Cilla Craven from Lench’s Close recently won Resident of the Year award at Founder’s Day, Jean-Luc mentioned she might be good to interview because of her interesting past. That was certainly right, she served Churchill in 1942 and communicated with agents sent into Europe on a regular basis. Here is the story in her words:

I was recruited from directly from school, headhunted in a way, SOE standing for Special Operations Executive, it was set up at Churchill’s request with his famous slogan “Go and set Europe ablaze” which basically meant to do as much destruction in the occupied countries as possible and to build up the resistance for the future, when we’d actually land across in Europe again. By the time I joined they had notified several different schools and were asking for anybody school that would be suitable for the work, I think there were certain attributes they were looking for, which I do have in a sense such as being very quiet as a person and security was an enormous importance. They also wanted people who could concentrate very strictly, I wanted to be a coder more than anything else but they didn’t want any at the time I joined, so I had to settle for being a radio operator which was actually more  interesting because it was the radio operator that was in direct contact with the agent over there. Morse code was used in those days, the coders only got the message at the end of it all to decode, whereas we were able to be in contact with the agent, there was some excitement in that. It was very “hush hush” work and rather thrilling at the time, but that was a long time ago.

I was stationed in England, I could’ve gone abroad but was more interested in the war in Europe and wanted to stay, so I didn’t go. I was in a camp very near Bletchley, a little place called Poundon, I’ve been back since and there was just a church and pub, no shops or anything. We were stationed in army huts which were on the grounds of a big house there, it was very out of the way and army police were in charge of the site, so you couldn’t get through without being authorised.

I joined in 1942 when I was nearly eighteen and worked there till 1945, so I worked there right in the middle of the war. I found it extremely difficult to settle down after coming home, this happened to a lot of people after the war, it’s difficult to describe but the atmosphere was so tense while this was going on. The agent’s lives were in immense danger, an agent being dropped into a country like France were only  expected to live for six weeks, so it was enormous courage on their part, unbelievable that they offered to do the job at all. Some managed to live and other of course didn’t, I knew some after the war, however during it we were kept very separate from any agent that was going to be dropped into the continent, since the less they knew, the less they could give away under torture. That was extremely likely to be honest.

No one was dropped into Germany itself, just surrounding countries, I personally worked Belgium, Holland and Scandinavian countries, France was done as a separate station because it was a big countries. After being demobbed it took some time to come down from the heights of it to normal living, I didn’t know what I wanted to do at the time so I decided to take a secretarial course because I thought it wouldn’t be wasted no matter what I did. I worked in various secretarial jobs, I worked as a medical secretary, then went to the police, at the time they were building up the first department in crimes related to fraud. I did all the secretarial side of it, there were four investigating officers, by the time I left after fifteen years it was still only me doing the secretarial side even though there were fifteen investigating officers at that time. I got fed up with it because my nose never got off the typewriter, whereas originally I got to witness the cases in court which was quite interesting. At that point I decided to look for another job, I went on to work in Selfridges at a retail store called Louis’, it was a strange job because I worked on my own doing customer research comparing our store with competition in the various towns where we had stores. I’d do written reports to the board about what parts of the store needed improvements, it was a very big store and to start with it was just the Birmingham branch, subsequently I travelled to the other eight in the country. That was the last part of my working life.

        Cilla Craven – Lench’s Close resident