Secrets of war are uncovered in book

PUBLISHED: 11:31 26 January 2006 | UPDATED: 09:30 06 May 2010

Des Turner

Des Turner

SECRETS, practical jokes and explosives are the subjects of a new book about Aston House written by villager Des Turner. The book, called Aston House, Station 12, SOE s Secret Centre, has taken Des, 72, more than 35 years to research and write as he tried

SECRETS, practical jokes and explosives are the subjects of a new book about Aston House written by villager Des Turner.

The book, called Aston House, Station 12, SOE's Secret Centre, has taken Des, 72, more than 35 years to research and write as he tried to discover the secrets of the country house.

Des, better known for his Punch and Judy shows in Stevenage, started researching the book when he moved to Aston in 1966.

His love of photography inspired him to research the village and its history.

He began to wonder what had happened in the village in the past and started interviewing the oldest inhabitants.

"We had some lovely characters and what they had to say was fascinating. Everything was very hush hush and I was intrigued," he said.

Quite often his research came up against brick walls thanks to the Official Secrets Act but he continued to research the subject. He discovered that Aston House was born out of Bletchley Park. Research had begun there on the development of explosives and weapons for sabotage against the Germans and it needed to expand to a site where big bangs were more acceptable and cryptographers weren't distracted.

Aston House was one of many British country houses used during World War II by the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Designated Station 12, it was the first to develop plastic explosive and first to train saboteurs in its use.

It was commanded by a maverick officer and James Bond style 'Q' character who ran things his own way.

His scientific personnel invented, made and supplied 'toys' such as limpet mines, tree spigots, time pencil fuses and a variety of explosive devices for the Resistance, Commandos and Special Boat Service. They produced tailor-made explosives for specific operations including the Telemark Heavy Water Plant in Norway, the battleship dock at St-Nazaire and the assassination of Hitler's deputy in Prague.

Despite the serious work carried out at Aston House there was a sense of fun and comradeship between the officers stationed there.

The workers often played practical jokes, with explosives, on each other and on visitors including an officer who was blown off his bed and another who was blown from his toilet after a prank.

The book is illustrated with rare photographs of Aston and Des is very happy with the final product.

It started as a local history book but because of the interest from outside of the village he was able to get it published.

"I expected to be rejected but they took it on. I am really pleased with it," he said.

He is proud to boast that the book provides an insight into the lives of all the personnel at the house - not just the officers. He also looks at the lives of the engineers, civilian inventors and administrators.

He said: "All of them were isolated in a tiny, remote, Hertfordshire village and vital to the war effort as much as their more famous colleagues at Bletchley Park."

An interesting fact for those golfers who play at Stevenage Golf Club - according to Des you are probably playing on top of explosives which were buried underground!

Des has three sons and six grandchildren who are all very proud of him and his book.

"They are delighted. They have been very supportive and encouraging," he said.

Despite finishing the book Des is still interested in the subject and would love to hear from anybody who has information on Aston House or SOE.

* If you have any information contact Des on 01438 880376 or email him at desturner@aol.com

The book is released on February 2.

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