Bletchley Park & The Thatched Barn
The Thatched Barn during the war
James Bond fans would have noticed that there were numerous remote field offices in the movies. One minute 007 could pop up in Hong Kong before being taken to a sunken ship in the Harbour which just happens to be doubling as a remote HQ for M and the British Secret Service.
The next he could be in Egypt, where an ancient Egyptian Temple could be doubling as a field HQ.
The film-makers were merely referencing the real life experiences of the Secret Operations of Second World War.
Bletchley Park (Station X) is now open to visitors and run by the Bletchley Park Trust, it has also been the subject of an Oscar Winning Film; A Beautiful Mind. It is therefore the most well known of Britain’s operations offices during the Second World War. It was the main decryption office and was the first base named Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).
However, just as explosive trials took place at Brickendonbury in Hertfordshire and the Camouflage Section was based at the National History Museum in London, there were many training schools and offices throughout Great Britain. Included was The Thatched Barn.
The Thatched Barn (Station XV) was a mock-Tudor hotel built in the 1930s and owned by Butlin’s Holiday Camp owner, Billy Butlin, before it was requisitioned as Station XV by the Special Operations Executive. In the 1960s, it became a Playboy Club, and later was used by Elstree Film Studios as a TV location for both The Saint and The Prisoner.
Film director Captain J Eldar Wills ran Station XV and his team included stage prop experts from the film industry. Examples of their work included the making of French styled clothing for field agents; maps were sewn into underwear, booby traps were made, grenades were packed into tins of fruit and bicycle pumps were turned into bombs.
It is possible that Fleming was most inspired by The Thatched Barn when devising Q Branch for his spy novels, but offices and departments were not just confined to Britain. As operations took place throughout the world and included foreign agents, spies and activists, co-operation and assistance with foreign equivalents and even British field offices were commonplace during the period.
Three of the Best books about the work at Bletchley