Frank Foley

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For the politician in Saskatchewan, Canada, see Franklin Edward Foley.
Francis Edward Foley
Frank foley.jpg
Born Francis Edward Foley
(1884-11-24)24 November 1884
Highbridge, Somerset, England
Died 8 May 1958(1958-05-08) (aged 73)
Stourbridge, Worcestershire, England
Employer Government
Religion Roman Catholicism

Major Francis Edward Foley CMG (24 November 1884, Highbridge, Somerset – 8 May 1958, Stourbridge) was a British Secret Intelligence Service officer. As a passport control officer for the British embassy in Berlin, Foley "bent the rules" and helped thousands of Jewish families escape from Nazi Germany after Kristallnacht and before the outbreak of the Second World War.[1]

Early life[edit]

He was the third son of a railway worker from Devon whose family originated from Roscommon in Ireland. After attending local schools in Somerset, Foley won a scholarship to Stonyhurst College, Lancashire where he was educated by the Jesuits. He then went to a Catholic seminary in France to train as a priest but transferred to the Université de France in Poitiers to study Classics. While there he reconsidered his vocation for the priesthood and decided instead to pursue an academic career. He travelled extensively in Europe, becoming fluent in both French and German.

First World War[edit]

Foley was in Hamburg studying philosophy, when the United Kingdom declared war on Germany in August 1914. He made his way through Germany towards the north of the Netherlands by borrowing a military uniform and posing as a Prussian Army officer. Exchanging the uniform for civilian clothes, he managed to get to Emden, and with the help of a local priest found some fishermen who ferried him into the neutral Netherlands. He made his way back to Highbridge and took a job as an assistant master at Bengeo Preparatory School while considering what to do next.

At the end of 1915 he decided to join the army, and entered the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps, originally restricted to barristers before the rules were relaxed to include university and public school entrants. He received his commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Hertfordshire Regiment in January 1917, and was posted to France and the Western Front, where he was promoted to acting Captain. He was wounded in the chest while fighting near Ecoust-Saint-Mein and evacuated back to England.[2][3]

Foley had been lucky to escape; within a few hours savage fighting, the strength of his unit had been cut by two thirds. The bullet had damaged his left lung, and after convalescence and recuperation, he was ruled no longer fit for front-line duty and sent on leave.

Joining secret service[edit]

By the time he returned to Berlin, the story of his escape from Germany and his language skills had been noted by someone at the War Office. He was encouraged to apply for the Intelligence Corps.[4] In July 1918 he became part of a small unit which was responsible for recruiting and running networks of secret agents in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. After a few weeks he was sent to France, where after the Armistice he served for a short time in the Inter-Allied Military Commission of Control in Cologne. After the running down of the Commission, he was subsequently offered the post of passport control officer in Berlin which was in fact a cover for his main duties as head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) station.[5] During the 1920s and 30s, Foley was successful in recruiting agents and acquiring key details of German military research and development.[4]

Foley is primarily remembered as a "British Schindler". In his role as passport control officer he helped thousands of Jews escape from Nazi Germany. At the 1961 trial of former ranking Nazi Adolf Eichmann, he was described as a "Scarlet Pimpernel" for the way he risked his own life to save Jews threatened with death by the Nazis. Despite having no diplomatic immunity and being liable to arrest at any time, Foley would bend the rules when stamping passports and issuing visas, to allow Jews to escape "legally" to Britain or Palestine, which was then controlled by the British. Sometimes he went further, going into internment camps to get Jews out, hiding them in his home, and helping them get forged passports. One Jewish aid worker estimated that he saved "tens of thousands" of people from the Holocaust.

Second World War and after[edit]

At the outbreak of war Foley was recalled to London. In 1941, he was given the task of questioning Hitler's Deputy Rudolf Hess, after Hess's flight to Scotland. After Hess was hospitalised in 1942, Foley helped co-ordinate MI5 and MI6 in running a network of double agents called the Double Cross System. He returned to Berlin after the war, where he was involved in hunting for ex-SS members. In 1949 Foley retired to Stourbridge, a town in the Black Country, and died there in 1958; he is buried in Stourbridge Cemetery.

Posthumous recognition[edit]

Foley was accorded the status of a Righteous Among the Nations by Israel's Yad Vashem as a direct result of testimony from "living witnesses" found by Michael Smith while researching his biography of Foley. Lord Janner, chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, was instrumental in persuading Yad Vashem to look at Smith's evidence. Some members of the Yad Vashem committee that determines whether someone should be named as a "righteous gentile" were initially sceptical that a MI6 officer would not have diplomatic immunity but the then Foreign Office historian Gill Bennett produced previously classified documents that demonstrated this to be the case. The cover of Smith's book in fact features the photograph from Foley's first diplomatic passport with the date it was issued clearly shown as 11 August 1939.[4]

In 2004 a remembrance plaque was dedicated to him at the entrance to Stourbridge's Mary Stevens Park.[6] The following year volunteers from Highbridge, Foley's birthplace, raised money to erect their own tribute.

Statue of Frank Foley in Highbridge, UK.

A statue was commissioned from sculptor Jonathan Sells and unveiled on the anniversary of VE Day, which is also the anniversary of his death.[7] The 'Frank Foley Parkway' between Highbridge and Burnham on Sea opened on 7 July 2009.

In 2007, a film about Foley's life was in the planning stages, but the producers were then taking legal action against MI6 to release still-classified documents related to his work.[8]

On 24 November 2004 (the 120th anniversary of his birth) descendants of Foley, relatives of those he saved, representatives of Jewish organisations, British MPs and other well-wishers gathered at the British Embassy for the unveiling of a plaque in honour of Foley.

The then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw praised Foley's heroism: 'Frank Foley risked his life to save the lives of thousands of German Jews. Without the protection of diplomatic immunity he visited internment camps and sheltered Jewish refugees in his house. Frank Foley was a true British hero. It is right that we should honour him at the British Embassy in Berlin, not far from where he once worked.'

On 31 May 2009, a garden was dedicated in his memory at London's Sternberg Centre, where a plaque was unveiled by Cherie Booth.

In 2010, Foley was posthumously named a British Hero of the Holocaust by the British Government.[9]


  1. ^ Mordecai Paldiel, Diplomat Heroes of the Holocaust (KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 2007), pp8-17
  2. ^ Green, Tess (2005). Foley's war In: Past Somerset Times: Illustrated Studies of the Counties Rich History: v. 2. Fiducia Press. ISBN 0-946217-22-X. 
  3. ^ Michael Smith, Foley: The spy who saved 10,000 Jews, Hodder & Stoughton, 1995, London, ISBN 0-340-71850-1.
  4. ^ a b c Michael Smith,Foley: The spy who saved 10,000 Jews, Hodder & Stoughton, 1999. ISBN 0-340-76603-4.
  5. ^ "Unknown heroes". BBC Today programme. 20 November 2008. Retrieved October 12, 2012. 
  6. ^ Plaque recognises the "Stourbridge Schindler"
  7. ^ Highbridge honours Frank Foley with statue, BBC, 5 May 2005
  8. ^ "Cherie Blair could help Foley Film". Burnham and Highbridge Weekly News. 26 January 2007. Retrieved 27 March 2009. 
  9. ^ "Britons honoured for holocaust heroism". London: The Telegraph. 9 March 2010. Archived from the original on 9 March 2010. Retrieved 9 March 2010. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Michael Smith. Foley: The spy who saved 10,000 Jews. Hodder, 1999. ISBN 0-340-76603-4.
  • Burnham and Highbridge Weekly News. Kevin Spacey or Anthony Hopkins for Frank Foley Film?.[1]
  • Daily Telegraph: Mrs Foley's diary solves the mystery of Hess By Michael Smith [2]
  • BBC: Inside Out: Foley The Quiet Briton [3]
  • A Big Little Man — Proving a Gentile was Righteous [4]
  • Cherie Blair could help Foley Film [5]