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Unique wartime footage of Bletchley Park's secret MI6 communications staff discovered

Fri, 3 Apr 2020
The only known wartime film footage of a secret site connected to Bletchley Park

The incredibly rare 11-minute silent film, believed to be a compilation of footage recorded between 1939 – 1945, shows members of MI6 Section VIII at Whaddon Hall, Buckinghamshire. During World War Two, this was a most secret site where Ultra intelligence produced by the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park would be sent, and then passed on to Allied commanders in the field.

Dr. David Kenyon, Research Historian at Bletchley Park highlights the rarity of this find: “No other film footage of a site intimately connected with Bletchley Park exists. We don’t know who filmed it and the footage doesn’t gives away any state secrets or any clues about the work the people in it are doing. If it fell into the wrong hands, it would have given little away, but for us today, it is an astonishing discovery and important record of one of the most secret and valuable aspects of Bletchley Park’s work.”

The reel of wartime footage, preserved in its original canister, has been donated to Bletchley Park by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous.

To help authenticate the film, Bletchley Park showed the footage to World War Two Veteran Geoffrey Pidgeon, who started working for MI6 Section VIII aged 17. The film movingly includes the only known film footage of Geoffrey’s father Horace ‘Pidge’ Pidgeon, who also worked at Whaddon Hall from July 1940 – December 1945 managing MI6 wireless stores, providing radio equipment for agents in the field.

‘I’d never seen my father on a cinefilm before,’ said Mr Pidgeon. “I was very surprised and moved to watch it for the first time. It’s a remarkable find.”

The film, shot mostly in black and white with some colour footage, shows men and women off duty at Whaddon Hall and at Whaddon Chase, where some staff were billeted. There is also footage of the Whaddon hunt, a football game, and a cricket match in beautiful summer sunshine. Identified figures in the film include Brigadier Richard Gambier-Parry, Head of SIS Section VIII, based at Whaddon Hall 1939-1945, as well as Bob Hornby, first Engineer, in charge of workshops and Ewart Holden, Stores officer. Several figures in the film have not been identified and Bletchley Park Trust is appealing for anyone who recognises someone in the film to get in touch via [email protected]

The silent film has been analysed by a forensic lip reader, enabling subtitles to be added where possible to help bring it to life. The film will be preserved as part of Bletchley Park’s collections, and made accessible for research, when the museum and heritage attraction reopens.

Peronel Craddock, Head of Collections and Exhibitions at Bletchley Park said:

“The Whaddon Hall film is a really significant addition to our collection. Not only does it show us the place and the people in wartime but it’s the first piece of film footage we’re aware of that shows any of the activity associated with Bletchley Park at all. We’re delighted it has been donated to Bletchley Park Trust where it can be cared

for and help tell the story of the huge team effort that underpinned Bletchley Park’s successes during World War Two.”

An edit of the silent film and a supporting documentary is available to view online on the Bletchley Park website and YouTube channel.

The Hidden Film