The world is on fire and locked in a battle of dark against light.
Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister having salvaged a miracle at Dunkirk, is facing an existential threat to the United Kingdom and the western world. A threat that must be met by any and all means. Churchill turns to his friend and confidante, William Stephenson. Orphan. World War I flying ace. Successful entrepreneur and inventor. Diplomat. Spy.
At Whitby Watch Company, we have been fascinated by his story and marvel at the outsized impact on man had on the Allied war effort. We marvel further that more Canadians are simply unaware of this great Canadian. William Stephenson’s story of fortitude, resilience, flexibility and confidence in the face of overwhelming odds is inspiring.
Churchill directed Stephenson to establish the British Security Coordination Office in New York City and to create the ‘clenched fist that would provide the knockout blow’ to the Axis powers.
Stephenson’s official title was British Passport Control Officer. However, his unofficial mission was to create a secret British intelligence network throughout the western hemisphere and to operate covertly and very broadly on behalf of the British government and the Allies in aid of winning the war.
As Ian Fleming said, “James Bond is a highly romanticized version of a true spy. The real thing is … William Stephenson.”
The Allies had a war to win and Stephenson began to coordinate the effort out of an office in Rockefeller Plaza. Stephenson influenced the American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt to place his good friend William J. ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan in charge of all U.S. intelligence initiatives.
Donovan founded the U.S. wartime Office of Strategic Services (OSS) which eventually became the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Even the CIA noted recently, “though not the father of the CIA or OSS, Stephenson played a key role in the vision that established both and helped revolutionize America’s intelligence capabilities”.
Under Stephenson, the BSC directly influenced U.S. media and once the U.S. had entered the war, the BSC then went on to train U.S. propagandists from the United States Office of War Information in Canada from 1941-1944. BSC covert intelligence and propaganda efforts directly affected wartime developments in Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Mexico, the Central American countries, Bermuda, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.
Stephenson worked for no salary. And he assembled his own team to execute his vision on how to win the war. He hired hundreds of people, mostly Canadian women, to staff his organization and paid for much of the expense out of his own pocket. He hired wild geniuses including a secretive communications professor from Moose Jaw, Benjamin deForest “Pat” Bayly and future advertising wizard David Ogilvy.
Not least in Stephenson’s accomplishments and contributions to the war effort was the creation of Camp X in Whitby, Ontario.
The world's first training school for clandestine wartime operations in North America. Over, 2,000 British, Canadian and American covert operators were trained here from 1941 through 1945, including students from the ISO, OSS, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, United States Navy and U.S. Military Intelligence services, and the United States Office of War Information, among them five future directors of what would eventually become the American Central Intelligence Agency. Graduates of Camp X operated in Europe in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and the Balkans as well as in Africa, Australia, India, and the Pacific.
Stephenson also created what became know as Hydra at Camp X. He purchased a ten-kilowatt transmitter from a Philadelphia radio station WCAU and installed the transmitter at Camp X. By mid-1944, Hydra was transmitting 30,000 and receiving 9,000 message groups daily, much of it secret Allied intelligence traffic across the Atlantic.
Make no mistake, James Bond wasn’t based on a Brit. He was modelled on man born in WInnipeg, Manitoba and stood 5’2. Churchill himself dubbed Stephenson “The Man Called Intrepid”, a man equally at home with heads of state and paid assassins. A man of few words and a magnetic personality with the quality of making anyone ready to follow him to the ends of the earth.
A man that Canadians should be proud to call a countryman. That is why we have dedicated our inaugural Whitby Watch Company watch, the Intrepid, to Stephenson. We will be donating a portion of each watch to the Intrepid Society’s Sir William Stephenson Scholarship fund and providing discounted pricing to the men and women of the Canadian Armed Services.
Our watch has been created to provide exceptional quality at accessible prices and we will only make 103 individually numbered pieces by colour (red, black and blue), in honour of Camp X. Each watch also comes with a commemorative limited run Camp X Challenge coin.
“The concept behind this watch is truly simple”, says WWC co-founder Greg Tsgaris. “We wanted to honour Sir William Stephenson. We grew up in Whitby and heard stories about him and Camp X. This project allowed us to really dig into his background and understand his impact really on the entire Western world. The fact he is not more celebrated in Canada to us is a mystery and really a travesty.”
Another co-founder, Jay Harrison, a former National Hockey League player, Toronto Maple Leaf and once upon a time Whitby resident echoes those sentiments, “Whitby Watch Company was an opportunity for me and our team to combine our passion for Canada and great Canadians. William Stephenson is a phenomenal example. We often wonder amongst our group why Canada and namely, Winnipeg and Whitby aren’t known as the home of James Bond.”
Roy Tsgaris, also a co-founder in Whitby Watch Company, made it clear, “ This is a very high-quality watch. It is has a great swiss movement. It has an unbelievable weight to it and it has been hand built by a world-class German maker. Because we are introducing our brand and we are trying to share the story of a legendary Canadian we are offering more than what is typically offered at this price point.”
Sir William Stephenson developed a school that trained operatives in the dark arts to overcome an unprecedented historical evil. He succeeded. In our own simple way, Whitby Watch Company wants to honour the man called intrepid with a beautiful timepiece that acknowledges his contributions to Canada and the world.
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