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14 November 2011

Dudley Clarke (1899 - 1974 ) secret agent.

Dudley Wrangel Clarke was born, with the caul, in Ladysmith, Natal, during the four-month siege that was an early engagement in the Second Boer War. As an adult he spent several years lobbying the War Office that he was entitled to the Boar War campaign medal.

He was educated at Charterhouse School for three years, and then joined the Royal Horse Artillery in 1916, and a month after his 17th birthday was at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. He was too young to go to France, so he applied to join the Royal Flying Corps and was posted to Egypt, where he got his wings.

He had the knack of being in the right place and knowing the right people. He had many friends in the 11th Hussars, one of the snootiest regiments, despite being a mere artilleryman himself. He liked to enter and leave rooms silently and without being noticed.

Between the wars he was involved in various Middle East crises and rose through the ranks. He also put on the Royal Artillery display for the 1925 Royal Tournament, and wrote and directed Christmas pantomimes at the Staff College at Camberley in 1933-4, and the Silver Jubilee Display in Aden in 1935. From 1936 he was a Brigade Major in Palestine.

During the Second World War Lieutenant Colonel Clarke ran a deception section in Cairo under MI6 whose job was to deceive the Axis about Allied troop movements. For a flight to Egypt, which took six days during the war as they had to go via the Canary Islands, Lagos and Khartoum, he impersonated a US war correspondent and wore a loud pair of black-and-white plus-fours. He recruited a double of General Montgomery who spent time in the Mediterranean while the real Montgomery was in England; he created a fictitious First United States Army Group in Kent to fool the Germans that Calais would be invaded. He created a fake Special Air Service paratrooper regiment, and when such a troop was really created he arranged for it to have the same name.

Photographs taken by the Madrid police
In October 1941 Clarke travelled to Lisbon and Madrid under the guise of being The Times war correspondent, Wrangel Craker. He was arrested in the latter city in women’s clothes. He tried claiming that he was a novelist studying men’s reactions, and then that he “was taking the feminine garments to a lady in Gibraltar and thought that he would try them on for a prank”. The police considered him to be a ‘homosexualist’, but a German agent who believed that he would assist the Germans arranged Clarke’s release.

This allowed Alan Hillgarth, the British naval attaché, to get him away, and then to Gilbraltar, where he joined a convoy for London. German agents in Ceuta and Algeciras signalled its departure, and U-boats were able to sink several of the ships, including the Aristo where the crew and passengers had five minutes to get to the lifeboats and rafts. Six died and 45 including Clarke escaped.

Hillgarth sent the police photographs to London, where they were shown to Prime Minister Churchill. The cross-dressing caused short-term embarrassment to Clarke, but did not affect his career.

After the war Clarke was made a Companion of the Bath. He retired from the Army and worked for the Conservative Party, and was on the board of Securicor, Ltd. He wrote and published an account of his early military career, and a second volume that was never published. He wrote a history of the 11th Hussars. He then approached the authorities to do a book on the wartime deceptions, but got nowhere. Books on the topic did not appear until the 21st century.

In 1955 he wrote a thriller, Golden Arrow in which he pays a lot of attention to the women’s clothes.
“With all her natural beauty she seemed sadly incapable of acquiring a proper flair for dress ... superbly endowed with grey-green eyes and Titian Hair, with the long slim legs and the gently-curved figure of a model, she could usually be relied upon to ruin the effect of the most exquisite outfit with some shocking misalliance ... As she swung proudly into the hall of the hotel, his first glance went straight to the revolting little hat in exactly the wrong shade of mustard”.
Clarke never married and died at age 75 with an obituary in The Times.
  • Dudley Clarke. Seven Assignments. London: J. Cape, 1948.
  • Dudley Clarke The Eleventh at War, Being the Story of the XIth Hussars (Prince Albert's Own) Through the Years 1934-1945. London: M. Joseph, 1952.
  • Dudley Clarke. Golden Arrow. Hodder & Stoughton, 1955.
  • Thaddeus Holt. The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004:12-4, 791.
  • Guy Maynard Liddell, edited by Nigel West. The Guy Liddell Diaries Volume 1, 1939-1942. London: Routledge, 2005: 180-1, 185, 192, 200.
  • Nicholas Rankin. Churchill's Wizards: The British Genius for Deception 1914-1945. London: Faber and Faber, 2008: 255-67, 479-80, 493-503, 549-50, 593. Reprinted as A Genius for Deception: How Cunning Helped the British Win Two World Wars. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Piers Brendon. “Dark arts and self-delusions”. The Guardian, 4 Oct 2009.
  • Ben Macintyre. Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory. New York: Harmony Books, 2010: 38, 153-4.
  • Duncan Gardham. “MI6’s cross-dressing spy”. The Telegraph, 22 Sep 2010.
  • Jeffery Keith. MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service, 1909-1949. London: Bloomsbury Publ, 2011: 406-7.
  • “Dudley Clarke”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Holt’s The Deceivers, 2004, says a lot about Clarke, but nothing about the incident in Madrid. The first public discussion is in Guy Liddell’s Diaries, published 2005: “At the time he was dressed as a woman complete with brassière etc. Why he wore this disguise nobody quite knows. ... It may be that he is just the type who imagines himself as the super secret service agent”. Bits and variations on this are quoted in most of the subsequent books. The other secret agents could understand disguise, but not why he would also wear the underwear.

The caul was believed to protect from drowning.  That is why good money for paid for the caul of another.   It worked in that Clarke did not go down with the Aristo.

Noël Coward coined a term for leaving without being noticed: exsinuate.

Trivia: there are several movie connections:
  1. While the full tale of the deception departments was not allowed to be told until the 21st century, two of their successes became best-selling books and then films: The Man Who Never Was, 1956, and I Was Monty’s Double, 1958.   The 1981 film, Eye of the Needle stars Donald Sutherland as a German spy who discovers and photographs the fake US Army Group.
  2. Dudley’s brother, T.E.B. Clarke was a film script writer.  He was awarded an Oscar for The Lavender Hill Mob, 1951, and Sons and Lovers, 1960.  He also wrote Passport to Pimlico, and The Blue Lamp.


  1. Where does "exsinuate" come from? I quite like this neologism but the only references I can find via Google are your blog and things like hoary old entomology texts. I've tried the books you mentioned and Coward's autobio/letters/diaries too.

  2. Obviously 'exsinuate' comes from changing the first two letters from 'insinuate'. This is a logical move. I encountered it in Coward's short stories, and took up the usage. Decades later I cannot remember which particular stories.

  3. I have a confusion, there is another picture around in the internet of Clarke with a moustache, clearly other person, but I'm not sure which is the real Dudley Clark? Can anyone help?


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