War Stories of Willie Whitelaw’s intelligence chief

In my last post, I discussed the circumstances in which MI6 provided the first intelligence chief at the Northern Ireland Office in 1972. I now want to add a little bit of what we know about the officer who filled this post, whose offical title was Director and Co-ordinator of Intelligence Northern Ireland (DCI NI).

The official history of MI5 does not name this officer, but offers a striking pen picture: 

His Security Service successor remembers him as 'the right man really to establish the post': 'He was there for a year and he did it in tremendous style. He lived like a king, he entertained like a king, he used to drink with Willie [Whitelaw] all night.' (Chistopher Andrew, Defence of the Realm, 2009, p.621.

The Security service successor was probably Denis Payne. The MI6 officer was almost certainly Fred Rowley, whose Times obituary includes a very similar anecdote:

From 1972 to 1974 he was seconded to the Northern Ireland Office, where his good fellowship and calmness in the face of continual and often exasperating crises helped to improve interdepartmental intelligence co-operation.

He and the then Northern Ireland secretary, William Whitelaw, became particularly close. During the most trying times Rowley would match a tired and embattled Willie drink for drink, giving him opportunity to let his hair down with someone in whom he had absolute trust.

I am currently researching Rowley's career for my next subscriber article. One particularly useful source is an online audio recording at the Imperial War Museum in which he recounts his Second World War experiences, stories which no doubt bear some resemblance to those retailed over whiskey in Stormont Castle.

He recounts his escape from a posting in Northern Ireland as a quartermaster's clerk by volunteering for the Indian Army, where he joined a Baluchi regiment dealing with Afridi snipers on the Khyber Pass before beng sent to Burma to fight the Japanese. If you listen very carefully, you can hear the inverted commas in his voice when he talks about his 'diplomatic service' in Rangoon after the War, an early MI6 posting.







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