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Inverlair Lodge

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Inverlair Lodge lies about one mile west of Tulloch station, and half a mile south of the A86.

Dating from the late 18th century, the house was purchased by John Walker of Crawfordton in 1834, along with Corrour, when he bought part of the Loch Treig estates from the Duke of Gordon. It was extended in 1860 and in 1880 by his son, Colonel Sir George Gustavus Walker (1830 - 1897).

In 1941, the lodge was requisitioned and became one of the facilities operated by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II, and was known as No 6 Special Workshop School, part of the Inter Services Research Bureau (ISRB),

SOE (and SIS or MI6) planned many secret operations in enemy territory during World War II, and it was inevitable that there would be occasions where volunteers would refuse to take part once they became aware of the full details. Some were unable to kill when the occasion was reduced to a one-on-one scenario, as opposed the anonymity of a battlefield exchange. With information being released on a Need to Know basis, their training meant that they were in possession of highly classified and secret information relating to pending missions, and could not be allowed to return to public life, where a careless remark could have compromised their secrecy. Inverlair Lodge became a detention or internment camp where such individuals could be accommodated, safely isolated from public contact. Conditions there were described as luxurious, and the lodge was even said to provide a safe haven for former agents or spies, who could not risk being seen in public, for fear of being recognised and killed in retaliation for missions they had carried out.

It has also been suggested that the lodge was equipped with facilities, equipment and activities similar to those of a normal training camp, the aim being to accommodate those that were unable to complete training in the normal way. The aim being to fool them into believing they were still undergoing training, allowing them to be kept safely out of circulation until they, or conditions, were deemed safe for then to be released. The idea seems a little improbable, and wasteful of resources, if the deception was run with sufficient realism to fool the trainees, given it would seems reasonable to assume that they had already been screened and selected on the basis of their aptitude for espionage related activities.

A number of web sites have been noted to refer to Inverlair Lodge being used to hold Rudolf Hess, after his flight to Scotland on May 10, 1941. Notably, VisitScotland.com asserted: Inverlair, famous in the twentieth century as one of the places in Northern Scotland where Rudolf Hess, Deputy Leader of Nazi Germany, was held prisoner after his flight to Scotland in May 1941.

When considering the above tale, it's worth reviewing the published record of Hess's movements after his arrival:

  • May 10, 23:09, Hess bales out over Eaglesham
  • May 10/May 11, midnight, transfer to Gifnock Scout Hall, 3 Battalion Home Guard HQ
  • May 11/May 12, overnight at Maryhill Barracks
  • May 13, Buchanan Castle Military Hospital near Drymen
  • May 17 to May 20, the Queen's House at the Tower of London
  • May 20, transported to Camp Z (Mytchett Place, Aldershot) for 13 months
  • June 26, 1942,transported to POW Reception Station, Maindiff Court, Abergavenny, South Wales
  • October 8, 1945, flown to Nuremberg on for trial

The tale is, in all probability, genuine, but not in respect of Hess's actual movements. Consider the isolated location, its reputation, distance, and direction in relation to Hess's actual movements, and the story gains credibility as deliberate mis-information. This could have been leaked to known agents (or through German agents that had been turned), diverting enemy attention from Hess's actual location, to a very plausible, but false, and time-consuming alternative.

SOE (Special Operations Executive) formed out of parts of SIS 1940, remnants merged with SIS 1946
The following excerpt is quoted from documentation that appears on many web sites. It has not been attributed in the normal way, as many of the appearances contain the same words, but claim different authors, so we have only given the source for this quote, and not the author:

This was the response made by Hugh Dalton, the Minister of EcW to Churchill's pressure for an immediate counter-offensive against the German occupation of Western Europe. SOE, effectively a temporary, wartime-only organization of doubtful value was run separately from SIS, though for much of the war relied heavily on the intelligence services communications network until the creation of STS-2 (Thame Park); STS53A (Grendon Underwood); STS53B (Poundon House); STS53C (Signal Hill-Poundon, later SIS/DWS closed 1990's); STS54 (Fawley Court, Henley) and STS53D (Belhaven House-Dunbar). Although it had limited successes in Norway (the destruction of Heavy Water facilities), Yugoslavia and the Far East (with TF-136 which was later almost completely absorbed into the post war SIS) in particular, disasters such as the German Operation North Pole penetration of the SOE Dutch section and the German reprisals in the wake of the Heydrich assassination were of greater significance. Indeed by 1944 its military value was strictly limited and it was largely sidelined for the rest of the warw. On 15th August 1945 SOE ceased to be separate organization from SIS and the run down process began and in July 1946 the SOE was finally disbanded with many of its best officers, agents, some whole sections and a number of operations being transferred to SIS. Far from SOE disappearing however its absorption into the intelligence service had a significant and largely positive impact on the future organization and leadership of SIS itself. Its first Headquarters was in the St Ermins Hotel, but moved to its permanent facilities at 64 Baker Street on 31st October 1940 with the cover name of Inter-Services Research Bureau (IRSB). Later added Norgeby House at no-83 and St Michael's House at no-82 Baker Street. Along with a myriad of Training Establishments (known as STS-1, 2 etc) SOE was also to create a 'Cooler' for failed agents who could not be posted elsewhere until sensitive operations they had been trained for had been completed. This was at Inverlair Lodge, in Inverness-shire and was heavily guarded by the Cameron Highlanders. Both SOE and SIS were to make considerable use of its secure facilities.

Prisoner inspiration

George Markstein, who worked with Patrick McGoohan on the 1960s TV series The Prisoner, has told of how he learnt about places such as Inverlair Lodge during the war, when he was a journalist, and there can be little doubt that the discovery influenced the design of the fictional Village in which the series was set. Commenting on the residents "They were largely people who had been compromised. They had reached the point in their career where they knew too much to be let loose, but they hadn't actually done anything wrong. They weren't in any way traitors, they hadn't betrayed anything, but in their own interest it was better if they were kept safely."

Markstein was also to base a book on this knowledge, The Cooler, written in 1974, and featuring the fictitious Inverloch.

In a later book, Ferret, he went as close as possible to revealing the American and Russian villages, which, together with Inverlair Lodge, would make up "at least three", referred to on occasions by McGoohan.

For sale

The lodge was placed on the market during 2008, expected to sell the for at least £1.1 million. The sales brochure was notable in that it repeated the "Hess Stayed Here" story.

2009 Radio programme

The Spies Who Knew Too Much was first broadcast by BBC Radio Scotland at 11:30 on Friday, November 27, 2009, with the preview promising that Mark Stephen would reveal the secrets behind the 18th century lodge that inspired the fictional village in the 1960s TV series, The Prisoner.[1]

Major-General Sir Colin McVean Gubbins KCMG, DSO, MC (July 02, 1896 - November 02, 1976), then Brigadier Colin Gubbins and later to become head of SOE, recommended the region around Arisaig as a training area. A large area was sealed off and became a "Protected Area" with severely restricted access, requiring the existing residents to be issued with a pass which allowed them to both enter and leave the area. Ten separate training schools were set up, and each was set up to deal with a different nationality. Major Aonghais Fyffe was made responsible for overall security of the area, and said that the people of the area had a unique understanding of security, having hidden Bonnie Prince Charlie after the Battle of Culloden in 1746, and remained silent about his location despite a government price of £30,000 which had been placed on his head. No-one said a word about his presence in the area, despite the huge reward.

SOE's original headquarters had been established at Inverailort House near Fort William, and one of the first recruits to be trained there was Major Henry Hall. He was trained in survival, weapons, explosives, and silent killing by Major Bill Fairbairn and Captain Eric Sykes - joint inventors of the famous double edged Commando fighting knife. One day, Hall was summoned to commanding officer's office where he was informed that he had been "volunteered" to attend an advanced assault course in Scotland. The nature of the training was to become apparent before he even reached his final destination, as his train came under attack by machine gun and mortar fire just before Lochailort station. The regime was tough, with the trainees worked hard, and said to be exhausted for much of the time. Failure was not an option, with recruits being returned to their units immediately if they should fail to complete an exercise, be late in completing an exercise, or even if they complained.

In 1940, Fyffe had been a Lance Corporal, serving under Major Gavin Brown at Fort William, and when senior officers arrived in the area looking for properties to requisition, he had been given the job of driving them. On one occasion, Fyffe was sent out by Major Brown to assess potential locations where a new facility could be set up in secret, but unlike the existing facilities, was to be located outside the restricted area. Fyffe thought of Inverlair as one potential location, with access restricted to only one single track leading to it over a bridge, and the West Highland Railway passing nearby. He submitted a report to his superior - and heard nothing else.

Aonghais Fyffe's promotion from Lance Corporal to Commanding Officer of Inverlair was somewhat unusual, and came about almost by chance. During a conversation with Major Gubbins, Lance Corporal Fyffe was observed to have reacted to the mention of a particular name. When Gubbins asked him for an explanation, Fyffe replied that in his position as a driver, he could not avoid overhearing discussions which officers had in the back of the car, but that he never spoke of these conversations. Following this account, he was told to meet Gubbins on the platform of Fort William Station There, Gubbins immediately commissioned him as a Major, boarded his train and left. Major Fyffe was next sent to London, then to Thame Park, Oxfordshire. This was also when he acquired the name Aonghais. Fyffes' name was actually Alfred, but during an early conversation with three other officers in the mess he was asked where he came from, and replied "Angus". They responded by saying they would just call him Angus, which he allowed to continue, and later changed the spelling to Aonghais.

In September 1941, Fyffe instructed to meet Lieutenant Colonel Whetmore at Euston, and visit the location of a new secret base at Inverlair. When he expressed surprise at this order, he was reminded that it he who had originally recommended the site. He was further surprised when told that he was also to be the Camp Commandant. There were to be no standing orders, and He was told that he was to establish the base on his own, that there were no standing orders, and that it would be known as No 6 Special Workshop School, but after only a few weeks, Fyffe requested that this name be dropped.

Unlike the other schools, which were each organised to cater for a single nationality, Fyffe specified that Inverlair would be multi-national.

The programme noted that recently released documents revealed that Inverlair was originally set up to house agents deemed "unsuitable for operation", and that London referred to it as "The Cooler", taken to be a suggestion that the information in their heads would have time to "cool off", and become unimportant, and also because cooler is slang term for prison.

Inside the house, evidence of its wartime use can still be found in the form of bullet holes in the hallway staircase, together with other signs of gunfire on the walls. The pantry was also found to be modified so that it could serve as a secure detention area. The door was constructed from three layers of wood, and fitted with a substantial bolt to secure it. The door was also equipped with a opening panel, which could only be operated from outside the room, presumably by a guard. Fyffe was said never to have made any references to detention at Inverlair though, only training.

The programme then continued with a section related to the story of George Markstein, his novel named The Cooler, and his involvement with the 1960s television series, The Prisoner, before returning to the wartime story.

Records of a young wartime agent codenamed named Badger were discovered in archived files, describing his dangerous behaviour after being parachuted into Belgium. It seems that once he arrived there, he was photographed in his parachute kit, claimed he was joint head of the organisation (SOE), and that he had been sent to spy on the local leaders. He then slept with a woman who was related to a Belgian contact for SOE, which resulted in local scandal, and ultimately jeopardised SOE's operation. When he returned, he was sent to Inverlair for almost four months, for "youthful immaturity".

Leonida Giuseppe Rosa was an Italian waiter, and in his forties when he began training for SOE, but after the first stage, it seems that there were doubts about his suitablity to become an agent. His trainers suspected his career as a waiter and person "in service" meant he was unable to cope with responsibility. Although he continued training for a time, he suddenly seemed to realise the enormity of the task, and he refused to carry on, which led to him being sent to Inverlair.

Renaldo Parisiol had a much different problem, and ended up at Inverlair after Fyffe judged him simply to be too ugly to become an agent. Coupled with his lack of teeth (he had only two incisors and tow gold teeth described as fangs), he could never have disguised himself, and would have been easy to remember. However, he was a skilled engineer, and Fyffe had him develop a small workshop and foundry at Inverlair, where he developed a metal bow which shot wooden arrows (for silent killing), and manufactured specialised items such as grappling hooks, and stilettos.

During the summer of 1943, and in advance of D-Day, Fyffe was tasked with carrying out special training for the Jedburgh teams (teams of three men which comprised a leader, an executive officer, and a non-commissioned radio operator), that were to be parachuted behind enemy lines, join up with local Resistance groups, and do whatever they had to in order to prevent German reinforcements from reaching Normandy. This involved some particularly arduous training sessions, such as the completion of a seven mile hike over the hills, only to arrive in a bothy which had been rigged with thunderflashes. Specialised small arms and weapons training was developed, resulting in "the street", which was 150 yards long and populated with surprise pull-up targets depicting German soldiers. It also had provision for simulating fighting within in houses, and a moving target which simulated a running man, to give further experience to the teams in advance of their planned missions.

Fyffe finally left Inverlair in February 1944, leaving the base to be wound down in his absence.

His next posting was to London, where he was made responsible for the security of the D-Day landings.

When the war came ended, he was given his last job, to search through enemy prisons and concentration camps for missing SOE agents. Only two were found alive.

It seems that much of the information regarding Inverlair, and of SOE after it was wound up, has been lost, either deliberately to prevent it being revealed, or in accidents. Copies of Fyffes' reports were destroyed in an apparently mysterious fire at SOE headquarters in Baker Street, London. It was said that there were many things that those responsible for SOE did not want the public to know, with the use of female agents behind enemy lines being citing as one example. This fact appears to have been kept secret for as long as possible, as they did not want the public to know that females were used in this way, and had been sent into war zones with no special protection, consideration, or conventions in place, and liable to be captured, imprisoned, tortured, and executed.

The programme also touched on the story that Rudolf Hess was had been held at Inverlair, with a further suggestion that he was delivered to the Tower of London within 36 hours of "landing" near Eaglesham. The story of his being held at Inverlair was probably rightly attributed by the programme as misinformation, and it referred to the perpetuation of the tale by the resident of the nearby farm. It is also worth noting that Hess spent about a week in Scotland, being interrogated, and treated in hospital for an injury to his ankle, received as he bailed out of his aircraft, just before it ran out of fuel and crashed.


1 BBC - BBC Radio Scotland Programmes - The Spies Who Knew Too Much

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