Many of the 'fingers and toes' of the Profession of Arms still persist today, albeit in much developed form. The SAS, invented in the mind of a rather eccentric Major in North Africa has spawned a dozen or more superb small-scale fighting units. It complemented another - the Special Operations Executive.
Several young chaps gathered around in the Tavern's UK room being let in on a few secrets by an un-named-here fellow. If I told you his name I would have to run you through with my sword kept under the bar-top.
I, m'self, was taught by Maj. Gen. (Dr., Professor) Dick Clutterbuck who was in the throes of creating the anti-terrorisn school at St Andrews University at the time. Indeed, Scotland played, and continues to play, a firm role.
The Special Operations Executive (SOE), was set up by Winston Churchill and Hugh Dalton during World War II, with the remit to engage the enemy by means other than direct confrontation.
In Churchill's words, "Set Europe ablaze".
Operational from June, 1940, the organisation directly employed or controlled just over 13,000 people, about 3,200 of whom were women, with up to 1 million being directly or indirectly supported worldwide.
Following Cabinet approval, it was officially formed by Minister of Economic Warfare Hugh Dalton on 22 July 1940, to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe (and later, also in occupied Southeast Asia) against the Axis powers, and to aid local resistance movements.
One of the organisations from which SOE was created was also involved in the formation of the Auxiliary Units, a top secret "stay-behind" resistance organisation which would have been activated in the event of a German invasion of Britain.
Few people were aware of SOE's existence. To those who were part of it or liaised with it, it was sometimes referred to as
"the Baker Street Irregulars",
after the location of its London headquarters. It was also known as "Churchill's Secret Army" or the
"Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare".
Its various branches, and sometimes the organisation as a whole, were concealed for security purposes behind names such as the "Joint Technical Board" or the "Inter-Service Research Bureau", or fictitious branches of the Air Ministry, Admiralty or War Office.
SOE operated in all countries or former countries occupied by or attacked by the Axis forces, except where demarcation lines were agreed with Britain's principal Allies. It also made use of neutral territory on occasion, or made plans and preparations in case neutral countries were attacked by the Axis.
Initial training took place at Wanborough Manor, Guildford, after which agents would disperse to various specialised training centres around the country, generally located in country houses which the War Office had requisitioned. Agents would receive a further four to five weeks of specialist training at one of these centres. With the benefit of isolated locations, a number of Scottish country houses were requisitioned for SOE traning, and the known ones are listed below.
Arisaig House is probably the best known, as all agents destined to serve in the field were sent there for Commando training. The Land, Sea and Islands Centre at Arisaig features an SOE exhibition amongst its displays.
SOE was also referred to as The Baker Street Irregulars, the name given to a group of street urchins utilised by Sherlock Holmes, able to gather information from sources he could not approach directly. The connection resulted from the location of SOE headquarters at 64 Baker Bakers Street, after Holmes' fictional address of 221b Baker Street.
Lochaber, in the Highlands of Scotland, is home to the Road to the Isles. The A830, which is actually only a part of that historic route, connects the town of Fort William to the port of Mallaig.
During World War II, it became a No-Go area after being requisitioned and then closed for security when SOE established its first training base in Inverailort Castle. After SOE transferred its activities to Arisaig House, Inverailort became a Commando training school. Many other country houses in the area were requisitioned to provide accommodation and training facilities for the men and women who were to serve in the Special Operations Executive.
The use of the terms House and Lodge is fairly well mixed in some accounts, therefore, to maintain consistency, we have adopted the descriptions shown on the relevant Ordnance Survey map.
List of Scottish SOE Special Training Schools
STS21 - Arisaig House, Arisaig, Inverness-shire - Finishing School
STS22 - Rhubana Lodge, Morar, Inverness-shire
STS22a - Glasnacardoch Lodge, Morar, Inverness-shire - Foreign Weapons Training
STS23 - Meoble Lodge, Morar, Inverness-shire
STS23b - Swordland Lodge, Tarbet Bay, Morar, Inverness-shire
STS24a - Inverie House, Knoydart, Mallaig, Inverness-shire
STS24b - Glaschoille House, Knoydart, Mallaig, Inverness-shire
STS25a - Garramor House, Morar, Inverness-shire
STS25b - Camusdarach Lodge, Morar, Inverness-shire
STS25c - Traigh House, Morar, Inverness-shire
STS26 - Aviemore - Norwegian Agent Training - used three lodges: Drumintoul, Glenmore and Forest
STS54b - Belhaven School, Dunbar - Signals Section - Wireless Operators
ISRB Workshops or No.6 Special Workshop School. Inverlair Lodge, Inverlair, Inverness-shire.
Also known as The Cooler.
ISRB was the Inter Services Research Bureau, which specialised in the development of equipment for use by agents in clandestine operations. ISRB is generally described as having been located in the former Frythe hotel, Welwyn, and was known as Station IX.
As well as radios, weapons, explosive devices, and booby traps, more specialised equipment was developed, and generally identified by the prefix Wel. For example, Welrod, Welbike, Welman, Welfreighter, and Welgun. Applying the ISRB designation to Inverlair Lodge served as a ruse to hide its true purpose.
Inverlair Lodge merits special mention, as George Markstein based one of his books, The Cooler, on knowledge gained while reporting during World War II, and this is said to be the basis for his contribution to the 1960s TV series, The Prisoner, whose lead character was known as No.6.
As one who is well able to make comparisons, I can say quite clearly that the Tavern is a far easier place to dish out stuff and one gets to meet people far more peacefully.
Although.... the civilisation smashers are gathering apace and the SOE offshoots will be needed on our streets very soon. A shed-load of psyops is called for too.