What’s on : Lectures

Secret Wartime Britain

22 Feb 2022
Start time
7:30 PM
Colin Philpott
Secret Wartime Britain

Event Information

Secret Wartime Britain
Colin Philpott

During the Second World War, thousands of sites across Britain were requisitioned to support the war effort. Additionally, countless others were built from scratch regardless of cost. Often the purpose of these locations was concealed, even from those living close by. Colin has compiled a fascinating collection of examples of hidden places all over the country, many of which still exist today, albeit often now used for different purposes. They include underground factories, storage sites and headquarters; spy and communication centres; interrogation and POW camps; dummy sites; research facilities for chemical and atomic weapons; treasure stores in stately homes and even royal retreats in the event of invasion. Colin’s talk reveals where these sites where and examines how successfully they were kept secret.

Details of Colin Philpott’s Media Career: Colin Philpott Media website

Image: Battle of Britain Bunker at RAF Uxbridge – with permission

This lecture will be held on Zoom and invitations will be sent to YPS members and the general mailing list two days before the event. This is a free event but non members can help to cover our lecture programme costs by donating here:

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Member’s Report

The secrets of wartime Britain were many and various.  The abandoned and disused locations range from the obvious and currently well known, like Bletchley Park, to mines in Wales that were used for the storage of valuables removed from London’s museums and galleries.  Perhaps the most interesting are those that were hidden in plain sight, some of which are still in use today.

A prime example of the latter is the Avro factory, next to Leeds-Bradford airport.  Used today for warehousing and distribution it was built in 1939/40 as a vast aircraft factory.  17,000 people worked there, but despite its size and proximity to Leeds it was never bombed.  This was partly due to the excellent job done by the specialist team (recruited from the film industry) which camouflaged it, partly because the area is fog-prone, and partly because the staff obeyed orders, and kept quiet.  Bletchley and its co-locations employed more than 11,000 people, but compliance of the workers here, as at Avro and other secret locations, kept them secret.

Other “secret” locations were conspicuous – it was their purpose which was disguised.  Forty-two food dumps contained food in cold storage: some continued in use during the cold war. The Government built “shadow factories”, twinned with ones in private ownership, to increase production and to provide back-up if one factory was bombed.  Dummy factories acted as decoys. Though about 60,000 people were killed in air raids most damage to factories was superficial. Other locations were duplicated, including The Paddock, a back-up for the War Rooms in Dollis Hill, and the Battle of Britain bunker under RAF Uxbridge.  Council estates became internment camps, airfields and cities had decoy “doubles”, while dummy landing craft were conspicuously towed to the east coast to mislead the Germans as to the location of the D Day landings.  More sinister are buildings used for the interrogation of prisoners, chemical weapons factories, and atomic weapon testing sites, the latter now ruinous, but still visible in the post-war landscape.

The secrets were well kept.  There were only 16 prosecutions for treason, and of the 1.2 million prosecutions under the Defence Regulations 928,397 were for blackout violations.  The lecturer attributed this success to a population that was more deferential to authority than we are today, to a grim determination that the war must be won, and a strong desire to protect “the boys” at the front.

Felicity Hurst