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Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal - Ben Macintyre ”War was coming, everyone said so, but the dining room of the Hotel de la Plage was a place of pure peace that sunny Sunday. Beyond the golden beach, the waves flickered among a scatter of tiny islands, as Eddie and Betty ate trifle off plates with smart blue crests. Eddie was halfway through telling another funny story when he froze. A group of men in overcoats and brown hats had entered the restaurant and one was now in urgent conversations with the headwaiter. Before Betty could speak, Eddie stood up, bent down to kiss her once, and then jumped through the window, which was closed. There was a storm of broken glass, tumbling crockery, screaming women, and shouting waiters. Betty Farmer caught a last glimpse of Eddie Chapman sprinting off down the beach with two overcoated men in pursuit.”

And she didn’t see him again until after the war.

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Eddie Chapman: the nefarious Agent Zigzag.

Eddie Chapman was a petty thief...well...maybe a bit more. His dossier shows a steady increase in the complexity of his crimes. He was well liked, admired by the ladies, and had the smooth tongue that insured that people would continue to like him even after he proves a bit untrustworthy. When World War Two starts Chapman is in jail on Jersey Island. The prison library had two hundred books. He read them all and then he read them all again.

The Channel Islands are among Great Britain’s oldest possessions so it was no easy decision for Winston Churchill to decide to leave them undefended, but there was no strategic reason to keep valuable soldiers deployed away from where they were most needed. The islands were left to the Germans. It was a big PR boost for the Reich to be able to crow from the rooftops that they were standing on English soil. I’m sure Winston bit through a cigar or two and probably had thoughts of recruiting a half dozen men and taking it back himself. Despite the blow to English pride it was better to have German troops tied up there instead of shooting at British troops on the mainland.

Churchill didn’t have anyway of knowing it, but he left in Jersey Prison one of the greatest British spies of World War Two. The perfect mixture of bounder, rake, and thief with scruples based on some warped honor system that made him entirely unpredictable.

The Germans loved him.

Chapman, a bright boy, figured out exactly what the Germans wanted. The British after all put him in prison. What loyalty could he possibly have for them? Chapman’s best friend Anthony Faramus is separated out of the prison population as well, but more as a wedge with Chapman than for any other purpose. Part of the deal was if Chapman did what he was supposed to do Faramus would be kept safe. If Eddie welched on any part of it Faramus would be stood up in front of a firing squad.

It makes my blood run a little cold to even think of my life being dependent on Chapman doing what he was supposed to do. After all that did not come natural to him, not at all.

It doesn’t matter because the Germans are the first to change the deal. They send Faramus off to a concentration camp. He survives despite the odds and ends up in Hollywood after the war as an actor and eventually becomes a butler for Cary Grant.

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Anthony Faramus (far right) was lucky to survive Buchwald.

Chapman does what he does best and makes friends with the Germans. His mentor Stephan von Groning is someone that Chapman perfectly understands. He is a self-serving thief. The Germans give Chapman an account of money that he can draw on any time he becomes low on funds. He has to ask von Groning for the funds. Von Groning was thrilled every time Chapman needed money because he always drew off more than what Chapman asked for and pocketed the difference. Chapman knew what was happening, but it didn’t bother him because it was exactly what he would have done in the same position. He and von Groning remain lifelong friends. After the war von Groning is invited to the wedding of Chapman’s daughter. Chapman was always much more loyal to people than he was to countries or causes.

Okay so who is Chapman really working for?

He is parachuted into Britain by the Germans and instantly turns himself over to the British Government. After they have a medic look him over they decide they need to take his picture.

”Chapman fought to keep his head up. With a supreme effort, he stared into the lens. The face in the picture is drained by fatigue and stress. There is caked mud in the tangled hair, and a trace of dried blood in the moustache. But there is something else in the face. Behind the drooping eyelids and stubble lies the very faint trace of a smile.”

He knows he has by chance found himself in the best possible situation with value to two governments each wanting full possession of him. He can smell the money and the fame.

There are several British agents that work with Chapman, but I’m only going to point out two of them. John Masterman:

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John Cecil Masterman the writer and spymaster.

”He was highly intellectual, intensely conventional, and faintly priggish, with a granite sense of moral duty. Masterman was the embodiment of the British establishment. He neither smoked nor drank, and lived in a world of High Tables and elevated scholarship, exclusively inhabited by wealthy, privileged, intelligent English men.
A confirmed bachelor, he might have been homosexual, but if so, in a wholly repressed and contented English way. Women were simply invisible to him.”

Women on the other hand for Chapman were as necessary as breathing. Another interesting point about Masterman is he wrote detective novels in his spare time.

Lieutenant Colonel Robin “Tin Eye” Stephens had a very special skill.

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Legend has it that Tin Eye slept with that monocle firmly in place.

”He broke people. He crushed them, psychologically, into very small pieces and then, if he thought it worthwhile, he would put them back together again. He considered this to be an art, and not one that could be learned.... He spoke Urdu, Arabic, Somali, Amharic, French, German, and Italian.”

Tin Eye could torture you in the language of your choice. These guys were wound about as tightly as a spring that has never sprung. They were dealing with a guy that was about as unreliable as a slinky going down a set of crooked stairs. Chapman’s agent name of Zigzag fit him like a glove.

”’Zigzag had, in some way, managed to obtain entry and was reclining on the bed awaiting dinner which he had ordered on my telephone, together with number of bottles of beer.’ In the space fo a few hours, Chapman had confirmed all the qualities that made him a great crook, a superb spy, and a most fickle man: He had written a love letter to the mother of his child, vanished, slept with a prostitute, broken into a locked room, and helped himself to room service at someone else’s expense....Chapman would do his duty, while merrily picking your pocket.”

Not exactly the hero type that the British government would want to trot out for recruiting posters. His handlers on both sides of the war were always unsure about his loyalty. Both sides knew the direction of the war may determine who Eddie would work for on the long game. He pulled off some amazing capers for both sides of the war effort, but the final contribution that he made for London was radioing the Germans that the V-2 rockets were hitting too far North and to change their coordinates that placed those bombs in the Southern part of London, less densely populated area, saving thousands of lives. He made the Germans believe him. He became one of the great unsung heros of the war effort.

Now you will have to read the book to make your own determination about Eddie Chapman. The British Government does reward him with money to start his own businesses and he becomes very wealthy even to the point of driving a Rolls Royce.
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Eddie did quite well for himself after the war.

He tried to publish his memoirs, but the British Government squelched that idea. Ben MacIntyre decided to write this book after most of the material related to Chapman was declassified. As he needed other material the government was accommodating by declassifying even more. As I mentioned before Eddie had these loyalties to people that seemingly ran counter to his self-centered philosophies. After the war he was determined to find Betty Farmer the woman he left at the restaurant as he so dramatically broke through a glass window to escape arrest. He found her just as he was sitting with private investigators who he intended to hire to find her. That just seemed to be the way things worked for Chapman. He was always in the right place at the right time.

5 minute Enticing interview with Ben Macintyre on Agent Zigzag