Adcock, Frank Ezra, 1886-1968

by N G L Hammond

20 Apr 2016
978-0-19-725912-2 hbk

Sir Frank Adcock. Elected Fellow of the British Academy 1936.

Extract relating to military intelligence work:

These qualities of mind found a new and important field of activity during the First World War when he was engaged in the Intelligence Division of the Admiralty from 1915 to 1919. His powers of memory, his precision, dexterity, speed, and tenacity, coupled with his superb knowledge of German (he translated Thucidydes into German with immediate bilingual facility), enabled him to excel in deciphering the codes of the enemy as surely as he had done in matters of ancient history. Nor was this solely an intellectual exercise. It carried heavy responsibility at times: for instance on one occasion at a small hour of the night when he had to decide whether or not the Home Fleet should be alerted to put to sea. From these experiences he gained an insight into practical affairs and appreciated the importance of prompt and efficient planning. In 1917 he was awarded the O.B.E. He had the highest regard for his naval chief, Admiral Hall, of whom a large drawing held a conspicuous place in his room. And he had ever afterwards an unrivalled skill in the solving of cross-word puzzles. Sailing down the Adriatic Sea one morning in late March he brought forth his store of Torquemada puzzle, saved up during the Lent term, in order to stave off the danger which he had anticipated of sea-sickness. Alas, he solved them all too quickly! He was an absentee at lunch.

When the Second World War was threatening Adcock recruited suitable dons for work in a branch of the Foreign Office. From 1939 to 1943 he worked at first at Bletchley and then in London, and he returned to King’s when he had ‘solved the initial problems’, as he remarked once in conversation. His mind was as acute as ever, but in his mid-fifties he had perhaps less of the intellectual stamina which had enabled him to maintain such unremitting zest and pace in the First World War. Once again, he had contact with the problems and the policies of war and politics, and he gave his mind closely to the course of events during and after his period of service. These matters provided food for exposition and sometimes for discussion during his afternoon walks in the post-war years. But to him the events of both wars had registered rather on the intellectual than on the emotional plane. He had not himself suffered or seen suffering in others at close quarters, and his qualities of mind did not include a vivid imaginative insight into experiences outside his orbit.

(See: List of humanities scholars who worked in military intelligence in the Second World War)

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