Propaganda Among The Locals (9 May 1975)
The big secret of the wartime set-up at Bletchley Park has only recently been revealed. I do not wish to minimise its importance. On the other hand, I do not accept all the claims made for it.
Nor do I subscribe to the view that had the enemy been aware of the activities at the park, Bletchley would necessarily have become the most-bombed town in the country. Of all military targets, signals communications are the most difficult to knock out by bombing and the easiest to restore.
An enemy would recognise this. He would also recognise the high probability of the existence of an alternative bolt-hole, complete (with) the most essential equipment, to which the elements of the organisation could disappear at any time.
Similar considerations would apply to the question of bombing Woburn Park, the wartime home of the so-called “black propaganda” outfit, which was a bigger pain in the neck to the enemy than ever their pathetic “Lord Haw-Haw” was to ourselves.
In contrast with the secret of Bletchley Park, the secret of Woburn Park was revealed very quickly after the war – in the February following the cessation of hostilities, to be precise. It was not anything like so important, of course. Nevertheless, it created quite a stir of interest at the time.
For three-and-a-half years the villagers of Woburn Sands and Aspley Guise had been mystified by the presence in their midst of large numbers of Germans. These Germans had occupied a number of local houses, each standing in its own grounds, which had been specially requisitioned. Among the houses were reported to be: Woodlands, The Holt, The Rookery, The Mount, The Heath, Larchfield, Netherfield House, Dawn Edge and Broomsdown.
The Germans had been well-dressed in civilian clothes. They had shopped at local shops, had drunk in local pubs and had moved apparently freely in the district.
The secret came out when a number of Germans who were being repatriated were caught attempting to smuggle parcels of food and clothing out of the country and were found to be carrying food cards bearing Aspley Guise addresses.
Aspley Hill dairyman, Mr N A C Tweedie, told a reporter: “We were all curious, but we learnt nothing. In one week I delivered more than 400 pints of milk to the various houses.”
Aspley Guise grocer, Mr C Broome, said: “I do not know how they got hold of the dried eggs that were found on them, but they made friends with some of the people here and might have bought them privately.
“They did not affect our shopping greatly, but we did resent the fact that they cleaned up all the best bottled beer, stout and whisky as soon as it was delivered to the local pubs.
“All the food they did have was supplied wholesale. The only times we served them with food rations was when they were on leave and produced emergency cards.
“Motor coaches called day and night at the houses for the Germans and drove them off on secret journeys.”
Mrs A Sturman, of the Anchor Inn, recalled that occasionally the men came in for a drink and she had to ask them not to speak in their native German while they were in the public bar.
Miss HM Paine, owner of Woodlands, had lived in a cottage only a few yards from her house. When the house was returned to her she found it in good condition. The only damage was to the dining room wall, which had a few small holes in it caused by darts that had gone astray.
Consequent upon the smuggling cases, the War Office made a statement explaining how these repatriated German prisoners of war came to possess British clothing and currency.
“The prisoners belonged to a small group selected during the war for work – propaganda to enemy countries – which was of direct value to the Allied cause,” said the statement.
“In order that they could perform their duties – for which they volunteered – it was absolutely necessary that they should appear to be British civilians.
“The work done by these men was of considerable value to our cause and the only reward coming to them consisted of some necessary relaxation of the normal rules applicable to prisoners of war and the permission to retain a small amount of civilian clothing which they had worn while carrying out their work for us.
“When not required for these duties, they were retained in custody in a special camp. In accordance with the Geneva Convention, they received small payments for their work, but this in no case exceeded 10s a day.”
The reported attempt to make the prisoners appear to be British civilians obviously failed. The locals among whom the prisoners were set down were anything but yokels. They trusted that the authorities knew what they were about.
My only other comment is that the British attempt to enlist prisoners for propaganda work seems to have been much more successful than the corresponding German attempt to do likewise. Perhaps the Germans, normally never lacking in patriotism, felt they had more cause for disaffection at that hour in their history.