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Malcolm Fergusson talked about the Ultra secret (the WWII German communications decoded at Bletchley Park) and the SCU-3 (Special Communications Unit) located in 1940 at Cockburn Farm near Balerno (where he lives). Attendance was a great 26, including Zoom.

 Click for Video Recording - tnx Colin GM4EAU.

 

Malcolm is a retired Superintendent Technician, Physics & Electrical Engineering, at Edinburgh University & an Honorary Life Member of the Museum of Communication.

 

 

 This talk is dedicated to the late Ronnie Crichton who died in 2017.

 

Katherine Nisbet discovered a box when her mother, Nora passed away. She showed it to Jim Nisbet, her brother. It contained all the letters their father, Innes Nisbet, had written to their mother Nora in WW2. Among them were some written from Balerno.

 

So in 2020, "LOCKED DOWN, STAY HOME, STAY SAFE", I began to read.

 

 and read. .....

 

 and read. .....

 

 and read. .....

 and read. .....  These are the two books for Society members to read.

Note by GM3PSP - I have copies of both of these books - available for loan!

 

 Let us set the scene and travel back in time to Balerno 1940.

 

 Let us set the scene and travel back in time to Balerno 1940.

 

In 1937 the Home Office, MI5 and MI6 were at loggerheads as the MI5 section, looking at immigrant aliens, was reduced to 30 people, 13 of whom were field officers. They were tasked with checking all the refugees fleeing Germany - 200,000+. - a hard task as they had hardly any funds. MI6 counter intelligence had similar problems.

 

 As well as Sir Oswald Moseley, There were also a large number of Fascist British including Lord Sempill,

 

Not the sort  of crew to bump into on a dark night!

 

... and William Joyce, the infamous broadcaster from Germany who became known as Lord Haw Haw and who was executed for treason after the war. 

 

 and they had organised groups:

e.g. BUF, The Right Club, IFU, The Link ,NBP , NSU and The Nordic League.

 

Internment under section 18b of DORA by Sir John Anderson, Home Secretary, was laughable as the Home Office Advisory Committee under Norman Birkett QC and Alexander Maxwell released them despite objections from MI5, MI6 and the Foreign Office and wouldn’t intern any member of the House of Commons or  Lords. MI5 moved to Wormwood Scrubs and MI6 to The London Cage.

 

This was also at a time of “Fifth Column” stories.

 

Polish Intelligence had been first to crack the German Army and Air Force Enigma code in 1933 and they shared it with the French & British in 1938. It helped get us started.

 

When the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) went to France in 1939, only military force staff were attached.

 

Not very welcome!

 

 Section VIII were being moved from Bletchley Park (above)  to Whaddon Hall.

 

 They had a Dodge D8, converted to a radio car.

 

 ... and Humber cars converted to radio cars and a Ford for personnel.

 

 ... and the Ford 7Y (which became the Ford Anglia post-war).

 

 The Ford and Dodge cars ended up abandoned in Dunkirk.

 

 This is a later radio but same size of the time.

 

After Dunkirk, with the Intelligence Signal Unit, Innes was with (probably attached to) the RAF HQ, were driven south, missed St Nazaire (fortunately) and eventually left via Bordeaux.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CLICK for short film about Bletchley Park.

 

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CLICK for short film about Whaddon Hall.

 

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Meanwhile, up in Balerno, Alick Buchanan-Smith was getting annoyed as he was left behind with Mumps so couldn’t go to France with his Regiment, the Gordons, and the rest of 51st HD when he was recalled from the reserves.

 

He had just been made a Director of Personnel at the War Office.

 

 He was a Geneticist at Edinburgh University and had initially obtained Cockburn Farm in partnership with another Professor as an experiment in milk and beef production. Remember the Cockburn Dairy after the war!

 

 Buchanan-Smith's home was Cockburn Farm. The old building dated from the 1600s .

It was used to receive signals from Bletchley Park / Whaddon Hall, using wire aerials slung between the chimneys.

 

Scottish Command during WW2 was at Riccarton House (now the Heriot-Watt University). It moved there from Edinburgh Castle which was seen as a target.

The others were Northern, Midlands, Northern Ireland, Southeast, Southwest & Wales.

This is the background to the letters from Innes Sutherland Nisbet to his sweetheart Nora from Balerno.

 

Section VIII was at Whaddon Hall where they had gathered all the expert radio people. They had 21 tasks among which was disseminating the ULTRA secret information which had been decoded at Bletchley Park and was then sent by radio to Cockburn Farm.

 

 The first Packard cars were obtained from the showroom at Brentford Middlesex.

These were sprayed matte olive green at Tickford's Factory, which became Aston Martin post-war,

 

 ... and radio equipment, designed in-house, and fitted.

 

 They also had spares etc with them. (That looks like a "19-Set"!

 

The best receiver at that time was the National HRO which would have cost about £380.00 at the time, a huge amount. Most VIs used an Eddystone Short Wave Two.

 

 

 The ULTRA Trio.

 

 Units were then allocated and Innes Nisbet was assigned to Scottish Command who were based at Riccarton House.

 

... and the unit was billeted at Cockburn Farm. It must have been unusual having a Packard car in Balerno. The Home Guard had a converted Austin 7.

Note here that all MI6 personnel were given the numbers 258, 259 or 260 to set them apart from Royal Corps of Signals.

 

Cockburn Farm was / is located just to the west of Balerno village. 

 

This is Malcolm's attempt at a map of the 1940s view.

 

Jim's second letter starts out wondering where on earth this back of the world place was - until he found the tennis courts and realises this is heaven. Tennis was his saviour.

 

 

 Balerno in the 1950s but what it would have looked like during the war.

.

Jim's third letter.

 

The Balerno Tennis Courts opened in 1938.

 

The fourth letter was written when the Battle of Britain was at its height and invasion was very possible. Innes seems to have settled in Balerno and made good contacts at the tennis club.

 

 

 Innes Sutherland Nisbet at Cockburn Farm.

 

 The 5th letter gives an idea of his life and how he was progressing, including getting a dog.

 

 

 

 

 Note the non regulation shoes!

 

 

 

Occupational hazard!

 

 The top-cap of this 807 valve carried the 500 Volt supply for the anode. (Ouch)!

 

 Innes and his comrades were recalled to Whaddon Hall in late 1940 and were reassigned but before that he was promoted to Sergeant and married Nora.

 

 However his wedding was interrupted by a telegram posting him to North Africa so the honeymoon had to wait till 1943 when he was posted home.

Innes ended up in Special Communication Unit 1A Detachment at Alexandria.

 

 The Packard cars were found to be useless in the desert so Guy 15cwt “gin palaces“ were converted to radio units for use off-road. They were used for the rest of the war.

 

 After the War, Innes and Nora settled down and had a general store and post office in Dorset. They had three children, Jennifer, Jim and Kathleen. Sadly, Jennifer died of meningitis aged only 14 months and Innes died in 1961.

 

 And so ends our tale. Balerno and Currie resumed normal life and we can return to the present day (next slide).

 

 

The Balerno tennis courts were recently refurbished and the club still uses them. 

 

 Picture credits.

 

 From the film you saw earlier - these people are relevant to RSS.

 

 

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