This is a composite picture of George Saunders created from two photographs. They were both taken in January 1966, which is approximately twenty-two months after George Saunders first met John Gilman in a pub at Chelmsford, Essex.
To say that this is a strange tale is an understatement. To even suggest that it sounds unbelievable is not unreasonable, but in the absence of contradictory evidence, this is the tale that we are asked to believe, and subject to additional evidence to the contrary, we accept as being true.
To recap, young George who is about twenty-two months younger than the picture you see to the left, has a job at Marconi where he has been employed for about four years. He has been assigned to write a handbook about marine radar, a subject that he finds boring and admits that he knows little about. But it is a steady job with a major British firm of international repute.
One day in Chelmsford, Essex, after working on the marine radar handbook, bored George departed the factory gates of Marconi and went to his local pub to enjoy a pint, or something similar to wet his whistle. But as he raises his glass he also struck-up a conversation with another customer who was sitting at a nearby table.
George did not know it at the time, but that fellow customer was not a local and neither did he work for Marconi. He was a man on a mission, which seems to have been meeting George Saunders. His name is John Howard Gilman and he was at the time, a retired BBC veteran technician, but on that particular day, it seems that he was there not by chance, but because he had been observing young George. Today, we might call it scouting for talent, or even stalking a victim, or in this instance a 'patsy'.
Gilman was looking for a young and willing candidate whose credentials had previously been vetted and approved by Marconi who considered the mind of George Saunders to be worth the investment of training to become a part of their own technical team. So Gilman made Saunders an offer which apparently Saunders could not refuse, because a few days later, George Saunders called John Gilman to accept his offer.
That offer required George Saunders to resign from his career at Marconi. We don't know the financial terms of Gilman's offer, but they must have been worthwhile for George Saunders to throw away a career and go to work for a company that he will later admit is couched in so much mystery, that he did not know who he was going to work for. He only learn later the strange mechanism by which he would be paid: His wages would flow from an arrangement with a Liechtenstein operation to a Swiss bank, and then they would become available to George via a London bank.
George took the bait. He resigned from Marconi and then followed Gilman's instructions to the letter. He was to go from Chelmsford to Heathrow Airport where he would board a flight to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland. When he got off the plane he was to catch a train bound for Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK, but, he was to alight at Dundalk in the Republic of Ireland.
Had George previously been told about the swirling mist of myths surrounding a young man named Ronan O'Rahilly when he alighted at the Dundalk, his mind might have jarred in recall years later with his own retelling of a momentary visit made by him in 1964 to its railway station. Two years after George's arrival at Dundalk station, and around the time that the pictures of him were taken that are shown at the top of this page; on Sunday, April 10, 1966, the railway station at Dundalk was renamed in honor of Tom Clarke. This man was one of the executed leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising against the British. Now at that time, the dusting-off of the fables relating to 'The O'Rahilly' were yet to follow. But in 1964, at this soon-to-be commemorated site of the Irish Republican rebellion against of British rule, George got off the train and there, as promised, was John Gilman waiting for him in a car.
George has recited this story several times to different people, including a member of 'The Trio', and he has been asked what kind of job he thought that he was going to be embarking upon. George says that Gilman only told him that it concerned "engineering" and that it was of course related to Gilman's previous admission in the Chelmsford pub, that this "engineering" work concerned a project to put a commercial radio station on board a ship which would then drop its anchor off the coastline of England, and commence broadcasts to an audience in the British Isles.
For the next part of the story young George might just as well have been telling the police what he knew about being kidnapped, except that he was not going anywhere against his will. He was willingly going off into a dark story by his own account, and it was to venture into an undertaking where he would work on something that he only had a vague idea about, and that he was doing this on behalf of a very mysterious operation that he knew almost nothing about. But, this is what George signed up to do after quitting his secure job with Marconi, which I suppose only raises the question of whether Marconi were as bored with George, as George seems to have been with the work Marconi assigned to him? Only George now knows the answer to that question.
"I got off at Dundalk", says George, "and there sure enough was the chap I now know as John Gilman." That is what George said in an OEM interview. Does this mean that Gilman gave him a fake name when he met him in that Chelmsford pub? Who did George think that he was calling when he made his first telephone call to the man that "I now know as John Gilman"? Did he talk to Gilman on that phone call, or someone else, and who owned the telephone number that George called? We don't know because George did not tell us.
George does say that the man he came to know as Gilman "took me in his car and he said 'the ship's actually at Greenore, which is some way away." George recalled that they traveled over "a narrow windy road" and he remembers passing a castle, but he could not at the time remember what its name was. So I turned to the Internet to see how many castles there are between Dundalk and Greenore in Eire.
About 10 km or 7 miles northeast of Dundalk sits Castle Roche. It is perched on a rocky outcrop and it looks as if Gilman's car with George in it, would have driven along a winding road that passed beneath its sloping shadow. The castle dates back to 1236 when John de Verdun built its strong walls; deep moat and a secret passageway that led to the once fabled healing powers of waters sought by pilgrims drawn from St. Ronan's Well; which of course had nothing to do with the blarney that was liberally spashed around by that now departed eponymous member of the O'Rahilly family during his lifetime.
George continues with his recital: ".... eventually we got to Greenore and it was quite surprising, it had been an old railway terminal and a very large hotel was there, I remember it was quite a big building, probably about three storeys high."
Since this account by George Saunders has everything to do with events that led to the creation of Radio Caroline, we will continue our meticulous journey back in time with his account, tomorrow.