Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (11 & 12 December 2019)

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Date of Auction: 11th & 12th December 2019

Sold for £6,000

Estimate: £6,000 - £8,000

A remarkable Second War Secret Intelligence Service M.B.E. group of eleven awarded to Captain R. ‘Mac’ Kisray, who as a secret agent of MI6 worked undercover in Egypt and with the Long Range Desert Group in North Africa 1942-43, before playing an important role undercover in Italy 1943-45, taking part in the Naples Uprising in September 1943 and organising partisan groups and working with both communist and royalist forces during the struggle for power as the Germans were pushed from Italy. At the end of the War, he was responsible for preventing Mussolini’s personal files falling into the hands of the communists

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, M.B.E. (Military) Member’s 2nd type breast badge, silver; 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Italy Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45, with M.I.D. oak leaf; Tunisia, Kingdom, Order of Nichan Iftikah, 2nd type, Second Class set of insignia, comprising breast badge, silver and enamel, with rosette on riband; Star, silver and enamel, monogram of Sedi Mohamed al Amin Bey (1943-57) at centre, silver marks on retaining pin, with two additional support hooks; Italy, Kingdom, Medal for Military Valour, silver-gilt, the obverse contemporarily engraved ‘Capt. R. MacKisray 1943 1945’; Naples Four Days Commemorative Medal 1943, bronze, with bronze sword device on riband; International, Military Order of the Golden Cross of Cyprus and Jerusalem, First Class set of insignia, comprising sash badge, gilt and enamel; Star, silver, gilt, and enamel, with full sash riband; Military Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem, Second Class set of insignia, comprising neck badge, gilt and enamel, with trophy of arms suspension; Star, silver, gilt, and enamel, central Maltese cross loose, with neck riband, generally very fine and a rare grouping of awards (14) £6,000-£8,000


M.B.E. London Gazette 25 September 1947:
‘For gallant and distinguished service in the Field prior to September 1945.’

The original Recommendation states: ‘Having rendered valuable and courageous service behind the enemy lines in the North African desert for which he was mentioned in despatches, this officer was put into contact with the communist party in Tunis in 1943. 
As soon as the Allies went into Italy Captain Kisray managed to smuggle in with him a very important member of the Communist Party and as a result of this officer's efforts, encouraging them, against strong opposition, to contact and organise Communist partisan movements in Northern Italy. 
His efforts were so successful that the Northern Italian Communist Party agreed to work whole-heartedly for the provision of secret military intelligence to the Allies. The information which was produced through the Committee proved of great value, its volume and accuracy, which were considerable, being attributable in a very large measure to the unerring resourcefulness of Captain Kisray who was required to show constant tact, understanding and determination in his dealings with these men; the latter at the outset were anything but willing to co-operate and during the whole period of operations they required constant encouragement and reassurance to continue. 
Owing to the suspicious nature of the committee, Captain Kisray's own position was at all times delicate and he was forced to retire on the arrival of Togliatti in Italy. He thereupon turned his attention to the production of secret political intelligence and a large proportion of such information was directly attributable to his efforts in 1944-1945. 
It was due to his excellent high-level contacts, intelligence, resourcefulness and energy that the threatened strike in Naples in 1944, which would have been so damaging to Allied progress at this vital stage, was thwarted. 
During the three years which this officer worked for this department he showed unusual zeal, initiative, good humour and devotion, and is strongly recommended for this decoration.’

M.I.D. London Gazette 14 October 1943

Italian Medal of Military Valour awarded 5 June 1944.

The citation states: ‘This Officer of the British Army had duties in connection with the partisan formations operating in Lazio. He repeatedly crossed the enemy lines, his courageous activity benefiting the formations themselves and facilitating the achievements of the leaders. This useful information helped towards the South’s national achievements in the War for Liberation.
He gave constant proof of his sensitivity in the interpretation of his work for the Italian people and was indefatigable in the risky work pursued in this difficult task, until the total liberation of the Fatherland, from the Nazi-fascists.
During the period September 1943 to June 1944 he was a shining example of courage and dedication to the Cause of the liberation of oppressed peoples.’

Rene ‘Mac’ Kisray was born into a wealthy Tunisian/British family on 14 January 1903, and spent his early years acting the playboy and spending his fortune. However, on the outbreak of the Second World War he enlisted as a Private in the Army Service Corps and was quickly recruited by the Secret Intelligence Service (also known as MI6), due to being multilingual. Promoted Lieutenant, Kisray served undercover in Egypt and with the Long Range Desert Group in North Africa 1942-3, and for his services was Mentioned in Despatches. During 1943-44, he worked undercover with S.I.S. in Tunisia and then Italy organising partisan groups. He also played an important role in the power struggle in Italy 1944-5 and was responsible for preventing Mussolini’s personal files falling into the hands of the communists. For his services with the Italian resistance, he was awarded the La Medaglia Commemorativa Della Quattro Giornate on 21 March 1944 (The Commemorative Medal of the Four Days), awarded for the four days uprising in Napoli against the Nazi’s (27 September to 1 October 1943); and the Medaglia D’Argento al Valor Militiare (Silver Medal of Military valour), on 22 March 1944 for his service with the resistance in the City and Province of Rome 1943-44. Following the cessation of hostilities he was created a Member of the Order of the British Empire. He died on 25 January 2001, aged 98.

Details of Captain Kisray’s remarkable Wartime service can be found in at least three sources; his Times obituary; The Military Intelligence Museum’s website; and, not least, the Imperial War Museum’s audio collection, which contains 8 reels of recorded interviews with Kisray that details his service 1941-46.

The Military Intelligence Museum’s website states: ‘Rene Mac Kisraquilly - he changed his name to Kisray by deed poll - was born to a rich Tunisian family in 1903 and resided for some years in Nice, France; he spoke Arabic, French and Italian but little English. In September 1939 he joined the British Army and, despite his lack of fluent English, was posted into the Royal Army Service Corps. No doubt because of his language abilities he came to the notice of S.I.S. who eventually recruited him. His name first appears in the Army List for the Intelligence Corps, as a war substantive Lieutenant, on 1 December 1942. He was employed under the MI6 cover of Inter-Services Liaison Department (I.S.L.D.) at their Egyptian outstation. He worked with the Long Range Desert Group (L.R.D.G.) in North Africa and undertook several missions behind the enemy lines.

Following his North African adventures, for which he received a Mention in Despatches, he continued to work for MI6. In Tunis he developed a contact in the communist party and the opening moves in an operation to establish and organise communist partisan groups in Italy following the Allied invasion. In Italy, he continued to work clandestinely, this time against communist agitators, particularly Palmiro Togliatti, the communist leader who had recently returned from Moscow. In November 1944, he helped to ensure that the communists failed in their attempt to assassinate Marshal Badoglio. In April 1945 he was able to prevent the personal files of the late Mussolini falling into the hands of the communists. The nature of his success in this operation is plainly spelt out in the recommendation for the award of the M.B.E.’

Captain Kisray’s obituary, published in The Times on 30 January 2001, gives a very good summary of his service, in particular his service as a Secret Service agent in Italy:
‘Rene Kisray played a unique role in the secret service operations in Italy during the 1943-45 campaign. He played a major role in forming a remarkable alliance between the Secret Intelligence Service (S.I.S.) and the Italian Communists, which made it possible to better maintain relations between the Italian leftist political forces and the Allied Administration of Italy to a minimum in the tricky years between the fall of Mussolini and the end of the war.

The son of a wealthy Tunisian with an English passport he was an international playboy before the war, owning his own aeroplane and his own yacht. He distinguished himself by losing his entire fortune gambling in Nice during his first honeymoon. In September 1939 he rushed to England to enlist. He spoke good Arabic, Italian, French but not a word of English. Through the influence of the Vansittarts he eventually became a Private in the Royal Army Service Corps. His unit was sent to the Middle East, where he was recruited by the secret services.

Late in 1942 he was deposited by the Long Range Desert Group with a radio operator 110 miles behind the enemy lines, but the operation failed because the transmission system was destroyed. Kisray and the operator marched 6 nights in the desert, and were picked up safe and sound by the vanguard of the British army on Christmas day 1942. He was given an immediate Commission.

After Tunis fell into the hands of the allies, Kisray was sent to find his family and pick up any old political contacts he could find. He looked like a Corsican bandit, he had an exceptional vitality, and could "charm any bird off any tree" With much luck he found an old friend who had become a communist. At that time, all the left-wing Italians had left Europe for Tunis, longing to return to Italy, and Kisray gained the confidence of the group, the undisputed leader of the group was Velio Spano, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War.

With the approval of Harold Macmillan, head of the Allied Commission in Italy, the S.I.S. secretly smuggled the group to Naples, established them in a large apartment and made sure they had a means of transport and money. The leader of the Communist Party of southern Italy was Eugenio Reale, but Spano took over as soon as he arrived. Kisray lived in the apartment with them for nearly four months.

The importance of this was that a left-wing junta formed round this group, with figures such as Sandro Pertini and Giuseppe Sarragat (both were later President of the Republic) joining in. All this was done with the agreement of Harold Caccia, Macmillan’s Foreign Affairs representative to the Allied Commission. This contact with this junta provided the Allies a major source of recruits for agents working in the north of Italy. It also provided an insight into the political ambitions of this movement. The first crisis arose from a speech of Churchill in March 1944 stating that the Italians must remember that the King and Marshal Badoglio were the authorities recognised by the Allies in Italy. The furious dockers of Naples called for a strike.

The strike, which was controlled by Kisray's friends, was a major threat to the Allied Authority and retaliation was threatened. Finally a compromise was reached between Caccia and the junta, with Kisray as mediator. The strike ended on the condition that Spano could address the dockers, which he did, recalling that the aim of the movement was first against the Germans, and the establishment of a socialist democracy in Italy. For the role he played Kisray was promoted Captain and Nadia Spano sewed the three pips on his uniform in the apartment under the watchful eye of Spano and Reale.

On 27 March 1944, the communist leader Palmiro Togliatti arrived in Italy from Moscow where he had lived for several years, to take the leadership of the Italian Communist Party. His first act was to dismiss Kisray, saying that he did not want any British “spies” around him. Kisray refused this decision, with the agreement of Caccia, organised a secret lunch in a fish restaurant on the port. Togliatti, Spano, Reale Caccia and Kisray were present. The meeting went well, Togliatti confirmed that the main objective was to push the Germans out of Italy. He agreed to co-operate with S.I.S. After the fall of Rome, the capital became the centre of all political activity. Political affairs were gradually taken over by the embassy. S.I.S.’s junta friends became increasingly powerful.

In November 1944 Marshal Badoglio arrived unheralded at the British embassy, ​​seeking British protection against the plots by the junta to assassinate him. The ambassador informed Churchill, who replied that he would be personally responsible if a hair on Badoglio’s head was harmed. The ambassador simply handed the problem to S.I.S. Kisray played a large part in this operation, which was a mixture of drama, skill and farce.

Badoglio was smuggled from the embassy disguised as a British officer and installed in one of S.I.S.’s apartments. He stayed there for a week, completely disconnected from the rest of the world. During this period two or three senior members of the junta called in for a drink as was their habit. They asked if S.I.S. knew where the Marshal was, unaware he was sleeping behind the door. Eventually Macmillan negotiated a promise of non-arrest by the junta and S.I.S. released him.

At the end of April 1945, Kisray was sent to Milan to contact friends there. Mussolini was killed on 27 April, and Kisray discovered that the Communists were doing everything to find his archives for political exploitation. Three of Kisray's friends obtained the archives. The R.A.F. sent a plane and Kisray and his three friends flew the archives to Rome. During a ceremony at the embassy Kisray and his friends handed over the archives and the ambassador expressed the thanks of the government. For this, Kisray received the M.B.E.

After the war he lived an adventurous life in Italy France and Korea. In retirement he lived for 20 years in Nice then returned to England. He was married three times. His third wife, Kathryn survives him with their son and a daughter from his first marriage and a daughter from his second marriage.’

Sold with the original Bestowal Document for the M.B.E., named to Captain Rene Mac Kisray, and dated 25 September 1947; Mention in Despatches Certificate, named to Lieutenant R. Kisrani [sic], and dated 14 October 1943; Bestowal Document for the Tunisian Order of Nichan Iftikah; Bestowal Document for the Italian Medal of Military Valour in Silver, with citation; Bestowal Document for the Naples Four Days Commemorative Medal; Bestowal Documents for the International Awards; a Rotary Club of Nice Presentation Medallion, bronze, inscribed ‘R. Mc. Kisray Monsieur 100%’, in box of issue; together with various Rotary Club documents; and other copied research.