A group of 17 gathered recently at Hankley Common Training Area (Elstead, Surrey) a military establishment, but open to the public, and with unspoilt views more akin to the Scottish highlands - and therefore used as such in the 007 movie 'Skyfall'.
Attendees heard from Trustee Paul McCue how plans for the Germans' Atlantikwall were stolen by a member, René Duchez, of the Centurie group of the Confrérie Notre-Dame resistance group.
A humble painter/decorator, Duchez stole the plans while decorating the offices of the Todt organisation in Caen. The plans were then smuggled out of France by fishing boat and delivered to the BCRA, General de Gaulle's intelligence service, in London.
Aerial reconnaissance was then able to spot the defences as they were built - for targeting on and before D-Day. To help determine how best to assault the defences, sections of the wall, along with a bunker and other structures, were replicated in secrecy at Hankley Common by Canadian Army Engineers - and AVREs (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers) - specially-converted Churchill tanks - were developed to overcome them.
The full story of Duchez's theft is told in the book ‘Ten Thousand Eyes’ by Richard Collier; and Paul recommended a newly-released book by David Abrutat - 'Vanguard - the True Stories of the Reconnaissance and Intelligence Missions behind D-Day’.
The presentation also included details and photographs of Hayling Island-based COPP, the Combined Operations Pilotage Parties who bravely collected samples from the planned-invasion beaches - see www.coppheroes.org