As seen on ITV’s Britain’s Secret Homes, which reached the No 1 top spot on the series, filmed with Sir David Jason, this is the story of the German émigrés who fled the Nazi regime to become one of the most valuable assets to British Intelligence during the Second World War. They were the secret listeners who spent up to twelve hours a day eavesdropping on the conversations – from U-boat commanders and crew to infantry soldiers, Luftwaffe pilots and German Generals.
From a specially equipped ‘M Room’ in three stately homes deep in the heart of the English countryside, British Intelligence bugged the conversations of over ten thousand German prisoners-of-war. The houses were rigged with the most advanced listening equipment and bugging devices hidden in the light fittings of the prisoners ‘cells. At the Trent Park site where the German Generals had the run of the place in captivity, bugging devices were hidden in the fireplaces, under the billiards table, and even in trees in the grounds. The results proved astounding and beyond anything Churchill could have imagined when he authorised unlimited funds in its set-up. It gave British Intelligence unprecedented access to secrets that could not obtained by any other means, the most important was the discovery of Hitler’s secret weapon programme - the V1 and V2.
Providing a detailed, oft humorous, insight into life of the 59 Generals in captivity, the book shows the farcical stage-set in which they found themselves. But against this backdrop, the secret listeners eavesdropped on admission of war crimes and terrible atrocities against Russians, Poles and Jews.
Of the secret listeners, they remained deeply loyal to Britain and only became British citizens after the war. Declassified files now reveal that their work and the intelligence gleaned was as significant for winning the war as Bletchley Park and cracking the Enigma Code. For over sixty years they never spoke about their work, not even to their families. Many went to their grave bearing the secrets of the nation which had saved them from certain death in the Holocaust.
‘Had it not been for the information obtained at these centres, it could have been London and not Hiroshima which was devastated by the first atomic bomb,’ St Clair Grondona, commandant of the Wilton Park site
The book has been launched by the educational charity London Grid for Learning as a major online national learning resource for the school curriculum. The site which includes learning resources, video clips and educational material has been shortlisted for the BETT Award 2015.
Helen Fry was raised in North Devon and went on to graduate from the University of Exeter with a degree and Ph.D. She has written numerous books on the Second World War with particular reference to the 10,000 Germans and Austrians who fought for Britain. Her highly acclaimed book The King’s Most Loyal Enemy Aliens: Germans who Fought for Britain in the Second World War received international media coverage. The book is now out in paperback as Churchill’s Secret Soldiers. Helen has worked closely with war veterans with whom she has built up a special rela...
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