Seventy years ago, the British Intelligence agency M15 flew into a panic when agents noticed that key code names from the top secret D-Day operation were appearing in The Daily Telegraph’s crossword puzzles. In May of 1944, intelligence officers suspected that the puzzles were functioning as a covert operation for passing top-secret intelligence along to the Nazis and thoroughly interrogated Leonard Dawe, the Telegraph’s crossword compiler and headmaster of the Strand School in Effingham.
Dawe had previously attracted the M15’s attention when the word ‘Dieppe’ appeared in one of his puzzles the day before the Dieppe raid, along the northern coast of France, on August 19, 1942. This was quickly dismissed as “a complete fluke.”
In the months leading up to D-Day, Dawe again came under suspicion. The words Juno, Gold, and Sword — all code names for British landing beaches — appeared in the crossword. They didn’t seem to have any significance though, as these were considered common crossword puzzle answers.
But the clue “One of the U.S.” with the four-letter word Utah as the solution immediately caught the M15’s attention. Soon after came a flurry of other clues containing sensitive names related to the D-Day operation.
On May 22, Omaha, a codename for a D-Day beach the U.S. was planning to take, was the solution to the clue “Red Indian on the Missouri (5).” The May 27 crossword contained the word Overlord, the name for the entire D-Day operation.
The final D-Day-related codename came on June 1, just five days before the invasion. The solution to 15 Down was “Neptune,” the codeword for a naval assault.
After thorough questioning by the M15, it became apparent that Dawe was unwittingly publishing information related to the D-Day operation.
Dave would invite his students to fill out the blank crosswords with words of their own choosing as a form of mental exercise. Dawe would then write clues to their solutions.
Dawe’s Strand School was situated close to a Canadian and American military camp full of soldiers that were preparing for the D-Day campaign. Several of Dawe’s students would spend time at the camp running errands for the soldiers and listening to their stories.
The soldiers weren’t afraid of the children being spies and spoke openly of the upcoming campaign. The children learned the now-legendary codenames used during the operation. Unaware of the possible repercussions, they then put them into one of England’s favourite crossword puzzles for the world to see.
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