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He wanted only what every journalist of the time did: an exclusive interview with the Duke of Windsor. What he got was an astonishing proposition that sent him on an urgent top-secret visit to the White House and a once-in-a-lifetime story that was too hot to print—until now.
December 1991 | Volume 42, Issue 8
It has been described, by John Costello in Mask of Treachery and by Barrie Penrose and Simon Freeman in Conspiracy of Silence, as an assignment authorized by King George VI (the duke’s brother) to find any incriminating material about Windsor in Germany and deliver it to the royal family. Both books maintain that Blunt was successful in his endeavors. Most recently the story has been dismissed as lacking documentation by Philip Ziegler, in Edward VIII.
But the question remains sensitive. If there was such a mission and if incriminating documents were found, an investigation would be needed to discover if Blunt, whose hidden masters were the Soviets, had passed anything he found to Moscow and if the Soviet government had ever made use of such material in its dealings with Britain and the West.
Peter Wright, the assistant director of M15 who questioned Blunt, reveals in Spycatcher that he was told by Michael Adeane, the queen’s personal secretary, that Blunt might mention “an assignment he undertook on behalf of the Palace—a visit to Germany at the end of the war.” Wright reports that Adeane asked that the matter not be pursued, stating, “Strictly speaking, it is not relevant to considerations of national security.” Wright declares that he never discovered the secret of this mission even though he spent hundreds of hours with Blunt. “By then,” he adds, “the Palace had had several centuries to learn the difficult art of scandal burying.”
But that art did not reach to the memo my father wrote and the vivid events it recorded. At a time when bombs were raining on England, he became witness to a scandal of prodigious dimensions.
The duke may have deluded himself into thinking he had the safeguard of plausible deniability by sending the proposal first through Captain Drury to my father and then through my father to the President. But the memo leaves no doubt that it was Windsor’s plan.
Nothing less than revolution was on Windsor’s mind. He had dismissed the suggestion that a revolution in Germany might depose Hitler. In the duke’s opinion, that was “wishful thinking” and wrong; he declared that “it would be a tragic thing for the world if Hitler were overthrown.” Then, through his spokesman, Captain Drury, the former monarch revealed that he was subject to his own wishful thoughts: “Tell Mr. Roosevelt that if he will make an offer on intervention for peace, that before anyone in England can oppose it, the Duke of Windsor will instantly issue a statement supporting it and that will start a revolution in England and force peace.”
Did the duke harbor hopes that such a revolution would restore him to the throne? The question seems almost irrelevant. By sending his plea to the President, he had already stepped beyond the bounds of diplomacy and trespassed on treason.
Who in the British government knew what he had proposed, and when did they know it? Considering the fact that Roosevelt knew even before my father told him, it is hard to believe that British intelligence, arguably the finest in the West at that time, did not.
Did Captain Drury report the proposal? Was he ever questioned? Published references to Drury (who has died) are sparse. There are glimpses of him in Bloch’s The Duke of Windsor’s War, where he is described as “a First World War comrade” of the duke and the brother-in-law of Maj. Gen. Sir Richard Howard-Vyse, Windsor’s superior during his work at the military mission in France. A brief paragraph in The New York Times on September 22, 1942, reports that Drury left Nassau to offer his services in the war. It is easy to speculate that he had been in a perfect position as the duke’s aide-decamp to act as informant for British intelligence. But why did Roosevelt call him a “bad boy”?
One can understand why no action was taken against Windsor during the war. But is it possible that there was no investigation later? Was anything found in German archives to indicate that Hitler knew of Windsor’s offer to the President or that Nazis had in any way supported it?
Only others can answer such questions. But in asking them, one is forced to wonder if the royal family and successive British governments have engaged in a long and collective cover-up to keep hidden one of the darkest secrets of modern history.