Double life of wartime secret agent Mrs Margaret Spencer

Margaret Spencer, who secretly served in the SOE in the Second World War SUS-140716-163609001
Margaret Spencer, who secretly served in the SOE in the Second World War SUS-140716-163609001

It was all a long time ago so, to make sense, I will start at the beginning.

“In 1940 I was engaged to be married to a local curate and we were to be married on September 29.

“To cut a sad episode short, he became a nervous wreck with the continual hit and run bombing of that summer and decided to run away to America.

“He wanted me to go with him. Well, I told him I was a sailor’s daughter and we did not run away so that was that.

“One morning before Christmas, a member of my family asked me to go for a ride with him.

“A black car and driver arrived and we drove for about an hour to a large house in extensive grounds.

“Although I made that journey many times, to this day I have no idea where it was.

“I was introduced by number to three men. I spent the day questioning and being questioned and in the end I was asked to swear my allegiance to the King and sign the Official Secrets Act.

“Little did I think that it would be 55 years before it was rescinded. I was given my warrant and a Colt 45.

“I must point out guns held no terror for me.

“I had been handling them from an early age.

“Dad was a gunnery instructor in the Navy and had won the Bisley Challenge Cup for three years on the trot and I had spent many happy hours on target practice both win a rifle and revolver.

“My main job in those early days was tracking down Fifth Communists who were ready to assist the Germans should they invade.

“There was a large concentration of them on the south coast so back I was sent to Eastbourne, and while carrying on nursing I was ever observant and with two other agents we pretty well cleaned up the town.

“We all hated traitors.

“A German spy was serving his country as we were serving ours but a traitor, I could shoot without a second thought.

“I must explain everybody in the “service” had to be seen to be working in a reserved occupation as part of our cover, that’s when we learnt to do without sleep, just cat naps at any opportunity.

“One one occasion I was careless and it nearly cost me my life but I was saved by a bomb.

“It was the week before Christmas 1942, I was loaded with presents during some last minute shopping.

“As I was outside Marks and Spencer, I saw coming towards me a man I had been trailing for most of the night.

“As he approached his hand went into his coat, so I did the only thing I could and threw myself on the ground between other shoppers’ feet and at that precise moment Marks took a direct hit and although I was badly blasted and in hospital for weeks, the people around me including my ‘quarry’ were killed.

“The funny thing was somebody pinched my gun and holster but they did me a good turn because when I was back on duty I was given a very neat little American pistol which was much easier to hide.

“This I kept until I retired from active service in 1977.

“The next place I was sent to was Croydon.

“One of our men had been killed there and as a cover I trained as a midwife at Mayday Hospital so was able to cycle all over the district.

“While there I married a doctor in the air force at St Mildred’s, Addiscombe. I had met him in Eastbourne before he was called up. I was then sent on a crash course on tropical medicine.

“Then came the job which had been planned for me all along.

“My husband was stationed on a bomber station and “conveniently” a nearby isolation hospital needed a matron and surprise, surprise I got the job.

“This consisted of three large prefab huts, each containing two wards and the usual service area.

“One for TB, one for diptheria, which in those days was prevalent and one for scarlet fever.

“Believe me, that kept me busy.

“But in the grounds was an old large house unoccupied.

“It was to be a safe hospital for agents who one way or another had come to grief.

“This time was also a satisfying one.

“My old singing master had heard that Ely Cathedral was wanting female choristers so he wrote to them. The upshot being I was asked to go for a voice test etc.

“For the next 18 months I was leading soprano in the Cathedral Choir and the highlight was to sing the solo, I Know that my Redeemer Liveth, on Easter Sunday.

“During this time I had many trips to the continent to bring agents home and there was one etched into my memory.

“It was Christmas Eve and that morning it had been confirmed I was expecting a baby. Neither the hospital or house were busy so I was looking forward to going home early and going to the party to be held in the RAF Mess that night.

“Well, I had a phone call to say wear dark, warm clothing and I would be picked up in a car.

“It transpired there was an agent with rabies just outside Berlin who had to be picked up before he became delirious and gave away too many secrets. I went into a small reconnaissance plane with just the pilot.

“We flew very high to miss the German searchlights then came in very low to the field where two rows of torches miraculously came on.

“We landed, the patient was loaded on and we were airborne again in ten minutes.

“It was just as well as the poor chap was already becoming noisy.

“I looked at my watch and it was just midnight so I said a little prayer to the Babe of Bethlehem to keep us safe.

“So that is why the Midnight Service on Christmas Eve is very special to me.

“We got home safely but alas, the poor man died the next day.

“During all these activities my husband was in complete ignorance.

“He just thought I was busy at the hospital. He knew nothing about the house. Secrecy meant just that, not even your nearest and dearest knew about your double life.”