Ian Fleming is believed to have based the character 'Q' in his James Bond novels on Ulsterman, Major Frank Hall. But the Major's own lifestory was as dramatic as any novel, a one time UVF gunrunner, he later became an MI5 official and played a crucial part in one of the most controversial episodes in Irish history, in this extract from a new book about Sir Roger Casement, to be published later this week, author Jeffrey Dudgeon recalls the role of the real 'Q'
ONLY hours after landing in Kerry from a German submarine on Good Friday 1916, Roger Casement was captured and transported straight to London.
Captain 'Blinker' Hall, Basil Thomson and another interrogator assembled at Scotland Yard to await their trophy, sure in the knowledge that they had the leader of the intended Rising.
'Blinker' Hall was head of Naval Intelligence, while Thomson was the Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. The third member of the team was Major Frank Hall. Casement incorrectly wrote of him as "Basil Hall" which has confused researchers ever since. For a good reason, the Major stayed in the background. Hall was Irish, although his accent may have suggested otherwise.
There were actually two people in that room who had been involved in importing arms into Ireland from Germany. Casement had done it twice - in peacetime in July 1914, and now in 1916 in wartime; Frank Hall only once, in April 1914. There was another difference. Hall had been in the Ulster Volunteer Force, Casement in the Irish Volunteers.
Major Frank Hall was a classic Ulster imperialist, whose family lived at Narrow Water Castle near Warrenpoint.
Educated at Harrow, Frank joined the Army in 1895. Retiring in 1911 he was soon involved in politics, being appointed to reorganise the Ulster Clubs, "to bring in the staunch Unionists who are not Orangemen" as Carson instructed him.
Hall was the organiser of the Ulster Day demonstrations of September 28, 1912, which climaxed in the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant.
On the formation of the UVF he became its Military Secretary. He was tasked to arrange the landing and distribution of the UVF's guns from Hamburg and won the argument as to whether the guns should be brought into Belfast.
Craig wanted a political demonstration, Hall a smuggling operation. He also feared sectarian trouble so he went to see Carson and get the landing points moved from Belfast.
Hall later explained: "I never fell in with Craig. He had no use for me because I wasn't an Orangeman." Thereafter he and Craig conversed in shouting mode. During the landings in Larne and Bangor, Hall played an intelligence role, diverting and confusing the RIC and the Army as well as "short-circuiting" telegraph and telephone lines.
Hall was interviewed on April 14, 1964, by the Public Record Office. He was then aged 88 and almost blind. Although said not to be doting, he was described as dozing off after periods of lucidity, and then lapsing into jumbled statements of fact. Six days later he was dead. He was still enraged by the marriage of his nephew to a "Roman Catholic Jew woman in Gibraltar".
The nephew, he said, had turned his own mother "out of Narrow Water", drinking himself to an early death in 1939. The estate was then put in trust to minimise the perceived damage of a Catholic heir. The trusteeship repercussions rumble on to this day.
Earlier in 1913, with Fred Crawford, he imported Vickers maxim machine guns from London - in boxes labelled 'Wireless Apparatus'. They test-fired one at Narrow Water Castle. The bullets fired from the tennis court ricocheted off a bank and rained down on complaining estate workers.
Hall had another row with Craig when the UVF was merged with the British Army. He offered him the job of Assistant Paymaster at Newtownards in the Ulster Division. Duly enraged, Hall "cleared out" and went to England to join up, only to be offered a job in Military Intelligence by a top Army Unionist.
When Hall joined MI5 he became its fifth most senior official, forming a section covering the dominions, colonies and Ireland. "It was very hush-hush" he said. He is remarkable for his codename, one later utilised by Ian Fleming in his Bond novels. For he was 'Q', and probably Fleming's source for his character, since Fleming had aristocratic Ulster connections.
Hall's memories of Casement were sparse.
He recalled that "MI5 issued a Q report" disclosing that "three men would land at midnight on such and such a date." He was still peeved since "Dublin Castle refused to believe his Q report" being "well known to be controlled by the nationalists."
Hall continued with "an outburst against homosexuals" saying that "Casement arrived 'with his two boyfriends' on the beach".
No forgery operation was suggested. Given the confused state of his mind, and the imminence of his death, it would be reasonable to assume a fragment of such an operation would slip out. None did. Forging Casement's diaries without Q's involvement is highly improbable.
Hall, as MI5's Belfast chief, kept tabs on Casement and other Irish revolutionaries from 1914. After Casement defected to Germany, Hall advised London: "I have never met Sir R Casement but was invited to do so by a mutual acquaintance last June who then described him as a 'sincere nationalist'. I declined the honour and said I was a 'sincere imperialist'."
Casement defenders then, and the forgery school now, missed a golden opportunity in not spotting that one of Casement's interrogators was a UVF gunrunner himself.
Enough was properly made of the trial prosecutor, the Attorney-General F E Smith, being Carson's crony. Another such involvement could have proved that the case was little more than one set of 'disloyalists' persecuting another.
Later, Casement assessed his interrogators' policy on the imminent rebellion. Hall said when Casement spoke of stopping the rising: "No, better let this festering sore come to a head."
They operated in a political manner, choosing to encourage the Rising. Extracting Casement from Ireland did untold damage to Dublin Castle's knowledge and thus ability to respond. The cost was some 500 British and Irish lives, ensuring Ireland (or 26 counties thereof) left the UK. Hall foolishly preferred to see what would happen if there was to be an uprising, and the separatist boil lanced.
But which Hall? The assumption was that the person who spoke of a festering sore was Captain 'Blinker' Hall. But it was Major Frank Hall who used the phrase. Casement recorded that it was the higher in rank who spoke of the festering sore. A Major is a higher Army rank than Captain - although junior to a naval Captain.
The response of the Irish Secretary, Augustine Birrell, came the next day on Easter Monday.
Thomson diaried: "I described my interview with Casement and detailed the Sinn Fein plans. Birrell remarked: 'In my long term of office I have never had a bit of fun like that . . .' He laughed at the idea of a rising taking place on account of Casement's arrest, saying that the Irish were secretly ashamed of Casement. He was just off to see Mr Redmond."
Shortly afterwards there was a cessation of telegrams from Dublin. The GPO had been seized.
-Extract from Roger Casement: The Black Diaries - with a study of his background, sexuality, and Irish political life, by Jeffrey Dudgeon (Belfast Press, £25 hardback).