It fell to my lot at one time to live as a plumber in South-east London, and I grew a small “goatee” beard, which was rather in vogue amongst men of that class at that time.
One day, in walking past the Naval and Military Club in Piccadilly in my workman’s get-up, I passed an old friend, a major in the Horse Artillery, and almost without thinking I accosted him by his regimental nickname. He stared and wondered, and then supposed that I had been a man in his battery, and could not believe his eyes when I revealed my identity.
I was never suspected by those among whom I went, and with whom I became intimate. I had nominally injured my arm in an accident and carried it in a sling, and was thus unable to work, or what was also a blessing, to join in fights in which my friends from time to time got involved. My special companion was one Jim Bates, a carpenter. I lost sight of him for some years, and when next I met him he was one of the crowd at a review at Aldershot, where I was in full rig as an Hussar officer. It was difficult to persuade him that I was his former friend the plumber.
Later on, when employed on a reconnaissance mission in South Africa, I had grown a red beard to an extent that would have disguised me from my own mother. Coming out of the post office of a small country town, to my surprise I came up against the Colonel of my regiment, who was there for an outing. I at once—forgetting my disguise—accosted him with a cheery “Hullo, Colonel, I didn’t know you were here,” and he turned on me and stared for a minute or two, and then responded huffily that he did not know who I was. As he did not appear to want to, I went my ways, and only reminded him months later of our brief meeting!
Undoubtedly spying would be an intensely interesting sport even if no great results were obtainable from it. There is a fascination which gets hold of anyone who has tried the art. Each day brings fresh situations and conditions requiring quick change of action and originality to meet them.
Here are a few instances from actual experiences. None of these are anything out of the common, but are merely the everyday doings of the average agent, but they may best explain the sporting value of the work.
One of the attractive features of the life of a spy is that he has, on occasion, to be a veritable Sherlock Holmes. He has to notice the smallest of details, points which would probably escape the untrained eye, and then he has to put this and that together and deduce a meaning from them.
I remember once when carrying out a secret reconnaissance in South Africa I came across a farmhouse from which the owner was absent at the moment of my arrival. I had come far and would have still further to go before I came across any habitation, and I was hard up for a lodging for the night.