The Secret WW2 Learning Network is an educational charity registered in the UK - a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) No. 1156796

SECRET WW2 has a continuing project to divide this wartime SOE information film, filmed by the RAF Film Production Unit in 1944 and 1945, into constituent 20-30 minutes’ parts such as Selection, Training, Insertion, Field Service and linked to filmed testimony of those who were actually there: agents, pilots etc. This first film, Agent Selection, was first shown to a limited audience at Valençay in France on 7th May 2023 and was screened in memory of Professor Rod Kedward (see separate News item).

The UK launch, via our quarterly online Zoom presentation, saw an interview with the new film’s creator, our Co-founder Martyn Cox, who was the instigator of the project, assisted by Executive Trustee, Paul McCue. The film was generously funded by the Gerry Holdsworth Special Forces Charitable Trust and with the support of the Imperial War Museum.

Anyone with a serious interest in the Special Operations Executive will be aware of the film Now It Can Be Told (a shortened version was released for the public in February 1947 as School for Danger) and has probably seen it more than once. Wider audiences will have only caught brief glimpses of this film on television, due to it having become an easy source for documentary makers with popular elements being: training of secret agents; containers dropped by parachute from an Allied aircraft; the blowing up of a railway line; a woman agent landing by parachute. Yet relatively few of the general viewing public will be aware that so many of these archive images have all been taken from a single, feature length film about SOE. The attention to detail in its screenplay, and its location filming in France and Britain, ensured the film accurately depicted so many of SOE’s roles, equipment tactics and supporting air operations. The film’s two main characters, Harry Rée and Jacqueline Nearne, were both F Section SOE agents who served in occupied France. Colonel Maurice Buckmaster has a cameo role and several other real-life agents (eg Brian Stonehouse, Marcel Rousset and Blanche Charlet) and RAF special duties personnel (eg pilot Len Ratcliff and WAAF Squadron Officer Jean Wollaston) appear briefly.

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Digital scanning techniques have recently enabled the IWM to produce a higher resolution scan of the film and Secret WW2’s ongoing project is to break the content of Now It Can be Told into a series of sub-headings – for example recruitment/ selection, training, communications and coding, insertion and exfiltration, supply drops, etc. These can then be analysed and explained within separate educational mini-documentaries with each containing excerpts from filmed and recorded testimony from SOE veterans and historians, and further illustrated by documents and photos – from archives and personal collections. Martyn’s film, some 30 minutes long and concentrating on selection and recruitment of agents, followed his brief interview. Subject to future funding opportunities, this production will hopefully be the first in a series.

The interview can be seen here:

and the film here:

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