Chronicles of the Secret Service – three Wallace spy stories in one in 1940

Chronicles of the Secret Service- three novellas and the last Wallace volume published in 1940. Image: Allison and Busby.
Chronicles of the Secret Service- three novellas and the last Wallace volume published in 1940. Image: Allison and Busby.

Chronicles of the Secret Service was first published by Herbert Jenkins in 1940.  This is how they  explained ‘What This Story Is About’:

Such novels as Wallace of the Secret Service, Get Wallace, His Excellency Governor Wallace and Wallace Intervenes have achieved their extraordinary wide sales not only because they are thrillers of the front rank, but because Major Alexander Wilson probably knows as much about the Secret Service as any living novelist. These further enthralling exploits of Sir Leonard Wallace, the famous Chief of Secret Service and his no less famous lieutenants, Shannon and Cousins – cool, resolute, daring men, ready in an instant for the most perilous enterprise or desperate affray – are in the tradition of Major Wilson’s most absorbing work.

Whether his background is Hong Kong, Afghanistan or London he writes with supreme confidence and conviction. Every page is a thrill of action or romance.

The reason the publisher said Wilson ‘probably knows as much about the Secret Service as any living novelist’ was that he was actually working for MI6/SIS spying on the communications of embassies and diplomatic legations in London.

MI6/SIS building during World War II in the Broadway, Westminster. Image: Tim Crook.
MI6/SIS building during World War II in the Broadway, Westminster. Image: The Alexander Wilson Estate.

He was assigned to bug the telephone calls to and from the Egyptian Embassy.

The cover of 'Chronicles of the Secret Service' when published by Herbert Jenkins in 1940.
The cover of ‘Chronicles of the Secret Service’ when published by Herbert Jenkins in 1940.

Allison and Busby’s new edition of ‘Chronicles of the Secret Service has been published April 2016:

These further enthralling exploits of Sir Leonard Wallace, the famous Chief of Secret Service and his no less famous lieutenants, Shannon and Cousins – cool, resolute, daring men, ready in an instant for the most perilous enterprise or desperate affray – are in the tradition of Major Wilson’s most absorbing work.

Maxim Jakubowski on the Lovereading website said:

Nostalgic, full of echoes of a forgotten age and the essence of old-fashioned English pulp at its best, Wilson’s series has been unduly neglected and prefigures James Bond in its constant derring-do and sense of Englishness. Notwithstanding its historical importance (Wilson, actually the grandfather of the striking ‘Luther’ actress Ruth Wilson, was himself a spy, serving in WW1 and thereafter teaching in India and active in intelligence during WW2), these tales are turn page reads and supremely entertaining, the missing link between Sherlock Holmes and James Bond and rip-roaring fun.

On the 8th October 1940, the Dundee Courier recommended ‘The Chronicles of the Secret Service’ to take people’s minds off the recent declaration of war against Germany:

Major Wilson can be relied upon to dish up thrills, and his fresh series of Secret Service adventures makes an enthralling reading. Whether he takes Sir Leonard Wallace and his trusty lieutenants, Shannon and Cousins, to Hong Kong, Afghanistan, or London, he packs conviction and reality into every line. Three glorious yarns of perilous enterprise and romance.

The third novella within ‘The Chronicles of the Secret Service’ volume offers one of the most dramatic stories of intelligence adventure in Afghanistan written by a thriller novelist during this period.

Alexander Wilson’s writing indicates an accurate knowledge and understanding of Afghan history and the role of charismatic Islamic extremism in revolutionary politics.

The plot, central characterisation and ideological imperatives are reminiscent of the mythology of  Lawrence of Arabia.

Afghanistan was on the front line of the war of influence waged by the super-powers extant that time: The Soviet Union and British Empire.

Espionage, agents, spies, and propaganda sought to manipulate, undermine and build alliances.

Afghanistan was and still is a country that burns the oxygen of great power seduction, political, military and diplomatic interference.

The first novella ‘The China Doll’ provides compelling evidence that Alexander Wilson had access to sources in the intelligence services that enabled him to communicate through his fiction views and information not being represented in mainstream media.

Wilson has Sir Leonard Wallace despairing that the military and intelligence threat to Japan was acute, real and threatening.  (page 8 of 2016 Allison and Busby edition).

I’ve sent warning after warning to London. America has suggested a joint action which Japan would not dare face, but we are not ready to take any steps just now. Think of it! It makes me feel blasphemous. Of course I must admit to a feeling of admiration for the Japs. They have chosen their time well, and with amazing nerve and skill, when Europe is staggering about like a drunken man from one crisis to another. Well, I’ve done my best to point out what should be done and the necessity for quick action. I can do no more than that. There is one thing I can do and will do, though, before I leave this colony. I shall rout out, lock, stock and barrel, the nest of the Japanese spies here.

The story identifies the sophistication and extent of Japanese intelligence penetration of the British colonies.

In the result Hong Kong, like Singapore would fall to Japanese invasion in 1942 and suffer grim and tragic consequences of occupation and persecution.

-o-

Extract from ‘That Bloody Afghan’- the third novella in ‘The Chronicles of the Secret Service’ (page 155-8 of Allison and Busby edition)

Major Kershaw grinned. He was a spare man of medium height, whose hair, moustache, and eyebrows were of that colour generally described by females as auburn, but which most males are content to call ginger. He was exceedingly freckled, possessed a snub nose, square jaw, and a pair of twinkling blue eyes. From this description, it will be gathered he was not exactly, in the words of the song, lovely to look at, but he was a great favourite, wherever he went, equally at home in male or female society, nursing the baby of a sergeant’s wife or hobnobbing with a governor of a province. His whole military career had been spent in India, except for his service in Palestine, Egypt, and Mesopotamia during the Great War. For some time now, designated with the mystic military abbreviation, GSO3, he himself, as was to be expected of an important Intelligence officer, had been somewhat of a mystery man. He rarely wore uniform, disappeared entirely for long periods, and lived in hotels where it was his custom sometimes, to the scandal of the management, to interview, behind closed doors, a weird assortment of individuals of diverse races, creeds and colours.

He sauntered into General Hastings’ office as though he was part owner; grinned cheerfully at the choleric man sitting behind the huge desk glaring at him.

‘How d’you do, sir?’ was his salutation. ‘By Jove! You’re looking well. It’s a long time since we met – fifteen years, isn’t it?’

‘Eh? What’s that? Met?’ The general stared at him as though an outburst of fury was imminent then, wonder of wonders! The viate expression faded from his face, to be replaced actually by a smile. ‘Good God! Why, Ginger Kershaw!’ He rose, and the two shook hands heartily. ‘So Major Kershaw, GSO3, and that damned precocious cub, Lieutenant Kershaw, are one and the same.’ He resumed his seat, waved his visitor to another. ‘I never connected you, but I might have known. Those were grand days, Kershaw, and I’ve never forgotten what I owed to that impudence of yours. I wonder if I’d have taken the same risks then, if I’d held my present rank. One can do things as a major or lieutenant-colonel that one daren’t countenance as a general.’ He sounded regretful.

Kershaw’s eyes twinkled. He flung his topee across the room where it landed unerringly on a rattan chair similar to the one in which he was sitting.

‘Nonsense, sir,’ he objected. ‘You’re not going to persuade me that the spirit has altered. Why, I can see it in your face. Still the same old Jumbo inside – though perhaps not out,’ he added, eyeing Hastings’ corpulent figure with a grin.

Nobody but he would have dared refer to the general to his face as Jumbo. It was typical of the man. He was no respecter of persons or personalities. He was as liable to speak his mind to the viceroy as to his own servant. Probably that was one of the reasons why he was held in such high regard by all. The general showed no resentment at his remark; on the contrary, he laughed heartily. The sentry on the veranda outside heard it; was so unnerved by the unusual sound that he almost dropped his rifle. Sir Leslie patted his middle.

‘I’ve certainly put on flesh,’ he admitted. ‘But seriously, Kershaw, this job has got me down. It’s not in my line. Why the devil they wanted to send me up here, when little of my service has been in India, and none on the frontier, is beyond me.’

‘Because you’re a damn fine soldier, sir,’ returned Kershaw, and he meant it.

The general grunted. There was no suspicion in his mind that the other was flattering him. He had learnt to understand the ginger-haired man thoroughly in Mesopotamia, where the latter had acted as his adjutant for many months. He knew quite well that it was his habit to speak bluntly. Had Kershaw thought he was ‘a damn bad soldier’, he would have said so probably in exactly the same tone as he had uttered the reverse.

‘That’s all very well, but these rumours and counter rumours have got me jumpy. If I could march right in and tackle the blighters, I’d be as happy as a king’s cadet. But I’ve got to wait and watch, wondering all the time what they’re going to do next. I know damn well everyone here thinks I ought to migrate to the Hills, and the staff is thoroughly disgruntled. They regard me as a plague spot – and dash it all! I don’t blame them.’

Kershaw laughed.

‘Take my tip, General,’ he advised, ‘go to the Hills. You’ll be out of this sweltering heat, everybody’ll be pleased, and you’ll be better tempered. You can take my word for it, you can go quite safely. Nothing’s likely to happen – at least not yet anyway.’

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Sir Leslie eyed him hopefully, but still doubtfully. He leant across the desk, and some of his old fire returned.

‘Look here,’ he growled, ‘one of my greatest grouses has been lack of adequate intelligence. I was kept informed of a lot of stuff that meant nothing. You had disappeared into the blue shortly before I took command. Since then, we’ve only had reports from you at rare intervals, most of them as barren as Baluchistan. Yesterday you returned and, by Gad! It was my intention to pulverise you. I came here this morning prepared to work the third degree on you, until I obtained some information from you that I could get my teeth into. What’s Intelligence up to, Kershaw? Tell me something I want to know.’

‘That’s why I’m here, sir,’ came from the other. ‘I’ll tell you enough to make you skip off happily to Lady Hastings at Murree, and forget there are such places as Peshawar or disturbers of the peace like Afridis.’

Pathe Gazette’s review of the Year 1940

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