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Saturday, December 16th 2017, 3:16pm

Speaking out of character...

Herr Zuse and KBM have been manufacturing and marketing computer equipment for several years now, including exports as far away as Chile.


Saturday, December 16th 2017, 4:36pm

Speaking out of character...

Herr Zuse and KBM have been manufacturing and marketing computer equipment for several years now, including exports as far away as Chile.

Isn't the British news about a computer program and the German news about a electromechanical computing machine?


Saturday, December 16th 2017, 4:43pm

Speaking out of character...

Herr Zuse and KBM have been manufacturing and marketing computer equipment for several years now, including exports as far away as Chile.

Isn't the British news about a computer program and the German news about a electromechanical computing machine?

Well, it's rather hard to run a computer without a program. Given the development of the Zuse line of computers since its initial introduction, I would say that hurdle has been overcome. YMMV.


Saturday, December 16th 2017, 5:40pm

Looking quickly at the wiki page of Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine, I think the difference is that the SSEM uses a computer program it has in its memory while the Z3 makes use of an external control program stored on a tape which tells it what to do.

Maybe it should be "first working stored computer program"?


Saturday, December 16th 2017, 5:58pm

Looking quickly at the wiki page of Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine, I think the difference is that the SSEM uses a computer program it has in its memory while the Z3 makes use of an external control program stored on a tape which tells it what to do.

Maybe it should be "first working stored computer program"?

KBM has been marketing the Z4 and its derivatives for several years now, No doubt the next generation of KBM equipment will incorporate Transitron-technology, developed by physicists Herbert Mataré and Heinrich Welker.


Saturday, December 16th 2017, 6:35pm

Neither "Z4" nor "KBM" work with the board's search option. I know it is mentioned in the news article you linked but without digging through many pages of German news I have no idea if it is the historical one or when it was introduced. According to wiki, it is similar to the Z3 but significantly enhanced.


Saturday, December 16th 2017, 6:42pm

The French have made a few computers called the CUBA, but I'd have to delve back into things to find out when. I wasn't able to find much historical information on it, so I don't know what it does, other than be France's first computer...


Sunday, December 17th 2017, 7:54am

Looked this up on the web and found this page....

Lots of "first" computers, just different definitions of computers...


Sunday, December 17th 2017, 11:47am

That list also misses the Soviet MESM completed in December 1951 at the Institute of Electrical Engineering in Kiev. It was the first Soviet stored-program digital computer and has been claimed to have been the first operating stored-program computer in continental Europe.

I give you increased autonomy in Burma, unrest in Iraq, rebuilt Lancaster bombers, talks in Paris, a bridge over the Channel and yet the computer items stirs up the most interest! :D


Sunday, December 17th 2017, 2:52pm

Maybe because those are normal common things that are sane while the computer is something special and insane. :D


Sunday, December 17th 2017, 11:23pm

Hood scripset:


I give you increased autonomy in Burma, unrest in Iraq, rebuilt Lancaster bombers, talks in Paris, a bridge over the Channel and yet the computer items stirs up the most interest! :D

Merely the place for comment. In character, General Gehlen and Source Merlin will be very interested in the Iraqi voting (NB - not entirely certain who these 'Independents' are - item for investigation), and Herr Dehler awaits a summary from his French counterpart (or from Prince von Thurn and Taxis).


Saturday, December 23rd 2017, 6:03pm

A Conspiracy at the Barely Row?
The Net Closes

Dawn was breaking as Michael and Henry left the police station.
Harry lit a cigarette, “where to now boss?”
Michael opened the car door, “Let’s get some sleep and then we’ll pick up Aston and see if we can make the pieces fit.”
As the drove to the safe house they debated whether Tony Palmer was telling them the truth. They both had a hunch there was more to it than he was letting on. A search of his house would probably reveal more clues and if they could get Aston to sing then they might have enough to roll everything up.

After grabbing a couple of hours of fitful sleep they parked up near Aston’s lodgings and waited for Aston to leave the house for his usual mid-morning routine of the paper shop and the bookies. That way they could grab him without disturbing Mrs Thornton and creating a scene.

Aston appeared around half past eleven and cycled off down the street, Henry eased the car away from the kerb and they followed him to the newsagents where Aston brought his copy of the Racing Times. As Aston stepped back outside he found himself facing both men.
“Hello Michael, nice to see you again,” Michael smiled, “the old firm would like a chat. There’s one or two things we think you could help us with.”
Aston’s face fell as he realised his past was catching up with him. He didn’t know whether to make a dash for it or not. He vaguely recalled Michael’s face but he couldn’t pinpoint where and when. Henry gripped Aston’s right arm to make up his mind for him.
“What do you want?” he finally said.
“We’ll go through that a little later,” Michael smiled as he held the car door open.

Aston was shocked to find himself inside a police station but he was ushered into a small interview room. Special Branch Detective Inspector Grice was already waiting inside. At this stage the operation was strictly MI5 business but at some point it seemed likely a criminal charge would be brought against Aston and Palmer. A telephone call to Tom in Liverpool confirmed that the message retrieved from the telephone box contained snippets of information regarding staff working at Risley, written in secret ink.

Michael sat down and wasted no time, “You are Michael Aston, formerly employed by the Security Services and currently employed as a barman at the Barley Row public house in Warrington?”
Aston nodded but said nothing.
“We have had suspicions regarding your activities for some time and certain events have led us to believe that you have been sending information about the activities at the Risley Ordnance Factory to other parties. As a former employee of the Service you must realise the serious implications of this. We of course cannot discount the possibility of treachery during your service while employed at two foreign embassies in London. These charges are serious. What do you say to these?”
Aston sat blank faced for a moment, “I don’t work for the Service anymore, they fired me. Remember? I’m not bound by your snobby bosses anymore.”
Michael let out a dry laugh, “Nobody ever retires from the Service, you signed certain undertakings at the time and they hold for the rest of your life.”
“They never upheld their part of the bargain did they?” Aston scoffed.
“It looked pretty fishy that you got sacked from both embassy jobs. And you got that German recommendation remember? Some people have wondered whether the Germans gave you that so you could gain entrance to the Hungarian embassy for them. Some say the Germans blew your cover and tipped off the Hungarians. Others say you just plain blew it, twice. That you were no good. Of course if you were working for the Germans you might still be working for them. What do you say?”
Aston laughed, “well people talk a lot of crap don’t they. Guess you’ll have to work it out won’t you.”
Michael frowned. “We have worked it all out. You were a drunk, a beggar, a broken ex-agent. Then someone slips you a train ticket and a pocket full of money to get you back up north and sets you up with a job near a top secret War Office site and you start passing coded messages via drop-offs in telephone boxes in the middle of the night. A big Daddy from Berlin who keeps you in betting money in return for information. That’s enough to see you locked away for a quite a stretch.”
Aston sunk into his chair, he knew it would be a long interrogation and that it would be only the beginning.


Friday, December 29th 2017, 4:59pm

A Conspiracy at the Barley Row
The Investigation Continues

By the end of the day both Aston and Palmer found themselves on separate trains heading south, handcuffed to two Special Branch detectives. Their destination was the main MI5 detainment and interrogation centre in the grounds of a country house in Surrey, not far from the outskirts of London. Here the ‘Inquisitors’ would take over the investigation, working on the initial leads from Michael Braithwaite’s interview. In the meantime Tom Measure was also heading south with the letter recovered from Tony Palmer’s possession and Henry Golding and Michael conducted a search of Palmer’s house in Bootle while the police tactfully combed Aston’s room for evidence and interviewed the landlady Mrs Thornton.

The results of these searches were better than could have been hoped for. In Palmer’s house a bank book in another name was found and he had carelessly marked a map with several drop-off locations. In Aston’s room a camera was found and the physics books were retrieved but there was little solid incriminating evidence left lying around. Michael was surprised that an untrained agent was so careful, but he also recognised that Aston’s talent was, and still was, a nobody who quietly hung around in the background and hoovered up small pieces of chickenfeed rather than making efforts to obtain specific information. Evidently though his chickenfeed was interesting enough for somebody to keep him on their books. The only question was, who was that somebody.

There was certainly more to Palmer than met the eye. A visit to the local branch of the Midland Bank revealed that the account in the name of a Mr Charles Penney was real enough. The bank manager confirmed that, but wouldn’t confirm precise details on how much money was deposited or the transactions made. Michael would need a HOW (Home Office Warrant) to prise that information from the bank and he had no doubt London would soon procure one. Interviewing the cashiers revealed they recognised Palmer’s face and they said that he withdrew reasonable large sums of money once a month.

The drop-off points on the map were checked over. It took all of Michael and Henry’s craftwork to translate a circle on a roadmap to find exactly where the dead-letter boxes were. Some would remain hidden for now but they did identify a few of them, but all were empty. Michael wanted to put them all under surveillance in the off-chance that another unknown agent would attempt a drop, but he didn’t have the manpower. Even so, it looked like Palmer was paying a bigger role as a courier for a network. He was collecting information and passing back the pay. It was a risky job and doubtless Tony had some backup.

The Inquisitors worked on Tony Palmer. First leaving him in limbo, then jumping in with questions. The usual tough guy, soft guy approach didn’t bear fruit at first. Tony was an accomplished liar, the lies had to be exposed and stripped back. He still denied being a courier. He maintained the “southern posh git” had talked him into the job and he stuck to the story he told Michael and Detective Inspector Grice. A background check however soon threw up more uneasy facts. He had an Irish uncle, Tom O'Shaughnessy, who was on the books as an IRA member as far back as 1914. He was currently believed to be living in Liverpool. Whether that provided Palmer with motives or access to a foreign spy network wasn’t know but it was a lead to follow up on.

The investigation into Aston’s role had to be just as much in-depth and historical. His career was thoroughly combed. The Inquisitors dug into his two jobs and the circumstances of his dismissal from those posts. During 1944 and 1945 he had been a porter at the German Embassy in London. His employment had been terminated on Friday 7 December 1945. Aston had been told that it was an economy measure and checks confirmed two female receptionists had been let go at the same time. All three were given £20 in cash and a letter of recommendation. Within a week Aston was able to use this to gain employment at the Hungarian embassy. He had found out that the head porter at the Hungarian legation had died from a heart attack and in the re-organisation of staff he secured employment as a night porter. This employment lasted until Sunday 7 July 1946 when he was fired without notice or explanation but paid his week’s wages. Efforts had been made to place him somewhere else, including the Romanian Embassy, but his lack of a Hungarian recommendation and his sudden dismissal was a hindrance. In addition, Aston seemed to lack any sparkling qualities and so he was put on the shelf, perhaps to be revived if circumstances improved.

The letter of recommendation now seemed less important, all three former employees had received one. There was no way to prove or disprove the German economies as a motive, although it was noted that within a couple of months the reception was once again fully manned. If the Abwehr had suspected Aston would they have sacked two innocents as cover? It was possible but only if they had no hard evidence against him and if they had no evidence they would have had little call to suspect him further or tip-off the Hungarians or indeed turn him into a double-agent. His sacking from the Hungarian Embassy was still unexplainable after seven months of service. Aston couldn’t account for it. It was possible he may have offended some official unwittingly or perhaps the staff had been concerned that he was a plant following the Gardner case. There was no smoking gun.

But all those motives and theories still couldn’t explain who Aston was passing secrets too and why. For now Aston was still playing hard ball but during his interviews he bitterly contrasted the kindness of the German commercial attaché to that of his MI5 handlers when he was out of work and forced to resort to begging to survive. This small chink provided some clues. Immediately checks were made on Otto von Bolschwing, the commercial attaché. Both MI5 and MI6’s background checks had labelled him “snow white”. He seemed untainted by espionage. Bolschwing’s chance encounter with Aston in early February 1947 seemed to be simply that.

Finally the Inquisitors got to Aston’s move north and the means to set himself up with lodgings and a job. His explanation was a stroke of good fortune. A man appeared at the hostel he was staying at and gave him an address he could stop at in Manchester and on arrival a small fortune of £100 in cash. Asked why this man had done this, Aston claimed the man had introduced himself as a member of a Manchester Christian charity helping homeless Mancunians’ to get a fresh start. The claim seemed flimsy but Aston eagerly took the offer. The lodgings and the money proving to be legitimate. While he was looking for work another man approached him and offered him the job at the Barley Row pub in Warrington. It wasn’t much of a job, but the man, supposedly a fellow philanthropist, knew the owner was looking for reliable staff and he thought Aston with his experience would be ideal. The Inquisitors asked the identity of the man. Aston claimed he never saw him again and that he gave no name but the description, the interviewers noted, bore a marked similarity to the man who supposedly recruited Palmer.


Friday, December 29th 2017, 5:10pm

And things continue...



Friday, January 5th 2018, 12:41pm

A Conspiracy at the Barley Row?
The Reverend and the Landlord

Although the case was in the hands of the ‘Inquisitors’, Michael Braithwaite still remained the case officer. The Liverpool office wanted Tom Measure and Henry Golding back for other work, but Michael still needed their diligent footwork and both men were now deeply involved in an interesting case and didn’t want to leave. The case had by now caught the attention of the very top level at Whitehall. The head of MI5 was keeping a keen eye on developments, even the head of MI6 had been informed as had the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Home Secretary. It was a growing investigation and fast absorbing manpower and resources.

Tom was despatched to Manchester to hunt down the elusive Christian charity worker who had given Aston the £100 in cash and put him in touch with a man who got him the job at the Barley Row, the same man who it seemed had also recruited Palmer. Henry went to see the proprietor of the Barley Row to get the same information. If they could find the man, then they would be closer to finding the network. In the meantime, Michael and the ‘Inquisitors’ kept both men under questioning, trying to strip away their lies and cover stories.

Tom found it easy enough to find the Withington Shelter for the Homeless in Manchester. He arranged an appointment with Reverend Charles Claridge, who ran the shelter. Over a cup of tea Tom began to ask about the mysterious man, giving the backstory that he wanted to trace the man who had helped his brother in hard times. Tom of course had no name, but he did have the description of the man from Palmer and Aston.

“My brother, for the life of him, couldn’t remember the man’s name. He was of medium height, about forty, fair hair, always had a toothy smile my brother said.” Tom hoped the Reverend would remember the man.
The Reverend stroked his chin as he thought over his tea, “Hmmm, sounds like Eric. Where did you say your brother saw this man?”
“He was in London at the time, he was looking for work but had no luck.” Tom used his best sad voice.
“Yes, it must be Eric. He does work for us in London, helping those who need a hand in getting home. Too many young men have been lured by the prospects in London but fallen on hard times, some of them leaving families here who can barely cope. Even in this age of the Welfare State there is still neglect and want among the poor.”

The Reverend was able to provide Tom with an address in London where Eric worked; Saint Luke’s Chapel in Wansdworth. When he mentioned that he had worked in German South-West Africa before the war, Tom became even more anxious to meet the man. He gladly thanked the Reverend, dropped some money into his donations box and headed south on the next express train.

Once back in London, a background check on Eric had revealed that he was actually Erich Stoben, who had been a Pastor in German South-West Africa and who had emigrated to Britain in 1920 following the League of Nation’s Mandate which had passed Namibia to British protection. No doubt being a man of the clergy and good works he would have a cast iron alibi and impeccable references. Tom thought that would be the ideal sort of man for a cut-out. The £100 Erich gave to Aston could seemed unlikely to have been from charity funds. Tom felt it was more likely that money came from whoever Erich was working for. Michael agreed and it was decided to put Erich under observation.

Henry had to face the Barely Row’s owner, Fred Cowens. Fred of course was upset that Aston hadn’t been into work and that he’d heard the police had arrested him. Now Henry was asking questions and he suspected Henry was a reporter snooping around. Being a middleweight boxing champion in his youth, Fred still cut an imposing figure.

Henry flashed him his credentials, “I’m from the Special Branch,” a white lie but not far from the truth, “and we’re running checks on Aston’s background. We’re most anxious to know how he became employed here.”
Fred shrugged, “Why? He did anything nothing wrong here as far as I know. He never dipped into the till or anything like that. He seemed a straight and down type of bloke.”
Henry was relieved that Aston hadn’t turned out to be a crook as well as a traitor. “I can’t go into details of the case, you understand, but we are anxious to trace an associate of his who you may know. We believe from Aston it was this man who got him his job here.”
Fred re-arranged the pint glasses behind the bar, “Well I don’t trust the employment exchange these days, I’ve had some right duffers from there. I tend to use recommendations from people I know.”
Henry pulled out his notebook, “And who knew Aston?”
Fred carried on re-arranging the pint glasses behind the bar, “Oh that was, what’s his name. Haven’t seen him in months, used to be a regular here. He was a dealer.”
“Cars?” Henry offered.
“No, furniture, well, more like antique stuff.” Fred folded a towel over the beer taps.
“Was he a local man?” Henry asked, hoping he might be close by in Warrington.
Fred shook his head, “Nah, he used to visit on business, for the big auctions. I reckon most of the dealers round here know of him. Sorry, I can’t remember his name now, it’s been nearly a six months since he’s been in.”
Henry frowned, trudging round every antiques dealer in Merseyside and South Lancashire seemed a dismal prospect.
"How did he know Aston if he was only visiting?" Henry asked, trying not to be distracted by the smell of lunch cooking in the kitchen behind.
Fred was now re-arranging his bottles of beer, "He said he was a friend of his, that he'd fallen on hard times but he had a lot of experience of serving on in some of the big restaurants and so I gave him a chance."
Henry knew that was a cover story, but he handed Fred a small card with a telephone number and asked him to call it if he saw the man again and ordered some lunch, for he hoped a good meal and pint would offset his meagre results.


Sunday, January 7th 2018, 11:17am

1 July
The National Museum of Wales today opened the Welsh Folk Museum at St Fagans to the public. It is the first open-air museum in Britain and Lorwerth Peate has been appointed as its Director.

5 July
At the Park Hospital in Manchester, Minister of Health Aneurin Bevan unveiled the National Health Service and stated the organisation’s three core principles; that it meet the needs of everyone; that it be free at the point of delivery; that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay. Applauded by many campaigners this move has been in planning since the Beveridge Report of 1942. Healthcare had been an unsatisfactory mix of private, municipal and charity schemes. The way forward is a national system rather than a system operated by regional authorities, to prevent inequalities between different regions. Each resident of the UK will sign up to a specific General Practice (GP) as the point of entry into the system and will have access to any kind of treatment they needed without having to raise the money to pay for it.
Bevan’s speech claimed, "We now have the moral leadership of the world".
Also today responsibility for National Insurance has passed to the new Ministry of National Insurance. Now a single stamp covers all the benefits of the new Welfare State. In addition, the Children Act 1948 comes into effect, transferring responsibility for child welfare from Poor Law Guardians, Approved schools and voluntary organisations to new local authority Children’s Departments with professional Children’s Officers.

7 July
Miles Aircraft announced today that the Royal Thai Air Force has ordered twenty M.14B Magister II/ Hawk Trainer II two-seat basic training aircraft. The M.14B is an improved version of the 1930s design with a 135hp Blackburn Cirrus II engine and modernised cockpit and instruments, deliveries will be completed in early 1949.


Sunday, January 7th 2018, 5:30pm

Who is running Thailand these days?


Monday, January 8th 2018, 10:59am

As far as I know Thailand has been NPC for donkey's years.

The deal is historical anyway so it no big deal, something cheap and cheerful for a cheap and cheerful air force. Besides which Thailand did but a fair bit of British stuff in WW in the past.


Thursday, January 11th 2018, 6:14pm

A Conspiracy at the Barley Row?
Tony Talks

Michael Braithwaite and Special Branch Detective Inspector Grice were still deep into the interrogation of Tony Palmer. He maintained he was a courier, recruited by the nameless “posh southern git”. When Henry telephoned in his report from Warrington, Michael immediately suspected the antiques dealer could be the man, but it was flimsy and with so little to go on there was little option but to pursue what meagre leads they had and keep plugging away at Palmer. After all, there was a lot of incriminating evidence against him.

Grice eagerly pointed out that having bank accounts in false names was a crime. Palmer couldn’t deny it, he of course claimed his recruiter sent him the Midland Bank account book through the post. Although the bank manager wasn’t forthcoming with generous information, the result of the HOW was a listing of ingoings and outgoings, a fairly substantial sum of money was changing hands. Money was being deposited in cash from a branch in London and Palmer was withdrawing it in Bootle. The amounts coming in and out always matched precisely, more importantly was that since his arrest all deposits had stopped. This set alarm bells ringing for Michael, already his network had become aware of the stop in the flow of information and perhaps had already begun to go to ground. When the watchers arrived at Harringay Post Office they found they were too late, a man had already opened the box and finding it empty had quickly left. There was a brief description of the man, a check in the files at Scotland Yard failed to find a matching known suspect. To Michael it only confirmed the worst.

Michael had to press Palmer harder, he had to make him reveal all the sub-agents the dead letter boxes, carelessly left on the map found in Tony’s house, belonged to and where all the dead letter boxes were precisely located.
“I don’t know their names. It wasn’t safe for me to know,” Tony whined. The sky on the other side of the grilled window was still dark.
“How many agents were there Tony?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know!” Michael thumped the table, “Look at the map Tony, all these neat little circles. Count em’!”
“But… I wasn’t to use the same places all the time.”
“Count the circles Tony, how many drop offs, how many letters, how many did you pick up each month Tony!”
“There were four, only four,” Tony rubbed his tired eyes, red from lack of sleep.
“Who are these four people?”
“I told you, I don’t know their names!” Tony shouted, his voice hoarse.
Michael changed tack, “Ok, so who gave you this map? You can at least tell us the name of the man who gave you this.”
Tony shook his head, “The map is mine. The guy gave me a list of the places and I drew up the map.”
“What guy? The man who recruited you?”
Tony nodded.
“Well he must have had a name, people don’t go around offering money to complete strangers without introductions,” Michael was getting annoyed but he tried hard not to let this overplay his force to make Palmer talk.
“Smith, he was called Smith. Joe Smith,” Toby slouched in his chair.
Michael knew the name was a phoney, it wasn’t even inventive. “So this Joe Smith had already selected the drop off points and sorted the collection details before he approached you?”
Tony nodded, “He just gave me the list and told me what to do.”
“Where is the list now?” Grice asked, he was sitting the corner of the room.
Tony looked up from the table at Grice, “I burned it. Once I’d made the map I burnt it.”
“And you’re quite sure it had all the contacts already worked out, you didn’t arrange any yourself?” Grice continued.
Tony nodded, “The guy had thought of everything. All I was needed for was to collect the letters and then leave the rubs in the second place the following night.”
“Now then,” Michael said, with a touch of menace in his voice, “tell us exactly where the drops are located.”
His tongue now loosened and wanting nothing but for this to end, Tony started to talk.

After the interview Michael and Grice talked things over. It was clear Palmer was no genius and unlikely to be the brains behind the network or responsible for recruitment. They sat down and began to sketch out what they knew. The leader of the network was doubly insulated from the sub-agents in the field. There were two couriers. Palmer who collected the information from the four sub-agents and dropped off their pay, which he drew from the Midland Bank from the false account.
“But Palmer gets his pay via a separate method, he gets his posted to the newsagent in Aintree, that’s very peculiar,” Grice mused.
Michael smiled, “It’s another precaution. Presumably Palmer’s tenner a month is posted from Harringay Post Office when the courier collects the Palmer’s mail. No information means no payment, no pay means nobody picked up the stuff. So both sides know immediately if something’s gone wrong at either end.”
Grice puffed on his cigarette, “So where does Erich Stoben fit in?” Grice asked.
“Aston was cultivated, I think it’s no coincidence that the German commercial attaché happens upon him begging in a doorway and within weeks he’s been found by Erich at the YMCA, transported up north and a hundred quid finds its way into his pocket. Erich is a German immigrant, there is probably some link between Erich and the commercial attaché.”
Grice wasn’t convinced, he hated supposing anything without evidence and so far the involvement of the Withington Shelter staff was open to varying interpretation. “Maybe, but there’s still the fact that he didn’t give Aston the hundred pounds personally. The mysterious Joe Smith, possible antiques dealer. Presumably he recruited Aston, placed him in Warrington and recruited the other three sub-agents and Palmer to boot.”
Michael tossed his hands into the air, “You coppers always like motives, there’s no motive for Aston to do any of this except for money and revenge. What better revenge than spying for Germany to get his own back on the Service, who he thinks sold him down the river. The Attaché would have known Aston from the embassy, he may have had suspicions or Aston may even have confessed he had been spying. They put two and two together and offer him the chance to betray us and he takes it. Erich might just be a bit player, but if we can prove a link between him, Aston and the embassy then we’ve got Aston over hot coals.”
Grice stubbed out his cigarette, “Maybe, but us coppers like evidence too. Right now this case has too many holes. One, Erich might or might not be involved. Two, who is Joe Smith, who presumably isn’t the ring leader but someone trusted enough to set everything up and handle the money. Three, who is the ring leader. Four, who is the courier at the London end who scarpered when he found the post box empty. Five, I’m running out of fingers, who are the other three agents, who as far as we know are still roaming free and as soon as they don’t get paid will smell a rat and run. Right now we have little to show except for Aston and Palmer.”
Michael wasn’t so pessimistic, “Aston is the most vital member given the information he could potentially send, and with Palmer in our hands the network has shut down. The flow of information is severed.”
“Presuming the agents didn’t have a back-up in case Palmer cocked up,” Grice interrupted.
Michael frowned, “Then let’s ask Aston. He ought to be able to tell us.”


Thursday, January 18th 2018, 4:56pm

A Conspiracy at the Barley Row?
Aston Talks

Unlike the rest of his accomplices, most of which he’d never met or even knew of, Aston was still cooling his heels in the small room in the mansion in Surrey. It wasn’t quite a prison cell but it was still drab, draughty and uncomfortable. His future looked bleak, at best he’d be tried for spying and would probably get ten or twenty years, at worst he’d be tried for treason and hung. His only hopes were that the government would seek to avoid a trial and execution which would risk publicity and that he still might be able to avoid jail by offering to work again for the Service as a double agent.

He put the proposition during his next interview. Michael was dismissive, his bosses would never allow Aston to walk away from his treachery without punishment. Michael made it clear the only way to reduce his long sentence was to start co-operating. Firstly, by revealing the names of those who had recruited him. Aston finally had to talk.
“Well, after I saw von Bolschwing by chance this man approached me at the shelter I was at. I’d only been then a few days. He told me that friends of mine had told him about my predicament and that I needed help.”
“We know all this,” Michael interrupted, “we want the names. Who was this man?”
Aston wiped his brow, “his name was Eric.”
“Erich Stoben?” Michael asked, “Erich Stoben who works at the Saint Luke’s Chapel in Wandsworth?”
Aston nodded, “Yes, that’s him. He took me there the day before I left for Manchester.”
“Who met you in Manchester.”
Aston thought a moment, “A Reverend met me at the station, Charles I think he was called.”
Michael of course expected that, “Who was the man who recruited you, who gave you the hundred pounds in return for agreeing to collect information for him.”
Aston wiped his brow again, “Joseph Smith was the name he gave me. He said he was a friend of Eric. I never saw him again after he arranged for me to go to the pub and when he told me of the arrangements on how I was to pass my material.”
Of course Michael and Grice knew that the name was probably fictitious. They would need to dig a little further.
“Did he ever give any indication of his employment or how he came to know Eric Stoben or how he was involved with the Withington Shelter.”
Aston seemed reluctant to go much further and was evasive, “He told me nothing. We never met in the Shelter, always somewhere else. Eric fixed up the first meeting. We only met three or four times.”
Aston gave them a brief description of ‘Joseph Smith’. From the information given it seemed he was in his fifties, middle-class and had a southern accent which was well spoken. It seemed to fit with the descriptions by Palmer and the landlord of the Barley Row. But who the man was remained a mystery.