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In search of James Roy

Jim Beach, a senior lecturer at England’s University of Northampton, is the second Geraldine Grace and Maurice Alvin McWatters Visiting Fellow, visited Queen's Archives to conduct research on former professor and British Intelligence officerJames Roy. University Communications

This article is published in the Aug. 12 edition of the Gazette. Pick up your copy of the newspaper at one of the many locations around campus.

By Andrew Carroll, Gazette editor

Jim Beach has crossed the Atlantic Ocean for a chance to get to know former Queen’s English professor James Roy a little better.

Well, a lot better actually.

Dr. Beach, a senior lecturer at England’s University of Northampton, is the second Geraldine Grace and Maurice Alvin McWatters Visiting Fellow, and arrived at Queen’s on June 16 to conduct research into the background of Professor Roy, who taught at Queen’s from 1920 to 1950.

Professor Roy was a beloved professor and is perhaps best known as the author of Kingston: The King’s Town, a book on the history of the city, published in 1952, and donated close to 1,000 books from his personal collection to the Queen’s library after his retirement.

Also there is a scholarship in his name for the Department of English.

Geraldine Grace and Maurice Alvin McWatters Visiting Fellowship
The Geraldine Grace and Maurice Alvin McWatters Visiting Fellowship was created by their daughter, Dr. Cheryl S. McWatters, a long-time friend and supporter of the Queen’s Archives, and her husband, John MacDiarmid.
The fellowship is designed to foster, promote, and support original archival research by scholars, authors, or artists in the collections located at Queen's Archives. The $4,00 stipend provided by the fellowship is intended to help defray living, travel, or research expenses of researchers to come to the Archives to conduct their research.
For more go to archives.queensu.ca/about/fellowship.html.

However, Dr. Beach, a historian of British security in the early 20th century, is most interested in Professor Roy’s time as an intelligence officer with the British Army during the First World War.

The month-long fellowship allows Dr. Beach to delve into the resources available at Queen’s Archives hoping to gain some insight into the man as well as his service.

It’s been a great opportunity to do some in-depth research.

“It’s been really great to be here for a month with the focus of James Roy, to go through the papers much more forensically than I was able to do when I had just a couple of days (on an earlier visit), and really, really follow the leads, and use other sources here at Queen’s,” Dr. Beach explains.

The plan is to write a book.

Dr. Beach came across Professor Roy’s story around 15 years ago at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh while doing research for his PhD. There, an archivist introduced him to a memoir written by an intelligence officer – James Roy.

He would come back to that story about a decade later but to find out more about Professor Roy all the signs pointed to Queen’s.

He would have to go forward first in order to go back. Professor Roy’s time at Queen’s, and within the Kingston community, have provided insights to his military service. There are speeches and correspondence that hold information or can verify other accounts.

Dr. Beach describes Roy as having an outgoing personality who was fluent in German as well as a good conversationalist. This meant he was able to get German prisoners of war to talk, exactly what you want in an intelligence officer. He also spent a significant amount of the war on the frontlines gathering information.

“So for me, in terms of telling the story of the intelligence corps on the Western Front, James Roy is great because he stays in the mainstream and he’s also at some interesting places at interesting times,” he says. “For example at the beginning of 1918 he’s working as an analyst at General Headquarters, which is the point at which the British are trying to figure out what the Germans are going to do when they attack in March 1918. From my point of view as a military historian, he’s quite often in the right place at the right time and he’s an interesting witness to those events.”

Queen’s Archives has proven to be a treasure trove of information on Professor Roy.

“That’s the beauty of this fellowship – the resources that are available here,” he says. “It’s a great place to be, to research about Professor Roy.”