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14 August, 2018

American adventurer in Bletchley and the Middle East

As a young socialite shaken by Pearl Harbour, Beverly Kitchen asked her uncle in the Pentagon what she could do for the war effort. She was given a typing job there with military intelligence in 1942. By the end of next year she was in Bletchley Park, the top secret UK decoding centre.

She grew up in an affluent family in Long Island, New York, with happy summer holidays upcountry. Her father Victor was a partner in an advertising company. During his children’s teen years, he became bored with his work and turned to drink, bringing strain on the marriage. He and his wife Elsie found help in the spiritual movement The Oxford Group, and Victor helped start its spin-off Alcoholics Anonymous.  

Beverly Kitchen’s route to Bletchley Park began on a Portuguese ship which sailed from Philadelphia on 2 December 1943. By the time it docked in Lisbon 17 days later, she was engaged to another American passenger, Harry Almond, who was on his way to teach at a mission school in Basra, Iraq. It would be two and a half years before the couple saw each other again.

The first American to work long term at Bletchley was Joe Eachus, a physics professor who had shown Alan Turing around Washington in 1942. He later married Barbara Abernethy, British personal assistant to Commander Alistair Denniston, the Director at Bletchley. Kitchen was in Special Branch office (Hut 3 – US) as civilian secretary to Lt Col Telford Taylor, typing news received from the codebreakers for despatch to US forces in the field. About once a week she went to London to work for another US Special Branch officer, Lou Stone, who was part of TICOM (Target Information Committee). She was billeted in the White Hart Inn in Buckingham. One night after dinner in an English home, cycling away in the blackout, she veered off the drive and landed in the duck pond. Her hosts took her back in for the night.

On 19 July 1945, not long after Victory in Europe, Kitchen was sent to Frankfurt for 12 days to assist Edward Kellogg. An early American worker in Bletchley, he had now been appointed assistant to the American Ambassador on the Allied Control Commission for Berlin. Sight of a devastated Germany and its starving civilians made a lasting impression on her.

By the time they married in USA in 1946, Kitchen and her fiancé had become active with Moral Re-Armament (MRA) as The Oxford Group was now known. Their first daughter Anne (pictured left) was born in Basra, the second Betsy (Elizabeth, pictured right) at another mission station in Bahrain. Harry had studied classical Arabic and Beverly became fluent in the colloquial. Their cheerful approach to a testing climate won them lifelong friends and a deep understanding of Muslim thought and Arab custom.

When Anne developed TB, a more equable zone beckoned. MRA had embarked on a work of post-war reconciliation in Europe and the Pacific countries, much of it supported by training centres in Caux, Switzerland and Mackinac Island, Michigan. The Almonds hitched their wagon to this programme, working without salary for the rest of their lives. They played a part in hosting Middle East visitors at these centres.

In 1963 when they were in USA, Lebanese former President Nakkache wrote inviting the family to base in Beirut for their MRA liaison work in the Middle East. It became their home for the next nine years. The two girls completed high school in Lebanon, and Anne her BA at Beirut College for Women. Beverly was active in women’s organisations, while Harry visited Iraq, Jordan Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Iran, among other countries. Within Lebanon a nucleus of young peacemakers arose, friends of the Almonds.  

After the 1975-90 civil war, these Lebanese generated acts of restitution by former militia leaders that were saluted in newspapers at home and abroad. In November 2014 Beverly received a message of thanks from Assaad Chaftari, who had been head of intelligence with a Christian militia during the war. He wrote a public letter of apology to his victims and their families for his atrocities. With others from rival factions he works with an action group ‘Fighters for Peace’ to show young Lebanese an alternative to sectarian hatred.

Beverly and Harry had a lifelong friendship with Dr Mohammed Fadhel Jamali, his American wife Sarah and their family. Jamali was one of the signatories of the UN Charter in San Francisco in 1945. Later Foreign Minister of Iraq, and briefly Prime Minister, he was sentenced to death after the 1958 revolution. Reprieved after years of prison in Baghdad, he became Professor of Education in Tunis University. Harry Almond wrote a biography of him.

From their years in the Middle East, the Almonds concluded there is a spiritual comradeship to be claimed by all believers, under the guidance of God, in the search for what is right for the world. For them, absolute moral standards, applied personally, were vital elements of the search. Back in the United States their insights and experiences were sought out by many in years to come. They based first in the New York area, with regular access to the United Nations. Later, as grandhildren arrived, they moved first to Falls Village, Connecticut, and finally to Egremont, Massachusetts.  

It was a sensation for the family and friends in 1974, many years after the mandatory silence about Bletchley was lifted, when Beverly for the first time talked about the vital war work she had been involved in. She resumed active links with many of the people she had worked with such as Joe and Barbara Eachus. Like all such veterans, in 2009 she received a badge from the British Government Code and Cypher School. The accompanying certificate, signed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, expressed 'deepest gratitude for the vital service you performed in World War II.'

Anne Hamlin’s book ‘Beverly Almond, an Ageless Adventurer’ is a vivid portrait of her mother. After Harry Almond died in 2007, she remained immersed in civic democracy and church outreach, and in a world correspondence with the scores of people on her prayer list. She kept up to date with Middle East issues and delighted in visits by friends from many countries. A merry great-grandmother, she died three months short of her hundredth birthday.

Beverly Anne Almond (nee Kitchen) was born on 8 July 1918, and died on 10 April 2018

Peter Everington

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