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Conrad Fulke O'Brien-ffrench. Artist and Spy.

Conrad OHMSS

00brien sets forth.

British prisoners-of-war were restricted to the Scheveningen district of Holland and under Dutch command. Conrad met an influential Italian friend of his father, the Duca di Cavello, a member of The Hague diplomatic corps. He was looking after the welfare of Italian soldiers still in Germany. A bureau was opened, and as Conrad spoke Italian like a native, and Russian and French, he was recruited to help. While working for the Italians, he visited the British vice-consul, who was actually engaged in counter-espionage in Holland. Conrad said he found himself – almost without a conscious decision – establishing patterns of behavior which would influence his future role in the European drama to come.

The War ended. Conrad returned to England and then, at the invitation of his cousin, Rosamond ffrench, went to Monivea Castle in Galway. Monivea was owned by Kathleen ffrench, the only child of Sir Robert Percy ffrench and the Russian Countess Kindiakoff. Kathleen had lived in great splendour with her mother in the largest of their palaces on the Volga. She was known as “the wealthiest Britisher in Russia.” But the Russian revolution had ended this life abruptly. She had been imprisoned by the Communists and all her estates had been confiscated. The palaces would be raised to the ground in the years that followed, destroyed as symbols of "damned tsarism". Kathleen was to play her role in Conrad's life, but for now she was only a name to him. Rosamond had always lived at Monivea with her father, Atcheson, and after he died, she continued to live there. Locally, she was the accepted chatelaine of the Ffrench estates. After his years abroad and in captivity, Conrad felt inspired to be at one with his family's ancient home. He describes a long lost feeling of belongingness welling over him and he stayed for a while at the castle. Yet, the world soon caught up with him. A letter arrived from the War Office. Someone in the Secret service wanted to see him. 

Mansfield Smith Cummings

Colonel Stuart Menzies

On the appointed morning, a jarvey car arrived harnessed to an eager two-year-old straining to be off. At a gallop, Conrad approached Athenry Junction, but saw his train steaming into the distance. It had left early and the station master glibly explained just how the punctuality of the Irish Mail was often at the inconvenience of its passengers. When Conrad arrived a day late in London, he was escorted to a large building in Whitehall and led up to its labyrinthine attic rooms. Met by Cathleen Mann, she took him to a small office where a youngish Colonel dressed in the uniform of the Life Guards came forward to greet him. Colonel Stewart Menzies – "SM" to those who worked for him – told Conrad that he had a job to offer him as Assistant Military Attaché in Stockholm.  "It will be no picnic and carries with it great responsibilities and is, of course, highly secret."  Conrad learned some of what the new post entailed and was asked to think it over and return the following day with his decision. As Conrad was led out, he was in no doubt what his decision might be. He mused what he would look like in disguise.


The next day, he met with Menzies, accepted the post, and taken to meet ‘C’ – Mansfield Cummings, a Captain in the Navy. They were not invited to sit. Cummings held Conrad in a steady measuring gaze which said to Conrad, "I'll never let you down – don't you ever dare do so to me!"


On a cold crisp morning in January 1919, after a harrowing crossing through a German minefield, Conrad stood on the dockside in Stockholm. He was met by his new boss, Major John Scale, together with his wife and the station secretary, Oonah Stuart. Scale; a handsome debonair man with a contagious good humour. Conrad was dressed in the starchy unfamiliar weeds of the diplomat – dark suit, overcoat, bowler hat and spats. "Come on,” said the Major, “get those ridiculous clothes off and come out with us." They were going skiing and had even brought skis for him. Conrad's clothes were packed, so his first day on His Majesty's secret service was spent skiing in full diplomatic garb. Given that it was also his first time on skis, the hilarity of the day helped to foster an intimacy between them all. But in the morning, the work proper was to begin.

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