30 January 2018 - Frank Foley, a true British hero; dignified, compassionate and brave

A consummately effective intelligence officer who personified the SIS/MI6 Values of Creativity, Courage, Respect and Integrity

As we pay tribute this weekend for Holocaust Memorial Day, Alex Younger, Chief of SIS/MI6, invited members of Frank Foley’s family and the Holocaust Educational Trust today to SIS/MI6 Headquarters, to celebrate the memory of Frank Foley, a true British hero. 

The image of the ‘British secret service officer’ has, over the years, largely been dominated by a number of fictional stereotypes. But, in contrast, our attention today is focused not on a fictional character but a real person.

Francis Edward Foley’s public service spanned both world wars. In the inter-war years, he witnessed at first-hand the rise of Nazi Germany and, to his eternal credit, chose to do something about it. His was a life that the imagination of a Fleming or a Le Carré could scarcely have invented. Frank Foley exhibited the physical bravery of a ‘Bond’ in two world wars and displayed the intellectual dexterity of a ‘Smiley’ in running agents in pre-war Nazi Germany, then taking a lead role in the complex but supremely effective wartime Double Cross stratagems. For almost a year he was Rudolf Hess’s interrogator, he led work on successful operations to ‘turn’ German agents to finally working on the reformation and reorganisation of the post-war German police system. 

But there is yet one more dimension demanding our attention – Frank Foley’s deeds as a humanitarian.  Foley was posted in Berlin throughout the 1920s and 1930s, monitored the Nazis’ coming to power and the imposition of racial persecution.  Exploiting his ‘cover’ role as the Passport Control Officer in Berlin who issued thousands of visas to facilitate the flight of German citizens persecuted by the Nazis’ abominable racial laws.   As Foley wrote to London on 29 March 1933:

“This office is overwhelmed with applications from Jews to proceed to Palestine, to England, to anywhere in the British Empire. Professional men of the highest standing, including some who were wounded in the German side during the war (1914-18), have consulted me with regard to emigration.”

His diligence and bravery was clearly evident to the colleagues who served alongside him in the Berlin Passport Control Office:

“The best man for the job that it would be possible to choose. He never shirked or slacked. He worked alone at the Office nearly every Sunday. When there was heavy, rush work, he helped to the utmost in every capacity. And he stood up for his staff on every occasion when his support was necessary, and never complained without reason. He was the best chief I ever had, or could ever hope to have.”

Frank Foley did not carry out his work for personal gain; he did not do it for national recognition. Indeed, many of those he saved knew nothing of the quiet, unassuming British man at the consulate who saved them. Amongst the many thousands he saved were the grandparents of an SIS/MI6 officer who is serving today.

Frank Foley enjoyed almost a decade’s peaceful retirement with his family in Stourbridge in Worcestershire before he died at home on 8 May 1958 – the anniversary of the Allied victory in Europe. It was a typically low key, unspectacular end to a life whose frequent dramas were a counterpoint to his quiet and modest personality. That recognition of his remarkable achievements came only after his death is surely the way he would have wanted it.

Alex Younger, ‘C’ said:

“Frank’s dignity, compassion and bravery are in no doubt.  As a consummately effective intelligence officer he witnessed at first hand the Nazi seizure of power, and the horrors and depravity of the regime.  While many condemned and criticised the Nazis’ discriminative laws, Frank took action.  With little regard for his personal safety he took a stance against evil. Despite exposing himself to significant personal risk, Frank made a decision to help. He knew the dire consequences were he to get caught.  Frank’s tenacity and passion saved the lives of many thousands of European Jews, using his position as a Passport Control Officer, he ensured that they could travel safely out of the clutches of Hitler’s killers.  Frank passed away in 1958, a modest man, his deeds remained largely unknown until those whose lives he had saved spoke out. Today we have the opportunity to celebrate and associate ourselves with Frank’s legacy; his values – integrity, courage, his creativity and most of all his humanity. Today is the first in a series of events - some public, some within SIS, that we will hold to honour and recognise Frank.

There is a mantra that surrounds SIS/MI6’s history that reads ‘our successes are private; our failures are public’. The need for secrecy has sometimes helped create a pretty distorted and inaccurate narrative of the organisation’s achievements since its foundation in 1909. It is a wonderful thing for SIS/MI6 that one of its most distinguished members’ successes are no longer private.”