Captain Michael Clive 'Micky' Burn, MC

In recognition of Micky's extraordinary life, which spanned two world wars as well as most of the major social, sexual and political developments of a turbulent 20th century, a feature-length documentary was premiered in London during the 56th BFI London Film Festival, October 2012. The cinema trailer can be seen by clicking on this link - www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAZk5GoW33A

The production is based on Micky's autobiography 'Turned Towards the Sun', on numerous interviews with him carried out over a number of years, and on a comprehensive film record numbering into the hundreds of hours of often very candid footage.

Given the complexity of Micky's involvement in so many seminal events, any film must choose very carefully on which amongst so many possible avenues of  development to concentrate. In the case of 'TTTS' the director, Greg Olliver, has chosen to concentrate on Micky's unlikely, but very successful, military career as a wartime Commando; as an extreme left-wing Socialist who, having so recently espoused National Socialism, found a spiritual home amidst the often socially-deprived boys who made up his Troop; as a gay man who found validation in the uniform of Britain's military élite, winning a Military Cross for his actions during the most complex and successful Commando raid of World War Two; and yet also as a Wykehamist, Oxford undergraduate and budding author,  who needed to dip an occasional toe into the world into which he had been born, but should have despised, by means of an occasional visit to the Ritz, to Berkeley Castle or to the homes of priveleged and powerful families such as the Mitfords.

Over the course of the film, whilst paying homage to Micky's more rarefied intellectual ambitions, Greg Olliver sets his sights squarely on Micky's revisiting of his wartime adventures, following him during his late-life return to Saint-Nazaire, the target of the Commando raid mentioned above; to Colditz Castle, where Micky helped to run the secret radio - whilst delivering Marxist lectures to an audience some of whom were not in the least appreciative, and to Munich, to the old Osteria Bavaria where, in the mid '30s he had met for the first time with Hitler while in the company of his friend Unity Valkyrie "Bobo" Mitford.

Although predominately a gay man, amongst whose lovers was the KGB double-agent Guy Burgess, Micky sought, and eventually found, a form of conventional happiness in the arms of a woman - in this case the beautiful socialite Mary Booker, who became his wife and with whom he lived a sometimes idyllic, sometimes penurious, married life in distant North Wales. Mary was far from his first relationship with often adoring women: and in fact the letter which forms the background to this text is one amidst a long and revealingly frank - on both sides - correspondence with a beautiful young woman who remained madly, if unrequitedly, in love with Micky until her untimely death in 1942.


Unfortunately for would-be readers, 'Turned Towards the Sun' is not currently in print, for which reason I have included below my own tribute to a friend much-missed, whose text contains excerpts from TTTS such as both illuminate the narrative, and serve to demonstrate the fluidity of Micky's inimitable writing style. All material is, of course, copyright, as set out at the conclusion of the piece.





CAPTAIN MICHAEL CLIVE ‘Micky’ BURN, MC

74087: King’s Royal Rifle Corps and C.O. 6 Troop 2 Commando



‘Wild-wagered youth, call, cause, crusade,
What a world we might have made!’


(Extracted from his poem – ‘Until That Night’)





Prologue


Michael Burn, half-drowned, shaking with cold and shock, is dragged onto the narrow steps below the lighthouse at the tip of Saint-Nazaire’s Old Mole. Cannon fire from approaching British ships strikes jagged chips of granite from the structure’s seaward face. All around him is a psychedelic nightmare of multi-coloured tracer, blinding searchlights and roaring flames.

Not more than fifty-feet away, drifting slowly westwards with the tide lies the blazing wreck of Motor Launch 192, the diminutive warship on board which he and his men had so recently sailed on what was to be a great adventure. In mere seconds the German batteries had reduced her to a barely floating tomb within  whose fires his beloved 6 Troop was now dying, friend by friend; Lance-Sergeant Maurice ‘Boy’ Harrison – for whom Micky bore an unrequited love, his patrician subaltern Lieutenant Tom Peyton, Fusilier Lenny Goss, Corporals Reg Tomsett and Norman Fisher, and all his other fellow travellers in what had been for far too brief a time, a shared Utopian dream.

This moment of epiphany marks the end, for Micky, of a social, sexual and political odyssey that has carried him from exclusive Winchester School, via the indulgences of Le Touquet and Oxbridge, through the authoritarianism of Fascism, to the late adoption of an equally radical Socialist ideal so perfectly realised, until this awful moment, by all the boys in his Troop.

Behind him, lost forever in the darkness, lie the castles, villas and country houses that have marked his passage through a sometimes poisonous cocktail of doubt and self-obsession: before him looms the bleak reality of mere existence as one amongst numberless, similarly humbled, prisoners of the Reich.

 


‘Turned Towards the Sun’


Micky was born December 11th, 1912, to Clive (later Sir Clive) and Phyllis Burn, in fashionable Mayfair, London. He was the eldest of four children, the others being his brother Alan and his sisters Stella and Renée. In his youth Micky was especially close to Stella, with whom he would later share the same burdensome sexual ambiguity. Most holidays were spent with her in the family villa at Le Touquet, the casino resort in the Pas de Calais, the tale of their joint rebelliousness (some might say delinquency) later being recalled by him in his book ‘Childhood at Oriol’.

Le Touquet loomed large in the story of the Burn family, the Golf Hotel and casino having been founded by Micky’s maternal grandfather Allen Stoneham, on the basis of money acquired during the Kalgoorlie gold-rush (much of this later lost in a bitter divorce). The surrealism of such a backdrop, with all its temptations and superficial values, seems a world away from Micky’s later espousal of the plight of the ‘working man’; yet its impact perhaps informs his continued need – still very much in evidence at the age of 97 – to recapture, occasionally at least, the echoes of a once gilded past.

‘In front of our villa the road curved to the populous beaches and shops and villas of Paris-Plage a mile away. Across the road the golf links merged into more dunes that hid beaches still unfrequented. I was very close to Stella then. Our names were said as if they were a single name; part of our childhood years together were spent on joint conspiracy in mischief.’ ‘There was a little opera house in the casino. Stella and I went to performances of La Boheme, Carmen, Louise, and came to know many of the words by heart.’ (TTTS pp 20-1)

All a very long way indeed from the grinding poverty that would have characterised the childhood of most of the men he would one day come to lead, even if - contrary to appearances - the family were not particularly wealthy by the standards of their contemporaries.

Micky was educated at Winchester, one of Britain’s élite and confusingly girl-free public schools. It was founded by William of Wykeham, as a consequence of which all who attend it are known as “Wykehamists”. Micky is currently the third oldest surviving Wykehamist, and claims to have been seduced by the second oldest as part of his first uncertain fumblings into a sexual tributary then forbidden, and still referred to, sadly, as his “weakness”. 

His time there, again in an atmosphere of artificiality, again being surreptitiously tutored for life within the upper ranks of Society, still failed to turn him into a conformist. Beset by myriad confusions, not least an increasingly unsettling  awareness  that the privilege of his life thus far was shared by only a fortunate few, his obvious intellectual ability was undermined by reactive petulance and even the occasional episode of pilfering. He thought too deeply into the mechanics of a social structure his contemporaries seemed to accept without demur, and first explored religion as a means of restoring order to a young mind in turmoil. In his book he recalls one particular sermon – ‘..not so much delivered as hurled at us by the chaplain in charge of the School Mission in the slums of Portsmouth. His words were javelins.’  The sermon (TTTS p33) had a profound effect on Micky, castigating as it did, the failure of the élite they were about to join, to recognise and work to improve the plight of the working man. Of all the chaplain’s adjurations one stands out as particularly germane to Micky’s eventual exploration of credos sometimes violently at odds with those of The Establishment: ‘I am a cuckoo. A cuckoo is a bird that lays eggs in the nests of other birds. I have been laying some ugly, subversive eggs in this beautiful snug nest of yours. Who among you will hatch any of them out?’

From Winchester, as expected by his parents, Micky went up to Oxford. But again conformity lost out, and he quit after the first year writing of this time that...’I was not sent down. I simply did not come back. The social seductions at Le Touquet had begun to take hold, the immediate seductress being Mrs Syrie Maugham (ex-wife of Somerset Maugham). Along the road from the Golf Hotel she had rented a villa called Maison Elisa. Introduced by an acquaintance of my parents with a dramatic past, her guests captivated me. Towards the end of the summer vacation I began to realise that I had not done a stroke of the work the University expected, and became scared. Tim Birkin (Sir Henry Birkin, most famous of the “Bentley Boys” at Le Mans), the motor-racing ace, arrived and asked me, since he had heard I wished to become a writer, to ghost his autobiography.’ (TTTS p41)

This was published as “Full Throttle”, and followed up by “Wheels take Wings”, a history of the Brooklands race-track. (The story of the writing of Birkin’s autobiography was dramatised in 1995 - www.imdb.com/title/tt0212959 - with Rowan Atkinson playing Birkin, and Crispin Bonham-Carter as Micky).

For Micky writing, initially at least, took the form of journalism, to prepare for which he attended the Pitmans School of Typewriting and Shorthand. Thus ended his formal education, an abrupt departure mirrored by the similarly untamable Stella who managed to get herself expelled from her private girls’ school. Together she and Micky continued to “live within Society” while all the time poking fun at it, Stella particularly railing against both the lush world into which they were being thrust, and the diminished roles women of that period were encouraged to accept – irrespective of any talents they might possess.

 During this period work still came second to the delights of Le Touquet, where Micky virtually lived in Syrie Maugham’s villa. This lifestyle could hardly have been further removed from the austere Commando existence within which he would later find fulfillment and a treasured sense of belonging. Noteworthy guests were coming and going all summer: they included Victor Rothschild and Serge Lifar, the successor to Nijinsky, who danced at the casino. Of Lifar Micky writes, ‘We hired horses and he galloped, without reins, along the main road, like a Cossack’. (TTTS p46)

This was 1933. The end of the summer season should have seen Micky settle down to work: instead of which he “fled” to Munich, taking a room at one Mark per day and putting his charm, good looks and impeccable manners to best use. Here, and having at one time been reduced to living on bread, milk and fruit, new friendships amongst the monied butterflies who during the thirties, seemed to do little but flit from one fashionable spa to another, saw him elevated to a Schloss in Austria frequented by those who he describes as “headline” people. ‘They were rich, hospitable, widely read, elegant, one or two beautiful, and for a spell they dazzled me. For a spell...slums in Portsmouth were forgotten.’ (TTTS p49) This, of course, at the very time the Nazis had come to power and conditions within the concentration camp at Dachau were being studiously ignored by the many who wished only to appease Herr Hitler.

From the Schloss, another invitation took Micky to Lake Como, in Italy, where he was a guest of Lady Chelmsford. When this concluded his next port of call was as a guest of Mrs. Keppel, one time mistress of King Edward VII, at her ‘..palatial Villa dell Ombrellino’. (TTTS p51) All but broke himself, Micky continued to live quite shamelessly off the wealthy and influential, who were offering a form of asylum  from  conformity;  however, when  the invitations ran out and he could no longer prolong his adolescence, he was left with no choice other than to return to London and face up to the inevitability of life as a working drudge.


Attractions – sexual


During all this period of confusion relating to his place in the world, Micky was undergoing a parallel confusion as to his sexuality. In 1933, just a year before joining the “Gloucester Citizen” as a journalist, he had met the putative KGB agent Guy Burgess at an undergraduate cocktail party in Trinity College, Cambridge. Having just completed “Wheels Take Wings” Micky was wearing a Brooklands tie clip and as a consequence was approached by Burgess, who had a passion for racing cars.

‘He invited me back to his rooms in college and I stayed the night. I saw him quite often during the ensuing years. He had been at Dartmouth Naval College for a year, then at Eton, where…he got a history scholarship to Trinity. He made no secret of being a homosexual and a Marxist.’ (TTTS pp59-60)

Micky describes his appearance as ‘..blatantly carnal, exuberant, outrageous’. With his deeper side as yet hidden, he came across as of the “Bacchus-Oscar Wilde” school.

After the war, when charm had been replaced by something else, Micky remembers him as ‘..seedy, neurotic, and on the last occasion, sinister’. But in 1933 ‘he…was erudite….drove fast cars…had blue eyes and tight wavy hair, was a good swimmer and looked menacingly healthy. I have seen his looks described as “boyish”; he did convey a dash of pertness and sham-innocence, as if he had just run away after ringing some important person’s doorbell. Untidy myself, I did not much notice his untidiness  (squalor, according to some narrators).’ Others decried his lack of debating ability, but: ‘For me he was the most stimulating talker I had so far met.’ (TTTS pp60-1)

Burgess then was very self-assured, which Micky puts down to his requited love affair with Marxism, which philosophy seemed to provide the answer to everything.

‘Most of the time during which I first knew Guy… Gossip came next to Marxism and sex among his plats du jour…social gossip, political gossip, literary, especially homosexual gossip; of which last there had been a high tide that very spring of 1933 in Cambridge.’ (TTTS pp61-2)

‘While Guy was still at Trinity, I spent a couple of weekends as his guest. He presented me to one or two of his contemporaries, and older showpieces among the dons and Fellows. One of them was the eccentric ex-country clergyman F.A. Simpson….(who)…so Guy informed me, had been in love with Rupert Brooke.’

‘One night we went to Oxford in his MG to see the OUDS in Max Reinhardt’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. The production, with the elves and fairies “following darkness like a dream” into the floodlit shadows of Magdalen deer park, was enchanted. We drove back the same night to Cambridge. I enjoyed this period of our friendship. I was twenty, Guy two years older. It was exhilarating to be admired by someone who had known, as I had not, how to make the most of his brains, his scholarships, and life in one of the most famous colleges of a famous university. Yet even at the beginning I felt moments of unease.’ (TTTS p65)

In the autumn of 1934, at age twenty-one, Micky began work for the “Gloucester Citizen” newspaper. He rented a cottage in Painswick and his mother came to stay. ‘All that too brief time we began to cease to be almost as if strangers, she with her agonising shyness, and I with something I could not bring myself to declare.’ (TTTS p66)

On p96 Micky expands upon the strain of living one life at home while yet guarding the secret of his other, alien, existence. ‘One day late in the Thirties  (around the time Micky would have been in the “Queen’s Westminsters”), my father came to me in his rare severe mood, and said that he had just put down the receiver on someone calling himself “Jack”, who wanted to speak to me. “Who is this  Jack?” A friend of mine, I told him. I forget the exact reply, but the gist was that “the Sergeant-Major has a record of every call or visitor coming to this house”. (The referred-to “Sergeant-Major was the retired military gentleman who controlled all access to No. 10  Buckingham Gate)

It put me in an inward rage. Why should I, and the hundreds of thousands like me, submit to this surveillance? I must either tell him, let the truth be wrenched out of these contemptible concealments, or I must leave home. I did neither, and until the Thirties ended and war separated us all, life went along on the surface easily enough.’

‘I had good friends of both sexes. There was nearly always some man with whom I was futilely in love. I kissed girls at dances, scuffled through soft porn in the Charing Cross Road and ever and anon cruised the Parks, or took a bus to Silvertown or Wapping and from distances admired youths in the beautiful unposed attitudes of manual labour. I went out late to wander streets and squares, alone, alive, a flame without a hearth. Lights in upper windows taunted most piercingly. I watched as they went on, and the curtains were drawn across, and those below went out, and the ache to enfold, to be enfolded, became almost unbearable. The assurance of a place to return to after work, and of somebody loving and beloved to lie down with and wake up with, seemed a blessing great enough to compensate any hardships of the day….  I learned how the mechanism of concealment spun off into repellent side-effects. Homosexuals, whether practising or not, perforce became practising hypocrites. Merely by remaining silent in the presence of the snigger and the sneer, I turned into an accomplice and felt shame. It shamed me to be relieved that physically I did not look like the general view of “one of those”. I did not make up, or sneak out in drag. I was not a limp-wristed teapot. The brazenness of Guy Burgess had embarrassed me.’ (TTTS pp96-7)

Micky joined The Times, in 1936, which action, as detailed on p97, made him ‘of political significance to Guy.’ Flattery, as usual, was one of Guy’s primary weapons. ‘He had been a master-flatterer from the start, when his aims were sexual. Regularly, when we first met, after presenting me to some new friend, he would report or invent compliments. “Who is that beautiful young man?” had asked, reputedly, Anthony Blunt. “He reminds me of Rupert Brooke”, had said, allegedly, the Revd. Mr. Simpson. ‘He now began to slip in praise for my writing. He had done the same with Goronwy Rees, who told me of it many years later.’ (TTTS p97)

‘I did not respond when Guy suggested we should share a flat in London.. . Now and then I went to bed with him. But for some while I had felt myself to be falling under a dangerous spell which had only incidentally to do with politics and much to do with sex. I wished to learn about women and discover what my emotions towards women really were. I imagined, so far theoretically, a profound experience with a woman, and finally life with a woman, to be one of the immortal openings into life which, the more time I spent with Guy, became that much the more obstructed. I saw less of him. My advances to girls were fits that never got beyond starts, or starts that never fitted. Unhappiness began to seep, then surge, into my hitherto rather happy nature, until I perceived that some of the twilight youths who hung about the West End of London were not there for the late-night shopping or the theatres. Occasionally during the pre-war years I made friends with two or three who, for money, tranquilized me. Not always only for money. They too were looking for a friend. Guy meanwhile continued cheerfully promiscuous……and looked extremely well on it.’ (TTTS pp97-8)

 ‘One day I read….of a big case brought by the police against the personnel of a male brothel in the heart of London.  It  dawned  on  me  that  my  encounters  were against the law. I had understood the need for extreme caution because of the condemnatory attitude of society, and the shock exposure would cause my parents. The law had not crossed my mind nor had the danger of disease. What I was doing did not appear to harm my companion, who was always a good deal less innocent than myself. Where to go was a problem: but one of them solved it by taking me to a small, inexpensive hotel in the Buckingham Palace Road, run by a good-natured ex-policeman and his wife, who felt sorry for men in our kind of plight.’ (TTTS p98)

Desperate for advice, Micky contacted the officer, at Scotland Yard, in charge of the case mentioned above. A meeting was arranged. ‘He received me pleasantly, agreed that our interview would be confidential and seemed quietly flabbergasted when I told him about my sexual dilemma, and how I was solving it, but had now realised that my solution was illegal.  Obviously...he could not advise me to continue breaking the law, however discreetly.  He warned me of course. He asked for no names or denunciations of youths he might have considered my accomplices, which…he would not have got, shook my hand, and as I went said, “One day I’m sure you’ll find a woman”.’ (TTTS pp98-9)

Micky, at this stage, had no knowledge of Guy Burgess’s great secret, which was of his KGB allegiance. He therefore was surprised by Burgess’s “stunned” reaction when he told him he had been discussing his illegal homosexuality with a senior policeman in Scotland Yard.

‘This occasion was one of the first that came back to me after his defection, when I understood what a blow my story must have struck him.’ (TTTS p99) ‘It was some time during 1937 that our relationship declined.’ (The physical relationship, at least: however, Micky’s position with the Times ensured he remained of interest to Burgess the spy). 

In the above text Micky is being less than honest about the women in his life. From his father he had learned to dismiss the opposite sex in terms of their social and political importance – his father would at one crucial juncture utter the phrase ‘The women don’t count’ – this perspective perhaps explaining Micky’s failure to appreciate the cost to the women who loved him prior to Mary, of emotions expressed and demonstrated, but only very rarely returned.

While working in Gloucester Micky satisfied his social conscience by raising money to establish a club for the unemployed of the area. Meanwhile he continued to pursue his life-long flirtation with the “Top People”, by spending “the odd weekend” at Berkeley Castle as a guest of Molly Berkeley, from Boston, who had married the Earl of Berkeley.

In the early years of the war a particular weekend guest at Berkeley would be the ill-starred Dinah Jones, beautiful ingenue daughter of Sir Lawrence and Lady Evelyn Jones, of Cranmer Hall, Norfolk.

Until relatively recently Micky had been keen to avoid the subject of his years as the love of Dinah’s life. Now, perhaps  in   a  belated  attempt  to  lay the  ghost of  his habitually cavalier responses to her genuine feelings, he has made her letters to him available, and they show someone of great depth and compassion who was sadly to die of tuberculosis on Christmas Day, 1942 - a virgin, unmarried, and still devoted to the one man she must have realised she could never possess.
 
Describing one of their visits, Micky writes that: ‘Berkeley Castle, exotic enough in peacetime, seemed completely out of the world the weekend I took Dinah there. Most of the rooms were under dust-sheets, (and) old scientist Lord Berkeley almost in his winding-sheet. (he died a few months later) But Molly Berkeley had given Dinah one of the huge tapestried bedrooms; “the promise of heaven and scandal in that room,” Dinah wrote afterwards, “and my bed – long enough for six people down and six across and the fun of WHICH SIX one would choose – and the intoxication of knowing only one would be wanted, anyway for long”. ‘ (TTTS p159)

Referred to in “The Flying Castle”, his narrative poem about Colditz as “a mortal angel…”  Micky had known her: ‘since 1935, when she was eighteen, I twenty-two, a guest at her parents’ house in Norfolk. She was lovely, unsure of herself, and a little worried – needlessly – because she thought she was too tall.

‘While I was training at Moffat I had written and invited her to come to stay. She came for two weekends in summer 1941, staying at Mr. and Mrs. Butler’s Star Hotel (where Micky and Tom Peyton were billeted). She told me on our first evening that she had fallen in love that time in Norfolk and remained in love ever since. Men had courted her, but she had never had a lover. Now she was twenty-four, I twenty-eight. I told her what I was coming to believe about my sexual nature. It did not change her. She waited a few days, then sent a letter of sheer joy at recognizing  that “the chance is  over of my feelings being some fabulous myth built up out of ignorance and lack of opportunity. It was a wonderful weekend…the room with the pink duvet and Mrs. Butler’s meaning looks, and walking up the town with the rush of flowers and eyes behind every curtain, and walking round the pleasure grounds and your men sitting on seats with girls and no boats on Sundays. I long to be there always;” and after the second weekend, coinciding with the Commando sports day (photo above): “I shall never forget the sports, coming suddenly and late into a blaze of sunshine and you winning [the hurdles]. Remember to send the photographs, though to be seen and taken unawares and foreshortened squinting into the sun is no one’s hope of immortality, but you will want them for your memoirs and I in any case;” and later, when I sent them, she called them “a split second of Happiness, witnessing a tug of war”. In a postscript she put, “Will you write for after the week-end and make it as HONEST and CRUEL and BARE as you can.” When I did, “You said you couldn’t help feeling callous,” she replied, “but to feel nothing isn’t callous. I don’t have any compulsion for feeling anything. That for me you are someone to love, and the most important and lasting, doesn’t mean that you should feel compelled to show affection. That would be too cynical and a mockery”. ‘ (TTTS pp158-9)

Always hoping that somehow circumstances would allow their liaison to be taken to a more physical level, Dinah had been disappointed at Berkeley and in Mofatt. There would be one, final, opportunity, this arising on the eve of Micky’s departure for Scotland, he having been made aware of the imminent possibility of action by his C.O., Colonel Charles Newman.

‘The night before I was to return Dinah and I had dinner together. I could not, after all we had been and all we had not been to one another, just kiss and say goodbye, good luck, and thanks for everything. We went to 10 Buckingham  Gate, where  I was staying. The bomb which had killed the two air-raid wardens had pulled down the whole of one side of the building, but a bedroom on the other side was safe. We went to bed together for the first time and I was impotent. In the morning, to take her home to her parents’ flat, I took the taxi from which I saw Charles striding along the Mall. I have already described how he drew me aside and said excitedly, “This is it!” Dinah and I drove on and said goodbye. Nine months afterward, in January 1943, while I was still in Spangenberg, a letter from my mother told me that she had died of tuberculosis.’ (TTTS p161)

While stationed in Mofatt, and while still very much involved with Dinah, Micky became the subject of another girl’s affection – these more conventional liaisons perhaps reflecting Micky’s desire to be, or at least be seen to be, other than he was. Her name was Mora Hope-Robertson, later to become the writer, Mora Dickson. They met when Micky appeared at the family home to arrange accommodation for two of his men. Regular hops in the Baths Hall provided the opportunity for her, dressed in Hope-Robertson tartan, to teach him the Highland Fling. She wrote of this time that: ‘I was fathoms deep in love and the whole troop knew I was their Captain’s girl.’*  The whole troop perhaps, but not Micky, who yet again failed to register either the depth, or the importance to her, of the precious emotions being directed towards him.

At the end of the war, Mora too was to find herself in the back room of bombed-out Buckingham gate. As with Dinah, Mora was hopelessly innocent and trusting. Micky undressed her. In bed he lay on top of her. She asked, in her innocence, if this meant she was going to have a baby. It went no further than this.
(*p93, “Nannie”, by Mora Dickson, Lochar Publishing, 1998)

As the following section deals with Micky’s sojourn in Munich, it should also be noted that during this period he began a relationship with the Baroness Ella Van Heemstra, mother to the future film star Audrey Hepburn – at the time Micky first knew her still a young child at school in Elham, Kent. Ella, along with her husband, had been a member of the British Union of Fascists.

According to Micky, and enlarged upon in the documentary film 'Turned Towards the Sun', the two indulged in a brief fling based on her unconventional sexual tastes. They remained friends until after the war, at which time her letters, which form a part of Micky's extensive archive, suggest she wished to rekindle their relationship. In response to Ella's pleas for assistance during the harsh post-occupation struggle to survive in Holland, Micky sent quantities of cigarettes which she could use as barter on the Black Market to obtain medicines for the now sickly Audrey – whom Ella had unwisely returned to Holland prior to the outbreak of war believing her daughter would be safer there.



Attractions – political

It was while he was with the “Gloucester Citizen” that Micky returned to Munich, he and his family always having regarded Germany, rather than France, as the cultural heart of Europe. The timing was important, as he was arriving in Germany at a time in his life when the need “to do something” for the working man was really beginning to take hold, and at a time when Hitler was regarded by many as having cured unemployment and given Germany back her soul.

The timing of Micky’s move to Germany is important in three respects: for a start he was getting on for 23 and now working for a living; then there was the revival of interest in social justice mentioned above; and finally there was the fact that Hitler had now been in power for two years and the “benefits” of National Socialist zeal and order were now beginning to show in both German society and the Germany economy.

Amidst a turmoil of propaganda for and against Hitler, Micky ‘…interviewed a delegation of the British Legion (founded 1921) ex-servicemen back from a goodwill mission to Berlin, who had met Hitler and been impressed. He had “cured unemployment”. He had built roads. He had “given Germany back her soul”. The young were passionate for him. I had to go. Like a child in the womb, I had heard enough voices from outside.’ (TTTS p69)

Micky drove to Germany in his elderly car, via Le Touquet, in August 1935. His purpose, ostensibly, was to investigate the darker side of National Socialism and atrocities which had been alleged, but about which Micky was personally sceptical. ‘Once in Munich I could ask for the necessary laissez-passer to investigate..’ or, utilise his friendship  with  Unity (Bobo)  Mitford,  a  British  socialite who  had  gone  out  to Germany  and fallen  in love with Hitler: he was, after all, both comfortable with, and at the same time beguiled by, her grand milieu.

Much of Micky’s record of this period comes from carefully preserved letters to his parents. He freely admits that they paint a less than admirable picture not only of his own attitudes at that time, but of those human traits that periodically encourage malevolent minnows to grow into monsters.

Had he succumbed to the temptation to destroy them, ‘…I would have been destroying some of the guts and heart of truth not only about myself, not only about a period of history, but about an ever-renascent flaw in human nature. Thanks to my archive, and a good memory, my personal sample of the virus of wishful thinking has been retained in a state of all-too-admirable preservation.’ (TTTS p70)

Excerpts from the letters describe his path to Hitler through “Bobo”.

Munich, 16 August, ’35: ‘Bobo Mitford is terribly grand and very nice. People think quite seriously that she is going to marry Hitler, who gives her lunch parties in his flat. But as she does not like asking him favours, I am not likely to see him through her…’ (TTTS p70)

22 August, ’35: ‘Bobo and I lunch every day at the restaurant (the Osteria Bavaria, now Osteria Italiana) Hitler lunches at. The head-deputy for foreign journalists said that it was best to go up and speak to him, as he likes Englishmen.’ (TTTS p70)

‘Bobo makes up a great deal and when she went into our restaurant the last time a German girl made a face at her, as Hitler is supposed to hate make-up. Hitler then came in, stopped  at  our  table  and  spoke  to  Bobo,  and then summoned her to lunch with him, make-up and all. The German girl burst into tears of disillusionment as she had remained ugly for his sake. They are hysterical about him.’ (TTTS p71)

Micky, still with the “Gloucester Citizen”, campaigned successfully to have his stay in Germany extended.

Munich, 26 August, ’35: ‘I have justified my extended holiday and met Hitler. He came to lunch in the same restaurant as Unity Mitford and I, and I went up to him among his adjutants and told him he was very popular with young English people, in German. He thanked me and told Unity Mitford afterwards that he thought me pleasant and he could always tell an Englishman from an American. She said she had forbidden me to speak to him in that abrupt way and he said he was very glad I had, and would give me an autographed photograph and meet me again. I have been asked to the great Nazi Party demonstrations at Nuremberg which begin on the 9th (September) and last a week. All expenses are paid. Now I must go and see a labour camp.’ (TTTS p71)

Nürnberg, 8 Sept.’35: ‘I really have been doing such exciting things this week….besides meeting Hitler for the second time, when he signed my copy of his book “Mein Kampf”. [It fell through a hole in my car the same day, and I never saw it again.] I asked if I could refute a very anti-Nazi book called ”I Was Hitler’s Prisoner”, which was published as a serial in the Sunday Express. The political police gave me a specially stamped copy, which is banned in Germany, and which I was not allowed to show to anybody, and I was given special leave to see the concentration camp at Dachau and the prisons the author wrote about.’ (TTTS p71)

Nürnberg, 18 Sept. ’35: ‘…the Party Rally (described below and in detail on pp73-4 TTTS) only finished this morning. I cannot really think coherently after this week. It has been so wonderful to see what Hitler has brought this country back to and taught to look forward to. I heard him make a speech yesterday at the end of it all which I don’t think I shall ever forget and am going to have translated.’

Munich, Sept 20, ’35: ‘Dear Daddy, the Reichsparteitag was absolutely wonderful. I was just behind Hitler for all the big speeches. None of the things I want to tell you I can in a letter, they are so political.’

‘Somebody among the British community had warned me to be careful of my friendship with Unity. There were not only Germans in Hitler’s entourage, like Eva Braun, who were fiercely jealous of her, but also among the secret service and security police who suspected…that she might be a British agent. She was under surveillance. So I took good care to avoid any censure in what I wrote and to make my account of the Nuremberg Rally particularly ecstatic. It did not need much artifice. The propaganda drug took quick effect.’ (TTTS p72)

Against a background of Germany rearming (para 2, p73), evidence for which was already causing more sober minds to reflect on a potentially bellicose future for Europe, Micky’s good sense seems to have lost its voice. Perhaps this was an extension of his predilection, evidenced earlier in Schloss and villa, to fall under the spell of power, be it expressed socially, financially, intellectually – or, as in this case, politically.

‘My mix of ignorance, blindness, and semi-criminal benevolence, let loose in a world of intensely organised falsehood, turned me into a dupe. I chose to believe that the labour camps were part of Hitler’s “solving of unemployment”. After even the little I had seen in Gloucester, I was ready to fall for anything which seemed to have done away with it. I believed that the youth camps, cutting at the root of hereditary and financial social distinctions, had “abolished class warfare”, the second of  the two evils which were poisoning the heart of Britain. I ignored that all trade unions had been disbanded and many of their leaders thrown into prison, or murdered; and that the same process of elimination had now been completed on most youth organisations, political, religious, or of any kind other than those swearing lifelong allegiance to the Führer. I made no enquiries into the economic and financial juggling which was sustaining the Nazi Government’s colossal expansion of public works, the major part directly or indirectly contributing to rearmament. I retained only what I saw and heard, nearly all of it aimed at vicious exploitation of emotions originally reputable.’
 
Recalling the squads of ‘sunburned and apparently joyous youths’ at work on public projects, the patriotic and optimistic songs and the politically correct discussions, Micky comments on p73 that: ‘Presentations, ceremonies, rites of passage, legends of dead “heroes”, torchlight processions, songs, games, athletics, free or cheap holidays, comradeship, indoctrination, work, all were concentrated, theatricalised, sanctified, once a year at Nuremberg.’ (TTTS pp72)

‘I was determined to see as much of this apotheosis as I could, and from the best positions, to which such swastika passes and permits as I had did not entitle me, and for which I preferred not to plead with Unity. She and her sister Diana Guinness (soon to be married to Sir Oswald Moseley) were guests of honour. Goering was said to have called them the perfect types of German womanly beauty. They seemed so much too good to be true that I might almost have taken them for props. Tall, flaxen-haired and cornflower-eyed, their faces perfectly rounded exhausts to a bland superiority, they strolled through the lounges of the privileged hotels like a pair of off-duty caryatids; while around  them, envying, admiring, there  reported for work the scrubbed squads of Hitler-maidens and Hitler-matrons, condemned for their few years of supremacy to support and populate the temples Hitler was raising to last for a millennium.’

‘I was young, fair if not blond, I had a British passport and an official Nazi certificate that I was a representative of the Rothermere Press. I got past outer guards, reached the tribune of honour, met half-way up about the most evil satrap of them all, the Jew-baiter Julius Streicher, and heil-Hitlered my way onto a cliff-top dais thronged with foreign celebrities, from which I was able to look down on the whole performance from a few feet behind the star.’ (TTTS pp73-4)

‘How near I came to being totally hypnotised my letters home show. I wrote in much the same exalté strain to Guy Burgess. But something in me held back. Boredom became a help in guarding a little of my spiritual and intellectual virginity. Everything went on far too long.’

‘Nonetheless, the hypnosis was powerful enough for me not to write home a word about the purpose of it all. For this was the Party Rally at which the infamous anti-Semitic Nuremberg decrees were promulgated. These laws, the prelude to consummation in the gas chambers, were announced by Hitler in a speech I did not hear. Obscured and deafened by the parades, the sieg-heiling, the fly-past of the new air force, the march-past of the ever-expanding army, and the insane euphoria of a nation considered to have “found itself”, they had no place in my letters home.’ (TTTS p74)

‘And Dachau? What did I write about my day-long visit to this first of the concentration camps? The answer has given me a second shock. The first was that at the time I had wished away the truth; the second, long afterwards, a pretence that I had not really felt that way but had at heart been sickened.’ (TTTS p75)

Micky ‘..used to tell (himself) and other people that the same evening I went to the opera (Mozart), but could not listen for thinking of what I had seen during the day.’ The story was, of course, bogus. A contemporary typescript discovered by Micky not many years ago tells the truth about a period in his life when rationality seems to have been overwhelmed by emotions the memories of which now evoke only shame.

‘Written at the time, they claimed that the fair-minded purpose of my visit had been to correct the imbalance of anti-Nazi propaganda in Britain. But they soon make blatantly clear that the result of this “seeing for myself” had been to crossload, and consciously crossload, the balance against the Nazis into one heavily in their favour.’

The text recalls ‘..the Commandant’s acknowledgement of the “severe punishment” given to ex-prisoners, who after their release had spread stories in Germany and abroad of ill-treatment. On the first offence, the typescript grants that he told me, they were put in the “Dark Cells”, in solitary confinement for a period sometimes of several weeks. Here they have only planks for beds and a ration of dry bread and water. If the offence is repeated they are beaten. They are placed face downwards and stripped on a table, with an S.S. man on either side, and given 25 strokes with a rubber truncheon. “This penalty”, my typescript amiably continues, “is not imposed on the same man twice”, to which I added the nauseating comment, “Those whom it may cause to shudder will remember that the cat-of-nine-tails is even in England not yet obsolete”. At  no point  do I seem to have asked what kind of trial or possibility of defence the prisoners had been permitted, if any; nor how the speaking or publishing of opinions in a slight degree disparaging to Hitler could justify incarceration, let alone in such places as Dachau, or its punishments.’ (TTTS pp75-6)

P 76 also contains detailed references to “sub-normal” prisoners known as the Vicious Squad – ‘the kind who, in the “degenerate democracies” might have been, even in the Thirties, committed to psychiatric wards, and were later in Hitler’s Germany used for experiments. “It is a hard thing to say,” I wrote, “but their faces remain with me like a nightmare. I had not thought that such features existed outside medical journals…”’

‘What sort of person was I then, to write from so sickening an attitude, and attempt such monstrous exculpations, such contortions to excuse the inexcusable? What sort was kind intelligent Victor (Cazalet), who had found Dachau “well organised…not of much interest…?” Or Lloyd George, or the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who a couple of years later paid their private court to Hitler, the instigator of Dachau and its mass-murderous successors, and found him such good company? Or Guy Burgess with his evasiveness about the longer-standing camps, tortures, massacres, in the USSR? Or all the countless others in all classes, all professions, all ages, in many countries, who carried torches and wore blinkers for the tyranny in either East or West?’ (TTTS pp76-7)

P 77 also describes in some detail an incident, during his visit to Stadelheim Prison, when there was at least a glimpse of the later, unblinkered, Micky.

‘My guides showed off the prison laundry, where one of the women working was named to me as Frau Beimler, wife of the German Communist leader and deputy in the former Reichstag Hans Beimler. Hans Beimler has escaped from Dachau. There had been a nationwide hue and cry for him. I was allowed to talk to his wife and whispered in German, “Your husband is safe in Spain.” Her eyes lit up and I knew she believed me…’
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Beimler_(Communist)

Of Hitler: ‘And Hitler? I met him briefly first in the courtyard of the Osteria Bavaria, when I greeted him with my disgusting lie about “British youth”; secondly, as he came out of his “House of Art”, when he signed the copy of Mein Kampf I lost the same afternoon. I used to tell people that he ate in the restaurant “like a peasant”, though I did not know any peasants, and that his eyes seemed to bulge and did have “something hypnotic”. I do remember a kind of shudder running through the huge audience at Nuremberg when he referred to the day “whose date I do not know, when I shall close my eyes in death”. “Wasn’t it awful?” Unity wrote.

 ‘I did copy into my scrapbook a passage from the speech on German rearmament made to the Reichstag on 21 May 1935, which ended “I cannot better conclude…than by repeating our confession of faith in peace. May the other nations too be able to give bold expression to their real inner longing for peace. Whoever lights the torch of war in Europe can wish for nothing but chaos.” And so on, about Germany’s “imperishable contribution to this great work… the renaissance of the West”. I half-believed it. Millions believed it. Neville Chamberlain wished to believe it. Hitler believed it himself, so long as he got his way.’ (TTTS pp77-8)

One particular passage speaks volumes about the effect on his psyche of Micky’s temporary “Nazification”. Having had his AA documents fall out of his car (1935) in France, they were later returned by a Frenchwoman who had found them on the road. ‘I wrote to her that, had they been found  in Germany, they would have been sent back much sooner, to which she made a dignified reply that she did not need to be told about German thoroughness, since the Germans had occupied her family’s farm throughout the 1914-18 war.’ Micky’s unforgivable and uncharacteristic rudeness earned from his mother a ‘disgusted rebuke’. (TTTS p79)

Pp 79-80: Upon Micky’s return there was surprise at the understanding shown by the supposedly virulent Marxist Burgess. All of this was part of a façade constructed to protect his relationship with the KGB. Burgess had himself visited Germany in the company of an ultra right-wing politician, and had joined the pro-Nazi Anglo-German Fellowship. Micky had no idea he was being deceived. ‘My gullibility suited him. Indeed, years later, I had strong intimations that he had found his friendship with me a useful piece of jigsaw in his temporary façade.’ (TTTS pp79-80)

Back in Britain, Micky’s Nazi (but never pro-British Fascist) “delusion” slowly began to wane, partly as a consequence of books written by rather more perceptive journalists – ‘..without journalists of their calibre it must have taken me much longer to grasp that what Hitler’s Germany was offering me  as soul-saving was shit.’ (TTTS p80) - partly because of a visit made, in 1936, to the West Riding of Yorkshire as part of a scheme to aid and at the same time obtain experience of, the unemployed. He would next return to Germany not as dupe but as uniformed enemy of all that had once encouraged him to betray his true self.

In 1936, Micky joined the Times newspaper as a foreign correspondent. By now the scales had been lifted from his eyes and he could see the Nazis for what they really were. He was growing up; and his father having been promoted to a senior position within the Duchy of Cornwall - a royal fiefdom - the family now moved into 10 Buckingham Gate, a ‘splendid home’  just  across  from  Buckingham  Palace.

This was the period of Mrs. Simpson, the royal abdication (in which his father was involved) and Micky’s 24th birthday. On a more sombre note, it was also the period during which Stella was diagnosed a schizophrenic, her particular behavioural aberrations having been less a matter of choice than Micky’s.

His involvement with the Times seems to have made Micky more of a target for recruitment by Burgess – however, this never got further than "grooming" for possible espionage, and the relationship eventually faded away. Britain, at this time, was a major KGB target and one of Burgess’ associates, Kim Philby, eventually became head of the counter-espionage section of the Secret Intelligence Service.

With Hitler’s intentions becoming ever more clear Micky, in late 1937, enlisted in the Queen’s Westminsters, a Territorial  (reserve)  battalion of  The  King’s  Royal Rifle Corps - (an élite unit within the British forces – originally raised as the ‘Royal Americans’). He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in February 1938, the act completing his reformation as an individual who had come to terms with the reality of politics in the late ‘30s. Oddly enough, the Times during this period, was in favour of appeasement, and backed Chamberlain’s agreement with Hitler at Munich, its editor, Geoffrey Dawson, claiming that as a consequence the danger of war had been ‘immeasurably removed’.

In 1939 Micky was sent to Canada and the US to cover the visit of the King and Queen. Another account of their visit to Banff, in the Rockies, contains a description of Micky himself: it reads, ‘By this time Michael Burn had become the mascot of the pilot train. Young, tousle-headed, debonair and in the habit of breaking into a Serge Lifar dance in the middle of the station platform, he did not tie up with my memory of the London Times. All the Americans loved Michael Burn, although half of them could not understand what he said. His accent was so veddy, veddy British..’ (TTTS p108)

In Washington DC, Micky was presented at the White House, where...’..the President, Franklin Roosevelt, sat at an enormous desk, flanked by his son as ADC. “Why”, he declared, leaning forward and reaching out a hand, “Mr. Michael Burn, from the London “Times".’

In New York, friends threw a party for Micky. ‘Tallulah Bankhead was one of the guests. I noticed she wore no bra. “Well,” said the famous husky voice, ”what can I do for you?” And I was speechless...’ (TTTS p109)


Soldier of the King

As a reservist, Micky was called to the Colours on the outbreak of war. Shortly thereafter he volunteered for the newly forming Independent Companies, precursors to the Commandos, who were to attempt to forestall the Germans in Norway. ‘We were to be guerrillas, to hinder their advance north and give (regular formations) time to seize the port of Narvik.’ But the formations were ill-trained, and poorly organised and led, and the whole expedition was one total cock-up. ‘We came upon vast depots of discarded expeditionary stores, from which we replenished. I had a small fortune strapped round me in a leather belt, to pay for food and lodging. “We"ll never leave you, sir,” said (sergeant) Stan Rodd, eyeing it.’ (TTTS p114)

Eventually the formations were withdrawn, in Micky’s case on board the liner Lancastria. In March 1942, en-route to Saint-Nazaire, he would meet her again, passing her bones as she rested on the bottom, having been sunk with the loss of thousands, in 1940, just off the entrance to the Loire estuary.

On return to the UK, Micky became involved, for a time, with a scheme to raise and train a British “Resistance", made  up of men called Auxiliaries, who would hide out in specially prepared bunkers in the case of invasion, then become involved in sabotage, the assassination of collaborators, etc. ‘Gubbins, now a major-general in Whitehall (Gubbins was the officer in charge of these units: he later became involved with SOE) bade me take a handful of Norwegian “veterans” to train underground in Kent as pioneers of a British “Resistance” should the Nazis land. Peter Fleming (author: brother of Ian), with a section of Lovat Scouts (Lord Lovat’s military unit) had already organised woodland hides, violated churchyards to secrete arms, and placed detonators in cigars in stately homes likely to be seized as headquarters for gauleiters.’ (TTTS p115)

Then it was back to his unit for intensely boring and fruitless anti-invasion duties on south coast beaches. This was the period when the Commandos were dreamed up, and recruitment began in the face of stiff opposition from traditionalists. Of the Commandos Micky writes – ‘But no sooner did the idea begin to take hold than a farrago of reasonable misgivings, stale bigotries and personal jealousies sprang up to obstruct our embodiment.’ (TTTS p115)

The Independent Companies now began a tortuous transformation into Commando units. To cut a very long story short, Micky now found himself in No 2 Commando, in charge of 6 Troop, stationed at Paignton, on the south coast of Devon. While stationed with other Commandos in the Redcliffe Hotel, where a wealthy civilian élite had sought refuge from the trials of war in London, Micky and others blew out most of the windows in a botched (too much explosive – as always) attempt to remind them there really was a war on.

‘With us any crackpot project had a chance. A naval commander was among our first encounters. Coming of a family accustomed to winning the Victoria Cross, he had only  managed   a DSO  himself,  and  was  consequently called “the Coward”. He put to us a project for spiking the big guns the Germans had installed at Cap Gris Nez. To get there we were to walk across the twenty miles of sea-bed, kept going underwater by oxygen paid out from the white cliffs.’ (TTTS p117)

Because there was so much hostility to the idea of Commandos, nothing very much seemed to happen right away, the inactivity not sitting at all well with Micky. ‘Millions in blitzed cities walked to work. Plymouth (close to Paignton) was devastated. We became troubled about our unemployed elitism. From Tom’s (Tom Peyton) and my sea-front hotel in Paignton I wrote to my mother, “We are all grossly overfed and spoilt. One has to knock at the door and ask if the soldiers are in when one wants them and instead of issuing orders for a parade, I am thinking of sending out cards: Capt. Burn At Home 0900-1300 hrs. Uniform. R.S.V.P. Please bring your rifle”.’ (TTTS p118)

During this period, circa May 1941, the family’s home in Buckingham Gate, London, was badly damaged by a bomb. Also during this period, Micky changed his religion. ‘It was during this period of training at Paignton that I began to go to mass with the Roman Catholics in the Commando and was received into the Roman Catholic Church. This happened at nearby Buckfast Abbey. It had been on my mind for some time...’ one primary reason being his continuing sexual conflict. ‘I needed someone on whom I could unload my conflicts with perfect trust, and preferred the Roman priesthood because of their ”vast knowledge of the human heart”.’ (TTTS p119)

The scene now moves to Dumfriesshire, in western Scotland, as all Commando units were moved well to the north for training once the main invasion scare had receded. This selection of quotes hints at the prevailing atmosphere of impatience for action; although it has to be said  there  was  also  a  rewarding  social  scene  in  and around Moffat, particularly for Micky. In his social position he was able to pop up to London for dinner at The Ritz, or Claridges, and to attend shows. In Moffat itself there was the distraction of Mora Hope-Robertson, plus visits from Dinah, and the occasional drive to Glen, the baronial home of his friends the Tennants. Although Micky was in love with Lance-Sergeant Maurice ‘Boy’ Harrison, that didn’t prevent him from discussing marriage with Maurice’s sister Molly, also a visitor to Moffat.

‘Suspense produced a dangerously impatient recklessness in Commandos. For all (our) transgressions...Charles Haydon (In charge of the Special Service Brigade, to which all Commando units belonged) had to take the flak, and did, month after month defending us against those on high who remained set on abolishing us.

‘In Whitehall (where all the main government offices were) several plotted to get rid of our Director (Sir Roger Keyes was Director of Combined Ops at the time), My troop nearly got rid of him physically…  Sir Roger was making an inspection of 2 Commando. No. 6 Troop was chosen to put on a demonstration. We were at Moffat, in Dumfriesshire, a blessed place for us all. HQ was thirty miles away at Dumfries. Tom and I lived at the Star Hotel, whose proprietors, Mr. and Mrs. Butler, had become surrogate parents to us all, and Mrs. Butler, with a son on service far away, so much a mother that I gave out that no one was to marry a local girl without her approval. Their bar became a meeting place for all ranks.

‘For Sir Roger’s visit we chose the Devil’s Beef Tub, a vast amphitheatre five miles to the north flanked by a main road (this feature is a huge natural depression, like a giant bowl sunk into the earth). I had planned that one section should give covering fire while another scaled a precipitous slope to take possession of the road. On top of the   slope  was  a  jutting   eminence   suitable  as  an observation point. Staff cars arrived, disgorging Keyes, Haydon and their adjutants. They took up their positions and the demonstration started. Tracer made graceful parabolas (live ammo was being used), obviously delighting our Director who advanced further and further as the scalers neared the summit. Haydon said, “Can you stop them now?” as covering fire thudded below and, on the road behind, tracer soared over passing cars. I did stop them - but only just in time. That evening, Mrs. Butler. whom we had invited to watch, remarked that it had all been very interesting. “And what was that whistling noise?” she asked!’ (TTTS pp120-1)

The continuing inactivity - the absence of raids for an organisation specifically trained to carry them out - prompted Micky, late in 1941, to contact Gubbins again. Gubbins by this time was in charge of the Baker Street offices of SOE (Special Operations Executive), the semi-secret organisation set up to execute Churchill’s order to “set Europe ablaze” against Nazi occupation. The idea was that with his knowledge of French and German, Micky might soon be trained as a spy and parachuted into France.

‘I went unhappily to London in mid-January (1942). My parents had moved to a house outside London. I slept in the ruins of 10 Buckingham Gate and reported to Gubbins at Baker Street. My records next provide four scribbled sheets containing notes for a letter to Gubbins asking to be released....their gist was that I hoped to be dropped in France and would be no good on his staff in London.’ (TTTS p125)

Micky does not elaborate on the SOE idea, except to say that his being dropped into France as an agent was not on the menu. His personal SOE file was closed for 66 years.

‘Events hurtled me towards a climax. One morning towards the end of February 1942 I was in London with Dinah Jones, a most dear girl-friend. In a taxi going along the Mall I saw Charles Newman with a briefcase hurrying past Marlborough House towards Whitehall. I had not known he was in London and guessed it must be for a conference. I stopped the taxi and got out. His voice and expression were almost jubilant. “You’ve got to come back,” he said. “This is it.” He took me back and I found the Commando at Ayr in a state of mystified excitement. The mood was sad as well. Charles had to select two groups, a small one to disappear at once to study how to wreck a dockyard (the 2 Commando demolition contingent), the other much larger to receive intensive training in street fighting at night.’ (TTTS p125)

When the training was complete, the troops took a train from Ayr to the Clyde where they boarded the PJC for the voyage down the west coast to Falmouth. (Troopship Princess Josephine Charlotte)

‘The troops… did not need to be told that they were going into mortal danger. But at the end, on orders, I advised them to make wills in their Army pay-books and write letters which would be delivered to their families and loved ones if they did not come back. The atmosphere of the last days is covered by the final entries in Maurice ”Boy" Harrison’s diary.’

Mon: 23 March: ‘...the whole thing is extremely risky and I feel nervous. I don’t know whether I really believe that I’ll come back, or just hope so. I do so want to - there are so many good times ahead.’ (TTTS p130)

Tues: 24 March: ‘Went to Mass first thing, gaining that deep pleasure. One way and another I spent quite a long time in the sun, which made me very sunburned and full of sunshine.’
 
Wed: 25 March: ‘Wrote a letter home to be opened if I am unlucky. I tried hard to say what I felt, but at the time being so full of life it was difficult to think of what I would write if I were dead. Somehow, too, I feel I shall be OK - perhaps this is because I hope so with all my heart. Feel a little tired of talking about the (raid) - am just waiting now to do it well and then go home on leave!’ He had just three days left to live.... (TTTS p131)


The Saint-Nazaire Raid: 26-28 March, 1942

Micky sailed to France on board Motor Launch 192, captained by Lt-Commander Billie Stephens. The launch was part of an ill-armed fleet assembled for the purpose of carrying to Saint-Nazaire Commando troops tasked with destroying the port’s great “Normandie” dry dock, the only such facility on the Atlantic seaboard capable of accommodating Germany’s largest warships. It had been made clear before departure that this was likely to be a one-way trip; and yet, so unyielding were the bonds cementing Commando units together, no one could really imagine encountering any physical force strong enough to tear them apart.

Micky’s immediate party consisted of his subaltern, Lieutenant Tom Peyton, and thirteen other ranks. Other members of 6 Troop were distributed throughout the fleet. The team would enter the Loire estuary at the head of the starboard column of troop-carrying MLs and go ashore in the Old Entrance, a small, enclosed anchorage right next to the “Normandie” dock. They would then fight their way to the north end of the dock and block access to German reinforcements approaching the battle area from the north.

The fleet entered the estuary just before 0100 on the morning of Saturday 28th, with everyone at action-stations. As Micky describes it: ‘I went round my group, standing to by the two 20mm crew-manned guns or lying down behind Brens, or simply with grenades and Tommy-gun, and wished each man luck. Tom Peyton was in command of the soldiers aft. I stayed forward of Billie Stephens who was on the bridge and commanded all the MLs. I had with me Harrison and one or two others. Right forward, sunk into his hatch, Willie Bell had become a round face and a steel helmet. By one o’clock we could smell the countryside and see outlines of houses and hedgerows on each bank.‘ (TTTS pp135-6)

The seventeen small boats surrounding the explosive-filled destroyer Campbeltown whose job it was to ram the “Normandie” dock  and  destroy  it, got  almost  to within sight of their target before the German defences woke up – at which point they were swept by a deluge of fire. Almost immediately ML192 was hit, set ablaze, and thrust, out of control, towards the granite wall of the Old Mole. Shocked and disorientated, Micky: ‘was aware of buildings, a wall towering up, and heard Billie Stephens shout, “Jump! Now’s your chance!” “Why? I thought. What for? We haven’t landed. I told Harrison to follow me, went to the starboard rail and looked aft. The ship was on fire, sheering rapidly away from a stone wall. I jumped, loaded with grenades, swam a few strokes and thought I was going to drown. Arthur Young had already jumped and landed on the steps in the wall. He had been wounded in the foot, but sitting there he managed to reach an arm far enough to lug me onto them. The ML bumped away. Firing was going on all round.’ (TTTS pp136-7)

As he sat there in a daze, a body drifted past. It was that of Tom Peyton, but in his present mental state it meant nothing to Micky. Harrison had also gone, later to be listed as one of the eight commandos lost from this one boat. Others of his troop were to die elsewhere on the river.

With other boats coming on to make a landing at the Mole, Micky got a grip and climbed the steps onto the top of the Mole, where he bashed a German over the head with the butt of his Colt .45. He was the only one of his men in condition to press on towards their target; but between him and the main body of the dockyard lay two German bunkers. Without thinking he ran on: ‘North for me meant right-handed, away from the Mole. In my immediate way was a gun emplacement with two Germans on top. I doubled across the open space. They had seen me. They could not miss. I felt a sharp stab in the inside of my left thigh, another in my right arm, a third in my back. The wounds were to heal in a few days. I was very fit; for small injuries self-healing.’ (TTTS p137)

Somehow or other, Micky, completely alone, made it almost one kilometre to his party’s targets through a dockyard still very much in German possession. Once there he attempted to destroy two flak towers – but could not do so by himself. He then returned, again alone, to the Commando assembly area only to find that the small boats detailed to carry them home again, had been sunk or set on fire.

At one point he was captured, but was able to talk his way to freedom by claiming, in excellent German, that he was too important a potential prisoner to be shot. The delay gave Troop Sergeant-Major George Haines time to stage a rescue. Later he took part in a mass escape attempt, but with typical independence of mind, thought he had a much better chance on his own.

Having been earlier up at the northern end of the docks, he had recognised how bridge “M" offered a possible chance of escape into the suburbs of the town. So later, as the whole Commando group left the Mole to make for the lift-bridge over the New Entrance lock, he decided to take the alternative route and left the group, in the company of two of his own Troop, Riflemen Paddy Bushe and Tommy Roach. They crossed the Old Entrance and moved north up the dockside.

‘I had just been there and back on my own, had encountered no one and knew where the cover was…   ..having already escaped three German captors once by speaking German, I would try the same bluff again if challenged a second time. Tommy-guns and tin hats would give us away. I ordered Paddy and Tom to dump them and follow me (this left them with no means of defence!). We set off on the road between the warehouses and the submarine basin. We were challenged. I called back, in German, “The English have landed”. We strode  on  towards  the swing  bridge which would give us access into the town and this time were fired on. Paddy and I ran into...cover. I looked for Tom Roach, and called him, but there was no reply.’ (Tommy, left with no weapon, had been killed.)

The two took refuge in the boiler-room of a ship where they were captured the following morning. ‘Paddy and I were marched through the streets hands-up, with bayonets at our backs. French men and women made friendly gestures and, seeing that a German team were photographing us...I formed my fingers into a V-sign. We met Sam Beattie, wearing only a blanket (having just been brought ashore). At the moment Paddy and I met him, we were quite near the dry dock. It was past 10 o’clock and there was HMS Campbeltown still embedded in the caisson. It was hard not to show dismay, or seem in a hurry to get clear of her. We joined Charles and the rest in a guard-room, all equally on edge and trying not to show it, all wondering what the hell has happened, what has gone wrong, why has she not gone up?’ (TTTS pp139-141)



A prisoner of the Reich


Following the eventual explosion of HMS Campbeltown – several hours late, but heard by Micky and many others of the prisoners – the surviving Commandos and sailors were moved away. Their first camp was Marlag und Milag Nord, where his primary concern was to learn of the fates of his men, both his own party and another, smaller party, commanded by his second subaltern, Lieutenant Morgan Jenkins.


‘For weeks, for months, not knowing about the remainder of my group and Morgan’s kept hope alive. News came through slowly, from families via the Red Cross, from wounded who rejoined us from hospital, from those who had got home. Jack Heery wrote to me. Jack had got home in one of the four MLs…that did. So had six more of my troop, who had not been with Morgan or me, and were transferred from a sinking ML to one of our destroyer escorts. One or more of the rest might still be brought into our camp, caught while trying to escape, might even have escaped the whole way home. But a time came when I could pretend to myself no longer. Until then it had been as if I had been going over and over that night’s events in front of a blurred screen with sound and commentary off. Hope had muted them, confusing what in my heart I knew to be the truth. Now it came on full blast. The guns came on, the explosions, the cries from the boats, the river, the burning oil and the hideous nature of their deaths. Night passed, the sun rose for a moment over the Loire like a Viking funeral pyre. And then all grandeur died, river and sky turned grey, the beach was strewn with bodies of dead men and burnt-out ships, and I knew that all those I had waited for had been killed.’(TTTS pp143-4)

At least the idea of giving the ‘V’- sign, in the hope that newsreel footage of it might be picked up by British Intelligence, seemed to have worked as planned.

‘In prison camp…I soon knew that my parents knew of my survival, and I could stop worrying on their behalf. Well before such a thing could be expected, I received a message via the Red Cross. Who on earth could have sent it? I made a joke of it to the others. Obviously, now that I had become a prisoner, the whole of Europe knew. Probably it came from Hitler. I had not actually met Mussolini, but he was sure to have heard, and soon pasta and chianti would arrive from him. Meanwhile I was baffled.

‘I had become friendly in the mid-1930s with a Dutch lady called Ella van Heemstra. When war was declared, in September 1939, she wrote to me from her family home in Holland. She hoped that, if ever I happened to be stationed near Folkestone, I would go and see her ten-year-old daughter by her English husband, whom she had divorced. The child was in the care of a family in the village of Elham, The Queen’s Westminsters (NB: Micky’s Territorial unit) were at Folkestone nearby, so I visited the delicate, rather lanky child. Ella withdrew her back to Holland just before Hitler occupied it. One evening in the spring of 1942 she went to the movies. She arrived in time for the newsreel. It was Goebbels’s propaganda film of the British “fiasco” at St Nazaire, and suddenly “It’s Micky!” she exclaimed, seizing the person next to her who happened to be a German officer. There I was with my hands up. She passed off her excitement, and went several times more, confirming from my three or four appearances that she was right. From the Dutch Red Cross she found out my name, number and PoW camp; hence the message.

‘The cinema belonged to a Jewish lady, a friend of Ella’s. It had been confiscated, but she had not been deported and still had keys. At night the courageous pair slipped in, went up to the projection-box, ran the newsreel, stopped it at the frames containing me, snipped out one of each appearance and spliced it. Ella had the frames enlarged. I next heard from her after the liberation of Holland as the war was ending. Her country was suffering terribly. Many Dutch were starving. Her daughter was gravely ill. Could I send cigarettes to buy penicillin? I sent loads, and she wrote back that the barter had saved the child’s life. Later she came to England and gave me the reel-enlargements. I went to Vienna for The Times and lost touch with her. One day I opened a Sunday newspaper on a big photograph of a mother whom I recognised, because I knew her, and a girl whom I recognised, because she was famous. The mother was Ella, the girl her daughter…the international film-star Audrey Hepburn.’ (TTTS p145-6)

Following a short period of incarceration all together, the Commando prisoners were moved away, in the case of officers, to mighty Spangenberg Castle – Oflag 1X A/H (www.pbase.com/solomonsiu/spangenberg)

Most remained here throughout the war; however two of the Commandos, including General Purdon, still extant, managed to escape for a time, ensuring an eventual move to Colditz. ‘The rest of us, under Charles Newman’s direction, worked on an unsuccessful tunnel designed to go into the foundations and then across the moat.

‘Many prisoners believed that the Germans had had a stool-pigeon at Spangenberg. He would have known about talks I gave there. Prisoners of war are literally a captive audience, ready to listen to almost anything. As a politically-minded journalist before the war, what I had to say  was  of interest, I  had described the shock given me by unemployment in Gloucester and the Yorkshire coalfields; how I had gone to Germany believing that Hitler had “cured” it. For a time been taken in, and then had my eyes opened to the truth; and how disillusion had been fed by my experience of Appeasement on The Times and the fiasco of the “campaign” in Norway. As a result my opinions had moved decisively Left. Ronnie Swayne, who was among my audience, described me at that time as being “slightly to the Left of Major Attlee”. This was hardly extreme. Nonetheless some of the older officers, who had been prisoners since the fall of France in 1940, objected and asked General Victor Fortune, senior officer in Spangenberg and of all prisoners in Germany, that my talks should be stopped. He had been at school at Winchester about the turn of the century and distinguished himself at cricket. He sent for me and asked, “You’re not going to say anything against the Royal Family, are you?” I assured him that I was not. “Good,” he replied, “because by them we stand or fall”. He declined to stop my talks. “Why should I?” he answered the complainants. “At Winchester I once took five catches off his father’s bowling.”’ (TTTS pp152-3)
 
Micky remained in Spangenberg for about a year before being moved, with the other Roman Catholics, to Oflag 1X A/Z, Rotenburg-an-der Fulda

In Rothenberg Micky was soon placed in solitary confinement. He believes he was singled out because of information passed on to the Germans by the Spangenberg  stool-pigeon  who  moved  with  Micky  to  Rothenberg.  This individual would have listened to his stories of having visited Germany, met the Führer and initially applauded Hitler’s success with banishing unemployment. His current Leftist stance would also not have been missed, conveying the impression of someone who had switched allegiances in the past and might do so again - see below for details.

‘This was very unusual indeed. No accusation had been made against me. On the contrary, a pleasantly spoken German officer had visited me in my cell with a proposal. The German authorities would like to move me to a “special” camp where conditions would be much more agreeable. I would be allowed parole and walks outside. Girls would be found for me. I would have movies, a room to myself, hot baths, and opportunity to study and write in peace. In return for these favours I would be (though he did not use the word) indoctrinated, and then taken on tour round British PoW camps to explain to their misguided inmates that we, rulers of a vast Empire, had through the folly of our Government got ourselves on the wrong side by our alliance with the “barbaric” Russian Communists. We should be on the side of National Socialist Germany fighting for “civilisation”. I refused. Apart from that stale old rigmarole – Germany and Britain were “blood brothers” and so on, - prisoners of war were forbidden to give parole. The officer seemed to have expected refusal and went away, still polite, saying that he would allow me time to think it over. (TTTS p152)

‘A stool-pigeon could also have known something concerning me at Rothenberg. German propaganda had started to make much of a mass grave their armies were said to have excavated in the forest of Katyn, near Smolensk, and found crammed with the bodies of murdered Polish officers. The Germans were saying that the Russians had murdered them, and the Russians were accusing the Germans. A delegation of high German officials arrived at Rothenberg and invited representatives of the Allied prisoners to go to Katyn and see the evidence of Russian guilt for themselves. A senior American and British officer consented to go. I made a protest. The Soviet Union was now our ally, and it was disgraceful to lend ourselves to any campaign against it.

‘My protest, duly reported, would certainly have been taken by the Germans as evidence that I was pro-Communist and therefore deutschfeindlich (hostile to Germany). This evidence, coupled with the information that in earlier years I had been deutschfreundlich (friendly to Germany) and actually met the Führer and had Mein Kampf  signed for me by him, made me worth a little attention, either as a subversive or a possible collaborator. I had also been a political journalist and was known to be writing a book, for which I was using books on German history in the camp library. “Such men are dangerous”: fit either to be used or, if they refuse, to be put where they can do no harm. The officer’s visits to me in my cell ceased to be polite. He told me that if I continued to reject his proposal I would be sorry. I would be sent “somewhere I would not like at all”. He gave me twenty-four hours to make up my mind. I took him to mean a concentration camp, Dachau perhaps. Eight years before I had been shown it as a privileged visitor and allowed myself to be deceived. Now I would see it, suffer it, in its reality…… Twenty-four hours passed. The officer reappeared. I repeated my refusal. And so, instead of Dachau, Colditz.’ (TTTS p153)


Colditz – Oflag 1V C

Again alone, although under escort, Micky was taken to Colditz, via Leipzig. During the journey by rail his guard fell asleep. Micky removed the cartridges from his rifle, only handing them back to the astonished guard upon their arrival at the station: it had seemed the polite thing to do.

Colditz was the “bad boys’ camp”, for which Micky, who raised suspicion anyway by arriving alone, did not quite seem to fit the bill. Corran Purdon and Dick Morgan were able to confirm his having taken part in the raid. Otherwise it was a question of yet again being saved by “Top People”, for Colditz was home not only to inveterate escapers, but to a group of well-born and/or influential hostages known as “The Prominente”.www.colditzcastle.net/about-colditz/prominente/.

‘I had been allocated to the most élite mess-table in this most élite of Oflags. (known as the Bullingdon, after the exclusive Oxford drinking club). A majority were Lords and Lairds. Two of them were held under special surveillance, on orders from leaders of the SS, in the hope of using them as hostages if and when Germany was defeated: (known as “the prominentes”) One was Charlie Hopetoun, whose father, Lord Linlithgow, had been Viceroy of India, the other John, Master of Elphinstone, a nephew of the Queen. John Arundell of Wardour had inherited one of the oldest Roman Catholic peerages in England. John Winant, whose father was American Ambassador in London, joined us towards the end. Giles Romilly, a nephew of Winston Churchill, was also under surveillance and in special danger, having been captured while an unaccredited journalist; he was also known to be a Communist.’ (TTTS pp155-6)

‘The prisoners accepted my account and put my experience as a journalist to very welcome use. Because I knew shorthand they appointed me to the group who ran the secret wireless set. It was hidden under the rafters of a vast attic about 35 yards long. We worked in pairs, alternately, with one of us acting as “scribe” to take down the news. Dick Howe and Jimmy Yule knew about signals…; Jim Rogers, a mining engineer, and I were the others.

‘Every evening guards were posted to give warning of Germans as the team on duty entered the attic by opening the huge steel door with a forged key. The hide was near the far end of the attic. A third officer followed us to make sure we left no traces, cleaning up our footprints and putting back in place anything which, however slightly, we might have moved. By lifting floorboards and removing a crosspiece between the rafters in a gable-end, he exposed a narrow hole through which Jimmy Yule and I (NB: in the “Observer” article Micky describes his partner as Dick Howe) wriggled as fast as we could. It was not easy. He then left the attic and, if the coast was clear, returned after the news to liberate us. I read it out to the heads of sleeping-quarters from my notes.

‘Jimmy and I, wearing earphones, sat on an upholstered bench side by side, with a small table and the radio in front of us. We had electric light; the tiles above and walls were lined with blankets. On two or three evenings we heard the Germans scuffling about in the attic with nothing between us and them but a thin lath-and-plaster wall and a blanket. We were scared stiff of sneezing, but the hide was never found. In case of emergency the floor had been scraped right down to the ceiling plaster of the mess-room below, and our drill would have been to kick a hole  in  the  plaster  and  lower,  first,  the  radio,  then treasured material for escapers (money, maps, forged passes, etc.) and finally ourselves. (TTTS pp153-4)

‘I helped them, of course, as did everyone, in minor duties such as monitoring the routines of sentries. But my role in the radio hide gave me the chance of lifting people’s spirits, on such evenings as D-day, or the crossing of the Rhine, or at the end as the Americans approached who were to set us free.  I felt I was a link in the lifeline of a community. It made me feel less guilty about the avidity with which I pursued my private aims.’ (TTTS p154)

‘At my first camp, Spangenberg, I was mildly socialist.’ (But) By now I was well on the way to Marxism. At Colditz a few of us formed a study group, of which one member was Giles Romilly, Churchill’s nephew….. . I gave highly biased lectures on Marxism to large audiences. Outside the  castle  walls  such  lectures  had  been  punishable by death for years. I was told that one senior British officer forbade his subordinates to attend, and that another wished to have me tried for treason after the war. But, so far as I am aware, no one gave me away to the Germans.’

Post-war Micky’s views on Marxism would change radically, ‘After the war I asked The Times to send me to one of the Communist Countries, and became their correspondent in Eastern Europe. There I witnessed the enforced revolutions, attended the infamous sham trials, knew at first hand of the disappearances, the tortures, the lies, and concluded that Marxism in contemporary practice was odious; as a political theory…manure for the dictatorships and so for brutality…’

‘But I do not regret the stage I passed through in Colditz. At least I was seeking a better world, free of the disgrace of the past. One night a dream expressed these feelings for me. I dreamt that the fields beneath the castle had turned into a huge Asiatic plain, on which a medieval battle was raging, with spears and banners and caparisoned horses, like a battle in an Uccello painting. Suddenly it parted, and beneath the hooves I saw a young Chinese soldier, terribly wounded. I went to help him, and as he died he said, “All men are brothers”.’

‘I see now that part of what we had been fighting for was not the substance of my lectures, but the liberty granted me to give them. If many of my arguments were mistaken, I went at once to examine them in action, and altered them as a consequence. Had I not done so, I might have remained a captive of the ideas, of the intellect, that in Colditz had helped to liberate me.

‘I am grateful for the patience Colditz taught me, and for the occasional light into which study and imaginative art enabled me to tunnel out of its adversities.’

Referring to the television series which concentrated purely on the physical aspects of escaping from Colditz, he comments finally that, ‘I wish the television serial could have shown something of that relief, that other liberation at Colditz. But the castle has become a legend, and all legends are constantly reinterpreted: and perhaps someday someone will swing the cameras wider and probe that strange castle more profoundly.’

Towards the end of Micky’s stay in Colditz there appear distinct threads of unreality which manifested themselves in his views becoming ever more extreme. Dreams were also sometimes tortured, as of the wounded Chinese soldier, above. ‘In real life I seemed to be going hard and heartless, my energy more and more consumed by theory. Doctrinaire views on class took hold. I informed Grismond Davies-Scourfield, an admirable officer captured at Calais, who had escaped and spent months with the Polish Underground, that he was the sort of person “who was a bar to all social progress”. At home, at dinner with my parents, holding forth on what Britain of the future must become, I infuriated my younger brother….’


The ‘Intellectual’ escaper

(From the ‘Observer’ newspaper, 3 November, 1974: article – “Why I Didn’t Break out of Colditz” by Michael Burn)

In a fortress whose memory remains indistinguishable from the notion of escapes, Micky, who had no intention of even trying, was very much the exception.

‘What is meant by ‘escape’? Release, liberation, are words more to my purpose. They imply removal into surroundings quite different from those you are inhabiting. The “physical” escapers wished to leave the castle and get home. But, for the escaper of the mind, prison enables him to possess another world for a prolonged period, while remaining physically where he is.

‘Drink, drugs, sex and gambling have long been…a form of liberation. Neither of the first two was possible in Colditz, except for a very occasional booze-up on dangerous hooch…. . It might be guessed that homosexuality became rife, but this was not so. Even if desire could have retained its strength, the crowded conditions and a general censure would have made satisfaction almost hopeless. Some French prisoners arrived towards the end of the war, and the first question one of them asked was “Quels sont les garcons?”  Apparently this contingent had fixed something up among themselves, but they did not strike me as more liberated than anyone else.

‘I also studied. I learnt Russian from the Czech prisoners. The Red Cross had arranged all sorts of courses for German prisoners in Britain and ourselves in Germany. They supplied books. I read the whole of Keynes’s “Treatise on Money”, and while still in Colditz received an Honours Degree in the Social Sciences from Oxford. My studies were intently, even fanatically, directed: and they, together with my novel, brought me liberation through the mind.’

‘I had the good fortune to form a friendship with another prisoner five years younger than myself, with whom I could talk freely. This was Sub-Lieutenant Norman (inevitably “Dusty”) Miller RN, a self-taught engineer from North London, who had left school during the Depression for a life on the ocean wave, starting in the lowest caverns of the Merchant Navy. He had been a member of the Young Communist League.  War had promoted him from Red Duster to White Ensign. He had been torpedoed in the Atlantic, taken prisoner, and arrived at Colditz after a failed  escape. I  noticed  him  at once, bowling round the yard, spare, handsome, different from the rest, a loner. Attraction became infatuation, impossible to satisfy in the circumstances even had he so wished, which he did not, being entirely heterosexual. Nonetheless a profound friendship burgeoned thanks to a common envy of something in each of us which the other was without; Dusty of my education, I of his easy masculinity and knowledge of the other “Them” (the working-class). We were also linked by opposite kinds of rejection and success. I had failed with both men and women; Dusty desired only women and seemed seldom to have failed. On the other hand he had had difficulty in getting jobs, and when he got one, and his employers discovered his political opinions, he was sacked; while I had had jobs waiting for me and, politically, had been able to say whatever I liked. Our friendship lasted until his death from cancer in 1985.’ (TTTS pp157-8)

Amongst the stories exchanged were Dusty’s tales of women, and Micky’s of his tragic relationship with Dinah Jones. Micky also divulged a tale relating to his sexual confusion. It is contained in page 158 and describes an encounter on board a liner returning to the UK from Canada, in 1939. ‘Victor Rothschild, now a peer…had been on board. We had been talking together in the Turkish baths when suddenly he remarked, “I think you are the most homosexual person I have ever met”. It astonished me; particularly the superlative, since I had not yet made up my own mind that I was even positive.’ (TTTS p158)

As recounted on p 95, while in Colditz Micky learned of a relationship a fellow prisoner had had with his sister Stella – with whom he shared so many traits, although, thankfully, not her developing schizophrenia. The revelation,  in  such  austere  circumstances,  must  have stirred an, until then, happily dormant pot of emotions relating to the coolly formal, intensely patriarchal Burn family dynamic.

‘One night in Colditz we prisoners had one of our rare celebrations on hooch, distilled from potatoes and raisins from Red Cross parcels saved over many months. I lay down on the floor among our bunks, waiting to pass out. A Naval officer lay down beside me. “Are you Stella Burn’s brother?” he asked. Years afterwards he wrote down for me what he told me then. He had gone with his sister to Cassis in the south of France, where his sister had friends among writers and artists: “The first evening we all migrated to the local bistro on the quay. I felt a slight fish out of water till I spied a young girl sitting soulfully by herself. We danced, talked, drank moderately, and went back to the house. By the time we reached it we both knew that neither of us wanted to spend the rest of the night alone. Stella had come to paint; she was very much an amateur and was slightly teased by the other avant-garde artists. She had recently had a lesbian relationship but wanted to put that behind her. She quickly brought me down to earth, removed my naval officer’s veneer and we became two carefree, laughing and happy people”.’

‘They stayed in small villages, bathed on deserted beaches, helped with the vendange. “But she was often sad, temperamental, and rather full of inhibitions”. He asked her if she thought they should marry, “to which she answered, ‘But we don’t know each other.’ She was right.” He wrote to her but she did not reply, and they never met again.’ (TTTS p95)

Stella, schizophrenic, was destined to die, in a ‘home for incurables’, in January 1954.

Micky was liberated ‘..by the Americans on 17 April, 1945’.

‘I sat at a real mess-table in a real castle in Saxony. It was for me the last day of a real war. My head was busy with two things. One was the last chapter of my novel, which would be called “Yes, Farewell”, and end with imaginary Russians liberating an imaginary castle called Durheim. In the courtyard below real Americans were liberating the real one, called Colditz. The other concern was to prepare a real dispatch for “The Times” informing the newspaper of the SS kidnapping of the hostages, which had happened a few days before. Colonel Tod, who had been our senior British officer through difficult times, had instructed me to find an American general as fast as possible and give him this information, with the names of the hostages. Dusty was to come with me as assistant in case I needed one. A huge American car was waiting. We were whisked across Germany, the general found and informed, and the dispatch sent and published in “The Times” next morning (“From our own correspondent”). We were then flown home.’ (TTTS p163)


Mary

Born – Petropolis, near Rio, 10 March, 1897. Second of four children of Charles Hamilton Walter (originally Levi). Mother – Ada Yeats, first cousin to WB and Jack Yeats. Married 23 January 1918 to Henry Booker. Later divorced. Two daughters, Veronica, and Benita (later Lady Willams).

On one of his many excursions to London whilst a Commando billeted in Scotland, Micky had taken Dinah Jones to the Dorchester. They were accompanied by Morgan Jenkins, son of a Welsh miner, now an officer, and anxious to experience the ‘posh world’ for the first time.

Dinah was Micky’s supposed “date”, she at the height of her attempts to seduce him; nevertheless, true to form, Micky only had eyes for another – a vision clad in grey, out amidst the dancers, who he described as ‘…the most beautiful woman I had ever set eyes on.’

‘Next evening Charles Haydon had asked me for a drink at his flat.’ (Haydon, Brigadier in charge of all the Commandos) ‘I rang the bell and this same woman opened the door. Charles was her first cousin. I had kept her address and towards the end of May, 1945, during a desolate week, wrote her a stilted little letter. She answered, and I called on her.’ (TTTS p162)

In the interim, Mary’s life had been to say the least eventful. Following her divorce from Henry Booker, she had gone into the business of ‘interior architecture’, with friends Edward Hulton and Peter Lindsay.  In the early years of the war there had been a passionate affair with Spitfire pilot Richard Hillary, author of ‘The Last Enemy’ and at the time also involved with Mary’s film-actress friend Merle Oberon (later Lady Korda). Hillary had been shot down, badly burned, and put together again by pioneer plastic surgeon Archie Mcindoe. Just prior to his death in a flying accident they had spent an idyllic period together, in Tan-y-Clogwyn, a cottage restored by Mary and Peter in distant north Wales. Richard’s death was a huge blow from which it might be argued she never did recover completely.

More than able to look after herself, Mary became London manager for Miles Aircraft and was in post, aged forty-eight when Micky came on the scene following his repatriation.

Amongst other journeys together Mary, took him to Wales, to stay together in tiny Tan-y-Clogwen.  Irrespective of any vibrations the cottage might have retained  from  the  Hillary idyll - sensed perhaps only by Mary - the period was always remembered by Micky as a time of bliss’ Indeed so perfect was the atmosphere that Mary’s ashes would eventually be spread upon the waters of the stream running through the meadow below.

Following a lengthy and at times unpromising courtship, Micky and Mary married on 27 March, 1947, shortly after her 50th birthday. Micky was 35 at the time and living in the actress Gigi Bajor’s villa in Budapest, as the Times ‘man in the Balkans’ (where he was widely believed to be the head of British Intelligence). He later resigned and began a career as a writer, he and Mary abandoning the London high-life and moving permanently to North Wales, first to Tan-y-Clogwyn, and then to Beudy Gwyn.

Geographical isolation notwithstanding, Micky and Mary although often critically short of cash, still enjoyed periodic essays into the social whirl – the publisher Teddy Hulton (Picture Post) being a particular friend and financial rescuer. Teddy was in love with Mary, and even claimed to have spent the night with her. Other close friends included philosopher and neighbour Bertrand Russell, and writer Goronwy Rees, another of Guy Burgess’s KGB 'targets'.




Epitaph

Shortly after the above material was put together, Micky passed away having suffered a stroke. Amongst numerous obituaries, both in the UK and in the USA, that of 'The Guardian' is given below.

←Meic Stephens guardian.co.uk, Thursday 23 September 2010 17.57 BST

Michael Burn, who has died aged 97, had a life strewn with risks, setbacks, disenchantments and deceptions, and illumined by love affairs, literary acclaim and marvellous friendships. Man about town, journalist, soldier, poet, novelist and playwright, and latterly a breeder of mussels on the Dwyryd and Glaslyn estuaries of north-west Wales, Burn – widely known as Micky – lived his life with panache and a debonair grin. This he maintained whatever befell him, whether incarceration in Colditz as a PoW or in reporting the communist show trials of postwar Europe.

There were contradictions in his character, flaws and conflicts even, which he wrote about with self-knowledge. Born into a well-to-do home in Mayfair, London, he observed unemployment and the most appalling poverty while living with a Yorkshire miner's family in the early 1930s. The experience left an indelible mark on him. By instinct republican, he was sent to cover the royal visit to Canada and the US in 1939 and reported it rapturously. For a while he was in favour of the Nazis, but became a Marxist while a PoW after taking part in a commando raid at St Nazaire in France in 1942.

He was the son of Sir Clive Burn, a solicitor employed as secretary to the Duchy of Cornwall, and his wife Phyllis. The boy was sent to Winchester college and spent his holidays with grandparents in a villa near Le Touquet on the Normandy coast. He soon rebelled against the class he had been born into. At New College, Oxford, he did no work whatsoever and left after his first year, intent on becoming a journalist. In 1933, drawn by his love of Wagner, he took flight for Germany, where he moved from castle to castle as the guest of aristocrats deeply implicated in the rise of national socialism. He admired what the Nazis seemed to be doing about reviving the German economy and abolishing the class system, which he saw as a cancer eating at the heart of British society.

Back in London by 1934, Burn found a reporter's job with the Gloucester Citizen, owned by Lord Rothermere, the pro-Nazi owner of the Daily Mail. Still preoccupied with mass unemployment, he took up the cause of Forest of Dean miners while, at the same time, enjoying the hospitality of the Earl of Berkeley. On holiday in Germany in 1935, he went to a Nazi rally at Nuremberg, met Adolf Hitler, who signed a copy of Mein Kampf for him, and visited the Dachau concentration camp with Unity Mitford and her sister Diana Guinness, soon to be married to Oswald Mosley.

The scales dropped from his eyes on his return to London. What changed his mind about Hitler was a week spent as a paying guest in the home of a Barnsley miner, where he saw the effects of economic depression and social deprivation at their most poisonous. He remained in contact with the family for the rest of his life. Soon afterwards, in 1937, he "was received into the Times", whose policy of appeasement had held sway throughout the 30s.

At the outbreak of the second world war, Burn joined the Territorials and, after the most basic training, saw guerrilla action in German-occupied Norway, which ended in disarray for the British troops. The audacious commando raid of 1942 on the German-held Atlantic port of St Nazaire was more successful, denying sanctuary to the Tirpitz, the largest of all the German battleships. The commandos rammed HMS Campbeltown, packed with explosives, into the harbour defences and then fought their way ashore. Though typically modest about his role in blowing up installations, Burn was awarded the Military Cross for his part in the assault.

He was captured twice in 24 hours, the first time talking his way out of it in fluent German. As captors led him away, Burn put up his hands with fingers in a V for victory sign, defying cameras that were recording the surrender for Goebbels. The shot appeared in his autobiography, Turned Towards the Sun (2003). At the time, it was seen in a cinema newsreel in the occupied Netherlands by a friend, Ella van Heemstra. She sent him a Red Cross food parcel in Colditz, and after his release, he sent back cigarettes for her to sell in order to buy penicillin for her seriously ill daughter, the eventual film star Audrey Hepburn. By now "slightly to the left of Major [Clement] Attlee", Burn became a Marxist under the tutelage of a fellow officer.

After the war, he was sent by the Times to Vienna and then to central Europe with special responsibility for the Balkans, where he made friends with the hitherto unapproachable Soviet press corps. Among the events he covered were the rigged trial of Cardinal József Mindszenty, the Catholic primate of Hungary, who was imprisoned by the communist government in 1949.

Burn's conversion to Catholicism, his wife Mary's religion, lasted from about 1940 to 1994, when he left the Church of Rome on account of its teachings on homosexuality, which he had practised intermittently since his schooldays. His sexuality caused him great anguish but he was able to write about it with a light touch. Mary knew of his homosexuality, considering it "a part of a general male retardation", he reported, but their marriage, which lasted from 1947 until her death in 1974, turned out to be extremely happy.

The house known as Beudy Gwyn, with its stunning views across the Dwyryd estuary near Minffordd in what is now Gwynedd, was renovated by the Burns in 1951. There Burn resumed his writing career. He had begun as a playwright with The Modern Everyman (1947) and now had some critical success as the author of The Night of the Ball (1956). His first novel, Yes, Farewell (1946), was followed by Childhood at Oriol (1951), The Midnight Diary (1952) and The Trouble With Jake (1967). He published five collections of poetry, including The Flying Castle (1954), a fantasy demonstrating his mastery of rhyming quatrains, and was awarded the Keats poetry prize in 1973. He also wrote on political and sociological subjects in such books as The Labyrinth of Europe (1939), Mr Lyward's Answer (1956) and The Debatable Land (1970).

Burn's autobiography deals with important events and famous people, but at its heart, it is the author's own personality – intelligent, modest, painfully honest, drily witty, courageous, highly principled and unfailingly urbane – that shines through. The same qualities recur in his Poems As Accompaniment to a Life (2006).

• Michael 'Micky' Clive Burn, journalist, soldier and author, born 11 December 1912; died 3 September 2010
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010



(Included extracts are from Micky’s book ‘Turned Towards the Sun’) Unless otherwise attributed, the material is © James Dorrian, 2004. Revised 2010
 



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'TURNED TOWARDS THE SUN'
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