The County Durham Spy : Agent Zig Zag

Eddie Chapman aka Agent Zig ZagEdward Arnold Chapman was born in Burnopfield, County Durham on 16th November 1914 would go on to be known as Agent Zigzag. The son of a publican Chapman was intelligent yet bored with school, regularly playing truant to go to the pictures or the beach at Roker, Sunderland.

Chapman joined the 2nd Btn, The Coldstream Guards in 1931 but after only nine months, the routine of guard duties, including at the Tower of London had lost its appeal. Chapman went absent without leave after receiving a six-day pass. His mind was set on another lifestyle and he went on the run from the Army with a woman he met in London’s Soho.

After two months of living the high life, Military Police finally caught up with him and he was arrested. A Military Court sentenced him to 84 days in the Military Prison at Aldershot and after serving his time the Army decided they had no further use for his type. He was issued a dishonourable discharge.

Chapman’s taste for the high life saw him return to Soho on leaving the Army, but his gambling habit and love of expensive drinks meant he was living well beyond his means. The only way he could finance his life was by turning to crime and he became a safecracker for gangs in the West End of London. This ensured he remained no stranger to prisons.

Whilst out on bail, Chapman fled to the Channel Islands where he once again, attempted to finance his lifestyle through crime. Detectives arrived to arrest him for his crimes on the British mainland. Chapman managed to avoid the detectives by jumping through a hotel window. Feeling the net closing in around him, Chapman was under pressure to get money and he carried out a burglary. The ‘job’ was so badly executed he was arrested almost immediately and sentenced to serve two years in prison on the island of Jersey. This sentence was to be served prior to being returned to the mainland.

The Nazis invaded the Channel Islands while Chapman languished in prison on Jersey. Ever the opportunist, Chapman saw a chance of being transferred to a prison in Paris where he made the offer to act as a spy for Germany. He was trained in explosives, radio communications, parachuting amongst other things near Nante and on 16th December 1942, he parachuted back into Britain. His mission was to carry out sabotage attacks against the British. Landing in Cambridgeshire, instead of the intended site in Norfolk, Chapman immediately handed himself in to the local Police. Again, the opportunist in Chapman came to the fore, and he offered himself to MI5 becoming Agent Zigzag.

After several missions, Chapman in cahoots with MI5 officers faked the destruction of the De Haviland aircraft factory. A ‘success’ for which he would later be awarded the Iron Cross.

After a short period back in Nazi-occupied territory, he was sent back to London to report on the effectiveness of the V-1 ‘Doodle-bugs’. He reported they were consistently hitting their intended targets in central London, but in true Zigzag style, many were actually falling well short, in south London suburbs or Kent.

Again, seeking the highlife, Chapman became a known face on the nightclub circuit of the West End of London, spending the money he earned from MI5 on gambling and ‘fixing’ dog races. That heady mix of alchohol and perhaps a certain amount of bravado left his handlers at MI5  doubting whether they could still control him. With security at the top of their list of concerns, Chapman was dismissed from their service in November 1944. He was given a payoff of £7,000 (£1,000 of which had come from Nazi sources) and a pardon for his pre-war crimes. The spying career of Agent Zigzag was over.

Edward Chapman died on 11th December 1997 at the age of 83.  His obituary appeared in the Daily Telegraph.

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