Skip to main content

'Bunty' Gee: An Unlikely Spy

Ethel Elizabeth Gee, known as ‘Bunty’, was an unassuming spinster who lived in a Portland red brick terraced house in Hambro Road with her elderly relatives. A blacksmith’s daughter, she worked as a filing clerk in the Admiralty’s top underwater establishment at Portland. Despite this lowly status, she still handled top secret papers on Britain’s submarines and underwater detection capabilities. Indeed, much of the development work for Britain’s first nuclear submarine, HMS Dreadnought had been undertaken at Portland.

Born in Portland in May 1914, ‘Bunty’ has been described as ‘plain’ and an ‘awful cook’. Yet for a period in the 1950s, as a member of the Portland Spy Ring, she was one of Russia’s most valuable spies. Around 1955, she met fellow civil servant, Harry Houghton, who lived in Weymouth, a former sailor who was spying for both Poland and Russia. He was a heavy drinking divorcee who enjoyed a lifestyle far beyond his civil service income. He had bought a four bedroom cottage in Weymouth and was said to have four cars. Ethel Gee started passing confidential information to Houghton. Posing as a married couple they would regularly travel up to London at weekends and stay in hotels such as the Cumberland at Marble Arch. While in the capital, Houghton would pass this information onto his Russian Security Services contact. Frequently, they would take in a London show with the Crazy Gang comics being a particular favourite. Their Russian contact had a cover as a bubble gum and juke box salesman!

The couple regularly met up and engaged in heavy drinking sessions at the Elm Tree Inn at Langton Herring. They would receive telephone calls there from Russian agents as this phone was unlikely to be bugged by the British Security Services. Houghton would frequently  buy rounds of drinks for people he had only just met.

Houghton’s former wife had tipped off the British Security Services about his spying activities in 1957. However the authorities had not taken any action believing the ex-spouse was just disgruntled. British Security Services finally acted after an American tip-off which led to Gee and Houghton being arrested in Waterloo Road, London in January 1961. Upon her arrest, Gee was found to be in possession of four confidential files and over 300 undeveloped photographs relating to HMS Dreadnought. Her Portland home was searched and revealed plenty of evidence of her guilt. Also arrested at the same time were Helen and Peter Kroger, two other members of the Portland Spy Ring. Ethel Gee and Harry Houghton were found guilty at their trials and both sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. They served only nine years of their sentences and after their release they married at Poole Register Office. The couple then opened a guest house in Branksome. Portland’s unassuming spy, Ethel Elizabeth ‘Bunty’ Gee died in Poole in 1984.

A Security file commented on the Dorset born female spy who had been given the code name ‘Trellis’ by Special Branch:

‘Plain in appearance and speaking with a strong Dorset accent, it would be hard to find someone further removed from the popular conception of a female spy as Miss  Bunty Gee.’ She had been given the code name ‘Asya’ by the Russians.

After his prison release Harry Houghton produced an autobiography, ‘Operation Portland - Autobiography of a Spy.’ He claimed that he had met Russian agents who were landed in both Lulworth Cove and at Portland. He had previously worked in the British Embassy in Poland. It is reckoned he had been spying from 1951 until his arrest.

(Illustration: Ethel Elizabeth 'Bunty' Gee)


  1. Traitors should have never been released


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

True Lovers Knot - a Tragic Tale

True Lovers Knot public house describes itself as a traditional  inn set in a picturesque Dorset valley in Tarrant Keynston. Yet, this historical hostelry is said to have gained its name from a particularly tragic tale and still to be haunted by a distressed former publican. This publican’s son met and fell in love with the daughter of the local squire. Because the young lad was not from the gentry they decided to keep their relationship secret from her father. Unfortunately, a stable hand saw the two young lovers together and told her father. Set firmly against this friendship the squire made plans to send his daughter away from the district. Not able to face up to life without her boyfriend, the young girl decided to commit suicide and hanged herself from a tree in the village. So upset was the publican’s son of hearing of his girlfriend’s death he too hanged himself from the same tree. The Tarrant Keynston publican had, himself lost his wife at child birth and now losing his son b

Tarrant Rushton's Nuclear Secret

Tarrant Rushton was a large RAF base used for glider operations during World War II. It was then taken over by Flight Refuelling for the conversion of aircraft for the development of aircraft in-flight refuelling. However, between 1958 & 1965, the Tarrant Rushton airfield had a much more secretive and less publicised role. This was in support of the nation’s nuclear bomber deterrent, as Tarrant Rushton airfield became a QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) dispersal unit.   During 1958, contractors Costain reinforced the main runway and carried out other work to ensure the giant bomber aircraft could be accommodated. At times just a few miles from Blandford, there would have been up to four RAF Vickers Valiant bombers at Tarrant Rushton ready to become airborne in minutes charged with nuclear weapons. The bombers were from 148 Squadron at RAF Marham in Norfolk. As there was no suitable accommodation at the airfield, an old US Air Force Hospital building at Martin was used. At the time, the

Chimney Sweep Tragedy

Crown Hotel, Blandford is reckoned to be one of Dorset’s oldest hostelries. Yet its most tragic day, during a long history, must surely be when a young chimney sweep lost his life. The chimney sweep, who was just a child, suffocated and was burnt to death in a Crown Hotel chimney which had been alight a little while before. ‘His cries were dreadful and no-one could give assistance. Part of the chimney was taken down before he was got out.’ (Salisbury & Winchester Gazette 27th March 1780) The lad had gone up one chimney and attempting to go down another had become stuck. At the time children were used to climb up chimneys to clean out soot deposits. With hands and knees, they would shimmy up narrow dark flue spaces packed thick with soot and debris. After the 1731 Great Fire of Blandford it was realised that it was important to sweep chimneys regularly while many rebuilt houses had narrower ones. Smaller chimneys and complicated flues were a potential death trap for children. The sw