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New Book in the Club Library.

The Quest For “C”           Sir Mansfield Cumming.

I know many members will be aware of the name of Sir Mansfield Cumming who was our founding Rear-Commodore. He was one of the people at a meeting at the Automobile Club in May 1905 who proposed a new Club for marine motorists and was elected as the Club’s first Rear-Commodore.

This new off-shoot of what is now the Royal Automobile Club became our Club. Cumming was a semi-retired naval officer who was running the “boom defence system” in the Solent when he was asked to go to London to hear some interesting news. He was appointed to start the British Secret Service and became the first Director of the Secret Intelligence Service [SIS] which became MI6. He was referred to and signed himself “C” and always signed his letters in green ink. The Director of MI6 is still referred to as “C” and still uses green ink. [Ian Fleming; who wrote the James Bond books changed the “C” to ”M”.

Late in 1905 Mansfield Cumming purchased the ex Royal Navy Yacht, “HMS Enchantress”, a thousand ton paddle steamer of 1865 built as a dispatch vessel, removed her two large funnels, her paddle boxes and steam engine and fitted her out as a sumptuous floating club house, with large day saloons [the dining room could seat 200 people] a ladies’ drawing room, a bar and 25 sleeping cabins. He leased her to the new Club for a pepper-corn rent and she was moored off Netley on the east side of Southampton Water above the entrance to the Hamble River. [The Club eventually moved across to the west side of Southampton Water to Hythe Pier and eventually to Poole on the Club’s amalgamation with and absorption of the British Motor Boat Club in 1933].

Mansfield Cumming ran MI6 all through the Great War and died in 1923 of a heart attack. A model of his motor boat “Commander”, said to have been made by him, now hangs over the entrance door way to the Club Bar and restaurant.

The story of his involvement with the Secret Service is told in an excellent book by Alan Judd, called “The Quest for C.  Mansfield Cumming and the founding of the British Secret Service”, which is in the Club library.

The Centenary Club Book, available for purchase at the Club Reception, has some excellent pages and photographs describing Mansfield Cumming and his alleged use of friends with yachts to spy for him in Germany before the First World War. Both books are recommended good reads.

Peter Burt.

Hon. Club Historian.