Sir Vernon George Waldegrave Kell, also known as “K”, was a British military co-founder of MI5 (Security Service – the future inspiration for a series of books and then films about Agent 007 – James Bond) and its first commander. However, few people know that he had Poles among his ancestors – the Konarski family, coming from Praszka and using the Gryf coat of arms.
Kell’s grandfather, Samuel Aleksander Ernest Konarski, took part in the November Uprising (1830 – 31), according to family sources, came from the count’s family (which was disproved in the course of later historical research). Samuel Aleksander Konarski was a doctor, educated in Bonn and Wrocław, worked as a surgeon in a hospital at the cadet school in Warsaw, later he served as a battalion doctor in the 1st Foot Rifle Regiment.
After the fall of the uprising, he emigrated – already in exile, he was decorated with the golden cross of Virtuti Militari. He also had a great deal of business and good luck in the game – once he even “broke the bank” in Monte Carlo. An interesting fact is that for some time he was friends with Charles Louis Bonapart, so later Emperor Napoleon III. He was known as an outgoing person, liked and respected.
It is also a fact that in 1840 he married Harriet Frager Lucas. He lived almost 90 years – died in Nice on January 14, 1893 and buried in the St. Germain en Laye, less than 30 kilometers from Paris. From his relationship with Harriet, five children were born: a son and four daughters. The youngest girl, Georgina Augusta, was born in 1851. On May 6, 1873, she married Walgrave Charles Fearn Kell in London, to whom in November of the same year she gave birth to a son – Vernon.
Vernon Kell was born on November 21, 1873. He received a decent private education, grew up in a cosmopolitan atmosphere, traveled a lot – his maternal family was spread all over Europe. He spent a lot of time in France, with their aunts. According to the recollections of one of Kell’s descendants, they were called “English ladies” there, although their accent clearly revealed their Polish origin.
The future “K” had a large group of cousins in France. Thanks to this, he learned four languages as a child: German, French, Polish and Italian. Later, as an adult, he also learned Chinese and Russian. Kell is believed to be one of the best linguists of the British counterintelligence has ever had in their ranks. Like his father (major in the 38th Pedestrian Regiment), he chose military service.
He graduated from the Royal Military College in Sandhurst and was assigned to the South Staffordshire regiment on December 10, 1894. Within two years, he was promoted to lieutenant. In 1898 he went to Moscow, where he learned to speak Russian fluently. He remembered his stay in the country of the tsars and the people who lived there with great fondness. His knowledge of the language was so good that, as his wife wrote, when they later traveled through Siberia, he easily established closer relations with the people there.
Two years later, he made a similar trip to Shanghai. There he was supposed to polish Chinese. He went on this journey with the newly married Constance (née Scott). Their path led through the United States, where they met Theodore Roosevelt by accident. While they were in China, a boxer uprising broke out there. The couple managed to get out of this situation unscathed and Sir Vernon achieved his goal of learning the language.
Vernon Kell with his wife Konstancja and the son James in China, 1901 – The Sun
In his memoirs (excerpts of which were included in Lady Constance’s book), Kell mentions that during his stay in China, he was given a new name by his teacher. It read “Ko-Lu” (which was the sound closest to his surname) and meant “capable of blessings.” After returning to London, he was assigned to the German section of British intelligence, and from 1905 he worked in the Far East section.
Four years later, the authorities decided to create the Secret Service Bureau, with two sections – foreign (MI6) and domestic (MO5, later MI5). The first dealt with intelligence, the second with counterintelligence. It was the founder and commander of the latter that was Vernon Kell. The intelligence was headed by Captain Mansfield Smith Cumming.
Kell remained in his position as MI5 chief until June 10, 1940, when Winston Churchill dismissed him after 30 years in that position. Vernon died on March 27, 1942 in London at the age of 68.