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The Traitor of Colditz: The Untold Story of Britain’s Bravest Double Agent

25 Jul 23


(Welbeck – £9.99)

ISBN 978 1 80279 519 6

320 pages

Not another book about Colditz! How many more? Seen the film. Watched the TV series. And been there – but not as a POW! What else is there to say? Well, I found this book in my local bookshop and when my browsing revealed that the Traitor of Colditz was a naval officer, I decided to buy it. And Walter Purdy was a sort of N.O.; MN, Sub-Lieutenant(E) RNR; but promoted himself later in Germany to Lieutenant Commander. Pre-War Mosley-ite, Fascist, with Nazi sympathies. And described, after the War by a work colleague, as being “as crafty as a shit-house rat”, which indeed is what he was.

And if you open a can of worms you can certainly expect to find a can of worms: Nazis; British; British Nazis; dual-nationalities: British double-agents and MI5. So the plot is indeed riddled with all of these worms, squirming and turning, wriggling and squiggling.

In short, Walter Purdy was every bit as treacherous as Joyce (Lord Haw Haw) with whom he worked, and John Amery, both of whom were hanged; and of Thomas Couper, who, like Purdy, was reprieved. But almost all in Colditz wished him hanged. Quickly identified after capture by the Germans as a potential ally he, like Joyce, made broadcasts to the UK, was retained in two of the special ‘holiday-camp’ POW camps, but later given free-rein in Berlin and shacked up with a local girl. Later on sent to Colditz as a stool-pigeon by the Germans. Here he was quickly rumbled, court-martialled, and sentenced to hang; taken to gallows in the attic but nobody would hang him in cold blood. Released by the SBO back to the Germans he continued his treachery, betraying a Colditz tunnel and a cache containing a camera and a stash of Reichmarks. Later he joined the Britische Frei Korps. All this and more being relayed back to MI5 by some method, frustratingly not disclosed in the book, by certain pre-trained POWs and double-agents.

And what of ‘Britain’s Bravest Double Agent’? Well, imagine Dad’s Army’s Private Walker, the Spiv, as a rapier-minded CQMS, and there you have him. Red Cross Parcel wizard!  No wonder some, indeed many, other POWs thought him a collaborator. And what a story did he eventually have to tell, especially at Purdy’s trial at the Old Bailey.

This deeply researched book reveals all the participants in this extra-ordinary and almost unbelievable tale; German and British: We meet them all. And for whom is this book especially recommended? All those who remember WW2 or seek to learn its lessons. Any who have been POWs. Any who were Interrogation Officers or trained to resist it. And all those who have had dealings with MI5 or MI6.