During World War II the daily newspapers only consisted of a few pages but they were very popular. They gave the everyday news of what was happening in the fight against Hitler and the Nazis. But there was much more than just news to see – there were crossword puzzles to fill in the hours spent in air raid shelters.
The Daily Telegraph has always been popular for its crossword puzzle. One of the people who contributed crosswords during that time was Leonard S Dawe, the 54 year old headmaster of Strand School which had been evacuated to Bookham at the beginning of the second world war. He was known by the boys as ‘moneybags’ because of his initials, LSD (for those post-decimalisation – pounds shillings and pence).
From early 1943 the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill and American President, Franklin Roosevelt met to plan the invasion of the continent overrun by Germany. It was decided that the sheltered Normandy coastline with its wide sandy beaches presented the best option for the surprise attack that was to be the D-Day landings. The assault was code-named Operation Overlord by Churchill himself. It was in early May 1944 that Eisenhower decided that D-Day would fall on 6th June 1944.
A huge security blanket had been thrown over all aspects of the operation, including the place and exact date of the landings, in order to maximise the element of surprise and to minimise casualties. But whilst some members of MI5, Britain’s counter-espionage service, were whiling away their spare time in the month before the planned invasion by doing the Telegraph crossword, they noticed that vital code-names that had been adopted to hide the mightiest sea-borne assault of all time, appeared in the crossword.
The answer to one clue, ‘One of the USA’, turned out to be ‘Utah’, and another answer was ‘Omaha’. But these were the very names, given by the Allies, to the beaches in Normandy where the American forces were to land on D-Day.
Another answer that appeared in that month’s crosswords was ‘Mulberry’. It was the name of the floating harbour that was to be towed across the channel to accommodate the supply ships of the invasion force. Then again another answer was ‘Neptune’, the code-name for the naval support for the operation. Most astonishing of all was the clue ‘Big-Wig’ to which the answer was ‘Overlord’, the code-name given for the entire operation!
The MI5 sprang into action – surely the crossword was being used to tip-off the Germans? Leonard Dawe was soon pulled in for the most intense questioning. Why, the officers demanded to know, without giving away the exact reason, had he chosen these five words within his crossword solutions?
“Why not?” was Dawe’s indignant reply. He could choose whatever words he wanted.
He obviously eventually convinced them of his innocence and no more came of the matter but you must agree it was an amazing coincidence, not just in the words themselves, but in their timing.
Interestly further light was shone on the matter by Roy Pitcher who was at the evacuated Strand Grammar School in the 1940’s. Apparently Dr Dawes, the headmaster, was very soon released after his arrest when the D-Day codewords appeared in the Daily Telegraph crossword.
It is far from obvious that security was tight in those days and it is likely that the codewords were not a very highly controlled secret. As mentioned in an excellent talk to the U3A a few years ago by an ex pupil, Dr Dawes was assisted in compiling the crossword by sixth formers. They were very friendly with the Canadian troops who were in the area (the ones that constructed Young Street) and it is most likely they picked up the codewords from them. Nobody at that time really suspected the headmaster of being a spy.
Strand School was not actually evacuated to Bookham but to Browns Farm in Browns Lane in Effingham also using the barn which has long since been converted. However, most of the boys were probably billeted in Bookham and school dinners were provided in the Old Barn Hall – quite a walk!