Britain was deep in the throes of war in November 1943 when Oswald John Job stepped off a flying boat at Poole Harbour, visibly elated at finally making it home safely from Nazi-controlled Europe.
The 58-year-old told a dramatic story – how he’d been locked up for three years in an enemy internment camp in Paris, but fooled German officers and escaped, then fled over the Spanish border on foot during the night.
Weeks later, he reached Portugal’s capital Lisbon, where he managed to get on the treacherous flight through war-torn skies back to Blighty.
After such a daring escape, Job might have been celebrated as one of World War II’s heroes.
Instead, just four months later, the Londoner would be hanged as a traitor, his body buried in an unmarked grave at Pentonville jail.
Intelligence officers who had listened in to coded German messages knew all about his secret mission – to send back information on public morale and bombing damage by posting letters in code written in invisible ink.
And when immigration agents found a diamond-encrusted ring and a jewelled tie pin in Job’s waistcoat pocket – items MI5 had intelligence that a Nazi spy would be bringing into the country – his fate was sealed.
Yet unlike other infamous turncoats like John Amery and ‘Lord Haw Haw’ William Joyce, the case of Oswald John Job would be almost entirely forgotten.
Now his story is revealed in a new book, Britain’s Forgotten Traitor, after author Ed Perkins spent three years digging deep into Job’s complicated life.
Ed began his research after seeing Job’s name in a list of enemy agents in the Imperial War Museum.
By the time he’d finished he was “pretty sure” Job never intended to betray his country, and that his execution was a miscarriage of justice.
He says: “Job was a fairly ordinary man, who got caught up in something extraordinary.
“Because he was nobody special, after his execution the world moved on quickly and he was forgotten.
“There seemed to be a weight of evidence against him. He admitted he’d agreed to spy for the Germans.
“They’d found invisible ink hidden in his keys and razor, as well as the ring and tiepin.
“But evidence I found suggested the opposite. He was an unscrupulous scoundrel; a greedy, unloveable, selfish man loyal to no-one – but not a spy.
“Rather than send the diamond ring to another German spy as instructed, he thought he could tell a cock and bull story about escaping France, sell the jewellery and lie low until the war ended.
“When he got off that flying boat he thought he’d got away with it.”
Job was born in London’s East End in 1885, to German immigrants. The eldest of five children – two died before they were three – Job grew up in the dockside London slum district, Ratcliff.
Aged 21, he married Alice Holland, a domestic servant, in 1906, when she was pregnant. But Job was often away from home, and just two months after his daughter Ethel, was born, he was in jail in Germany, where he had become involved with a gang of jewel thieves.
Nine months later, he arrived back home, but within a year he had walked out on Alice and Ethel, moving to Paris.
They would never hear from him again.
Job survived the First World War, opened a shop-fitting business in Paris then in 1923 married a French girl, Marcelle – without telling her he was married back in England.
They took over her family’s business making prosthetic limbs.
Nine years later Marcelle got tuberculosis, and moved to the French countryside while he stayed in Paris to run the firm.
When Britain and France declared war on Hitler in 1939, Job’s life changed forever.
After the Nazis marched into Paris in June the next year Job, like other Britons in the city, was sent to an internment camp, where he spent three years.
As he was fluent in German, French and English, he was given special duties, such as camp receptionist and interpreter.
Ed said Job offered to spy in exchange for his freedom on arriving at Fresnes Prison but believes he was only recruited in April 1943 when infamous British traitor John Amery visited the St Denis internment camp, where Job had been moved to.
Amery, son of cabinet minister Leo Amery, defected to Germany and made Nazi broadcasts to Britain. He was also executed for treason.
Ed says: “Amery tried to recruit internees to fight in a German unit made up of British soldiers.
“It appears Job stepped forward secretly, offering to do something on behalf of the Germans in exchange for freedom.”
Job was freed from jail and over the following weeks made 20 visits to a spy training camp in Paris where he learned the secret code, and how to write with invisible ink.
He was then given his mission – to deliver the ring and tie pin to “Dragonfly”, a spy living in London, then report on morale in London and bomb damage by sending letters to addresses in France, to be intercepted by the German secret service.
Job made his way to Lisbon, telling the British embassy he was a refugee who fled Nazi-occupied France.
A month later, Job flew home, but British intelligence was one step ahead. Ed says: “Dragonfly was a double agent working for the British. He had been passing all the messages to MI5.
“They knew a spy would be arriving in England carrying a diamond ring.”
Britain was waging a secret war on German spies, with an MI5 unit at Wormwood Scrubs prison identifying around 120 operating here.
Giving them the choice between working for the British or execution, they successfully turned many into double agents.
MI5 tailed Job for three weeks before he was arrested and sent to the high-security Camp 001, a prison in Chelsea, west London, for foreign spies.
Under interrogation, he repeated his story of escaping Nazi Europe, but on the second day changed his story, admitting he had agreed to do a job for the German secret service but insisting he never intended to carry it out.
Asked about the ring, Job made the fatal mistake of denying he had been given it by the Germans – probably as a ploy to keep it.
When his interrogator then held up a card with the exact name and address he had been told to send it to, he knew the game was up.
Job was charged with conspiring with the German secret service and entering the UK for the purpose of espionage, and tried at the Old Bailey in January 1944.
The jury took just 21 minutes to deliver their unanimous guilty verdict.
At 9am on March 16, 1944 Job was executed in Pentonville Prison at the hands of Albert Pierrepoint, the most experienced hangman of his time.
He was one of six British traitors executed for colluding with the Nazis.
But Ed believes there are many reasons to believe Job was innocent and that his execution was a miscarriage of justice.
He says: “In my view he hadn’t intended to spy. He was a convicted jewellery thief, who had this diamond ring, worth £10,000 in today’s money, burning in his pocket.
“He just thought, ‘the Germans are losing the war anyway, I can just hang on to this’.
“In Lisbon he waited a month before coming to England, and didn’t tell the Germans when he was travelling.
“The commandant of the spy prison said he thought Job intended to sell the jewellery and lie low.
“The head of counterintelligence at MI5, Guy Liddell, wrote in his diary: ‘My belief is he intends to pocket the jewellery and say nothing’.
“But all that got forgotten by the time he went to court. And possibly because of poor legal advice, he didn’t mention at his trial that he just wanted to keep the ring, instead saying he had intended to post it to a police station.
“If he’d said he was just a thief and a former jewellery crook they may have believed him.” Not even Job’s family knew about the mess he was in.
Brother William found out he was to be executed the day before and died two years later “of a broken heart”.
Ed traced the only living people who remembered Job, two of Marcelle’s nieces, who also had no idea he had been sent to his death as a traitor.
Ed says: “They said they remembered him being kind and friendly. Just an ordinary guy.”
Turncoats who were executed for wartime treachery
George Johnson Armstrong He was convicted for contacting the German Consul in Boston to offer him assistance before the US entered the Second World War.
Hanged in 1941 aged 39.
John Amery A British anti-communist who made recruitment attempts and propaganda broadcasts for Nazi Germany.
His father was in the cabinet. Hanged for treason in 1945 aged 33.
William Joyce A fascist and Nazi propaganda broadcaster to the UK during the Second World War, known as Lord Haw Haw because of his nasal drawl.
He was caught by British forces and executed in 1946 aged 39.
Theodore Schurch British soldier who began working for German and Italian intelligence after he was captured by Axis forces in North Africa.
Hanged for treachery in 1946 aged 27.