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Extraordinary life of unknown Welsh hero finally told

This week sees the publication of a biography of an extraordinary man. In Wales’ Unknown Hero: Soldier, Spy, Monk – The Life of Henry Coombe-Tennant, MC, of Neath, Bernard Lewis has pieced together the astonishing story of an unknown British military hero and spy who led the most remarkable life.

The book combines information gleaned from archive sources, military records, family letters and diaries –but author Bernard Lewis only found out about Henry Coombe-Tennant by chance:

“I stumbled across him by chance when I was researching his older brother Christopher, who was killed during the Great War. References in the archives to Henry suggested that his life might well be worth looking into. There was mention of the Welsh Guards, prisoner-of-war camps, the Special Operations Executive, and much more – Henry does pop up in a lot of places!”

Henry Coombe-Tennant was born in 1913 into a prominent South Wales family who were friends with Prime Minister David Lloyd George. His mother Winifred was a JP, suffragist, political activist and also a noted psychic medium, and Henry was the result of her extra-marital affair with another former Prime Minister’s brother. Winifred’s spirit-world contacts apparently proclaimed Henry the ‘New Messiah’, who would bring peace to a troubled world.

“Henry’s mother tended to keep a great deal of material regarding her family. I also had the pleasure of meeting several people who had known Henry in life. All said what a fine gentleman he had been and held him in the highest esteem. It was lovely to have a glimpse of what he had ‘really’ been like in life,” says Bernard.

Henry earned a double-first from Cambridge, taught himself Mandarin before travelling to China, served in World War II and escaped from a POW camp and made it back across occupied Europe to Britain, which earned him the Military Cross. He joined the Special Operations Executive – and worked with the Resistance against the Nazis, for which the French awarded him the Croix de Guerre with Palm. Post-war, he served in Palestine and with NATO and then joined the British Secret Service. Embracing religion after his traumatic experiences in Iraq after the bloody revolution there, he ended his days as a Benedictine monk.

“Henry’s achievements haven’t been documented as publicly as his mother’s because he spent many years hidden in the Army and then many more as a Benedictine monk. He did very little to advance his own story and was notably undemonstrative about his undoubled talents. It’s a remarkable life, and it’s a story that deserves to be told.”

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