The True Intrepid: Sir William Stephenson and the Unknown Agents (2001)

The True Intrepid (2001) is listed as a Reference-only book at the Toronto Public Library, but is nonetheless available on loan under the Call Number 940.54864 MACD.

This bit of confusion about what one is dealing with is characteristic of the story of William Stephenson, who played a key role, as I understand, in the intelligence operations that contributed in a significant and decisive way to the Allied victory in the Second World War.

It has been said that his role in the coordination of intelligence starting in the 1930s was a decisive element in outcome of the war.

Definition of “intrepid”

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, Second Edition, defines the word intrepid as fearless; very brave. It defines the word true as in accordance or consistent with fact or reality; genuine, authentic; rightly or strictly so called; not spurious or counterfeit.

In The True Intrepid (2001), the journalist Bill Macdonald provides an overview of what is known about Stephenson’s contribution to the coordination of intelligence operations during the war and the years before and after the conflict.

The book notes (p. 117) that only one major speech by Stephenson is on the public record, a May 31, 1954 presentation to the Periodical Press Association in Toronto.

In his speech, entitled “The First Line of Defence,” William Stephenson said that the first true line of defence is information. He notes that a key strength that Napoleon brought to warfare was the use of political intelligence, which included intelligence provided by agents on the enemy staff.

Fear of the unknown

He also spoke of the value of code breaking during the Second World War and of the fear of the unknown: “Fear of the unknown or of the incomprehensible doesn’t always produce a sense of panic in an individual, Stephenson said. Quite often it produces the opposite: apathy.”

Bill Macdonald refers to a draft of the conclusion of the speech, available in the files of William Stephenson, in which Williamson speaks of his love of his home country, in a way that “echoes the thoughts of two of his pre-war contemporaries, H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw.”

Obligations and responsibilities that are meant to accompany good fortune

In his draft, Williamson notes that his work has kept him outside of Canada for more years of his life than he has spent in Canada. He adds that this circumstance “has given me a sharpened appreciation of the good fortune one has of being Canadian and of what our country can mean to all of mankind. In her institutions of law and order with freedom, in the character of her people, in the great endowment with which providence has blessed her.”

In a troubled world, he added, Canadians have reason to be thankful, and have reason “to recognize the obligations and responsibilities which are meant to accompany good fortune.”

He adds:

“I have no patience with those who seem to look upon the scientific age of our 20th century as a kind of Greek tragedy, catching all mankind in an inexorable finale of doom and destruction.”

He concludes (p. 118):

“We Canadians have not the habit of speaking easily with each other about divine providence and the human soul, although I have heard in this respect one does not need to feel quite as diffident in the city of Toronto as in certain other communities. At any rate, putting diffidence aside, I beg to give you my belief that the most powerful force in the world remains what it has always been: the human soul attached by faith to its creator.

“I have faith in providence. I believe with Churchill that ‘the destiny of mankind is not settled by material computation.’ I also believe that faith must be practical. That to receive the help of providence man must so conduct and exert himself as to deserve and earn that help.”


Anthropological and sociological and geographical perspectives related to faith and belief systems are of interest and of value. That is a thought that occurs to me when I think about Stephenson’s 1954 speech in Toronto.

It may be added that sociology, anthropology, and geography each offers a particular belief system or way of seeing the world. They have value, particularly in an academic context. They make for interesting conversations. These fields have a value in providing employment for academics, and in the conduct of research which helps us to better understand our world.

They also are bounded by assumptions about the nature of reality. What is beyond the boundaries is also of interest, and warrants study. Such study involves realms of understanding that have a relation to intellectual understanding, but which involves forms of attunement, subject to peer review, which do not depend upon the intellect.

The clearest discussion that I have encountered to date regarding such forms of study is one that I’ve encountered in Spangler (2011). I became interested in finding out more about William Stephenson when I learned, in the latter book, that David Spangler’s colleague Dorothy Maclean worked with William Stephenson during the Second World War.

Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond

The above-noted book includes highlights regarding William Stephenson’s role as a key intelligence coordinator during the Second World War.


A Dec. 13, 2013 CBC article refers to a report in “the light-hearted Christmas edition of the medical journal BMJ.” The CBC article is entitled: “Did James Bond have alcoholic tremor?: The subhead reads: “Drinking in Ian Fleming’s novels put spy at high risk for alcohol-related diseases.”

An Oct. 28, 2014 CBC article is entitled: “Eric Roberts, MI-5 spy, lived quiet life on Salt Spring Island, B.C.: Declassified documents reveal amateur historian was key agent in WWII.”

A Dec. 31, 2014 CBC podcast is entitled: “Anne V. Hereford’s secret code-breaking work at Bletchley Park in WWII.”

James Bond is referenced in a Dec. 31, 2014 Atlantic article entitled: “What U.S. Intelligence Predicted the World Would Look Like in 2015: Shortly before 9/11, officials foresaw a fundamental shift in the nature of power.”

A Nov. 20, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: “WWII Hero Credits Luck and Chance in Foiling Hitler’s Nuclear Ambitions.”

An Aug. 24, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Mortar found near Second World War spy school in Oshawa: Man with metal detector found it in Intrepid Park, former site of Camp X.”


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