Past Talks

Wireless War Secrets

Date: 16th July 2018
Speaker: John Beaumont

Godington & Poundon’s WW2 Secrets – John Beaumont 16 July 2018

The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was launched by Winston Churchill in July 1940.  It was a secret force whose purpose was to conduct clandestine operations behind enemy lines with the help of local partisans.  A method of communicating with its agents in occupied countries was established by equipping agents with portable Morse radio sets and by setting up secret radio stations in England.

The first of these radio stations was in Grendon Underwood.  A large house had been requisitioned by the Secret Service, but was handed over to the SOE in October 1942 and became known as Station 53(a).

As the war progressed, Grendon became inadequate to deal with the SOE’s increased activity.  Consequently, a new receiving station was sited at Poundon (53b) and housed Morse code operators and coders.  Its transmitter was at Godington (53c), a position chosen for its isolation.  The remains of the transmitter building still exists. 

These facilities were conveniently placed for London and Bletchley Park and controlled from headquarters in Baker Street.  Agents were recruited and trained in special units which gave them expertise in unarmed combat, explosives and wireless communication.  The radio stations were staffed by army signallers and by women who were technically part of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANYS), but who were, in fact, highly trained coders.

The idea of the SOE was, in Churchill’s words, “to set Europe ablaze”, but it was not without its detractors:

1.      There was opposition from MI6.

2.      Exiled foreign governments, operating from the UK, wanted exclusive control of activities in their own countries.  This was particularly true of General De Gaulle in France.

3.      The RAF and other military groups mistrusted the SOE.

4.      The effect of reprisals was often counterproductive.

Agents worked in conditions of extreme danger and could only transmit/receive for short periods and at agreed times, to avoid detection by the enemy’s direction-finding equipment.

The effectiveness of the SOE is hard to evaluate, but it had notable success with the destruction of the Telemark heavy water plant in Norway and the Peugeot factory, which was producing aircraft parts. 

Poundon closed on 6 July 1945, and although it was manned by the Royal Signals during the Cold War, records from that period are not available.