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  Sir William Stephenson  


From "The Icelandic Canadian" Winter 1962 issue, we find the following article by W.J. Lindal on pages 14 to 17:






A Canadian Press despatch of November 9, 1962, from Alan Harvey of London, England, opens as follows:

"After 17 tight-lipped years, a curtain was finally lifted today on the sensational cloak-and-dagger activities of Sir William Stephenson, perhaps Canada's top secret agent.

"In a book called The Quiet Canadian, wartime colleague Montgomery Hyde tells for the first time the full, fantastic story of the intelligence operations Stephenson directed from a skyscraper office in New York's Rockefeller Centre."

In 1954 most of the following material was prepared but not made available to the public. A letter from McKenzie Porter, then Assistant Editor, MACLEAN'S magazine, and internationally known reporter, wrote to the writer on Jan., 20, 1953 in part as follows:

"I must once again refrain from giving you the private address of Sir William Stephenson."

That indicates the precautions that had to be taken even at that time.

William Samuel Clouston Stephenson, M.C., D.F.C., Croix de Guerre with Palm, was born on Point Douglas in Winnipeg, January 23, 1897. (See footnote at end of article). His father William Hunter Stanger, was of Irish descent. His mother, Gudfinna, was an immigrant from Iceland. There were three children of the marriage, two daughters and William who was the youngest child. Bill was only one year old when his father died and an Icelandic couple, Mr. and Mrs. Vigfus Stephenson, who also lived on Point Douglas, adopted the boy and he was given the family name.

The Stephensons had four children of their own, two of whom are living, Jennie Hodgins, a widow, and Mundi, (Gudmundur K.) a plumber in Winnipeg. Mundi and William were much together in their boyhood years.

Bill Stephenson attended the Argyle School and early showed a bent for mathematics and manual training. He was fond of athletics and excelled as a boxer both at school and later in the army overseas. When 16 years old Bill started to work for a railway company but soon after World War I broke out he enlisted in the 101st Regiment and obtained his commission before he was 19 years old. Within a year after he was in France he won the Military Cross. He was gassed and while convelescing learned to fly and on recovering transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. Within a period of six weeks he shot down 20 German planes and was awarded the D.F.C. One of his victims was a brother of the famous Baron von Richthofen. In 1918 he went to the aid of a French aircraft which was being attacked by five Germans. By mistake the Frenchman hit Stephenson’s plane and he was forced to bail out on German territory and was taken prisoner. For this unfortunate incident the French Government awarded Stephenson the Croix de Guerre with Palm.

In the prison camp William got hold of a can opener which had been patented in the Central Power countries. He managed to escape from the prison camp and took the can opener with him to England. He made an improvement on it and had it patented.

At the end of World War I, William returned to Winnipeg but stayed only about a year and then went back to England. In 1924 he married Mary French Simmons, an American girl from Springfield, Tennessee.

In England Stephenson obtained patents for a number of inventions, the chief one of which was the development of a device for transmitting photographs. In 1924 the first successful radio-transmitted newspaper photograph appeared in the London Daily Mail. It had been sent and received on equipment invented by Sir William. This invention paved the way for television. It is reported that through this invention Sir William amassed a fortune of over a million dollars and became a leading industrialist in England. In the early thirties he was in control of many British corporations such as Sound City Films, General Aircraft Limited, Earl's Court Limited, Pressed Steel Co. Ltd., etc.

By the middle of the thirties Stephenson was operating on five continents. His contacts in high places and his skill in picking up information and dovetailing it together enabled him to see the approach of the second world war. He disclosed the facts to Baldwin and Chamberlain but could not persuade them. Winston Churchill listened and through Stephenson he obtained ammunition for his speeches on the growing might of Hitler.

When Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940 he needed a man to coordinate counter-espionage, anti-sabotage and secret intelligence extending to both North and South America. He had no hesitation in selecting William Stephenson.

Just before the fall of France Stephenson reached New York and set up a huge organization, The British Security Corporation <sic>, which carried out multifarious assignments on this side of the Atlantic for various branches of the British Secret Service. Before the war was over the headquarters staff in New York exceeded one thousand, a large number of whom were Canadians, more or less hand-picked. From Canada he recruited military personnel from the highest to the lowest and civilians from scientists and economists to farmers, policemen and others.

Sir William was in Ottawa the night that the cipher clerk Igor Gouzenko fled the Soviet Embassy, but that was no accident. Through secret channels Gouzenko had made it known that he had valuable information to disclose. Sir William strongly urged that this source of information be tapped and steps taken to protect Gouzenko.

It is interesting to note that Montgomery Hyde is reported to have said in his book that "but for Stephenson's intervention, Gouzenko might not have lived to tell his story".

Writing in Maclean's Magazine in the 1 December 1952 issue:


Mr. McKenzie Porter in part says as follows:

"Under Sir William's leadership B. S. C. trained hundreds of Canadian and American parachutists for jumps into occupied Europe; caused the sinking of many enemy submarines by decoding their radio signals and pinpointing their position at sea; delayed Hitler's attack on Russia by six weeks with a few calculated indiscretions: neutralized a vast German sabotage ring in the Latin American republics; contributed to the smashing of dummy companies operated in various parts of the world by the German Industrial cartels of I. G. Farben."

In 1946 President Trueman awarded Stephenson the Medal for Merit, the highest civilian decoration in the U.S., an honor which for the first time was given to a non-American. That same year he retired to Jamaica where he lived until early in 1951. It was while William was in Jamaica, that he was able to accept a Knighthood from the late King George VI without embarrassing the Canadian Government and became Sir William Stephenson.

In 1951 Sir William returned and originated "World Commerce", a British-Canadian American company with headquarters in New York. The vice-president of World Commerce, John Pepper, said:

"He is a great Canadian and has done more than any other man in the world markets to bring Canada's enormous potential to the notice of international investors."

The following are comments by world leaders in Secret Service work.

William J. Donovan, Head of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services: "Bill Stephenson taught us all we ever knew about foreign intelligence."

Ernest Cuneo, Wartime liaison officer between the British Security Corporation and Donovan's Office of Strategic Services: "Stephenson is the only man who enjoyed the unqualified confidence of Churchill and Roosevelt."

Alan Harvey's press despatch discloses that Sir William, as all top flight secret service agents, employed female spies and gives one particular instance. That indicates how revealing Montgomery Hyde's book must be. The Canadian public eagerly awaits the arrival of "The Quiet Canadian"—one may add, both the book and the quiet Canadian himself.

            - W. J. Lindal


The certificate of Birth gives the following information: Name, William Clouston Stanger; Date of Birth, January 23, 1897; Place of Birth, Winnipeg; Name of Father, William Hunter Stanger; Maiden Name of Mother, Sarah Goodfina Johnston; Date of Registration, February 26, 1897.

Mrs. Stanger left Winnipeg with their two daughters. When World War I broke out Bill advanced his age one year in order to join the army.




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