Stewart Menzies

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Sir Stewart Menzies

Stewart Graham Menzies

30 January 1890
London, England
Died29 May 1968 (aged 78)
London, England
EducationEton College
OccupationIntelligence officer
  • Lady Avice Sackville
    (m. 1918–1931)
  • Pamela Beckett Garton
    (m. 1932–1951)
  • Audrey Clara Lilian Latham
    (m. 1952–1968)
ChildrenFiona (b. 1934)
Parent(s)John Graham Menzies, Susannah West Wilson
Espionage activity
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service branchSecret Intelligence Service (SIS/MI6)
RankChief of the Secret Intelligence Service
OperationsFirst World War
Second World War
Cold War

Major General Sir Stewart Graham Menzies, KCB, KCMG, DSO, MC (/ˈmɪŋɪz/ ; 30 January 1890 – 29 May 1968)[1] was Chief of MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), from 1939 to 1952, during and after the Second World War.[2]

Early life, family[edit]

Stewart Graham Menzies was born in England in 1890 into a wealthy family as the second son of John Graham Menzies and Susannah West Wilson, daughter of ship-owner Arthur Wilson of Tranby Croft.[3] His grandfather, Graham Menzies, was a whisky distiller who helped establish a cartel and made huge profits. His parents became friends of King Edward VII.[4] Menzies was a nephew of Robert Stewart Menzies. But Menzies' father was dissolute, never established a worthwhile career, and wasted his share of the family fortune; he died of tuberculosis in 1911 in his early 50s, leaving only a minimal estate.[5]

Menzies was educated at Eton College, becoming president of the student society Pop, and left in 1909. He excelled in sports, hunting and cross-country running. He won prizes for his studies of languages, and was considered an all-around excellent student.[6]

Early military career[edit]

Life Guards[edit]

From Eton he joined the Grenadier Guards as a second lieutenant.[7] After a year with this regiment, he transferred to the Second Life Guards. He was promoted to lieutenant and appointed adjutant by 1913.[8][9]

First World War action[edit]

Keith and Stewart Menzies, the two eldest sons of Lady Susannah Holford, pictured here in 1914.

During the First World War Menzies served in Belgium. He was wounded at Zandvoorde in October 1914, and fought gallantly in the First Battle of Ypres in November 1914. Menzies was promoted to captain on 14 November, and received the DSO in person from King George V on 2 December.[10]

Menzies' regiment was decimated during fighting in 1915, suffering very heavy casualties in the Second Battle of Ypres. Menzies was seriously injured in a gas attack in 1915, and was honourably discharged from active combat service.[11]

Intelligence service[edit]

He then joined the counterintelligence section of Field Marshal Douglas Haig, the British commander. In late 1917, he reported to senior British leadership that Haig's intelligence chief Brigadier John Charteris was fudging intelligence estimates, which soon led to Charteris' removal. This whistle-blowing was apparently done very discreetly. Menzies was promoted to brevet major before the end of the war.[12]


Following the end of the war, Menzies entered MI6 (also known as SIS). He was a member of the British delegation to the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference. Soon after the war, Menzies was promoted to lieutenant-colonel of the Imperial General Staff, General Staff Officer, first grade. Within MI6, he became assistant director for special intelligence. Admiral Hugh Sinclair became director-general of MI6 in 1924, and he made Menzies his deputy by 1929, with Menzies being promoted to full colonel soon afterwards.[13]

In 1924, Menzies was allegedly involved—alongside Sidney Reilly[14] and Desmond Morton[15]—in the forging of the Zinoviev letter.[14] This forgery is considered to have been instrumental in the Conservative Party's victory in the United Kingdom general election of 1924, which ended the country's first Labour government.[16]

Chief of MI6[edit]

In 1939, when Admiral Sinclair died, Menzies was appointed Chief of Secret Intelligence Service (the SIS). He expanded wartime intelligence and counterintelligence departments and supervised codebreaking efforts at Bletchley Park.[17]

Second World War[edit]

VE letter by S. Menzies to GC&CS

When the Second World War began, SIS expanded greatly. Menzies insisted on wartime control of codebreaking, and this gave him immense power and influence, which he used judiciously. By distributing the Ultra material collected by the Government Code & Cypher School, MI6 became an important branch of the government for the first time. Extensive breaches of Nazi Enigma signals gave Menzies and his team enormous insight into Adolf Hitler's strategy, and this was kept a closely held secret, not only during the war, but until as late as 1974. (Frederick Winterbotham's 1974 book The Ultra Secret lifted the cloak of secrecy at last.) The Nazis had suspicions, but believed Enigma to be unbreakable, and never knew during the war that the Allies were reading a high proportion of their wireless traffic.[18]

Menzies kept Prime Minister Winston Churchill supplied daily with important Ultra decrypts, and the two worked together to ensure that financial resources were devoted toward research and upgrading technology at Bletchley Park, to keep pace with Nazi coding refinements, as well as directing talented workers to the massive effort, which employed nearly 10,000 workers by 1945. Bletchley's efforts were decisive in the battle against Nazi submarine warfare, which was severely threatening trans-Atlantic shipping, particularly in the first half of 1943. Britain, which was cut off from Europe after mid-1940, was almost completely dependent on North American supplies for survival. The access to Ultra was also vitally important in the battle for Normandy, leading up to D-Day in June 1944, and afterward.[19]

Menzies has been suspected as being involved with the assassination, on 24 December 1942, of François Darlan, the Vichy military commander who defected to the Allies in Algeria. British historian David Reynolds noted in his book, In Command of History, that Menzies—who rarely left London during the war—was in Algiers around the period he was killed, making SOE (Special Operations Executive) involvement seem likely.[20]

Menzies, who was promoted to major-general in January 1944, also supported efforts to contact anti-Nazi resistance, including Wilhelm Canaris, the anti-Hitler head of Abwehr, in Germany. Prime Minister Winston Churchill was kept informed of these efforts throughout the war, and information from and about the Nazi resistance was exploited tactically. Menzies coordinated his operations with Special Operations Executive (SOE) (although he reputedly considered them "amateurs"), British Security Coordination (BSC), Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the Free French Forces. He was awarded the Order of the Yugoslav Crown.[21]

After the Second World War[edit]

After the war, Menzies reorganised the SIS for the Cold War. He absorbed most of SOE. He was sometimes at odds with the Labour governments. He also had to weather a scandal inside SIS after revelations that SIS officer Kim Philby was a Soviet spy.[17]

Nonetheless, Menzies deserved some of the blame for Soviet agents having penetrated MI6, according to Anthony Cave Brown in his book C: The Secret Life of Sir Stewart Graham Menzies, Spymaster to Winston Churchill. Menzies was already the head of the service when Kim Philby joined in 1941. Cave Brown insists that Menzies's primary criteria were whether the applicants were upper-class former officers and recommended by another government department, or else were known to him personally. In his New York Times review of Brown's book, novelist Ken Follett makes this conclusion: "Mr Philby outwitted Menzies because Mr Philby was intelligent and professional and cool, where Menzies was an amiable upper-class sportsman who was out of his depth. And British intelligence, except for the code breakers, was like Menzies—amateur, anti-intellectual and wholly outclassed."[22]

After 43 continuous years of service in the British Army, Menzies retired to Bridges Court in Luckington in rural Wiltshire at 62 in mid-1952. Menzies was certainly adept at bureaucratic intrigue, a virtual necessity in his position, but his efforts as Chief had a major role in winning the Second World War, as evidenced by his nearly 1,500 meetings with Churchill during the war.[23]


His first marriage was in 1918 to Lady Avice Ela Muriel Sackville, younger daughter of Gilbert Sackville, 8th Earl De La Warr and Lady Muriel Agnes Brassey, daughter of Thomas Brassey, 1st Earl Brassey. They were divorced in 1931.[24]

His second wife Pamela Thetis Garton (née Beckett) (d. 13 March 1951) was the fourth daughter of Rupert Evelyn Beckett by his wife Muriel Helen Florence Paget, daughter of Lord Berkeley Charles Sydney Paget, himself a younger son of the 2nd Marquess of Anglesey. Menzies and Garton married on 13 December 1932. Garton was an invalid for many years, suffering from clinical depression and anorexia nervosa. She had Menzies' only child, a daughter, Fiona, in 1934.[25]

His third marriage was in 1952 (as her fourth husband) to Audrey Clara Lilian Latham (b. 1899), formerly wife of Sir Henry Birkin, 2nd Bt., Lord Edward Hay, and Niall Chaplin, and daughter of Sir Thomas Paul Latham, 1st Bt.[26] Stewart and Audrey were both over age 50 at the time of their marriage, each had separate estates (his in Wiltshire, west of London, hers in Essex, east of London), and they for the most part lived separately, but they met in London for dinner each Wednesday.[27]

Anthony Cave Brown also reported that Menzies had a long-standing affair with one of his secretaries, which he ended upon retirement (and presumably remarriage) in 1952; the secretary apparently tried to kill herself at that time.[27]

Menzies died on 29 May 1968.[17]

Fictional depictions[edit]

Stewart Menzies is a character in the 2014 film The Imitation Game and is portrayed by Mark Strong.[28]

Stewart Menzies is also a character in the 2021 film Munich – The Edge of War and is portrayed by Richard Dillane.[29]

Honours and awards[edit]

Knight Commander of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath (KCB) 7 June 1951 Had been made companion in the 1942 New Year's Honours before being promoted to Knight Commander when at the rank of Major-General.[30][31]
Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) 1 January 1943 For official services while Colonel (local Brigadier).[32]
Distinguished Service Order (DSO) 1 December 1914 While Lieutenant of the 2nd Life Guards. For showing the greatest coolness during the attack on German position on 7 November 1914, in support of the right flank of the 4th Guards Brigade, and then again on the evening of that day.[33]
Military Cross (MC) 3 July 1915 While Captain of the 2nd Life Guards. On 13 May 1915 near Ypres, after his commanding officer had been wounded, for displayed conspicuous ability, coolness and resource in controlling the action of his regiment and rallying the men.[34]
1914 Star [35]
British War Medal [35]
Victory Medal With mentioned in dispatches device.[35]
1939–1945 Star [36]
War Medal 1939–1945 [36]
King George V Coronation Medal 1911
King George V Silver Jubilee Medal 1935 [37]
King George VI Coronation Medal 1937 [38]
Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953 [39]
Knight of the Order of the Crown (Belgium)

Chevalier de I'Ordre de la Couronn

14 February 1917 [40]
Knight of the Order of the Legion of Honour (France)

Chevalier de l' Ordre National de la Legion d'Honneur

2 June 1917 [41]
War Cross (Belgium)

Croix de guerre

11 March 1918 [42]
Commander's Cross of the Order of the Rebirth of Poland (Poland)

Order Odrodzenia Polski Komandorski

8 October 1943 [43]
War Cross 1940 with Palm (Belgium)

Croix de Guerre 1940 avec Palme

16 January 1947 [44]
Grand Officer of the Order of Leopold with Palm (Belgium)

Grand officier de l'Ordre de Léopold avec Palme

16 January 1947 [44]
Grand Officer of the Order of Orange Nassau (Netherlands)

Orde van Oranje-Nassau

14 May 1948 [45]
Commander with Star of the Order of Saint Olav (Norway)

Sanct Olavs Orden Commander with Star/Grand Officer

19 November 1948 [46]
Commander of the Legion of Merit (United States) 28 January 1949 [47]
Order of the Yugoslav Crown (Yugoslavia)

Orden Jugoslavenske Krune



  1. ^ "Menzies, Maj.-Gen. Sir Stewart Graham, (30 January 1890 – 29 May 1968)". Who's Who & Who Was Who. 2007. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.u51894. ISBN 978-0-19-954089-1. Retrieved 5 August 2021.
  2. ^ "Obituary: Sir Stewart Menzies". The Times. 31 May 1968. p. 14.
  3. ^ Mosley, Charles, ed. (2003). Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knighthood (107 ed.). Burke's Peerage & Gentry. p. 1076. ISBN 0-9711966-2-1.
  4. ^ Ken Follett. "The Oldest Boy of British Intelligence" The New York Times, 27 December 1987.
  5. ^ C: The Secret Life of Sir Stewart Graham Menzies, Spymaster to Winston Churchill, by Anthony Cave Brown, 1987.
  6. ^ C: The Life of Sir Stewart Menzies, by Anthony Cave Brown, 1987.
  7. ^ "No. 28276". The London Gazette. 3 August 1909. p. 5907.
  8. ^ C: The Secret Life of Sir Stewart Graham Menzies, Spymaster to Winston Churchill, by Anthony Cave Brown, 1987, Macmillan, New York, ISBN 0-02-517390-1, pp. 41–55
  9. ^ ^ London Gazette: no. 28743, p. 5573, 5 August 1913. Retrieved on 13 July 2010
  10. ^ C: The Secret Life of Sir Stewart Graham Menzies, Spymaster to Winston Churchill, by Anthony Cave Brown, 1987, Macmillan, New York, ISBN 0-02-517390-1, pp. 60–81
  11. ^ Bennett, Richard (2001). Espionage: Spies and Secrets. Diane Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0756766399.
  12. ^ C: The Secret Life of Sir Stewart Graham Menzies, Spymaster to Winston Churchill, by Anthony Cave Brown, 1987, Macmillan, New York, ISBN 0-02-517390-1, pp. 82–98
  13. ^ C: The Secret Life of Sir Stewart Graham Menzies, by Anthony Cave Brown, 1987.
  14. ^ a b Page 121, Michael Kettle, Sidney Reilly: The True Story of the World's Greatest Spy, 1986, St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0-312-90321-9.
  15. ^ Zinoviev Letter in SIS forgery (no) Shock, The Poor Mouth.
  16. ^ Telegraph, 5 February 1999.
  17. ^ a b c Bennett, Richard (2001). Espionage: Spies and Secrets. Diane Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0756766399.
  18. ^ Hinsley, F. H.; Stripp, Alan, eds. (1993) [1992], Codebreakers: The inside story of Bletchley Park, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 92, ISBN 978-0-19-280132-6
  19. ^ Bodyguard of Lies, by Anthony Cave Brown, 1975
  20. ^ Reynolds, David (2012). In Command of History. Random House. ISBN 978-0307824806.
  21. ^ a b Acović, Dragomir (2012). Slava i čast: Odlikovanja među Srbima, Srbi među odlikovanjima. Belgrade: Službeni Glasnik. p. 592.
  22. ^ Follett, Ken (27 December 1987). "THE OLDEST BOY OF BRITISH INTELLIGENCE". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  23. ^ C: The Secret Life of Sir Stewart Graham Menzies, Spymaster to Winston Churchill, by Anthony Cave Brown, 1987
  24. ^ Mosley, Charles, editor. Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition, 3 volumes. Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003.
  25. ^ Lundy, Darryl. "Person Page – 24503". The Peerage.[unreliable source] says that a daughter Daphne was born in 1934. Pamela was first married 1929 (div 1930) to James Roy Notter Garton, + 1939, s. of William Garton, of Bursledon, Hampshire. Pamela Beckett was a first cousin once removed of the 6th Marquess of Anglesey and a second cousin of the 7th Marquess. Her elder sister Gwladys, Lady Markham married 2ndly 1928 Hugh Cholmondeley, 3rd Baron Delamere of Vale Royal.
  26. ^ Lundy, Darryl. "Audrey Clara Lilian Latham". The Peerage.[unreliable source] in The Peerage database. Entry last edited 14 March 2005, and retrieved 15 December 2007.
  27. ^ a b Cave Brown
  28. ^ "The Imitation Game". IMDb. Retrieved 31 October 2021.
  29. ^ "Munich – The Edge of War". IMDb. Retrieved 1 June 2022.
  30. ^ "Page 3063 | Supplement 39243, 1 June 1951 | London Gazette | The Gazette". Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  31. ^ "Page 3 | Supplement 35399, 30 December 1941 | London Gazette | The Gazette". Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  32. ^ "Page 5 | Issue 35841, 29 December 1942 | London Gazette | The Gazette". Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  33. ^ "Page 10188 | Issue 28992, 1 December 1914 | London Gazette | The Gazette". Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  34. ^ "Page 6535 | Supplement 29215, 2 July 1915 | London Gazette | The Gazette". Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  35. ^ a b c Medal card of Menzies, S G Corps: Life Guards Rank: Lieutenant Adjutant... 1914–1920.
  36. ^ a b "Record Details for Stewart Graham Menzies (Life Guards)". Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  37. ^ King's Silver Jubilee Medal: United Kingdom Issue Category 4 (vol. I). 1935.
  38. ^ "Record Details for S G Menzies". Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  39. ^ DECORATIONS AND MEDALS: Coronation Medals (Code 50P): The Queen Elizabeth II Coronation... 1953–1956.
  40. ^ "Page 1593 | Supplement 29943, 13 February 1917 | London Gazette | The Gazette". Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  41. ^ "Page 5452 | Supplement 30110, 1 June 1917 | London Gazette | The Gazette". Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  42. ^ "Page 3097 | Supplement 30568, 8 March 1918 | London Gazette | The Gazette". Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  43. ^ "Page 4441 | Supplement 36200, 5 October 1943 | London Gazette | The Gazette". Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  44. ^ a b "Page 324 | Supplement 37853, 14 January 1947 | London Gazette | The Gazette". Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  45. ^ "Page 2922 | Supplement 38288, 11 May 1948 | London Gazette | The Gazette". Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  46. ^ "Page 6061 | Supplement 38459, 16 November 1948 | London Gazette | The Gazette". Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  47. ^ "Page 495 | Supplement 38523, 28 January 1949 | London Gazette | The Gazette". Retrieved 13 April 2022.


  • Anthony Cave Brown, Bodyguard of Lies, 1975.
  • Anthony Cave Brown, "C": The Secret Servant: The Life of Sir Stewart Menzies, Spymaster to Winston Churchill (Macmillan Publishing Co., 1987) ISBN 0-02-517390-1
  • Ken Follett, "The Oldest Boy of British Intelligence", The New York Times, 27 December 1987. Three page review of Brown's biography and Mahl's book.
  • Hastings, Max (2015). The Secret War: Spies, Codes and Guerrillas 1939 -1945. London: William Collins. ISBN 978-0-00-750374-2.
  • Thomas E. Mahl, Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939–44, (Brassey's Inc., 1999) ISBN 1574882236.
  • Mead, Richard (2007). Churchill's Lions: A Biographical Guide to the Key British Generals of World War II. Stroud: Spellmount. ISBN 978-1-86227-431-0.
Government offices
Preceded by Chief of the SIS
Succeeded by