In 1940, The Firs estate in Whitchurch became Churchill's Toyshop – a secret home to technicians and scientists, who gathered to create cutting edge weapons.
Jules meets Gordon Rogers, who was a local lad when, in 1945, he and three friends stumbled across the The Firs' hidden work. Gordon cycled over to the building, and discovered two Nissan huts. When he and his friends entered the huts they discovered piles of blacker bombards, anti-tank shells and fuses. Gordon tied a couple of bombs to his bike, took some fuses, and cycled back home.
After detonating two pounds of explosives in a local farmers' field, Gordon was arrested and bound over to keep the peace, but he didn't discover until many years later that he'd actually stumbled across the home of MD1 – Ministry of Defence 1.
MD1 was established by Winston Churchill, who wanted a regulation free department where weapons could be invented without too much bureaucracy.
Retired Colonel Norman Bonney has a collection of MD1 weapons, which Jules gets to examine. One of these includes the ingenious limpet mine. A magnetic charge, it would be attached to a ship or tank, but a delay function was required to let whoever was planting the bomb get away safely. The inventors at the toyshop discovered an aniseed ball would dissolve at a uniform rate, so incredibly, these were used in the finished device.
Jules then meets explosives expert Trevor Lawrence to recreate another MD1 invention – the sticky bomb. Over two and a half million sticky bombs were produced during the war to be used as anti-tank weapons. They'd stick to whatever they were thrown at before detonating five seconds later.
Jules and Trevor build a safe version (without explosives!) and after several attempts, Jules finally gets it to stick to a tank target.
Propaganda was a key weapon used by the government – and the Nazis – throughout the war.
Britain's Ministry of Information was formed the day after war broke out. They'd create visually striking posters to keep British spirits high through the dark days of the war, but the ministry also had a darker side.
Jules meets Felix Delmer – son of one of Britain's top propagandists, Sefton Delmer. Before the war Sefton had worked as a Daily Express correspondent in Berlin. This had given him close access to Adolf Hitler. The British government soon realised that Sefton would be perfect to lead an attack on the minds of German troops and the German public.
Britain had been broadcasting to Germany already, trying to appeal to anti-Nazi elements, but Sefton cleverly realised that what was needed was a fake pro-Nazi station. Before long, a station called Gustav Siegfried Eins was developed. With a pretend Prussian officer at the helm, stories were broadcast which would undermine German morale. For example, the presenter would complain about Germans making money off the market, while explaining to his listeners exactly how to do it.
The success of the station meant Sefton was soon approached by Naval Intelligence to set up a station targetting German U-boat crews. Atlantiksender would broadcast jazz, spread rumours, but also feature real news items.
Jules then meets Heather Woods. Heather was 10 when she helped her father John Gibb with another piece of 'black' propaganda. Nachtrichten fur die Truppe was a newspaper produced for German troops by the British. Dropped into Germany, the newspapers were published using the presses of the Luton News. 800,000 to one million copies of the newspaper were produced daily, and Heather explains that German soldiers would often surrender with the newspaper in their hands.
The BBC's Move to Bedford
Bedford Tour Guide David Fowler reveals how Bedford became home to parts of the BBC during the war.
Attacks on London meant that the capital had become to dangerous as a BBC base. After originally moving to Bristol, the Music and Religion departments of the corporation were moved to the relatively safe haven of Bedford.
Seven buildings in the town became makeshift studios, including Trinity Chapel in St Paul's Church, which became home to religious broadcasts. Locals were sometimes surprised by the behaviour of BBC staff – particularly when engineers would light up cigarettes in the church.
Stars of the day such as David Niven or Laurence Olivier were soon strolling around the town on breaks from recordings, but American stars paid a visit too.
In July 1944, bandleader Glenn Miller gave his first broadcast from Bedford, from the Corn Exchange. In what has become an enduring mystery, Glenn was last seen just outside Bedford. On the 15th of December 1944, he boarded a plane at Twinwood Airfield, heading for Paris. The plane disappeared, and Glenn and the pilot were never seen again.
The BBC made around 8,000 broadcasts from Bedford during the war.
Children had a hard time during the war – classrooms were swapped for air raid shelters, and toys for gas masks. Evacuation meant they sometimes had to swap their family for complete strangers.
But one group of youngsters played an important role during the war – even being used to teach adults wartime skills.
Author of 'How the Girl Guides Won The War', Janie Hampton, explains how girl guides sprung into action from the moment war broke out. Guides went down to railway stations to help with the evacuation of children – making cups of tea and sandwiches, and helping mothers with their screaming children.
In May 1940 guide troops across the country turned their efforts to raising money for the war effort – in Gift Week, they raised £1.3 million in today's money, enough to fund two air ambulances and a life boat which was used to rescue soldiers at Dunkirk.
Former girl guide Lucy Pendar tells Jules how she was taught skills like morse code and first aid throughout the war years, and would often be sent on patrol with the Home Guard.
Jules and Lucy put the 3rd Headington Guides and Ranger Unit to the test by getting them to create a guide invention from World War II – the Blitz oven. The oven was used by families who had lost their houses. Constructed out of bricks and a grate, the creation was quick to assemble, and guides would be sent round in groups to show housewives how to build one and cook meals using it.
The Girl Guides stepped up to the many challenges the war threw at them – typical of the Blitz spirit of the time.
- Jules Hudson
- Jules Hudson
- Executive Producer
- Simon Barnes
- Executive Producer
- Simon Barnes