Auntie’s Secret Resistance Messages

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Black and white picture of George Orwell at the BBC.
George Orwell at the BBC: did he help Auntie broadcast secret messages to the Resistance?

How did London communicate with the Resistance in Occupied Europe during the Second World War? A newly released archive of BBC documents has revealed that coded messages were often sent in regular radio bulletins.

The collection just released by BBC History shows that the choice of music at the end of news bulletins often constituted secret messages to Polish Resistance groups.

Official Polish representatives would turn up at the BBC studios in London, using the codename ‘Peter Peterkin’, and provide a recording of a particular piece of music. The news bulletin would then be truncated to allow this piece to be played.

The latest BBC History releases have also shone a light on several other aspects of the state broadcaster’s wartime role.

We learn, for example, that the live chimes of Big Ben were replaced with a recording when there was an air raid on, to prevent the Germans knowing that their planes were over London. We also have confirmation that the BBC’s Alexandra Palace transmitters were used by the RAF to distort the navigation systems of Luftwaffe bombers.

Other items of interest include interviews on the bombing of Broadcasting House, and insider accounts of life at the BBC during the Blitz.

David Hendy, Curator of the BBC History Collection and Professor of Media and Cultural History at the University of Sussex, is in no doubt about the academic importance of the archive: ‘It confirms for the first time several fascinating details of BBC’s role in wartime activities and as a morale-booster in the fight against fascism.’

This article was published in the December 2019 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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