On 14th April I attended a lecture, presented by Historian Dr Helen Fry who has written and edited over 25 books; primarily on the Second World War with particular reference to the 10,000 Germans who fought for Britain, and also British intelligence, espionage and WWII.

Dr Fry is the author of the bestselling book The Walls have Ears: The Greatest Intelligence Operation of WWII which was one of the Daily mail’s top 8 Books of the Year for War (2019). Her books include MI9: The British Secret Service for Escape & Evasion in WWII and The London Cage about London’s secret WWII Interrogation Centre. She has appeared in numerous TV documentaries, some of which include David Jason’s Secret Service (Channel 4), Spying on Hitler’s Army (Channel 4) and Home Front Heroes (BBC1). Helen is an Ambassador for the Museum of Military Intelligence and President of the Friends of the National Archives.

During WW2, British intelligence bugged the conversations of German prisoners-of-war at three stately houses, including Trent Park in north London, and Latimer House and Wilton Park in Buckinghamshire. From 1942 Trent Park was reserved for Hitler’s captured Generals. In an astonishing turn of events, they were housed in luxurious conditions and lulled into a false sense of security. They became unguarded in their conversations and inadvertently gave away some of Hitler’s most closely guarded secrets, including the V1 (‘doodlebug’), V2 and atomic bomb programme. For over 60 years the “secret listeners” (German-Jewish émigrés who had fled Hitler) never spoke about their work, not even to their families. They died, little knowing that they, alongside Bletchley Park, shortened the war. Having worked through the declassified files, historian Helen Fry sheds light on one of the greatest deceptions of WWII.

‘The Walls have Ears’ is a history of the elaborate and brilliantly sustained World War II intelligence operation by which Hitler’s generals were tricked into giving away vital Nazi secrets. At the outbreak of World War II, MI6 spymaster Thomas Kendrick arrived at the Tower of London to set up a top secret operation: German prisoners’ cells were to be bugged and listeners installed behind the walls to record and transcribe their private conversations. This mission proved so effective that it would go on to be set up at three further sites—and provide the Allies with crucial insight into new technology being developed by the Nazis. In this astonishing history, Helen Fry uncovers the inner workings of the bugging operation. On arrival at stately-homes-turned-prisons like Trent Park, high-ranking German generals and commanders were given a “phony” interrogation, then treated as “guests,” wined and dined at exclusive clubs, and encouraged to talk. And so it was that the Allies got access to some of Hitler’s most closely guarded secrets—and from those most entrusted to protect them.

Thanks to the Master Educator for hosting a fascinating evening, which was also great fun!

Valerie Owen Le Vaillant OBE
Master, Worshipful Company of Chartered Architects.