CAFFERATA, Redmond Barton [of Newark]

Photo:Redmond Barton cafferata - Passport photo June 1916

Redmond Barton cafferata - Passport photo June 1916

Richard Cafferata

Photo:Redmond Barton Cafferata - Passport photo September 1916

Redmond Barton Cafferata - Passport photo September 1916

Richard Cafferata

Photo:Redmond's orders to Greece, April 1918

Redmond's orders to Greece, April 1918

Richard Cafferata

Secret Agent!

By Richard Cafferata

We don’t know if Redmond Barton Cafferata intended enlisting in the forces during the Great War – being married with children and in his 30s he wasn’t in one of the groups most likely to volunteer, and of course there were the demands of the family business.

He was, however, involved in the issue of recruiting: In February and March 1916 he was the Chairman of the “Advisory Committee on the Derby Scheme”. As such he found it impossible to get married men to join up. In disgust, he “chucked all up and volunteered my services to the then under sec. of War, Tennant” (1)

He was quickly offered a commission in the RNR and Redmond embarked on a career with Military Intelligence.

 Prior to 1909 the British Intelligence Service had been a disparate group of organisations, including the Military and Naval Intelligence Departments, but these had been reorganised to meet the perceived threat from German spy networks operating in Britain. The new Secret Service Bureau was initially divided into Military and Naval sections. The Military section was the “Home Department” under the command of Captain Vernon Kell. This eventually evolved into the present day MI5. The Naval section or “Foreign Department” (today’s MI6) was placed under the command of Sir Mansfield Cumming (always signed himself, and was known as, “C”) and was charged with intelligence gathering from abroad.

On the outbreak of war, “Cumming’s priorities became military rather than naval” (2) and in January 1916 his organisation was renamed MI 1(c). It joined MI 1(a) – Operations and Planning, and MI 1(b) – Enemy Intelligence relating to troop movements, morale etc. Intelligence summaries from each group were circulated about once a week to interested parties, including the War Office, GHQ and Army headquarters.

 By the middle of the war, the intelligence networks in Switzerland were disorganised and much less productive than those at the other end of the Western Front, in France, Belgium and Holland. On his enlisting, Redmond Cafferata was charged by “C” to go out and re-organise Counter Espionage in Switzerland. He was trained in Rotterdam by Richard Tinsley, a rough and rather shady agent. (3) In June 1916 he was back in London, obtaining the necessary permits and visas, before departing for Switzerland around the 17th, via Le Harvre and Paris. He crossed the border into Switzerland at Pontarlier on June 20th, travelling as a civilian and giving the reason for his journey as “for his health” and to join “family in Switzerland”. (4)

 Pontarlier was to be his major base for nearly two years. It was on Allied soil; a major advantage, as neutral Switzerland guarded her independence from both sides. Yet it had good links with Berne, only 70 miles away. There were other benefits too; Pontarlier could provide safety and sanctuary to agents, it allowed instructors to move freely in and around Switzerland without having to establish an official position, could be used as a base for training from England and, of course, allowed close co-operation with the French Commissariat Special de Police.

Throughout the autumn of 1916, (and presumably for the rest of his time in Switzerland) Redmond travelled frequently between Berne and Pontarlier, staying a few days in each place before setting off again. On these exchanges he travelled as a “Ministry of Munitions” representative.

 From Pontarlier Redmond, known by the code-name “Zulu”, set about establishing his C.E. organisation in Switzerland. He was left to work on his own: In a memo to Colonel Dansey in London (5) he wrote that he had been sent to Pontarlier “without any advice, orders or a single agent”. Nonetheless he did “all the donkey’s work in establishing a Sw[iss] organisation, starting with the V[ice] Consular System etc. also founding of the active C.E. work” which by November 1917 had “bagged” 20 or 30 “Hun agents” from Switzerland and France.

 The various Secret Service Organisations in Europe during the Great War were traditionally decentralised: agents would recruit sub-agents who would report to them, then the agent would report to his controller. A prime factor in this method of organisation was the ever-present risk of arrest; if caught, a sub-agent couldn’t bring down the whole organisation. In a neutral country like Switzerland it was also important for British Officials to try and remain within the law – removal of direct contact with agents helped in this regard.

 However, on his arrival in Switzerland, Redmond immediately saw the advantages of using the British Vice Consuls in counter espionage, and in a Memorandum dated 5th November 1916, he proposed what he called “The Vice Consular Scheme”. His own experience had convinced him that agents should have access to the facilities the consuls offered. He also proposed combining Military Intelligence and Counter Espionage with Commercial attaché work: He thought it would be a waste of time, money and organisation NOT to combine these aspects: Agents in one area frequently came across work in the other areas that could easily be passed over if it didn’t come within their remit. Although Redmond accepted it as a “sound principle” that Consular Officers shouldn’t jeopardise their position through espionage, he also observed that “a consul is in an exceptionally favourable position to obtain information of a commercial and a military character which might prove of great service to the country in this period of national stress.”

 Here he had learnt from the German system: they had a Staff Officer and Staff attached to each consulate to collect information: The German Consul General employed some 122 men in the matter of espionage (not to mention the sub-agents and freelance workers) compared to 10 men employed by the French, and 8 by the British.

For his Vice Consular Scheme, Redmond proposed to attach a Staff or other Officer to each consulate in the capacity of Commercial Attaché. They would collect information through agents and then forward the collected information to the British Consul General in Zurich. Military Intelligence and C.E. would then be sent on to Pontarlier.

This would give 11 officers spread throughout Switzerland collecting information and recruiting agents, close enough to their sources to support them and verify the information they were given.

 Although the Vice Consular system was brought into being, it never seemed to work entirely to Redmond’s expectations, as in his memos, he frequently asked for more resources, or complained that the officers attached to the consulates were being used for more mundane tasks such as passport control.

 There was also a continual friction between different arms of the intelligence community in Switzerland: In April 1917 he wrote to a superior named Anson “The P[ontarlier] organisation has never been used to full advantage” and, in another recurring theme in his correspondence, he complains that he was being sidelined. “It is hardly fair to delegate me, at the very moment when the organisation is beginning to work efficiently, to the rank of a simple instructing Agent.” (6)

It wasn’t just his superiors that were proving difficult – Redmond found it “almost impossible to get the men of the necessary qualifications out here” – “2nd Class” agents were easy enough to find, but they weren’t reliable enough to be put in touch with the Consuls direct, but were better suited to be used as sub-agents. (7)

For the better class of agent, Redmond appealed for men from England: “If a man has even a slight excuse of health, business or other reason for being in Switzerland, it would be many months before the Swiss begin to ask awkward questions.” (7)

 The winter of 1916-1917 had also proved unpleasant, prompting Anson to write to Redmond “I hope you are not frozen stiff up at Pontarlier: It must be very beastly up there now, you have my heartfelt sympathy”.

Throughout 1917 Redmond continued to promote his position; frequently writing to his superiors about the benefits of his base in Pontarlier, which included being able to offer the safety and sanctuary of an allied country, as well as the ease with which he could instruct agents coming from England.

 As well as the agents coming from England, Redmond inherited a network of agents which he ran whilst in Switzerland. He maintained a list of 20 or so agents, some of whom had their own sub-agents who worked for them. This list was fluid, with new agents being added and others being removed. They were mostly recruited in London or Switzerland, although two, known as Pastor and Alfonso, came from Spain. The Spanish experiment wasn’t a success: Pastor was dismissed in January 1917 with the note “Has been absolutely useless.” Alfonso was little better – he found it very difficult to get a visa for Germany and was forced to wait in Berne for a long time.

 Not all agents were poor: the agents code-named Mary, Walfisch and Juliette were much better. Mary sent in excellent C.E. reports and recruited agents for M.I. work in Germany. Walfisch’s C.E. work was described as “very useful” and he was “instrumental with Mary in getting several enemy agents notably “Joselet” arrested.”

Redmond noted that Juliette “Has done good work in obtaining M.I. in districts around Delmont Basle etc. Also C.E. and contraband. Has several agents in Alsace, this man if carefully nursed should prove very valuable.” (8)

 The arrest of enemy agents in Switzerland was, of course, hugely important, but throughout the Great War British intelligence constantly tried to recruit and send agents to Germany. Their intelligence was enormously important: The Western Front was, for long periods of time, relatively static, with troop movements from one part of the front to another indicating where the next offensive might come. For this reason, the watching of troop trains was of great significance to gauge their movements. From Pontarlier, Redmond gave detailed instructions for agents going to Germany. These ranged from the identification and recording of troop movements, through the composition of German army units, to lists of specific information that was needed. Throughout his papers the importance of careful and correct observation of troop trains was constantly stressed.

 Redmond also had to instruct agents in how to avoid detection – this applied as much to agents in Switzerland as those going to Germany: some of his advice may seem obvious, and even slightly comical – “Never confide in Women” or “Never give your photo to anyone, especially a female” (9) – but, especially when considering the newness of the Secret Service, some still seems relevant and will be familiar to anyone who has watched spy movies – to escape when being followed “get on a tram and, as soon as the agent gets on, get off yourself.”

 Counter Espionage (C.E.) was an important part of Redmond’s work in Switzerland. Its objects were “(1) To discover German agents in Switzerland, - active, passive, and recruiters. (2) To fight by all possible means the German organisations”. Redmond divided C.E. into “active” and “passive”. Active C.E. had as its objective “the extermination of the German organisation” by gathering proof against suspects, then luring them into France where they could be arrested. Alternatively they could be arrested by the Swiss authorities.

Passive C.E. was largely indirect information gathering, such as getting information on people applying for visas and passports. As mentioned above, this C.E. work was successful, with some 20 or 30 enemy agents being arrested by the end of 1917.

 Redmond was a character who was not easily satisfied: by December 1917 he was expressing his disappointment with the direction C.E. work was going – he felt it had been “subordinated to use for passport work and enquiries from London and G.H.Q.” (10) To counter this Redmond proposed a “Militant” C.E. Branch – Col. Dansey held the view that the first C.E. role was to protect our own agents – Redmond proposed to do this by going on the offensive: infiltrating the enemy organisation and then destroying the organisation. Redmond also wanted to use his militant C.E. organisation to stem the flow of German agents across the Swiss border into France by setting up a network of allied agents in the main frontier towns.

 Redmond continued his work through the spring of 1918, but on 21st April, Commander Myres wrote to him with orders to proceed to the British Legation, Athens, via Rome, as Officer in charge of C.E. enquiries.

Redmond had been ill in Paris in April, and there were many loose ends that needed tying up, including handing over large sums of cash – he gave more than 40,000 francs to Fanny Vanden Heuvel (11), presumably the operating capital of the Pontarlier Station. There were also farewells – he had built up good relationships with the local French officials, and there were also the other members of the British Intelligence Community with whom he had spent nearly two years and to whom he now had to say goodbye.

When Redmond did finally arrive in Athens the situation he found was very different from that of Switzerland. For a start, Greece was on the allied side in the war, unlike Switzerland which jealously guarded its neutrality. A further contrast was the political instability which had dominated Greek society for years: King Constantine I had feuded with Prime Minister Venizelos over his support for the Germans. (He was, after all, married to Kaiser Wilhelm’s sister and had been educated in Germany.) This ultimately led to Constantine being forced into exile and the “National Schism” between the Royalists and the Venizelists. This conflict would surface again and again in Redmond’s work in Greece.

 Redmond had two priorities on his arrival in Greece: First, to learn Greek and second, to familiarise himself with the intelligence work being carried out by M.I.1(c) and that of the other British military organisations in Greece.

 His fluent French had assisted him in his Swiss work, but he didn’t have that advantage in Athens. To this end, instead of resting from the heat of the day, (he wrote that it was about 110° in the shade) he had a Greek lesson. He was also assisted by a Professor Anatassievitch with his Greek translations.

 By July, Redmond was able to make an assessment which, although stating that there was much promising material, found much that wasn’t to his satisfaction. In the short time that he had been in Greece, Redmond had developed a great respect for the section head, Commander Myres, who regularly worked from early morning until midnight, with just a hurried lunch and dinner. Redmond was a forceful character who had been moulded by his business experience and family upbringing, and it is unsurprising that he was less enamoured by certain other members of staff who were “only filling places that could be better filled by competent people.” (12) He listed the many things that needed doing by the Counter Espionage Department; interviewing agents; searching records; making extracts of work; visiting the police; liaising with other allied services; training staff and recruiting new agents.

 Above all though, he complained of being swamped by the number of passport applications he had to deal with – about 1000 per week, for week after week. This raises the obvious question: Why were the British processing so many Greek passport applications? There are, I believe, two elements in the answer. Firstly, there was the reason why so many passport applications were being made during wartime. This was due to the internal conflict between the Royalists and Venizelists, which had led in 1916 to Venizelist military officers carrying out a coup in areas of Northern Greece, Crete and the Aegean. It resulted in the creation of what was virtually a separate state which Greeks from Athens needed a passport to visit. Redmond himself was quite definite about why the British were being used for this purpose – it was because they were trustworthy! He wrote “The English police, as we are called here, have the reputation of being uncorruptible”. (13)

 This was in stark contrast to many of the Greek officials who, for reasons of politics or pay, were not as reliable. Redmond reported that one Greek corporal who had been sent to work for him, told him that the rate of pay was totally inadequate and therefore the result of any searches he was ordered to carry out depended on the size of the bribe he was given.

 Even high ranking officers such as Major Mavrakakis of the Ministry of the Interior despaired of the Greek way of doing things,  telling Redmond that “his life had been made a misery since the arrest of a certain notorious character, as he had been pestered by close on 300 friends either begging his intercession or deliberately threatening him.” (13) This was quite apart from the political manoeuvring – Captain Kolokotroni had been dismissed on a trumped up charge because he wouldn’t let certain Royalists come back. Many of the police had been “bought body and soul” by the Royalists and Redmond felt that his work was like “sitting on top of a volcano”. (14)

 As well as Anglo-Greek tensions, relationships between the various branches of the British services didn’t always run smoothly. Redmond was resolute in his support for C’s way of doing things – building up the Secret Service from nothing in 1909 to the world-wide organisation it had become by 1918. The army and navy didn’t always see things in this way though. At a conference about Greek strategy, Commander Talbot, the Naval Attaché, in particular proposed that M.I.1 (c) shouldn’t use Greek Agents but intelligence gathering should be handed over to the Greeks themselves, an attitude which made Redmond exclaim “Ye gods and little fishes!!!” in frustration. (13)

Quite apart from passports and politics, there was also the business of recruiting and getting information from agents. As in Switzerland, Redmond used a mixture of nationals and foreign agents. There were clearly defined duties which included keeping the office informed of:

1)      suspects’ and agents’ movements.

2)      information about submarines and signalling

3)      news and rumours

4)      local sentiments and politics, especially if unfriendly to the allies.

5)      other suspicious activities.


It was equally clearly spelt out that if the agent broke confidentiality, then the arrangements and pay would be terminated immediately.

Foreign agents were also used; one who went under the code-name of “Walfisch” or “020” was sent to Athens with the cover of being a journalist for the Daily Mail, after getting Lord Northcliffe’s permission. To make the cover more authentic, part of his salary was paid in London to the Daily Mail and then forwarded by them to him in Greece.

 A  letter, written in French and sent from the Hotel Grande Bretagne to Redmond gives an interesting insight into an agent’s activities, so is worth quoting in full:

 Dear Mr Z,

A quick note to say how things are going. – I have found a room here, but it costs me 29dr per day with breakfast. At noon I eat here; in the evening in town. I have, first, got to know the two representatives of the Continental Daily Mail, Mr Elephlheroudakis and Vafradis.

I have obtained from them a letter of introduction to Mr Bronnaire, director of “Progrès”.

This man has been charming, he introduced me to the foreign press club and is going to call the other foreign journalists of Athens to introduce me. I have offered him lunch.

Then he introduced me to Mr Exinderis, director of the press office in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I had tea with this gentleman and he’s going, tomorrow or the day after, to introduce me to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

It is certain that being in this hotel made all of this easier for me. I have even met Mr Kalapotakis, correspondent of the Morning Post and secretary at the American Consulate.

I invited Mr Exinderis to have lunch with me tomorrow. I hope you approve of this.

I am going to be introduced to Mr Butler, I was advised to offer him some whisky.

Mr Maurogodato is at the moment in Faliro, I will be introduced to him on his return.

As for Captain T…, affairs are on the right track. It is hard to see him at the hotel because he is at Piraeus almost all day. I have met his entourage and hope to be introduced to him tomorrow or the day after. He often comes to the hotel for 2 or 3 hours in the afternoon. He is a great lover of chess and I’ll play with him.

Here at the hotel I am slowly meeting everyone.

So here I am, officially introduced into the press corps.

I have permission to go when I want, into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get information.

Now, another thing, I met here a man who I considered a German agent who was in Switzerland. Unfortunately I can’t remember his name. He says himself that he is an Argentinean navy captain. He arrived in Switzerland from Germany and tried several times to join the French and American navies. Each time he was refused entry into France.

He, if my memory is correct, made proposals to 2 Lausanne women to go to France.

I have seen here that man going out twice from the Pantheon Hotel, University Street. I suppose he is living there.

Here is his description:

Aged 40 years, size 1m80, broad shoulders, strong appearance, black hair, completely shaved, 2 days beard, broad face. Always wearing (even in Switzerland) big black glasses. Always dressed in the same way as follows: big brimmed black felt hat, black jacket, grey trousers.

His complete file is in Ponté.

It would be interesting to know how that man came here.

If you are satisfied with the way my business is going, I pray you send a card without any view, without signing it or writing. I will know what it means and I will continue in that way.

Yours sincerely

020 (15)

 As in Switzerland though, there were still some amateurish touches to the intelligence work. 020 delivered this note by hand to Redmond’s flat, but was forced to send another a few days later asking Redmond to look for the first note as he thought he’d posted through the door of the wrong flat!

 Redmond continued his work in Athens right through the autumn of 1918, and although he would have anticipated the end of the war before too long, the speed of the armistice on November 11th would have come as a welcome surprise. The only thing that remained was discharge and a return to civilian life.

Click HERE  to read about Redmond Cafferata's life after WW1

Click HERE to read about Redmond Cafferata's life before the First World War


 (1)   Personal memo P.25/11/17.

(2)   Secret Service by Christopher Andrew p.211

(3)   The Search for C  by Alan Judd p.399

(4)   Passport no. 101720

(5)   Memo dated 25/11/17

(6)   Memo 139, Pontarlier 1/4/1917

(7)   Memorandum Pontarlier 19-4-17

(8)   Lausanne District Agents list

(9)   Instructions for C.E. Agents Active and Passive

(10)  Mission Anglaise Pontarlier 31/12/17 C.E. Active and Passive

(11)   Receipt dated 1/5/1918

(12)   Draft letter dated 22/7/18

(13)   Memo to Dansey dated 12/8/18

(14)   Memo to Dansey 8/7/18

(15)   Thanks to Celine Brouchemiche for the translation

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