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    Bedfordshire's Secret War
    Beds Secret War
    Click on the location to find out its secret war link

    It may not have a coast or a big city, but Bedfordshire played a key role in Britain's World War Two effort. It was just all top secret!

    SEE ALSO

    World War II in Beds, Herts and Bucks

    Milton Bryan: How Bedfordshire Fooled the Germans

    Twinwood: The Glenn Miller Mystery

    Vauxhall to the Rescue

    Secret War in Milton Keynes

    Bedfordshire Country Show

     

    WEB LINKS

    Tempsford Airfield

    Chicksands

    BBC People's War

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    Bedfordshire was the spy capital of Great Britain, the home of the Secret War.

    This year, for the first time, the secrets revealed so far about the part Bedfordshire played are being brought together in an exhibition at the Bedfordshire Country Show on 9 and 10 July 2005,

    The exhibition will show the WWII relationships between Bletchley Park, the home of the code-breakers, Woburn, Aspley Guise, Bedford, Chicksands, RAF Tempsford, USAF Thurleigh, Hockliffe, Dunstable, Potsgrove and Milton Bryan.

    But you can get a sneak preview of some of the highlights below!

    Check out the following subjects:

    Espionage
    Code Breaking and Making
    Morale Boosting
    Friendly Invasions
    Black Propaganda (Radio)
    Crafty Tricks
    Churchill's Toyshop
    Written Propaganda

    Or choose a location to find out what happened there:

    Bedford / Cardington / Chicksands / Dunstable / Harrington / Hazells Hall / Hockcliffe / Howbury Hall / Luton / Maryland / Milton Earnest / Milton Bryan / Podington / Stewartby / Tempsford Airfield / Tempsford Hall / Thurleigh / RAF Twinwood / Woburn

    BBC People's War
    People's WarHave you got a World War Two story to tell. If so, why not add it to the BBC People's War Web site? Find out more here!
    Read more World War II stories from the area here

    Espionage

    Tempsford Airfield

    Following the fall of France in 1940, Churchill instructed Hugh Dalton, the Minister of Economic Warfare to "set Europe ablaze".

    A new organisation was set up to control and assist nationals of occupied territories; it was called the Special Operations Executive or SOE.

    SOE recruits were taught how to use guns and explosives, sabotage, wireless telegraphy and how to live secretly.

    King George VI

    King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visit Carpetbagger crews at Tempsford in 1943

    Photo courtesy of Carpetbaggers Aviation Museum

    The SOE sent 470 agents into France including 39 women. Around 200 agents lost their lives, most executed on instructions from Hitler in September 1944 and March 1945.

    Special Agents (SOE) were flown from Tempsford Airfield and dropped behind enemy lines all over Europe. Personnel were also picked up and returned here after missions.

    Tempsford Hall

    Tempsford Hall farmhouse was an agent reception and pre-flight preparation centre.

    By April 1945, 29,000 containers, 10,000 packages and 995 agents had been flown in and as many personnel flown out.

    Hazells Hall

    SOE stores were also sited at Hazells Hall. Arms, ammunition radio sets and other supplies were delivered to Resistance Groups from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean.

    Howbury Hall, Waterend (SOE) Station 40

    This was a training school under the command of Major Tidmarsh. Another training school was based at Chicheley Hall, Newport Pagnell.

    More about the Secret War in Milton Keynes >>

    Code Breaking and Making

    Chicksands

    Chicksands was an RAF Y station, intercepting the German Air Force strategic wireless network.

    Y Stations were the ears of Bletchley Park. Many Y stations consisted of individual short wave enthusiasts.

    Bedford

    Home of the English School for Cryptographers - those selected from here went to Bletchley Park, or to SOE.

    Leo Marks trained as a cryptographer in Bedford. He invented the 'one-time pad' (codes that could not be broken) and revolutionised the construction and security of SOE ciphers.

    Teleprinter Room

    The Teleprinter Room at Dunstable's Met Office

    Photo courtesy of Historic Met Office, Dunstable

    He personally briefed all agents on their codes and wrote the poem 'The Life That I Have' as a code for Violette Szabo. He eventually influenced code systems used by secret services the world over.

    The Meteorological Office, Dunstable

    This office helped crack the Enigma code and determined the date of the D-Day landings. Twice each day, dispatch riders went to and from Bletchley Park with codes to be broken.

    Dunstable

    Dunstable Met Office Communications Room

    Photo courtesy of Historic Met Office, Dunstable

    Communications Room

    Morale Boosting

    The BBC, who evacuated to Bedford in 1942, provided the nation's entertainment, broadcasting from 'somewhere in England', which was often Bedford's Corn Exchange. The BBC also assisted the war effort by recording encoded messages during regular programming.

    The Archbishop of Canterbury's VE Day Address was made from St Paul's Church in Bedford as was the National Day of Prayer.

    Twinwood Control Tower

    Twinwood Control Tower

    Photo courtesy of Twinwood Events

    During 1944 Glenn Miller and his orchestra conducted a morale boosting tour of concerts, including those held at Podington and Thurleigh.

    Many other famous personalities also visited the area such as David Niven, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Miller and Crosby recorded civilian propaganda in phonetic German for ABSE broadcasts. They were often transported from RAF Twinwood, where Miller was last seen alive.

    Find out more about the Glenn Miller Mystery >>

    'Holiday at Home'

    Dr Charles Hill

    Dr Charles Hill, 'Radio Doctor'

    Photo supplied by Luton Museum Service/Luton News

    The government encouraged the nation to 'Holiday at Home'. Farm camps were set up at Blunham, Sharnbrook and Ampthill and had cinemas and weekly dances.

    Luton

    Dr Charles Hill became the BBC's 'Radio Doctor' giving out advice on nutrition and health.

    Friendly Invasions

    Bedfordshire's countryside was a hive of activity during the Second World War. It was home to many military airfields, many of which had been built by the RAF during the early years of the war.

    From 1942, some of these were assigned to the heavy bombardment groups of the American 8th Airforce whose HQ was based at Milton Earnest Hall.

    Other airfields included those at Podington, Thurleigh, Little Staughton, Cheddington and the American 'Carpetbaggers' (OSS) at Harrington.

    Many of the larger towns in the county, but particularly Bedford, saw convoys of jeeps arrive bringing these GIs in to spend their 'liberty' time and their money!

    Foreign nationals mustered their own squadrons and regiments including the Polish Air Force at Luton and the Polish Army at Tingrith.

    Hockcliffe personnel
    Czech radio station personnel at Hockcliffe
    Photo courtesy of Lt Colonel Jaroslav Bublik

    Hockcliffe
    A Czechoslovakian Radio Station was based here which received and transmitted information to the Czechoslovakian Government in exile (in Buckinghamshire!)

    Woburn

    In the event of an invasion, Paris House in Woburn would have been used as a safe house for the King and Queen.

    It was used by the Intelligence section, Department Electra House, and had a number of high profile visitors during the war, including General de Gaulle, the Queen's brother and an SS Officer who had defected to the allies.

    Black Propaganda (Radio)

    Sefton Delmer had been brought up in Germany and became the Berlin correspondent for the Daily Express.

    Milton Bryan
    The old radio station building at Milton Bryan

    He was one of the few foreign journalists allowed on Adolf Hitler's 1932 campaign train which put him in a good position to understand the workings of the Nazi regime.

    In 1940, Delmer got a job with the BBC and joined the Political Warfare Executive at Woburn and began the task of setting up a state-of-the-art radio station at nearby Milton Bryan.

    He headed a multi-national team, living in the surrounding villages of Toddington, Aspley Guide and Woburn Sands, who created radio programmes including 'Atlantiksender' and 'Gustav Siegfried Eins', designed to convince the Germans that they were listening to a genuine German station.

    The sound was authentic and included the latest German hits and American jazz outlawed by the Nazis. They broadcast the latest German news intercepted at Bletchley Park but gave misleading instructions to civilians. They appeared to be pro-Hitler but other stories deliberately undermined other senior figures in his ministry.

    Once recording was complete the programmes were transmitted from relay stations at Potsgrove and Gawcott.

    The programmes were so good that even Goebbels, the Nazi head of propaganda, complained about how well they did their job and at least one German U-boat surrendered as a result of black propaganda.

    Find out more about Milton Bryan here >>

    Crafty Tricks

    Under Camoflague

    Some of Luton's largest buildings and factories were camoflagued including Vauxhall Motors, which manufactured Churchill Tanks. Tanks were stored inside brick kilns at Stewartby.

    Churchill Tanks: Vauxhall to the Rescue >>

    The Skefko Ball Bearings Company on Leagrave Road disguised its roof as a street planted with trees. Later, it was discovered that the Germans had an aerial photograph of it.

    Luton netting

    Women making camoflague netting at Luton Town Football Ground

    Photo supplied by Luton Museum Service/Luton News

    Tempsford Airfield

    Selected for SOE use because of its isolated position and made to look as if it was disguised.

    The Meteorological Office, Dunstable

    All of the buildings and tennis court were camoflagued to look like part of Dunstable Downs. One of the buildings was disguised as a haystack.

    Churchill's Toyshop

    Irregular Weapons of War

    The Ministry of War Department MD1 was given the task of creating irregular weapons of war.

    The first of these was created by Captain Clarke, known to his friends as Nobby, at his works in Bedford. Along with Stuart Macrae he created the Limpet Mine and later the rocket propelled tank-bridge known as the "Great Eastern".

    Dunstable Downs

    At Dunstable Downs experimental radar station - 20 miles of chicken wire were erected at 400 feet above sea level.

    RAF Cardington

    The Royal Airship Works made Barrage Balloons which were used over towns to protect them from bombing.

    The hangars still dominate the north Bedfordshire skyline and are still in use - one as a fire research centre and the other to develop airships.

    See a 360 view of the Cardington hangars >>

    Written Propaganda

    In 1941, Winston Churchill demanded that a propaganda war should be properly waged against the Nazis, overseen by a new organisation called the Political Warfare Executive.

    Allies, defectors and prisoners of war were taken to the Sugar Loaf pub in Dunstable and then secretly dispersed across the country.

    Maryland at Woburn

    Maryland was the centre of allied print propaganda. Fake German newspapers and leaflets to be airdropped onto the enemy were designed there.

    Ellic Howe aka Armin Hull was a master forger who directed Britain's philatelic forgery operations.

    Forged documents for secret agents were printed at Waterlows in Dunstable.

    Most of the printing took place at local newspaper presses in Luton.

    Key locations

    Bedford

    Bedford was the home of the English School for Cryptographers - those selected from here went to Bletchley Park, or to SOE.

    Leo Marks trained as a cryptographer in Bedford. He invented the 'one-time pad' (codes that could not be broken) and revolutionised the construction and security of SOE ciphers.

    Captain Clarke, known to his friends as Nobby, created irregular weapons of war at his works in Bedford.

    Along with Stuart Macrae he created the Limpet Mine and later the rocket propelled tank-bridge known as the "Great Eastern".

    The BBC, who evacuated to Bedford in 1942, provided the nation's entertainment, broadcasting from 'somewhere in England', which was often Bedford's Corn Exchange.

    The Archbishop of Canterbury's VE Day Address was made from St Paul's Church in Bedford as was the National Day of Prayer.

    Bedford also saw convoys of jeeps arrive bringing GIs from nearby airfields in to spend their 'liberty' time and their money!

    Luton

    Some of Luton's largest buildings and factories were camoflagued including Vauxhall Motors, which manufactured Churchill Tanks.

    Churchill Tanks: Vauxhall to the Rescue >>

    The Skefko Ball Bearings Company on Leagrave Road disguised its roof as a street planted with trees. Later, it was discovered that the Germans had an aerial photograph of it.

    Luton's Dr Charles Hill became the BBC's 'Radio Doctor' giving out advice on nutrition and health.

    Most of the printing took place at local newspaper presses in Luton.

    Dunstable

    The Meteorological Office in Dunstable helped to crack the Enigma code and determined the date of the D-Day landings. Twice each day, dispatch riders went to and from Bletchley Park with codes to be broken.

    Forged documents for secret agents were printed at Waterlows in Dunstable.

    Allies, defectors and prisoners of war were taken to the Sugar Loaf pub in Dunstable and then secretly dispersed across the country.

    There was an experimental radar station on Dunstable Downs where 20 miles of chicken wire were erected at 400 feet above sea level.

    Woburn

    In the event of an invasion, Paris House in Woburn would have been used as a safe house for the King and Queen.

    It was used by the Intelligence section, Department Electra House, and had a number of high profile visitors during the war, including General de Gaulle, the Queen's brother and an SS Officer who had defected to the allies.

    Maryland was the centre of allied print propaganda. Fake German newspapers and leaflets to be airdropped onto the enemy were designed there.

    Podington

    WW2 Airfield

    Thurleigh

    WW2 Airfield

    Find out about the Secret War in Milton Keynes >>

    Bedfordshire Country Show: A completely new attraction at the show this year is devoted to the way we were in World War II and the spy secrets of Bedfordshire.

    You will learn about the secret radio stations broadcasting mis-information and ‘black propaganda’, the SOE operatives parachuted into enemy territory and the Met Office at Dunstable forecasting for Bomber Command and for D Day.

    See the crafty tricks that Luton used to confuse the enemy and find out about Churchill’s Toybox. Where was there a SOE Training School in the county? Who were our friends, and who was the enemy within?

    And the Bedford and District Radio Club will be showing visitors how to send those secret messages in Morse and running a special station right through the weekend, communicating with other radio enthusiasts across the world.

    People's War

    The BBC People’s War team will also be at the show. They will be ready to listen to your story and record it for future generations on the BBC People’s War website.

    Everyone has a story to tell - it can be personal, home front or services, or it can be the story that has become the family legend. Why not swap a story for a WI cup of tea in the BBC marquee.

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