The final row of burials in a small cemetery in south Spain contains a grave dedicated to William Martin. This is an officer from the United Kingdom who was killed in action during World War II.

Martin was not real. British spies created Martin as part of a bold and successful plot against Hitler to infiltrate Sicily. The plan involved using the corpse and fake documents of an unknown officer.

As Operation Mincemeat is about to be released, there are calls for the exhumation of the remains of The Man who Never Was. This will allow us to confirm his identity and ensure that he has a place in the history books.

Leading the calls are Ben Macintyre, a journalist and author who penned a book on Operation Mincemeat and believes Martin’s real identity is that of a homeless Welsh man, and two teams of Spanish researchers with conflicting claims. 

The grave of 'William Martin'

The body used in the operation

Researchers call for an exhumation of the grave of William Martin – the British officer who was used in a plot against Hitler to use a fake corpse (right), to establish the true identity of the body.

British spies acquired the corpse from an unknown source before faking documents to make it appear as if he was a Royal Marines Captain, including this ID which used the photograph of a similar-looking soldier who worked at MI5

British spies seized the body of the deceased from an unknown source, and made it look like he was a Royal Marines captain. The ID also used the photograph taken by a soldier similar to him who served at MI5

According to Macintyre, the corpse used by British intelligence as a stand-in for Martin was Glyndwr Michael – a vagrant who had been living on the streets of London before dying in January 1943 after accidentally eating rat poison.

The identity is confirmed by MI5 documents that were obtained by an amateur historian in 1996. An inscription at Martin’s grave, which lists his father as John Glyndwr Martin, may also confirm it – possibly a hint to the body’s real identity.

But Jesus Ramírez and Enrique Nielsen, Spanish researchers, say there are inconsistencies in that account and they believe the body is actually that of a British sailor who died when HMS Dasher sunk off the coast of Scotland in March 1943. 

Modesto Fernandez Jurrado and Antonio Jurado, who were brothers who carried out an autopsy on Martin’s body after it was discovered off the Spanish coast, believe Operation Mincemeat still has the truth to its core.

Others believe the grave has been empty since the Nazis exhumed any remains after the Spanish autopsy to make their own. 

Antonio said to The Times that he didn’t think we knew the truth about William Martin’s identity. 

“We’re living in Spain right now, and we’re reopening civil war graves every day. So why don’t you open this one? 

Operation Mincemeat, which fooled Hitler by diverting his troops away from Sicily before the Allies invaded in 1943, is one of the most successful and respected disinformation campaigns ever. This campaign is said to have saved thousands.

This operation was inspired by a memo that Rear Admiral John Godfrey (Director of British Naval Intelligence) circulated in 1939, shortly after the Second World War. It described tactics that could be used for deceiving the Nazis.

Because it was a reference to tricking Hitler’s officers into fly-fishing, the so-called “Trout memo” suggested that a body dressed as a soldier and filled with fake documents might be dropped into the sea near enemy positions to make them pick up.

Charles Cholmondeley and Ewen Montagu, officers from the RAF and Royal Navy seconded to MI5, were responsible for putting the plan into action. They are pictured in April 1943 transporting the corpse used in the mission

Charles Cholmondeley and Ewen Montagu, officers from the RAF and Royal Navy seconded to MI5, were responsible for putting the plan into action. They are pictured in April 1943 transporting the corpse used in the mission

Montagu (pictured after the war ended) later revealed the existence of the mission, dubbed Operation Mincemeat, but refused to reveal the identity of the corpse

Montagu after the war had ended. He later disclosed the existence and name of Operation Mincemeat.

The tactics were similar to those used by the Axis and Allies during World War One, when they tried to trick one another about future attacks in order for troops not be sent into battle.

Although Godfrey was named on the memo’s title page, many people believe that Ian Fleming (later author of James Bond novels) contributed much of the work.

Initially dismissed as ‘impracticable’, Charles Cholmondeley – an RAF Officer seconded at MI5 – raised the issue in 1942 amid Allied preparations to invade Sicily. 

He, too, was told the plan was too complex – but was never-the-less encouraged to develop the concept along with Ewen Montagu, a naval officer also assigned to MI5.

In February 1943, after consulting with pathologists on the type of corpse needed and after running the idea up to top brass, Cholmondeley and Montagu were given the go-ahead.

There are two theories about how they obtained their corpses.

The first, put forward by Macintyre and others, says Glyndwr was chosen after he died at St Pancras Hospital in London in January 1943.

According to this theory, Glyndwr fit the bill because his cause of death – rat poison – would not easily be identified on an autopsy, meaning spies could fake whatever injuries they needed to convince the Spanish he had died in a plane crash at sea.

Glyndwr was also deceased, so no next-of-kin could be identified. Therefore permission to dispose of the body wasn’t required.  

It is thought the plot to use body faked to look like an officer was originally the work of James Bond author Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming is believed to be the original James Bond writer who devised the plan to fake the appearance of an officer using body fakes.

The second, posited by Ramírez and Nielsen, is that the body was taken from the wreck of the Dasher – which exploded off the coast of Scotland and sank, killing 379 sailors on board mostly by drowning.

Once the corpse was obtained, the idea was to drop it off the coast of Spain near Huelva where the grave is now located, and allow currents to carry it to shore.

It would then be taken by the Spanish, and without doubt handed to dictator Francisco Franco’s troops – nominally neutral, but who were actually known to have been assisting Nazis through intelligence sharing. 

Because the British had been informed Spanish doctors weren’t likely to do a full autopsy, Spain was selected. It was a majority Roman Catholic country and did not allow for the dissection of corpses except under extreme circumstances. 

Cholmondeley was chosen by Montagu to hold the rank Captain (Acting Major) so that their officer would have enough seniority to trust him with top secret documents but not be noticed upon his death.

They chose the name ‘Martin’ because there were several officers with the same surname at about the same rank in the Royal Marines – the branch of the military chosen for the fictitious Martin – in case the Nazis cross-referenced the information.

To further bolster the disguise, they filled Martin’s pockets with personal effects including an ID that featured a picture of another soldier – Captain Ronnie Reed – who was deemed to look like him.

Also included was another picture of a fictitious sweetheart, ‘Pam’, who was in fact an MI5 clerk named Jean Leslie.

The ruse included an invoice for an engagement ring receipt, a letter to ‘Martin’s’ father and ticket stubs to the theatre. Keys, cigarettes, keys, pencil stubs and tickets were all also provided. Letters were written with a common ink that resists water damage.

Tied to the corpse’s waist was a leather case containing intelligence documents marked ‘top secret’ which detailed attack plans on Greece and Sardinia instead of Sicily, which the British hoped would be passed to Hitler.

On April 30, the body was sailed to the coast off Huelva by the submarine HMS Seraph and put into the water where the current would carry it to shore.

The body was discovered by Spanish fishermen several hours later and taken by the Armed Forces, who performed an autopsy.

The ruse was so successful that, even when the Allied invasion of Sicily was launched (pictured), Hitler held back his forces - believing this was actually the diversion

Hitler believed this to be the diversion and held his troops back even after the Allies invaded Sicily (pictured).

The mission has been turned into a new film starring Colin Firth called Operation Mincemeat (pictured), and has sparked fresh calls for the grave to be exhumed

Operation Mincemeat (pictured) has been made from the mission and stars Colin Firth. This has led to renewed calls for the exhumation of the grave.

The actual case was brought to Madrid by Nazi agents. It was open under their pressure and its contents removed. Photographs were then taken of the case before it was returned to the British, who had urgently asked for its return.

The British discovered that the letter had been opened after an eyelash was placed inside of one of the boxes. 

Bletchley Park also deciphered Nazi communications in May. This confirmed that the intelligence reached high command and had been “swallowed rod line and sinker.”

Hitler sent troops from Sicily away to stop an Allied offensive he thought would be elsewhere. He delayed sending troops home even though Sicily had been attacked in June 1943, believing that Sicily was the diversion.

More than 5,000 Allied troops, mostly British or American, were killed in the Invasion of Sicily. However some 9,000 Nazi soldiers and Italian soldiers died while fighting for their country. Some 117,000 are missing.

Operation Mincemeat, it is believed, saved thousands of Allied civilians during the invasion. It also paved the road for the Italian Campaign.

The William Martin Association, a group of British expats living in Huelva, was formed to highlight the incident.

The association members successfully lobby for changes in the stone’s inscription, which recognizes Glyndwr Michael to be the real identity of the man who is buried there.

In 1997, the MI5 documents were discovered. However, no exhumation was done.

Gladys Mendez Naylor, the father who tended to the grave in respect of those beneath it, stated that several members of the association would like to discover the identity of the deceased.

However, she says it doesn’t really matter who is in the tomb. 

She said that what matters is the fact that the individual had done ‘a good deed for his country’, whoever he may have been.