Oliver L. Campbell writes: I first met Juan Pujol in 1955 when I was sent to Lagunillas, on the east coast of Lake Maracaibo, to learn about oil production at the grass roots. As a bachelor, I was given a room in the “bunkhouse”, a long and narrow, wooden building built on stilts. I lived at one end and Juan Pujol lived at the other.
He always looked dapper in the quasi uniform we used to wear in those days of khaki trousers and short-sleeved white shirt, slightly starched at the Chinese laundry. I saw nothing of him at work because I worked in the Accounts Department and he gave Spanish lessons to the expatriates and their spouses.
However, sometimes when we saw one another at the Carabobo Club, we would have a drink and chat about nothing in particular. I learnt little about his personal life as he never mentioned it, but I did discover he was very anti Franco and, as a persona non grata, could not return to his native Barcelona.
The next time I saw Juan Pujol was in 1971. In the intervening years I had worked in other oil fields and also spent some time in the Caracas Head Office. But that year the powers that be again sent me to Lagunillas, as the Financial Controller. Though I did not know it, Juan Pujol had left Shell and opened up a shop in the new commercial centre. One day I needed to buy a going-away present for a colleague and entered a shop. I chose my present and went to pay for it at the till, but imagine my surprise when I saw the person taking my money was Juan Pujol.
Although I had not seen him for fifteen years, I recognized him instantly as he had changed so little. He did not recognize me, presumably because in the interim I had put on quite a few kilos. I did not make myself known, something I have since regretted, I think because I was a little embarrassed to do so.
The next and last time I saw Juan Pujol was in June 1984. We had come to the UK and my wife and I were watching the televised commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Normandy landings. Imagine my astonishment when whose face should appear on the screen, as large as life, but that of Juan Pujol, though they referred to him all the time on the television as “Garbo.”
It turned out Juan Pujol, alias Garbo, was the double agent who had convinced the Germans the invasion was to take place at the Pas de Calais and not at Normandy. He was being feted as a hero whose actions had saved the lives of many in the allied forces. We were told he had had a special audience with the Duke of Edinburgh at the latter’s invitation.
The British government awarded Juan Pujol the MBE in 1944. It has always seemed to me this award was very little recognition for a man who did so much for the Allied cause. It is ironic the Germans were more generous and awarded him the Iron Cross. They did not find out till after the war that Pujol had deceived them. I believe MI5 was responsible for sending him to Lagunillas in order to be safe from any possible reprisals.
Juan Pujol was born in Barcelona, Spain on 14 February 1912 but after the war he lived the rest of his life in Venezuela, a country he grew to love. He died in Caracas in October 1988 at the age of 76. I feel humbled to have known such an exceptional man, a hero who for so many years kept his exploits during the war to himself.
The 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings is on 6th June 2004, so this is an appropriate time for all those who fought for the Allies, or supported the cause of freedom, to honor his memory. Barcelona, in particular, should be proud of one of its illustrious sons.