BBC reveals wartime coded messages to Poland and France 

BBC reveals wartime coded messages to Poland and France 

A BBC radio staff member during the Second World War was given a scratched record to play on-air and the assistant swapped it for a less scratched disc. 

The music filled gaps between news broadcasts and so the tune was thought to make no difference.

But the first record was a coded message for the resistance in occupied Europe, according to the BBC archives which show the broadcaster sent secret messages across the airwaves on its European service.

A 1941 memo says a “Lieutenant Peter Peterkin” (a codename) would arrive at BBC Bush House with a record. 

“I have agreed to the following temporary arrangement for the inclusion of gramophone records in the 4pm and 9.30pm Polish bulletins daily,” a BBC chief reported. 

“A Polish officer giving the name of Peter Peterkin will come to Bush House each afternoon and evening at 3.45pm and 9.15pm and will ask for you or your deputy. He will bring with him a gramophone record which he will hand over to you and he will wait until after the transmission to receive the record back.

“I have guaranteed that this record will be played for a minimum of one minute at the end of the 4pm and the 9.20pm bulletins… I have agreed this procedure for the next few days because I am convinced of its importance.”

The archives were published by the BBC History department, including the 1979 recollections of former boss Alec Sutherland.

“What was happening was that the recorded programmes assistants looked at these discs and, being purists, would hold it up to the light and see it looked kind of scratchy and they would see a band of equivalent width that they thought would make an equivalent broadcast.

“And so they would play the other band and the wrong bridge would get blown up in Poland.

“Now they couldn’t be told this – all that could be done was to supervise them viciously and crack them over the head if they made any kind of mistake.

“And I suppose to this day there are half a dozen middle-aged men around London who see me as the most rotten character.”

The BBC also replaced Big Ben’s chimes with a recorded version in the event of an air attack.

This would ensure the Germans did not know their planes were flying over Westminster.

There were coded messages to the French Resistance ahead of D-Day. 

“Cradle my heart with a monotonous languor” signalled the invasion was about to begin.

They included “the cats were courting one another in the garden opposite”, “the premium seats for the orchestra are 18 francs” and “the big banks have branches everywhere”. 


London was a resistance hub during the Second World War. Picture credit: Wikimedia 



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