CHO'D Alexander : Drapery Manager ?

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John Upham
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CHO'D Alexander : Drapery Manager ?

Post by John Upham » Tue Apr 21, 2020 11:45 am

Whilst examining passenger lists (as you do) for journeys made by Hugh Alexander I noticed the following :

Hugh sailed from Buenos Aires, Argentina in September 1939 to arrive at Southampton September 19th 1939.

The ship was the Alcantara operated by Royal Mail Lines Ltd hence the RMS Alcantara

"RMS Alcantara was a Royal Mail Lines ocean liner that was built in Belfast in 1926. She served in the Second World War first as an armed merchant cruiser and then a troop ship, was returned to civilian service in 1948 and scrapped in 1958. "

Ports of the voyage were : Buenos Aires; Montevideo; Santos and Rio de Janeiro

Hugh's official number 148151 and he travelled 2nd class.

His proposed destination residential address was

316, Rodney House, Dolphin Square, London, SW1

AND his profession is given as "Drapery Manager" (!)

On the same page of the same list is Philip Stuart Milner-Barry who occupation was stated as Journalist and his intended residence was

11, Park Terrace, Cambridge. The estimated value of this property in 2020 is £960000 according to Zoopla.

Was Drapery Manager simply an invented description or was there any truth in it ?


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Passenger List for 1939 return home voyage
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Mick Norris
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Re: CHO'D Alexander : Drapery Manager ?

Post by Mick Norris » Tue Apr 21, 2020 12:01 pm

Interesting about the Alcantara, that was the ship that brought my Mum home from South Africa at the end of the war with her family, and later took my Dad's brother overseas on military service
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Ian Thompson
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Re: CHO'D Alexander : Drapery Manager ?

Post by Ian Thompson » Tue Apr 21, 2020 12:06 pm

John Upham wrote:
Tue Apr 21, 2020 11:45 am
Was Drapery Manager simply an invented description or was there any truth in it ?
As he worked for John Lewis it is plausible.

John Upham
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Re: CHO'D Alexander : Drapery Manager ?

Post by John Upham » Tue Apr 21, 2020 12:20 pm

Ian Thompson wrote:
Tue Apr 21, 2020 12:06 pm
John Upham wrote:
Tue Apr 21, 2020 11:45 am
Was Drapery Manager simply an invented description or was there any truth in it ?
As he worked for John Lewis it is plausible.
"In 1938, Hugh Alexander left teaching and became head of research at the John Lewis Partnership.[1]"

Head of Research -> Drapery Manager : perhaps a title of convenience but If I was Head of Research then DM must somewhat lower on the John Lewis food chain.
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Roger de Coverly
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Re: CHO'D Alexander : Drapery Manager ?

Post by Roger de Coverly » Tue Apr 21, 2020 12:35 pm

John Upham wrote:
Tue Apr 21, 2020 11:45 am
Was Drapery Manager simply an invented description or was there any truth in it ?
Did he not work for the John Lewis Partnership before being recruited for Bletchley Park?

John Upham
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Re: CHO'D Alexander : Drapery Manager ?

Post by John Upham » Tue Apr 21, 2020 12:39 pm

Roger de Coverly wrote:
Tue Apr 21, 2020 12:35 pm
John Upham wrote:
Tue Apr 21, 2020 11:45 am
Was Drapery Manager simply an invented description or was there any truth in it ?
Did he not work for the John Lewis Partnership before being recruited for Bletchley Park?

Yes, hence the text in the previous post. Perhaps Drapery Manager was a genuine title therefore.
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Roger de Coverly
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Re: CHO'D Alexander : Drapery Manager ?

Post by Roger de Coverly » Tue Apr 21, 2020 12:58 pm

John Upham wrote:
Tue Apr 21, 2020 11:45 am
On the same page of the same list is Philip Stuart Milner-Barry who occupation was stated as Journalist
Wiki seems to confirm this

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuart_Milner-Barry
Between 1929 and 1938 he was a city stockbroker, although he was unhappy with the work. From 1938, he was the chess correspondent for The Times, succeeded in 1945 by Harry Golombek.[1]

Mike Gunn
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Re: CHO'D Alexander : Drapery Manager ?

Post by Mike Gunn » Tue Apr 21, 2020 1:32 pm

Drapery would seem to be appropriate as a cover story?

Kevin Thurlow
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Re: CHO'D Alexander : Drapery Manager ?

Post by Kevin Thurlow » Tue Apr 21, 2020 1:49 pm

"Drapery would seem to be appropriate as a cover story?"

Very good!

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Re: CHO'D Alexander : Drapery Manager ?

Post by Kevin Thurlow » Tue Apr 21, 2020 2:05 pm

As Alan Turing was recruited by the Government Code and Cypher School in 1938, it is plausible that Milner-Barry, Alexander and Golombek had been lined up already to go there, and were just awaiting the call. Just as people employed in sensitive (and normal) occupations frequently identify themselves as "Civil Servant", it is quite reasonable for Sir Stuart to say he was a journalist (as he was), and Alexander did work for John Lewis. There wasn't the passion then for overblown and pompous job titles in those days.

Andy Stoker
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Re: CHO'D Alexander : Drapery Manager ?

Post by Andy Stoker » Tue Apr 21, 2020 2:14 pm

CHOD may have wished to hide the title of "Head of Research" - which could be of particular interest to enemy investigators

Nice work to discover this.

Roger de Coverly
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Re: CHO'D Alexander : Drapery Manager ?

Post by Roger de Coverly » Tue Apr 21, 2020 2:33 pm

Kevin Thurlow wrote:
Tue Apr 21, 2020 2:05 pm
As Alan Turing was recruited by the Government Code and Cypher School in 1938, it is plausible that Milner-Barry, Alexander and Golombek had been lined up already to go there, and were just awaiting the call.

The wiki on Milner-Barry suggests he was recruited on his return to the UK and in turn recruited Alexander. I believe Golombek used to claim he had been conscripted and was awaiting posting to Singapore when Milner-Barry and Alexander head-hunted him.

This may however only have been the "official" story. Connections amongst the UK's stronger players were used as a recruiting method as is clear from the lists of chess players who eventually revealed their war time activity. For that matter BH Wood disclosed it in 1945 when he reported the result of a "Bletchley" v Oxford University match.

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Re: CHO'D Alexander : Drapery Manager ?

Post by John Upham » Tue Apr 21, 2020 4:03 pm

As a follow-up on the same voyage (unsurprisingly) we have Sir George Thomas whose destination address is given as

17, North End House, London, W14.

It would appear since it has been divided into flats.

GATs occupation is pleasingly given as "Independent"

I assume that this means "He was of independent means" i.e. not short of a penny or two. Maybe in 1939 it meant something else ?


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Passenger List for Sir GA Thomas (1939)
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Gerard Killoran
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Re: CHO'D Alexander : Drapery Manager ?

Post by Gerard Killoran » Tue Apr 21, 2020 6:41 pm

From Milner-Barry's memoir of Alexander:

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Stewart Reuben
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Re: CHO'D Alexander : Drapery Manager ?

Post by Stewart Reuben » Tue Apr 21, 2020 7:31 pm

When preparing my book 'The Chess Scene' I asked various people what chess had meant to them.
Harry Golombek said, 'Without chess I would almost certainly be dead. My artillery battery was about to leave for Singapore during World War II. My CO arranged for me to be transferred to Intelligence a week before they left because he knew I must be suitable due to my chess. Only 6 survived out of 300.'
The book was published in 1972 and I think that was the first time I had heard of Bletchley Park.

Sir George Thomas was indeed of independent means. He reached the quarter-finals of Wimbledon and was also several times the English Badminton Champion. which was virtually th World Championship at that time. They still play for the Thomas Cup at Badminton.

Hugh Alexander was indeed a school teacher. J Spedan Lewis was very keen on chess. He said to Hugh something like, 'Why not quit teaching, come and stay on my yacht and play chess? Making him a member of staff would have allowed him to receive a salary from John Lewis.
The National Chess Centre was housed at John Lewis in Oxford Street, until it was bombed out.
In 1975 the John Lewis partnership sponsored my second international tournament where the late Tony Miles got his first GM norm.

Both Hugh and Stuart remianed civil servantsfor the rest of their careers. I thught Barry worked as a laboratory based chemist during World War ii. Hugh was CBE. Barry and Harry OBE for chess.

I thought they all came back on the same boat from Buenos Aires, having withdrawn from the Olympiad in 1939.

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