- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Jessie Dunlop
- Location of story:
- Uxbridge and London
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 13 May 2004
Uxbridge SHAEF and London Bushey
By Jessie Dunlop
To begin with we were stationed in St. James' Street, opposite the Palace, in very elegant houses, with our own rooms. This was just a short walk from Oxford Street, and the SHAEF Supreme headquarters were situated in Tottenham Court Road in an Underground Tunnel between Goodge Street and Warren Street Stations. We could gain entry from Goodge Street along the platform, and each night we passed families preparing to sleep the night on the platforms. There were often impromptu parties and we always got pulled into them after our shift.
There were three teams in the British Cipher Room and we worked from 8am to 5pm, from 5pm to 11pm and from 11pm to 8am. For the first time I saw xyco machines and was taught to use them. I had never been a typist so twice a week I went across London for typing lessons which I didn't particularly enjoy.
The tunnels below Tottenham Court Road had been turned into a complete Camp. There were kitchens, washrooms, laundries, ironing rooms and dormitories with bunks. How many could sleep there I don't know, perhaps 200. There were wireless rooms besides the Cipher Offices, and the Americans also had the equivalent of these in each case. Our messages were either by wireless or xyco and a few by telephone; these last were fitted with scramblers, as were the Cipher machines. There were at least two levels being used underground and Cipher was on the upper level. The main entrance to the HQ was in Tottenham Court Road, on one corner of Goodge Street. It was made of great concrete walls and in the large foyer there were usually two or three Military Police on duty, both US and British. Someone told me the concrete walls were reinforced and six feet thick. It didn't stop a V2 in early 1945 moving the whole structure to one side.
Shortly the female staff were rehoused in Gower Street, in a block of flats (Bourne and Hollingsworth owned this). Here I used to go up on the roof at nights to watch the planes bombing London. I saw a gas main blown up one night just like a fireworks display.
Then came the final move of staff as the Headquarters started working in earnest. The men were billeted in Albany Street Barracks and the women were put into Cumberland Terrace opposite and were fed and maintained in the Barracks except for sleeping. Again there were separate messes for US and British troops, but after coming off duty at 11pm we would call in to the US cookhouse where we'd always get given fruit juice, sandwiches and sometimes eggs. A whole gang of us would walk up from HQ together and always call in for supper before we went to our own Billet. One night one sergeant called Vicky was given three eggs to take away and it was winter and she put them in her overcoat pocket. One of our sergeants passed us on our way through the main gate and gave her a hearty slap on the side, of course where the eggs were.
The sergeants' mess was in the barracks and that was where we had our meals when off duty. I met my husband here. He was in charge of the workshops which maintained all the wireless equipment, Cipher machines, teleprinters etc. There was a party on one night in the mess and I was invited. We went after our shift finished and it was well on the way when we arrived. One of the sergeants from my section came with outstretched arms to greet me but unfortunately he had a pint glass of beer in his hand and most of it went down my overcoat. My future husband, Jack, sat on a chair laughing at me, but at least he offered to clean my coat.
Another time we were all at supper in the mess when the sirens went. Several of us got up to see what was happening and went out on the balcony to watch a V1 (flying bomb) come up Albany Street and turn and pass between the two blocks of the barracks. I don't know where that went. Walking home one night with Jack, we walked through the edge of Regent's Park and found a V1 stuck between two very large trees. It had gone off and stripped the trees completely bare of bark and leaves and branches. One night in early May, I think, the officer in charge of our day shift asked for volunteers to do book Cipher that night. I agreed to go on and spent the evening and early hours enciphering reams of Shakespeare to help block the air channels. About 2am the officer suggested I should get a break and took me along the corridor to a small bedroom. He said, "This is for when Eisenhower stays here but he won't be here tonight". He woke me about six and asked if I'd go up and get coffee and cakes for everyone at the bakers along Tottenham Court Road. The shop was full of cleaning ladies and early workers. One of the ladies asked if the baker had heard the news? He said he'd been working all night and she replied, "We've landed, we're in France". I rushed back and told the officer in charge and he said, "That's what our nightwork was for".
Jack and I married in July of that year because he was going to France and I would be staying at Rear HQ because of the rheumatic fever I'd had. We had a week's leave and went to Scotland. On our way back we stayed one night in London. Off the train at King's Cross, we tried to get into the Station Hotel but it was full. Carrying our bags we walked down Euston Road. A man came up to us and asked if we wanted somewhere to stay. He took us to Vernon Square, knocked on a door and in the blackout a door opened a crack and a voice asked our business. We were just going inside when the sirens went and we heard the sound of a V1 up King's Cross Road and the noise of the shop windows all breaking as it passed.
Meanwhile I was transferred to Bushey Park which became the Rear HQ for SHAEF. We were equally British and US troops there, but in separate quarters for all practice. Jack visited regularly to service the machines and wireless room and in my evenings off I went up to Harrow where the workshops had been moved to, and spent the evenings with him. On several occasions the train I was on would suddenly stop and rock on the line as if it was going to fall over. Then we'd hear a crunch and see smoke and flames from some miles away. The season of V2s (flying bomb) had arrived.
One memory of V1s. We'd been up to the West End for a meal and were walking back up Albany Street when we heard the usual sound of a V1 coming up behind us. I remember Jack said if the red light is on it's going to fall. Jack pushed me into the door of my billet on Cumberland Terrace and dived for a tree as cover. I went up the stairs as I heard the V1 land. I stood against the wall and watched all the glass fall out of a huge window at my feet. I tore down the stairs to see if Jack was safe and he was coming to tell me that it had passed the barracks and hit a nursing home beyond. The men worked all night to get the nurses and patients out.
This is the third of Jessie's stories which she has given permission for us to put on the web. The others are called:-
"Horstead Hall and Low Grade Cipher School" and "London High Grade Cipher School".
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