The Musuem
Floor Plan

The Dennis Wheatley 'Museum' - World War II

Fortune favours the well-prepared

In the introduction to this Room, and in the following exhibit, I have described how a chance meeting between DW's wife (who was acting as a chauffeur for MI5 at the time) and an official who had been asked to prepare a secret briefing, led to DW writing his 'War Papers' for the 'top brass' for the year and a half of the war before he was taken back into uniform.

It may be remarked at the outset that the 'top brass' would not have entertained even for a moment, let alone for one-and-a-half years, the views of the ordinary man-on-the-street, but as the following will show, when DW's 'big chance' finally came - and it apparently came 'out of the blue' - it came to a singularly well-prepared and well-informed individual.

One of the many books on World War One that DW
read in the inter-war years and held in his library

Click on the images to enlarge

First, since his days in the army in the First World War, DW already had a keen interest in military strategy. This is evidenced by the books on First World War strategy that we know were present in his pre Second World War Library.

George 'Peter' Hill's 'Go Spy The Land' - DW's copy

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Second, when DW was writing 'The Eunuch of Stamboul' in 1935, for background on the city, DW had spent a great deal of time consulting and learning from a friend of his, Captain George H. 'Peter' Hill. Hill had been a British secret agent working in Russia at the time of the Revolution, and will no doubt have given DW a great deal of information about the inside story of the various conflicts he had witnessed, and about international covert strategy in his day.

Maxwell Knight of MI5 gives DW permission
to use Sir Vernon Kell (the Head of MI5) as a reference
when DW was seeking unsuccessfully to work in the
Ministry of Information in the run-up to World War Two

Click on the image to enlarge

Third, through an apparently chance meeting at a cocktail party in 1936, DW had met and become friends with Maxwell Knight, who happened to be MI5's top 'agent-runner'. They had both trained on H M S Worcester, although not at the same time, and DW and his step-son started doing odd-jobs to help 'Uncle Max' out. These had included DW employing 'Agent Gelatine' as cover while she was working as a double agent for MI5 (on which see the previous page).

Anatole Baikaloff's inscribed copy of 'Red Eagle'

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Fourth, and for reasons which are not entirely clear, in a departure from writing fiction, in 1937 DW chose to write a factual biography (his second, after his previous one on King Charles II) of a person of whom most of his audience would never have heard - Marshal Voroshilov of the Soviet army.

The choice of subject was curious, not least because very little information was publicly available. By his own admission, DW's main sources included Maxwell Knight's boss, the Head of MI5, Sir Vernon Kell, and a couple of Russian emigrés - Price Dimitri, and a former Russian Commissar, Anatole Bakilief (as DW subsequently mis-wrote Baikaloff's name in 'Drink and Ink'), with the last of whom, by his own admission, DW got rather drunk.

It is evident that DW made quite an impression on Sir Vernon, because, as one of the above exhibits shows, Sir Vernon gave DW a glowing (but ultimately unsuccessful) reference when DW wanted to get into the Ministry of Information in the early days of the war.

DW was clearly very satisfied with the finished book. He wrote in his own copy 'I am very pleased with it', while he went even further when he inscribed in his wife's copy 'Pooh's best book to date', notwithstanding that he had already published both 'The Forbidden Territory' and 'The Devil Rides Out'.

DW's board games 'Invasion' and 'Blockade'

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Fifth, during the Munich crisis in September 1938, from which Chamberlain returned with his piece of paper declaring peace, DW invented his first (of three) board games; 'Invasion'. Its complexity and realism are underscored by a modern reviewer of board games, who wrote:

"...the rules are more detailed than just about any war game before the modern era. He (DW) includes stacking, reserves, naval interdiction of land units (and) cooperative play for allies ... ", and goes on to observe "... overall Invasion ranks very high on the list of the most advanced war/strategy games of what I would call the golden era ...".

In other words, it was a serious war game, and DW had done thorough research.

Ever topical, DW followed this up with his second board game, 'Blockade', in 1939. This was a game similar to 'Invasion', but which, while humorous, dealt with an equally serious theme.

The (unopened) parcel containing Ian Hay & DW's
draft 1939 film script for 'An Englishman's Home'

Click on the image to enlarge

Sixth, and also in 1939, DW was asked to collaborate with novelist and playwright Ian Hay (the pseudonym of retired Major General John Hey Beith) on the film script for a film called 'An Englishman's Home'.

'An Englishman's Home' had first been performed as a (very successful and somewhat sensational) stage play in 1909, and its theme was the effect on a family of a(n implicitly German) invasion of the U.K. It was filmed in 1914, and then filmed again in 1939, and as my friend Darren Nugent has observed:

"It was a very unique film in its time in that it addressed the invasion of Great Britain - up to that point there had been no recent GB invasion films, so it was made as a bit of a wake-up call - as were the original play and film."

Darren informs me that according to his understanding there are no known copies of the film, although he adds that a twenty minute reel apparently still survives in the BFI.


Thus, when DW was finally, and by chance, asked to provide his independent but knowledgeable counsel to the 'top brass' on some of the most important issues of the war (on which see the introduction to this room and the next few exhibits), DW was singularly well-prepared to rise to the challenge.

References : 'Drink and Ink' Chapters 13-18.
'Stranger Than Fiction', Chapter 1.
Phil Baker Chapters 29-31.

Provenance:Private Collections