Posted Thursday night, November 2, 2017.
Future writer but present fighter pilot and spy Roald Dahl (the very tall young officer fourth from the right) during his days of spying on Americans for the British government. He’s pictured here with a group of all men, but in those days he was more frequently in the company of women. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Roald Dahl’s memoirs of his childhood and days as a young fighter pilot in World War II, Boy and Going Solo, are so good that I really hope he wrote one about his adventures as a spy in Washington and it’s in his agent’s desk drawer with a note “To be published on the 30th Anniversary of my death” so we only have three more years to wait to read his expanded version of this:
In the early summer of 1940, British officers began to arrive in America on a covert mission. Some went to Washington, making the rounds of embassy cocktails and dinner parties, looking for all the world like bright young chaps out for a good time, and others worked in the heart of New York, in a Fifth Avenue skyscraper, the thirty-fifth and thirty-sixth floor of Rockefeller Center. The group included Ian Fleming, a handsome lieutenant with blue eyes and a smart blue naval officer’s jacket, and twenty-three-year-old Roald Dahl, a tall, elegant Royal Air Force fighter pilot who looked a bit like Gary Cooper. These guys would both become famous writers after the war; Fleming invented the character of James Bond, and Dahl wrote children’s books about chocolate factories, flying peaches the size of zeppelins, and foxes who outwit monstrous humans. For now, though, Fleming and Dahl were spies. Dahl was a particularly good spy. He seduced actresses and heiresses in Washington, gathering gossip in bed, and he charmed the president and the first lady, becoming a regular guest at their Hyde Park, New York, home, where they spoke so freely with the young pilot that he had difficulty maintaining his composure: “I would do my best to appear calm and chatty,” he later wrote, “though actually I was trembling at the realization that the most powerful man in the world was telling me these might secrets.”