Kell was the son of Major Waldegrave Kell (38th Regt) and his wife, Georgiana Augusta Konarska. She was daughter of a Polish emigré, Aleksander Konarski, a surgeon with the 1st Podhalian Rifle Regiment who had fought in the November Uprising and had been awarded the V.M. (Gold, 4th class) and his English wife.
No doubt Kell learned Polish from his mother. Kell's first cousin Valentine MacSwiney was also a linguist speaking eleven European languages. Valentine (a Papal diplomat & marquis) was arrested during the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, but was released the following day; Kell had had his Irish Catholic cousin under surveillance and knew he was not associated with the rebels.
A graduate from Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Kell fought in the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. He was in the Staffordshire Regt. As he could speak German, Italian, French and Polish with equal facility, he served and studied in China and Russia and subsequently learned to speak their respective languages.
While he served as an intelligence staff in Tientsin, he was also the foreign correspondent of the Daily Telegraph.
From 1902 to 1906 Kell was head of the German section of the War Office, eventually rising to the rank of staff captain.
In 1909, Kell co-founded the Secret Service Bureau, the first incarnation of the Security Service. He led the dismantling of the German spy network in Britain on the outbreak of the First World War. In 1931, he became the first Director General of the Security Service. By 1939 he had been promoted to the rank of Major-General.
- NameBase: KELL VERNON