John "Jack" Melville
John Melville (John "Jack" Melville) served on HMS Dasher and was originally believed to have been buried with full military honours in Ardrossan, having lost his life in the disaster that sank the ship. It now appears that Mr Melville's body played the central role in Operation Mincemeat, an elaborate and top secret hoax intended to deceive the Germans into believing the Allies would invade southern Europe through Greece and Sardinia, rather than Sicily.
The success of Operation Mincemeat was dependent on the provision of believable, genuine corpse. After Mr Melville's body was recovered from the Firth of Clyde, it was packed in ice, and placed on board the submarine HMS Seraph for transport to the Mediterranean. There, his body was carefully dressed in the uniform of a Royal Marines Courier, the fictitious Major William Martin, ensuring details such as labels were all correct, and provided with false documentation to support the legend, including personal letters and photographs provided by female staff involved in the operation. Finally, the courier's all important leather briefcase containing the false plans was prepared, ready for transport.
On April 29, 1943, HMS Seraph made ready and departed for a location off Huelva on the coast of Spain, chosen in the knowledge that an active German agent was stationed there. The prepared body was preserved in dry ice, packed in a special canister, and identified only as secret meteorological equipment to all but those directly involved.
At 04:30 on April 30, 1943, the canister was brought up on deck, under the pretence of deploying the equipment it contained. The Seraph's crew were ordered below deck, and the submarine's officers were finally briefed on the real operation, and sworn to secrecy. The canister was opened, Major Martin's body was fitted with a Mae West life jacket, and the briefcase attached. The 39th Psalm was read, then the body was gently pushed into the sea, leaving the the tide to carry it ashore, together with a rubber dinghy to complete the illusion of an aircraft accident.
2004 Cyprus Memorial Ceremony
In October, 2004, John Melville's daughter, Isobel Mackay travelled from her home in Galashiels to attend a memorial service dedicated to her father. The memorial service took place on board the current HMS Dasher, a patrol boat, in waters around a British sovereign RAF base in Cyprus.
"In his incarnation as Major Martin, John Melville’s memory lives on in the film, The Man Who Never Was. But we are gathered here today to remember John Melville as a man who most certainly was" - Lieutenant Commander Mark Hill, commanding officer Cyprus naval squadron.
Dennis Barnes, a spokesman for the British Forces in Cyprus, said: "This was undoubtedly the first tribute by the Royal Navy to John Melville, the man who never was."
This occasion is believed to be the first time Britain’s armed services have recognised his role.
Previously, the story had centred on the belief that the corpse was that of a homeless Welsh alcoholic, Glyndwr Michael, who had either committed suicide by drinking rat poison, or been poisoned accidentally while sleeping in a barn. Although the story was widely circulated, many found it difficult to accept, as the physical condition of the body of an indigent alcoholic, and of someone who had been poisoned, would have been easy for the enemy to recognise as not belonging to someone on active service, or who had lost their life by drowning, and would have significantly, of not completely, damaged the credibility of the deception.
This was later questioned in the documentary series "Heroes of World War II", in which programme 7, "The Man Who Hoodwinked Hitler", aired the findings of a retired police officer who had researched the available information and records. Although his findings differ from the above in that he identified another victim of the HMS Dasher disaster, and he identifies the body as being that of T J Martin, buried in Ardrossan, he concludes that the story of Glyndwr Michael is impractical, as his body is supposed to have been acquired about January 22, while the operation did not take place until April 30. The use of the name Martin may have been another red-herring planted by Lieutenant Commander Ewan Montagu, who was responsible for handling the operation. Even deep-freezing of the body would have resulted in easily detected signs that it had not perished by drowning in the past few days, as required by the mission, which would have destroyed its credibility, and rendered it pointless. Photographs provided by Montagu in his book "The Man Who Never Was" also indicate that the corpse was in poor condition, and unlikely to be taken as that of a fit Royal Marine, even after drowning. The programme also details the journeys of Montagu and HMS Seraph to Greenock, from London and Blythe respectively, which also lends credence to the claim that this was the source of the body, and not cold storage.
- Marine and Coastguard Agency, List of protected wrecks
- The Seraph monument
- Photographs and local newspaper item about the Cyprus memorial service for John Melville
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