JRR Tolkien trained as British spy
2009 09 21
The novelist JRR Tolkien secretly trained as a Government spy in the run up to the Second World War, new documents have disclosed.
Tolkien, one of his generation's most respected linguists, was ''earmarked'' to crack Nazi codes in the event that Germany declared war.
Intelligence chiefs singled him and a 'cadre' of other intellectuals to work at Bletchley Park, the codebreaking centre in Buckinghamshire.
Tolkien: Intelligence chiefs singled him and a 'cadre' of other intellectuals to work at Bletchley Park, the codebreaking centre in Buckinghamshire. Photo: AP
Its staff - which included Alan Turing, the gay codebreaker - would later decipher the 'impenetrable' Enigma machines.
This saved Britain from German conquest by allowing the Navy to intercept and destroy Hitler's U-Boats.
According to previously unseen records, Tolkien trained with the top-secret Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS).
He spent three days at their London HQ in March 1939 - six months before the outbreak of the Second World War and just 18 months after the publication of his first book, The Hobbit.
But although he was ''keen'', Tolkien - a professor of English literature at Oxford University - declined a £500-a-year offer to become a full-time recruit.The reasons behind his decision are not known.
But he went on to write the Lord of the Rings trilogy, one of the most popular and influential works in 20th-Century literature.
Tolkien's involvement with the war effort was revealed for the first time this week in a new exhibition at GCHQ, the new name for GCCS, the Government's spy base in Cheltenham, Glos. The display includes a number of previously unseen exhibits relating to Bletchley Park's war preparations.
A GCHQ historian, who would not give his name for security reasons, said: ''JRR Tolkien is known the world over for his novels, but his involvement with the war effort may take a few people by surprise.
''While he didn't sign up as was probably intended, he did complete three days' training and was 'keen' to do more.
''Why he failed to join remains a mystery. There is no paperwork suggesting a motive, so we can only assume that he wanted to concentrate on his writing career.''
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, or 'JRR' Tolkien as he became known, was among a string of intellectuals singled out for service by the Foreign Office.
The GCCS began preparing for a second World War in the late 1930s, and knew the importance of establishing a codebreaking centre to defeat the German forces.
The director of GCCS, known only as 'Alastair G Denniston', drew up a list of 50 possible candidates ''earmarked for service'' in the event of war.
Denniston was given the names by dons at Britain's two leading universities, Oxford and Cambridge, whom had worked with the Government in the First World War.
Tolkien, a professor of Anglo Saxon at Oxford from 1925 to 1945, and professor of English Language and Literature from 1945 to 1959, was put forward.
In a letter to the Foreign Office dated 25 November 1938, Denniston says: ''I have been in touch with both universities and have established direct contact through dons who worked with us during the war, so that now we have a list of about 50 men earmarked for service under the Foreign Office in the event of war.
''I enclose a copy of this list so that you may know the type of men we intend to get.''
Tolkien and 12 others agreed to a ''tester'' day at GCCS HQ in London, where he was given training in Scandinavian languages and Spanish.
He visited the base for three consecutive days between March 27th and March 29th 1939 - six months before the war broke out.
A record of his training carries the word ''keen'' beside his name.
The GCHQ historian said: ''War was coming and the Government could see the complexity of the electronic encryption that would be used.
''The GCCS moved to Bletchley Park in August 1939 from London to avoid the expected bombing.
''They had been inviting people from universities to come for courses so that when they were needed there would a be a cadre of trained people.
''Alan Turing was one person and the list shows that he had three courses just on Enigma in January 1939, so they knew what sort of skills they needed.''
Those who passed the course, and agreed to sign-up, were offered an annual wage of £500 - the equivalent of around £50,000 today.
But Tolkien - who is assumed to have passed the course with flying colours - rejected the offer.
The historian joked: ''We simply don't know why he didn't join. Perhaps it was because we declared war on Germany and not Mordor.''
The exhibition opened in a museum at GCHQ HQ - dubbed the 'doughnut' because of its shape - this week and will remain on show for the next few months.
The GCHQ in Cheltenham, UK, has been nicknamed the "Doughnut" because of its circular design.
It also includes documents from the First World War, and a range of captured Enigma machines.
The exhibition is not open to everyone - the museum is strictly only open for GCHQ's 10,000 staff.
Chris Marshall, a GCHQ spokesman, said: ''The museum is important to give people a sense of the past and where they come from.
''It's about our past but also about where we go in the future.''
Tolkien died on 2 September 1973, aged 81.
Article from: Telegraph.co.uk
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