Christopher Lee cemented himself as an icon of the silver screen. During his long and prestigious acting career he was in hundreds of films. His most notable roles were Dracula and later the Wizard Saruman in The Lord of the Rings. However, long before his acting career began, Lee had a lesser known, but just as impressive, career in the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the British Army during World War II.
Lee enlisted in the RAF in 1940. He worked as an intelligence officer and specialized in decoding German cyphers. In 1943 Lee was seconded to the Army in an officer swap scheme. After this swap he served with the Gurkhas of the 8th Indian Infantry Division during the Battle of Monte Cassino.
There is little known about much of Lee’s time in service, as his records remain classified and he was “reluctant” to discuss anything to do with his service. Between the time he enlisted in the RAF and he was seconded to the Army, Lee was attached to the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), which was the precursor to the Special Air Service (SAS). When pressed about his time serving with the SAS Lee said, “I was attached to the SAS from time to time, but we are forbidden – former, present, or future – to discuss any specific operations. Let’s just say I was in Special Forces and leave it at that. People can read into that what they like.”
After his time with the LRDG, Lee was assigned to the Special Operations Executive (SOE). During his time with the SOE, he conducted espionage, sabotage, and reconnaissance in the Axis occupied Europe. During his final few months of service Lee, who was fluent in several languages including French and German, was tasked with tracking down Nazi war criminals alongside the Central Registry of War Criminals.
When Lee described his time with the organization he stated, “We were given dossiers of what they’d done, and told to find them, interrogate them as much as we could and hand them over to the appropriate authority.” Lee retired from the RAF in 1946 as a Flight Lieutenant. Post retirement he was decorated for battlefield bravery by the Czech, Yugoslav, British, and Polish governments.
Flying Officer C. F. C. Lee in Vatican City, 1944, soon after the Liberation of Rome. (Wikimedia Commons.)
Not long after his retirement from the RAF, Lee began his film career. It wasn’t long before he proved himself as a true legend of the film industry. This legendary icon of the silver screen, Sir Christopher Lee, passed away in June of 2015 after a lengthy battle with heart problems. His loss was greatly mourned by those who knew him, and those who loved him through his prolific work on screen.
Sir Christopher Lee will always be remembered for his iconic roles in major motion pictures, it can be said that he was one of, if not the, most prolific actors in motion picture history. However, the life he led before his film career is one that should be remembered and celebrated as well. Though details remain unknown and classified, and he never truly spoke of them, his service during World War II was nothing short of heroic. The world will never know what men like Christopher Lee did during the war, but they are heroes nonetheless.
In an interview with a somewhat eager reporter, Lee showed his cheeky yet firm stance on the discussion of his time with the SAS during the war. He leaned forward and whispered to the reporter, “Can you keep a secret?” The interviewer replied with an excited, “Yes!” Lee smiled and leaned back in his chair as he replied, “So can I.”