Flora Solomon provided MI5 with the evidence they needed to arrest Wilby
My hero: Flora Solomon by Ben Macintyre
Solomon's exposure of Kim Philby as a Soviet spy changed the course of British history
Friday 4 April 2014
ussian soul, Jewish heart, British passport", was how Flora Solomon described herself at the end of an extraordinary life that took her from the Russian revolution to the British high street, from Marx to Marks & Spencer.
Solomon (1895-1984), the daughter of a Jewish-Russian oil and gold tycoon, had an affair with Alexander Kerensky, the Russian prime minister deposed by Lenin in the October revolution, created the welfare department of M&S and gave birth to the founder of Amnesty International (Peter Benenson). But, for me, her heroism lies primarily in her exposure of Kim Philby as a Soviet spy.
Flora Benenson grew up in Baku and St Petersburg. She moved to London during the first world war and married a British soldier, with whom she had one son. In 1934, she set up a staff welfare service for M&S, devising health plans, pension schemes, training programmes and other initiatives that would help to shape the welfare state after the second world war. She became friendly with Philby during the 1930s, and introduced him to his future wife, a store detective at M&S. Solomon was firmly on the left, and in 1935, over lunch, Philby told her he was "doing a very dangerous job for peace" and added: "It would be a great thing if she would join the cause."
Solomon had no idea Philby was already a Soviet spy, but she recognised what was unmistakably an invitation to join him in working secretly for communism. She turned down the offer, but, in 1962, told a former MI5 officer about the conversation she had had with Philby nearly three decades earlier. MI5 had been hunting him for years and Solomon's account was the hard evidence of guilt they had always lacked. He was confronted in Beirut by Nicholas Elliott, his closest friend in MI6, and then fled to Moscow.
Solomon changed the working practices of Britain and, by denouncing Philby when she did, she changed the course of British history. Had she not done so, this country's most notorious traitor would probably have got away with it.