Jean Leslie (1923 – 2012)

Jean Leslie, MI5 secretary whose photograph may or may not have changed the outcome of the Second World War, has died, aged 88.

It was quite provocative and personal by the standards of the day

It was a plan devised by two, approved by twenty: to mislead the Axis powers that instead of attacking Sicily, the Allies intended to invade Greece, then Sardinia, and then southern France. Live agents were risky — they could be tortured or turned, so the ideal plan was to create an agent who was not only fictitious but also dead.

Inside Section 17M, a unit of the British intelligence service so secret that only a handful of people knew of its existence, two officers with impeccably British names of Montagu and Cholmondeley created this imaginary agent, his likes and dislikes, his habits and hobbies, his talents and weaknesses. They gave him a middle name, a religion, a nicotine habit and a place of birth. They gave him a hometown, rank, regiment, bank manager, solicitor and cufflinks. Most importantly, they gave him a supportive family, money, friends, and a fiancée named Pam.

To create a believable fiancée, Cholmondeley wanted a photograph of Pam, so he asked the most attractive girls from the Secret Service to provide the kind of photo which a red-blooded young Marines officer would be likely to carry about his person. It was an open invitation, but Montagu in fact already had a strong candidate in mind — Jean Leslie. Montagu indicated to her that she might be a favoured candidate were she to be interested, and Miss Leslie provided the photo taken the previous summer; she had been swimming in the River Thames near Little Wittenham in Oxfordshire, with a Grenadier Guardsman on leave called Tony and he had taken the above photograph.

With that photograph, Major William “Bill” Martin of the Royal Marines, ID 148228, was complete. Among his possessions, placed with fictitious invasion plans, were an angry letter from Lloyd’s about an overdraft, a bill for shirts, a used bus ticket, a stern letter from his father, and a couple of love letters from affectionate but dim Pam — composed by Leslie’s own spinster superior. A drowned body was taken from a morgue in London and dispatched to the Spanish coast, where pro-Nazi officials passed the misleading documents to the Germans.The deception was indeed effective.

Hitler became convinced that any attack on Sicily would only be a decoy for the main assault in Greece and Sardinia, and for two weeks after the Sicily landings on the island on July 9, 1943, no attempt was made to rush reinforcements to meet them.

— see Ben McIntyre’s Operation Mincemeat for more details.

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