Legion d'Honneur for MI6 veteran
The past week started with Remembrance Sunday and was immediately followed by November 11th itself, with the Charity's Trustees, Friends and supporters participating in a number of special events.
But every day is 'remembrance day' for us. We work very hard, often merely behind the scenes, to instigate and take part in year round commemorative events which also pay tribute to those who survived. Our aim is simple: to help make the stories of those being remembered as widely known as possible. A recent example was the Légion d'Honneur very recently awarded to MI6 veteran Geoffrey Pidgeon, which was down to Secret WW2's co-founder Martyn Cox having known Geoffrey since a 2007 oral history filming session. This had proved to be the start of long friendship, and earlier this year Martyn had suggested to Geoffrey's sons that their father could qualify for this medal. During World War 2 Geoffrey and his father had both been recruited by MI6 (Section VIII) as civilian ‘techies’. They had a Royal Signals army pay books, and Geoffrey was the youngest member of an eight person Section VIII Mobile Construction Team based not far from Bletchley Park, in the stables of Whaddon Hall in Buckinghamshire.
Their work included building or installing specialist equipment for secret intelligence communications including agent wireless sets, and top secret kit used in RAF aircraft and on Royal Navy craft. Meanwhile, Geoffrey's mother Mrs Edith Pidgeon worked at Bletchley Park itself, as a nurse.
Martyn had originally hoped Geoffrey could receive his medal to coincide with June's 75th anniversary of D-Day. The application procedure took a little longer than expected but his award was to be accompanied by an extra and highly prestigious honour.
On October 28th Geoffrey became the 6,000th British veteran to receive the Légion d'Honneur since the 70th anniversary of D-Day in June 2014, when former French president François Hollande pledged to honour all British veterans who served in France during the Second World War. The presentation ceremony took place at Lancaster House and was attended by many French and British dignitaries including the UK Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace MP.
During her tribute the French Ambassador Catherine Colonna said:
"Geoffrey’s time in MI6 included covert missions across the Channel, assisting agents and resistance fighters under threat, and working in Winston Churchill’s ‘most secret airfield’ in Tempsford. Our country will never forget the fortitude of the brave men and women who fought to liberate France, and this highlights the enduring strength of the Franco-British relationship".
Geoffrey has often said (albeit tongue in cheek) that he must have been the youngest member of MI6, and this inevitably led to his wartime role being ‘bigged up’ in some of the subsequent media coverage. At least one report referred to him as an “MI6 agent” ... which he certainly was NOT! ... but even though Geoffrey had been a 'backroom boy' there was at least one occasion when he'd ended up potentially in harm's way.
His award of the Ld'H is also an opportunity to pay tribute to Geoffrey's PR and educational efforts. Since the top secret WW2 role of Bletchley Park's code breakers was declassified and became widely known, Geoffrey has been relentlessly passionate in his efforts to make people aware that despite the main focus on the Enigma code breakers there were also two other important elements to the Ultra story.
The first was the role of the Y Service, by way of its many hundreds of diligent wireless operators intercepting coded enemy signals. Their intercepts were then supplied to Bletchley Park for decoding; and the third part of the process was the secure dissemination of the Ultra intelligence to the Allied commanders who needed it, while vital that Ultra was only utilised in ways that would give no clues that the Allies had broken the enemy's codes.
During the months leading up to D-Day, Geoffrey Pidgeon and his team transformed a small fleet of Dodge ambulances into mobile communications units that would be sent across the Channel to accompany the Allied generals as they advanced, so as to securely receive coded intelligence signals transmitted from Whaddon.
This was just one of Geoffrey Pidgeon's roles in support of Britain's 'secret wireless war', the liberation of France and the eventual Allied victory; and his link to the vital work done at Bletchley Park is recorded on its Roll of Honour.
To explain the wider context of Bletchley's code-breaking role he went to enormous lengths to research and write THE SECRET WIRELESS WAR, and since its publication Geoffrey has been filmed for documentaries and given scores of educational talks.
He also had the honour of welcoming and escorting The Queen when she visited Bletchley Park, and so it was fitting that the Bletchley Park Trust's Chief Executive Iain Standen was able to attend Geoffrey's medal award ceremony, accompanied by the Trust's Research Historian Dr David Kenyon.
Many congratulations Geoffrey! The photos of your proud family and friends say it all ....
And finally, here he is - caught in the act!
Geoffrey has always been an accomplished communicator and PR man, and this photo shows that once the formalities were over he wasn't going to miss the opportunity to promote his book THE SECRET WIRELESS WAR ... even to the French Ambassador and Britain's Secretary of State for Defence!
THE SECRET WIRELESS WAR