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Mrs Zigzag: A double agent’s wife


Betty Chapman is best known as ‘Mrs Zigzag’ the wife of Eddie Chapman or ‘Agent Zigzag’, the most infamous double agent of the Second World War, but she was an extraordinary woman in her own right. Ron Bonewitz is a close friend of Betty Chapman and knew both her and her late husband Eddie. Here he shares his thoughts on a truly exceptional woman.

I was introduced to Betty and Eddie by the noted author and therapist Lilian Verner-Bonds, a friend of the Chapmans for several decades. She knew that Betty was a remarkable person in her own right, and encouraged me to write the book for nearly ten years. The time just wasn’t right until recently, when Betty’s story proved to be as promised. For Betty, what was the most difficult part of being married to Eddie?

From all the conversations I have had with Betty, the thing that upset her the most was the lack of recognition from the government; she is still furious to this day. He was out there, putting his life on the line, and the government didn’t even recognise his contribution. If the Germans could look after him, why couldn’t his own government?

There was always this feeling that Eddie wasn’t ‘one of them’, part of the ‘old boys club’ and the lack of respect shown is shocking. There was a gathering of MI5 agents about twenty-five years ago and Eddie wasn’t invited despite his contribution to the war effort. Nigel West blew a gasket and made sure that Eddie was there, but he was one of the few people who treated Eddie with any kind of respect.

Betty once said, ‘In some ways when he left home to go away with one of his mistresses to carry on an affair, it was bliss time for me to rest and establish some order again.’ Did her many ‘projects’ help to prevent her from becoming a victim of Eddie’s infidelities?

Let’s just get one thing clear, Eddie didn’t need a doormat. However much they loved each other Betty was always very much her own woman. When Eddie was home, they were together, when he was away, she was 100 per cent focused on her projects. They weren’t just idle amusements for her, she is a very self-contained person and was breaking down the social conventions of the time almost single-handedly. She was very independent from very early on, despite her family’s desire for her to ‘conform’. Of course Eddie’s fame and/or notoriety helped, but she would have been remarkable anyway.

What about Betty’s own love affairs? Did any of them compare to her relationship with Eddie? Betty once said to me ‘I’ve always had a few boyfriends, I never let the grass grow!’ and this just goes to show how forward thinking she was. When she became involved with the consultant, I think that could have been something; they really cared for each other. After the affair finished, he wrote her a very detailed letter which showed the depth of their feeling. It was truly beautiful, I think any woman or man would have melted!

Betty clearly had an entrepreneurial spirit, what was the most fulfilling of her challenges? Which was the most challenging experience?

Poor Betty had so many disappointments, so many things were just stolen away from her. She was very proud of the health farm but I think it was losing the castle that hit her the hardest. She was devastated.

In terms of difficulty, setting up the shipping company with Eddie in Northern Ireland was the most challenging. Managing to set it up against IRA pressure, pressure from the Northern Irish government and the other shipping companies must have been unbelievably difficult. Everyone was doing everything they could to undermine her and they took that she was a woman personally – once again she faced unimaginable barriers. I doubt many people could do that now, let alone then!

Whatever life threw at her, with her indomitable spirit, Betty managed. Moving to London in 1938-1939 showed that she wasn’t someone who shied away from a challenge!

Betty was initially reluctant about going to Ghana, what changed her mind?

The fact of the matter was Eddie was going with or without her, so she decided to follow him. Her religious and spiritual commitment to her marriage was something she took very seriously and so she went. Betty always had a front row seat to life and she really threw herself into the project. She ‘covered herself with glory down there’ but once again MI5 scuppered it for them.

Eddie once said ‘it was better to live one day as a tiger than a whole life as a lamb’ – did they need the excitement for their relationship to work?

I suspect that to varying degrees they were both adrenaline junkies, and they definitely needed the excitement to pull them together. To onlookers their life must have seemed completely unreal but to her this was normal, as difficult as that is to believe! It didn’t matter that it was Richard Burton or Audrey Hepburn that they were meeting for dinner or drinks, to Betty they were just her friends. Even without Eddie, Betty led a very glamourous life and was part of that scene, especially during the war. As with everything, she wasn’t going to wait around for Eddie (or anyone else for that matter) to give her what she wanted, she would go out and get it for herself.

By Ronald Bonewitz

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