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Saturday, November 27, 2010

SMITH-CUMMING, MANSFIELD

The first chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, Capt. Smith-Cumming was appointed head of the Foreign Section of the Secret Service Bureau in August 1909.
Born plain Mansfield Smith on 1 April 1859, his career had been handicapped by chronic seasickness. Already a wealthy man, Smith-Cumming received a considerable settlement from his wife, an heiress. Following his retirement, Smith-Cumming attended an Admiralty torpedo course and later became an expert on boom defenses. These talents, along with his fluency in French, his interest in electricity and photography, and his skill as a draftsman, led to his selection by Director of Naval Intelligence Admiral Bethell to join the Secret Service Bureau. Something of a daredevil, he kept fast motorboats, loved the new sport of motoring, and even learned to fly. He was seriously injured in a car accident in France in October 1914, breaking both legs. Thereafter Smith-Cumming often disconcerted his visitors by absent-mindedly stabbing his wooden leg with a paper knife. According to one witness, he did this deliberately while interviewing candidates recommended for SIS posts and rejected those that winced at his performance.