Roald Dahl as a dashing RAF Fighter Pilot in World War Two
Best known today for his children’s books such as “James and the Giant Peach”, author Roald Dahl was a gallant Royal Air Force fighter pilot at the beginning of World War Two. Among his many feats was simply surviving the air battle between a handful of British fighters against hundreds of Nazi aircraft in the Battle for Greece. Dahl and a small group of RAF pilots took off many times a day from grass airfields to try and give cover to withdrawing British and Greek forces.
Severely wounded because of a series of air crashes, Dahl began to experience crippling headaches after his constant air combat over Greece. After a thorough physical examination, it was clear to Dahl himself and to the RAF Medical Board that he could not ever fly on active operations again.
He subsequently was shuffled off to the British Embassy in Washington where, almost by happenstance, he became one of the most outstanding of the British secret agents spying on the United States. Working for the mysterious William Stephenson (aka the Man Called Intrepid), head of British Security Coordination, Dahl infiltrated to the highest levels of the US Government.
Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt’s beloved retreat, Val-Kill cottage, now a National Historic Site.
(photo courtesy of US National Park Service)
He became friends with Mrs. Roosevelt, who often invited him to, Val-Kill, her small cottage on FDR’s Hyde Park estate. This was the only home Mrs. Roosevelt ever personally owned and it was her refuge from the world. Dahl became a regular fixture on weekends at Val-Kill. As time went on he clearly ascended the “guest ladder” until he was one rung below the people who were members of Roosevelt’s personal entourage.
He got on well with FDR and during leisurely hours at Hyde Park often chatted with the President many a time about this and that. Dahl was a good listener (a key requirement for a spy I should think) and repeated his conversations with Roosevelt almost word for word in the detailed reports he sent to Stephenson at British Security Coordination. Most, if not all of Roald Dahl’s reports on his weekends with the President and Mrs Roosevelt went directly to Churchill. Perhaps these reports helped Churchill “play” Roosevelt.
In the high stakes game of leading the Allied alliance, it is never very clear who was “playing” whom. Churchill, the great statesman and master of the House of Commons, was dealing with the wiliest man ever to hold the office of President of the United States. (“I never let my left hand know what my right hand is doing,” President Roosevelt once said). FDR was well aware that Dahl was a British spy and Dahl was well aware that Roosevelt knew this.
So FDR used Dahl as a back channel to Churchill often by simply musing about life and issues with Dahl, knowing that Churchill would pick out the salient point from a long monologue.
Of his many talents, the “gorgeous” Roald Dahl was one of the great “swordsmen” of wartime Washington, DC. He loved attractive women and attractive women loved him. He wanted to have sex with them and they wanted to have sex with him and they did–by the dozens.
One of the women he slept with was Clare Boothe Luce, then a Congresswoman, who he pumped for information. Although 13 years older than Dahl, Clare was always eager to go at it. She was involved in an issue of great import to the British, having to do with post war commercial air routes.
After romancing her for a bit, Dahl grew weary of her demands. Nonetheless, he was instructed to stay close to her and keep sleeping with her. He wasn’t thrilled with the idea. To his roommate he said. “I am all fucked out. That goddam woman has absolutely screwed me me from one end of the room to another for three goddam nights.”
Dahl asked the British Ambassador, the incredibly prudish and stiff necked Lord Halifax, for permission to stop romancing Mrs. Luce. Halifax asked Dahl if had seen the movie Henry VIII starring Charles Laughton. Dahl said he had.
Halifax said, “…remember the scene with Henry going into the bedroom with Anne of Cleves, and he turns and says, ‘the things I’ve done for England.’ Well, that’s what you’ve got to do.”
So Dahl continued to appease Mrs. Luce until apparently she grew bored.
The source for this is a wonderful book titled, “The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington” by Jennet Conant. In addition to be a damn good writer, Ms. Conant is a pro when it comes to narrative non-fiction, this being her third book. She did meticulous research and I am amazed at the things people told her.
If you are ever looking for a “good book” to read, I respectfully suggest you give this one your attention. You won’t be disappointed.
For more on Dahl’s robust social life in Washington, you can read this article from the London Daily Mail. The link is here: