‘Les Jauncey, radical Australian historian and person of interest to the FBI: Part I’, Honest History, 25 July 2017
Reintroducing Les and Bee Jauncey
Leslie Cyril Jauncey (1899-1959) has been a fellow traveller in the Honest History enterprise almost since the beginning. (We feel we know him so well, we’ll take the liberty of calling him ‘Les’, though he probably answered to this only as a very young man.)
When we started the website in late 2013, we wanted a name for a column containing miscellaneous jottings on aspects of history. We thought of calling the column ‘Herodotus’ or ‘Thucydides’, but settled on something to do with Jauncey, the author of ground-breaking Australian books on the conscription struggles during World War I and on banking, because … well, just because he looked kind of interesting and a bit mysterious.
At first, we couldn’t even find a picture of Les, and we soon realised the Australian Dictionary of Biography entry on him was a bit thin. The online ADB version was augmented later with some research from Steve Flora and a photograph which Steve procured from a Jauncey relative. There’s more biodata here.
Les Jauncey, left, with King O’Malley, Dr W Maloney MP, and Aimee O’Malley, Melbourne, c. 1934 (Australia’s Government Bank)
So, ‘Jauncey’s view’ became the name of the column and, as our – mostly Steve’s – researches into Jauncey grew, the idea of the column – random thoughts from various writers – changed, until it became mostly a column about Les Jauncey himself, his wife Beatrice Eva Jauncey nee Edmonds (1895-1996, known as Bee, an heiress from New Zealand, a vivacious woman, and how she and Les got together was a story in itself), his brother Eric (victimised during the Great War by paranoid university colleagues in the United States, but later to become a noted physicist), Les’s friendship with the Labor identity and former minister, King O’Malley, his letters to Labor leader, HV Evatt (possibly never answered), his perceptive journalism from the United States, and so on.
‘Jauncey’s view’ lasted for two years and you can read the archive here. But when we left Les and Bee at the end of 2015, the ‘mother lode’ of evidence remained unbroached. This was the FBI file on Les, who lived in the United States for much of the last 30 years of his life. Why did he have a file, we wondered, and what was in it? The assiduous Steve set himself to find out and, after a couple of years of fencing between him and US officials, the file, heavily redacted, arrived. We looked forward to finding out more about Les and Bee Jauncey. This – as they say on that venerable ABC television program – is their story …
(We have paraphrased the file, provided comments, and here and there quoted it direct. We are still awaiting the outcome of an appeal to the US National Archives which might lead to more of the file being revealed.)
17 February 1941. The file appears to have been opened on 17 December 1940, though the first document in it is dated 17 February 1941. It was opened because an unnamed informant had declared Jauncey to be a Communist, due to certain statements Les had made supporting Stalin. The report confirmed the address of Les and Bee at that time as 2365 30th Street, San Diego, California. The informant thought Les’s first name was ‘William’; as it later turned out, this was due to Bee often calling him ‘Bill’. That nickname is also confirmed from letters sent by the Jaunceys to King O’Malley in Melbourne.
Description of Les at this time: ‘Age 43, Height 5 ft 5 in, Weight 120; Eyes: Blue, wears horn-rimmed glasses; Hair: Blond, thin; Accent: English.’ (Elsewhere in the file, he clocks in at 5ft 8 in; Bee may have been taller.)
Note that, between these two entries in the file, expressing support for Stalin had probably become less of an issue because Germany had invaded the Soviet Union and Stalin had joined Britain and its allies. (The United States did not enter the war till December.)
7 November 1941. Field report corrects Les’s name and notes a ‘neighbourhood investigation’ that revealed nothing to support the initial suspicions of Les from the unnamed informant. The investigation was closed, as nothing incriminating Les was to be found in any local government records.
Camp Fire Girls camp, nd ?1930s (NonchalantMom)
9 October 1947. The next item is not for nearly six years. It shows Les and Bee still living at 2365 30th Street, San Diego. FBI interest has again been aroused because an informant has said that Les is ‘disseminating Communist Party propaganda in the San Diego area’. Two agent reports are made, one in April 1947 and the second in August.
The 17 April 1947 agent report says Les is an ‘instructor for Camp Fire Girls’ [like the Girl Guides or Girl Scouts, though Les described it to King O’Malley around this time as ‘an organization for providing girls with useful things to do during their leisure time’] in San Diego and it is alleged he is spreading Communist Party propaganda. He is also ‘reportedly an alien who was previously a professor at the University of New Mexico, from which organization his resignation was requested’. We know from Les’s ADB entry and other sources that he was at this university 1929-30 but we had not previously found evidence of the reason for his leaving that post.
The informant in this report was RA Nelson ‘of the Nelson-Thomas Company, 1160 Second Avenue, San Diego, California, who is president of the San Diego County Council of Camp Fire Girls’. Nelson ‘also stated the Subject is on the Committee of Awards of the Camp Fire Girls and is also an instructor …’ This may have caused problems in Les and Bee’s work with the Camp Fire Girls – politics in voluntary organisations can get hot – but by 1957 Les was sufficiently back in favour with the Girls to receive an award for his distinguished service.
Another Camp Fire Girls official stated that, in her view, neither Les nor Bee were ‘happy in this country’. If this is true, why didn’t they relocate either to New Zealand or Australia after 1945 and the end of the war? Even if they had previously remained in the United States because Les wanted to be close to his brother Eric and his family, Eric had died in 1947, removing that possible reason.
Eric’s death may have been one catalyst for Les and Bee’s year-long visit to New Zealand and Australia in 1948-49, but that still doesn’t explain why they didn’t stay in either of those countries once they left the United States. Les wrote to King O’Malley in January 1950, after his return from Australia:
Bee and I were sorry to leave Australia, and I should not be surprised if we return to Melbourne again, but it will not be for two or three years at least. I have no desire to be in New Zealand or Australia under Holland [conservative New Zealand PM from 1949] or Menzies [consevative Australian PM from 1949]. If I have to be in a conservative country, I think I prefer to be in the United States for the time being. Mind you, it was bad enough under Fraser and Chifley [NZ Labour and Australian Labor PMs to 1949], but I just could not stand it under Menzies and Holland.
(There is more on this trip later.)
A field report dated 2 August 1947 shows an agent visited the University of New Mexico to look into records there regarding Les’s brief time in 1929-30 – 17 years before – as an associate professor of Economics and Business Administration. His record at UofNM says he ‘served in the Citizens Army of Australia 1918-19’; we have seen no other evidence of this (but more later on this point). The report contains nothing about Les having to resign his university position, despite the San Diego rumour.
15 June 1950. The FBI again started to look at Les and Bee in San Diego and referenced the reports from 1947. In 1950, the agency received a report from someone in Washington DC, detailing aspects of the Jaunceys’ visits to DC in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The informant this time suggested Les had inferred he was high up in New York City Communist circles. The informant also said: ‘The day we (the United States) declared war … [Jauncey?] told me he burned a whole trunk full of papers, saying, he had to “get rid of them – fast”’. The implication was that these items were incriminating.
Alger Hiss (Wikipedia)
This report cites ‘a confidential source’ in January 1947 who claimed that ‘the address book of Henry Hill Collins, Jr. contained the names of L. Jauncey and B. Jauncey, 2365 30th Street, San Diego, California’. Henry Hill Collins was a US government employee who had connections with Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers, who were involved in a celebrated espionage case around this time. Both of these names brought attention to anyone associated with them, even if just in passing. This gives a good indication of why there was FBI interest in Les during this period.
The other possibility is that the FBI had targeted Les because of his brother Eric’s brush with the FBI’s predecessor, the Bureau of Investigation, after Eric had been heard to utter pacifist sentiments in 1917. Eric had later written to Australian Prime Minister Hughes, complaining of his treatment in the United States and seeking a passport to return to Australia. This letter may have been copied to the US authorities. (More on this below.) Perhaps the combination of Les’s acquaintances, his family history, and Cold War paranoia were enough to put him and Bee on a watch list.
21 August 1950. An informant says Les spoke at ‘an anti-conscription meeting in San Diego on 13 January 1948’ and had ‘recently moved to Route 2, Box 688, Spring Valley, California’. (This move must have been very temporary, if indeed it occurred; they were back in San Diego soon after.) The report also shows Les and Bee received letters from Eric’s widow, Effie, in Massachusetts, two of Bee’s sisters in New Zealand, a relative in Sydney and a relative in Melbourne. Clearly, the Jaunceys’ post was being inspected.
We have identified the Jaunceys’ relationships to these correspondents from our other research; the FBI in 1950 still had to find out, as the file says: ‘The Bureau is requested to identify the above correspondents, if possible, and advise of any significance which can be attached to their correspondence in regard to the instant investigation’.
13 October 1950. FBI San Diego office report confuses Les with his late brother Eric:
Reliable Informant advises Subject active in subversive circles in Davenport, Iowa during or subsequent to World War I. Also states Subject visited Russia on one occasion. Also allegedly made trip to Australia about one year ago and owns property there.
Actually, Les didn’t arrive in the U.S. until 1920 (see below); someone was saddling Les with Eric’s history at the University of Missouri in 1917. This informant apparently knew Les in the early 1920s, however, when both were attending the Palmer School of Chiropractics in Davenport, Iowa (again, see below). The same informant ‘stated the Subject’s wife “BEE”, an Australian [she was a New Zealander] is definitely more clever than the Subject and she has never exhibited any subversive inclinations to him [the informant]’.
11 November 1950. FBI report from Washington, DC, has Immigration and Naturalization Service details of Les’s travels, which confirm our previous research:
Records of the Central Office, INS, reflect subject was born November 7, 1899, Adelaide, S. Australia. He first entered the United States at Portal, North Dakota, on August 25, 1920, and has travelled intermittently in Australia, New Zealand, and Europe from 1928 to 1949 with his wife, BEATRICE EVA JAUNCEY, born November 11, 1895, New Zealand.
The file then goes into great detail about the Jaunceys’ movements into and out of the United States over more than 20 years, including visa applications, re-entry permits, periods and places of residence, and employment (Les describes himself as an Assistant Librarian in 1932 and a Property Manager in 1940). Les seems to have applied for US citizenship in 1930 but not proceeded with the application. Again, there is the claim that Les served in the Australian Army as a military cadet 1914-18, which seems unlikely, unless he was referring to the patchily enforced ‘boy conscription’ scheme that applied then.
In his most recent application for a re-entry permit Les ‘stated he intended to depart January 30, 1948, from the port of San Francisco on board the Marine Phoenix for a proposed one-year stay in Australia and New Zealand “to visit relatives and to continue economic and financial research on Australia and New Zealand, in consultation with business banking and governmental authorities in Australia and New Zealand’. This referred to work for his book, Modern Banking (1949, a revised edition of Australia’s Government Bank from 1934), and he extended the permit twice to complete the work.
These immigration records would presumably have been easy for the FBI to obtain but the question remains, why bother? Why were the Jaunceys the subject of such interest? Or were they just one couple among many that the FBI’s G-men kept tabs on? But the ferreting continued – and the ferrets were again prepared to go deep into the rabbit holes.
2 February 1951. An FBI agent visited Davenport, Iowa, to do a report on Les’s time there studying to be a chiropractor, 30 years before: ‘Subject enrolled in Palmer School of Chiropractics, Davenport, Iowa, from August 31, 1920 to March 9, 1922’.
Dr. [HERBERT] HENDER advised [the report goes on] that from the Palmer School of Chiropractics records subject enrolled in the Palmer School of Chiropractics on August 31, 1920 at the age of 21 and he graduated from there on March 9, 1922, with a DC (Doctor of Chiropractic) degree and an X-ray Diploma … His foreign address at the time of his enrolment was set forth as Adelaide, Australia, and his forwarding address at the time of his graduation in 1922 was reflected as 5623 Vernon Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri [probably Eric’s address]. Dr. HENDER remarked that subject must have been one of the most brilliant students ever enrolled at the school inasmuch as he earned the highest grade in all subjects for a total of 36 A grades. [Hender seems not to have commenced at the Palmer School till 1930, after Les had left.] Subject also had an excellent attendance record as a student … On September 7, 1923, the subject’s name was taken off the Palmer School of Chiropractics mailing list at the latter’s request, reason not set forth. At that time the subject’s address was set forth as 5611 Etzel Avenue, apartment E, St. Louis, Missouri.
So, we have Leslie Cyril Jauncey, man of many parts at different times: army cadet (possibly); author of books on conscription and banking (definitely); journalist (see his articles for Labor newspapers); academic (briefly); Assistant Librarian (again, briefly); Property Manager; Camp Fire Girls instructor (we don’t know in what subject, possibly librarianship, but probably not property management); brilliantly qualified but non-practising chiropractor (we doubt that he instructed the Camp Fire Girls in chiropractics, either); and, perhaps most of all, husband to Bee, heiress of a baking powder fortune in New Zealand, fetching ‘Cheer-oh Girl’ (volunteer entertainer of troops) in Sydney during World War I, formerly Mrs Fripp but swept off her feet by Les on a ship in 1933 (or perhaps the sweeping was mutual). Her money helped Les, or ‘Bill’, as (you’ll recall) Bee called him, live the style of life to which he had become accustomed. Indeed, he once described Bee as ‘by no means economically depressed’.
That last remark suggests Les had a good line in self-deprecating humour. By 1951, he also had health problems, but he still aroused interest, especially in Mrs RH Cranmer, who occupied a number of pages in the file.
Les Jauncey in Australia May 1949 (Adelaide News)
11 April 1951.
Complainant in San Francisco advises Subject recently stated he would have been proud to have had a son educated in Russia; also that JAUNCEY was seen perusing blueprints of a military installation in San Diego during World War II. “The Story of Conscription in Australia”, written by Subject, is reportedly the subject of current Communist propaganda in Australia. [We found one April 1951 reference to the book in the Maritime Worker, organ of the Waterside Workers’ Federation and edited by the Communist, Jim Healy. This was in an article opposing national service legislation.] Subject reportedly very ill with high blood pressure; unable to work; moved to Laguna Beach, California, recently.
On January 10, 1951, Mrs. R. H. CRANMER, 416 Twelfth Avenue, San Francisco, California, telephonically advised the San Francisco Office that a Doctor Leslie C. JAUNCEY, of Route 2, Box 688, Spring Valley, California, was extremely sympathetic toward Communism. She further related that she had been acquainted with Doctor JAUNCEY in a social way and had frequently conversed with him. She described him as Anti-American and much in sympathy with Russia.
Mrs. CRANMER also stated that, some time in the past, JAUNCEY wrote a book dealing with “anti-conscription”. She further advised he was returning to Russia, where he had previously resided, and had stated he was sorry his wife had not born him a son while in Russia, as he would have been proud to have had a son educated in Russia. [Les and Bee had visited Russia for a few weeks in 1935 but never lived there.]
Mrs. CRANMER was unable to furnish any specific statements JAUNCEY might have made concerning any of his activities. The only thing she did state was that she knows he hates this country, and he has no visible means of support, which causes her to question his activities.
On January 23, 1951, this same individual recontacted the San Francisco Office in regard to JAUNCEY, stating she has known him since 1932 and knows him to be an avowed Communist. She further informed that she is of the opinion that his wife, whom he married in 1934 in England, BEATRICE EDMONDS JAUNCEY, is also a Communist, although very wealthy.
Mrs. CRANMER, at this time, advised that she has little concrete information concerning JAUNCEY, except his statements, which she has heard him make, favouring Russia over this country. She described both JAUNCEY and his wife as very “insidious” persons.
She advised that JAUNCEY was in San Francisco on January 11, 1951, at which time he made a telephone contact with her. On the occasion of their conversation, the Subject allegedly made remarks concerning the Informant’s husband being a pawn of this Government. Mrs. CRANMER advised that her husband is a Major in the United States Army, stationed at Letterman Hospital in San Francisco.
Mrs. CRANMER further advised that Mrs. JAUNCEY owns an apartment building at 2365 30th Street in San Diego. She further informed that she, Mrs. CRANMER, resided at this building during World War II. She stated that numerous military personnel also resided in this building and that the Subject was always “snooping” around in the building. According to Mrs. CRANMER, she observed the Subject in the room of a man named “BROWN”, who was married to a Russian woman, perusing blueprints of a military installation near San Diego.
Mrs. CRANMER stated that she had never reported JAUNCEY to any military or civil authorities, as her husband considered him a stupid, blundering man. She has since decided, however, that JAUNCEY might be dangerous.
Mrs. CRANMER said that she had no further information concerning “BROWN”, except that this occurred during 1942 and “BROWN” has since moved to New York City.
Confidential Informant San Diego T-2, of known reliability, advised that Doctor Leslie JAUNCEY is presently suffering from high blood pressure and is in a serious condition. He stated that the Subject is unable to do any work of any type. This source further advised that the Subject has recently moved to Laguna Beach, California, and has sold his properties in the San Diego area.
Confidential Informant San Diego T-3, of known reliability, advised that, on January 13, 1951, Leslie JAUNCEY and his wife left a forwarding address of 551 Anita Street, Laguna Beach, California.
And, with Les and Bee on their way to Laguna Beach, that is where we will leave them till next time.
Laguna Beach 1950s: the caption says ‘What an era to be in this town’ (Pinterest)