Trixie Whitehead: Intelligence and the First World War

Trixie Whitehead: Intelligence and the First World War
British intelligence tends to conjure up thoughts of MI6, James Bond and of course the Cold War. It was WWI, however, that was the first international conflict that British intelligence agencies became an important part of the government’s overall war effort.

This is of particular relevance to the Expert Nation project. While doing research on the graduates of the Women’s College within the University of Sydney I came across Trixie Geraldine Whitehead (featured in the Expert Nation database), who worked in the War Trade Intelligence Department from 1915-1918. Trixie was a fabulous student and studied at the University of Sydney, the University of Melbourne, Cambridge and Trinity College Dublin. Frustratingly Cambridge did not let her graduate with the MA she studied for simply because she was a woman. Not dissuaded though, Trixie then moved to Trinity College Dublin where she was awarded her MA in 1903.[1]

Currently, I can only imagine what Trixie experienced during her war service. Partly, this is because I live in Australia and the records of the War Trade Intelligence Department are housed in Britain at the National Archives>> and the Imperial War Museum>>. Also, few histories of British Intelligence exist,[2] so we do not really know what people like Trixie saw and did during the war. After WWI Trixie went on to a long career in education and became headmistress of schools in Switzerland and England. One wonders how working in intelligence may have influenced Trixie’s ideas about education and the world in the tumultuous years of the 1920s and 1930s. Individuals like Trixie remind us, then, that there is much to learn about WWI and how it shaped the lives of those who returned home.

Gabrielle Kemmis, University of Sydney


[1] Cambridge eventually awarded Trixie the MA she studied for in 1927.

[2] ‘Intelligence and National Security: A Century of British Intelligence’, Intelligence and National Security  Volume 27, 2012 -Issue 1: 100 Years of British Intelligence,, last viewed 25 November 2016.

IMAGE: Student record, 1988.0052, University of Melbourne Archives