Obituary: Capt Henry Denham

Henry Mangles Denham, naval officer, yachtsman, writer: born 9 September 1897; served Royal Navy 1910-47; naval attache, Scandinavian Countries 1940, Stockholm 1940-47; CMG 1945; married 1924 Madge Currie (deceased; one son, two daughters); died London 15 July 1993.

HENRY DENHAM's life as a naval officer and writer was full and varied, ending in his 96th year.

Osborne and Dartmouth embarked Denham on HMS Agamemnon as a midshipman of 16 for the Dardanelles, a period recorded in a book of his diaries and notes, Dardanelles: a midshipman's diary (1981). He describes how he ferried troops ashore and coped with such disasters as a Turkish shell bursting in the wardroom and killing 30 men, how they cleaned up the mess and then recovered from the shock with a game of water polo. He visited Turkey again later in life when he had given up sailing and was interested in submarine archaeology. He made friends with Turkish harbourmasters and one said to him that the British were the bravest enemies they had ever met.

Denham's bravery was legendary and so was his understanding of his enemies including Admiral Erich Raeder, the Commander-in-Chief of the German navy, whom he met at the Kiel regatta in 1936. Denham also got to know the German navy when he was second-in-command of the cruiser Penelope during the Spanish Civil War. He had had some interesting postings after the First World War: a year at Magdalene College, Cambridge, occupying the Rhine with the Rhine flotilla, a round-the-world cruise with the Prince of Wales and Lt Dickie Mountbatten on HMS Renown. In the inter-war years he served on HMS Warspite and Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean where he was able to indulge in his favourite sport of sailing. He was then posted to shore jobs because his ears had been damaged by gunfire and after a turn with naval intelligence was appointed naval attache to the Scandinavian countries in 1940. Based in Copenhagen, he was captured with the whole of the British legation by the Germans on their invasion of Denmark but after repatriation was sent out again as naval attache to Sweden where he arrived just as we were finally pulling out of Norway at the time of the collapse of France.

In Sweden Denham became one of the key sources of British intelligence in the Second World War and the Swedes under German pressure tried to have him declared persona non grata no less than eight times, each of which we resisted. Denham prided himself on never using a paid agent and relying on people who were good friends such as the Norwegian military attache, Col Roscherlund, who had an invaluable friend in an independent intelligence organisation, the C Bureau under Major Petersen, who was the originator of the first report on the breakout of the Bismarck. Ebbe Munck, the Danish Arctic explorer and journalist, was an old friend and a steady source of information on Denmark while the Dutch consul-general kept up a flow of information from the Netherlands. Denham's Polish contacts were loyal friends but their contribution to intelligence was very low grade. He was offered the post of naval attache in Poland after the war but he refused as he disliked the government and felt it would have been disloyal to his Polish friends if he accepted.

While before the Battle of El Alamein there was little help in this field from the Swedes themselves there were exceptions as in the case of Col Bjornstjerna. He and his family became close friends of Denham's and he treasured a small silver salver belonging to Bjornstjerna's ancestor Count Morner, the intermediary who had persuaded Marshal Bernadot to become the Crown Prince of Sweden. It was Bernadot who joined the allies against Napoleon, an allegiance of which the Bjornstjerna family were always proud.

The colonel had been Swedish military attache in London and was now a director of Swedish combined intelligence and as such read the decrypted intercepts of all secret German Geheimschreiber messages to Norway. Denham regularly visited Bjornstjerna, who gave him an oral account of what they knew on the naval side. Denham took no notes and used to run back to his office to get the message off to London. The Abwehr spotted what was going on. The Swedish Commander-in-Chief, General Thornell, dismissed Bjornstjerna from the service but his successor became a friend and was equally helpful.

Apart from his talent for friendship Denham was also a helper to those whose careers were blighted by events. There was Hagman, the commander of the Swedish convoy with the four Italian warships being escorted from Italy to Sweden who were forced to surrender their ships to the British in the Faeroes in spite of his officers opting to stand and fight. When he finally arrived in Gothenburg, Hagman came ashore alone to be met only by Denham and a virulent display of revenge by the C-in-C of the Swedish navy who said that no officer in future should ever surrender his ships. In fact Hagman had saved Sweden entering the war as an ally of Germany, an act for which Winston Churchill said he should have had a medal struck. Another case was that of Count Oxenstjerna, the Swedish naval attache in London who was refused re-entry to the UK after going home on leave after wrongly being suspected of being the source of the infamous 'Josephine' messages to the Abwehr from London. Denham took his side but London did not relent.

Denham's talent for friendship and kindness to the underdog was matched by the good humour with which he revealed the spying of the Swedish secret police with their microphone in the chimney of his flat taking a party up to his attic to surprise the spies listening in. He was a keen sportsman and apart from tennis and squash spent what time he could sailing his Dragon on Lake Malar. He played an important part in the steel specialist George Binney's daring blockade-busting operation to get special steels and tools to England.

When he retired in 1947 Denham cruised the Mediterranean in his yacht and during this period wrote his many guides to the seas and coasts of the Mediterranean. He gave up sailing when he fell off his mast in a storm and concluded that he must put an end to it; he did not believe it right to sail unless you could do so single-handed. He was a keen member of the Royal Cruising Club and the Royal Yacht Squadron. As a thank you for his wartime achievements he was awarded one of the very few CMGs given to naval officers and was also decorated by allied governments.

(Photograph omitted)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Management Trainer

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Scientist / Research Assistant

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...

Reach Volunteering: Chair of Trustees

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin