PETER FROST hasn’t signed the official secrets act.
Spies in Punts at Cambridge
Cambridge, that most English of cities, is always worth a visit with its medieval churches, chapels and colleges, peaceful punting and delightful tea shops.
Back in the 1930’s with the lights going out all over Europe as Hitler came to power in Germany a wind of change blew through the Cambridge college quadrangles. Revolution was on the breeze.
Many of the Nation’s brightest and most privileged young men threw in their lot with Lenin, Stalin and the Bolsheviks. These Cambridge Spies, rose high in the British establishment. High birth and a public school and Cambridge education replaced positive vetting.
Anthony Blunt became the Queen’s art adviser, Guy Burgess and Donald McLean had high rank in the Foreign Office and the secret services before they fled to Moscow. Kim Philby had tipped them off from his very high secret service position. In Moscow he announced he had been Colonel in the KGB for years. And they certainly weren’t the only ones.
Gunpowder Treason and Plot, Ashby St Leger, Warwickshire
Pretty and peaceful the village of Ashby St. Ledger was once the home of the most dastardly treasonable plot ever hatched. The big house isn’t open to the public but from the gates you can see the small half timbered room over the coach entrance.
In that room in 1605 Guy Fawkes and his band of plotters met to change history. They chose the room over the entrance so that no one could listen from below.
Just up the road at Dunchurch the plotters waited in the Old Red Lion pub for news of Guy Fawkes’ success. Today the pub is a private house but a plaque tells its history. In fact the plot was discovered, Fawkes was arrested and his comrades fled were captured and killed.
Had the plot been successful they would have ridden to nearby Coombe Abbey to free the imprisoned nine year old Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia and place her on the throne of England.
Britain’s most secret rocket base, Orford, Suffolk
Orford Ness has been Britain’s most secret base since 1913. Amongst the top secret work were early experiments on the parachute, rockets, missiles, radar and even the Atom-bomb.
In 1968 top secret work bought American radio experts to Orford to develop the over the horizon radar that could detect Russian missiles heading for our shores. Or was it?
Locals will tell you that in fact the huge multi million pound antennae was built for the sole purpose of concluding a peace treaty with an alien space craft. Once the treaty was concluded the vast dish was taken down. It had only been in place a few months.
Far fetched? May be. Almost more unbelievable are the huge ‘pagodas’ built to test atom bomb casings and fuses and they are certainly genuine. This must be the only National Trust Property with a real atom bomb on display.
Today Orford Ness is a secret no more. The National Trust will ferry you across for a wonderful walk around this haunting landscape of amazing history and mystery.
Solving the biggest Enigma, Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes.
In 1939 at the start of the Second World War the British Government knew it had to break the German codes if we were to win the war.
BletchleyPark was to be the site of efforts to break the secret of the Enigma coding machines the Nazi codes relied on.
This intelligence contributed greatly to defeating the U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic. Among the mathematicians and cryptanalysts working there, perhaps the most influential and certainly the best-known in later years was Alan Turing.
From 1943, Turing built one of the first ever computers in order to help break codes. The computer, Colossus, (above) was vast. Colossus has been rebuilt and is working again at BletchleyPark. Built before electronic chips Colossus has over two and a half thousand radio valves.
Lawrence of Arabia’s secret, Bovington Camp, Dorset
T.E. Lawrence – Lawrence of Arabia was a hero of the First World War but he became discontent in the years between the wars. With war clouds gathering all over Europe Lawrence and Henry Williamson (of Tarka the Otter fame) planned a sympathetic meeting with Hitler in Germany.
On 13 May 1935, Lawrence wheeled out his massive motorcycle and rode down to Bovington army camp, today a tank museum, to send a telegram perhaps confirming the Hitler meeting.
On the way back his motorbike left the road and Lawrence was killed. An accident? Or something more sinister? The secret service silenced the press, Witnesses changed their stories. The coroner declared it “a most unsatisfactory situation”.
Lawrence’s ghostly motor bike was often heard on the road where he died until a unique exorcism at the accident site in 1985 silenced at least one aspect of this curious life.
Lawrence has a grave in Moreton churchyard and an effigy – just like crusading knights of old in St Martin’s Church Wareham. His simple cottage at Clouds Hill is open to the public not far from a stone marking where he died. The TankMuseum has an excellent display on Lawrence.
Le Carré in the Chilterns, Sarratt, Hertfordshire
John Le Carré, spy fiction writer sends his spies for training in a real Hertfordshire village called Sarratt. This village, with its 12th-century church, a pretty Green and three fine pubs, is a great places to start a walk into the ChessValley. So why did Le Carré send Smiley, and his many other agents to train in Sarratt?
Before turning author Le Carré worked in both MI5 and MI6. Did he train at Sarratt? probably not, but there was almost certainly a British Spy School in one of the nearby villages.
The most famous double agent of the Cold War, Kim Philby wrote a book long after he had fled to Moscow and announced he was a Colonel in the KGB. In his book, My Secret War, Philby described being trained in an unnamed village north of Watford. Ironically one of the British agents that Philby betrayed to his Russian masters was John le Carré!
Just a mile or two from Sarratt is another delightful village called Flaunden. Guy Burgess and Donald McLean, perhaps Britain’s best known double agents had their last drink in the Green Dragon here before they defected to Russia.
H Bomb Proof Bunker, Brentwood, Essex
Post war Britain feared a nuclear attack. Government in London would be destroyed but someone would still need to run what was left of the country.
In great secrecy underground bunkers were built up and down the country. They were secret for two reasons. First, to avoid attack from enemies, but more important to stop ordinary people from demanding a safe shelter.
Today it’s easy to find the bunker on the outskirts of Brentwood Essex. You just follow the rather curious brown signs to the ‘Secret Bunker’.
When the bunker was first built however all that could be seen above ground was a rather ordinary and boring suburban bungalow(below).
Amazingly underground and under thick, hopefully bomb-proof concrete were offices and accommodation for over six hundred civil servants, politicians and military guards. Oh yes, and thePrime Minister and his Cabinet.
The Bunker gave me a chill feeling as I walked through its miles of underground offices, dormitories, and corridors. What? I couldn’t help asking myself would it be like to be one of those chosen six hundred running a country that had just suffered a nuclear holocaust? I’m just glad we never found out.
The last invasion of mainland Britain, Point, Pembrokeshire
The last time mainland Britain was invaded was the 22nd of February 1797 and Britain was at war with Napoleon. An Irish-American officer Colonel William Tate with a band of 1200 French soldiers and convicts had orders to invade Bristol. Bad weather and worse navigation put him ashore on the coast of Wales.
Tate and his troops landed at Carregwastad Point and at first they are in luck. Tate’s troops found a shipwreck with many casks of brandy washed ashore. Eventually Tate gets his troops together to advance on the local town of Fishguard. Rather the worst for wear his men mistake local Welsh women in red capes and tall black hats for British Redcoats.
Local woman Jemima Nicholas armed only with a pitchfork captures a dozen Frenchmen single handed. Within 48 hours of landing the French invasion force surrender. This almost unbelievable tale is told in a carefully researched 30 metre long tapestry on show in the town hall at Fishguard.
Carpetbaggers museum, Harrington, Northamptonshire
Just off the A14 is a small war memorial with a mysterious message. “Harrington Airfield” it tells you “was home to the Carpetbaggers”. A packed museum just down the lane tells the full and fascinating story.
The Carpetbaggers were the American flyers that secretly supplied the French Resistance. Every moonlit night a couple of dozen black painted and unmarked B 24 bombers would take off for France. The BBC would broadcast to France coded messages identifying the drop zones.
Rather than carrying bombs the bays would be full of parachute canisters, boxes and baskets of weapons and ammunition, civilian clothes, counterfeit Nazi uniforms, radio sets, even bicycles.
And as if this wasn’t heroic enough, it was from Harrington that brave men and women agents were flown into France under the noses of the enemy.
Many of these heroes, their average live expectancy was just three months, were never to return. But we owe them all an enormous debt of gratitude.
Unidentified Forest Objects, Rendlesham Forest, Woodbridge, Suffolk.
The Rendlesham Forest is one of the last bastions of the red squirrel in England. We are here to investigate a much more exotic invader however. These beautiful woodland are the spot where the best recorded UFO British landing happened.
At 3am on the 26 December 1980 guards at the Woodbridge Air Base were attracted out into the woods by a bright triangular lighted object in the woods. The object was hung about with a yellow mist and above it hovered blue and red lights. Local police were called but by then the object had disappeared leaving only three indentations in the ground.
The UFO was seen again over the next three days and the most convincing witness statement came from an American Colonel also serving at the air base.
Was this a genuine sighting or complete nonsense? Make up your own mind on the Forestry Commission’s unique UFO trail.
James Bond’s Museum, Keswick, Cumbria
No article on spies and spying could be complete without a mention of James Bond. At Keswick in the Lake District we found this museum dedicated to the 007, the Bond films, and Bond’s creator Ian Fleming.
You’ll find the great man’s cars, even his tiny flying machine and Bond Film fans will be able to check out many more of the original film props including a genuine Soviet tank.