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Tribute to man who never was

Key points

• John Melville's body believed to have carried fake invasion plans to Germans

• Daughter gives father memorial service with help of Royal Navy in Cyprus

• Story of fake plans subject of Hollywood film The Man Who Never Was

Key quote

"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

Story in full FOR 60 years, she mourned at a grave in Scotland, not knowing that her father’s body was probably buried hundreds of miles away or that he had helped change the course of the Second World War.

Historians now believe that Isobel Mackay’s father John "Jack" Melville was the man whose body was used in Operation Mincemeat, an elaborate hoax to fool the Germans into believing Allied forces would invade southern Europe through Greece and Sardinia rather than Sicily.

Last week, 61 years after he died, Mrs Mackay, from Galashiels, was able to give her father the memorial service he deserved, with the help of the Royal Navy in Cyprus.

It is believed to be the first time Britain’s armed services have recognised his role.

For years, the identity of the body carrying the fake Allied invasion plans was a celebrated mystery which became the subject of a book and a 1956 Hollywood film called The Man Who Never Was.

It was commonly believed the corpse was that of a homeless Welsh alcoholic, Glyndwr Michael, who had either committed suicide by drinking rat poison or had been accidentally poisoned while sleeping in a barn.

But doubt has been cast on the "tramp" theory lately, with some arguing intelligence officers would not have used the body of someone so unfit for fear of raising German suspicions. A corpse infected with poison would also have been risky if the enemy carried out a post mortem examination.

However, a book, The Secrets of HMS Dasher which was published in August, revealed that the body was in fact Mr Melville’s.

Mr Melville had perished, aged 37, when the converted aircraft carrier HMS Dasher blew up in the Clyde Estuary in 1943.

At the time, it was believed his body had been brought ashore at Ardrossan and buried with full naval honours in the local cemetery.

What his grieving family did not realise, was that his recovered body was instead packed in ice and embarked on a submarine, the HMS Seraph, for the Mediterranean, where it would play a crucial role in Operation Mincemeat designed to fool the Germans into thinking the Allies would land in Greece rather than Sicily.

The plan involved dressing Mr Melville’s body as a British Royal Marines courier and then having it washed up on the Spanish coast, complete with a leather briefcase attached to his wrist.

Mr Melville’s body was given a fictitious identity, Major William Martin. Intelligence secretaries wrote love letters to go in Martin’s wallet and one even provided a photograph of herself in a swimsuit.

The hoax worked. Days after the body appeared on the Spanish coast, Winston Churchill received a telegram saying: "Mincemeat swallowed whole."

German defence forces intended for Sicily were diverted to Corsica, Sardinia and the Balkans, saving tens of thousands of Allied lives.

Friday’s memorial service took place on board the current HMS Dasher, a patrol boat, in waters around a British sovereign RAF base in Cyprus.

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."

Lieutenant Commander Mark Hill, commanding officer of the naval squadron in Cyprus, told Mrs Mackay and others present: "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."

Mrs Mackay, 64, told The Scotsman: "I feel very honoured if my father saved 30,000 Allied lives."

 
 
 

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