Were World War Two Spies Really Trained in the New Forest During Wartime?

Oma H. Barnett

As I live on the beautiful New Forest, I can fully appreciate that it would have been an ideal environment for covert training during World War Two. It was only when I started to really research what life was like during wartime on the forest that I started to discover a virtual hidden history of what was actually going on to make a successful outcome of WW2 for the Allies and to totally defeat Hitler.

The Special Operations Executive(SOE) trained, in particular during World War Two, on the Beaulieu Estate. This area was useful for the following reasons:

i. The area had extensive woodland which was hard to view or penetrate either by air or on foot without being seen.

ii. There were many cottages and dwellings which could be used to train the Allied spies so that they would assimilate easily and faultlessly into life when they were dropped by plane into occupied or enemy territory.

iii. Once trained they could then take off by plane, usually at night, from either Beaulieu or an airfield very close, and be dropped to become “absorbed” into their new culture, and send back up to date intelligence on what was both happening and being planned by Hitler at this time.

iv. Prominent and well known WW2 spies who received training during wartime at Beaulieu include Odette and Violet Szabo. This information was necessarily kept totally secret during wartime and only came to light once World War Two was over and a celebration party was taking place on the Beaulieu Estate. Even Lord Montagu was unaware of exactly what was going on at this time.

v. The agents who, once trained, became spies for the Allies have a befitting memorial to their skills, valour and bravery in the Abbey Cloisters at Beaulieu.

vi. Beaulieu was strategically placed to also train the agents who were to become our WW2 spies for another reason. The Beaulieu river offered a perfect training ground and was also a wonderful site for our spies to leave silently on MTB’s in the middle of the night on their journey across the English Channel to glean more information to stop Hitler in his tracks.

I’ve found the information I’ve discovered about the World War Two spies who were based for training in the New Forest absolutely fascinating. I’ve even learned that that in an area of the New Forest in which I used to live their was a German sympathiser living who was discovered to be passing on information from the New Forest, as a spy, to help the German propaganda machine during World War Two.

I can only imagine what it was like during these times as today little bits of gossip tend to spread around really quickly, so during wartime the New Forest must have been alive with speculation and propaganda stories.

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