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Major George Joseph Ball

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George Joseph Ball was born in 1885. During the First World War he joined the Directorate of Military Intelligence Section 5 (MI5). In 1916 MI5 set up PMS2 to spy on the British socialist movement. Major William Melville Lee was appointed as head of PMS2 and Ball became one of his agents.

PMS2 agents, Herbert Booth and Alex Gordon, were used to set-up three members of the Socialist Labour Party in Derby. On 10th March 1917, The judge disagreed with the objection to the use of secret agents. "Without them it would be impossible to detect crimes of this kind." However, he admitted that if the jury did not believe the evidence of Booth, then the case "to a large extent fails". Apparently, the jury did believe the testimony of Booth and after less than half-an-hour of deliberation, they found Alice Wheeldon, Winnie Mason and Alfred Mason guilty of conspiracy to murder. Alice was sentenced to ten years in prison. Alfred got seven years whereas Winnie received "five years' penal servitude."

On 13th March, three days after the conviction, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, published an open letter to the Home Secretary that included the following: "We demand that the Police Spies, on whose evidence the Wheeldon family is being tried, be put in the Witness Box, believing that in the event of this being done fresh evidence will be forthcoming which will put a different complexion on the case."

Basil Thomson, the Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, was also unconvinced by the guilt of Alice Wheeldon and her family. Thomson later said that he had "an uneasy feeling that he himself might have acted as what the French call an agent provocateur - an inciting agent - by putting the idea into the woman's head, or, if the idea was already there, by offering to act as the dart-thrower."

This controversial case resulted in the PMS2 being closed down in 1917. Ball continued to work for MI5 and it is claimed that he played an important role in the bringing down Ramsay MacDonald and the Labour government.

In October 1924 the MI5 intercepted a letter signed by Grigory Zinoviev, chairman of the Comintern in the Soviet Union, and Arthur McManus, the British representative on the committee. In the letter British communists were urged to promote revolution through acts of sedition. Vernon Kell, head of MI5 and Sir Basil Thomson head of Special Branch, were convinced that what became known as the Zinoviev Letter was genuine. Kell showed the letter to Ramsay MacDonald, the Labour Prime Minister. It was agreed that the letter should be kept secret but someone leaked news of the letter to the Times and the Daily Mail.

The letter was published in these newspapers four days before the 1924 General Election and contributed to the defeat of MacDonald and the Labour Party. After the election it was claimed that two of MI5's agents, Sidney Reilly and Arthur Maundy Gregory, had forged the letter and that Major Ball had leaked it to the press.

In 1925 Kell recruited Maxwell Knight to work for the Secret Service Bureau. He was placed under the control of Major Ball. Knight played a significant role in helping to defeat the General Strike in 1926 and was later placed in charge of B5b, a unit that conducted the monitoring of political subversion.

Ball was a strong supporter of the Conservative Party and in 1927 he was appointed as Deputy of Publicity at the Conservative Central Office. Three years later he was promoted to the post of Director of the Conservative Research Department. Over the next 15 years he developed the strategy of using dirty tricks and black propaganda. This included operating secret agents in the Labour Party and Liberal Party. One historian has claimed that Ball was Britain's first spin-doctor.

In 1937 he became political adviser to Neville Chamberlain. Ball controlled an anti-Jewish journal called The Truth. Edited by Henry Newnham, the journal was used to attack Chamberlain's political opponents such as Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden.

Ball was also close to Archibald Ramsay. In the House of Commons Ramsay was the main critic of having Jews in the government. In 1938 he began a campaign to have Leslie Hore-Belisha sacked as Secretary of War. In one speech on 27th April he warned that Hore-Belisha "will lead us to war with our blood-brothers of the Nordic race in order to make way for a Bolshevised Europe."

In 1939 Ball launched a smear campaign against Winston Churchill in an effort to get him de-selected in Epping. Ball also arranged for the former Conservative MP for Basingstoke, Henry Drummond-Wolff to take part in secret peace talks with Herman Goering in Nazi Germany before the outbreak of the Second World War.

In May 1939 Archibald Ramsay founded a secret society called the Right Club. This was an attempt to unify all the different right-wing groups in Britain. Or in the leader's words of "co-ordinating the work of all the patriotic societies". In his autobiography, The Nameless War, Ramsay argued: "The main object of the Right Club was to oppose and expose the activities of Organized Jewry, in the light of the evidence which came into my possession in 1938. Our first objective was to clear the Conservative Party of Jewish influence, and the character of our membership and meetings were strictly in keeping with this objective."

Ball and Archibald Ramsay continued their campaign against Leslie Hore-Belisha and even distributed free copies of right-wing magazines that included articles attacking the Secretary of War. Eventually Neville Chamberlain decided to remove Hore-Belisha as Secretary of State for War and appoint him as Minister of Information. Lord Halifax objected, claiming that it was "inappropriate to have a Jew in charge of publicity." In January 1940 Hore-Belisha was sacked as Secretary of State for War.

In 1940 Ball received a set-back when George Strauss won substantial damages from Henry Newnham and the journal The Truth, after it was claimed that he was a coward for not fighting for his country during the First World War (Strauss was too young to fight in the war).

Ball continued to work with members of the Right Club to carry on peace-talks with Germany and Italy. In 1940 Ball arranged for a lawyer, Adrian Dinglis, to have meetings with Benito Mussolini in Rome.

Archibald Ramsay also continued to be involved in trying to obtain a peace agreement with Adolf Hitler. He was helped in his work by two women, Anna Wolkoff and Joan Miller. Unknown to Ramsay, Miller was a MI5 agent. In February 1940, Wolkoff met Tyler Kent, a cypher clerk from the American Embassy. He soon became a regular visitor to the Russian Tea Room where he met other members of the Right Club including Ramsay. Wolkoff, Kent and Ramsay talked about politics and agreed that they all shared the same political views.

Tyler Kent was concerned that the American government wanted the United States to join the war against Germany. He said he had evidence of this as he had been making copies of the correspondence between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Kent invited Wolkoff and Ramsay back to his flat to look at these documents. This included secret assurances that the United States would support France if it was invaded by the German Army. Kent later argued that he had shown these documents to Ramsay in the hope that he would pass this information to American politicians hostile to Roosevelt.

On 13th April 1940 Anna Wolkoff went to Kent's flat and made copies of some of these documents. Joan Miller and Marjorie Amor were later to testify that these documents were then passed on to Duco del Monte, Assistant Naval Attaché at the Italian Embassy. Soon afterwards, MI8, the wireless interception service, picked up messages between Rome and Berlin that indicated that Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of German military intelligence (Abwehr), had seen the Roosevelt-Churchill correspondence.

Soon afterwards Anna Wolkoff asked Joan Miller if she would use her contacts at the Italian Embassy to pass a coded letter to William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) in Germany. The letter contained information that he could use in his broadcasts on Radio Hamburg. Before passing the letter to her contacts, Miller showed it to Maxwell Knight, the head of B5b, a unit within MI5 that conducted the monitoring of political subversion.

On 18th May, Knight told Guy Liddell about the Right Club spy ring. Liddell immediately had a meeting with Joseph Kennedy, the American Ambassador in London. Kennedy agreed to waive Kent's diplomatic immunity and on 20th May, 1940, the Special Branch raided his flat. Inside they found the copies of 1,929 classified documents, including the secret correspondence between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Kent was also found in possession of what became known as Ramsay's Red Book. This book had the names and addresses of members of the Right Club and had been given to Kent for safe keeping.

Anna Wolkoff and Tyler Kent were arrested and charged under the Official Secrets Act. The trial took place in secret and on 7th November 1940, Wolkoff was sentenced to ten years. Kent, because he was an American citizen, was treated less harshly and received only seven years.

Archibald Ramsay was surprisingly not charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act. Instead he was interned under Defence Regulation 18B. Ramsay now joined other right-wing extremists such as Oswald Mosley and Admiral Nikolai Wolkoff in Brixton Prison. Some left-wing politicians in the House of Commons began demanding the publication of Ramsay's Red Book. They suspected that several senior members of the Conservative Party had been members of the Right Club. Some took the view that Ramsay had done some sort of deal in order to prevent him being charged with treason.

Major Ball, who was probably a member of the Right Club, was not arrested but after the death of Neville Chamberlain he lost his power in the Conservative Party. He retained his position as Director of the Conservative Research Department until his retirement in 1945.

Major George Joseph Ball died in 1961.


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  • 9 months later...

Christopher Andrew’s book, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) looks at the case of Major George Joseph Ball. Andrew is no friend of conspiracy theorists but after being given access to previously unclassified files he has had to confirm that MI5 were indeed involved in a number of political conspiracies. This includes the Zinoviev letter. On page 149 he points out that on 9th October 1924 SIS forwarded the Zinoviev letter to the Foreign Office, MI5 and Scotland Yard with the assurance that “the authenticity is undoubted” when they knew it had been forged by anti-Bolshevik White Russians. Desmond Morton, the head of SIS, provided extra information about the letter being confirmed as being genuine by an agent, Jim Finney, who had penetrated Comintern and the Communist Party of Great Britain. Andrew claims this was an “outrageous lie” as the so-called Finney report does not make any reference to the Zinoviev letter. Of course, it did not stop there, the forged document was then sent to the Daily Mail, a newspaper that was running a campaign against the Labour government. Andrew also argues that it was Joseph Ball, head of B Branch who passed the letter onto Conservative Central Office on 22nd October, 1924. Ball later went onto work for the Conservative Party, as Andrew points out: “Ball’s subsequent lack of scruples in using intelligence for party-political advantage while at central office in the later 1920s strongly suggests” that he was guilty of this action.

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