…but who was never brought to justice!
Those who have read our most recently published book The Frontiers of Truth will have seen that there have been Frontiersmen who have been accomplished liars, cheats and rogues in their spare time while still performing efficient Frontiersmen duties. It may well be thought by our readers that for us to tell the story of past Frontiersmen is just a case of looking up some old books and documents and writing down their stories – or even “Googling” them.
It is surprising how many past Frontiersmen, however brave and exciting their lives, were as accomplished as some politicians at “being economical with the truth” or “mis-speaking”. In other words they exaggerated, told lies both large and small, and generally told what is referred to in the Legion as “camp-fire yarns”, where the old Frontiersmen would sit around the camp-fire and spin tall tales about their adventures to their fellow Frontiersmen.
Does it happen now? Surely not! But that is for others to decide. Our task is purely to tell the stories of 20th century Frontiersmen who held senior positions in Britain, Canada, the Commonwealth and also places such as Egypt. Perhaps somebody out there knows more of the truth – or more fables about the Cyril Hector Arthur (later to become Abraham) Wybrow – who became a Legion Lieut.-Colonel and served both Commonwealth Headquarters and later on Canadian Division. It is only the recent opening by the British National Archives of his files that have shown us that he was in fact a spy and traitor to his country, and a traitor to his swearing of allegiance to the King.
Wybrow was born in June 1894, the son of a tailor. It is possible that the family had Australian links as a photograph has been seen of the tailor’s shop of G. H. Wybrow in that country. According to an undated biography of him in a Canadian Division magazine he:
…at the age of thirteen proceeded to Canada at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg. Several months after commencing his studies he suddenly found himself thrown into the world to fend for himself. His first job was driving a lumber team, rather hard work for a youth of that age. He worked his way across the Canadian West and, being too young to officially join the Royal North-West Mounted Police, was attached to that force as a boy, accompanying various outpost expeditions. Eventually he joined the Canadian Pacific Railway at the Winnipeg depot. Returning to England in 1910, he proceeded to France to study French law and languages, with a view to joining the Diplomatic Service. He later proceeded to Rome and Trieste to study the Italian and Slav languages.
Colonel Wybrow was on his way to the East when war was declared, and he immediately offered his services to the Military authorities in Egypt…
On an inspection tour of Canada in 1956 he supplied an article for the Winnipeg Free Press of October 23rd on Russian influence in the Middle East and appears to have claimed that he had joined the P.P.C.L.I. in 1914 at the outbreak of war.
On reading all those claims carefully any Frontiersman could be excused for crying “Hold your Horses!”, especially as there is clear documentary evidence that in 1911 he sailed from England to Port Said (3rd class) with a trade of tailor. Surely, even in those days, no university would have accepted a thirteen-year-old boy as a student? Possibly R.N.W.M.P. Constables might take a boy along to help them, but he would not have been listed on the strength. So in 1910 he went to France to study law and languages and then to Rome and Trieste to study Italian and Slav? All in one year? The P.P.C.L.I. records will also show it would have been impossible for him to have been back in Canada to be one of their originals. He certainly set up in Cairo as a tailor as advertisements appeared in The Sphinx around 1922 for “C.H. Wybrow, Tailor, 19 Sharia Manakh, Cairo”. Whether he did much tailoring himself or employed local labour we do not know. In 1915 he married his first wife in a Consular marriage. All we know about her is that her name was Mary Britz. There is no record of what happened to her. He joined the Legion in Cairo in 1914 and was attached to the Remount Depot. There is more in the army form B199A which all officers had to complete, but he was probably being “economical with the truth” when he filled that in in 1940. He claimed service between 1911 and 1914 in the Royal Fusiliers T.A., but as the shipping records clearly list him sailing to Egypt that was another lie. Oh, and he had a BSc from Brussels University! He liked to say that he joined the Australian Light Horse when they transferred to Egypt. He may have been attached to them, but was certainly never on their strength.
Owing to his knowledge of languages he was attached to ANZAC Headquarters and, finally, he volunteered for duty in the Secret Service, during which time he went five times behind the enemy lines and had many thrilling experiences on the deserts in Arabia, Tripoli and Syria. He was wounded in an ambush in the Sinai Desert early in 1915 and was thrice taken prisoner by the Turks, Arabs and Sudanese rebels. He was condemned to death by a Turkish Field Court Martial but made his escape.¹
Had this been true you would have thought he would have listed it in that army form, but that tells us a different and more mundane story:
EGYPT. (Interpreter–clerk and later Intelligence Agent attached to A.I.F., H.Q., (Canal Defences); attached S&T branch)²
It sounds as if his “adventures” were not as exciting as he made out.
It seems that he did have an aptitude for languages and was proficient in several. That is also indicated by his Second War service, where he was commissioned 2/Lieutenant in 1939 (General Service) and by 1944 had been promoted to war service Major.
After the First War he continued to live in Egypt. Although newspaper advertisements show him as running his tailor’s shop, the biographical account we have quoted says:
After peace was declared he joined the Egyptian Civil Service and for some years he was lecturer in the English language… and various other high-sounding positions. It also says that he formed the Egypt and Sudan Command of the Legion. That is not strictly correct. Although he was responsible for the name of the “Egypt and Sudan Command” and was their organising officer, the Frontiersmen had a unit in Cairo and another one in Port Tewlik, Suez, at least as early as 1912. In the late 1920s when Lord Lloyd was High Commissioner for Egypt he called on the assistance of the Frontiersmen in subduing riots. This was greatly appreciated by Sir Peter Strickland, G.O.C. Egypt. Strickland gave his support to the Frontiersmen. Needless to say, when this came to the notice of the Colonial Office and War Office in London, a furious row ensued. Lord Lloyd accused the War Office of double standards as Leo Amery, then Colonial Secretary and a member of the Cabinet, was on the Legion’s Executive Council and senior Generals regularly inspected the Frontiersmen on Horse Guards Parade. The row only cooled down when a Labour Government was elected and Lord Lloyd was recalled.
Wybrow returned to live in London around late 1929 or early 1930. A Legion officer whose name was not written clearly, although his first name was Robert, wrote in March 1930 to the Legion’s (Acting) Cdt.-General Burchardt-Ashton that:
I have heard from my brother in Egypt who says that the Legion of Frontiersmen have taken a new lease of life since Wybrow left. He apparently was no loss. The moving spirit is now Brig. Gen. C.S. Wilson whose address is The Turf Club, Cairo. My brother says he is a good fellow and will run things properly. ³
Judging by the names listed in the Egypt and Sudan Frontiersmen magazine after Wybrow left, it had then become more or less an officers’ club. Wybrow seems to have given up being a tailor and worked as a moderately successful impresario around England. He attempted without success to set up a film studio in Sheffield to rival the London area ones. In a 1934 interview he gave to a Sheffield newspaper about his film studio plans he told them that:
…Prior to the war he was in the 2nd City of London Royal Fusiliers (!)
At the outbreak of war he happened to be on his way out East and he joined the Frontiersmen at Cairo on 1 September 1914. He was attached to the Australian Light Horse, and when the Turks attacked the Suez Canal he was ambushed, and his troop was cut up. He was badly wounded, and owes his life to the fact that his camel fell over him, while later, a groan saved him from being buried alive.
When attached to Anzac Headquarters he volunteered for work behind enemy lines. The fact that he speaks several languages fluently as well as seven dialects of Arabic helped him considerably in this intelligence work. In various disguises he was dropped by ‘plane on five different occasions behind the enemy lines in Sinai and other places in the Arabian desert, as well as in Palestine and Gorizia Italy.
This is the problem with so many past Frontiersmen, they tended to give conflicting accounts at different times. Which accounts do you believe – any, few, or none? There can be no doubt he liked people to think that he was an adventurous man. After Brigadier Morton had taken over as Cdt-General and Edwards-Carter had died, Wybrow became Chief of Staff at Legion Headquarters until Col. Dunn took over from him. We can wonder why that change came about.
According to the 1939 Register, Wybrow was living in a flat in Talbot House, St Martins Lane, London with a singer-actress-dancer Gwendoline Burke-Mills and her mother. He was a Frontiersman and they seem to have been traditionally fond of the ladies. We find that by 1950 Wybrow was still living at the same address but:
…with a woman ROBINSON, who has changed her name (not through marriage) to WYBROW
He was listed as a Lecturer in Economics and other skills, and was on the Metropolitan Police War Reserve.
As regards WYBROW. We all have the dimmest view of this bogus and shifty individual…
In short he’s an undesirable character altogether.
Because of his fluency in Arabic, French and Italian, he was granted a war service commission in 1940 and posted to Egypt and Palestine. In 1943 he returned to England under a cloud and narrowly escaped trial by GCM for financial irregularities. He had been rather too close to Jewish activists. His excuses having been accepted, he was posted to secret work on the Inter-Services Topographical Department. Once he had been released from the army, he joined the Joint Intelligence Board, the successors to the Joint Services Topographical Board. During investigations into a Jewish agent, it was discovered that Israeli Intelligence had a source known as “Cyril”. This was found to be Wybrow.
Nowadays most of the time Western Intelligences work quite comfortably with the Israelis, but it has to be understood that in 1949/50 Israel was considered a hostile power. During Britain’s peacekeeping duties in Palestine before the state of Israel was formed, Jewish terrorist or freedom fighter gangs (whatever you choose to call them) kidnapped and killed several hundred British soldiers. Once what became known to the British as the Stern Gang (LHI) kidnapped two sergeants and hanged them. They then booby-trapped the bodies so that the officer who cut them down was badly injured. There were considerable feelings of anti-semitism in Britain.
Wybrow’s salary in J.I.B. was £48 a month, and his various businesses did not seem to be making much, if any, money. He was, however, known to be supporting a mistress and to have a number of woman friends. There were some dozen amounts for round sums of £50, £100 and £150 which had been paid into the account of the Amalgamated British Exporters, one of the subsidiary companies run by Wybrow from 17 Charing Cross Road.⁴
Wybrow was regularly followed (medium height, 5’7” or 5’8”; portly build, with paunch and fat bottom; sandy hair, bald on top; small untidy moustache; fresh reddish complexion; snub nose, a bit bulbous; fattish about the jowl.) and his mail was also officially opened without his knowledge. That included mail from the Legion of Frontiersmen (Canadian Division) in Edmonton and from the Legion of Frontiersmen in New Zealand. It is a relief to say that nothing incriminating seems to have been discovered in Frontiersmen correspondence. Sufficient proof was found from the other enquiries that Wybrow had been working for the Israelis and was the source of leakage of information to them. In May 1950 he was “made redundant”. It was decided that no prosecution should be undertaken.
After his army duties in the war, for some reason he had decided not to return to serve with Frontiersmen Headquarters, but moved instead to the newly formed U.K. Command of Canadian Division and became its Commandant. Many Canadians who had fought in the war, or men who had worked in Canada, felt considerable affinity to Canada, so Canadian Division, U.K. Command, of the Frontiersmen became quite strong, based mainly in parts of Greater London, in Bristol and in the north of England. In 1956 Wybrow visited Canada and made a tour of inspection across the Dominion, visiting most substantial Frontiersmen units and writing a full report for Canadian Headquarters. He told the Canadians he would have liked to re-locate his professional activities to Canada but could discover no opportunities. He eventually moved to France and operated a “Legal Financial Service” in Paris. He certainly had “many strings to his bow”.
Not only did he sell secrets to the Israelis but he threw, perhaps totally un-necessary, doubt on those British Jews whose racial and ideological ties with Israel may be at variance with the allegiance they owe to the Crown. How much harm he did we may never know.
Wybrow always promised to write an account of his life for the Frontiersmen, but apparently never did, even had he done so it is doubtful how much truth he would have told. There still remain many unanswered questions about his life. He was not the only Frontiersman about whom we could say that!
How often do we come across such men? Surprisingly often but so far no more traitors. That is why we can seldom include men whose stories we would really wish to tell.
But we keep on researching. It can be very difficult, but when we do manage to unravel a complicated story it can be rewarding for us – and for our readers.
¹ “Mugs and Memoirs” from an undated “Canadian Frontiersman” magazine, reprinted in “History of the Legion of Frontiersmen” p. 105 published by the Legion of Frontiersmen, Canadian Division n.d.
² TNA KV2/3292
³ Letter in Legion of Frontiersmen files held in the archives
₄ TNA KV2/3293
All other brief phrase or sentence quotes come from KV2/3292 and KV2/3293
Photograph of Australian Light Horse by courtesy of the Imperial War Museum. General Allenby wrote that the Australian Light Horse had “earned the gratitude of the Empire and the admiration of the world”.
http://www.lighthorse.org.au/the-mounted-soldiers-of-australia-2/ (external link)
Photograph of Cyril H. Wybrow by courtesy of the archives of the Legion of Frontiersmen Canadian Division. This is the best resolution photograph of him we have been able to obtain. Note that a fuller version of the photograph was filed in KV2/3293 with an inset photograph of him in civilian clothes. It is likely that a copy was taken of this Canadian Division photograph when his correspondence with the Legion of Frontiersmen was officially but secretly opened. The file contains another photograph of him in army officer uniform.
© Copyright Geoffrey A. Pocock. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form, in part or in full, without prior permission.
I am absolutely certain that your Cyril Wybrow was in fact my Grand Uncle.
I think that his middle name may have been Henry, his father’s Christian name.
I have some photographs of Cyril atop camels together with my Grandfather Fred (not Frederick) Murton Wybrow. My grandfather (born 1878) I believe went bankrupt as a tailor in England and came to Australia via Bendigo, Victoria before moving to NSW Australia where he, his wife and son finally settled. They had one child Campbell Murton Wybrow. I am Campbell’s son.
The photos of Fred and Cyril atop the camels would probably have been taken when my Grandfather, my Grandmother and father were en route to Australia. I would need to do a little digging but the photo would seem to have been taken in about 1926. I also have a family photograph of Cyril with his wife in my grandfather’s back garden.
My Grandfather prior to going broke was in partnership with his brother Charles Edward Wybrow who ultimately emigrated to Australia settling initially in Tasmania.
All told I believe that there were four Wybrow brothers who were tailors. One brother William Albert Wybrow died on Lake Winnipeg Canada from Typhus (I have his obituary). He also traded as a tailor whilst also being a member of the Canadian Mounties.
I do not believe that Cyril ever travelled to Australia.
The only thing that I can remember my father ever saying about Cyril was that he was a spy in his tailor shop in Cairo and that as a result of the intimacy between a bespoke tailor and client he was able to learn valuable information.
Apparently, Cyril’s first wife was ‘Yugoslavian’ and not liked by her in-laws who apparently nicknamed her ‘the witch’. I believe some of this was due to her dark skin colour.
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Many thanks for your comment. I have forwarded this through to Geoff who will reply to you soon. Admin.
Hi, Malcolm, the following reply is from Geoff and he will also email with further details if that’s OK. “Thank you for your interesting response. His middle name was Hector but some early documents refer to him as Cyril Arthur Hector Wybrow. It would not be surprising if in some future year additional Intelligence documents about him are released to the National Archives. His travels and residences from the mid 1950s until his death throw up some unanswered questions.”
I believe you have this Cyril Hector Wybrow’s history blended with that of my grandfather, which is rather unfortunate.
My grandmother was Clara Violet Ashwin and my grandfather Cyril was not this one. He was born in 1911 and died in 1965.
Please could you recheck your documents and adjust your records / publications accordingly.
Thanks for your comment. A reply from the writer of this article as follows. Admin.
We apologise for the error which will be fully rectified over the next few days. Cyril Hector Wybrow was one who deliberately made it very difficult for anyone to research the truth of his life, especially up to WW2.
The article has now been updated. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.