Posts Tagged ‘secret’

Top secret D-Day plans found hidden under hotel’s floorboards

February 10th, 2015

“They are quite detailed and specific orders to be followed by troops on the ground.”

The hotel caught fire in the 1970s, but miraculously the documents survived the huge blaze. One refers to ‘D-Day 1′ 7 July 1944 and mentioned difficulties in setting up a 10-mile telephone cable as troops advanced into France.


The Balmer Lawn Hotel as it looked during the Second World War (M&Y News)

A hotel spokesman said: “We are still in the process of evaluating the papers but some seem to include code on while others are more to do with the day-to-day organisation of the soldiers. One includes an invite to all personnel to attend a musical variety show.

“Perhaps of most interest are the documents that refer to the D-Day landings.

“One document refers to D-Day1 – June 7 1944 – and mentions difficulties in setting up a ten-mile telephone cable as troops continued advancing into northern France.”

The documents were dusty, dirty and in bad shape but still readable.


Some of the newly discovered secret documents relating to the D-Day landings (M&Y News)

Chris added: “They’re in a delicate condition and unscrunching them will have to be done very carefully. After that I imagine we’ll put them on display.”

The hotel’s military history pre-dates WWII. It was built as a private house and hunting lodge in 1800 and extended in 1850.

During the WWI it was used as a field hospital, with injured soldiers being wheeled there on luggage trolleys from Brockenhurst station.

During the 1940s conflict it transformed into an army staff college. Some of the orders for the D-Day invasion were issued from the hotel ahead of the landings on June 6 1944.

Famous people who visited the hotel during the two wars included King George V, Winston Churchill and General Eisenhower.


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Cumberbatch Enigma film unlocks code to a family secret

December 8th, 2014

Mr Harrison, who died in 2012, was head-hunted to join the codebreaking team while he was an economics student at Cambridge University.

At the time, in the early 1940s, Britain was losing the Battle of the Atlantic and faced the prospect of a German invasion. Outstanding intellects were needed to crack the cryptic code used by the Germans to communicate with their U-boat submarines.

Mr Harrison was among a team recruited to work with Alan Turing at Bletchley Park HQ in Buckinghamshire. They were bound by the Official Secrets Act and forbidden to utter a word of their mission. After the war he enjoyed a career as an accountant in London before retiring to St Andrews.

True to his word, Mr Harrison kept most of his work secret until his death at the age of 90. He revealed brief details only when Mrs Smith asked if he would speak about his war work to her class.

“I was teaching the children how to gather impartial evidence from people who had lived or witnessed historical events,” she said.

“However, dad told me he wouldn’t have had much to say about the war except he went to work at Bletchley Park in a suit and carried a briefcase every day and he’d been drafted into it after

solving a crossword. The talk to pupils never happened.”

Mrs Smith did not recognise the significance of his words until she went to see the The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

“It was only when I watched the film with my husband, Blair, last week that the final pieces of the jigsaw fell into place and we truly realised dad’s contribution to the war,” she said. “No one would ever have known or guessed his part in the Alan Turing story because dad was never one to boast or push himself forward.

“This was so typical of him and his loyalty to his country.

“Now the story is unfolding, we are prouder than ever of his contribution.”

She added: “His love of puzzles lasted till a few months before his death and dad was as sharp as a tack to the end.”


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The bravest of all are those veterans who can keep a secret

November 7th, 2014

By day Roberts was a humble banker, but his alter ago, Jack King, was central to national security. When his role was revealed, his daughter was astonished. “We’re still reeling from it,” she said. Her father was not around to tell her himself, for he had taken his secret to the grave, in 1972.

Suburban bank clerk Eric Roberts

And while it would be bad news for spy novelists and espionage thriller directors if everyone kept tight lipped for ever, I cannot help feeling astonishing, redoubled admiration for those brave souls who are not only prepared to risk life and limb in the service of their country, but also willing to forgo any applause for having done so.

That is selfless heroism of a rare kind. Yet it is the heroism that I saw time and again as obits editor at the Telegraph, when stories of eye-popping wartime bravery emerged only because documents were found after someone’s death. We also frequently wrote sentences such as: “Her military exploits only came to light when, for a school project, her grandchild asked her about what she had done during the war. It was the first time she had discussed it in 55 years.”

Sometimes we ran something along the lines of: “He rarely discussed his service after the war, merely stating that he had fought alongside many brave men.” The full details only emerged in records held at the National Archives.

You have to admire that reticence, diffidence even. Take Rose Robertson, for example. She died in 2011 aged 94.

“Sworn to lifelong secrecy,” our obit stated, “she underwent tough counter-interrogation training. For the rest of her life she was very reluctant to speak about her secret work. On the rare occasions when she did, it was with self-effacing modesty, though it was clear that her memories caused her considerable distress.”

Doubtless many spies and special forces soldiers are left in “considerable distress” by the memories of what they have gone though. How that distress must be exacerbated by the loneliness of not being able to tell anyone.

War correspondents, who suffer their fair share of PTSD, sometimes say that they are spared the worst mental hangover because they relentlessly tell and retell the stories of their scrapes. In fact there is little they like better. Rob O’Neill didn’t have that option, that comfort. And there seems little doubt that he was an extremely courageous man. How can anyone who has endured less possibly condemn him?

But that only confirms the point that the greatest heroes are those who you will never know about, at least in their life times, because they just don’t talk about it. They all deserve a medal. A big one. They just won’t ever be able to wear it in public.

Thinker, Failure, Soldier, Jailer… – An Anthology of The Telegraph’s Greatest Ever Obituaries


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Look inside Benito Mussolini’s secret bunker as it opens to the public

October 27th, 2014

Secret underground bunkers and an anti-gas chamber built by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini during World War II under his 19th-century villa in Rome, will be opened to the public for the first time.

Villa Torlonia is now a popular park where Romans gather to picnic, jog and enjoy the views, but between 1925-1943, Mussolini lived there with this wife and children.

He built the underground chambers to protect himself and his family from possible air raids and gas attacks.

Two underground structures, built in great secrecy, cover more than 2,000 square feet and include an anti-gas chamber with air ducts and showers for decontamination, all protected by a double set of airtight doors.

“Of course Hitler had his bunker, Mussolini couldn’t have anything less. The truth is he was always against the use of a bunker during the bombings – or so he claimed,” said Laura Lombardi, a historian working for the Rome Underground association.

“He always said ‘I’ll wait for the bombs to come on my balcony, I’ll never go underground’. In fact we know that when there was an airstrike in Albania, at the very first sound of a bomb he went to seek shelter in a bunker!”

The building of the bunker took sometime and it remained incomplete after his death.

By the time air raids hit Rome, “Il Duce” had been deposed and was leading a puppet state in northern Italy under Nazi protection.


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Life in pictures of the secret agent seductress

September 21st, 2014

Fifi’s job involved testing would-be British agents from the SOE’s “finishing school” at Beaulieu by turning up unannounced while they were engaged on 96-hour training missions in towns and cities around the country.

The rendezvous point was usually a hotel bar. Over drinks, the lonely agents – often from the Continent and suffering from homesickness – would blow their cover and confide in the sympathetic woman claiming to be a French journalist.

One official report noted that her looks were perhaps “too striking and foreign for English tastes” but suitable for Beaulieu students, who were mostly from the Continent. London-born Chilver was half-British and half-Latvian, and her education – first at a German school in Riga, then at the Sorbonne – gave her a distinctly European air.

After leaving the service, Chilver lived with her companion, Jean ‘Alex’ Felgate, a fellow SEO agent, from the 1950s until her death in 2007 aged 86. They bought a converted cider barn in the Forest of Dean and devoted their lives to tending its many acres, which they turned into an animal sanctuary.

Chilver let few people into her life. In her will, she asked to be cremated “without ceremony” and Felgate was the only mourner.

One of her few friends was Janice Cutmore, who cared for the couple in their final years. When Felgate died in 2011, she left part of her estate and all her wartime mementoes to Mrs Cutmore.

“It was an isolated house and they liked to be away from everybody. All their photographs were in an album, and the only ones on show were of their animals,” Mrs Cutmore said.

“Christine knew her mind and nothing would change it. But she was fair and when you got to know her she was lovely. I started off as their cleaner, but when Christine came out of hospital after a hip operation they gave her a carer and, Christine being Christine, she was not having any of it. So I asked if she would like me to look after her and she said yes.

“Alex told us a bit about Christine’s work after she died. She said Christine would go to a pub all dressed up and see which one of the new recruits would say, ‘Guess what I do for a living’.”

Jonathan Cole of the National Archives said Fifi became “a legend of SOE, a symbol of seduction – not surprising, since she’s said to have bedded trainee agents to find out whether they talked in their sleep”.

Chilver’s reports detail nothing of the sort, and appear to show that flirtation over drinks or dinner was enough to get the agents spilling their secrets.

As part of her cover as a supposed journalist she wrote an article for Housewife magazine about the differences between British and European men.

European men like a woman to be a woman, she wrote. “So make a routine of the little things. Keeping your smile fresh and the seams of your stockings straight. Sitting down with poise. Always walking, instead of striding along with swinging arms.”

Beneath the strong exterior, Chilver had family difficulties. She sent all earnings from her “very slender bank balance” to her deaf elder sister and ailing mother in Sweden, where they had fled when the Russian army invaded Latvia.

She published a book about her love for animals, which included oblique references to the war years. “Animals are magnificent teachers; they try so hard to make us behave in a manner of which we need not be ashamed,” she wrote.

“As a child I used to listen to our animals just as I listened to adult conversation. The little girl is now an old woman. She has lived to see some of the greatest horrors of all time.”


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Revealed: war diary meant to stay secret

June 8th, 2014

Other entries record the unseen wranglings of the coalition government, spies on British shores, the perceived warmongering of Churchill, tearful German ambassadors and personal clashes around the Cabinet table.

Sketch of a camouflaged warship,drawn by Joseph Pease and passed to Lewis Harcourt during the Cabinet meeting of 18 February 1915

Harcourt even records private conversations with King George V, in which the monarch allegedly claimed the government was out of touch with the people.

The politician also gossips about Asquith, who “never” indulged in a cup of tea.

Harcourt, who served as colonial secretary in 1914-15, made his notes – often verbatim – on the back of Foreign Office telegrams, as well as neat pieces of paper written up after meetings.

The papers, which were filed in initialled cases, were stored by Harcourt’s family after his death in 1922, and have been seen only by a handful of academics.

They were transferred to Oxford University in 2008, where they have been catalogued. They will now go on show in an exhibition at the university and in a book, From Downing Street to the Trenches by Mike Webb.

Issued by the Bodleian Library, the book will use personal letters and first-hand diary extracts of contemporary politicians and their peers to tell the story of how the First World War unfolded.

Harcourt’s notes, which he was expressly forbidden from taking, are believed to have been intended to one day contribute to his memoirs, and give an unexpectedly candid account of life in the pre-war government.

In 1914, he recorded how Asquith had been warned about the activities of Churchill, of whom Harcourt recorded having a “profound distrust”.

By June, he wrote of Churchill’s getting “prematurely into the war stage”, noting: “I think he has gone mad.” In August, Harcourt claimed that the French and German ambassadors were “in tears” at the prospect of being “crushed” by war, while Churchill threatened to resign if Germany was permitted to violate Belgium’s neutrality.

Further Cabinet clashes involved Churchill’s “trying to raise compulsory service” against the prime minister’s wishes, and various members trying to bargain over the ownership of Cyprus and Malta.

By March 2 1915, a frustrated Asquith had passed a handwritten note to Harcourt, reading: “I shall some day keep a Cabinet time table. I roughly estimate that about one-half of the whole is taken up by one person.”

Sketch by Lewis Harcourt from his journal, showing the positions round the table of the first coalition cabinet,27 May 1915,together with his notes of the discussions

For the avoidance of any doubt, Harcourt added the initials W.S.C: Winston Spencer Churchill. On Aug 17 1916, at what appeared to be a crisis point for the government, Harcourt wrote of persuading Kitchener, the war secretary, not to resign, putting him in a “more yielding mood” by informing him he would be “damned in history and by the allies”.

As well as negotiating the future of Europe, the Cabinet found time for “long and confused discussion” about women’s suffrage, with one member condemning it as a “criminal waste of time”.

By Oct 5 1916, Harcourt’s note-taking had come to the attention of Asquith, who wrote to him saying: “It has been represented to me by some of my colleague that you are in the habit of taking notes of what goes on at Cabinet. As I have more than once pointed out in the past, this is a violation of our unwritten law.”

After resigning in Dec 1916, Harcourt recorded a personal conversation with the King, in which the monarch shared strong political opinions, including a belief that the Cabinet was far too large, that the government had fallen “a little out of touch with public opinion” and that he was “utterly opposed” to a snap election .

Mr Webb said the notes included were merely “scratching the surface” of Harcourt’s complete collection, despite the fact he had not been a “prominent” political figure.

“It’s more vivid than anything I’ve seen before,” he said. “There are not that many private diaries around of this kind.

“The thing that makes it most interesting is that it was not just a Cabinet journal, he also recorded private conversations and meetings.

“He quite happily recorded that Churchill was very angry on several occasions. He sometimes even quotes exactly what people were saying. It’s almost like a drama.”

The exhibition The Great War: Personal Stories from Downing Street to the Trenches 1914-1916 is at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, from June 18 to November 2.


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Who put secret D-Day clues in the ‘Telegraph’ crossword?

April 27th, 2014

When the boys heard of the scandal, they were appalled. “We were astonished at the thought that Dawe was a traitor. He was a member of the local golf club. It was a complete mystery to most of us.”

Dawe did little to dispel the mystery when he returned to the school a few days later. He resumed setting crosswords, and said nothing at all about the incident for more than a decade.

Then, in a BBC interview in 1958, he described the ordeal. “They turned me inside out and collected naval intelligence. They went to Bury St Edmunds where my senior colleague Melville Jones [the paper’s other crossword compiler] was living and put him through the works.” Despite their suspicions, Dawe explained that the interrogators “eventually decided not to shoot us after all”.

It took another three decades for an apparent explanation to emerge. As part of the commemorations for the 40th anniversary of D-Day, the Telegraph revisited the crossword saga. Bill Deedes, then the paper’s editor, was alarmed by the scandal afresh, and instructed the puzzles editor to check that no codewords relating to the Falklands had appeared in the crossword during the recent conflict. None was found.

A few days later, Ronald French, another Old Strandian who had been encouraged by the renewed interest, wrote to the paper to admit to inserting the clues himself. Dawe, it emerged, would invite his pupils to fill in his blank crosswords with any words that came to mind. He would later devise clues to match the boys’ solutions.

With the war at its height, the excitable teenagers were obsessed by the vocabulary of the era, which is why other solutions of the time included “warden”, “Poland”, “aircraft” and “disarm”.

Likewise, the codewords were no coincidence. US and Canadian soldiers preparing for D-Day were camped close to the school, and the boys would regularly mix with them.

“The soldiers were obviously lonely,” recalls Bryan Belfont, a year below French. “Many had children of their own, and they more or less adopted us. We’d sit and chat and they’d give us chocolate.”

It was during one of these conversations that French heard the codewords. Security was remarkably lax, and he had struck up close friendships with the soldiers, regularly taking the colonel’s dog for a walk and even, on one occasion, driving a tank.

“Everyone knew the outline invasion plan and they knew the codewords,” he explained. “Omaha and Utah were the beaches, and they knew the names but not the locations. We all knew the operation was called Overlord.”

Perhaps to show off his knowledge, he slipped these words into the crossword. He bitterly regretted it, however, once he learnt of the trouble he had caused.

“Soon after D-Day, Dawe sent for me and asked me where I had got the words from. I told him and he asked to see my notebooks. He was horrified and said that the books must be burnt at once.

“He then gave me a stern lecture about national security and made me swear that I would tell no one about the matter. I have kept to that oath until now.”

Even French’s son, Simon, knew nothing of the affair until his father wrote to the Telegraph. “At the time, it was quite a scare for him,” he says now. “He was genuinely worried about what might happen, and whether he would cost the headmaster his job. But when it came out, he was quite proud of being involved.”

Ronald French retained his youthful enthusiasm for words, and continued to complete the Telegraph’s crossword every day until his death a few years ago.

One riddle remains, however. Nearly two years before the D-Day affair, on 18 August 1942, “Dieppe” was one of the paper’s crossword solutions. A day later, a disastrous raid took place on the port, with 3,623 of the 6,086 men who made it ashore killed, wounded or captured.

At the time, a War Office investigation concluded that the incident was “a remarkable coincidence”. Given what we now know about the later episode, this judgment seems open to question.

Perhaps one day someone will figure it out. For now, all these years later, Dawe’s crosswords remain cryptic.


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