Co-founder Martyn Cox recently gave two presentations at Brighton College to students from its 4th, 5th, and 6th Forms.
These were instigated by the college archivist Abigail Wharne, in the knowledge that a behind-the-scenes 'secret WW2' boffin had attended Brighton College. The first talk took place in the Rose Lecture Theatre and was also attended by several members of staff, and the second was hosted by Head of History Joe Skeaping in the more informal setting of a classroom.
Charles Fraser-Smith (1904-1992) had in fact been described as "scholastically useless except for woodwork and science and making things" but he subsequently joined the British government's wartime Ministry of Supply and became responsible for developing innovative secret equipment for use by agents who'd be operating in occupied countries for several Allied secret services.
Several examples of his ingenenious devices are on display at the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum near Chichester, and the museum's web site explains that - "Charles Fraser-Smith was, to many that knew him in the Second World War, a junior civil servant in the clothing section of the Ministry of Supply in London. In fact this was an elaborate cover for his real task of procuring items for Britain’s intelligence services. He was the James Bond ‘Q’ figure of the Second World War. He was never given a specific job definition."
No surprise then that Charles Fraser-Smith has been credited as the inspiration for "Q", the gadget quartermaster in the James Bond films.
Since 2001 the Charity's co-founder Martyn Cox has filmed scores of oral history interviews with men and women who took part in clandestine WW2 activities, and many could well have been the unknowing beneficiaries of certain items of top secret kit devised by this particularly unusual and exceptional alumnus of Brighton College.
Its present-day students were fascinated to watch excerpts from first-hand testimony filmed with many WW2 'secret warriors' including SOE secret agents and their trainers, aircrew who'd flown them in and out of enemy occupied countries. Martyn also has compelling testimony from surviving members of RAF bomber crews who'd been shot down over occuied Europe but managed to evade capture and get back to Britain via Brussels, Paris, across the Pyrenees into Spain and then to Gibraltar. Their repatriations were thanks to the courageous resisters of the Comète escape line which had in turn been supported by the British secret service MI9.
Martyn's presentations revealed multiple tales of clandestine derring-do and great courage while shining a light on Charles Fraser-Smith's major contributions - but this special afternoon also provided a powerful demonstration of the value and impact of recorded testimony, whether about the Second World War or any period of any elderly person's past life.
This aspect was particularly timely because Brighton College students are embarking on an oral history project with men and women who survived WW2 and are still alive, and so Martyn was thrilled to receive the following message from Brighton College - "Your talk on Friday was brilliant and the pupils are now really engaged with the oral history project – especially our 6th Form. In fact, we’ve had to expand the size of the group involved. Well done for being so inspiring."