The UK’s Security Service, MI5, have taken the rare step of responding to requests for any information on Alexander Wilson in their archives.
This followed a letter sent by Wilson biographer, Professor Tim Crook, to the Director-General of the Service on the invitation of Home Office Minister Ben Wallace.
Although it is longstanding Government policy to neither confirm nor deny whether any individual has been investigated by MI5, you may be aware that an exception to this policy allows us to release to The National Archives (TNA) files that are still in existence and at least 50 years old, if to do so would not damage national security.
MI5 have confirmed that ‘we hold no investigative file relating to Alexander Wilson.’
The Security Service did add that:
Alexander Wilson is referred to a few times in an MI5 file from the WW2 era, one that remains highly sensitive and so regrettably cannot be released to TNA. However, the references on this file to Mr Wilson tell one very little about him and nothing at all about the family matters covered by the recent BBC TV drama.
Professor Tim Crook says the statement should be very helpful to Alexander Wilson’s family.
This is because it shows that there is no evidence that his professional work in intelligence where he was an officer for the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, for three years and may have been involved in operations at other times as an agent in the field were problematic and required MI5 concern.
Furthermore, the fact that he is referred to in a file from the World War Two era that remains highly sensitive over 75 years later indicates he was doing very important work for his country in the intelligence services.
Professor Crook adds: ‘Alexander Wilson never disclosed, even to close family, the detail and nature of his intelligence work. He explained to his third wife Alison that his apparent dismissal from MI6 in October 1942, their subsequent social and economic misfortune, and his arrest and prosecution for wearing a Colonel’s uniform and medals he was not entitled to, were all part of intelligence work the detail and purpose of which he was not allowed to disclose.’
In her memoir that has been fully published by Little Brown/Constable she made it very clear that she did not believe him.
Professor Crook’s analysis of Wilson’s work in intelligence is fully explored and analysed in two chapters of The Secret Lives of a Secret Agent: Second Edition published in 2018.
A few months after Wilson was apparently dismissed by MI6, the heads of the Foreign Office, MI6 and MI5 all suggested he made up his reports on the bugging of the Egyptian Embassy in war-time London. Their thoughts are all in a file released to the National Archives in 2013.
Professor Crook argues that he believes the situation is much more complicated and mysterious:
It is perfectly conceivable that all of Alexander Wilson’s transcriptions and reports were accurate and that the Egyptians were fabricating the existence of a network of their spies in London as a counter-intelligence tactic because they suspected all their calls were being listened to. Hence, the MI5 belief following their own checks that no such network existed would also have been accurate.
Professor Crook explains: ‘One of the difficulties and potential injustices of historically putting long-deceased intelligence operatives under the moral microscope is that in the absence of any personal diary which for obvious professional reasons they should never keep, they leave no account and cannot defend themselves.’
The memoir of Wilson’s third wife, Alison, was released in hard back and Kindle in July 2019 and the paperback to follow. It includes a foreword by their sons Nigel and Gordon with an Afterword from Ruth Wilson who starred in and co-executively produced the recent BBC Television drama series Mrs Wilson.
The Catholic Herald in its review said:
Told in clear, unsentimental and eloquent prose, the experience is obviously authentic, reminding readers that God can sometimes act dramatically in a seemingly quiet suburban life. Having suffered deeply from the revelations about her husband, Alison writes of this mystical moment: “A was no longer my responsibility; he had gone from me into the mercy of that unfathomable love.”
Her book is a testimony to her fidelity, her integrity and her deep faith.
There is also a fascinating interview with Nigel and Gordon Wilson at the online Family Tree with a review in the magazine.
Nigel and Gordon said:
Time is a great healer and it is now 74 years since the Second World War and we deeply sympathise with our mother’s predicament which caused her so much pain. Soon after the discoveries of our half brothers and sister, Dennis arranged a dedication ceremony for a new headstone for Alexander Wilson’s grave at Milton cemetery in Portsmouth.
The brothers and sister had agreed the following wording: “In loving memory of Alexander Joseph Patrick Wilson also known as Alexander Douglas Gordon Chesney Wilson, author and patriot 1893-1963, and the quotation from William Shakespeare’s Othello, ‘He loved not wisely but too well’.
Yes, it does feel right to know the truth about the past and in our experience the expansion of the family has provided so much love and friendship, as well as a brilliant TV film, which got a BAFTA nomination.