Smiling enigmatically, this is the British opera singer-turned-spy who captivated Adolf Hitler.
Margery Booth led a double life inside Nazi Germany, where she performed for Hitler and his henchmen while smuggling the Third Reich’s secrets to British intelligence.
Margery had, been recruited by MI6 whilst MI9 had recruited John Brown, a former but now disillusioned member of Mosley’s infamous Fascist Blackshirts. Through the SOE it was designed for him to be captured on the Normandy beaches in order that that he could work as a spy behind the lines in a PoW camp.
Margery helped British prisoners of war to send coded messages back to spy chiefs in London, and even performed for the Führer with cyphers hidden inside her costume.
Discovery would have meant almost certain death for the mezzo-soprano, who endured regular questioning by the Gestapo. But Hitler was so taken by her performances that he once visited her dressing room, and later sent her 200 red roses, wrapped in a sash with a swastika on it.
The Army officer who used the singer to send his coded messages, John Brown, was hailed as a hero after the war, when his evidence was used in the treason trial of William Joyce, the traitor Lord Haw Haw.
Margery usually attends Hitler on his birthday every April and it was at one of these that Jodl presents him with the Tiger tank. As data is provided, Margery overhears most of this and, like the good singer she is, memorises these numbers as a tune.
John Brown, a spy in Stalag IIID but also working undercover for the Nazis, is passed details of the Tiger’s existence whilst Margery is singing to the PoWs there and radios this to London.
Back at the Opera House these numbers are encoded and soon at Bletchley Park, delivered to a delighted Hardy Amies, confirming John Brown’s earlier message. Churchill thus warned, gives instructions for a Tiger to be captured and delivered to No 10 Downing Street. This eventually happens in North Africa
I fell into Allied hands. It was Tiger 131. It was 21 April 1943 when 48th Royal Tank Regiment, newly arrived in Tunisia from Britain, went into action against the Germans for the first time.
But Miss Booth’s bravery has gone largely unrecognised, and calls for her to receive a posthumous honour have gone unheeded. So little was known about her war-time efforts that this photograph of her has only just come to light, almost 60 years after her death.
She was sent to sing at Stalag IIID, known as the ‘Holiday Camp’ to British PoWs. The Germans hoped this would encourage some of the British held there to change sides
It was at the camp that Booth met John Brown, a spy who was collecting information on traitors such as William Joyce, known as Lord Haw Haw.
These photographs are of a woman whose quiet bravery – like that of so many unsung heroes – helped Britain to victory in World War Two. Margery Booth was born in Wigan in 1905, and joined the town’s operatic society as a teenager.
By 1936 she had sung at Covent Garden and even briefly travelled to Hollywood to appear in a film version of Aida. Later that year she met and quietly married Dr Egon Ströhm, the son of a wealthy German brewery family, and moved to Germany.
Her first meeting with Hitler is thought to have been in 1933, when she was chosen to carry the Holy Grail in the spectacular finale to the Wagner opera Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival.
He burst into her dressing room and told her how elegant and lovely he thought her, and sent her the basket of 200 red roses the next day, with a card signed ‘Adolf’. When the war began, she was singing with the Berlin State Opera, and she was later allowed to perform for British prisoners of war at a camp in Genshagen, near Berlin.
Adolf Hitler and Nazi leaders at the Berlin Opera House where Margery Booth performed in 1936. She mixed with the German top brass while passing secrets to British Intelligence.She would announce to her audience ‘I’m Margery Booth from Wigan’, and this photograph of her is believed to have been taken at Genshagen. It was found among photographs of inmates at the camp, Stalag IIID, known as a propaganda ‘holiday camp’ for British officers who the Nazis hoped to use as double agents. John Brown was transferred there in 1943 and convinced his captors he was willing to work for Germany.
He used their trust to send coded messages home in his letters, and also to pass secret documents to Miss Booth to send back to MI9, the intelligence branch tasked with unmasking traitors. Ironically, the opera singer’s links to the Nazi regime were so well-known that she was accused of collaborating against Britain, and turning traitor against her country.
In his book, In Durance Vile, Mr Brown wrote that she was initially given personal assurances from Hitler and Goebbels that they would ‘deal with the matter personally’ if she was insulted because of her British birth. But when Mr Brown’s secret work for Britain was discovered by the Nazis, Miss Booth was arrested and tortured by the Gestapo.
She kept silent and was eventually released, and she later escaped Berlin during an air raid and fled to Bavaria, where she was picked up by the Americans. After the war she divorced her German husband and moved to America, where she died from cancer in 1952.
The photograph of Miss Booth is part of a collection from Genshagen, stamped Freigegeben Stalag IIID, a special PoW camp where the Nazis held Britons who they thought they might be able to persuade to change sides.
She signed it, writing ‘With kindest remembrances, Good luck, Margery Booth’. She also signed the first page of John’s War Diary: