Ref Number: 00296
Ref Number: 00296
This is the odd and tragic tale of Mrs. Dorothy O’Grady, who resided at Osborne Villa in Sandown at the start of World War II.
Dorothy was the first and only woman of any nationality to be executed in Britain for espionage during World War II. If the sentence had been carried out, she would have been the only British lady executed for espionage activity committed in the United Kingdom throughout the entire 20th century.
The actual sentence was eventually reduced to 14 years, and she only served 9 of those years; however, was she a Nazi informant to begin with? The island historian Adrian Searle meticulously researched the tale in his book “The Spy Beside the Sea.” The story has a significant connection to Mrs. O’Grady’s mind.
Mrs. O’Grady and her elderly husband opened a small guesthouse, just before the start of WWII which was unfortunately not a good period for bountiful tourism here on the island. During the phoney war, she walked her dog Rob up and down the various footpaths, frequently straying into forbidden areas and then being reprimanded by the various military and police authorities for being a senile old woman who must stick to the correct walking paths.
The Ministry believed that one of her scribbles could be beneficial if it fell into enemy hands.
On one of her excursions, things took a turn for the worse when she was again arrested. This time, the authorities had grown weary of her justifications and decided to make an example of her to deter others from doing the same. She was charged with a minor offence of wartime trespass and was anticipated to appear in court to be punished and fined. When she failed to appear, the police were dispatched to Osborne Villa to apprehend her. The residence was locked and Mr. O’Grady was nowhere to be found when they arrived.
After three weeks a member of the public recognised her and she was apprehended under the name of Pamela Arland, staying in a Totland Bay boarding house. Prior to her arrival on the island, she used this alias in London for prostitution. During her time in Totland, she drew military garrisons and frequently asked local children for candy in exchange for the locations of soldiers and gun emplacements.
She was promptly taken to the mainland, where she was interrogated by MI5 and other security agencies, and ultimately confessed to all charges. The verdict at her trial was rapid, and she was sentenced to death. However, after a successful appeal based on the judge’s misdirection of the original trial, her death sentence was reduced to 14 years in prison.
The tale did not conclude there. As soon as she was released after nine years as a model prisoner, she went to Fleet Street and declared that she was never a spy and had only feigned to be one “as a bit of a joke to add some excitement to her life.”
There appear to be differing opinions regarding whether or not she was truly delivering information to the Germans. In his new book, Adrain Searle examines British and German official documents and concludes that there is no British or German confirmation. Her early childhood and adolescence can be read about in Searle’s chaotic and depressing book. It is probable that her mind was unsettled by this avant-garde approach to life, which radically separated her from traditional pastimes.
‘The Spy Beside the Sea’ by Adrian Searle the Kindle version is still available via Amazon and other online sites, the printed version can be purchased from most bookshops in the UK (including several on the Island) and via many online book ordering sites. rrp £12.99.