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IAN FLEMING: A man made by war

By Patrick McCallister
For Veteran Voice
patrick@veteranvoiceweekly.com

Ian Lancaster Fleming was a ne’er-do-well.

He left college early, washed out of military academy without a commission, failed the foreign office test, got an underpaid job at Reuters, and was inept at finance — the thing that made his family wealthy.

Like so many middle children from well-to-do British families, Fleming filled the holes failure left in him with heavy drinking, heavy smoking, and womanizing. He filled his mind with motorsports as his life wrecked before it got to the first turn. 

But then Fleming got his lucky break. World War II. War fired Fleming’s imagination more than women and fast cars. He thought of dozens of ways to fool the enemy. Thanks to his family connections, he had a chance to do more than impotently imagine how one could go about espionage.

Paris, 1940

In June 1940, a 32-year-old from the Office of the Admiralty and Marine Affairs codenamed “17F” was in Paris as Nazi forces closed in on the City of Lights. His job was to collect Secret Intelligence Service papers and cash from their hiding place at Rolls Royce’s French office.

With the German military closing in fast, 17F headed to the British Consulate to destroy documents to keep them from Nazi eyes. He slipped south in the night to Bordeaux, then into Spain and Portugal to make good his escape back to British soil.

17F got to London in time for the Luftwaffe bombers, the Blitz, the Battle of Britain. As Hurricanes and Spitfires fought off the bombers above, 17F set to work figuring out small but consequential ways to send the war back to German soil. Others would fight the Nazis with guns and bombs. 17F would fight them with deceit and misdirection, guile and even guilt when needed.

17F was a natural predator who lacked the great white shark’s raw power. No, 17F was built for and thrived at the Wobbegong shark’s patient subterfuge. He’d fit perfectly in a 007 story as a minor character — if only 17F wasn’t the man who’d written the first 12 novels and two books of short stories featuring Bond, James Bond.

London, 1908

Fleming was born in 1908 in upscale London to a banking and finance family. His grandfather founded Robert Fleming & Co. He was the second of four children born to Valentine and Evelyn Fleming. The brothers would gain a maternal half-sister in the 1920s.

War crashed into Fleming’s life around the age people start forming consistent memories — 6. It was 1914. The Great War exploded in Europe. Fleming’s father, a Member of Parliament, joined the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars and headed to Belgium and France for the Great War. He didn’t return home. He died in battle when Fleming was 8.

Winston Churchill wrote the senior Fleming’s obituary.

Fleming’s mother stepped into the role of being both parents. His elder brother, Peter, too, set out to be a good influence to Michael, Richard and, of course, Ian. To little avail it was for the rebellious Fleming. His mother sent him to preparatory school to make lifelong contacts to propel his business success. That only got Fleming bullying and misery.

Eton College, 1921

In 1921 Fleming headed to Eton College where he was a lackluster student, but a good athlete. He worked as an editor on the school’s magazine, The Wyvern. Fleming started reading Bulldog Drummond novels and short stories. Herman Cyril “H.C.” McNeile created the fictional gentleman adventurer who’d appear in print, stage, radio plays, television and films. Bulldog Drummond inspired Fleming to write a short story, “The Ordeal of Caryl St. George,” for The Wyvern. By all accounts it was a good bit of writing with a dull story to tell. 

Eton officials talked Fleming’s mother into pulling him out early and sending the irreverent misfit to the Royal Military College, so he could gain a commission in the armed forces and maybe make something of himself. Fleming washed out in a year. His mother sent Fleming to Austria to a school run by a former British spy and his novelist wife to get the lad ready for the Foreign Office exam.

Fleming would go on to fail the government exam. Fleming found his own job at Reuters. The pay was low, but he got to go to Moscow to witness Stalinism first-hand. But, the pay was low. His family didn’t approve. His mother used her connections to get Fleming a much better paying job at a financial company. He failed at it.

She used her connections again to get her second, and disappointing, son a job as Rear Adm. John Godfrey’s assistant. In 1939 Fleming went to work for the director of naval intelligence and eventually given the handle 17F. The Admiralty would soon become one of the most exciting places on the planet to work. On Sept. 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. World War II was on in full cry.

Room 39 at The Admiralty, World War II 

Before Adolf Hitler betrayed his uneasy peace pact with the Soviet Union and Japan foolishly drew the United States into war, Britain could only barely hold onto survival. As German bombs fell on a scared and desperate Britain, Godfrey produced the “Trout Memo,” a series of espionage schemes for Churchill and others to consider.

It was full of outlandish ideas that threw out decency. For example, it said the British military could use recently deceased Brits camouflaged as military and intelligence officials with planted misinformation to trick the German military intelligence into opening vulnerabilities to exploit. The idea went against every shred of decency, it dishonored the dead — and it’d become Operation Mincemeat.

In 1943 the Allies tricked the Abwehr into believing it had a drowned British naval intelligence officer carrying plans to invade Greece and stage a simultaneous deception attack on Sicily. The trout were biting. The Axis, acting on the misdirection, left the Allies’ real goals lightly defended. 

There’s a lot of evidence Fleming authored the “Trout Memo” and came up with most of the espionage ideas in it. He’s almost certainly the conceptual father of Operation Mincemeat.

During the war years, Fleming rubbed shoulders with spies and spy bosses from all over the world. He formed the 30 Assault Unit, 30AU, to focus on seizing Nazi documents for Allied intelligence to decipher and exploit.  

Fleming reportedly told friends that after World War II was over, he was going to write a great spy novel.

Goldeneye, 1952

As the war wrapped up Fleming returned to Jamaica, where he’d attended Allied intelligence meetings. He bought some land to build a retreat house. He named it Goldeneye after one of the operations he was involved in during the war. Bond found work back in journalism. This time it was at the much more prestigious, and better paying, position of foreign manager at the company which owned The Sunday Times.

A couple months a year Fleming went to Goldeneye to listen to the ocean lap the shores. An old flame, Ann Charteris, started spending time with him there. The only downside to their relationship in a Caribbean paradise was the whole she-was-married thing. She divorced in 1951, and soon thereafter Fleming and she planned to marry.

To take his mind off the pressures of marrying at 43, Fleming started writing a spy novel, “Casino Royale.” Everybody who read it … thought it kind of sucked. Even Fleming. Since his older brother was a money-making book writer for Jonathan Cape, the publisher agreed to a small run of the book about a fictional jet-setting master spy named after a real ornithologist.

Military responds to Florida COVID-19 battlefront

By Patrick McCallister
For Veteran Voice
patrick@veteranvoiceweekly.com

Port St. Lucie’s Sgt. Rebecca Trejo is among the almost 27,000 National Guard members activated for COVID-19 response throughout the country. She was featured by the Florida National Guard at its Facebook page in the ongoing “Faces of the Fight” feature. Trejo said she’s excited to be a part of helping fellow Floridians get through this pandemic.

“When our initial rotation was going to end, they asked us if we wanted to go home or volunteer to extend until the operation was over,” she said on the Guard’s Facebook page. “I said I wanted to stay until the end, or until they don’t need me.”

At press time almost 2,300 Florida Guard members are activated in response to the coronavirus emergency. Also at press time, there are almost 16,500 confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida, about 2,200 related hospitalizations, and a little more than 350 known deaths.

A lot of the coronavirus activity in the state is, at the moment, concentrated in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, but there are confirmed cases in every county besides Liberty.

State COVID-19 press conference

Gov. Ron DeSantis did the state’s weekly coronavirus press conference in South Florida on Wednesday, April 8. Next to him was Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the commanding general of the Army Corps of Engineers. They discussed plans for the Corps to turn the 1.4 million square foot Miami Convention Center into a pop-up hospital.

“We want to protect our healthcare workers who are on the front line and we want to make sure that the healthcare system can absorb what this virus is portending for our communities,” Gov. DeSantis said at the press conference.

He outlined plans for the Corps to build a 450-bed hospital at the convention center that’ll be staffed by almost 190 National Guard members.

“Outside of Miami we have an additional four field hospitals (planned), as the need may be,” DeSantis said. “We have one that’s ready in Broward. Another one that can be stood up very quickly in Palm Beach. And then we’re also looking where on the west coast of Florida and potentially northeast Florida.”

The general said the Army Corps of Engineers has a longstanding relationship with Florida.

“We’ve been working in Florida almost 100 years,” Semonite said. “Emergency response, Everglades restoration, beach nourishment.”

He said the Corps, about three weeks prior to the press conference, had mobilized its response to COVID-19. The Corps realized fast it’d have to be in the hospital-capacity building business.

“We went to all the experts and said, ‘What are the medical requirements?,’” Semonite said.

From that the Corps drafted a pop-up hospital plan it’s now implementing across the nation.  

The general added that converting the Miami Convention Center into a 450-bed hospital — with 50 of those being ICU beds — with the ability to add up to 1,000 more is, unsurprisingly, quite a task. 

“This is a hard build,” the general said. “This is probably a three-week build. We don’t have three weeks.”

Gov. DeSantis has asked the Corps of Engineers to complete the Miami pop-up hospital by April 20.

Adjutant General addresses the troops on social media

Major General James Eifert, the adjutant general of the Florida Guard, is writing to his troops on Facebook. On April 8, he posted:

“More than 700 of you are working at numerous community-based testing sites in South Florida, enabling COVID-19 testing for our citizens

– Over 1,000 of you are providing rapid manpower for emergency operations

– More than 110 of you are working logistics supply chain management to ensure we are readily equipped to complete our various missions quickly and efficiently

– Approximately 75 of you are assisting multiple airport screening missions, protecting the safety of our citizens and visitors as they enter the state

– Over 330 of you are working the command and control function to ensure the fight is on track and our responding forces are taken care of

– We are in the process of bringing nearly 200 FLNG medical professionals on orders to man alternate care facilities as needed.”

He went on to say—

“These numbers increase daily because of what the state asks of you, and they ask it of you because they know you will accomplish it faster and better than anyone else could. This is why the Florida National Guard is the gold standard for how to operate during a time of crisis.”