Percy EdedGlading (pictured in a police photo in 1942) was born on 29th November 1893 and was trained as a mechanic. He married in 1916 and was employed at the Royal Navy's Woolwich Arsenal in south-east London as a grinder during the First World War, being laid off in 1918.
A founding member of the Communist Party in Britain, Percy Glading was the best man at Harry Pollitt’s wedding to Marjorie Brewer on October 10th 1925. Majorie was just 23 years old and a primary school teacher. Tom Mann was the other witness along with Glading.
In February 1925, Glading was sent on a four month mission to India, using a pseudonym and ostensible acting for the AEU, which then maintained membership throughout the British Empire. Seemingly, he was debriefed by RajaniPalmeDutt and his brother, Clemens. Glading’s trip resulted in little contact with Communists but a general view that Calcutta, which he visited last, was the best place to establish links with the domestic revolutionary movement.
Left: An undated piece in the Sunday Worker by Glading
At this time political vetting was not very rigorous and Glading was able to return to work at the Arsenal in June 1925, just a few weeks after he got back from India. Eventually, after a programme of cross checking names of those employed in sensitive positions with known Communists, he was dismissed from his job as a mechanic examiner in October 1928 after he refused to renounce the Party. The Admiralty took the view that "men of revolutionary beliefs are unsuitable for employment in the country's arsenals and dockyards", as the Times put it (24 October 1928).
Glading became an official of the League Against Imperialism, the Secretary of the British Section. This had been established the previous year during a Brussels conference arranged by WilliMünzenberg, a leading official of the German Communist Party. At this point, the League was part of the Comintern's `united front' approach and George Lansbury was its President.
Glading attended the LeninSchool in Moscow from October 1929 to April 1930 and was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party from 1927-29. He was briefly involved in printing and distributing the Soldier Voice but soon became involved in the Indian liberation movement again, publishing in February 1931 the pamphlet “India Under British Terror”, published by the Meerut Trade Union Defence Committee. In 1933, he wrote the Communist Party’s pamphlet, “The Meerut Conspiracy Case”. The following year, he returned to his engineering expertise to produce a critique and explanation of the Bedaux system, having been involved since his return in agitation in the AEU once again.
After 1936, Comintern secret activity was much subsumed by the Soviet intelligence service and Glading appears to have been recruited by them around 1937 about a year after quietly leaving the Party, probably allowing his membership to lapse. He kept his post with the League Against Imperialism until March 1937.
By this point he was mainly involved in the Friends of the Soviet Union. The British Secret Service had opened a file on him as early as 1922, suspected him of spying from 1927 onwards and knew that he had attended the LeninSchool. An MI5 agent, Olga Grey (born 1906), joined the FSU as a typist around 1925 and later was recruited for courier work, delivering funds to India. Gray’s father had been a night editor of the Daily Mail and she was the sister of a high ranking policeman. She kept up this secret work for a decade, though she suffered a nervous breakdown in the spring of 1935 and cut her ties with Communists. But Grey had gained and kept the confidence of Glading (some sources suggest she seduced him!).
In February 1937 Glading asked Grey to find a `safe-house’ (Actually an apartment at 62 Holland Road, Kensington) and this became a meeting place for Glading and Theodore Maly, a Soviet intelligence officer but only under security force surveillance. Glading had now arranged for sympathisers at Woolwich Arsenal, to take pictures of blueprints of new weapons being developed.
Glading had photographic equipment and a refectory table delivered to the Kensington flat. A `Rumanian’ couple began to visit with packages, ask Gray to go into the bedroom and photograph the items on the table. From the negatives, left unattended in the bathroom, Gray ascertained that they had obtained classified weaponry designs from the Woolwich army barracks and arsenal; the `Rumanians’ disappeared abroad days before arrests of the relatively minor figures involved occurred.
There has never been a satisfactory explanation as to exactly how secret the photographed work was. The political advantage of raising the tempo of the Soviet `menace’ the year before the outbreak of the Second World War does not seem to have figured in the many sources of the Woolwich `spy’ case that study it as `spycraft’. How the trap was set happened like this…
Back in 1928, another Communist at the Arsenal, George Whomack, had nearly been sacked but he was allowed to stay because he was prepared to renounce his association with the Communist Party. Now, through Olga Grey, Whomack (by now a LabourCouncillor in Bexley) was exposed as passing blueprints to Glading from inside the Arsenal.
With the `Rumanians’ gone and the Soviet intelligence office hardly likely to allow himself to be compromised, MI5 set up a trap. After being caught in possession of the secrets, on 14th May, 1938, Glading, Albert Williams and George Whomack were convicted under the Official Secrets Act and imprisoned. Olga Grey testified as “Miss X” and Glading got six years' penal servitude, the others four and two years.
A later echo of Glading’s activities arose from the fact that MI5 failed to spot cryptic clues to the identity of Melita Norwood (see separate entry) in his diary. She was consequently put out of action for a few months, resuming her activities once Glading had been imprisoned without revealing her identity. There was more than a sense of a honey trap in the case and this no doubt led to Pollitt’s tolerance of discreet relations with Glading after the dust had settled. Despite a public distancing between Glading and the Party, which followed the trial, Glading was still in close touch with Harry Pollitt in their later years; after all, he had been Harry’s best man at his wedding.
Percy EdedGlading died in Richmond upon Thames on 15th April 1970 and Gray later moved to Canada, made a good marriage, and was last heard of living outside Toronto in the 1980s, reportedly bitter at the £500 lump sum payment she had received from the MI5. This was the equivalent of maybe three years wages for a skilled worker at the time, with the purchasing power today of something like £75,000.
Percy Gibson Gibson was a Communist activist in Newcastle upon Tyne who, in 1925, was accused of an unlikely “plot to blow Newscastle Town Hall”, that was seemingly directly “inspired by Bolshevism”. Needless to say […]