Friday, December 22, 2023

Summer 1944: Uncle Paul Learns W/T Security at Thame Park (STS 52)

After parachute training, Uncle Paul was sent to another "other" school category: a six-week signals course at STS 52 for "W/T."

That abbreviation is all through his UK National Archives (UKNA) file, and I've seen it in many other historical sources as well. It means "Wireless/Teletype."

STS 52 was commanded by Major H. J. Byrne, and it was where recruits received "security training for wireless operators." 

In 1988, my grandfather described his brother to me:

In ‘45, I was thirty-five, and he was eight years younger, so he was twenty-seven. He was in uniform. I could tell his story of the war; very heroic, but let's not deviate too much. 

I suspect my grandfather described his brother as heroic for two reasons: Uncle Paul jumped out of airplanes, and he was a radio operator.
 
Grandpa was a radio operator too, but there was a significant difference: Grandpa used a receiver which was far harder (though not impossible) to track.

On the other hand, Uncle Paul used a transmitter, which advertised their presence to the enemy like neon signs, and the Germans were good at finding them, using a combination of advanced technology installed in snooper vans, and clever tricks to find transmitters, and it was just incredibly dangerous work. I read somewhere that the average life expectancy of an SOE radio operator in the field was about six weeks.

Let that sink in. Six weeks.  

They went into the field, and six weeks later (on average), they were executed by the Gestapo. So yeah, it doesn't seem surprising that Grandpa considered his little brother heroic.

STS 52 Location:

STS 52 was located at Thame Park in Oxfordshire, a little northwest of London. Note the red pins:



Like many SOE locations, the school was located
in a rural area, some distance from the nearest town.

STS 52 Thame Park Site:

Here's an aerial photo:

Source: Historic England


I found a floor plan (of the first floor, anyway) of Thame Park:

Source: Aston Rowant


The front of the building, labeled "Hall" along the left side of the floor plan:

Image Source: Movie-Locations.com


I haven't been able to find any photos of the kitchen wing at the top/right of the floor plan, but here's the Abbot's Hall (sometimes called Abbot's Lodge), which is shown in the lower right of the plan.


Source: Aston Rowant

Thame Park as a Filming Location:

Like Highclere Castle, which generates income by serving as the setting for Downton Abbey among other shows and movies, Thame Park has been used as a filming location, too. According to the Dicamillo Site, Thame Park has been the setting of quite a few movies and TV shows:

  • Lady Chatterley (1993)
  • The Madness of King George (1994)
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)
  • Emma (1996 - TV mini series, as Abbey Mill Farm, Hartfield interiors, Donwell strawberry beds, derelict cottages, gypsy camp, and the sea at Weymouth)
  • Midsomer Murders (1997 - TV series, hunt scenes in the episode "Death of a Stranger", 1999 - as Tye House in the episode "Death's Shadow")
  • The Governess (1998)
  • Saving Private Ryan (1998 - in the following scenes: storming the machine nest, all the shots of large fields, and the half-track ambush)
  • The Wyvern Mystery (2000 - TV mini series, as Carwell Grange)


Thame Park and Sir Isaac Newton:

Thame Park has one other bit oddball history: part of Isaac Newton's personal library was located there, and in 1919, when the family that owned the house could no longer support two big estates, auctioned off a bunch of Newton's books at bargain prices (evidently neither the buyers nor the sellers knew the significance of the books!).  Fortunately the larger portion of Newton's library remained intact, and according to ThameHistory.net:

In 1943 the Pilgrim Trust bought the remainder of the Newton collection from the Wykeham-Musgraves, thanks to the detective work of Lieutenant-Colonel de Villamil, and placed them in Trinity College Cambridge, where Sir Isaac Newton had originally collected some of them over 200 years before.


Training:

Anyway, what did the training look like? It was longer than many of them, usually lasting six weeks. I was unable to find what the structure of the course as a whole looked like.  SOE Syllabus by Denis Rigden simply said "STS 52 provided security training for wireless operators," though the book did have the outline of one lecture which Uncle Paul must have attended.  I've reprinted the outline at the very end of this article if you'd like to read it.

Uncle Paul's Experience:

Uncle Paul arrived on 19 May 1944, but on 1 June 1944, he was on leave for a week.  The file said he left the school on 26 August 1944, so he was there for more than three months. There is nothing in his file to suggest why the training took more than double the usual time, and his evaluations were very positive (see below). I suspect that D-Day on 6 June 1944 interrupted things and he and his fellow trainees were put to work doing other things (and his UKNA file says he got a promotion to local sergeant on 5 June). Here's what they said about him at STS 52:


He had continued to improve in the eyes of his instructors. They describe him as: "a quick thinker and should be able to take care of himself in an emergency." Or that he has "plenty of common sense" and that he possesses "certain qualities of leadership."

But my absolutely FAVORITE quote is this one: 

Always in a good humour. Takes a few drinks now and again and when he is a little merry sings obscene songs in French, of which he has a huge repertoire. This he does only in the School canteen. When in the village, he is well behaved.


Bibliography:


W/T Security Lecture:


September 1943
1. INTRODUCTION

Lecture deals with special aspects of security for WT/ Operators apart from general principles laid down in "Individual Security".

2. CHOOSING OF PREMISES FOR WORKING SET

    a) Choice depends on:

        i) Security considerations.

        ii) Technical considerations.

        iii) Combination of i. and ii. and district.

    b) Security.

Safer to have number of sets dispersed over wide area with owners or occupants of premises recruited (see further below)

    c) Technical.

Avoid steel-framed buildings. Key click easily audible in next room or if radio receiver working off same circuit. Consider aerial camouflage.

    d) District.

i) Thinly populated country districts, possibility for isolated buildings, e.g. farms, etc. 
 
ii) Towns - private house or place of occupation. 

    e) In case of d) ii) above, consider following factors:

        i) Accessibility.

Operator must be able to get to and from premises without arousing suspicions of neighbours or passers by.

        ii) Cover.

Must have "genuine" reason for frequent visits (e.g. doctor). Use existing household.

        iii) Facilities, defensive.

For concealing self and set. 
For escape (exits). 
Vulnerability to surveillance.

iv) Control of Access. 
 
Limit to number and type of people with possible access to premises. 
 
3. GENERAL SECURITY PRECAUTIONS
To be taken in any premises including place of residence.  
 
a) Precautions against search during absence - tidiness, leaf in keyhole, hair, etc.

b) Minimum incriminating material, coded writings destroyed, etc.

N.B: Traces on blotting paper and writing blocks.   

c) Hiding places prepared, particularly for set. 
 
i) Inside House - advantages and disadvantages. 
 
ii) Outside House - advantages and disadvantages. 
 
Possibility of working set from hiding places. 
 
d) Preparation for destroying incriminating material.

e) Where possible room with 2 doors and light switch near while operating.

f) Guard while operating, e.g. possibility of hall porter.

g) Al clear and danger signals, visual and/or oral.

h) Check on surveillance of premises, or when entering or leaving.

 i) Alternative premises in case of emergency.

j) No casual visitors at premises - only possible ones are cut-outs.

 4. CUT-OUTS

a) Definition.

Intermediary. Link between two agents. May only carry messages, knowing nothing about Organization, or act as liaison officer.
Should undertake no other subversive activity.

b) Reason for employment (In case of W/T Operator).

i) Dangerous for operator to be seen with Organizer.

ii) May not want another member to know him.

iii) Barrier between himself and authorities, e.g. telegram, official enquiry, hiring flat.

iv) Transfer of suspicion, delayed or prevented.


c) Cover.

Must be able to contact inconspicuously people of different social positions, e.g. doctor, dentist, priest, waiter, postman, etc.


5. SECURITY RULES FOR OPERATOR.

a) Must never undertake other subversive activity. Danger of over enthusiasm.

b) Must not attempt to find out more about Organization than he is told, nor know one or two members.  
 
c) Christian names only should be used. Numbering dangerous.

d) Never carry arms unless in situation for which no cover story (e.g. working the set). 

e) Must report suspicious incident immediately, e.g. if followed.

f) Emergency measures, e.g. warning signals, hide-out, contacts to drop, how to re-establish contact.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Neither spam nor mean comments are allowed. I'm the sole judge of what constitutes either one, and any comment that I consider mean or spammy will be deleted without warning or response.