William Francis Forbes-Sempill, the 19th Lord Sempill (24 September 1893 30 December 1965) was a British engineer who became involved in the aircraft industry from its early days, both as a flyer and as an engineer. During WW1 he enrolled in the Royal Flying Corps and by the end of the war he held the rank of colonel.
The first cover has a green & black Papua 3d overprintrd with a red ‘Air Mail’, and an orange Papua 2d stamps cancelled PORT MORESBY/ 18 DE 34/ PAPUA and it was sent by airmail with a ms. ‘per plane GABJU, pilot Lord Semphill’ (sic) from Port Moresby to Cairns, Queensland with a final address in Victoria, the reverse was not seen (Figure 1).
The vendor described the cover as AAMC.P75 Lord Sempill, the British peer, flew his privately owned DH 80A Puss Moth [GABJ], having already flown all the way from England. The cover was one of 112 flown on the Papuan leg of his journey to Australia. The cover is not listed in the fourth edition of Nelson Eustis’ ‘The Australian Air Mail Catalogue’, 1984.
The second cover was ‘Carried from Adelaide (South Australia) to Wyndham , Western Australia) by courtesy of Lord Hempill in his Australian tour’ Feb, 1935 and it is signed ‘Sempill’. The socked-on-the-nose orange 2d Australian commemorative stamp is postmarked WYNDHAM/ 16 FEB/ 35/ WESTERN AUSTRALIA and there is a purple boxed handstamp
‘LORD SEMPILL/ By air from Adelaide/ to Wyndham/ via Perth & N.W. Coast/ February 1935'. The self-addressed person is Mr. H.N. Eustis, ALBERTON, South Australia, using his two initials of Hamilton Nelson. The reverse was not seen and the cover is not mentioned in his 1984 Air Mail book (Figure 2).
An Aviation History magazine (www.flightglobal.com) dated February 28, 1935, page 228 and headlined ‘FLIGHT. HERE AND THERE’ records that not all Lord Hempill’s flights were totally successful as shown in Figure 3.
Similarly an entry in The Straits Times, 29 July 1936 headlined LORD SEMPILL TRIES AGAIN. DUE IN MALAYA ON SATURDAY. ATTEMPT ON LONDON-AUSTRALIA RECORD. Lord Sempill will leave Hanworth airport, London, to-morrow on another attempt to lower the record from England to Australia via Malaya.
Lord Sempill will again be flying his Monospar ST 18, reputed to be England’s fastest air liner. By night and day flying his hopes to reach Australia in less than 3½ days. He will be accompanied by a relief pilot, Mr. H. Woods, a wireless operator and a ground engineer. The A.P.C., who are in charge of refuelling arrangements in Malaya have been instructed that the Monospar is due to land in Penang on Saturday.
On his previous attempt this month Lord Sempill reached Vienna in record time, when the fabric of one of the wings of his plane cracked.
He returned to London for repairs. Lord Sempill intends to make short stops at Athens, Aleppo, Bushire, Karachi, Allahabad, Rangoon , Penang, or Singapore, Batavia, and then fly on to Sourabaya and Australia (Figure 4).
After the description of these air flights a ‘bombshell’ was landed in their midst. I was printing the first draft of this paper on Monday 7 November 2011, when a copy of a 5-page report in ‘The Independent, (U.K.)’ ,dated Monday 7 November 2011,flashed on the screen with the heading:
Churchill protected Scottish peer suspected of spying for Japan. Second World War: Government papers show prominent aristocrat was believed to be leaking naval secrets to Tokyo. What follows is a minor abbreviation of the paper’s article.
A senior Scottish Lord was suspected of being part of a Japanese spy ring in London during WW2, according to recently released documents at the Public Record Office at Kew,U.K. Lord Sempill, a naval commander at the Admiralty, was accused of passing sensitive information to the Japanese Embassy in the lead-up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The documents show that British security services suspected at least five British citizens in London of providing information to the Japanese. "What this shows for the first time is the existence of a highly organized Japanese spy operation in Britain," says Dr Richard Aldrich, a historian from Nottingham University. At one point the Attorney-General secretly considered prosecuting Lord Sempill. However, when the Admiralty confronted Sempill and wanted him to resign, Winston Churchill interceded and only required Sempill to be "moved". Educated at Eton, William Forbes-Sempill was apprenticed to Rolls-Royce in 1910. He became a distinguished aviator, joining the Royal Flying Corps at the beginning of the First World War. He later transferred to the Royal Naval Air Service where he rose to the rank of Commander, and he was awarded the Air Force Cross.
Although he retired from the services in 1919, his engineering knowledge led to a life-long involvement with aviation. His first contact with the Japanese came in 1921 when he headed an official British mission to organize the Imperial Japanese Naval Air Service. During his visit Sempill became a confirmed Japanophile, striking up close and long-standing relationships with the Japanese military. The Japanese were very impressed and awarded him the 3rd Order of the Rising Sun; 2nd Order of the Sacred Treasure and a Special Medal of the Imperial Aero Society of Japan in the inter-war years. A photo of Captain Sempill and Admiral Togo Heihachiro in 1921 speaks to an early association with a member of the Japanese Armed Forces (Figure 5).
Commander Forbes-Sempill succeeded his father in 1934 and became the 19th Baron Sempill, inheriting Craigievar Castle, Aberdeenshire. When the Second World War broke out, he rejoined the Royal Naval Air Service. He was assigned to the Admiralty and worked in the Department of Air Material. There he had access to sensitive information about the latest aircraft. Suspicions about Sempill were aroused in June 1940 when MI5 intercepted messages from Mitsubishi to London and the Yamagata Naval Air Force headquarters in Japan. These referred to payments being made to Sempill. When Sempill was suspected "of disclosure of secret information about Fleet Air Arm aircraft,"the matter was discreetly referred to the Attorney-General and Director of Public Prosecutions. "The Attorney General advised against prosecution, but Sempill was strictly cautioned," said the file. Lord Sempill denied the allegations and said he had not received payments from an "improper quarters." He told the Admiralty Board that the money had stopped on the outbreak of war.
MI5 tapped Sempill's phones and found Sempill had kept up his contacts with the Japanese. A year later he again came to the attention of the security services and was suspected of passing information about the Battle of the Atlantic - the continuing efforts to get merchant convoys to and from the US. At the time Britain was not at war with Japan, but it was considered only a matter of time before war was declared.
A note to Churchill said: "As long ago as August 1940 the Director of Naval Intelligence drew attention to the apparently undesirable contacts of Lord Sempill's."Therewas no hard evidence of a leak, but "recently, the Director of Naval Intelligence, found that Sempill had been indiscreet in talking to his wife about his work..." A memo reports that Churchill's security adviser, Lord Swinton, had "official knowledge that Lord Sempill is at the moment in a serious financial situation".On 5 September 1941, Sempill was brought in front of the Fifth Sea Lord and given "a private warning".Some key details from the file are still retained. It is not clear from the files whether Sempill was a paid spy or just indiscreet to his Japanese friends.
On 9 October 1941, a signed note from Churchill says: "Clear him out while time remains." The Admiralty confronted Sempill and told him he could either resign or be fired. Sempill protested.
Churchill was unhappy at the action: "I had not contemplated Lord Sempill being required to resign his commission, but only to be employed elsewhere in the Admiralty." Dr,Aldrich believes that Churchill feared the scandal would become public. "What the files shows is that Japanese intelligence were able to recruit sources at a high level."The Public Record Office files also show that the security service was concerned over a number of other British citizens.
Lord Sempill retired, but continued to serve on many public bodies. He was a Scottish Peer from 1935-63, and he died in 1965.
I was already aware of Lord Sempill’s politics for in 1930s he developed extreme right wing political opinions and was active in several anti-semitic organizations such as the Anglo-German Fellowship and The Link, as well as a secret society to expose organized Jewry.
A picture of of Lord Sempill,in his tartan is seen in Figure 6.