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'Fascinating': Flick Drummond reviews 'In the Shadows'

'Fascinating': Flick Drummond reviews 'In the Shadows'

April 2017: A woman captain in the Intelligence Corps on parade | Alamy

3 min read

Lord Ashcroft's history of the Intelligence Corps is both insightful and enjoyable

Intelligence has always been a crucial part of warfare, so it is surprising that the British Intelligence Corps only formally came into existence in July 1940, and has largely remained “in the shadows” – the title of Lord Ashcroft’s latest book about “the extraordinary men and women of the Intelligence Corps”. Previous intelligence had been carried out by mainstream officers and soldiers but the professionalisation of intelligence through the Corps alongside – and often interchangeably – the other intelligence agencies, the Security Service (MI5), Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), has helped tackle matters of security, terrorism and war, in every conflict since the Second World War.

One of the best reasons I found as a member of the Intelligence Corp TA, was that we passed out with the regulars and replaced them directly either as individuals or small groups wherever needed. There is no better example of this with Intelligence Corp Reservist Corporal Sarah Bryant’s death in Afghanistan. She was the first servicewoman to die in that war; three of the 282 Corps who have died since 1940 have been women at the front line. Women and men have always had complete parity in their roles in the Intelligence Corps from the moment they join.

Lord Ashcroft’s book gives us a fascinating insight into the history of intelligence leading to the establishment of the Intelligence Corps and brings their work alive by focusing on the background and daring exploits of individual Intelligence Corps soldiers. The wide variety of backgrounds from which these soldiers are drawn is what makes this book so interesting – as the Corps attracts a wide range of mavericks as well as highly skilled operatives. In my own TA intake, we had a brain surgeon, an accountant, management consultant, financial adviser (me) and someone who spent his leisure time pit bull fighting illegally (I remember his account vividly 35 years later).

Lord Ashcroft’s book… brings their work alive by focusing on the background and daring exploits of individual Intelligence Corps soldiers

Although the Intelligence Corps had been created during the First World War, it was disbanded at the end of the war and one wonders what impact it would have had on the outbreak of the Second World War if collating better military intelligence on the build-up of German forces had occurred. Fortunately it was quickly re-formed under the authorisation of the Army Order 112 and played an integral part in SOE, MI9 (set up for escape and evasion) and Bletchley Park coders, and became an indispensable part of covert and double cross activities such as Operation Mincemeat during the Second World War.

Part three and four of the book cover Britain’s involvement around the world since the Second World War where Intelligence Corps soldiers have been involved in every theatre of operation. Their regular duties comprise running agents and informants alongside collating intelligence through sources, papers and photographic interpretation, often working on their own initiative. The book gives a clear explanation of how Intelligence Corps has been accepted as a necessary and permanent part of the army and where officers and soldiers from other regiments are often transferred because of their linguistic and intelligence skills.

If anyone wants to get an idea of Britain’s worldwide military interventions around the world through the eyes of the Intelligence Corps, this is an enjoyable read.

Flick Drummond is Conservative MP for Meon Valley and a former member of the Territorial Army Intelligence Corps

In the Shadows: The extraordinary men and women of the Intelligence Corps
Written by: Michael Ashcroft
Publisher: Biteback

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