Three Friends of the Charity (Ian Titman, Ray Windmill and Paul McCue) were recently fortunate to be granted a viewing of the inside of Tangmere Cottage. Now a private residence, the cottage served as the wartime operations room of A Flight of 161 (Special Duties) Squadron, based at RAF Tangmere and responsible for flying agents (SOE, MI 6/SIS, BCRA) by Lysander aircraft to and from occupied Europe.
The cottage also provided overnight accommodation for SOE agents, while Bignor Manor (10 miles to the north-east) housed the MI 6/SIS agents. A small plaque (pictured) on Tempsford Cottage records the property's use during WW2 and a rediscovered plaque on the opposite side of the road marks the site of the main entrance and guardhouse of former RAF Station Tangmere. One of the three visitors, Trustee Paul McCue, was able to recall the original layout from 1975 as he was one of the last people to fly from Tangmere, with 623 Gliding School, the very last RAF presence on the site.
It was a humbling moment to stand in what is now the cottage's dining room, but which was once the operations room, imaging the likes of Percy "Pick" Pickard, Hugh Verity, Bob Large and Len Ratcliff plotting their courses. And to walk through the reception lounge where agents such as Noor Inayat-Khan, Violette Szabó, Jack Agazarian, Robert Benoist, and Roland Dowlen - all ultimately doomed - made their final preparations before being taken to their waiting aircraft.
The cottage is not open to the public and was only visited thanks to contact between the owner and Ian Titman of the Friends of The Secret WW2 Learning Network. Both are sincerely thanked for a memorable occasion.
Archive photos courtesy of The Jimmy McCairns Collection / Ian Titman
Please note: in addition to Tangmere being the forward operating base of 161 (SD) Squadron's Lysander flight, it was also the departure airfield in December 1941 for the 138 (SD) Sqn Halifax taking SOE's OPERATION ANTHROPOID team to Czechoslovakia. The operation succeeded in the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, head of the combined security services of Nazi Germany and acting Reichsprotektor of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.