Tuesday, December 5, 2023

April 1944: Uncle Paul Went to Winterfold (STS 7) - AKA Paul Starts SOE Training

Family lore always described my Great Uncle Paul as working for the RAF, but when I sent away for his file in the UK National Archives, I discovered he'd never joined the RAF. Instead, he worked for the Belgian Sûreté (similar to the CIA in the US) which had begun operating in exile in Britain after the Nazi occupation of Belgium in May of 1940. He also worked for the SOE.  

That means Uncle Paul was a secret agent. :-)

According to the UKNA file, the first place he was sent for SOE training was "STS 7."

After a little bit of research, I learned that the SOE divided training up into four main sections:
  • Preliminary - the assessment.
  • Group A - the paramilitary schools, which included the 3-5 weeks initial training in Scotland.
  • Group B - the "finishing schools" where they were trained in security and "tradecraft" (how to be a spy).
  • Group C - the operational schools - advanced training on a wide variety of very specialized techniques (like how to concoct explosives using every-day household chemicals).
  • "Other" school categories like the parachute schools in Manchester, the signals schools, and schools that were specific to the needs of certain countries (eg: Poland and Norway)

But what was "STS 7"? 

With some digging by myself and a friend, I found that  STS 7 was the SOE "Specialist Training School number 7," commanded by Major G. A. Brown, and it was where the preliminary assessment (and some early training - the student must receive training, in order to determine if he or she is trainable) took place.  According to the SOE Syllabus by Denis Rigden: 

SOE introduced a much quicker and generally better system of selecting students. In place of the Preliminary Schools, it set up a Students Assessment Board (SAB). In a country house called Winterfold (STS 7, formerly STS 4) at Cranleigh, in Surrey, the SAB gave the candidates a wide variety of psychological and practical tests over a four-day period ... The SAB's examining team consisted of six military testing staff (three captains and three sergeants) and four Royal Army Medical Corps officers, comprising two psychiatrists (majors) and two psychologists (a captain and a lieutenant). After the testing, a final selection board -- made up of the SAB president (the lieutenant-colonel commanding STS 7), the examiners, and representatives of the Country Sections -- discussed the performance of each candidate thoroughly and suggested which of the men (and women at some sessions) should be chosen.
Winterfold.  Shades of George R. R. Martin or J.R. R. Tolkien there. 

Winterfold is a 6000+ square foot house located on Barhatch Rd, Cranleigh GU6 7NH, United Kingdom.  It was a bit hard to find, and the map link is to the Winterfold North Lodge (a mere 1500 square feet), which had been part of the estate and at some point was actually detached and moved to an adjacent property to make two separate dwellings.  

Cranleigh is in the southern UK:

Winterfold is marked with the red pin labeled "North Lodge"

It's about 90 or so minutes by train southwest of London.

This is an excerpt from the UKNA file.  It tells me he attended the "SAB" from April 17-20, 1944, and if he passed he'd head to STS 22 and then STS 51.

It also tells me they thought he was very smart (which he was), picked up Morse code relatively well, had good mechanical skills, and could take instruction.   The remarks speak for themselves and demonstrate that Uncle Paul wasn't very sure of himself.  Indecisive. Social Inferiority, hesitation, not really a leader.

The four-day assessment was grueling. Maybe not like the initial basic training in the military, but it was exhausting nonetheless. Imagine four 18-hour-days' worth of college entrance exams, psychological and intelligence tests, physical tests and obstacle courses, mechanical aptitude tests, memorization, cleverness, and teamwork testing exercises.  

There's a 5-episode miniseries on Netflix called Churchill's Secret Agents: The New Recruits that is a cross between a reality TV show and a documentary, where they take modern people through the same training the men and women of the SOE went through.

I don't normally like reality TV, but this was pretty good, and got more and more compelling the further along it got.  The first episode is all about the SAB, though they used a different country estate (Winterfold is a private home) for filming.  

Anyway, I found pictures of Winterfold and North Lodge and they do give a feel for the place where my Uncle Paul spent 4 days in the spring of 1944. I didn't bother with pictures of the kitchens and bathrooms which are thoroughly modern and don't really help to get a feel for the place.


There are more pictures here (find the picture, and use the slider bar underneath it to slide left/right):

Winterfold North Lodge:

There are more pictures here (find the picture, and use the slider bar underneath it to slide left/right):


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