M. E. Clifton James

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Meyrick Edward Clifton James
Clifton James posing as Field Marshall Montgomery
Clifton James posing as Field Marshall Montgomery
Born 1898
Perth, Western Australia
Died 8 May 1963 (aged 64–65)
Worthing, Sussex, England
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1914–1918
1940–1946
Rank Second lieutenant (WWII)
Service number 141055 (WWII)
Unit Royal Fusiliers (WWI)
Royal Army Pay Corps (WWII)
Battles/wars
Other work Actor

Meyrick Edward Clifton James (1898, Perth, Western Australia, Australia – 8 May 1963, Worthing, Sussex, England) was an actor and soldier, notable for his resemblance to Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery.[1] This was used by British intelligence as part of a deception campaign during World War II.

Life[edit]

Clifton James was born in Perth, Western Australia, Australia, the youngest son of notable Australian public servant John Charles Horsey James and his wife Rebecca Catherine Clifton.[2][3]

After serving in the Royal Fusiliers during World War I, and seeing action at the Battle of the Somme, he took up acting, "starting at 15 shillings weekly with Fred Karno, who put Chaplin on the road to fame."[4] At the outbreak of World War II he volunteered his services to the British Army as an entertainer. Instead of being assigned to ENSA as he had hoped, on 11 July 1940 James was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Army Pay Corps[5] and eventually posted to Leicester. Here, his acting seemed to be limited to his membership of the Pay Corps Drama and Variety Group. In 1944 his resemblance to Montgomery was spotted, and he was employed to pretend to be the general as part of a campaign designed to deceive the Germans in the lead up to D-day.

After being demobilised in June 1946, he was reportedly unable to find theatrical employment and was obliged to apply for the dole to support his wife and two children in London.[6]

James died on 8 May 1963 at his home on Thorn Road in Worthing, Sussex, aged 65.[7] The Daily Mail of 9 May 1963 quotes Viscount Montgomery, then himself 75, as saying of James; "He was not a friend of mine. Only met him once. Of course he observed me a great deal. He did a very good job, a very good job, and fooled the Germans at a critical time of the war. I am very sorry to hear of his death."[8]

Operation Copperhead[edit]

Main article: Operation Copperhead

About seven weeks before D-Day in 1944, a British Lieutenant-Colonel, J. V. B. Jervis-Reid, noticed James's resemblance to Montgomery while he was reviewing photographs in a newspaper. James, it seemed, had 'rescued' a failing patriotic show by appearing in it, quite briefly, as 'Monty'. MI5 decided to exploit the resemblance to confuse German intelligence. James was contacted by Lieutenant-Colonel David Niven, who worked for the Army's film unit, and was asked to come to London on the pretext of making a film. The ruse was part of a wider deception which aimed to divert troops from Northern France, by convincing the Germans that an Allied invasion of Southern France (Operation Dragoon) would precede a northern invasion.[9]

The plan was code-named Operation Copperhead and James was assigned to Montgomery's staff to learn his speech and mannerisms. Despite the problems that he had with alcohol (Montgomery did not drink at all), and the differences in personality, the project continued. He also had to give up smoking. Clifton James had lost his right-hand middle finger in the First World War and so a prosthetic finger was made.

On 25 May 1944, James flew from RAF Northolt to Gibraltar on-board Churchill's private aircraft. During a reception at the Governor-General's house, hints were made about "Plan 303", a plan to invade Southern France. German intelligence picked this up and ordered agents to find out what they could about "Plan 303". James then flew to Algiers where over the next few days he made a round of public appearances with General Maitland Wilson, the Allied commander in the Mediterranean theatre. He was then secretly flown to Cairo where he stayed until the invasion in Normandy was well under way. He then returned to his job after an absence of five weeks.

Various reasons were put forward for the speedy conclusion of the operation (including the suggestion that James was seen in Gibraltar smoking and drunk), though the most likely explanation is the one put forward by Dennis Wheatley (who was part of the British deception efforts during the war) in The Deception Planners published in the 1980s. In it, he states that the operation was wound up successfully, its purpose accomplished. He also suggests that it ended "rather pathetically" and that Clifton James was simply hidden out of sight in a hotel in Algiers with a whisky bottle for company. He was to end his war, still in the Pay Corps, apparently forgotten, having to lie about his missing five weeks, having been (according to Wheatley) "treated shabbily" with no official recognition for his services.

I Was Monty's Double[edit]

In 1954, James published his exploits in a book entitled I Was Monty's Double[10] (released in the US as The Counterfeit General Montgomery[11]). The book became the basis for the script of the 1958 film starring John Mills and Cecil Parker with James playing himself and Montgomery. The script was 'tweaked' for effect; 'Operation Copperhead' became 'Operation Hambone,' and additional elements of comedy, danger and intrigue were added, but it largely follows the story given in the book, and gave James a deserved if belated recognition, and a sort of screen immortality.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Obituary Variety, 15 May 1963.
  2. ^ "James, John Charles Horsey". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 13 June 2006. 
  3. ^ Erickson, R. (1988). "East Perth Cemeteries". Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians: pre-1829-1888 2. p. 1618. Retrieved 1 Apr 2012. 
  4. ^ Swainson, Leslie (27 August 1957). "No Clash of Arms in War Film". The Age (Melbourne, Australia). 
  5. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34905. p. 4595. 23 July 1940.
  6. ^ "Monty's Double Broke". The Northern Times (Carnarvon, Western Australia: National Library of Australia). 4 April 1947. p. 4. Retrieved 11 May 2014. 
  7. ^ (Obituaries). The Times (London). Thursday, 9 May 1963. p. 17.
  8. ^ "Obituary: M. E. Clifton James". Daily Mail. 9 May 1963. 
  9. ^ Casey, Dr Dennis. "The impersonation of General Montgomery". Air Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 13 June 2006. 
  10. ^ James, M. E. Clifton (1954). I Was Monty's Double. Hamilton and Co. 
  11. ^ James, M. E. Clifton (1954). The Counterfeit General Montgomery. New York: Avon. 

Further reading[edit]

1: I Doubled for Montgomery 17 August 1946
2: Gibraltar Welcomed a False British Commander 19 August 1946
3: The General Went Home as a Lieutenant 20 August 1946
  • James, M. E. Clifton How I Played General "Monty" series in The Age Literary Section, August–September 1946:
In the Limelight of Suspicion. 31 August 1946
Rehearsal and Departure. 7 September 1946
Official Reception at Gibraltar. 14 September 1946
Experiences in Africa. 21 September 1946
  • Howard, Sir Michael, Strategic Deception (British Intelligence in the Second World War, Volume 5); Cambridge University Press, New York, 1990, p. 126
  • Holt, Thaddeus, The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War ; Scribner, New York, 2004, pp. 561–62, 815
  • British National Archives, "A" Force Permanent Record File, Narrative War Diary, CAB 154/4 pp. 85–90

External links[edit]