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Special Operations Executive

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The Special Operations Executive (SOE), was set up by Winston Churchill and Hugh Dalton during World War II, with the remit to engage the enemy by means other than direct confrontation. In Churchill's words, "Set Europe ablaze". Operational from June, 1940, SOE employed some 13,000 agents by way of direct control, with up to 1 million being directly or indirectly supported worldwide.

Initial training took place at Wanborough Manor, Guildford, after which agents would disperse to various specialised training centres around the country, generally located in country houses which the War Office had requisitioned. Agents would receive a further four to five weeks of specialist training at one of these centres. With the benefit of isolated locations, a number of Scottish country houses were requisitioned for SOE traning, and the known ones are listed below. Arisaig House is probably the best known, as all agents destined to serve in the field were sent there for Commando training. The Land, Sea and Islands Centre at Arisaig features an SOE exhibition amongst its displays.

SOE was also referred to as The Baker Street Irregulars, the name given to a group of street urchins utilised by Sherlock Holmes, able to gather information from sources he could not approach directly. The connection resulted from the location of SOE headquarters at 64 Baker Bakers Street, after Holmes' fictional address of 221b Baker Street.

Scottish beginnings

Lochaber, in the Highlands of Scotland, is home to the Road to the Isles. The A830, which is actually only a part of that historic route, connects the town of Fort William to the port of Mallaig. During World War II, it became a No-Go area after being requisitioned and then closed for security when SOE established its first training base in Inverailort Castle. After SOE transferred its activities to Arisaig House, Inverailort became a Commando training school. Many other country houses in the area were requisitioned to provide accommodation and training facilities for the men and women who were to serve in the Special Operations Executive.

The use of the terms House and Lodge is fairly well mixed in some accounts, therefore, to maintain consistency, we have adopted the descriptions shown on the relevant Ordnance Survey map.

List of Scottish SOE Special Training Schools

  1. STS21 - Arisaig House, Arisaig, Inverness-shire - Finishing School
  2. STS22 - Rhubana Lodge, Morar, Inverness-shire
  3. STS22a - Glasnacardoch Lodge, Morar, Inverness-shire - Foreign Weapons Training
  4. STS23 - Meoble Lodge, Morar, Inverness-shire
  5. STS23b - Swordland Lodge, Tarbet Bay, Morar, Inverness-shire
  6. STS24a - Inverie House, Knoydart, Mallaig, Inverness-shire
  7. STS24b - Glaschoille House, Knoydart, Mallaig, Inverness-shire
  8. STS25a - Garramor House, Morar, Inverness-shire
  9. STS25b - Camusdarach Lodge, Morar, Inverness-shire
  10. STS25c - Traigh House, Morar, Inverness-shire
  11. STS26 - Aviemore - Norwegian Agent Training - used three lodges: Drumintoul, Glenmore and Forest
  12. STS54b - Belhaven School, Dunbar - Signals Section - Wireless Operators
  13. ISRB Workshops or No.6 Special Workshop School. Inverlair Lodge, Inverlair, Inverness-shire. Also known as The Cooler.

ISRB was the Inter Services Research Bureau, which specialised in the development of equipment for use by agenst in clandestine operations. ISRB is generally described as having been located in the former Frythe hotel, Welwyn, and was known as Station IX. As well as radios, weapons, explosive devices, and booby traps, more specialised equipment was developed, and generally identified by the prefix Wel. For example, Welrod, Welbike, Welman, Welfreighter, and Welgun. Applying the ISRB designation to Inverlair Lodge served as a ruse to hide its true purpose.

Inverlair Lodge merits special mention, as George Markstein based one of his books, The Cooler, on knowledge gained while reporting during World War II, and this is said to be the basis for his contribution to the 1960s TV series, The Prisoner, whose lead character was known as No.6.

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