Excerpt from Joan Pye’s Memoirs – Wartime – Working for MI5

An excerpt Joan Pye’s Memoirs, Chapter 8: Wartime – Working for MI5

“When Ailsa and I finished our course at Queen’s Secretarial College we talked about what organisation to join to help the war effort.  Hitler’s ‘blitzing’ across Europe had not yet started – it was only January 1940 but the threat was looming and rather frightening…. [para-phrased] We requested a position with MI5, which was granted on recommendation from a former school mistress and of course passing the appropriate security clearance procedures.   Initially, we were sent to Blenheim Palace where our project was to re-type a daily quota of about 100 (blurry) photos of Index cards, collected since the First World War, onto paper designed for four post binders . It took six or nine months to complete the job.  [end para-phrased].  There were four large terrapin buildings on the big gravel forecourt to the Palace, poorly insulated so we froze in winter and dripped with perspiration over the typewriters on a hot day in summer.  We ate at outdoor tables in the summer months outside the canteen constructed from the former stables.  The WRVS (Women’s Royal Voluntary Service) staff who cooked and served meals from 12:00 noon to 2:00 pm were a cheerful friendly lot who did their best to satisfy our hunger with dishes like boiled carrots with cheese sauce.  The local chaffinches were also hungry; when we sat down at the trestle tables in the yard, the chaffinches would perch beside and often steal food from our plates if we were not quick enough in eating it first.”

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“Towards the end of the 1939-45 War, I was posted to London to join a small group (mostly graduated) known as Captain Gwyer’s Beavers.  Our task was to visit a nearby office where the transmissions were received from British agents working behind the enemy lines, particularly in France.  These agents were trained in England, dropped by parachute at a pre-determined site, equipped with suitcases which contained radio transmitting equipment, and left to manage as best they could.  We got to know the agents by their code names and passed the information they sent back to the appropriate Government Department.  If the transmissions from a particular agent ceased, we presumed he had been caught by the local Gestapo and it was not difficult to imagine what fate awaited him (or her – there were many women agents).  One in particular, codenamed ‘Johnny’ was a prolific sender of transmissions, some of it very valuable concerning the movement of German troops.  One day there were no further transmissions from Johnny, the word was passed round the whole section and we mourned the loss of a very brave man who was helping our war effort just as much as our soldiers, sailors and airmen in the front line.

The names of the members of the Abwehr and S.S., the German security police, were drawn from these agents’ reports, listed and catalogued, and later at the end of the war the lists were passed to SHAEF. (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force; pronounced “shāf”), at the Allies’ headquarters in Paris and used by our very own Security and counter-espionage people to round up the German individuals concerned and see that they were brought to justice and put out of harm’s way.  Some escaped, of course, and turned up occasionally as Nazi agents who have taken refuge in South America or anywhere where they feel they may be safe from further investigation.”

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