Eddie Chapman as he was known to friends, was born in Burnopfield in County Durham on 16 November 1914. Following his disertion from the Coldstream Guards during the 1930s, he ended up scraping together a criminal living as a safecracker to several of London’s Gangs operating out of the West End. A natural charmer with the ‘up West’ set, he is thought to have had affairs with several society women, later blackmailing them with photographs taking by an associate.
Having fled to the Channel Islands to escape the law on the mainland, it wasn’t long before Chapman returned to his criminal ways, though he was soon caught in the small community living on Jersey after bungling a burglary. Sentenced to two years, he was still in prison when the Nazis invaded the islands. Seeing an opportunity to recruit a spy, the Nazis transferred him from the island prison to Fort de Romainville in occupied Paris.
Chapman recognised opportunity whenever it knocked, he offered his services to the Third Reich as a spy, operating on the UK mainland. His real intention was to spy on the Nazis for the British.
Parachuting back into the UK in December 1942, he immediately gave himself up the local Police, explained how he had got there and asked them to contact the fledgeling MI5. After extensive interrogation by MI5, Chapman was eventually engaged as a British agent, codenamed ZigZag.
He was later honoured by the Third Reich, with the Iron Cross for his work as a saboteur. Working with MI5, he managed to convince the Nazis he had destroyed the De Havilland aircraft factory in Hatfield. The factory that had been manufacturing the Mosquito which had been causing so many problems for the regime. As well as the medal, he was given a yacht and 110,000 Reichmarks (approximately £22,000 at the time – a huge sum) as a personal reward.
Later the Nazis would send Chapman to Norway, then back to Britain, to report on the targeting of the infamous V1 rockets, the doodle-bugs. He repeatedly reported the V1 rockets were hitting central London, when in truth, they were falling well short in counties further south, saving countless numbers of lives.
His life was the main subject of the 1966 film “Triple Cross”, a film that Chapman was due to take a consultancy role on, however this was prevented when the French government refuse to have him in the country as he was still wanted from crimes he had allegedly committed there.
Chapman, having survived all sorts of dangerous situations throughout his life, eventually died in December 1997.