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Cranleigh's 'School for Secret Agents' - no longer so secret

A commendable audience of 82 turned out for our day of talks and film at Cranleigh Arts Centre. Trustee Paul McCue started the morning session with the history and use by SOE of STS 4, Winterfold, on the outskirts of the village. STS 4 was the Preliminary School for N (Dutch) Section and T (Belgian) Section until, in the summer of 1943, it became the Students' Assessment Board, STS 7, for several sections. Carol Browne, Information Officer, then talked about Maureen "Paddy" O'Sullivan of F Section (SAB at STS 7) and Paul finished off with Lt Nestor Bodson of T Section (STS 4 at Winterfold).

The afternoon session comprised a showing of the film Carve Her Name With Pride, starring Virginia McKenna as Violette Szabo.

Contrary to popular misconception, Violette did not attend Preliminary School at Wanborough Manor, but instead went to the SAB at Winterfold, STS 7.

Virginia McKenna had been unable to join us for this special event, and so had very kindly sent a message of support which was read out by Chair, Louisa Russell:

‘I am just one of countless thousands of people who will always remember Violette Szabo. Her extraordinary and humbling story has been told many times - in books, on film and by people who, deeply affected, have travelled to various parts of the world to share her inspiring story. Her daughter, Tania, who was only two when her mother left London in 1944, never to return, has continued to be the foremost of these people. And, obviously, as Violette’s daughter, hers is the voice which touches us most.

The stories, and Violette’s code poem, written by Leo Marks (code master at Special Operations Executive), are deeply moving and personal testaments to all those who sacrificed everything that meant to them, so that we could be safe, so that evil would not prevail. I am so very sorry I cannot be with you as I am at an event in Derbyshire, but I am – without doubt – with you in spirit’.

Friends and supporters who attended included Ian Titman and Mark Yeats (who kindly produced and staffed presentations on Lysander operations and weapons, respectively), Bridget Howland (who produced the graphics for the publicity flyer), Rod Kedward (President of The Secret WW2 Learning Network) and his wife Carol, Yvette Pitt, Mark Browne and Trevor Butterworth, but the overwhelming percentage of the audience were local people, relatively new to the subject. Our aim to 'spread the word' was therefore certainly met.

Sponsorship was again kindly provided by Ben's Collectors Records of Guildford and Paul Higgins of the Cranleigh Magazine energetically publicised the event, in detail, in two editions. Peter Hunt, Programme Manager at Cranleigh Arts Centre, together with his staff, was a joy to work with, and The Secret WW2 Learning Network and Cranleigh Arts Centre produced the event in partnership with a 50/50 share of the useful fundraising profit.

A return visit is planned for next year, focusing on the Dutch agents trained at Winterfold.

Photos and archive images courtesy of Louisa Russell & Paul McCue

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