Sir Vernon Kell – The Gentleman Spook


Major-General Sir Vernon Kell (Director 1909–40)

Major-General Vernon Kell

Major-General Vernon George Waldegrave Kell (1873–1942) was the co-founder and first Director of the Security Service. As an officer of the South Staffordshire Regiment of the British Army, he served in Russia and China, where he fought in the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, and rose to the rank of Captain as an intelligence analyst at the War Office.

In 1909, Kell was selected by the War Office to co-found the Secret Service Bureau in conjunction with Captain Mansfield Smith-Cumming of the Royal Navy. Kell took charge of domestic counter-intelligence, while Cumming was responsible for foreign intelligence. In due course their respective sections of the Secret Service Bureau became the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).

Kell successfully masterminded the dismantling of the German spy network in the UK on the outbreak of World War I. By 1939 he had been promoted to the rank of Major-General. However, the Security Service was unprepared for the outbreak of the Second World War and experienced severe problems as a result. Kell was consequently retired in June 1940 on the orders of the recently-appointed Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.

Source: M.I.5 History

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