Last Friday, I watched a documentary on Semphill and Rutland, two British airforce officers who, at the end of the first world war went to Japan to render the Japanese military and technical assistance.
That they became spies for the Japanese is without doubt. What interests me however is the genesis of their involvement.
During the first world war Britain and Japan were allies, and both participated in the allied intervention in Russia after the Bolshevik revolution. Britain’s alliance with Japan was terminated in 1920, largely due to American presssure.
Churchill was of course a member of the post first world war coalition government and the main mover and shaker behind Britain’s participation in the allied intervention. Churchill was also utterly paranoid about the Bolshevik revolution.
So the question has to be asked – did Semphill and Rutland begin their involvement with tacit but deniable official British approval in order to ensure that Japan remained a credible geopolitical blocker to any Bolshevik plans to expand and consolidate in the east and perhaps occupy Manchuria?
So was it simply a case of Semphill and Rutland going feral?
The interesting thing is that despite their behaviour neither Semphill or Rutland were arrested and tried for treason. Rutland, not being an aristocrat was interned and later quietly released, Semphill, an aristocrat, agreed to withdraw from public life.
For a whole set of obvious reasons, we will probably never know the whole story. Just too political, too cynical, and realistically not worth the risk of making the facts public. If true the records may have been shredded later to protect Churchill’s reputation.