FROM SCRATCHWOOD TO WYCHWOOD

Agent Sonya, the village spy

in the picturesque village of Great Rollright (from which the Stones get their name) you might have seen a slim, middle-aged woman, known to her neighbours as Mrs. Burton, set off on her bicycle, from her home - The Firs, Church End.

Perhaps she was on her way to deliver a batch of scones for the Bring and Buy Sale, or maybe off to the shops for whatever goods her ration book could allow, to feed her three children. Maybe she was just off for a pleasant jaunt around this pretty Oxfordshire country. Maybe she was plotting the downfall of Western society. Who could tell?

For Ursula Buerten (nee Kuczynski) was a Soviet spy - had been for over a decade. Indeed, she was Colonel Ursula Kuczynski of the GRU - codename 'Sonya'. She had started her career of espionage in China, with spells in Poland and Switzerland, but had then moved to England as a refugee, as the Nazis began to threaten people like her - a communist and a jew, helped by the British passport of her new husband Len Beurton (also GRU), in 1938.

During the war, she had offered her services to the Allied cause, helping OSS (the precursor of CIA) to infiltrate agents into Nazi Germany (many of these turned out to owe more allegiance to Moscow than to Washington).

At the end of the war, she 'retired' into a genteel, quiet existence in Great Rollright. She had never concealed her communist sympathies and, indeed, MI5 had interviewed her a couple of times. But they didn't seem to take a mere housewife as a serious threat.

But those bicycle rides, out into the country, were an ideal cover for not-so-covert meetings with like-minded spies - like Klaus Fuchs, a physicist working at the nearby Atomic Research Centre at Harwell. There were other sources, feeding her with all sorts of military secrets, but Fuchs was the 'star' - for his information contained the secrets of Britain's atomic bomb. The transmission of that information enabled the USSR to build their own bomb.

That information was sent to Moscow from a transmitter Ursula herself had built, in an outhouse in the garden of The Firs.

When Fuchs was unmasked, Agent Sonya slipped away to (now) East Germany, with none of the fuss that accompanied the flight of Brgess, Maclean and Philby.

There she had a relatively quiet time, writing a number of books, including books for children. She wrote a heavily-censored autobiography in 1976 (very popular in the GDR). Ursula (or 'Ruth Werner', as she was known in later life) died in 2000. It wasn't until 2006 that the full, uncensored version was released, with the details of her co-conspirators.

You've got to watch out for those middle-aged women on bicycles.

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