With the present popularity of a new James Bond and movie, it is interesting to note that Ronald Bruce Turnbull lived a real James Bond life. Turnbull was born in Edinburgh on May 29, 1914. He attended Fettes College and won a scholarship in History to Cambridge in 1935. After suffering a rugby injury and no longer able to play, Turnbull spent a summer at Copenhagen University where he assisted Danes studying English literature and learned Danish in return.
Turnbull was a good looking man with many charms. He was an amateur actor and good with languages. When the war broke out he was recruited by the newly formed and covert Special Operations Executive. Turnbull began a life of espionage using brains not brawn. He didn’t have the advantages of made for the movie gadgets. He broadcast news on the BBC and was sent as a press attaché to what is now the British Embassy in Copenhagen. This would be his cover for gathering intelligence and news. Shortly after his arrival he awoke to the sound of aircraft flying overhead. German bombers were flying over the city. Denmark was helpless at this time.
Turnbull returned to London by train through Germany and Belgium where he married. His next assignment sent him to Stockholm to build up the resistance movement in Denmark and eventually supervise political and special operations for Northern Europe. His trip to Stockholm became an adventure as he and his very pregnant wife left Liverpool, sailed to Cape Town then to Cairo, crossing the Suez Canal in a row boat. They then drove across the Holy land to Ankara, took a train to Istanbul where his wife gave birth to a son. The three then journeyed via a Russian ship across the Black Sea to Odessa. From Odessa they went by train to Moscow before flying to Stockholm. :Lord Haw-Haw mocked the round about journey in one of his propaganda radio broadcasts.
Once in Stockholm, Turnbull began setting up a Special Operations outpost. From here he made contact with Denmark which led to the first 3 man Danish Resistance team, trained in England. His task of coordinating the efforts of the Danish Intelligence with London’s own efforts was beginning to take shape. Danish Resistance and sabotage increased. The Danish Freedom Council was formed to prepare for liberation from Germany.
Of the many things Turnbull accomplished was persuading Nobel Peace Prize winner, Niels Bohr, to escape Denmark and join the British and American scientists working on the atom bomb. He also obtained, with the help of the Danish Resistance, drawings of the V-1 bomb. These drawings were in London hands about 10 months before V-1 attacks began.
Turnbull’s life was often in danger. He and his wife were in a motor accident resulting in the death of his wife. Turnbull never believed this was an accident, but rather a revenge attach on his life. After the war, he received many awards and recognitions, among them the OBE, the American Medal of Freedom. He was described as having the ability to diplomatically be a liaison between Danish Resistance and London, avoiding breakdowns in communications but able at the same time to forcefully argue his stand.
Ronald Bruce Turnbull died at the age of 89 on March 2, 2004 in East Lothian, UK.