LEVERTON & SONS, undertakers and funeral directors, began making coffins in the St. Pancras area of London around the time of the French Revolution. For two hundred years, the business was passed from father to son, along with the severe and formal cast of countenance required of officials in the death business. By 1943, the custodian of this long tradition, six generations on, was Ivor Leverton. His older brother Derrick was serving as a major with the Royal Artillery in North Africa and about to take part in the invasion of Europe that everyone knew was coming. Ivor had breathing difficulties and had been declared medically unfit for military service: he had therefore been left to run the family firm. Although only twenty-nine, Ivor took the traditions of the firm very seriously, ensuring that all clients, rich or poor, were treated with the same solemnity and dignity. But beneath that decorous exterior, like most undertakers, Ivor Leverton was a man of unflappable temperament and a bone-dry sense of humor. He felt a lingering guilt over being unable to fight on the front line. The closest he had come to seeing action was in 1941 when he went to collect a dead body from the Temperance Hospital and a German bomb came down the chimney, blasting shards of glass through his black “Anthony Eden” hat. Ivor longed to play his part. He was only too pleased, therefore, to be asked to transport a body, in the middle of the night, in deadly secrecy, as a task of “national importance.”1
The request came from Police Constable Glyndon May, an officer working for Bentley Purchase, the St. Pancras coroner. Leverton & Sons did regular business with the coroner but had never been presented with a job quite like this. “I was not to divulge2 what I was told, under the Official Secrets Act, not even to my own family,” Ivor wrote in his diary. “No record would be made, and we would not be paid a penny.” May’s request arrived on April Fools’ Day, and for a moment Ivor Leverton wondered whether the “phone call from St. Pancras3 Coroner’s Court might be dismissed as a hoax.” Constable May was entirely serious: Ivor should get a coffin and take it to the mortuary behind the coroner’s office, where May would meet him at 1:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 17. He should act entirely alone and carry the coffin himself. “I was still in fairly good shape,”4 grumbled Ivor, “but this was really asking a bit much.”
Soon after midnight, Ivor Leverton tiptoed downstairs from the flat above the funeral parlor in Eversholt Street, taking care not to wake his wife, and retrieved a hearse from the company garage in Crawley Mews. He then drove to the front of the parlor and manhandled one of the firm’s wooden zinc-lined “removal coffins”5 into the back, hoping Pat, the firm’s most inquisitive neighbor, would not wake up and spot him wrestling with a heavy coffin in the dark. Glyn May was waiting at the coroner’s court. Together, with some difficulty, they heaved the body into the coffin. The dead man was wearing a khaki military uniform but no shoes. Leverton was struck by his height. Leverton & Sons’ standard coffins measured six feet two inches inside, but the dead man “must have stood 6′4″ inches tall”6 and could not be made to lie flat. “By adjustment to the knees and setting the very large feet at an angle,” Ivor wrote, “we were just able to manage.”
After an uneventful drive through the deserted city streets to Hackney Mortuary, Leverton helped May unload the coffin, “left our passenger”7 in one of the mortuary refrigerators, and returned home. His wife, pregnant with one of the next generation of Leverton undertakers, was still asleep.
Hackney had been selected by Bentley Purchase because it was run by “a mortuary-keeper on whom8 he could rely not to talk.” Later that day, at six in the evening, Bentley Purchase met Cholmondeley and Montagu at the mortuary, with Glyn May, the coroner’s officer. The body of Glyndwr Michael was removed from the refrigerator and placed on a mortuary gurney. Nearly three months had now elapsed since Michael’s death, and during the long period of refrigeration his eyes had sunk into their sockets, and the skin was yellowed from poison-induced jaundice. Otherwise the body appeared to be in a reasonable state of preservation. The life jacket was put over his head and tied around his waist. The yellow military jackets were known as “Mae Wests,” from rhyming slang for “breasts.” When fully inflated, the rubber jacket gave the wearer a distinctly busty look reminiscent, if you happened to be a sex-starved soldier, of the curvaceous film star. The chain was looped around his shoulder, outside the coat and under the Mae West, and securely tied to the belt of the trench coat. It had been assumed that the attaché case would be given to Jewell to clip to the chain at the last moment, but it was found that the canister could accommodate both case and body. The handle of the case was fastened to the end of the chain and placed on the body. Jewell would now only have to insert the documents and tip the body into the water, thus ensuring that it would arrive on shore in a way that “made it as easy as possible9 for the Spaniards or the Germans to remove the bag and chain without trace.” The watch, with the winder run down, was set to 2:59 and fastened to the left wrist: with luck, the Germans would assume that the watch had stopped when the imagined Catalina had crashed into the sea.
All Major Martin now needed to complete his outfit was footwear. But getting him into his boots proved to be the most difficult aspect of the entire dressing operation. In the extra-cold refrigerator, the feet had frozen solid at right angles to the legs. Even when the laces were fully undone, the boots refused to go on, for it is impossible to put on any boot, let alone a stiff army boot, without bending the ankle. Bentley Purchase came up with a solution. “I’ve got it,”10 said the coroner. “We’ll get an electric fire and thaw out the feet only. As soon as the boots are on we’ll pop him back in the refrigerator again and refreeze him.” PC May went to fetch the single-bar electric heater from the lodge of the coroner’s office. There then followed a truly macabre scene, as Montagu attempted to defrost the dead man’s feet and Cholmondeley tried to lever on the boots. Finally, the ankles defrosted sufficiently and the boots went on, followed by gaiters. Thawing and refreezing was certain to hasten decomposition, but with the gaiters securely buckled, the feet would probably not fall off. It was, said Montagu with feeling, “the least pleasant part of our work.”11
Major Martin’s wallet, containing the letters from Pam and Father, was slipped into his inside breast pocket. His remaining pockets were filled with all the “litter” that made up a complete personality: pencil, loose change, keys, and, in an inspired last-minute addition, two ticket stubs for “Strike a New Note,” a variety show at the Prince of Wales Theatre starring the music-hall comedian Sid Field. This was another of Cholmondeley’s inspirations. HMS Seraph would depart from Holy Loch on Monday, April 19, and take ten or eleven days to reach Huelva. The Germans, however, needed to be persuaded that the body had washed up after no more than a week at sea, following an air crash. If the body was found on, say, April 28, then there must be something in Martin’s pockets indicating that he was still in London on April 24. This was where Sid Field could play his part. Cholmondeley purchased four tickets for his new show at the Prince of Wales Theatre on April 22, tore off the dated counterfoils of the two in the middle, and put them in the pocket of Major Martin’s trench coat. “We decided Bill Martin and Pam12 should have a farewell party before he left.” This would be their last evening together before the young officer headed to North Africa and certain death. The stubs would offer incontrovertible “proof” that the only way he could have reached Spain by the twenty-eighth was by aircraft.
From a close examination of the letters and pocket litter, the Germans would reconstruct Major Martin’s last, poignant days:
April 18: Check in to the Naval and Military Club
April 19: Receive bill from S.J. Phillips of New Bond Street for diamond ring
April 21: Lunch with Father and Gwatkin, the solicitor, at the Carlton Grill; Pam goes to dance with Jock and Hazel
April 22: Go to the theater with Pam, followed by a nightclub
April 24: Check out of Naval and Military Club, paying bill in cash (one pound and ten shillings); collect letters from Combined Operations HQ and War Office; board flight to Gibraltar at 2:59 p.m.; crash in the Gulf of Cádiz and die
The body was photographed twice on the mortuary gurney. Only the torso of the man holding the trolley is visible, but this was almost certainly PC May, the coroner’s officer. The mouth of the corpse has fallen open. The skin around the nose has sunk, and the upper part of the face appears discolored. The fingers of the left hand are bent, as if clawing in pain. These are the only known pictures of Glyndwr Michael, a man whom no one bothered to photograph when he was alive.
The already visible decomposition of the face raised another potential complication. The body would now have to be driven four hundred miles to Scotland, then loaded into a cramped submarine and taken on a ten-day sea voyage that might encounter rough weather. If the canister was jolted about, the face would surely suffer further damage from chafing against the sides of the canister. Again, Bentley Purchase came up with a solution: “Get an army blanket.13 Wrap the face and neck in it, and there will be no friction.” The body was rolled up in a blanket and “lightly tied with tape.”14 Following Bernard Spilsbury’s instructions, twenty-one pounds of dry ice had already been placed in the canister to expel the oxygen. The corpse was now “reverently”15 inserted into the homemade carrying case and packed around with more dry ice before the lid was screwed tightly in place. Major Martin now needed to get to Scotland, fast.
Waiting in the Hackney Mortuary parking lot was a Fordson BBE van, with two seats in front, fitted with a customized V-8 engine. At the wheel was a small man with a neat mustache, wearing civilian clothes. His name was St. John “Jock” Horsfall, an MI5 chauffeur who also happened to be one of the most famous racing drivers in the country.
St. John Ratcliffe Stewart Horsfall was born in 1910 into a Norfolk family of car fanatics: he acquired his first Aston Martin at the age of twenty-three. Between 1933 and the outbreak of war, he won trophy after trophy on the racing circuit. In 1938, Jock Horsfall took on six BMWs at Donington Park in the Black Car, his two-liter Speed Model Aston Martin, and beat them all. He seldom wore racing leathers or a crash helmet, preferring to race in “a shirt and tie,16 with either a bomber jacket or a sleeveless sweater.” Horsfall was shortsighted and astigmatic but declined to wear spectacles. He drove at staggering speed and suffered a number of serious accidents, including one in a trial run at Brooklands when his car, according to one eyewitness, “went berserk17 [and] tried to hurl itself over the top of the banking.” On another occasion, the throttle stuck open, forcing the engine up to 10,000 rpm until the clutch exploded, sending “potentially lethal pieces of metal”18 bursting through the bell housing at his feet.
At the start of the war, Horsfall had been recruited into the Security Service by Eric Holt-Wilson, the deputy director of MI5, who had employed the racing driver’s mother as a staff car driver during the First World War. Horsfall’s primary job was driving MI5 and MI6 officers and agents, double agents, and captured enemy spies from one place to another, very fast. He was also involved in testing the security of naval sites and airfields and was privy to a good deal of highly classified information.
Horsfall knew only that he was to transport to the west of Scotland a canister containing a dead body, which would be used to play a humiliating trick on the Germans. Horsfall was fond of practical jokes. He once wired up a toilet seat to a battery and waited for a girlfriend to use it. “The scream that Kath gave19 when the magneto was turned on was most satisfying,” he recalled. He even wrote a poem to commemorate the occasion.
I gave her time to start her piddle20
Then gave the thing a violent twiddle
Before I could complete a turn
She closed the circuit with her stern,
And shooting off the wooden seat
Emitted a most piercing shriek.
The idea of carrying a dead body through the night in order to bamboozle the Germans appealed strongly to Jock Horsfall’s sense of humor, yet he never told anyone of this, perhaps the most significant drive of his life. Reckless behind the wheel, outside a motorized vehicle Jock Horsfall was discretion personified. MI5 had a fleet of cars and vans, but for this operation Horsfall had selected one of his own, a six-year-old 30 cwt Fordson van, customized to accommodate an Aston Martin in the back, with a souped-up engine in which “he claimed to have done 100 mph21 in the Mall.” This was the van he used to transport the Black Car to the racetrack. It was past midnight when Montagu, Cholmondeley, and Horsfall loaded the canister into the back.
The trio paused for a brief pit stop at Cholmondeley’s mews flat off Cromwell Road, where they ate a light meal, with “one of us sitting22 in the window to make sure that no one stole Major Martin from the van (even if he was not worth much to the thief, he was valuable to us).” It was, Cholmondeley later said, the first time he had ever “had supper with a corpse parked23 in his garage.” Cholmondeley’s sister, Dottie, prepared some cheese sandwiches and a thermos of hot tea, and at around two in the morning the party set off, heading north. Jewell had requested that the additional passenger be brought aboard HMS Seraph no later than midday on April 18. Horsfall was racing against the clock, his second-favorite occupation.
Operation Mincemeat almost came to a premature and embarrassing end. On passing a local cinema where a spy film was showing, Jock Horsfall remarked on the “much better story”24 they were currently engaged in, became paralyzed with giggles, and nearly drove into a tram stop. A little later, the racing driver failed to see a roundabout until too late and shot over the grass circle in the middle. This is what driving with Jock Horsfall was like—an experience rendered yet more alarming by the need to drive with masked headlights during the blackout. Luckily there were few other cars about. Montagu and Cholmondeley took turns lying in the back and trying to sleep, as if that were possible when being driven at high speed by a myopic Grand Prix driver with no headlights. This was the closest either came to death in action during the war. It was still pitch dark as they hurtled across the border into Scotland.
South of the village of Langbank, on the road between Glasgow and Greenock along the west side of the River Clyde, they stopped to stretch and eat Dottie’s sandwiches. In the pallid dawn light of the Highlands, they posed for photographs beside the van. Jock Horsfall climbed into the back and was photographed drinking a cup of tea perched on the canister with the corpse inside.
At Greenock Dock, on the west coast of Scotland, a launch waited to meet them. With the help of half a dozen seamen and some rope, the four-hundred-pound canister was carefully lowered into the boat, followed by the dinghy and the oars. It took only a few minutes to motor to HMS Forth, the depot ship with the submarine lying alongside. The officers of the ship were “partially25 ‘in the know,’” and the arrival of the canister provoked no suspicion or comment among the crew, “being accepted as merely being26 a more than usually urgent and breakable F.O.S. shipment.” Montagu and Cholmondeley were greeted warmly by Jewell, who gave orders for the special shipment to be lowered onto the submarine the following morning, along with a large supply of gin, sherry, and whiskey he was transporting to refresh the Eighth Flotilla in Algiers. This cargo was also kept secret from the crew.
Jewell now received his final instructions from Montagu and Cholmondeley, and a large buff envelope containing the documents, which would be securely stashed in the submarine safe until the body was ready to be launched. In the ship’s log, the operation would be referred to as “191435B,” the code number of Jewell’s secret operational orders. At the last moment, Montagu decided to keep one of the dinghy oars as a souvenir. If the forty-four-man crew of the Seraph thought it strange to be taking on a dinghy with only one oar, no one said so.
After three months in the imaginary company of Bill Martin, Montagu and Cholmondeley headed for home. There was something oddly touching in the leave-taking. “By this time Major Martin27 had become a completely living person to us,” wrote Montagu, who would never have come across a man like Glyndwr Michael in his normal life. The fictional creation had taken on a form of reality. “We had come to feel28 that we had known Bill Martin from his early childhood and were taking a genuine and personal interest in the progress of his courtship and financial troubles.”
Montagu wrote in excitement to Iris, relaying his “news such as can be written”29: “I had to go up to Scotland30 last weekend. It was great fun as I and another couple had to drive up in a lorry. It was a lovely moonlit night, so wasn’t too bad even with war-time headlights and it was quite like old times to go for a long drive. I had two days on board a ship (stationary … I haven’t been to sea yet!!). It was great fun as they were a grand lot on board. When I got back things were very hectic as I had to button up the job I had been on.”
On board the Seraph, First Lieutenant David Scott, second-in-command, was instructed by Jewell to take extra care when bringing aboard the canister marked “optical instruments.” “I was to see that this package31 was treated with every precaution to ensure that it was not bumped while being embarked through the torpedo loading hatch,” he wrote. One torpedo was left behind, to make room for the canister in the reload rack. Like most wartime submarines, the Seraph did not have enough bunks to accommodate all the crew, so they took turns sleeping in the forward torpedo room. For the next ten days, they would be sleeping alongside Bill Martin.
At 1600 hours on April 19, HMS Seraph slipped her moorings and sailed out of Holy Loch into the Clyde. Montagu sent word to the Admiralty that Operation Mincemeat was under way. “It was a real thrill,”32 he reflected. Yet the excitement was tinged with real anxiety. “Would it work?”
The Seraph plowed toward the sea in the gloaming. “Spring was on the way,”33 wrote Scott, “but there was little sign of it in the wooded slopes of the hills on our port side. To starboard lay Dunoon, its outlines softened by a light mist and the smoke from wood and coal fires rising from the chimneys of its dour, grey houses.” Out in the broad Clyde, the Seraph linked up with her escort, a minesweeper, whose principal task was to ward off possible attacks from British aircraft, which tended to assume submarines were hostile unless there was clear evidence otherwise.
Abreast of the Isle of Arran in the Inner Hebrides, the Seraph performed a “trim dive”34 to ensure that the submarine was correctly balanced, and then headed into the Irish Sea. South of the Scilly Isles, the minesweeper departed, having taken aboard a canvas bag of the crew’s last letters. “A final exchange of ‘Good Luck’35 signals passed by light and we headed out into the Atlantic swell, diving shortly afterwards.” The Seraph was alone. The weather was fine, and with only a light sea running, the ship settled into the strange, half-lit world of a long submarine journey, compounded of equal parts boredom, anticipation, and fear. By day, the submarine would travel submerged; at night she would resurface and continue by diesel to recharge her batteries, and then dive again as dawn broke. If they were not attacked or otherwise diverted, covering 130 miles a day, the passage to Huelva should take ten days. It was stuffy belowdecks. The crew and officers were on watch for two hours and then off for four, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. “Monotony never really set in,”36 wrote Scott, “because at the back of our minds was the determination to survive, which demanded constant alertness.” By wartime standards, the food on the Seraph was excellent and plentiful. “We were never short of meat,37 butter, sugar or eggs. We even had luxuries like chocolate biscuits and honey. … We were lucky enough to have a chef who could bake good bread.” No one shaved, and everyone slept in their clothes. A few days out of Holy Loch and the smell of unwashed bodies and engine oil suffused the ship.
Submarine crews develop a sixth sense for the peculiar. Long periods spent underwater, in close proximity, with little to do, when the faintest noise or smallest mistake can mean death, render submariners acutely sensitive to anything out of the ordinary. Jewell firmly believed he was the only person aboard with an inkling of the additional passenger, but at least some members of the crew suspected that the strange tubular canister in the forward torpedo room did not contain optical or meteorological instruments. It was a telltale length and oddly heavy. When the submarine lurched, a faint sloshing noise could be heard inside. Crewmen began joking about “John Brown’s Body”38 moldering in the torpedo rack and “our pal Charlie,39 the weather man coming for a ride.” Jewell himself had no idea of the identity of the body, real or fictional; in his mind he, too, had begun to refer to his passenger as “Charlie.”
Lieutenant Scott lay on his bunk, attempting to read War and Peace and trying not to think about death. He admired Jewell, considering him the “epitome of what a submarine captain40 should be, quite fearless, he was invariably cool and calculating.” Yet however brave and astute his commanding officer, Scott knew that he was quite likely to die before his twenty-third birthday. “At that time, the chances of returning41 home from a Mediterranean based submarine were 50/50.” Before joining the Seraph, Scott had spent a week in London. On the last day of his leave, his uncle Jack and recently widowed mother took him to lunch in an expensive restaurant. When the time came to say good-bye, both mother and uncle had tears in their eyes. “I realised with a bit of a shock,”42 he recalled, “that they were thinking they might not see me again.”
A few feet away, in his own bunk, the commander of the Seraph, Lieutenant Bill Jewell, was not thinking about death. Indeed, in more than three years of the most ferocious submarine combat and several irregular and exceptionally dangerous missions, the thought of dying seems never to have crossed his mind.
Jewell had been born in the Seychelles, where his father, a doctor, was in the Colonial Service. He volunteered for submarine work in 1936. The war was already two years old when the young lieutenant qualified for command of the newly launched Seraph, an S-class submarine. Shortly after taking command, Jewell fell down the hatch. In 1946, a doctor pointed out that Jewell had broken two vertebrae: he fought almost the entire war with a broken neck.
His first patrol, in July 1942, had set the pattern for what followed: extreme danger, a narrow escape, and a certain amount of farce. The Seraph was fired on by an RAF plane but escaped serious damage. Then, in the waters off Norway, Jewell spotted a U-boat and blew it to pieces with a single torpedo. The Seraph’s first kill turned out to be a whale.
In October 1942, during the run-up to Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, Bill Jewell was given his first secret mission: transporting the American general Mark Clark, Eisenhower’s deputy, to the Algerian coast for secret negotiations with the French commanders there. The invasion, led by General Patton, was already under way, and the neutrality of the Vichy forces in French Algeria was considered critical if it was to succeed. Many Vichy officers were deeply hostile to the British following the sinking of much of the French fleet at Mers el-Kébir. Clark faced an extremely delicate situation. Jewell had the equally tricky task of getting him ashore without being spotted. On October 19, the Seraph and her American passengers arrived at the designated spot, a remote coastal villa some fifty miles west of Algiers. Soon after midnight, Jewell brought the submarine to within five hundred yards of the shore and the American negotiating party disembarked in four collapsible canoes, accompanied by a protection squad of three British Marines of the Special Boat Service, led by Roger “Jumbo” Courtney, a former big-game hunter with a “bashed-in sort of face43 and a blunt no-nonsense manner.”
The all-night negotiations went well, but at one point the visitors were forced to hide in a dusty cellar to avoid an impromptu visit from the gendarmes. Courtney suffered a coughing fit, which threatened to give them away. General Clark passed the choking commando some chewing gum.
“Your American gum44 has so little taste,” whispered Courtney, once the spasm subsided.
“Yes,” said Clark. “I’ve already used it.”
When the time came to pick up the party, Jewell brought the Seraph perilously close to shore, until she was almost aground. Clark appears to have been betrayed, and moments ahead of a French raiding party the general and his party dashed for the boats, paddled through the surf, and scrambled aboard the Seraph. Jewell gave the order to turn tail and then dive. Sir Andrew Cunningham, the addressee of one of the Mincemeat letters and Royal Navy commander in chief in the Mediterranean, described the joint Anglo-American adventure as “a happy augury for the future.”45
Jewell’s unflappability had marked him out for secret work, and his next assignment was even stranger: to pick up, from the south coast of France, General Henri Honoré Giraud. A charismatic, self-important, and popular veteran of the Great War, the sixty-three-year-old French general was seen as the only officer able to deliver French North African forces to the Allies. Giraud was hiding out with the French Resistance after having escaped from the Germans. Allied command decided that Giraud could be an important figurehead to galvanize Vichy opposition to the Germans, if he could be safely collected. The mission was code-named “Operation Kingpin.” The only problem was that the crusty general, like de Gaulle, was said to entertain a hearty loathing for the British and had insisted that if he were to be rescued, this must be done by Americans. The Seraph, therefore, would briefly have to adopt a new nationality. An American captain, Jerauld Wright, was placed in nominal command.
Flying the Stars and Stripes, Seraph duly waited off the coast at Le Lavandou until Jewell spotted the light signals from the shore and sent a boat to pick up Giraud. The French general managed to miss his footing while transferring to the submarine and was hauled aboard dripping wet. To maintain the charade, the crew of the Seraph attempted to adopt American accents and spent the rest of the voyage imitating Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart. General Giraud, it turned out, spoke English, and was not remotely fooled. He was far too proud, however, to acknowledge the trick.
In the wake of the North African invasion, the Seraph roamed the Mediterranean, conducting more traditional submarine operations and attacking any and every enemy vessel. In the space of a few weeks, she sank four cargo ships destined to supply Rommel’s army and disabled an Italian destroyer. Back in Algiers harbor, the piratical Jewell raised the Jolly Roger. Late in December 1942, Seraph was assigned to another secret mission: reconnaissance of the Mediterranean island of La Galite, fifty-five miles north of the African coast. The island was occupied by German and Italian troops and was used as a lookout post to monitor the movements of Allied ships. Jewell’s mission—code-named “Operation Peashooter”—was to reconnoiter the island in secret and establish whether it could be successfully attacked by a commando force led by an American, Colonel William Orlando Darby of the U.S. Army Rangers. On December 17, Jewell set off for Galita with Bill Darby as his passenger.
The two Bills struck up an immediate friendship, which was hardly surprising, since Darby was, in Jewell’s words, “a two-fisted fighting man”46 with a taste for danger that matched Jewell’s own. The Rangers were the counterpart to Britain’s Commandos, an elite and highly trained assault force. Formed in Northern Ireland under Darby’s leadership in 1942, the Rangers had already distinguished themselves in North Africa by their courage and devotion to their leader: “We’ll fight an army on a dare,47 we’ll follow Darby anywhere.” At thirty-one years old, “El Darbo,” as his troops called him, gave the impression of having been hewn out of Arkansas granite: three times in his career he spurned promotion in order to stay at the head of his troops, a varied crew that included a jazz trumpeter, a hotel detective, a gambler, and several toughened coalminers. At Arzew in North Africa, Darby had led the First Ranger Battalion into battle, hurling hand grenades in the face of heavy machine-gun fire, “always conspicuously48 at the head of his troops.” On the way to La Galite, Darby regaled Jewell and his crew with ribald stories. For two days, the Seraphprowled around the island charting possible landing spots, while the American took photographs. “I think we can do it,”49 declared Darby. Eventually, it was ruled that no troops could be spared for the assault on La Galite, and Operation Peashooter was called off, but not before Darby got a taste of Jewell’s methods. All friendly forces had been cleared from the operational area, and Jewell’s orders invited him to “sink on sight any vessel.”50 On the way back to Algiers, he rammed one U-boat underwater and attacked another with three torpedoes, one of which failed to detonate on impact and the other two of which veered off target owing to the damage sustained in the earlier collision. Even the unshakable Darby found the experience of underwater combat alarming, telling Jewell: “Put me ashore, give me a gun51 and there isn’t anyone or anything I won’t face. But, gee, Bill, I haven’t been so scared in my life as in the last two days.”
The Seraph had sustained serious damage to her bows, and her crew was suffering from the “constant strain,”52 as became apparent when two former friends fell out and “one grabbed a large,53 evil-looking carving knife from the galley and tried to stab the other in the back.” The Seraphwas ordered to return home for rest, recuperation, and repairs. On the return journey, the submarine was attacked, once again, by a flight of Allied bombers.
The repairs at Blyth dockyard had reset the submarine’s “broken nose,”54 giving the Seraph “a lithe, graceful look.”55 A cartoon of Ferdinand the Bull was painted on her conning tower, a reference to the children’s story about the bull who shunned the bullring—a nickname reflecting the fact that Seraph spent more time on special missions than on operational patrols.
As the Seraph made toward Huelva, Jewell was itching for another scrap but knew he must avoid contact with the enemy if possible. “We were told that we were not56 going to be required to attack anything, as this was more important.” The RAF had issued strict instructions to aircraft not to attack any submarines on the route, and naval intelligence confirmed that there were no known enemy vessels in the Gulf of Cádiz. But then, west of Brest, about midway through the voyage, the submariners heard a noise they all knew and dreaded: the “unmistakable sounds57 of a submarine being depth charged.” Somewhere, very close at hand, a duel was under way. “We knew that at least58 one of our boats was in the vicinity,” wrote Lieutenant Scott, “and as each series of explosions hit our pressure hull like a hammer, despite the distance, we feared for the safety of our friends.” Jewell had his orders, and the Seraph continued south. Scott returned to War and Peace.
At the precise moment Bill Jewell was uncharacteristically turning his back on a fight, Ewen Montagu and Jean Leslie were preparing to go out to the theater and dinner, for the last time, as Bill Martin and his fiancée, Pam.