Eric Holt-Wilson

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Person.png Eric Holt-Wilson   SpartacusRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(soldier, spook)
Eric Holt-Wilson.jpg
Born26 August 1875
Died26 March 1950 (Age 74)
Alma materHarrow School, Woolwich Royal Military Academy
Draft The Defence of the Realm Act in 1914, later head of MI5

Brigadier Sir Eric Edward Boketon Holt-Wilson was a British Army officer who left the army to join the nascent British Security Service (MI5), which developed in time to deal with espionage during World War I. He became the Service's deputy to Sir Vernon Kell, serving through to the beginning of World War II.

Family life

Born in Norwich, Norfolk, in 1875, Holt-Wilson was the son of Reverend Thomas Holt-Wilson and his wife Helen Emily Greene, daughter of Edward Greene.[1] He was educated at Harrow School from 1887 to 1892.[2]

He was married twice, firstly to Susannah Mary Shaw in 1903 and secondly Audrey Stirling in 1931.[3]

Military service

Holt-Wilson took a commission in the Royal Engineers and then attended the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich (1893-95). On being commissioned after his time at Woolwich he joined 7 Field Regiment, Royal Engineers and was posted to South Africa 1899-1902. On returning from overseas service he became an instructor at the School of Military Engineering, 1903-1906. This was followed by a tour of duty as Cadet Company Commander and Instructor in Military Engineering back at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, 1909-1912;[4] this was his last military posting before joining the Imperial Security Intelligence Service.[5]

His war service in South Africa was excellent and he was mentioned in despatches twice in 8 February and 10 September 1901. He received the Queen's South Africa Medal with five clasps and the King's South Africa Medal with two clasps;[6] and was created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) on 27 September 1901: "In recognition of services during the operations in South Africa."[7]

Intelligence service

Rising public fears in Great Britain of German espionage precipitated the creation of a new government intelligence agency formed by Vernon Kell in 1909.[8] In 1912 Holt-Wilson went to work for Vernon Kell, then the Director of what was termed the Home Section of the Secret Service Bureau with responsibility for investigating espionage, sabotage and subversion in Britain.[9]

On the outbreak of the First World War Holt-Wilson joined forces with Vernon Kell and Basil Thomson to draft The Defence of the Realm Act (DORA). This was an attempt "to prevent persons communicating with the enemy or obtaining information for that purpose or any purpose calculated to jeopardise the success of the operations of His Majesty's Forces or to assist the enemy." This legislation gave the government executive powers to suppress published criticism, imprison without trial and to commandeer economic resources for the war effort.

Holt-Wilson served on the Imperial General Staff from 1914 to 1924.[10] He remained a loyal and dedicated deputy to Kell and was sacked along with his director by Winston Churchill in 1940.[11]


Holt-Wilson was awarded the following orders and decorations: