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The Laurence Fish Counter-sabotage Drawings Collection

Nathaniel Mayer Victor Rothschild, 3rd Lord Rothschild, (1910-1990), was a biologist, cricketer, a senior executive with Royal Dutch Shell and N M Rothschild & Sons, and an advisor to UK governments.

During the Second World War, he worked for the Intelligence Service. In 1939, he was attached to B division responsible for counter espionage. In 1940 he founded MI5 section 'B1C'. This was an 'explosives and sabotage section', working on identifying where Britain's war effort was vulnerable to sabotage and counter German sabotage attempts.

MI5 was a shoestring operation, and unit B1C had few staff, none of whom were capable of drawing clear and recognizable diagrams of the explosive devices that could be used to train operatives on how to defuse then safely. However, a member of the team, police detective inspector Donald Fish knew someone who could - his son, Laurence Fish (1919-2009), a self-taught graphic artist. Victor commissioned Laurence Fish to draw intercepted devices. Victor wrote asking Fish to draw an explosive chocolate bar using an operative’s rough sketch as his sole guide.

“I wonder if you could do a drawing for me of an explosive slab of chocolate,” he wrote from a secret London bunker. “We have received information that the enemy are using pound slabs of chocolate which are made of steel with a very thin covering of real chocolate.” He continued, “Inside there is high explosive and some form of delay mechanism… When the piece of chocolate is pulled sharply, the canvas is also pulled and this initiates the mechanism.”

Laurence drew the chocolate bomb and many more explosive devices. He developed a warm and friendly relationship with Victor Rothschild. In 2015, Mrs Jean Bray, the widow of Laurence Fish deposited this small collection of original drawings with The Rothschild Archive, having been given them by the family of the late Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild. 

The Laurence Fish Counter-sabotage Drawings Collection, c.1940-1944

000/2320, 2 boxes

During the Second World War Victor worked for the Intelligence Service, and earned the George Medal for his bomb disposal work. In 1939, he was recruited to work for MI5 where he remained for the duration of the War. He was attached to B division, under deputy director Guy Liddell, responsible for counterespionage. In 1940 he produced a series of secret reports on German Espionage Under cover of Commerce and later founded section 'B1c' at Wormwood Scrubs, the wartime home of MI5. This was an 'explosives and sabotage section', and worked on identifying where Britain's war effort was vulnerable to sabotage and counter German sabotage attempts. This included personally dismantling examples of German booby traps and disguised explosives. By late 1944, Victor was attached to the 105 Special Counter Intelligence Unit of the SHAEF, a joint operation of MI5 and X2, the counter-espionage branch of OSS, a precursor of the CIA, operating in Paris.

Drawings of devices drawn by Laurence Fish for Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild  at MI5's counter-sabotage unit during the Second World War; letters from Lord Rothschild to Mr Fish discussing the commission and specifics of the drawings, and one from Donald Fish, father of Laurence, concerning the commission.

The Laurence Fish Counter-sabotage Drawings Collection, c.1940-1944

000/2514, 1 item

The item in 000/2514 is a framed original 'Fish' drawing of a detonator, on loan to the Archive from a private collection.