Spies of the First World War: Under Cover for King and Kaiser – Book Review

As long as there have been conflicting nations, there have been spies.  Yet in the First World War, spying reached new heights and awareness of their activities became much more widely known.  Tales of Mata Hari, Lawrence of Arabia and Edith Cavell have become legendary. 

Spies of the First World War sets out to show the wider picture – the stories of the handlers, agents, officials and spy catchers of all nationalities who were driven by love, money, duty, patriotism and the simple struggle to survive.  It was a time of the survival of the fittest, when M15 and M16 were first set up. 

Morton has discovered some fascinating characters such as Lord Brassey – an accidental spy who arrested for rowing too close to the Imperial dockyard, William Melville the first ‘M’, L’Abbe Heurtebout – a Norman priest who led an extraordinary double life financing trips to Parisian brothels by spying for the Germans.

Then there is the saga of Sidney Reilly whom many believe was the inspiration for the creation of James Bond. Reilly had no less than 11 passports – and a wife to go with each one! 

This is a book which will appeal to the military historian as well as people generally interested in unusual facets of history.  Well written and researched, it covers a period of history about which most people nowadays know very little.  It is definitely eye opening, giving a glimpse of a world long forgotten.