Daphne Park, described as “Queen of Spies”, was an intelligence officer during the Second World War and the Cold War. While working for the MI6, she was stationed in Vienna, Moscow, Leopoldsville, Lusaka, and Hanoi.
Daphne Park was one of the few women in the world of intelligence-gathering, coding, and espionage. A world and occupation which was largely male-dominated in that period.
Daphne Park: Early Life
Daphne Margaret Sybil Désirée Park, Baroness Park of Monmouth CMG, OBE, FRSA was born in Surrey on the 1st of September 1921.
When she was only six months, her mother, Gwynneth Park, took her and her brother David to the southern highlands of Tanganyika (now Tanzania). Park’s family had to move to Africa because Daphne’s father John Alexander, gold prospector and former WWI intelligence officer, contracted tuberculosis and had to go there to rest and recover.
The living conditions were not the best. They lived in a mudbrick house, without running water and electricity. Due to this situation, Daphne grew up very independent and strong.
When she was only seven, her mother set up a correspondence course in order to give her daughter the chance to learn subjects like literature, history, and geography.
However, in 1932, Park’s parents realised they could not teach her anymore. Consequently, using all their savings, they managed to send their daughter to Streatham, in London. While in London, Park attended Rosa Bassett School, lost her brother, and her Monmouth grandmother and her great-aunts became her guardians.
In 1940, thanks to various scholarships, Park managed to go to Oxford and attend Somerville College. She attended a bachelor’s degree in modern languages, and she graduated in 1943. During those three years, Park also won a scholarship to go to France for three months, to improve her French.
Daphne Park and the FANY
After graduating, Park received various offers from the Treasury and the Foreign Office. She felt it was not enough to contribute to the war, so she turned them down.
In 1943, same here of the graduation, Park met Mary Monk. That was probably one of the moments that changed Park’s life.
Monk was wearing a FANY uniform, and Park and her friend could not recognise it. When Park asked Mary what she was doing, she was very vague. She told Park and her friends that she was taking part in “something frightfully boring at Whitehall”. Monk did not say much, but the way she spoke intrigued the girls. Consequently, all three of them decided to go to the FANY headquarters in Knightsbridge.
The FANY was the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, also referred to as Princess Royal’s Volunteer Corps (PRVC). It was an independent charity, established in 1907, and all the members were female. This charity was active not only in the nursing field but was also conducting intelligence work, during both World Wars.
On that day, Park signed up with FANY. During the selection process, she came to the attention of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) due to her coding skills, her background, and her fluent French.
Winston Churchill established the SOE during WWII. It was a secret organisation, whose aim was to espionage and sabotage the Nazis and their allies.
In her first months with the SOE, Daphne Park had to instruct various agents on how to use Morse and other codes. She also met Leo Marks, “the cypher king”.
The SOE then promoted Daphne Park to the rank of sergeant, and she had to go to Milton Hall, in Leicestershire. There she had to train the operatives that were taking part in Operation Jedburgh, which consisted of special teams tasked to support the Resistance in Europe. Park, in charge of the coding training, had to teach them about wireless, codes, and communications.
The End of the War
At the end of the war, Park went to North Africa as a briefing and dispatching officer with the SOE. In that period, the Ministry of Defence took charge of the SOE, but since it was already responsible for the SIS (Secret Intelligence Service), it was decided to dissolve it. On the 15th of January 1946, the MOD officially dismantled the SOE and most of its agents had to go back to civilian life.
Daphne Park, determined to make a career in this “secret world”, did not leave the FANY and soon became a Commander.
In 1946, the SOE sent her to Vienna, in Austria, to set up an office for FIAT, the Field Intelligence Agency Technical. The FIAT was a unit whose aim was to find Axis scientists involved in interesting projects during the war. The aim was to interview them and convince them to work for the British.
While conducting this project, Park came across the British intelligence services and this secured her a job in London.
Daphne Park and The Secret Intelligence Service
Back in London in July 1948, Park started working for the SIS. In order to learn Russian, she went to Newnham College, in Cambridge. In 1954, after acquiring a proper knowledge of the language and after spending two years undercover as part of the UK delegation to NATO in Paris, she was appointed Second Secretary of the British Embassy in Moscow. Park was actually operating as a Station Head for the SIS. There her role was to travel around the country and to report anything that looked suspicious.
While in Moscow, she took part in the case of Yevgeni Vladimirovich Brik. Brik was a KGB illegal, sent to Canada by Moscow with the aim of setting up a post for the infiltration of KGB illegals in the US. On the off chance to turn him against the Soviets, Park had to monitor him and find out if he was compromised.
Between 1959 and 1961, Daphne Park was sent to Leopoldville, Congo. There, Park was Consul and First Secretary, which at the same time meant being undercover for the SIS.
In that period, Congo was suffering from a deep crisis due to the Congolese desire for independence from Belgium.
Her ability to attract and charm the most influential people came in handy while in Congo. Despite how local people saw colonial powers, she managed to forge strong friendships with local leaders. She also met the Congolese prime minister Patrice Lumumba and those who then killed him, Mobutu.
After Mobutu took power, during an operation, the local forces arrested Park. They thought she was a Lumumba supporter. Thanks to her acquaintances, Park managed to talk to a senior official and she convinced him to release various prisoners, among them Britons.
In 1960, thanks to her actions and her service in Leopoldville, Park was awarded the Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
Park showed and manifested her courage on various occasions. While in Congo, she was also able to smuggle Lumumba’s chief of cabinet, Damien Kandolo, to safety. In order to hide him and save him, Park used a Citroen 2CV, since, according to the British spy, nobody would take that car seriously. The man that she saved that day, later became a commissioner for the new Congolese government and a useful source for Park.
Allegedly, Park told a British politician, Lord Lea of Crondall, three years before her death in March 2010 at the age of 88, that she assisted in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. This was met with wide astonishment within MI6 as well among intelligence historians.
In a letter to the London Review of Books, Lord Lea wrote:
”It so happens that I was having tea with Daphne Park (later Baroness Park of Monmouth) a few months before she died. I mentioned the uproar surrounding Lumumba’s abduction and murder and recalled the theory that M16 might have had something to do with it.”
Park then allegedly responded with: “We did. I organised it.”
Between 1964 and 1967, the SIS sent Park to Lusaka, in Zambia, and between 1969 and 1970 she was in Hanoi, Vietnam.
In Hanoi, she was Consul-General, but since the Vietnamese government was aware of her being a spy, it restricted severely her movements in the country. Moreover, she could not learn Vietnamese.
While in Hanoi, Park made the acquaintance of the Soviet Ambassador, Ilya Shcherbakov, which eased her relations with other missions.
Thanks to these informal relationships, Park managed to obtain information about the Vietnamese psychology and the political climate affecting the region in that period.
Due to her service in Hanoi, Park was invested as a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG).
Park’s final posting was in 1972 in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, as Chargé d’Affaires of the British Embassy.
The year after, in 1973, she went back to London, and in 1975 she was appointed Controller Western Hemisphere. This role was the SIS’ most senior operational rank. It was the first time that a woman received such a high position.
Daphne Park retired from the Secret Services in 1979 to become Principal of Somerville College in Oxford. While principal, she worked hard in order to obtain more funding for the university. She also established the Margaret Thatcher Fund.
In 1989, Park retired from Somerville and the year after, in 1990, the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher elevated her to a life peer as Baroness Park of Monmouth. Park made the choice of Monmouth to honour Monmouth House, which was a building where her SIS friends worked.
In her career, Park displayed her abilities to play both the role of a diplomat and the one of a spy.
Her life was a life full of sacrifices, but also full of accomplishments. Even though she said more than once that she could not imagine herself doing a different job. While she had to give up marriage and children.
Daphne Park died on the 24th of March 2010, at the age of 88, after a long illness. She was tagged with the name “Queen of Spies” since her skills were admired by the Soviets and other enemies. The alleged confession 3 years before her death might sour Park’s image in some circles.