Canadian Liaison with British Security Coordination

Extract from CDBS00892.pdf

Herbert Sichel to George de T. Glazebrook, 1 April 1943, Recruitment of Italian POWs for "Some Special Duty if They Proved the Right Type and Willing"

The documents in this briefing book provide glimpses of Canadians’ liaison and intelligence exchanges with British Security Coordination during the Second World War. Canadian military intelligence personnel and diplomats were in regular contact with their British intelligence, security, and special operations counterparts in New York.

The BSC, a proxy organization created by the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in 1940, was only “British” in a Greater Britain or Commonwealth sense. Among the BSC personnel who feature in these documents are H. Montgomery Hyde, an Ulster Unionist politician, statistician Herbert Sichel, who fled Nazi Germany for South Africa in 1937, and several Canadian nationals. BSC head William Stephenson hailed from Winnipeg, Manitoba, the BSC’s Communications Section was led by University of Toronto professor-turned cypher expert Benjamin deForest “Pat” Bayly, and many of the BSC’s day-to-day communications with National Defence HQ in Ottawa were handled by Superintendent Ernest Bavin, a veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. These individuals’ horizons were imperial as well as national. The BSC’s Canadian contingent is addressed in greater depth in a separate Canada Declassified briefing book.

On the Canadian side, key participants in these exchanges were Director of Military Intelligence Colonel W.W. “Jock” Murray and Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Acland. George Glazebrook and T.A. “Tommy” Stone were the Department of External Affairs’ interlocutors with the BSC. Particularly sensitive or urgent BSC requests sometimes reached the desk of Canada’s senior professional diplomat, Under Secretary of State for External Affairs Norman Robertson. While this briefing book is drawn from Department of National Defence and External Affairs records, these documents indicate that the RCMP, including Commissioner Stuart Wood, assisted with BSC requests for background and security checks. 

These records also shed light on the substance of Canadian exchanges with the BSC. The briefing book features postal and telegraph censorship reports, items of human and signals intelligence of particular interest, and evidence that the BSC acted as an intermediary between Canadians and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and G2 (American military intelligence). There are a series of exchanges about deserters, criminals, and security breaches. Miscellaneous exchanges that touch on covert shipments of arms from North America to the UK, communist paraphernalia from Chicago surfacing at the Canadian Army’s Camp Borden, and BSC requests for Finnish-language translations allude to the wide range of subjects captured by this liaison. There is also evidence of a broad, ill-defined BSC campaign to recruit personnel for “special operations” among groups like French-Canadian officers, Italian prisoners-of-war, and Austrian interns in Canada. The most successful of these recruitment drives—the enlistment of Yugoslav irregulars, Chinese Canadian radio operators, and second-generation Japanese Canadian (Nisei) translators into British special forces—are the subjects of standalone briefing books.

The documents in this collection indicate that the Canadian military began sending the BSC intelligence material on a regular basis in the autumn of 1941. Canadian intelligence officers and BSC personnel shared crass jokes about American troops’ inexperience, worked together to source items like sunglasses amidst wartime shortages, and made frequent reciprocal visits to Ottawa and New York. They knew each other personally, as well as through cypher messages and letters, and cooperated closely throughout the war. The tenor and substance of their messages suggest that they enjoyed working and socializing with one another.

The records in this briefing book are not comprehensive, but they illustrate key aspects of the liaison relationship. Researchers interested in more granular detail may wish to consult the complete packages of files released under the Access to Information Act. These can be accessed as CDBS00882-CDBS00892.

Canadian Liaison with British Security Coordination