Camberley, the wartime location for ‘safe houses’ for spies, agents, and double agents

Maybe it was its nearness to military colleges, and its semi-rural location that made Camberley the perfect location for the secret services. This is my first post putting these stories together. It’ll need to do some historical research to make this a more readable story.
Mrs Rosette Savill

Mrs Rosette Savill

Living in Lightwater, I was fascinated to find that the precursor to Paddock Wood Girls Finishing was the secret wartime recovery home for the French Resistance Movement in this 1975 article,

“In 1941, Mrs Rosette Savill, her husband and her two sons moved to Paddock Wood, in Lightwater, which was later to become the Finishing School. The place was chosen because there was a French Military Hospital and large French Camp in Camberley. She also set up at her new home, under massive security, a secret reception centre for the French Resistance Movement, where agents could rest between spells of duty in occupied France. At the same time she and her husband converted the coach-house and stable-block of their property into a convalescent home where armless or legless French soldiers were trained to use artificial limbs supplied by Roehampton.”
by John Gay,photograph,1956

Copyright National Portrait Gallery

More interestingly the wartime head of M15 – Maxwell Knight – selected Camberley as the location for a ‘safe house’ for his spies and agents. When Maxwell Knight retired from the secret services at the end of the war he stayed on in Camberley at The Homestead, 47 Park Road, Camberley. Maxwell Knight was the model for M in Ian Fleming’s James Bond series and Bond’s boss.

In an extract from One Girl’s War: Joan Miller (Brandon: Co. Kerry) 1986 there’s a reference to the location of the secret safe house, which I’ve yet to locate,

“At the beginning of May, when the Wolkoff case was at its height, M sent me off one day to Camberley, in Surrey, to look for a house to rent. The one I eventually took was called ‘Llanfoist’; set well back from the main London Road, about a mile and a half outside Camberley, in grounds complete with stables and garages and screened by a row of pine trees, it was ideal for our purposes. M needed the place as a retreat from the stresses of London, as a ‘safe house’ for agents, and as a spot where fellow MI5 officers, journalists and so forth could be …

Maxwell Knight’s post war life is described by Chris Rose in this newsletter,

A secret life as a spymaster combined with a passion for the natural world and an interest in keeping many unusual animals as pets was the life of Major Maxwell Knight who lived in Camberley. At the end of World War Two he started a new life as a much admired radio naturalist. He thought it would be a good idea to bring people together to enjoy and learn about the wildlife in the local area and the wider world. After an announcement in the local newspaper and a public meeting, the Camberley Natural History Society was founded in 1946.

Kim_PhilbyAnd now to Kim Philby a famous, or should it be infamous, double agent. His traitorous deeds are described HERE. The Philby family lived at Crossways, Park Road, Camberley, where the young Kim Philby spent some of his early years. This extract from Browsings in Surrey Heath History, 2013, provides the background taken from local historian, Anthony Greenstreet’s , ‘A Camberley Matriarch: May Philby’.

Before he died General Duncan had detected that his second grandson, Harry St John Bridger Philby (1885-1960) known as ‘Jack’, was exceptionally gifted. He paid for his education which ensured that he became Queen’s Scholar at Westminster. This boy eventually became a brilliant but controversial Indian Civil Servant, renowned Arabian Desert explorer and orientalist, author, wealthy businessman, adviser to the Saudi dynasty, and Muslim convert. That alone should ensure his reputation as one of CamberIey’s most famous and colourful residents: but, beyond that, he was the father of the notorious traitor and spy for Russia Kim Philby (1912-88), part of whose childhood was spent at Crossways.

Hatip: National Portrait Gallery for Maxwell Knight image.

2 thoughts on “Camberley, the wartime location for ‘safe houses’ for spies, agents, and double agents

  1. Dear Tim, Just a thought, I wondered if you knew anything about the history of Frimley & Camberley County Grammar School (FCCGS), where I went, from 1959 to 1964. I keep meaning to visit the archives at Woking, but haven’t managed it yet….(I live at Chandlers Ford, near Southampton). I wondered if, via your excellent pages about Lightwater etc., if you had any access to any details about how and when the school was built ? The earliest photo I have managed to find showed some pupils, with rather new-looking brickwork in the background, suggesting maybe the school had been up and running a decade or so by the 1950’s? Maybe longer? No matter if you have no information, but it would be so nice if I could find out a bit more about the old place : it is still there, but now a primary school, and carpetted in blue ! In our day, there were plain wood floors, and the corridors had that sparkly stone , underfoot. It is a place that had a profound influence on me……I am 69.5 years now ! Many thanks for your most interesting site. Best Wishes, Rosemarie Mann. 25 July, 2017.
    P.S., I have some old photos of Lightwater, not so much the main village, but where we lived, at the top of McDonald Road. I will try to send them….
    R.M.

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  2. Good evening Rosemarie. Thank you for your comment. I’m delighted you find the site of interest.
    I’m sure I can be of help to you, as I feel sure a local historian has published a booklet on the history of the school. I think I’ve seen a copy in the local library.
    We’ve a Heritage Gallery in Camberley, run by volunteers, where they have such booklets for sale. I’ll visit the Gallery this week to find out what information they have on the school.

    I’ll get back to you in a few days, and then perhaps we can talk about the photo’s. With every good wish, tim

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