Friday, 6 June 2014

D-Day +70

If you have a TV, you'll have twigged that today is the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Europe which marked a turning point in WWII. It is part of the mythology of the events leading up to The Longest Day, that several top-secret codewords appeared as answers to Daily Telegraph crossword clues. I like xwords, so I perked up at that story. It caused  a big kerfuffle in security circles in Britain because if everyone, including the Germans, knew the where, what and when on the invasion, then the casualties were going to be much higher even if the whole event wasn't brought to a bloody halt in the surf.  I'd always assumed that these coincidences were just coincidences; made credible by that fact that the compilers of Reactograph crosswords and the chaps who thought up the names of Operations all went to the same school and used a limited subset of vocabulary and cultural references available to all English speakers.

This was brought into focus last yearwhen I bought a job lot of The Times times2 Jumbo Crosswords books from ALDI a year ago.  After finishing off a few of these I developed a hypothesis that a) the compiler was my age +/- 5 years b) if he (probably a he) didn't go to the same fancy school that I did, then we probably played his school at cricket.  But there was a neat story in the Telegraph a month ago which claimed to explain the appearance of these hush-hush words in plain sight.  It turned out that the Xword compiler was the headmaster of the Strand School and he was so establishment and so convinced of his own innocence that he persuaded the security goons that he shouldn't be bundled into a van with a bag over his head.  Now get this: James Lovelock went to Strand School!  No no that's both a coincidence and irrelevant.

Years after the event, it was claimed that the headmaster used to out-source the chore of filling the grid with interlocking words to his smarter pupils.  He would then complete the easier part of the task by inventing clever clues to the words, typing it all up and sending it in to the editor.  At least one of the boys involved used to hang about the local army camps where those about to invade were billeted about the English countryside waiting (mainly) and training (as well).  The young chap used to dress up in his army cadet corps uniform and ask earnest questions of the soldiery and make himself useful running errands and making tea and getting sent for a glass-hammer.  All the words that triggered security alarms had been heard by this fellow in careless talk by people who knew that, whatever Nazi spies looked and behaved like, it wasn't like an earnest teenage wannabe soldier.  Juno, Gold, Sword, Utah, Omaha, [the five invasion beaches in Normandy] Overlord [the whole invasion plan] Neptune [the naval wing of the plan] Mulberry [the innovative floating harbours] were all terms that were casually bandied about in the weeks before D-Day, and were more interesting than John, Goat, Stone, Unit, Onion to insert into Sir's grid.

It makes you think about how little we hear about successful espionage by the Nazi's in Britain.  Was it just that they kept on sending people over with duelling scars and a tendency to click their heels when ordering ein pint from das bar-M├Ądchen.  Or was it that they successfully exploited the inveterate tendency to gossip indiscreetly but that we'll never hear about it?

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