I have enjoyed reading “The Happy Traitor, the extraordinary story of George Blake” by Simon Kuper.
Kuper writes regularly in the Financial Times and it was my sense of his talent as a writer, rather than the subject , that initially drew me to this recently published book.
Blake, although portrayed as a traitor to Britain, was not really British by allegiance. He was Dutch, with a Dutch mother and a father who came from an Egyptian Jewish family. Behar, not Blake was his real surname.
He was brought up as a Calvinist and retained the strict outlook of that faith throughout his life.
Aged 20,he escaped from Nazi occupied Holland to Britain in 1942, via Belgium , France and Spain.
In Britain he joined the Royal Navy and, because of his talent for foreign languages, he was assigned to the intelligence services. He served on Korea during the Korean War, and was captured and imprisoned by the Communists.
It was there, in a North Korean prison, that he began to transfer his allegiance from Calvinism to Communism.
After his release and return to Britain, he returned to the British intelligence services, but made contact with the Soviet Embassy and stated copying large quantities of top secret material and handing it over to the Soviets. As a result of his activities, hundreds of British informers in the Soviet Union were identified and executed.
His activities were eventually uncovered in 1961 and he was sentenced to 42 years in gaol, a much more severe punishment than that suffered by more upper class traitors like Blunt, Philby and McClean.
As Irish readers will recall he was helped to escape from prison in 1966 by an Irish man he had come to know in prison, Sean Bourke.
He got to Russia via East Berlin and was provided with accommodation and a pension by the KGB.
According to Kuper, in old age, Blake
“acquired something he had lacked in his youth; the ability to find happiness in the here and now, beyond either power or ideas.”
He died late last year.