Offbeat

World War II Code-Breaker Was Just An Average Guy

Cliff Stewart was a loving father of four who was very handy with tools. He could fix anything with wires, according to his family. On the surface, he was everyman with exceptional technical skills, living an average life, but Cliff Stewart was far from average. He lived with a deep dark secret that could have been the subject of an old Hitchcock film.

Cliff Stewart was dad to his family, but to his World War II comrades, he was a super spy and code-breaker whose life was dangerously embroiled in espionage and foreign intrigue. For years, he never talked about this secondary occupation; that is until the last years of his long life that ended recently. He was 91 years old.

Cliff Stewart was a sharp-witted, Canadian farm boy and a ham radio genius who even at an early age showed a penchant for problem solving and technical know how. One day in 1939, the British Secret Service, in the form of two officers, knocked on the family farm door in Hampshire, Prince Edward Island, and recruited him. No one in the family knows how the secret service knew about him, but the story continues.

Stewart was sent to the Rockefeller Center in New York City where, in a closed room full of other electronic whizzes, he was sworn to secrecy as one of the creators of the “Rockex.” This top-secret gadget was for high-ranking government officials only and concerned the transmission of encrypted messages (such as an exchange between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill).

Stewart was involved in other wartime intrigue when he was sent to Camp X, which was a top-secret training facility in southern Ontario. There he became further educated in the perilous art of espionage. He worked among burgeoning assassins, forgers, demolition experts, a mysterious man known only as Intrepid and a British naval intelligence trainee named Ian Fleming, who would later find fame as the author of the James Bond books.

In Stewart’s own words:

“It took quite a bit of training not to jump at a gunshot… It kept quite a lot of us alive. As the instructors told us, [the Germans] might not be shooting at you…And if they were not shooting at you, and you became spooked by the sound of gunfire and gave away your position, a nervous spy would be a dead spy.”

As if his life during the war wasn’t exciting enough, Cliff Stewart was involved in several dangerous missions behind enemy lines as well. As a radio expert, he would parachute to an appointed spot with a team of agents, carrying a coding machine in a briefcase. Bound to secrecy by the British Secrets Act, Stewart lived in silence with his exploits.

In 1949 Stewart returned to a normal life as a blue-collar worker for the Batt and McRae Auto Electric Company. He worked until his 90th birthday.

It was not until Mr. Stewart was in his 80s that he finally started telling his children about his previous life.

Never can be too careful.

After all, he was a spy.

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