Mike Guilfoyle, vice-chair of the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries, cannot help looking for that local connection when he reads a book or watches a film. So when he watched the 2022 film Operation Mincemeat he had hunch there might be just such a link.
As readers will know I have an insatiable historical curiosity to find out if something I am reading or watching has a local link.
Such was the case when I finished watching the 2022 John Madden film, Operation Mincemeat, which includes the late actor Paul Ritter’s final role.
He plays the part of Sir Bentley Purchase, a physician and coroner who had a key role in the eponymous subterfuge mission at the heart of the film.
The remarkable plot behind the story of the Operation Mincemeat deception is that a dead body was left at sea in a strong current off the Spanish Andalusian port of Huelva, where it was known it would wash up on the coast.
The body (a man called Glyndwr Michael serving as Major William Martin RM) was supposedly that of a Royal Marine major, whose plane had crashed in Spanish waters.
On his person were a series of private documents and mementos that created a false identity for the major. And handcuffed to his arm was a briefcase containing fake letters to commanders in North Africa telling them about Allied plans to invade Greece, to disguise the 1943 Invasion of Sicily.
James Bond creator Ian Fleming was played a part in Operation Mincemeat as the assistant to Britain’s director of naval intelligence, Rear Adm. John Godfrey.
Operation Mincemeat is not the first time this remarkable story has been told. In 1956, Ronald Neame directed one of the finest of British 1950s war films, The Man Who Never Was. It starred Clifton Webb as Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu.
I looked again at Paul Ritter’s character in the film as I had an inkling that there might be a local connection.
As coroner, Bentley Purchase held approximately 20,000 inquests into deaths that, in his medico-legal judgement, deserved formal inquiry.
In cases where the cause of death was unknown or where inquiries were required to assist the police, he worked closely with specialists in forensic pathology such as Bernard Spilsbury and Keith Simpson.
Famous murder case inquiries by Bentley Purchase included those committed by John Christie (10 Rillington Place) and John Haigh (acid bath murderer).
He served as an official coroner within London from 1930 until 1958, before moving to Ipswich.
He died in 1961 in a fall from the roof of his home where he had attempted to repair his television antenna.
I noticed when delving further into familial ancestral links that Bentley Purchase was married to Lady Jane Norman Vogan d. 1948 and had recently when viewing on-line Brockley and Ladywell cemetery burial records pencilled down the name Vogan for further enquiry.
So the link was confirmed! Bentley Purchase grandfather was a corn merchant called Randal George Vogan d. 1892 who was married to Sophia Mary Vogan (nee Norman ) d.1871.
The couple are interred in Brockley cemetery in the consecrated section close to Brockley road.
For readers keen to know more of Operation Mincemeat, the most successful wartime deception ever attempted and certainly the most bizarre! Ben Macintrye’s 2010 book comes highly recommended.