Queen's tailor Hardy Amies was a wartime hitman

David Lister@davidlister1,Culture Editor
Thursday 24 September 2015 09:28

The Queen's dressmaker Sir Hardy Amies was yesterday named as one of the men who helped to plan the murder of dozens of Nazi collaborators in Europe towards the end of the Second World War.

The Queen's dressmaker Sir Hardy Amies was yesterday named as one of the men who helped to plan the murder of dozens of Nazi collaborators in Europe towards the end of the Second World War.

The discovery of Sir Hardy's role in the special operation to assassinate Nazi collaborators has been made by a forthcoming BBC 2 history series on secret agents.

However, although the producers have documents that they claim show Mr Amies' involvement, he has disclaimed all knowledge of the affair and will not be mentioned at all in the BBC2 Secret Agent programme. Producer David Darlow said yesterday: "From a television point of view the fact that he wouldn't talk about it on camera stopped us from using it."

Researchers were allowed by the Public Records Office to see unreleased documents about Operation Ratweek early in 1944. The operation sent out secret agents to murder Nazis and sympathisers all over Europe. Helping organise the operation in London was Lt-Col Amies. The BBC producers were amazed when they traced the Lieutenant Colonel and found he was the 91-year-old former dress designer to the Queen.

It is known that Sir Hardy was in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the War, but his role in the little known Operation Ratweek has never been revealed. All government papers relating to it have been kept secret.

When the BBC went to interview Sir Hardy, he claimed to have no recollection of his role in the operation, which successfully killed scores of leading Nazi sympathisers.

Mr Darlow said: "When we went to see Hardy Amies, he said 'sorry, old chap, I can't remember a thing about it.'" He said Sir Hardy would have nothing to feel ashamed about. "Organising the assassination of Nazi collaborators across Europe was an act of patriotism. I admit, though, that it is hard to reconcile the Queen's dress designer with this."

Last night Sir Hardy again denied he was involved in the operation. He said: "I have never heard of it before. Certainly, I was in the SOE for the whole of the war and involved in seeing that men were parachuted behind enemy lines to help the partisans. But I knew nothing of Operation Ratweek. I am perturbed that the BBC are saying this because maybe my memory is at fault. But I don't think it is."

Mr Darlow responded last night by producing documents, including minutes of meetings of the SOE in 1944 which talked of the involvement of the then Lt-Col Amies, head of the Belgian Service. Mr Darlow said: "We've got a bunch of documents which show his involvement, and I have checked with his agent that the signature is that of Hardy Amies."

The programme will now contain no mention of Operation Ratweek, even though special access was given to BBC researchers by the Public Records Office, and a book is now being written by an Imperial War Museum historian revealing full details of the hitherto secret operation.

Mr Darlow said: "The secret documents we have seen show that dozens and dozens of people were killed in the operation. You can call it murder, or you can call it assassination. It was wartime and it was a justifiable thing in wartime. There's nothing dastardly about this. He was pursuing war as he should have been."

Sir Hardy was acting head of the Special Operations Executive for Belgium during much of the war, and became head of SOE Belgium in 1944.

The documentary, to be broadcast next month, will tell the story of the men and women who went behind enemy lines as part of Winston Churchill's secret army. The SOE, which had its headquarters in Baker Street in London, on the site now occupied by Marks & Spencer, was set up by Churchill on 19 July 1940, the same day Hitler told the Reichstag that Britain's defeat was at hand. The historian Ted Cookridge wrote: "A few strokes of a pen, and a body was created 'to co-ordinate all action by way of subversion and sabotage against the enemy overseas.' Or, as the Prime Minister put it, 'to set Europe ablaze.'"

The organisation was officially established under the Ministry of Economic Warfare, which became known in Whitehall as the "Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare". The SOE's main concern, according to the book Britain's Secret Propaganda War by Paul Lashmar and James Oliver,was its work with the resistance groups that sprang up across Europe and the Far East. In 1942 it was also responsible for the assassination of Himmler's deputy Reinhard Heydrich.

Hardy Amies' association with the SOE is in his Who's Who entry, as is his love of opera, tennis, gardening and needlepoint. Although he joined the Intelligence Corps in 1939, he was even then a man of fashion as the managing designer at Lachasse in London's West End. But he gained national fame in 1955 when he became Dressmaker by Appointment to HM The Queen.

The son of a court dressmaker, Hardy Amies founded his own fashion house in 1946 in Savile Row after buying the building at a knock-down price because of bomb damage. His business took off in the postwar years when customers, who had been deprived of new dresses for the preceding years, snapped up his elegant, traditional designs. He is said to be the master of the little dress that serves as a backdrop to his clients' jewellery. Although the style always reflected the English upper class, his designs were most popular with American, Canadian and Japanese buyers.

His clients have included Lady Diana Cooper, Sally Burton, Elaine Paige and members of the Rothschild family. Because of his inability to draw, he has always collaborated with artists, and he envisages the finished article "working for its living" - at a party or wedding, or coming down a staircase.

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