Procurement & Supply

Prior to WWII, there had been no production of evasion and escape material within any nation, therefore, there was no ‘escape shop’ from which MI9 could order the material they required. In fact, at the point when Major Christopher Clayton Hutton was taken on strength by MI9, neither they, nor he, had any real idea of what might be required. 

Clayton Hutton spoke to WWI evaders and POWs asking them what they had needed when either evading or escaping, and which could be produced in a viable – compact – package, which could either be carried by troops, or in the longer term – smuggled into POW camps to facilitate escapes. 

Based upon the information received, Clayton Hutton immediately realised that the two most important items for both evaders and escapers, were compasses and maps, closely followed by some form of sustenance pack, providing 24 hours of emergency rations for evaders. He therefore set out to procure or produce all three. 

An early recruit into MI9 was an ex-WW1 Royal Flying Corps pilot, Christopher Clayton Hutton, who became known to those within MI9 as “Clutty”. He was inventive, resourceful and when necessary, devious. His initial remit was to devise a range of items, which were as-yet undefined, did not previously exist. Clayton Hutton is pictured here in the uniform of a captain in the Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards) during World War 1, prior to transferring to the RFC. Courtesy Royal Air Force Museum

Initially, MI9 used their own workshop and craftsmen to produce examples of some of the items required, but it soon became apparent that such technical items as miniature compasses would need to be produced by those skilled in their field. Soon, MI9 had a small circle of manufacturers, each producing maps, or compasses in total secrecy, in what were realistically cottage industries. Larger organisations such as Blunt Brothers on the Old Kent Road, producing compasses, and C. E. Leyton, also in London, producing early (Bartholomew) silk maps also joined the MI9 supply chain. 

Photograph of workers at E.R. Watts & Son, London in 1941. This team is producing escape device PX50 for MI9. Courtesy The Royal Air Force Museum
Another image of the E.R. Watts workers manufacturing half inch escape compasses. Courtesy The Royal Air Force Museum

As time progressed, MI9 realised they needed to ‘industrialise’ their production facilities, and called upon the Ministry of Supply (MOS) Department CT6, eventually finding the desk of an equally colourful character called Charles Fraser-Smith in London, and that of an A. D. Alston in the Leeds office.

Charles Fraser-Smith’s wartime Ministry of Supply identification card. Fraser-Smith, inventor and supplier of escape aids and covert devices to British Forces and covert organisations during the Second World War. Courtesy Brain Fraser-Smith

From that point on, MOS CT6, began to officially produce or procure the items MI9 required for their users. The various items ordered and procured were then consigned back to MI9 where they were received into stores and recorded. Goods were ordered from CT6 either in raw bulk, such as silk for maps, or in bulk manufacture as finished items.  Deliveries were then made to service units around the world, for which a delivery receipt was obtained from the parent unit in England. Records of issue were then maintained at MI9. 

As France fell, and British and Allied Forces desperately tried to escape from mainland Europe in May 1940 more than 35,000 British troops fell into captivity. These unprecedented volumes forced MI9 to embark on a huge program to procure evasion and escape devices and provide support to new prisoners of war and evaders. Over that two-year period (1940 to 1942) MI9 spent some £93,000 on escape devices and related support for evaders and escapers (in excess of £6,305,186.00 at 2020 values!).  

Charles Fraser-Smith and Desmond Llewellyn, ‘Q’ of James Bond movie fame. The two met a number of times during which they discussed escape gadgets, real and imagined, some of which were later used in the Bond films. Courtesy Brian Fraser-Smith