ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Education and Science»
  • History & Archaeology»
  • History of the Modern Era»
  • Twentieth Century History

World War II, Allied Counter Espionage in Chile. We Participate as a Family

Updated on March 23, 2013

The Beautiful Copihue, Chile's National Flower

This is the Copihue, in all its glory! It always looks so beautiful in amongst the trees of the natural forests in central and southern Chile
This is the Copihue, in all its glory! It always looks so beautiful in amongst the trees of the natural forests in central and southern Chile | Source

World War 2 counter espionage continues to its conclusion

In my previous article, of which this is a second part, I described how my father, Edward “Ted” Robertson resigned from his job in the north of Chile near Chuquicamata in the Atacama Desert and started to work in counter espionage at the British Embassy in Santiago. This was in 1942, when World War II was at a very bitter stage for Britain and for British civilians.

I also explained that one of the important aspects that led to his contract with the Embassy was Dad’s physical appearance, with dark eyes and hair, and a very prominent Eastern Mediterranean type NOSE. All in all, a very non-British profile!

In this article I will refer to some specific aspects of his work that involved the members of his small family at different levels.

Santa Lucia Hill, Santiago

Another view of the Santa Lucia Hill at Santiago
Another view of the Santa Lucia Hill at Santiago | Source

Sailing, Dad's favorite activity

The freedom of the seas! A beautiful activity
The freedom of the seas! A beautiful activity | Source

Yacht or Ketch?

Old style wooden ketch, similar to the Virginia
Old style wooden ketch, similar to the Virginia | Source

A highlight in my father's "diplomatic" career

At some time during my father’s war-time activities in Santiago, as a family we became the proud owners of a private yacht, the Virginia, normally stationed at Puerto Montt, just north of the section of the Chilean coast that is so dramatically broken up into islands, fjords and channels.

The truth of the matter was that the Virginia was stationed in the south of Chile on official duties, and the captain was a Royal Navy man assigned to Special Services. In other words, our beautiful yacht was a spy ship! I visited her on one occasion, and she was really beautiful, even to my innocent five-year-old eyes!

When I was much older, my Dad explained to me that the Virginia was kept busy tracking and reporting on the Axis deposits that were secreted in amongst all those islands, fjords and channels. I have described much of these characteristics of the Chilean coast in my article on the flight of the SMS Dresden during WW1.

These deposits were mainly for the use of the German U-boats, and consisted of spare parts for repairs, fresh water and fuel, as well as radio equipment. The deposits were in outright violation of Chilean neutrality, but then I suppose the activities of the Virginia in tracking these deposits were also in violation!

Well, when a family owns a private yacht, the members of the family would be expected to actually visit it, especially as my Dad was known as a person with sailing experience who loved to fish. So Dad went off south on periodic visits, accompanied occasionally by my mother who helped by acting as a smoke screen. And on one memorable occasion, I was included in the visit, so I also played my part in helping to spy! After all these years, I still find it rather unbelievable.

Railway Museum at Temuco

Temuco was an important railway junction, this Museum is a tribute to that role
Temuco was an important railway junction, this Museum is a tribute to that role | Source

Temuco Train Station

After all these years, the station has not changed at all!
After all these years, the station has not changed at all! | Source

Memories of my train trip to Puerto Montt as part of the "smoke screen"

We travelled by train, my mother and I, as my father was already in Puerto Montt waiting for us. A very long train trip for a five year old, because as you know, Chile is a very long country. The distance from Santiago to Puerto Montt is approximately 913 kms. (about 567 miles).

I don’t remember leaving Santiago at all, but I do remember we broke the trip at Temuco. In those years, the steam engines were changed at Temuco and the passengers could either stay on the train for a very long wait, or stay the night in the Station Hotel and embark again next day for the last leg of the journey. Very wisely, my mother chose to stay the night in the hotel. The arrangement was really clever; the passengers stepped down from the train, walked a few paces, and entered the hotel through the back door directly from the platform. The luggage was taken care of with solicitude; the bedrooms were quite luxurious, with enormous bathrooms complete with huge claw-feet bathtubs. The down side was getting up the next morning, as embarkation was at 5.30am, and departure was at 6.00am.

In my childhood memories, that is registered as “the time we got up in the middle of the night” (!)

The train station was rather cave-like, which did not help. I've actually found a photo of it, but I don’t think the hotel exists any more. What Temuco does have, is a train museum, named Pablo Neruda Museum after the Chilean Nobel Prize winning poet, whose father was a railway man and who grew up in Temuco.

We finally arrived in Puerto Montt. I have no memories of where we stayed, but I do remember visiting the Virginia.

I can recall the captain, very smart in whites, with a nautical cap, surrounded by a lot of gleaming brass and beautiful varnished wood. The captain was tall and fair skinned, but I don’t recall much more. He owned two wire-haired terriers, the most adorable animals; they wore sailor hats and saluted to order. I got a special salute because I was the “owner’s daughter”.

I don’t remember what else we did in Puerto Montt, and I can’t remember the trip back. I probably slept all the way after all that excitement.

After the war, the Virginia was sold to a private diving company, and ended up in the port of Talcahuano many years later, looking rather the worse for wear. After that we lost track of her completely, and she only lives on in my memories.

Modern day Puerto Montt.

The modern day port is full of activity, but it used to be rather sleepy when I knew it
The modern day port is full of activity, but it used to be rather sleepy when I knew it | Source

The Monument to the German Immigrants of the South of Chile

This Monument is relatively new, and it recognizes the contributions of the German immigrants in this area of Chile
This Monument is relatively new, and it recognizes the contributions of the German immigrants in this area of Chile | Source

An anchorage for medium sized boats, near Puerto Montt

This is where we boarded the Virginia, all those years ago!
This is where we boarded the Virginia, all those years ago! | Source

The complexity of the Chilean coast south of Puerto Montt

One of the characteristics of Chile’s long coast line is the incredibly broken up profile of the coast in the extreme south, where there are multiple islands, fjords and channels that make navigation very difficult.

These features were successfully used to enable the escape of the SMS Dresden during World War I, as I have already described in my previous article on the capture of the SMS Dresden.

The area is beautiful, dangerous and ideally suited to contraband and illegal activities. It is also difficult to patrol, as the Chilean navy knows to its cost.

The presence of an innocent looking medium sized pleasure yacht would be the best method for surveillance, as it would not attract unnecessary attention. This was the important role carried out by the Virginia, with my Dad’s participation. I should imagine this was one of his more pleasant duties, considering Dad’s love for the sea!

Many of Dad’s activities were not so pleasant, however.

Ketch or Yacht?

Wooden ketch, similar in style to the Virginia.
Wooden ketch, similar in style to the Virginia. | Source

Puerto Montt and Chiloe

The Taitao peninsula, south of Chiloe

South of the Taitao Peninsula, Chile

Some dangerous counter espionage work

Part of Dad’s duties were related to contacting the so called “information merchants” These were traders who bought and sold information, moving through the southern Latin American countries. Many of them were of Arabic or Turkish nationalities, expatriates who felt no personal allegiance to any country and whose interests were first and foremost centered on putting money in their pockets.

These dealers sold information to all sides with impartiality. They also liked to stage meetings in low life bars in rough parts of the town, so here was where my father’s features, including THE NOSE, became so important. Can you imagine a blond, blue-eyed Anglo-Saxon walking into one of those dives? He would have stuck out like a red-blooded male in a seraglio.

The work was dangerous, especially as these merchants were also used to plant misinformation, but my father’s features provided some protection, along with his trusty gun. Still, my mother spent many sleepless nights waiting for him to come home. She was always grateful that her man was with her in Chile, but it was still an anxious time for her, especially as the Embassy would not publicly recognize these activities. If my Dad came to harm, he would have to extricate himself from the situation all on his own.

Santiago at night

A night view of present day Santiago
A night view of present day Santiago | Source

Final thoughts

World War II finally came to an end, and Dad opted out of the service, left Santiago and worked at making another future for us in Concepción.

For a few years after, there would still be occasions in which a new arrival after introduction would suddenly say “I believe you worked in the Pigeon Loft, didn't you?” and the atmosphere would become tense, as Dad had signed the Official Secrets Act which continued to be valid for him after he left the Embassy’s employ.

All in all, on the whole we suffered no negative effects from this experience, to the point that while we were living for a couple of years in Osorno, a city that had been a Nazi hotbed, I was actually able to attend the German School in that town, from 1951 to 1952, and a very happy experience it was!

Some of our adventures in Osorno could be the basis of a future article, but with no relation to WW2.

In the meantime, I have one more article up my sleeve that relates to happenings in WW2, so stick around and enjoy!

© 2012 joanveronica (Joan Robertson)

The majesty of the Andes mountains, near Santiago

The majesty of the Andes mountains near Santiago. Part of the longest mountain range in the world
The majesty of the Andes mountains near Santiago. Part of the longest mountain range in the world | Source

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 3 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Oh vocalcoach what a wonderful comment you left for me to read! This makes all the effort so worthwhile. Thanks so much!

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 3 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      Just like a good history book that is hard to put down, this hub is intriguing. I envy you for your life and experiences. Wonderful of you to share this with us. All images help to tie the story together. Tweeted and sharing.

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi there Audrey! Your comment is very explicit! But I agree with you, it was a fascinating experience and I so enjoyed writing it! Thanks for the visit and the comment. Have a good day!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 4 years ago from California

      Fascinating !!

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi midget! So happy for your visit and comment! I think my family always managed to do exciting things, I don't really remember dull periods in my long life, there was always something heppening! Thanks again and have a good day!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Fascinating, Joan! Intriguing, yet dangerous. Your father's life must have been so exciting! Thanks for sharing this historical, detailed and suspenseful account with us!

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi there Pavlo, so happy to have you visit again! And I'm glad you are a fan of my crazy adventures! Have a good day!

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Just read it again. Still love it :))

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Jools and Daisy! Many thanks for the visit and the share! This particular Hub is very special to me as it describes one of the most famous adventures we had as a family. I'm the only one left now! Time does go by! Have a nice day!

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image

      Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      Joan,

      I've really enjoyed your series of articles. Several years ago, I visited Santiago and the Atacama Desert, among other places in Chile. I love reading Hubs about places I've visited. It adds to my understanding of where I've traveled.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      Came back for another read, shared again Joan :o)

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi jc, I'm so glad you caught up on the second of the counter-espionage Hubs! And I'm even happier that you liked it! Thank you so much for your visit and your uplifting comment, they are very valuable to me. My adventure as a writer has been long overdue, now at last I'm getting down to it, better late than never! Thank you again, and have a good day!

    • jcressler profile image

      James E Cressler 4 years ago from Orlando, Florida

      Joan, thanks for sharing such an interesting first hand story...these are the kinds of things movies are made from! I love your writing style!

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi, glad to have you visit my article! And very happy that you liked it! These war stories form a sort of chain, and each of them is linked back to the previous one, so you can have a nice , long and varied read! On my part, I am trying to learn about digital art, so that makes us about even. I'm glad to have met you too! Have a good day!

    • theraggededge profile image

      Bev 5 years ago from Wales

      I am so pleased to have discovered you, Joan. This is the first of your hubs that I've read... but it certainly won't be the last. Fascinating stories!

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Claudio, I'm so glad you like these stories, I have fun writing them! Thank you for the visit and the comment. All the best to you and Francisca! I hope to hear from you soon!

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Jael, how nice to have you read my article, and I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Your comments are motivating and give me energy to do more! Thank you and the best of luck to you!

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi, Susana, you may be right, but I don't feel that old!

    • profile image

      Susana 5 years ago

      How exciting! You have lived like 10 lives!

    • profile image

      Claudio Muller 5 years ago

      Hi Joan, excellent work. I enjoy reading your fascinating stories.

    • profile image

      Jael Cabrera Saavedra 5 years ago

      Once again .... a Magnificent job Joan!!!!!

      you have lived a fascinating and cultural life .... thanks for sharing it and teach ...as always...

      best regards

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Jools, thanks for the comment and the visit! Yes, I agree, it is amazing, at times I still can't quite believe it!

      About the German School, no smirking, that was not on at the time, I was still quite young, all of 12 years old, I think! My extraordinary family allowed me to choose schools, as there was no British school available, and the German School won hands down, because it had a swimming pool! I did not connect things up until much later on.

      I had a really good time there, and still have some contacts with my many friends of that time, which is even more extraordinary. I will probably write about it at some time.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 5 years ago from North-East UK

      Joan, fascinating story - amazing to think that your family were involved in this and thank the lord that everything was done so well so that no danger ensued. Amazing too that some remembered your father's part but he was never able to acknowledge it too. In the German school - did you never want to smirk.....knowingly.

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Gypsy, I loved your comment, you said so much in so few words!

      Thanks for the vote and the share, this has made my day, and it's only 6.45am! I hope to see you again! Have a good day!

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Pavlo, I'm so glad you find my stories interesting! I know I enjoy telling them, and leaving some sort of a record, these events will all fade away in a few years' time. Nobody will know or care much about them. I have even had difficulty in contacting persons from the British Embassy, they are now in a new location, and the present staff knows NOTHING about the old facilities.

      Life was interesting back then, and it still is, there is a lot going on. Thanks for the visit and the comment. Have a good day!

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 5 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Voted up and awesome. Thanks for sharing this was a fascinating and interesting read. Great pics. Hats off to your dad what a great man. Looking forward to reading more. Passing this on.

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi ribertoo, I enjoy your comments so much! It's nice to be in contact with a person who is as enthusiastic about Chile as you are! Yes, Pablo Neruda grew up in Temuco, actually he wrote his first poems while still living there, the "Veinte canciones.." You are so lucky to have visited his home in Valpo, I only know it through the Internet.

      Puerto Montt is in a beautiful location, isn't it? I used to go there with my Dad to buy fresh oysters by the sack! After the War, of course!

      Thanks for the visit and the comment, have a good day!

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Each your hub tells me things which I did not know. It is amazing that you happened to be almost in a centre of events which could influence the WW2 history. Voted up.

    • rlbert00 profile image

      rlbert00 5 years ago from USA

      Another excellent installment Joan! I absolutely love reading about Chile, and your family's experiences during WWII are truly remarkable. On one of my trips to Chile I did make it to Puerto Montt and enjoyed every minute of it, unfortunately I do not know how I missed Temuco but I did. Also I was surprised to find out that the train museum was named after Pablo Neruda, on my trip to Valparaiso we made sure to stop by his home there that is now a museum.

      Wonderful! I absolutely love reading these, they have rekindled my desire to return to Chile very soon. Nicely done.

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi UH, I'm really glad you have been able to appreciate some features of Chile through my hubs. This is a very interesting country, the problem is that it is so far away! Chileans are supposed to be the "Britishers of Latin America", and it is really quite a progressive nation. And I agree about the adventures, it has been an interesting life! Thank you for your visit and comment, both are always very welcome!

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Joan, your series of hubs have completely altered my perception of Chile. My original perception was, in a nutshell: complete and utter ignorance. I would have sworn most of those images were from Europe. What an adventure you had, even as a 5-year-old. Voted up and awesome.

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi billybuc, it's always a pleasure to read your comments, this one made me laugh out loud! I guess any of us who live to be a senior person, can probably relate to historic events, it just so happens that my memories are rather out of the ordinary and that I love to tell others about them. And I sincerely do hope there are more adventures waiting round the corner, I'm not about to give up yet! I hope to have lots of productive writing years yet, with appreciative readers like you to read my efforts! Have a good day!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Why do I need history books when I have you to inform me? Great job as always, Joan! What a fascinating life you have lived...and who knows what adventures await you from here! Loved this as always!