Oswald John Job, branded Britain’s Forgotten Traitor, was the oldest spy to be executed in the UK during the Second World War.
Aged 58, he was born in London of German parents, but emigrated to Paris before the First World War. When the Germans occupied Paris in 1940, he was interned. Three years later he cut a deal with them whereby he’d be freed if he agreed to return to Britain to spy for them.
Job was taught a secret code to hear messages on a German radio station, and was given invisible ink and valuable jewellery intended for another German agent (a double agent actually working for the British). On arriving in Britain on 1 November 1943, he claimed to have escaped internment and made his way to freedom, but was swiftly identified as a suspected spy. Arrested three weeks later, he was hanged for treachery.
Here are 10 facts about Oswald John Job.
1. He abandoned his wife and daughter
East End-born Job, who left school in East London at 11 to work in a bakehouse, married a domestic servant in 1906 who was pregnant. They named their baby Ethel. Soon after, Job was jailed for his part in a gem crime. After his release, he returned home, only to disappear suddenly when Ethel was aged four. He moved to Paris.
2. He was a bigamist
Job claimed, when living in Paris, that he volunteered to fight in the First World War with the Foreign Legion but was turned down. After the war, he married a French woman, bigamously, who inherited an artificial eye business. Job, who already owned a shop-fitting company, then trained as an ocularist to measure and fit artificial eyes. The businesses prospered but his wife suffered from TB and went to live in the country. (He later spied on her to see if she was faithful.)
3. He claimed he was recruited by the Resistance
When the Germans marched into Paris in 1940, he was interned first at Fresnes Prison, where he alleged a fellow internee, Captain Langdon, tapped him up to join a Resistance group. Later he was interned at both Drancy – from where Jewish people were later sent to the death camps – and St Denis, where he said an emissary from Langdon again made contact.
Job, through speaking German, was given ‘trustee’ roles in all the camps but was distrusted by fellow internees.
4. The son of one of Churchill’s Cabinet may have recruited him to spy
Secretary of State for India Leo Amery’s treacherous son John (later executed) visited St Denis to try to get Prisoners of War to join a ‘Legion of St George’ to fight alongside German soldiers on the Eastern Front.
Job denied attending Amery’s meeting but other internees said four men signed up. One claimed Job was among them. Though too old to fight, he may have agreed to spy.
5. A diamond ring and tiepin were his downfall
Job arrived in Britain by flying boat with a cock-and-bull story about escaping from the internment camp and making his furtive way by train and foot to neutral Spain and Portugal.
MI5 double agent ‘Dragonfly’ had earlier received a message from his German spymasters saying a courier would be arriving with a cluster diamond ring and jewelled tiepin, which would be delivered, as payment, to him. MI5’s port security men at Poole spotted that Job was wearing a tiepin and had a cluster ring in a pocket.
6. He outsmarted his MI5 watcher
From the moment he reached London, the day after arriving in Britain, Job was tailed by MI5 specialist watchers. Staying with his brother in Lewisham, he kept a low profile for three weeks then, after getting off a bus, challenged the man tailing him. As a result, he was arrested soon after.
7. He offered to spy for Britain
Job was whisked to Camp 010 interrogation centre where, at first, he stood by his escape story. Then he confessed… but still claimed he had come by the jewellery honestly. Eventually, he came clean, offering to ‘undertake any mission, however dangerous’ for the British. Job was taken to Camp 020, the prison for spies where the commandant, Lt Col ‘Tin-Eye’ Stephens, said he was ‘incapable of telling the truth unless under considerable pressure.’
Bletchley Park, meanwhile, intercepted a German secret message that named Job as a V-Mann (agent).
8. He planned to attempt suicide
Job always claimed he never meant to carry out the spying mission. After being found guilty at the Old Bailey of entering Britain with intent to spy, he was transferred to Wormwood Scrubs where records show he was found with a tie, noosed round his neck, that was made from a black-out curtain and a rope made from a sheet hem round his waist.
Job was later hanged by Albert Pierrepoint on 17 March 1944.
9. His real mission exposed
A few months after Job’s execution, Hitler’s V1 flying bombs and V2 rockets rained on London. Job would have been ideally placed to report on whether they hit their targets.
After Paris was liberated by the Allies, a file on Job was found at St Denis. A letter from him read: ‘Since I have always considered Germany my fatherland, I would also like to do my bit in the decisive struggle in the ranks of the German people.’
10. Should he have been hanged?
There’s little doubt that Job intended to spy when first recruited by German espionage in Paris. But he was charged with intending to spy not then, but when entering Britain. The Germans had given him little money. However, they had handed him the ring and tiepin, worth £10,000 today, to pass to, ostensibly, another German agent.
In Lisbon, he was away from German control. MI5’s Guy Liddell said in his diary he believed Job intended to keep the jewellery. So did Camp 020’s ‘Tin-Eye’ Stephens who described him as ‘a shabby crook’. Foolishly, Job did not say this in his defence in court but said he meant to post the jewellery etc anonymously to the police. That may have cost him his life.
Ed Perkins has worked as a journalist in London, Manchester, Southampton, Weymouth and Bournemouth. His other jobs have included working at a city press office and at an ape rescue centre. Born in London, he now lives in Poole, Dorset. His book, Britain’s Forgotten Traitor: The Life and Death of a Nazi Spy is published by Amberley Publishing and is available to buy now.