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Fooling Hess
Rudolf Hess

Milton Keynes Citizen, September 13, 2012

In some firms where I’ve worked, it’s been one of life’s imponderables as to why – among a significant profusion – a large number of ‘sickies’ seem to occur as add ons to either a weekend or national holidays.

Obviously pure coincidence, but somewhat puzzling all the same. Also, why this phenomena appears most prevalent among those outfits whose competence seems negated by the financial blessing of a captive market, or copious amounts of Government money.

But during World War Two the Government positively encouraged ‘sickies’, although not of course among its own population. Instead, by the covert distribution of a ‘malingerer’s handbook’ it was the intention to encourage foreign slave workers, and no doubt German soldiers who had no wish to be transferred to the Eastern Front, to feign all kinds of ailments by reference to its pages, which suggested all manner of ways to induce the symptoms of illness.

In fact this was just part of an extensive ‘black propaganda’ operation, the sole intention of which was to deceive the Nazis by the disinformation contained in printed material.

This was either disseminated by secrete agents or dropped by air over enemy territory, and during the so called ‘phoney war’ the main efforts of the department involved were directed to the production of three or four varieties of leaflet.

These were first dropped on the night of November 6/7, 1939 over Hamburg, Bremen and Dusseldorf, with the most prominent being a two page imitation Nazi newspaper entitled ‘Wolkiger Beobachter.’

Translating as ‘From the Clouds’ this was a play on the name of the genuine German newspaper, ‘Voelkischer Beobachter’ and for the manufacture of such productions within a hanger in the grounds of Woburn Abbey, where the aeroplane of the ‘Flying Duchess’ had once been housed, two compositors from University Press at Oxford set up a composing room in September 1939.

Here they typeset the propaganda leaflets and, with the early versions being set by hand in old fashioned German Fraktur type, these were then printed by rotary letterpress at HM Stationery Office in Harrow.

The German occupation of most of Western Europe, plus the entry of Italy into the war, then greatly increased the demands for propaganda and accordingly the Woburn print unit was relocated to Marylands, near Woburn. Replacing an earlier centre, this had been built during 1902/3 as a model hospital by the Duchess of Bedford and during the First World War was used as a military hospital.

With Monotype equipment installed in a hut in the grounds, here during the Second World War staff of the composing room were augmented to allow working around the clock and the recruitment of expert typographers and graphic artists caused a consequent improvement in the quality of the work.

The actual printing was carried out by the Sun Engraving Co. at Watford and also Waterlows at Dunstable and when necessary the printing expertise could also be employed for specialised one off requirements.

The defection of Rudolf Hess in May 1941 provided just such an occasion, and produced at Luton News under the tightest security faked versions of Voelkischer Beobachter were planted for him to read.

In fact as an intriguing aside, eight days after his landing two German agents parachuted into England near Luton Hoo, and on being found to be members of the SS were interrogated and executed at a secret establishment, with the nature of their mission never being revealed.

Oh, what a murky world of lies and deceit, much in fact like the realm of illicit ‘sickies.’ On the subject of which I could do with a couple of days off to finish painting the bathroom. But stuff wasting annual leave. So let’s have a think; ‘bad back?’ Naw, that’s more for the long term. ‘Flu and sniffles?’ Possibly, but best kept for December and Christmas shopping.

Ah, I know, ‘gippy tummy,’ that always fools them. But then perhaps not. For it could be counter productive, since just the thought of taking a crafty ‘sickie’ is enough to make my stomach churn.