I was asked a little while ago about General Ironside having served in South West Africa as a spy. The result was some investigation as surely I would have registered on such a notable having been involved in the 1914-1918 GSWA campaign. That we had a Goebels and a Goering serve in EA as well as a Trapp (but not related to the Sound of Music von Trapp), and Edward Grey’s brother…a name like Ironside should have stuck. But it also didn’t sound quite right. There would have been a lot said about such a personage serving in Africa during World War One – it must have been at a different time he was there, if he was…
All was revealed by discovering Edmund Ironside’s biography of his father Ironside: The Authorised Biography of Field Marshal Lord Ironside (2018). Ironside had served during the 1899-1902 war in southern Africa and had gone into the neighbouring German colony as a spy, working with John Buchan. However, a little more searching revealed that others knew this before 2018.
Already in 1987, an article in History Today discusses John Buchan using Ironside as one of his inspirations for Richard Hannay. According to Roderick (Rory) Macleod’s entry at King’s College London Liddell Hart Military Archives, Ironside was in South-West Africa until 1904. Macleod edited Ironside’s Diaries published in 1962. His exploits in GSWA are also mentioned in Brian Parritt, The Intelligencers: British Military Intelligence from the Middle Ages to 1929 (2011) and Nicholas Rankin’s Churchill’s Wizards: The British Genius for deception, 1914-1945 (2008).
Find a Grave has a summary of his service – I wondered how realistic his disguise as an Afrikaans Boer would have been, but this given his fluency in seven languages and having learnt them from a young age, this is plausible. Kitchener managed to disguise himself as an Arab in Sudan.
This little snippet prompts more questions about Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck having met Louis Botha around the time… (foreword by Thomas Ofcansky in reprint of East African Reminiscences) although I still cannot see Milner allowing an erstwhile enemy to meet a future enemy,
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