MI9 was set up in December 1940 by an ex-infantry major, Norman Crockatt, with the objective of monitoring activities in German internment camps and to help men to escape or avoid capture in the first place. At first it was placed in Room 424 of the Metropole Hotel, Northumberland Avenue, London. It received little financial support and was under staffed due to the power struggles and personality clashes with MI6 (whose head was Colonel Sir Claude Dansey) and other outfits such as SOE and PWE.With limited space at the Metropole, a floor was also taken at the requisitioned Great Central Hotel, opposite Marylebone station where WWII evaders were questioned about their journey home. Later MI9 moved to Wilton Park, Beaconsfield.
In August 1941, a Belgian resistance helper Andrée de Jongh (nicknamed "Dédée") appeared in the British consulate in Bilbao with a British soldier, James Cromar from Aberdeen, and two Belgian volunteers, Merchiers and Sterckmans, having travelled by train through Paris to Bayonne, and then on foot over the Pyrenees. She requested support for her escape network, (later named the Comet line) which was granted by MI9. With assistance from MI9 she helped around 400 Allied soldiers to escape from Belgium, through occupied France to the British consulate in Madrid and on to Gibraltar. Andrée accompanied 118 of them herself. Airey Neave described her as "one of our greatest agents
There were three other main evasion routes for allied evaders, assisted by MI9. The "Pat" line (named after the founder "Pat O'Leary", alias of Albert Guérisse) ran from Paris to either Toulouse via Limoges and then over the Pyrenees via Esterri d'Aneu to Barcelona. Another route of the "Pat" line ran from Paris to Dijon, Lyons, Avignon to Marseilles, then onto Nimes, Perpignan and Barcelona. From Barcelona the evaders were transported to Gibraltar for transport home. Another route from Paris (the Shelburne line) ran to Rennes and then onto St Brieuc in Brittany where men were shipped back to Dartmouth in Britain by British gunboats or fishing boats.
In Jan 1942 Lieutenant Airey Neave escaped from Colditz castle and made his way to neutral Switzerland before travelling via Marseilles, Barcelona, Madrid and Gibraltar to reach Britain. Neave and another army evader called Jimmy Langley met up with the head of MI9, Colonel Crockatt, in London and were both recruited to join MI9. From room 900 in the War Office in London, Neave and Langley ran a small outfit known as IS9(d), providing the escape lines with funds, radio equipment and agents.
Later Neave organised a flotilla of four gunboats based at Dartmouth, Devon, to cross the channel in order to run agents and supplies to the French resistance in Brittany, and to return escaped POWs and evaders back to Britain.
After the failure of Operation Market Garden at Arnhem, MI9 and Neave organised Operation Pegasus which successfully rescued 138 Allied soldiers, airmen and Dutch resistance who had been stranded behind German lines.
On 20 May 1944 the first evaders, helped by MI9 were brought from Paris to the Fréteval forest. The forest is 299 sq miles of thick woodland 100 miles south of Paris. It was used to hide Allied airmen who were on the run in a camp with the codename of "Sherwood". The route from Paris involved the evaders getting the train to the town of Châteaudun and then a 10 mile hike down country roads. The French Resistance was very strong in this area and the officer in charge was an ex-Comet line veteran, Jean de Blommaert, who was parachuted into France and made his way to Paris to start arrangements for the camp. Airey Neave, was in overall contact and on 13 August 1944 the Fréteval camp was liberated by the American 3rd Army and 132 Allied airmen were brought to safety.
Hutton made compasses that were hidden inside pens or tunic buttons, he used left-hand threads so that, if the Germans discovered them and the searcher tried to screw them open, they would just tighten. He printed maps on silk, so they would not rustle, and disguised them as handkerchiefs, hiding them inside canned goods. For aircrew he designed special boots with detachable leggings so that they could be quickly converted to look like civilian shoes, the hollow heels also contained packets of dried food. Some of the spare uniforms that were sent to prisoners could be easily converted into civilian suits. Officer prisoners inside Colditz Castle requested and received a complete floor plan of the castle.
Hutton also designed an escaper's knife: a strong blade, a screwdriver, three saws, a lockpick, a forcing tool and a wire cutter.
MI9 used the advice of master stage-magician Jasper Maskelyne to design hiding places for escape aids: tools disguised in a cricket bat, a saw blade inside a comb, maps in the backs of books and on playing cards and inside gramophone records, board-game sets that concealed money.
Forged German identity cards, ration coupons and travel warrants were also smuggled into POW camps by MI9.
MI9 sent the tools in parcels in the name of various, usually nonexistent, charity organizations. They dared not to use Red Cross parcels lest they violate the Geneva Conventions and also to avoid the chance that guards would restrict access to them. MI9 relied upon their parcels either not being searched by the Germans or ensuring that the prisoners (warned by a message) could remove the contraband before they were searched. In time the German guards learned to expect and find the escape aids. One famous story is that of the gramophone records. Described by Pat Reid in his book, it is the story of a package of records sent to Colditz prisoners in the Second World War. One soldier took his out of the package and tripped. It smashed on the floor to reveal money and forged identity cards. Unfortunately, everyone else took to smashing their records hoping that they would find some escape items inside, destroying their actual records with nothing to be found inside.