Close neighbour reveals secret past

The secret history of one of the Memorial’s closest neighbours has been revealed after the Government’s intelligence agency opened up its files.

Abbots Cliff House, Capel-le-Ferne, was one of five wartime listening posts whose locations were made public to mark the 100th anniversary of GCHQ.

The impressive clifftop house is now a holiday rental property that advertises itself as the closest house to France, but almost 80 years ago it played a vital part in the country’s war effort.

Requisitioned in 1940, the year the Battle of Britain saw the skies over Kent filled with criss-crossed vapour trails as the RAF took on the Luftwaffe, the building became home to 60 young, female, German-speaking linguists.

From then until the end of the war the women listened in on VHF voice messages from German forces that revealed the routes of enemy aircraft and fast attack craft in the Channel.

It was a posting that needed considerable bravery, since the building’s exposed position, and the fact that it remained occupied, hinted that it was playing a part in the war effort and made it a target for regular strafing raids by the Luftwaffe.

The information the women collected is thought to have saved the lives of numerous British airmen who were brought down over the Channel. As triumphant German pilots radioed in details of the kill, the women of Abbots Cliff House relayed the location data to rescue teams.

The role needed people who had a good ear, could interpret quickly and could then understand and respond equally quickly. One historian has described them as “the live bloggers of their day”.

GCHQ Director Jeremy Fleming said the past century had seen the agency save countless lives as well as giving Britain “an edge” and helping “to solve and harness some of the world’s most complex technological challenges”.

The property, just along the coast from the Battle of Britain Memorial, is now owned by Stephen Lucas and used for high-end holiday lets.

He recently welcomed a number of former Women’s Royal Naval Service (Wrens) decoders, who were stationed at Abbots Cliff House during the war and who told him a number of fascinating stories about the building, including a visit by wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

The Wing at the Battle of Britain Memorial contains a wealth of information in The Scramble Experience, a multi-media showcase that tells the tale of the Battle and the men who fought it.

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