At Beaulieu in the New Forest
A review by Lee Morrison
On the 26th of November I took a trip to Beaulieu Abbey to check out the Secret Army Exhibition that is now a permanent exhibit at Beaulieu, ever since Lord Montague decided to add this tribute in honor of the large number of Operatives from Britain and the Nazi-occupied Countries of Europe who were trained on the Montague Estate in Beaulieu, Hampshire. Here men and women were trained in all aspects of spy-craft including clandestine communications, coding the delicate arts of secret inks, along with the skills of the Silent Killing Syllabus from W.E. Fairbain and E. A. Sykes. Additional training was given in house breaking, safe blowing, forgery and sabotage. The Beaulieu Estate of the Montague family was considered a finishing school for Secret Agents during the darkest days of WW2. At the end of 1941 the British government turned a complex of some 12-country houses into a very peculiar school indeed. By the end of the war over 3000 men and women had graduated in an array of highly undesirable skills, to become Agents and Officials of the Special Operations Executive. Most of those trained, as Agents were later infiltrated into occupied Europe as part of the resistance movement against Germany.
The introductory notices at the entrance of the building.
Churchill’s message was clear
Approximately forty percent of these Agents were caught by the Nazi’s many of which met with terrible ends. In addition to British trainees there were Operatives from some fifteen Nationalities, including highly motivated French, Norwegian, Polish and Dutch all equally dedicated to the liberation of their Native countries. Among the 3000 also included a number of Canadians and Americans. All of these groups were kept in strict isolation from each other and indeed from everyone else. The very existence of this training school had to be kept secret from the local community. So secret were the activities of the S.O.E that even the Montague family, whose house was in the middle of the school complex were completely unaware of what was actually taking place.
The objectives of the S.O.E. Each section of the camp taught specific modules.
The exhibition is laid out well, with lots of informational charts placed along the walls each describing in detail, the goings on of the S.O.E School and of Beaulieu’s part played in the war effort. Among this information were the objectives of the camp, along with a depiction of how the training modules were divided into relevant sections for instruction. Additional information offers, descriptions of some of the instructors and of course the Agents themselves. Each of these makes for fascinating reading. The people here at that time came from all walks of life, some described on the wall as ‘’some pretty odd fish.’’
List of personnel serving at Beaulieu with Eric Anthony Sykes amongst them.
There is also a comprehensive list of all the Personal that served here; one individual familiar to all from the Combatives fraternity is E.A. Sykes who was an instructor here in the methods of Silent Killing. There is also a very interesting and informative video program that runs for about 10 minutes but of course my favorite part of this exhibition is the KIT on display; most of which is on loan from a Hampshire local who actually trained here during those times.
This picture shows a typical S.O.E class environment.
(Left) .45 Liberator pistol with 2 rounds and dowel a power pack, spare coils and Operator’s headset. (Right) Known as ‘’the biscuit receiver’’ as it was delivered in a 2-pound Huntley & Palmer biscuit tin. Also a B2 suitcase transceiver with accessories. Also an FFI armband worn by the French wireless Operator who sent Morse code messages from the field.
(Left) Lapel dagger with a sown on sheath, concealed within clothing to avoid detection during a search and Sleeve dagger attached to the forearm.
(Right) Colt. 32 pistol with S.O.E. shoulder holster.
(Left) 2 FFR resistance knives & Hatpin dagger used by women Agents.
(Right) Fairbain & Sykes 2nd pattern fighting knife.
Peskett with a ball cosh with an extending knife blade and a wire - garrote. Ladies knuckle-duster and Ladies knuckle-duster ring. Also .22 Stinger; a single shot, gun that contained one round to be used as a last resort.
When the S.O.E Agents finally returned to occupied Europe, there was always a chance that the Gestapo would capture them. For this reason they were issued cyanide tablets hidden in little cork containers. They could use them to commit suicide rather than give up valuable information under the stress of torture.
This chart depicts the various methods of coding that was used.
S.O.E Parachute uniform complete with Sten gun.
Here is an array of just some of the S.O.E. Operatives all equally heroic and dedicated to their cause.
Norwegian Operative Joachim Ronneberg.
Female Operative Nancy Wake.
Sonia Butt and Peter Churchill.
(Left) One of the first instructors at Beaulieu was Kim Philby.
(Right) S.O.E Radio Operator Jacqueline Nearne.
Cryptographer Capt. Ralph Vibert.