In the summer of 1942 Ray Berry, an 11-year-old evacuee was told by his mother that yet again they would need to move house. ‘But why?’ he asked, over and over again. Eventually, his mother took him to one side and said ‘what I’m about to tell you, you must promise to never repeat’. ‘But why?’ Ray asked again, to which his mother replied: ‘well Farm Hall is going to be turned into a Spy School, if you tell anyone then enemy spies could follow them and give them away’. Ray kept that promise for over 50 years.
So began the amazing story of Farm Hall. The property had been requisitioned under the wartime powers act and soon Squadron Leader Cautley Nasmyth Shaw, affectionately known as ‘Pink Gin Percy’ to his friends, arrived from Bletchley Park to set up the Special Operations Executive (SOE) Operation. Farm Hall would act as a transit point between SOE Headquarters in St James, London and RAF Tempsford. Agents from a wide range of countries passed through the Hall over the next three years, including French, Belgian, Czech, Norwegian and even German. Cautley was the perfect choice to run the operation, he had worked for British Intelligence pre-war, and his organisational skills were fitting for the role. He, and his eventual replacement, Squadron Leader Bruce ‘Bonzo’ Bonsey, ‘, worked closely together to ensure the agents arrived on time, were looked after and that their equipment was thoroughly checked, before liaising with RAF Tempsford to organise a ‘drop’ into occupied Europe, known as Operation Sussex. One simple error could result in the agents’ capture, torture and execution.
In 1944, prior to D-Day, Farm Hall oversaw the arrival and despatch of numerous Operation Sussex agents. Dropped into Northern France, they were tasked with relaying information on German military strength and positions, as well as setting up landing grounds, safe houses and lines of communication. Operation Sussex played a vital part in the success of the Battle of Normandy in June 1944.
No story of Farm Hall would be complete without mentioning Cromwell, or ‘Crommie’.. This intelligent and loving Golden Cocker Spaniel, Cautley’s pet, had an amazing ability to sense the stress in agents and his calming effect helped many agents as they prepared for the drop. The ‘landed safely’ message back to RAF Tempsford very often was ‘Love to Crommie’. Even the Germans knew of him, one ‘downed’ airman being asked by his interrogator ‘and how is Squadron Leader Shaw and his dog Crommie’. Crommie has since received a commendation from the PDSA as one of their earliest Post Traumatic Stress Dogs. He now has his own statue outside Farm Hall, complete with Blue Plaque.
After the war, Cautley left, and, Bonsey took over. It was at this time the amazing Wadim Greenewich arrived. How did he get there? Wadim’s epic story saw his family escape Russia following the Revolution, fleeing to the Black Sea before settling in Sofia, where he obtained a job with the British Embassy. After five years he was encouraged to apply for British citizenship and a transfer to the Passport Control Office followed, an office which was at the heart of British espionage.
Wadim became a spy, setting up spy rings for the British, before fleeing when it became known he was on a Bulgarian watch list. Two other agents made it to Istanbul, but sadly Wadim never arrived. He was abducted from the train, sent back to Sofia and transferred to Berlin, to the very heart of the Third Reich. Following this he spent three years in solitary confinement in Dachau, then another camp, Flossenburg, where he became one of Hitler’s ‘Prominenten’, his top one hundred prisoners and his main bargaining chips. This list included the Von Stauffenberg family, Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine officers who plotted against Hitler, religious leaders, foreign agents, prime ministers, royal families, diplomats and many more, in total people from 17 countries made up the list.
Eventually, they would be driven to the Italian Alps where the SS were told to await orders to execute them. After even more twists and turns, they were released to the advancing Americans. Wadim was sent to Farm Hall to recover from this ordeal and slowly over six weeks he came out of his shell and the staff at the Hall grew fond of this amazing man. When he asked to be taken to London, they were sad to see him leave. Once there he began his task of relaying the last words of 12 executed British Officers, who had adjoining cells at Dachau, to their widows.
And so, to Operation Epsilon, and why you came here today. The final chapter of this Hall’s amazing tale. The German Nuclear Scientists who were incarcerated there and treated so well that they truly believed that they were practically ‘free’. However, British Intelligence had ‘bugged’ the Hall and the rest is very much history. Operation Epsilon is famous across the world and is still talked about to this day.
Godmanchester at War, covers all these stories in greater depth, but it contains so much more. When you’ve finished the book, visit our beautiful riverside town in Cambridgeshire and walk in their footsteps using the map provided. We look forward to welcoming you.
written by Roger Leivers, Author of Godmanchester at War.