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Date of Auction: 22nd September 2006

Sold for £2,100

Estimate: £800 - £1,000

The Great War O.B.E. group of twelve awarded to Brigadier W. E. Hinchley Cooke, a long-served member of M.I. 5 who became known as ‘Britain’s chief spy-catcher’ in the period leading upto the 1939-45 War - ‘there was enough drama in his life to fill a shelf of best-sellers’

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, O.B.E. (Military) Officer’s 1st type breast badge, silver-gilt, hallmarks for London 1919, on 2nd type riband; 1914-15 Star (Lieut. W. E. H. Cooke); British War and Victory Medals (Capt. W. E. H. Cooke); 1939-45 Star; France and Germany Star; Defence and War Medals; Jubilee 1935; Coronation 1937; Coronation 1953; Efficiency Decoration, G.VI.R., the reverse dated ‘1939’, mounted court-style as worn, together with a set of related miniature dress medals, the first sometime re-gilded, generally good very fine (24) £800-1000


Once back in harness at M.I. 5, his unrivalled reputation as an interrogator won him poll position in a number of prominent espionage cases, the first of them, as stated above, the investigation into the activities of 2nd Lieutenant Norman Baillie-Stewart, a Seaforth Highlander who was on attachment to the R.A.S.C. at Aldershot - the young officer had made several suspicious visits to Germany and Holland and his intercepted mail offered further evidence for concern. As a consequence, Hinchley Cooke was present at Aldershot in January 1933 when Baillie-Stewart was arrested, and was responsible for the discovery of some vital evidence in the officer’s quarters, not least a a piece of paper with the address and telephone number of the German Military Defence H.Q. written on it, and another bearing a list of possible enemy intelligence requirements. Held in the Tower of London - much to the delight of the press - Baillie-Stewart was found guilty by a Court Martial that March and sentenced to be cashiered and imprisoned for five years. As it transpired, this was far from the end of the case, for it became the subject of a media circus and went all the way to the Houses of Parliament, where it was suggested the accused had signed a post-trial confession on the basis he would be released and allowed to work for M.I. 5. Whatever the truth behind the pre-war activities of Baillie-Stewart, it is worth stating that he was again arrested in Germany in May 1945 on charges of aiding the enemy (and “Lord Haw-Haw”), this time serving a five year sentence at Parkhurst before disappearing to Ireland under an assumed name, where he died in 1966.

Another famous case handled by Hinchley Cooke was that regarding Dr. Hermann Goertz, a lawyer who represented the German company Siemens in England in the early 1930s. He first came to the attention of the authorities in late 1935, when some compromising documentation was found in a bungalow he rented at Broadstairs - the police had been called to the address because he had left the country with his rent in arrears. What they found was a detailed sketch map of R.A.F. Manston, an ordnance survey map with other R.A.F. stations marked on it, a camera in some overalls and some incriminating notes and correspondence of a similar vein - including the good doctor’s C.V. and application form to join the Luftwaffe . Moreover, having inspected these items and translated other documents, Hinchely-Cooke was able to piece together Dr. Goertz’s movements for the period August to September 1935, movements that included visits to R.A.F. Mildenhall, Duxford, Feltwell and Martlesham. The latter was arrested on his return to the U.K., appeared at the Old Bailey charged under the Official Secrets Act in March 1936 and was imprisoned for four years.

Yet another pre-war trial that brought Hinchley Cooke back into the limelight was that concerning a middle-aged Dundee woman, the widow of a German soldier of 1914-18 vintage. The lady in question, Mrs. Jordan, was in the pay of the Abwehr, and acted as an informant and “mail-box” for a significant group of Nazi agents in the U.S.A., M.I. 5’s subsequent investigation leading to a number of arrests across the Atlantic and the beginning of a better working relationship with Hoover and the F.B.I. Arrested in March 1938, Mrs. Jordan was sentenced to four years in Perth Prison. So, too, the results of Hinchley Cooke’s investigation into the activities of one Donald Adams, a racing journalist from Richmond, just a few months after the Jordan trial. The accused had previously worked for a German export company and was found to be in the pay of the Abwehr, his incriminating correspondence to a German contact resulting in him being sentenced to seven years.

Yet for all of M.I. 5’s successes the Abwehr was rarely short of informants, a contention supported by documentation captured at the end of the War. One of the most startling discoveries was an enemy intelligence summary of the U.K. compiled by the R.H.S.A. in 1940, in readiness for “Operation Sea Lion”, a mass of top-secret information circulated within the 3rd Reich’s corridors of power under the title
Informationsheft Grossbritannien. And among the “roll of honour” of known M.I. 5 operatives was listed ‘Lieutenant-Colonel Hinchley Cooke ... His name does not appear in the Army List so therefore he is presumed to be a police officer ... He wears glasses, is strong and has a fresh complexion. He has a friendly nature and speaks German fluently with a mixture of a Hamburg and Saxon accent’: as Nigel West so aptly concludes in MI5, ‘In the event of a German invasion there can be little doubt that the whole of the S.I.S. structure ... would have been quickly scooped up by the Gestapo.’

No-one was more aware of the threat of invasion than M.I. 5, or for that matter Hinchley Cooke, the latter being responsible for the interrogation of four captured Abwehr agents in early September 1940, all of whom confirmed their status and stated that they were part of an advance guard for an imminent invasion. When this intelligence was combined with news that leave had been cancelled for the entire Wermacht on 8 September, and that conditions in the Channel were advantageous, the Joint Intelligence Committee advised the Chiefs of General Staff and that evening the code-word “Cromwell” was sent to all military units in the U.K. - to all intents and purposes, an enemy invasion was expected at any moment, and in certain parts of the country church bells were indeed rung, fortuitously, of course, in error.

The Brigadier died at his home in Kingsdown, Kent in March 1955, aged 61 years; for further details of his many investigations see Nigel West’s

Provenance: Ex Spink, September 1972.