Record versus Narrative

by James Baker

Institution: Leiden University
Year: 2015
Keywords: Record; Narrative; Waldegrave Initiative; SOE; Lurgan; Freshman; Heavy Water; Deuterium Oxide; Gunnerside; Nuclear Weapons; Transparency; Military History; Nuclear Proliferation; Arms Race; Sabotage; Guerilla Warfare; Commando Raid; Government Transparency; Historical Representation
Record ID: 1266330
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1887/31498


The Waldegrave Initiative is the name given to a policy introduced in 1992 by Lord Waldegrave, an English Conservative politician who served in the British Cabinet from 1990 – 1997. Under this policy, all government departments were encouraged to re-examine what had been previously regarded as particularly sensitive records, with the objective of declassifying a greater quantity of information. This initiative is widely regarded as the precursor to the UK’s Freedom of Information Act 2000, and it set a precedent of declassification across Western democracies. The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a secret British organisation formed 22 July 1940 by Winston Churchill to conduct espionage, sabotage, and reconnaissance in occupied Europe against the Axis powers as well as to aid local resistance movements. As Mark Seaman put it, the SOE was formed to “foster occupied Europe’s resistance groups” and ensure that “Nazi occupation wasn’t an easy thing”. It 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 – namely the Soviet Union and the United States of America. Initially it 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 mainland Britain. To those who were part of the SOE 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". For security purposes various branches, and sometimes the organisation as a whole, were concealed behind names such as the "Joint Technical Board" or the "Inter-Service Research Bureau" as well as fictitious branches of the Air Ministry, Admiralty, or War Office. This dispersion in part accounts for the disparity and inconsistency of the records currently held in the National Archives in Kew, London, which will be discussed in further detail later in this thesis. Prior to the Waldegrave Initiative, little archival material relating to the SOE was in public circulation or publicly available. However, a limited number of oral testimonies by SOE contemporaries were in circulation and a small number of historical works and memoirs were published. Following release of records under the Waldegrave Initiative from 1992 onwards, a range of new publications have appeared. However, to date, little analysis has been carried out to identify the impact of such previously classified information on this historiography. Through such analysis, this thesis aims to add to the body of knowledge around the Waldegrave Initiative and its implications. Due to the size of the SOE, it is impracticable to analyse in detail the whole of the SOE’s activities in the time and resources available. Hence, this thesis takes one SOE related activity – Freshman – and analyses in detail the scale and scope of the…