Secret War


Entrance lodges to Whaddon HallBletchley Park

Bletchley Park was the centre of a code-cracking operation in the Second World War. German coded messages were unscrambled here. This helped the government decide their next move during the war. Bletchley Park was bought by the government in 1938 for the Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS) and the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, later known as MI6). Bletchley is now in Milton Keynes, just outside Buckinghamshire, but it relied on a number of other offices, some in Buckinghamshire, to do its work.


When working on the Enigma machine to break one of the German codes, the GCCS needed machines called bombes. One of these was housed at Adstock Manor and Whaddon Hall was used by the SIS for sending and receiving radio messages.

The Firs, Whitchurch, one of Churchill's Toyshops


Churchill’s Toyshop

The Ministry of Defence Department MD1 was nicknamed ‘Churchill’s Toyshop’, because they developed novel and unusual bombs and weaponry. The Firs in Whitchurch was one of the sites taken over by ‘Churchill’s Toyshop’ during the Second World War. The Sticky Bomb, Blacker Bombards and the PIAT (Projector Infantry Anti-Tank – like a bazooka) were devised here.


The Sticky Bomb was an anti-tank grenade. It was a glass ball filled with explosive and with a sticky residue on the outside encased in a metal ball with a plastic handle. You had to pull out the pin to release the metal case and, holding the plastic handle either stick the glass ball to the tank or throw it. They were very fragile and often broke in transit and were sometimes detonated accidentally, or the sticky glass would stick to soldier’s clothing instead of the tank.


The Bombard was devised by Lieutenant-Colonel Blacker as a cheap, easily produced weapon to replace ordnance that had been lost during the British evacuation from Dunkirk. The Home Guard and airfield defence units used it between 1941-1944.


The Bombard would usually sit on a concrete base and would have been surrounded by a concrete weapons pit which would have provided protection to the three man gun crew. It would fire a 20 lb anti-tank mortar bomb which contained a high explosive charge. The Bombards' effective range using the anti-tank bomb was only 100-150 yards, which meant it had to be used at very close range. It could also fire a 14 lb bomb against enemy soldiers with a safer 500-yard range.


Harry Bush worked for Roblin’s in Aylesbury during the Second World War. Roblin’s made lots of things for Churhill’s Toyshop and knew about some of the things they were developing:

            “The twelve thousand pound bombs which were dropped, the first ones, and hedgehog bombs and all different sorts were developed there.” (BRO 1987, 39). 


Hughenden Manor

Hughenden ManorHughenden Manor became an RAF intelligence base, codenamed “Hillside”, that carried out vital map-making for crucial raids including the sinking of the Tirpitz and the bombing of Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s bunker at Berchtesgaden. Map makers at the manor also contributed to the Dambusters bombing success.


John Mann lived in Cryer’s Hill as a boy. His parents had a Londoner called George Nutley lodging with them. Whenever they asked him what he did he said “secret work”. John said:

            “Every day this ordinary man cycled one mile down the hill, half a mile along the valley then walked up the hill passing Hughenden Church through the small woodlands into Hughenden Manor, the once country seat of Benjamin Disraeli, to his work.”


It wasn’t until after the war that they found out that George had been processing photographic reconnaissance films taken during bombing raids (John Mann: WW2 People's War).


Until recently it was only known that the Air Ministry used Hughenden Manor during the Second World War, but exactly what went on there was a mystery. It was perhaps best known for being the countryside retreat of Queen Victoria's trusted Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who lived there from 1848 until his death in 1881. Disraeli’s niece sold the Hughenden estate in 1937 to Mr W.H Abbey. It was requisitioned from him in 1940 for the war effort. After the war the house was adapted into a museum and given to the National Trust, who still look after it.


The finding that 100 intelligence staff were based there secretly plotting Hitler's downfall was made by National Trust researchers during plans to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. It was also learned that Hughenden Manor was once at the top of Hitler's hit list.  

Aerial reconnaissance in progress at Danesfield House, Medmenham



This was an air reconnaissance centre. Planes flew out of Benson, Oxfordshire, and the photographs were interpreted and mapped here. Reconnaissance took place across Britain, to make sure the military had up-to-date information about their own country, and on the continent where they could monitor German troop movements.


Mrs Doreen Mackie worked for the Photographic reconnaissance Unit during the war:


“From 1939, I was part of a team involved in keeping track of the number of enemy ships, aircraft and any other warlike vessels to be seen around Norway and as far south as the French coasts.


I was based at the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit in Wembley, Middlesex and was one of the C shift – three shorthand typists, employed in the task of taking shorthand dictations from archaeologists, explorers and geophysicists who had been called up into the RAF for the purpose of examining photographs in order to assess the enemy’s strength and perhaps their purpose of intent. One of the interpreters had reached the then highest point on Mount Everest during the 1930’s and another was the late Glyn E Daniel, the archaeologist, later a professor at Cambridge, and famous broadcaster in the television quiz programme “Animal, Vegetable or Mineral”.


Often we would work all night; sometimes we would come in for our shift duties, only to find that due to bad weather the aeroplanes had been unable to take off, or the deterioration in the weather had stopped any photographs being taken. Then we would be able to get some sleep. I remember a very small, stuffy room with no window and a mattress on the floor – called a biscuit – where we were able to relax for a few hours.


Danesfield House, home of aerial reconnaissance in the Second World War, now a hotelThe photographs were interpreted in a special metal protected room and the Intelligence Officers would sit before a Swiss-made Wild photo-geometric machine, which would make prints to distort the images – to compensate for the errors in alignment of the aeroplane with the ground – and study the different types of craft and enemy activity. They would dictate the results of their observations to the secretaries who would be expected to transcribe in quick time for the reports to be sent out by special delivery to the Coastal Command, Bomber Command, the Admiralty etc...


Typing the correct spelling of the locations dictated to us took considerable concentration, as errors were severely frowned upon. We typed on waxed sheets (mistakes amended by most noticeable red ink) and then rolled off on a Gestetner Duplicating Machine, which hungrily used up many tubes of a black inky substance.


An example:


ST. NAZAIRE - General Shipping

There has been no significant change in the Port since 15.12.40

One M/V 400-500ft and a tanker 300-400ft have departed from the BASSIN DE PENHOUET, 1 motor patrol craft and a few small craft have left the BASSIN DE ST. NAZAIRE. There has been no evidence in these photographs that ST. NAZAIRE is being used as a submarine base.


When the bombing increased in Wembley we moved to Danesfield Court, Medmenham, Buckinghamshire, near Marlow, to a stately home built in the style of The White House in Washington. It certainly was very grand, surrounded by beautiful terraced gardens. We secretaries boarded out in nearby cottages and enjoyed the respite from the bombing. After a while, all civilians working in the RAF were expected to join the service. Some of us did go into uniform while others went their own several ways into different war work.” (Doreen Mackie: WW2 People's War).



Now you are going to be part of the Secret War! Your teacher will give you copies of aerial photographs and maps from around the time of the Second World War. Can you spot the wartime changes in the photographs? 

  • 1944 map of Cheddington airfield. It doesn’t have the airfield as it hadn’t been mapped properly. Draw the airfield on to the map by using the vertical aerial photograph taken in 1948 below.


Please contact the County Archaeological Service for a 1944 map of Cheddington airfield


Please contact the Council Archaeology Service for a 1948 vertical aerial photograph of Cheddington airfield

  • 1944 map of Westcott. Draw the airfield on to this map using the vertical aerial photograph taken in 1976 below.


Please contact the Council Archaeology Service for a 1944 map of Westcott airfield


Please contact the Council Archaeology Service for a 1976 vertical aerial photograph of Westcott airfield

  • 1944 map of Creslow. This is the site of a radio transmitter that has not been mapped in this edition, to keep its location secret. Can you find it on the vertical aerial photograph taken in 1947 and draw it on to the map?


Please contact the Council Archaeology Service for a 1944 map of Creslow


Please contact the Council Archaeology Service for a 1947 vertical aerial photograph of Creslow

  • 1944 map of Aston Abbots. This is the site of a German prisoner-of-war camp. Draw it on the map from this vertical aerial photograph taken in 1947.


Please contact the Council Archaeology Service for a 1944 map of Aston Abbots


Please contact the Council Archaeology Service for a 1947 aerial photograph of Aston Abbots


  1. Why do you think the Government decided to base the GCCS and the SIS at Bletchley Park? What was good about being out of London?
  2. Try to crack these codes. The alphabet has been written out below to help you.



a. If 6,18,1,14,11 is FRANK, what is 7,5,15,18,7,5?

b. If 19,8,17,17,2 is PENNY, what is 19,18,24,17,7?

c. If DKTF is BIRD what is UYCP?

d. If QFNK is JUMP, what is UZOO?


Go back to Buckinghamshire in the Wars.