Author: Michael & Kathleen McMenamin
Publisher: First Edition Design Publishing
Genre: Historical Thriller
Winston Churchill’s Scottish goddaughter, Mattie McGary, the adventure-seeking Hearst photojournalist, reluctantly returns to Nazi Germany in the summer of 1934 and once again finds herself in deadly peril in a gangster state where widespread kidnappings and ransoms are sanctioned by the new government.
Mattie turns down an early request by her boss Hearst to go to Germany to report on how Hitler will deal with the SA Brown Shirts of Ernst Rohm who want a true socialist ‘second revolution’ to follow Hitler’s stunning first revolution in 1933. Having been away from Germany for over a year, her reputation as “Hitler’s favorite foreign journalist” is fading and she wants to keep it that way.
Instead, at Churchill’s suggestion, she persuades Hearst to let her investigate one of the best-kept secrets of the Great War—that in 1915, facilitated by a sinister German-American working for Henry Ford, British and Imperial German officials essentially committed treason by agreeing Britain would sell raw rubber to Germany in exchange for it selling precision optical equipment to Britain. Why? To keep the war going and the profits flowing. After Mattie interviews Ford’s German-American go-between, however, agents of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch are sent by Churchill’s political opponents in the British government to rough her up and warn her she will be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act unless she backs off the story.
Left no choice, Mattie sets out for Germany to investigate the story from the German side and interview the German nobleman who negotiated the optics for rubber deal. There, Mattie lands right in the middle of what Hearst originally wanted her to investigate—Adolf Hitler believes one revolution is enough—and she learns that Hitler has ordered the SS to assassinate all the senior leadership of Ernst Rohm’s SA Brown Shirts as well as other political enemies on Saturday 30 June, an event soon known to History as ‘The Night of the Long Knives’.
Mattie must flee Germany to save her life. Not only does the German-American working for Henry Ford want her story on the optics for rubber treason killed, he wants her dead along with it. Worse, Mattie’s nemesis, the ‘Blond Beast’ of the SS, Reinhard Heydrich, is in charge of Hitler’s purge and he’s secretly put her name on his list…
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Number 10 Downing Street
18 December 1918
WINSTON CHURCHILL, the 44-year-old Minister of Munitions in His Majesty’s Government, was late for a meeting with his friend, Prime Minister David Lloyd George. He checked his pocket watch and smiled. He was only 20 minutes late. LG surely would keep him waiting for at least that long, Churchill thought, as he made his way up the narrow staircase to the antechamber of the Prime Minister’s office, announced his presence to an attractive secretary in her early 20s. He shook his head. LG always had young attractive women working for him and, if widespread gossip were correct, no doubt under him as well. Churchill lit a cigar and took a seat. It gave him time to gather his thoughts.
Churchill had been Minister of Munitions for two and a half years, his first office since he had been unceremoniously dumped in May 1915 as First Lord of the Admiralty by then-Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. That was the price Churchill’s old party, the Tories, had exacted from the Liberal Asquith for them to join a coalition government. While Asquith had kept him on in what passed for a war cabinet, Churchill had seen his influence over events diminish to the point where he resigned and left to join his old regiment in the trenches in France and Belgium. LG succeeded Asquith as Prime Minister in December 1916 and his old friend rescued Churchill from the political wilderness six months later, making him Minister of Munitions.
Though only 44 years old, Churchill was no stranger to high office. Already, he had been Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary and First Lord of the Admiralty. Still, today was a first for him. In all those offices over a ten-year span, he had never had occasion to report to the Prime Minister that he had uncovered evidence of high treason in his department by one of his predecessors. It was a matter of chance that he had uncovered it at all. Upon the war’s conclusion, he had commissioned the preparation of a history of the Ministry of Munitions. He did so because he intended to write his own history of the Great War and there was a gap of two years from 1915 to 1917 where he held no office and had no access to official documents. A history of his new ministry would help fill that gap.
Churchill assigned his long-time Personal Private Secretary, Edward Marsh, to supervise the project. To his surprise two days ago, Marsh brought him a thick manila folder stamped ‘Top Secret’ in red ink on the front and back of the folder. Marsh, a slim man with receding dark hair and bushy black eyebrows, had been Churchill’s Private Secretary in every office he held.
“I think you’d better see this, Winston,” Marsh had said. “It’s most distressing. I didn’t want to believe it, but the memoranda in the file make it all too clear that it’s true.”
Carefully opening the folder and reviewing its contents, Churchill was astonished. Lord Bertram Lyndon was a traitor! He had no choice. He had to bring this to Lloyd George’s attention even though it pained him to do so.
Lord Bertram, the Earl of Lyndon, ‘Bertie’ as he was known to his friends, had married Churchill’s first love, Priscilla Plumpton, in 1902 after her parents had persuaded her to break off her ‘unofficial’ engagement to Churchill. The ostensible reason for their doing so was that Lord Lyndon would make their daughter more financially secure than would Churchill, depending as he did on only his income from writing and public speaking tours as well as modest sums from his father’s and maternal grandfather’s trusts. Churchill had greatly resented Priscilla’s parents for this. True, he was not a man of inherited wealth, but that was only because his father, Lord Randolph, was the second son of the Duke of Marlborough and hence had taken nothing when the old Duke died. Instead, everything went to his older brother, the new Duke.
Churchill had written bitterly to his mother on the occasion of their broken engagement, complaining that no one of his age—then 25—had started from nothing and accumulated a fortune of over 10,000 pounds sterling in such a short time. He had told her that Priscilla was the only woman with whom he could ever happily spend the rest of his life.
Churchill, as he subsequently learned, had been wrong. He had no way of knowing that, eight years later, he would meet and marry Clementine Hozier, literally the love of his life—his ‘Clemmie’—or that in his memoirs in 1932, he would write ‘I married and lived happily ever afterwards’.
Churchill still had a soft spot in his heart for the woman he called ‘Cilla’ and they had continued to correspond even after their respective marriages. Exposing her husband as a traitor would cause her great distress and subject her to public ridicule were it ever made known. But his first duty was to his country. Besides, if Lord Lyndon could be tried secretly—which was Churchill’s hope—then he had every expectation that Bertie would do the right thing and take his own life rather than wait to be hanged. After all, he had a three-year-old son who would inherit the family estate and Cilla could manage affairs for their son until he came of age.
“The Prime Minister will see you now Mr. Churchill,” the pretty young secretary said. Churchill rose and walked into the British leader’s office.
“Winston, how good to see you,” Lloyd George said. The short, white-maned Welshman with a broad, bushy mustache of the same color came around his desk and extended his hand. He was dressed as usual in a wing-collared shirt, black bow tie and dark blue suit. “How have you been? I’m pleased you asked to see me. Otherwise, I would have sent for you myself. I have a new position in mind for you. But that can wait. Your message said it was ‘urgent’. Don’t tell me the Turks and Greeks are at it again.”
“No, Prime Minister, it’s far more grave than that,” Churchill replied.
Lloyd George raised his eyebrows at the use of his formal title, which Churchill did not normally do when they were alone. ‘Winston’ and ‘David’ were how these two old friends and political allies usually addressed each other.
“That serious, eh Winston?” the Prime Minister said. “Pray go on.”
“A file has been brought to my attention, David, that establishes that one of my predecessors, Lord Bertram Lyndon, was trading directly with the enemy in 1915 supplying certain raw materials—specifically raw rubber—absolutely essential to Imperial Germany’s war-making capabilities in exchange for Germany supplying us with precision optical products we bloody well could have purchased elsewhere. Had Germany been denied those raw materials, we could have brought the Hun to his knees in 1916! A million lives would have been spared! The man should be hanged! Here, look at the file for yourself.” Churchill said and handed the manila folder across the table to the Prime Minister.
Lloyd George took the folder, opened it and briefly scanned the contents. He looked up at Churchill and spoke softly. “And what would you have me do, Winston?”
Churchill was taken aback. What a curious question. There was only one thing to do. “Refer it to the Attorney General for criminal prosecution, of course. Preferably with the press and public excluded.”
The Prime Minister sat back in his leather desk chair, steepled his fingers and looked over them at Churchill. “I can’t do that. You were effectively out of office in June of 1915 when Bertie cut that deal with the Germans, but he didn’t act entirely on his own. The War Cabinet was not consulted, but, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Prime Minister Asquith brought me into it after Kitchener had come up with the plan. I approved, as did the Prime Minister. Moreover, your two old Irish Home Rule adversaries, the Attorney General Edward Carson and the Colonial Secretary Bonar Law, did so also. Had to have the Tories on board, don’t you know?”
Churchill was uncharacteristically speechless. He sat there a moment before the words came to him. “I find this all difficult to believe. Why, David? Why?”
“We really had no choice. We needed what the Germans could deliver to prosecute the war and vice versa. We had to keep fighting because in those early days, the war was so popular that any government that tried to negotiate a peaceful settlement with Germany would have been thrown from office in a heartbeat. Besides, by then, the war had proven so profitable to so many financiers and industrialists in both Britain and Germany that no one in industry, finance or public life wanted it to stop too soon. Believe me,” Lloyd George said as he leaned forward and gave the file to Churchill. “This is only the tip of the iceberg. I suggest you let sleeping dogs lie.”
Churchill wanted to ask about the rest of the iceberg, but he decided against it. He thought he knew what it was. Still, he was appalled by Bertie Lyndon literally trading with the enemy. If the British public ever learned of this, they might not wait for a treason trial and Lloyd George, Asquith, Carson, Law and Lord Lyndon might find themselves all hanging from lampposts. He wondered briefly if any of those profits had found their way into the pockets of the politicians responsible. Bertie certainly didn’t need the money, but the same could not be said of any of the others, especially Lloyd George.
“But there’s nothing in the file to show this was an approved transaction,” Churchill said.
Lloyd George laughed. “Of course there isn’t. Asquith was an idiot, but I’m not. I made it clear that my cooperation depended upon there being no record of our approval. The others agreed. Lyndon was to be our scapegoat if it ever became public. But you and I are not going to do that, are we? It would be a clear violation of the Official Secrets Act, don’t you think? So, take the file back to the archives of the Munitions Ministry; bury it; and forget all about it. Besides, munitions are no longer your concern. Once the election results are final, you will be the new Minister for War as well as the new Minister for Air.”
Churchill was surprised. And elated. He had not known exactly what his office would be after the 14 December election four days ago. The Admiralty again would have been nice. This was better. Save for being Chancellor of the Exchequer or even Prime Minister, he could not have asked for a better position or, rather, positions as War and Air were two separate ministries.
“Thank you David, I appreciate your confidence in me. But why, if I may ask, are you putting me in charge of both War and Air?” Churchill asked, wondering if both positions were a bribe to keep him quiet about the devil’s bargain Lord Lyndon had cut with the Germans.
Lloyd George laughed again. “Economy! We have to reduce expenses. You’ll do two jobs, but it will cost the Crown only one salary.”
AS CHURCHILL walked back to the Ministry of Munitions he would soon be leaving, he pondered what to do with the Lord Lyndon treason file. He could place it back in the Munitions Ministry’s Archives as LG had suggested, but that meant it might be re-discovered by a civil servant who was as appalled as Churchill and who might leak it to the Labour Party who would certainly make it public. That would prove highly embarrassing to Lord Lyndon who had recently been appointed Viceroy of India. Indeed, the new peacetime coalition government might well be toppled in the process. Wholly apart from the Official Secrets Act, Churchill thought, the British Empire was facing too many severe threats right now to allow that to happen—the insurrection in Ireland, unrest in the Middle East, India pressing for Home Rule, the Bolsheviks in Russia, not to mention Churchill’s biggest problem facing him as the new Minister for War—demobilization of the British Army before its enlisted men could duplicate the mutinies in Russia and Germany that had forced the Czar and the Kaiser from power.
Even worse, from Churchill’s perspective, was the identity of the American who had served as the liaison between Britain and Imperial Germany. He had said nothing to Lloyd George about it because he had no proof. Still, a close confidant at the Admiralty had confided in him that lurking in the secret files of British Naval Intelligence was a March 1916 report based on two reliable sources identifying the American as an agent of Imperial Germany. Reporting directly to Franz von Papen, the German spymaster in America, the sources claimed that the American was behind the sabotage of several U.S. munitions factories whose entire output had been destined for Britain. If that ever became public knowledge, Bertie and his co-conspirators like Lloyd George, Asquith, Carson, and Law would be branded as fools as well as traitors.
Even though Churchill disagreed very much with what Lyndon had done, the man was no more a traitor than the higher-ups in both parties who had approved his actions. The new Viceroy of India did not deserve to be the scapegoat for those higher-ups who supported trading with the enemy, but who did not have the courage of their convictions to document what they had done. Bertie did not deserve to have his reputation besmirched for doing something he and the senior government ministers wrongly thought was in their country’s best interests.
Of course, Churchill had to admit, if only to himself, he was equally, possibly even more, motivated by his concern for Lord Bertie’s beautiful wife. She did not deserve to be publicly scorned for her husband’s actions that had been fully, if secretly, supported by His Majesty’s government. Churchill smiled. To him, she would always be Cilla, ‘his Cilla’. Even Clemmie, who knew of their young romance, called her ‘his Cilla’. Churchill made his decision. The file would not go back into the archives. He would keep it safely in his private papers. Lady Priscilla Lyndon’s reputation would be preserved, even if her husband did not deserve the same.