On 22 October, 1966, George Blake broke out of a British prison, only 5 years into his 42 year sentence.
Blake was a communist sympathizer, which was what led him to his service to the KGB against the British government. As a child, he had spent time in Egypt with his cousin, who would go on to become a leader within the Communist Democratic Movement for National Liberation.
Though he was 17 during WWII, Blake eventually volunteered as a courier for the Dutch Resistance. He would eventually make it to Britain, where he would begin his life as an English citizen. There, he was in the Royal Navy for a stint. In an interview with PBS, he stated that the Royal Navy approached him with an offer to a group “called Special Service. I can’t tell you what it is, and we don’t hear from those people anymore, but if we do hear from them, they usually have high decorations.” This was MI6, where he would later become a mole.
In 1950, The Korean war began and Blake was soon taken prisoner. Though learning Russian at Cambridge had apparently whet his appetite for Communistic ideas, it was in North Korea that his ideologies really changed:
“No, nothing acted on me as a catalyst. It was what I saw happening in North Korea. The relentless bombing of small Korean villages by enormous, em, American flying fortresses. People, women and children, and old people, because the young men were in the army. I saw this from my eyes, and we might have been victims ourselves. It made me feel ashamed. Made me feel ashamed of belonging to these overpowering, technical superior countries fighting against what seemed to me quite defenseless people.”
After this incident, he felt that “that’s what made me decide to–to change sides. I felt that it would be better for humanity if the Communist system prevailed, that it would put an end to war, to wars.” From there he approached the Russians and began spying on the British government.
Blake’s espionage could not be described as harmless. Six MI6 agents were reportedly thrown in prison for up to 17 years after he identified them to the Russians. There is a possibility that one such agent was taken back to Russia and executed, but many of them spend their imprisonment in East Germany–and these prisons were known for their mistreatment toward its occupants. Torture was not out of the question here. Blake turned all of these agents in to the KGB. He was also a key player in toppling British operations in many countries, obliterating their effectiveness and giving up the majority of British agents operating in Beirut, Damascus and Cairo.
A soviet defector would eventually give up Blake’s position as a spy against England, and while he expected to get sentenced to 14 years, they slammed him with 42.
He found himself in Wormwood Scrubbs prison, and on 22 October, 1966, he would escape. He was able to get out with the help of two anti-nuclear campaigners and Sean Bourke, who was serving seven years for attempting to kill a Detective Constable with an explosive device. None of them particularly liked the fact that he was a spy, but they thought his sentence too harsh, and simply liked him.
While the prison was holding a weekly film night after 6pm, Blake climbed out of a window and made his way to the prison’s outer wall. He tossed a rope ladder that he had made from scratch over the wall and climbed over. He took a hard landing and fractured his wrist on the other side, but he was not seen by any guards or other authorities.
What happened to Blake? Was a British agent able to hunt him down and throw him back in jail? Did the friends of those he betrayed find a way to get to him?
Real life doesn’t quite work that way. He escaped to Russia where he started a new life. He is 94 years old, living in Moscow under a KGB pension. While he claims to regret the fates of those he betrayed, he says that he does not feel like a traitor as he believes himself a life-long communist.
Featured image: AP Images