's request to go back to sea was granted by the Admiralty. However, he was soon appointed to the naval intelligence staff in London and promoted to Rear Admiral where he worked on the Bolshevik threat. He retired from the Navy at the end of the war with the final rank of Admiral and a knighthood for services rendered to the State. It was at this stage that he settled in the Staffordshire Moorlands standing unsuccessfully in the 1918 General Election in Leek for the Tories. He did eventually become an MP for an East Yorkshire constituency before being forced to resign having been named as a co- respondent in a divorce case in 1926

While over seventy years of age when World War Two broke out he remained active, and there are records of correspondence between him and naval intelligence officers. It is highly likely that the young intelligence officers of the Second World War would have sought his advice and used his knowledge. They would have known of him without a doubt because his exploits in the war barely twenty years before were legendary in the cloudy world of naval intelligence: even if the general public only knew of him as an old sea dog with an eye for the women. He died in 1953.

Fans have debated who might have been the model for Ian Fleming’s most famous creation the fictitious secret agent James Bond. A number of names have been suggested that make up the personality of the super agent and perhaps the character is a composite of a number of people. Gaunt has been regarded as a possible prospect by some authorities. He was handsome, suave, brilliantly effective, well-connected, remorseless an expert shot,multilingual, served as an officer in the Royal Navy and at the time of his intelligence activities during the First World War held the substantive rank of Commander, just like the fictitious Bond. His other qualification for the part he proved later in life when he was cited in a notorious divorce case that resulted in the failure of his own marriage, after which he married many years his junior with whom he had two daughters. Is it possible that “James Bond “lived in the Moorlands?