The Communists

Part 5 - The Ewer spy ring

In November 1924 a very strange advert appeared in the communist leaning Daily Herald.

Labour Group carrying out investigation would like to receive information and details from anyone who has had any dealings with any Secret Service Department.

It was of course slightly more detailed than that but it set alarm bells ringing in MI5. They eventually made contact with the placer of the ad and it turned out to be William Norman Ewer, a journalist working for the Daily Herald. MI5 made contact but the contact was being followed by William Dale, a former Special Branch detective, a communist who was sacked for going on strike. Dale twigged the man was from MI5 and Ewer dropped him like a hot brick. There were in fact two watchers, the other was Rose Edwardes who was spotted paying a bill for the Federated Press of America. There were watchers keeping an eye on the watchers. The manager of FPA was Ewer and it was a communist front used for passing messages around various countries.

Ewer had already come to MI5’s attention during the war, he was a pacifist and pro-German and was always trying to stir up mutinies in the armed forces. Bit strange being pro-German when he was a communist but maybe he hated his own country most of all.

Ewer was receiving almost daily mail from Paris. Some of this seemed to originate in the French Foreign Office , some of it was from India and concerned attempts to overthrow the Raj. One of the Soviet obsessions they had inherited from the Tsar was the desire to rid India of the Brits and they sent money to Indian communists as a way of helping this happen.

Several of the Daily Herald‘s foreign correspondents were sending reports back to the FPA in London to be forwarded to Moscow.

Walter Dale had the help of various former policemen, some had been in Special Branch, plus the Vigilance Detective Agency where Rose Edwardes’ father was head detective. They were seen loitering around outside several embassies and even SIS’s HQ. The owner of Vigilance, Jack Hayes, was suspected of being the recruiter of dodgy coppers.

These ex coppers had also recruited two detectives in Scotland Yard, both members of Special Branch. Inspector Ginhoven and Sergeant Jane. The realisation that these two had been betraying details of raids and warrants for intercepting mail and phone calls was a massive shock to MI5, it had rendered much of their work useless.

Dale and his merry men had four functions

  1. Keep an eye on British Intelligence Services and its staff.
  2. Watch Russians in the UK who Moscow suspected might not be totally loyal.
  3. Check out certain people the Russians wanted more detail about.
  4. Ensure that Ewer and his men were not being observed by the Security Services.

All in all, plenty to keep them busy.

The two Special Branch informers had tipped off Ewer about the ARCOS raid, this may be why no really incriminating material was found there, and one of Dale’s ex policemen had afterwards visited the man whose story had instigated the raid and made a veiled threat.

It seems Ewer had been running a kind of clearing house for passing on messages to the Soviets. He had also tried to recruit people from SIS without success but by 1930 was being accused of being deviationist and subsequently expelled from the CPGB.

By 1949 Ewer was Foreign Editor of the Daily Herald and had apparently given up the secret work he had been doing two decades before. Maxwell Knight was chosen to try and debrief him on his days at the FPA and had two meetings with him accompanied by a lot of paperwork. Ewer did not really give much away so it remained unclear as to exactly what he had been up to all those years ago, there were still a lot of loose ends that remain to this day.


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