Duke of Windsor not only gave up throne, but possibly secrets as well Article claims memo bolsters treason case

November 30, 1991|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON — The name of Wallis Warfield Simpson, the wife of the Duke ofWindsor, was spelled incorrectly in yesterday's editions.

The Sun regrets the errors.

LONDON -- Did the Duke of Windsor spy for the Germans during the Second World War? Did his wife, the former Bessie Wallace Warfield Simpson, pass classified information to the Nazis?

It has long been known in Britain and elsewhere that King Edward VIII, who gave up his throne on Dec. 11, 1936, to marry a twice-divorced former debutante from Baltimore, was sympathetic to Germany.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Mrs. Simpson, moreover, had connections with Baron von Ribbentrop, Germany's foreign minister.

For these reasons and many others, the late duke and his American spouse do not occupy a warm place in the historical memory of the British people. To them he was a man who ran out on his responsibility when he abdicated and married Mrs. Simpson, whom they also regarded as unsuitable.

But spies? Collaborators?

Quite likely, says an article by an American journalist in the

December issue of American Heritage magazine. Written by Fulton Oursler Jr., the piece raises the old allegation that the duke expressed sympathy for the Germans while his own country was being blitzed by the Nazi war machine, then takes it a step farther.

Mr. Oursler quotes a recently found memo written by his father, Fulton Oursler, a journalist and editor during the 1940s. The memo ascribes to the duke near-treasonous comments, voiced during an interview with the elder Oursler in December 1940 when the duke was colonial governor of the Bahamas.

The memo also reveals, in an account of a subsequent interview that the elder Oursler had with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, that the president suspected the duke of being virtually an agent for the Germans.

LTC Appraised of the American Heritage article, Buckingham Palace said: "It is not something we would offer an opinion on." A spokeswoman for the British government said: "I don't think it is the kind of thing we're going to react to."

Philip Ziegler, author of "King Edward VIII," the official biography of the duke, was dubious about the information in the American Heritage article and responded to it in some detail.

He did say that the duke was considered a security risk by the British authorities before and during the war. "He was a security risk because he left papers around," Mr. Ziegler said. "He was perfectly capable of letting information this way, but in terms of his own intention [to do so], there is no evidence he would have."

And as for the duchess: "Personally, I don't have any belief Mrs. Simpson had any political interest. She was an extremely narrow person. She was interested only in her own comfort and security."

The duke is paraphrased in the elder Oursler's memo as saying (( that "it would be a tragic thing for the world if Hitler were overthrown. Hitler, he said, was the right and logical leader of the German people. The duke, Oursler wrote, "regarded Hitler as a ** great man."

The duke then reportedly said that Roosevelt should put himself forward as a mediator between Germany and Britain (the United States had not yet entered the war).

An aide to the duke, Capt. Vyvyan Drury, later urged Oursler to convey the duke's sentiments to the president.

The aide also said that if Roosevelt were to offer himself as a mediator, the duke would immediately support the initiative before anyone in Britain could oppose it, "and that would start a revolution in England and force peace."

This remark about the duke wanting a revolution in England was described by Mr. Ziegler as "the really damaging part" of the American Heritage article.

Drury, Mr. Ziegler said, "was a shadowy figure. I personally would be skeptical about anything he said that would be attributed to the duke."

According to Oursler's memo, Roosevelt said that the duke, as King Edward VIII, had shared state secrets with Mrs. Simpson before they were married.

The younger Oursler writes that Roosevelt told his father that after the outbreak of hostilities between Britain and Germany, the duke was assigned as liaison officer between the French and British armies, which gave him access to the allied strategies.

"Now, I have nothing to prove what I am going to say," the president reportedly told Oursler, "but I do know that there were nine shortwave wireless sets in Paris constantly sending information to the German troops, and no one has ever been able to decide how such accurate information could be sent over those wireless stations."

Early in the war, before the fall of Paris, the duke and duchess frequently entertained Nazi sympathizers. The son of British Gen. Sir William Ironside, chief of the Imperial General Staff, reportedly said that his father regarded the duke as "a serious security leak" who was giving his wife classified defense information, and that "she in turn was passing this information on to extremely dangerous enemy-connected people over dinner tables in Paris."

Mr. Ziegler said he was most surprised by the comments by Roosevelt as reported in the memo. It suggests that the president was badly informed, he said, and does not accord with his own understanding of Roosevelt's attitude toward the duke.

He added, however, "I am not saying this is a badly reported interview."

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