By Gilly Carr
Edward (or ‘Eddie’) Arnold Chapman was born in Berwick upon Tweed in England on 16 November 1914. He grew up during the Great Depression. He left school aged 14 in a bid to help the family financially. He tried a variety of jobs and a period of unemployment before going to London aged 17 and joining the Coldstream Guards, where his duties included guarding the Tower of London.
After meeting a young woman in Soho, London, while on leave, he didn’t return to his barracks. Instead he went to wild parties and overstayed his leave by two months. He was subsequently court martialled and sentenced to three months in a military prison in Aldershot, after which he was discharged, in June 1933, from the army.
After he was released, he stayed in London and started mixing with criminals and getting involved in a life of crime. During this period he served 9 months in prison in Lewes (although other sources suggest two months in Wormwood Scrubs) and met other criminals, including a man, ‘Freddie’, with whom he went into partnership on their release. Freddie was a safe-breaker and taught Chapman the necessary skills involved. Living on the proceeds of crime, Chapman began to lead a life of ease which revolved around night-clubs, jazz-clubs, women, money, and more safe-blowing.
On a ‘job’ in Edinburgh, Chapman’s gang was caught and put in jail. Chapman’s lawyer got him out on bail, during which time he carried out another job to get the money to bail the rest of his gang. They fled south, carrying out more jobs on the way, and then decided to lie low in Jersey with the longer-term aim of going to France and then Costa Rica.
It was now March 1939, and the exploits of Chapman’s gang were in the national newspapers. They soon featured in the Jersey newspaper after the gang were cornered by detectives, but again they escaped arrest. Deciding to then blow a safe in Jersey, Chapman was eventually caught and given a two year sentence on 11 March 1939, the maximum sentence which could be served in Jersey at the time. He was not extradited to the UK because he had, on this occasion, committed a crime against Jersey law and therefore had to be tried in Jersey.
While Chapman was in Jersey Prison, he briefly escaped on 6 July 1939 before being caught. On 6 September 1939 another year was added to his sentence. This started with three months’ solitary confinement, against which Chapman rebelled by trying to escape again. For this he was given another three months solitary confinement, against which he rebelled a second time by apparently going on hunger strike.
Chapman was still in prison when the Germans occupied the Island. He was released in October 1941 and immediately joined a black market gang, some members of which he had met in Jersey Prison. At the same time, he went to see the German occupying authorities and offered his services to the German secret service, telling them about his past in the criminal underworld. Just over a year later, Chapman made a statement which claimed that Anthony Faramus, whose story also features on this website, had also made this offer to the Germans. Nothing came of this for a while, and he worked with the gang who operated out of the back of a hairdressing salon in St Helier where Faramus worked.
One day the Jersey police came into the salon and arrested Chapman and Faramus. They were handcuffed together, handed over to the Germans, and put on a boat to Granville. According to both Chapman and Faramus’ occupation registration card, this took place on 28 January 1942. However, according to Chapman’s statement of December 1942, the deportation took place in November 1941. They were taken first to Saint-Denis Internment Camp, and then to Fort de Romainville Prison. The other prisoners apparently treated them very well on finding out they were British.
On 26 April 1942, after several visits from Germans, Chapman was released from Romainville to join the German secret service, the Abwehr, leaving Faramus behind. The Germans told Chapman that they were not interested in his colleague. Chapman was taken to Le Bourget in France and trained in spying. He was given the alias of ‘Fritz’. During this period he worked with a group of other Germans. He was given very large sums of money, good food and unlimited alcohol from the Black Market, and accommodation in a chateau.
It seems that Chapman was seduced by the lifestyle, money, freedom and adventure rather than Nazi ideology. After a long familiarity with prison life, the luxury lifestyle and adventure of a German spy was far preferable in his eyes. Our evidence for such a statement is this: Chapman’s first mission was to be parachuted into Britain to sabotage the De Havilland aircraft factory in Hatfield, for which he was to be paid 100,000 Reichmarks (£15,000 at that time). As soon as he arrived, on 16 December 1942, he handed himself over to the local police and asked to be put in contact with British Intelligence (corroborated by M15 documents). Although neither the Germans nor Chapman knew it at the time, M15 were expecting his arrival in the UK as they had cracked the German secret codes.
Chapman offered to become a double agent in exchange for all pre-war charges against him to be dropped. This was accepted. The intelligence officer who interrogated him concluded that ‘In our opinion, Chapman should be used to the fullest extent … he genuinely means to work for the British against the Germans. By his courage and resourcefulness he is ideally fitted to be an agent.’ Eddie Chapman thus became Agent Zigzag.
Working with M15, the sabotage of the factory was faked on 29/30 January 1943 in such a manner as to fool those studying aerial photographs taken by German planes. However, Chapman had to return to France within two-and-a-half months in order to keep the agreement with the Germans and to avoid looking suspicious.
Chapman returned via Lisbon in neutral Portugal, sailing on a merchant marine ship from Liverpool and working as a steward. He was sent to Germany and travelled on to an Abwehr safe house in German-occupied Norway. He was awarded Germany’s highest honour, the Iron Cross, in recognition of his work for the Abwehr, and remains the only British citizen ever to have been awarded this medal. He was also rewarded with his own yacht, money, and a job training agents in Oslo.
Chapman returned to Britain in June 1944 to report on the accuracy of the V1 and V2 rockets. He transmitted false wireless messages to the Germans, telling them that the bombs were hitting their targets when in fact they were undershooting. He also gave the Germans fake targets to aim at, which were apparently only empty fields.
But an MI5 agent warned that Chapman was becoming discontented, mixing with his old criminal friends and being indiscreet about the source of his income. M15 eventually dismissed him in November 1944, giving him a £6,000 pay-off. He was allowed him to keep £1,000 of his German reward, and his outstanding criminal convictions were quashed.
After the war, Chapman continued to mix with his old friends and got into trouble once again. He never went straight but he never returned to prison. More than once he apparently had a character reference from M15 who confirmed his contribution to the war effort.
Chapman married Betty Farmer, his old pre-war girlfriend, with whom he eventually had a daughter, Suzanne, in 1954. When she married, Baron Stefan von Grunen, Chapman’s old German Abwehr boss, attended the wedding.
Burning through his wartime money quickly, Chapman wrote his wartime memoirs to earn more money: The Eddie Chapman Story (1953), Free Agent: The Further Adventures of Eddie Chapman (1955) and The Real Eddie Chapman Story (1966). MI5’s files on Chapman were released to The National Archives in 2001 following his death in St Albans in 1997 aged 83.
Eddie Chapman, registration card, Jersey Archives ref. D/S/A/4/A2374.
Eddie Chapman, registration form, Jersey Archives ref. D/S/A/4/B2374.
Prison papers of Edward Chapman in Jersey, Jersey Archives ref. D/AG/B11/1.
M15 Documents relating to Eddie Chapman, The National Archives refs. KV 2/455 to KV2/463.
Manifesto received from Chapman and memo recommending him to be used as an M15 agent, 18 Dec 1942. The National Archives refs. KV 2/455 to KV 2/463.
Report of visit by Eddie Chapman and M15 officers to the De Havilland factory, 30 December 1942. The National Archives refs. KV 2/455 to KV 2/463.
Statement by Eddie Chapman 16 Dec 1942. The National Archives refs. KV 2/455 to KV 2/463.
Edward Chapman obituary, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/obituary-eddie-chapman-1137095.html
Eddie Chapman: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Chapman
MI5 records on Eddie Chapman: https://www.mi5.gov.uk/eddie-chapman
BBC Timewatch – The Eddie Chapman story Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_c5-ouZqQY
Agent Zigzag: The Eddie Chapman Story Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmoTbW4RzDk
Agent Zigzag: The Eddie Chapman Story Part 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w25mXJ5nUWc
Agent Zigzag: The Eddie Chapman Story Part 4: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tWMA5SjhzI