Sir Guy Reginald Archer Gaunt
James Bond Aficionados have spent years arguing about who might have been the model for Ian Fleming’s fictitious secret agent, yet there is an obvious candidate who never seems to be mentioned. This man was handsome, debonair, brilliantly effective, knew everybody who could make a difference, was ruthless, an expert shot, spoke several languages, served as an officer in the Royal Navy and at the time of his intelligence activities held the substantive rank of Commander, just like the fictitious Bond. His other qualification for the part he proved later in life when he was cited in a notorious divorce case that resulted in the failure of his own marriage, after which he married a woman nearly thirty years his junior with whom he had two daughters. The name is Gaunt, Guy Gaunt.
He was born in Ballarat, Victoria in 1869. He attended Melbourne Grammar School and his parents hoped he would qualify as a lawyer. Young Guy had other ideas and pleaded to be allowed to go to sea. He joined H.M.S. Worcester, a training vessel for officers in the merchant marine, but soon transferred to the Royal Navy where he quickly made a name for himself. In 1896 he served as navigating officer on the gunboat Swift. The following year, while serving on HMS Porpoise he commanded the British Consulate at Apia, Samoa and repelled a rebel attack. In following uprisings he raised and led a native force that became known as “Gaunt’s Brigade”, earning him a mention in despatches.
His commands included the cruisers Andromeda, Niobe and Challenger and ultimately the battleships Majestic and Thunderer. With a glittering career as a sea officer established he must have seemed the ideal candidate to become the naval attaché to the United States, an appointment he took up in June 1914. Under normal circumstances it would have been a plum job, but just two months later Britain was at war with Germany. Gaunt must have chafed at finding himself thousands of miles from the action, but he had already proven himself adaptable and unconventional. He soon realised he had a more important role to play than commanding a ship of the line engaged on endless blockade duty. Ostensibly countering German propaganda in the United States, his real task was counter intelligence in a cat and mouse game fought with German saboteurs, and spies. Sir Courtenay Bennett, officially the British Consul General but in reality the head of British naval intelligence in the US, gave Gaunt a free hand. Gaunt successfully infiltrated the Hindu-German conspiracy, was instrumental in the British machinations surrounding the infamous Zimmerman telegram, captured one high profile German saboteur and like as not disposed of a number of others. He helped run the spy network set up by Balkan nationalists in major American cities and disrupted German intelligence efforts to such good effect he was the automatic choice to become the liaison officer to the USA when President Wilson reluctantly declared war in 1917.
In 1918, with the United States now firmly on the Allied side American intelligence officers could handle the dangerous work in which Gaunt had excelled, and his request to go back to sea was granted by the Admiralty. However, he was soon appointed to the naval intelligence staff in London and promoted to Rear Admiral. He retired from the Navy at the end of the war with the final rank of Admiral and a knighthood. He was elected as a conservative Member or Parliament in 1922, but resigned in 1926 when he was cited as co-respondent in the divorce case between Sir Richard Cruise and his wife.
While over seventy years of age when World War Two broke out he remained active, and there are records of correspondence between him and naval intelligence officers between the wars. It is highly likely that the young intelligence officers of the Second World War, of whom Fleming was one of the most successful, would have sought his advice and used his knowledge. They would have known of him without a doubt because his exploits in the war barely twenty years before were legendary in the murky world of naval intelligence: even if the general public only knew of him as an old sea dog with a roving eye. If he was the original James Bond, he was a very hard act to follow.