Charles Howard (Dick) Ellis, second son of William Edward Ellis and his wife Lillian Mary, née Hobday, was born on 13th February 1895 at Annandale, Sydney. His father was a clothing manufacturer. After the death of his wife, Ellis moved his family to Melbourne.
After finishing his education he worked for the booksellers, Melville & Mullen. He also played oboe with the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Society. He sailed to England in June 1914.
On the outbreak of the First World War he tried to enlist in the British Army but was rejected as too short. After the heavy losses of the first year of fighting standards were changed and Ellis joined the 100th Provisional Battalion on 26th July 1915. He was promoted corporal and was thrice wounded in action on the Western Front.
In September 1917, he became an officer in the 5th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. He served in India and in August 1918 he entered Turkestan where he served under Major General Wilfrid Malleson. Later he was involved in fighting the Red Army in the Russian Civil War. The troops were withdrawn in April 1919. That year Ellis was appointed O.B.E. and mentioned in dispatches.
According to Frank Cain, after the war Ellis "Began a course in Russian at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, England. In 1922-23 he was a captain, Territorial Army Reserve, based in Constantinople on intelligence work. At the British High Commission on 12 April 1923 he married a 17-year-old White Russian, Elizabeth (Lilia) Zelensky; they were to have a son before being divorced. In December Ellis became British vice-consul in Berlin: there and elsewhere he maintained surveillance on White Russians fabricating intelligence documents for the British Special (Secret) Intelligence Service (M.I.6) and probably joined the S.I.S. at this time."
Ellis was giving work as foreign correspondant for The Morning Post, as a cover for his intelligence work with MI6. During this period he was in Vienna, Geneva, Australia and New Zealand. In the 1930s he came into contact with the businessman, William Stephenson. According to Ellis he began "providing a great deal of information on German rearmament" to Winston Churchill. He went on to argue that although Churchill was not in office, "He was playing quite an important role in providing background information. There were members of the House of Commons who were much more concerned about what was happening than the administration seemed to be at that time."
Churchill became prime minister in May 1940. He realised straight away that it would be vitally important to enlist the United States as Britain's ally. He sent William Stephenson to the United States to make certain arrangements on intelligence matters. Stephenson's main contact was Gene Tunney, a friend from the First World War, who had been World Heavyweight Champion (1926-1928) and was a close friend of J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI. Tunney later recalled: "Quite to my surprise I received a confidential letter that was from Billy Stephenson, and he asked me to try and arrange for him to see J. Edgar Hoover... I found out that his mission was so important that the Ambassador from England could not be in on it, and no one in official government... It was my understanding that the thing went off extremely well." Stephenson was also a friend of Ernest Cuneo. He worked for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and according to Stephenson was the leader of "Franklin's brain trust". Cuneo met with Roosevelt and reported back that the president wanted "the closest possible marriage between the FBI and British Intelligence."
On his return to London, Stephenson reported back to Churchill. After hearing what he had to say, Churchill told Stephenson: "You know what you must do at once. We have discussed it most fully, and there is a complete fusion of minds between us. You are to be my personal representative in the United States. I will ensure that you have the full support of all the resources at my command. I know that you will have success, and the good Lord will guide your efforts as He will ours." Ellis said that he selected Stephenson because: "Firstly, he was Canadian. Secondly, he had very good American connections... he had a sort of fox terrier character, and if he undertook something, he would carry it through."
Winston Churchill now instructed Stewart Menzies, head of MI6, to appoint William Stephenson as the head of the British Security Coordination (BSC). Menzies told Gladwyn Jebb on 3rd June, 1940: "I have appointed Mr W.S. Stephenson to take charge of my organisation in the USA and Mexico. As I have explained to you, he has a good contact with an official (J. Edgar Hoover) who sees the President daily. I believe this may prove of great value to the Foreign Office in the future outside and beyond the matters on which that official will give assistance to Stephenson. Stephenson leaves this week. Officially he will go as Principal Passport Control Officer for the USA."
As William Boyd has pointed out: "The phrase (British Security Coordination) is bland, almost defiantly ordinary, depicting perhaps some sub-committee of a minor department in a lowly Whitehall ministry. In fact BSC, as it was generally known, represented one of the largest covert operations in British spying history... With the US alongside Britain, Hitler would be defeated - eventually. Without the US (Russia was neutral at the time), the future looked unbearably bleak... polls in the US still showed that 80% of Americans were against joining the war in Europe. Anglophobia was widespread and the US Congress was violently opposed to any form of intervention." An office was opened in the Rockefeller Centre in Manhattan with the agreement of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI.
Ellis was sent to New York City to work alongside William Stephenson, as assistant-director. Together they recruited several businessmen, journalists, academics and writers into the British Security Coordination. This included Roald Dahl, H. Montgomery Hyde, Ian Fleming, Ivar Bryce, David Ogilvy, Paul Denn, Eric Maschwitz, Giles Playfair, Benn Levy, Noël Coward, Cedric Belfrage, Sydney Morrell and Gilbert Highet.
The CIA historian, Thomas F. Troy has argued: "BSC was not just an extension of SIS, but was in fact a service which integrated SIS, SOE, Censorship, Codes and Ciphers, Security, Communications - in fact nine secret distinct organizations. But in the Western Hemisphere Stephenson ran them all." In 1941 Ellis became head of its Washington office. The following year Ellis was sent to the Middle East where he worked with Richard Gardiner Casey, who was based in Cairo. Ellis rejoined the British Security Coordination in 1942 and returned to London in August 1944.
After the war Ellis worked in the S.I.S.'s Singapore office as field-officer in charge of South-East Asia and the Far East. He held this post until his retirement in 1953. Ellis spent a great deal of time in the country of his birth assisting with the establishment of the Australian Secret (Intelligence) Service. He also did work for the journal, Hemisphere , which focussed on Asian-Australian affairs.
Peter Wright, a former member of MI5, and the author of Spycatcher (1987) has argued that in the early 1950s he began investigating the possibility that Ellis had been a Soviet spy. Wright became convinced that he had been working with Kim Philby. "Within a year of Philby's falling under suspicion Ellis took early retirement, pleading ill-health. He traveled to Australia, and took up a job as a consultant to ASIS, the Australian overseas intelligence-gathering organization. While there he was briefed by the Australians on the impending defection of Vladimir Petrov, a Beria henchman who opted to stay in the West rather than take his chances in Moscow. Almost immediately Ellis returned to Britain and contacted Kim Philby, despite being specifically warned against doing so by Maurice Oldfield... The reasons for Ellis' hasty flight from Australia have never been clear, but I have always been assumed that he thought that Petrov who was about to defect was the same Von Petrov with whom he had been involved in the 1920s, and who must have known the secret of his treachery."
In his book Peter Wright claims that Ellis confessed to his spying but Maurice Oldfield refused to take action against him. James Dalrymple has claimed that Ellis sold "vast quantities of information" about the British secret service to the Germans. However, his biographer, Frank Cain, has argued that Ellis was not guilty of spying: "Experts have dismissed these claims, if only because important information held by Ellis was known not to have been transmitted to the Soviet Union." Ernest Cuneo, who worked for Ellis during the Second World War argues: "If the charge against Ellis is true... it would mean that the OSS, and to some extent its successor, the CIA, in effect was a branch of the Soviet KGB".
Benjamin de Forest Bayly worked with Ellis at British Security Coordination. "Dickey Ellis was MI6 and the only professional... in the office. He had been for years and years in MI6. He's the one they thought must be a Russian or German agent, I regard as entirely unproved, because I had known him quite well. He visited us in our apartment in New York quite often. He was a musician and he just didn't ever give an indication that he was that way concerned." William Stephenson was convinced that Ellis was not a spy and offered to sue the journalists who were writing these articles about him.
Charles Howard (Dick) Ellis died on 5 July 1975 at his Eastbourne home and was cremated.
Within a year of Philby's falling under suspicion Ellis took early retirement, pleading ill-health. He traveled to Australia, and took up a job as a consultant to ASIS, the Australian overseas intelligence-gathering organization. While there he was briefed by the Australians on the impending defection of Vladimir Petrov, a Beria henchman who opted to stay in the West rather than take his chances in Moscow. Almost immediately Ellis returned to Britain and contacted Kim Philby, despite being specifically warned against doing so by Maurice Oldfield... The reasons for Ellis' hasty flight from Australia have never been clear, but I have always been assumed that he thought that Petrov who was about to defect was the same Von Petrov with whom he had been involved in the 1920s, and who must have known the secret of his treachery.
As part of their invasion plans for Britain, we now know, the huge and ruthless Reich Security Directorate, created and masterminded by the coldly insane SS chief, Reinhard Heydrich, had been preparing meticulously for the total and swift dismantling - and destruction - of the infrastructure of every facet of British society.
And at the heart of this plan was an astonishingly detailed document - cosily entitled The Gestapo Handbook for the Invasion of Britain - produced by SS General Walter Schellenberg, an academic and historian who later turned to mass murder. A copy was to be given to every soldier, and so accurate and detailed was this strange little booklet that for more than 50 years it has been kept secret. Because without the connivance of at least two captured British secret agents, and the outright betrayal of another, it could not have been compiled.
The captured agents were Captain Sigismund Payne Best and Major Richard Stevens of the British Secret Intelligence Services, who were kidnapped by German agents during a foolish visit to the Dutch frontier in November 1939 and held throughout the war. How much they were forced to reveal was never made clear, even after they returned safely to Britain after the war. Much more seriously, a rogue British intelligence officer, Colonel Dick Ellis, admitted after his retiral that he had sold "vast quantities of information" about the British secret service to the Germans.
The huge but highly secretive inquiry into the betrayal or otherwise of these three men was one of the reasons that the handbook remained classified for many years. Only three copies that we know of survived the war, and for decades they remained forgotten in the archives. It was not until the writer and historian Nigel West, who had known about it for years through his work on British espionage, got to work and organised a full translation that it became available for publication.