Video footage of MI6 station Whaddon Hall, attached to the world famous code-breaking centre Bletchley Park, is released to the public
An incredible glimpse into the world of the United Kingdom’s spy station, attached to Bletchley Park during World War 2, can now be gained thanks to the release of an extraordinary video.
The “incredibly rare 11-minute silent film” is extraordinary because the activities of Bletchley Park were so top secret, that even its existence as a code-breaking centre only emerged many decades after the war came to an end.
Indeed, Bletchley Park Trust said that the video footage, which was recently donated to it, is the “only known wartime film footage of a secret site connected to Bletchley Park.”
So what does the footage show? Well, first off it should be remembered that no cameras, let alone film equipment, was ever (officially) allowed to enter Bletchley Park and its associated locations.
However someone did take some footage, some of which can be found here.
The mostly black and white video is a compilation of footage recorded between 1939 – 1945, and it shows members of MI6 Section VIII at Whaddon Hall, Buckinghamshire.
During World War Two, Whaddon Hall was a top secret site where intelligence produced by Bletchley Park would be sent, and then passed on to Allied commanders in the field.
Whaddon Hall is only a few miles away from Bletchley Park in the Milton Keynes area, and was turned into a country club in the 1970s. Following a serious fire in 1976, Whaddon Hall was converted into luxury flats in the 1980s.
“No other film footage of a site intimately connected with Bletchley Park exists,” explained Dr. David Kenyon, research historian at Bletchley Park. “We don’t know who filmed it and the footage doesn’t gives away any state secrets or any clues about the work the people in it are doing. If it fell into the wrong hands, it would have given little away, but for us today, it is an astonishing discovery and important record of one of the most secret and valuable aspects of Bletchley Park’s work.”
It seems that the reel of wartime footage, preserved in its original canister, was donated to Bletchley Park by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous.
But how do we know the film is genuine?
Well it seems that in order to help authenticate the film, Bletchley Park showed the footage to World War Two Veteran Geoffrey Pidgeon, who started working for MI6 Section VIII aged 17.
When he was watching the film, Geoffrey Pidgeon realised that he was seeing the only known film footage of Geoffrey’s father, Horace ‘Pidge’ Pidgeon, who also worked at Whaddon Hall from July 1940 – December 1945 managing MI6 wireless stores, providing radio equipment for agents in the field.
‘I’d never seen my father on a cinefilm before,’ said Pidgeon. “I was very surprised and moved to watch it for the first time. It’s a remarkable find.”
Pidgeon’s father died in the 1950s, so he has been gone a long time, which made seeing his father all the more poignant for Pidgeon.
The firm is shot mostly in black and white with some colour footage, and it shows men and women off duty at Whaddon Hall and at Whaddon Chase, where some staff were billeted.
There is also footage of the Whaddon hunt, a football game, and a cricket match in beautiful summer sunshine.
Identified figures in the film include Brigadier Richard Gambier-Parry, Head of SIS Section VIII, based at Whaddon Hall 1939-1945, as well as Bob Hornby, first Engineer, in charge of workshops and Ewart Holden, Stores officer.
Several figures in the film have not been identified and Bletchley Park Trust is appealing for anyone who recognises someone in the film to get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org
The silent film has also been analysed by a forensic lip reader, enabling subtitles to be added where possible to help bring it to life.
The film will be preserved as part of Bletchley Park’s collections, and made accessible for research, when the museum and heritage attraction reopens.
“The Whaddon Hall film is a really significant addition to our collection,” explained Peronel Craddock, head of collections and exhibitions at Bletchley Park. “Not only does it show us the place and the people in wartime but it’s the first piece of film footage we’re aware of that shows any of the activity associated with Bletchley Park at all.”
“We’re delighted it has been donated to Bletchley Park Trust where it can be cared for and help tell the story of the huge team effort that underpinned Bletchley Park’s successes during World War Two,” said Craddock.
A fuller version of the film, with no commentary and subtitles (where possible) of what the people were saying, can be found here.