Behind the Front – Quiet Canadians clandestine work during WWII

Remembrance Day gives us an opportunity to reflect on war and honour those who gave their time, energy and in many cases, their lives toward ensuring the safety of those at home.  While those who perished on the front lines are commemorated, there were individuals participating in the war effort whose identities had to be kept secret.  These were the people who worked under cover, carrying on clandestine operations behind the scenes.  One of the most noted of these was a Canadian named Sir William Stephenson.

Stephenson’s accomplishments and history are well documented, and I was introduced to him through a book called “A Man called Intrepid”.  It is due to Stephenson that organizations like the CIA came into being.  He also created a training ground for World War II spies at Camp X in Whitby Ontario, which incidentally, Camp David in the US is modelled on.  Would be spies came from all over the world to train at Camp X in all areas of espionage.  One of the most well known was Ian Fleming, who was the writer of the classic James Bond stories.  In fact, Ian Fleming said “James Bond is a highly romanticized version of a true spy. The real thing is…William Stephenson.” —Ian Fleming, The Times, October 21, 1962.

It seems apt that a Canadian, and many Canadians, were involved in behind the scenes work during the war, as we are so often perceived as being ‘quiet’ and unobtrusive (except when attending a hockey game).  In fact, Stephenson was known as ‘The Quiet Canadian’.

If you are interested in finding out more, the Camp X Historical Society has an excellent website and the write up on Stephenson in Wikipedia is very good.  When we have our moment of silence November 11, we should remember these silent heroes.


2 thoughts on “Behind the Front – Quiet Canadians clandestine work during WWII

  1. Every time the subject of the Man Called Intrepid comes up, my mind reminds me of all the questions about said “man” that should be asked!
    He was born in Winnipeg ( i don’t dispute, or question that statement), and one statement that I have encountered is that he was adopted by people named Stevenson/Stefanson/Stephenson, pick one.
    In the last week or so I saw a claim that the name of his biological father or mother was one of the 3 above.
    So, what name would he have had if he had not been adopted? Every so often some one submits the “fact”
    that he was ethnically Icelandic. If that were the case and he retained his birth name it just might be
    Stephanson, Stephansson, Stefanson, Stefansson.
    It does make me wonder why with all his choices he picked the very English Stephenson(Stevenson).
    There are at least 2 books about his interesting life, as well as one movie, non of which I would accept without an awful lot of persuasion.
    According to above mediums he was at Camp X (which I believe to denote it as camp’10’ not the letter before ‘y’) mentoring Noor Inyat Khan code name Madelene, before her entry into France. Noor
    was never at camp X for any reason, much less to be mentored and guided by ‘INTREPID’.
    Another spurious claim is that the Czech agents who parachuted into Czechoslovakia to kill Reinhardt Heydrich were trained at Camp10(X). I cannot remember from the movie whether Intrepid was supposed to have had a hand in training and mentoring these Czech agents, but that doe not matter because the Czechs were never there.
    If one considers the time consumed and the logistics involved to bring Noor and the Czech agents to Canada for training that folly would be obvious, I hope.
    Remember Noor and the Czechs were all recruited in Europe very near to the best SOE training facilities any where, in England.
    The above discourse isn’t meant to try to claim and prove that Intrepid did nothing to assist in the winning of the European war……..

    Robert Sveinson
    Notice the last name?
    Icelandic in origin!
    Wouldn’t I be pleased if
    all the claims for Intrepid
    were true and maybe have some of
    the magic rub off on me!
    All I can claim are the Vikings,
    and the Verengians(spelling questionable,
    but these were Norse/Viking
    soldiers of fortune who
    were a paid group to guard
    Turkish royalty.

    Please don’t be offended, because that
    was not my purpose! Whenever I spout
    like this about Intrepid I always ask for
    help to dig out any big or small nuggets
    about his life!!
    And I humbly ask for your help!

    • Hi Robert;
      I enjoyed reading your comment. I first heard about Stephenson years ago through my brother who lives in Whitby, and visited the site of Camp X with him. My brother calls it ‘X’ as in the letter of the alphabet, so the Roman numeral is new to me. As far as I understand it, the Czechs were trained in Britain. The trouble with history is, there are so many versions of it and it is difficult to get the facts straight as all we know is how someone perceived it. I have always been fascinated by spy stories and particularly enjoy Graham Greene. With writers of his calibre, it is clear that they know more than they can reveal, without naming names. After I wrote my blog, there was an article in the Campbell River Courier Islander about a local woman who was trained to work on the Enigma codes in England. Nowhere in the artilce was there a mention of Stephenson, even though Enigma was supposed to have been his baby. As the woman in question said – they were so thoroughly sworn to secrecy that even today, she feels awkward talking about it. I think people like Stephenson will always remain an ‘enigma’. Also – I concur with you that it is ironic he received an Icelandic name -was meant to be I suppose.

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