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Britain Had "Underground" Organisation

LONDON, July 27. |\/TR. HICKINGBOTHAM, of Folkestone, was Britain's No. 1 spy for South-east England when the German invasion was imminent. Mr. Hickingbotham is 62. He is a widower. He has been bombed out since 1941. And until to-da3' nobody in Folkestone or in England suspected that Harry Hickingbotham has through all these years carried secrets of State and of war in his head. Not even the Daily Mail knew his secret, and one of the main points of this story is that he has since 1915 been the Folkestone and district correspondent of the Mail. He did not tell his editor and he did not tell his son when he was on leave from the Army. Sworn to Sabotage The secret was only revealed when the War Office officially released details about the British Maquis—the 300 men and women who were sworn to sabotage, wreck and kill if ever the Germans set foot in this country. Their weapons were Molotov cocktails, tiny automatics and knives. Mr. Hickingbotham chose a knife—a" short, razor-sharp knife. He knew that, as a newspaperman, his life would not be worth much if the Germans ever caught him, so he chose his knife carefully and then he found himself a hideout in the caves and stocked it with iron rations. Only one man in England knew what Mr. Hickingbotham was up to —General Sir Harold Franklyn, Commander - in - Chief, Home Forces. It was he who had the Folkestone police chief telephoned just after Dunkirk with the demand: "Who is the most reliable man in town?" "Mr. Hickingbotham," they said. Cliose Six Carefully And so, after a secret meeting in the country, Mr. Hickingbotham became "M.l of the Special Duties Organisation," charged with the task of finding six more reliable spies. He chose carefully. First came his tailor, then the schoolmaster, a farmer,. the man who keeps a pub, the manager of a garage, and a farmhand. They had a password—"Freckles." When challenged they gave the first letter, and the person "challenging gave the second, and so on. They learned to recognise the insignia on German uniforms, the names of tanks—British and German. It all had to be done in total secrecy. Many a grumbling Folkestone wife was told by her .husband night after night: "I am going to play cards, and I shall be late." Mr. Hickingbotham and his trusty six knew that all they could expect if they were caught was a soldier's pension for their dependents. One or two of them were of callup age, but they did no fire guard or Home Guard duty, and they bore the insults of the neighbours without a word of complaint. The woods in South-east England were honeycombed with camouflaged dug-outs holding wireless' sets. Neither the police nor the military authorities knew anything about them, and once, when a poacher accidentally fell* into one of the dugouts in the dark and reported it to the police, South-east England knew its most fearful spy scare. Sent Weekly Report Methodically, once a week, Mr. Hickingbotham's report' went to a military intelligence officer bv wire- 1 less, signed "M.1." The report told the authorities everything that was : happening in the district. Perhaps someone had talked indiscreetly in : a pub; maybd mysterious lights showed at night. It was all faithfully coded and sent off. Messages were carried from one ' to another on soluble paper rolled 1 up in a hollowed-out pencil. For ! "exercise" the little group even re- I ported on the movements of British troops and the coming and going of friendly shipping in the Channel. : Scattered over England there were 1 300 of these Special Duties Organi- '• sation, men and women. They wore 1 no uniform, and they had no stand- : ing as soldiers. Now they are officially, "stood down," these 300 Mr. Hicking- , bothams, and their only reward is a stirring letter of thanks from their chief for what he calls "the voluntary work you undertocok."

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Bibliographic details

Britain Had "Underground" Organisation, Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 185, 7 August 1945

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Britain Had "Underground" Organisation Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 185, 7 August 1945