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by Lynn Philip Hodgson
As part of my research into Camp X, I have been in constant contact with London, England, and specifically the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office). One interesting piece of information from London I would like to share with you now. The following is an excerpt from a letter, which I recently received from Duncan Stuart, SOE adviser, FCO.
“First of all, I should say that virtually no records have survived over here about STS-103. As I am sure you know, there was a bonfire of all of the New York and Canadian records at STS-103 at the end of the War. And, in any case, Bill STEPHENSON (sic) was not much in the habit of informing SOE HQ of the details of what he was up to, so there was never much information on American or Canadian matters in HQ. Moreover, SOE’s Training Section over here destroyed all its training records at the end of the War.”
Thus, it will be books such as Inside Camp X that we will have to rely upon to tell the real story of what went on behind those barbed fire fences. To meet this end, I have accumulated forty hours of taped interviews with the men and women of Camp-X as well as the neighbours of the Camp. I personally spent hundreds of hours investigating and researching in order to produce Inside Camp X.
(Note: Although this site is Copyright ©, you may quote from it for the purpose of doing essays, reviews, or newspaper articles.)
WHAT WAS CAMP X?
by Lynn Philip Hodgson
Unofficially known as Camp X, the paramilitary training installation was officially known by various names: as S25-1-1 by the RCMP (the Royal Canadian Mounted Police file name), as Project-J by the Canadian military, and as STS-103 (Special Training School 103) by the SOE (Special Operations Executive), a branch of the British MI-6. It was established December 6, 1941, on the Whitby/Oshawa border in Ontario, Canada through co-operative efforts of the British Security Co-Ordination (BSC) and the Government of Canada.
The BSC’s chief, Sir William Stephenson, was a Canadian from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and a close confidant of the British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, who had instructed him to create “the clenched fist that would provide the knockout blow” to the Axis powers. One of Stephenson’s successes was Camp X!
The book, Inside Camp-X, and the story begin, “Lieutenant-Colonel Roper-Caldbeck, the first Commanding Officer of Camp-X, stopped, stared over the rolling fields, picturesque Lake Ontario, and the newly erected buildings and thought to himself, “Everything is ready!”
The Date: December 6th, 1941!....………………
That date was most significant. Had the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour been executed six months earlier, there would never have been a Camp-X. The Camp was designed for the sole purpose of linking Britain and the United States. Until the direct attack on Pearl Harbour, the United States was forbidden by an act of Congress to get involved with the war. How timely that Camp-X should open the day before the attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese.
Even the Camp’s location was chosen with a great deal of thought: a remote site on the shores of Lake Ontario, yet only thirty miles straight across the lake from the United States. It was ideal for bouncing radio signals from Europe, South America, and, of course, between London and the BSC headquarters in New York. The choice of site also placed the Camp only five miles from DIL (Defense Industries Ltd.), currently the town of Ajax. At that time, DIL was the largest armaments manufacturing facility in North America.
Other points of strategic significance in the Camp’s locale include the situation of the German Prisoner of War Camp in Bowmanville, the position of the mainline Canadian National Railway, which went through the top part of Camp X, and that of General Motors on the eastern border of the Camp. The Oshawa Airport which was a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) / Royal Air Force (RAF) Commonwealth air training school at the time was only a short drive from Camp-X. Each of these points will be delved into in more detail throughout the book.
Points of interest; (all distances are approximate and relative to Camp-X)
1 - Toronto, Ontario, Canada - twenty five miles from Camp X and sixty five miles from the US via road
2 - Whitby/Oshawa, Ontario, and the site of Camp X
3 - Lake Simcoe, Ontario - Canadian military basic training at Camp Borden - fifty miles
4 - Rice Lake, Ontario - the site of the secret agents’ training. (This is where the agents would be dropped off and left to find their way back to the Camp as described in Chapter III) - thirty miles
5 - Oshawa, Ontario - the site of The Oshawa Airport about five miles away, and General Motors, adjacent to Camp X
6 - Hamilton, Ontario -sixty miles
7 - Niagara Falls, Ontario - eighty miles
8 - Buffalo, New York, USA - ninety miles
9 - Ajax, Ontario - five miles
10 - Peterborough, Ontario - forty miles
11 - Orillia, Ontario - fifty-five miles
12 - Barrie, Ontario - fifty miles
13 - Bowmanville, Ontario - site of Camp 30, the German POW camp - twenty miles
The Commanding officers of the Camp soon realized the impact of Camp X. Requests for more agents and different training programs were coming in daily from London and New York. Not only were they faced with training agents who were going to go behind enemy lines on specialized missions, but now they had been requested to train agents’ instructors as well. These would be recruited primarily from the United States for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) and for the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation). Soon there were trainers training trainers for new Camps that would be set up in the U.S., primarily at RTU-11 in Maryland. To ease the demand for trained trainers, Lieutenant Colonel R. M. Brooker, a British SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) man, established a particularly successful program of weekend courses for OSS executives. (When Camp X opened, the OSS was officially known as the Co-Ordinator of Information (COI) and did not become the OSS until June of 1942).
The psychological aspect of the training was most critical. As crucial as the agent’s training in silent killing and unarmed combat was the development of his ability to quickly and accurately assess the suitability of a potential “Partisan.” He had to be able to recognize a would-be recruit by being alert at all times and in any situation. He was trained to listen for a comment about the government, about the Nazis or about how the war was progressing, and to subsequently engage the individual in conversation, perhaps offer him a drink or buy him a meal. In this manner he could further identify the individual’s philosophy and thoughts about the war.
Paramount among the objectives set for the operation, including the training of Allied agents for the entire catalogue of espionage activities (sabotage, subversion, deception, intelligence, and other ‘special means’), was the necessity to establish a major communications link between North and South America and European operations of SOE. Code named ‘Hydra’, the resulting short-wave radio and telecommunications centre was the most powerful of its type. Largely “hand-made” by a few gifted Canadian radio amateurs, Hydra played a magnificent role in the tactical and strategic Allied radio networks.
When one steps back and looks at the 1940 grand picture, one can see exactly why Canada was so important to the SOE as a base for their agents: if the agents were to be recruited in Canada, why not train them there? Soon the BSC had large populations of French Canadians, Yugoslavs, Italians, Hungarians, Romanians, Chinese, and Japanese at their disposal and in a concentrated geographical area. It was easier to send a few instructors over to Canada then it was to send 500 or 600 potential agents to Britain only to find that they were not Secret Agent material and afterward have to send them home. One must remember that the British were still an invasion target to the Germans. Such an invasion, if successful, would be the end of the SOE Training Schools in Britain. Thus, Camp-X became the assembly line for ‘special agents’ and subsequently the SOE.
The agents trained at Camp-X would have no idea whatsoever as to their future mission behind enemy lines, nor for that matter would the instructors and/or the Camp Commandant. Camp-X’s sole purpose was to develop and train all agents in every aspect of silent killing, sabotage, Partisan work, recruitment methods for the resistance movement, demolition, map reading, weaponry, and Morse Code.
It was not until the agents completed their ten-week course that the instructors and commanding officers would assess each individual for his particular expertise and subsequently advise the SOE in London of their recommendations. For example, one agent might excel in the demolition field while another might be better at wireless telegraph work. Once the agents arrived in Britain, they would be reassessed and would be assigned to a Finishing School where their expertise would be further refined. Once this task was completed, another branch of the SOE would take over and develop a mission best suited for each individual agent.
Eric Curwain, Chief Recruitment Officer of the Canadian Division of the British Security Co-ordination, wrote about Canada’s significant contribution to the war effort in his unpublished manuscript, Almost Top Secret.
“Previous visits to Canada could not prepare a wartime visitor for the vast war effort that at once became visible on leaving the port of Halifax to take the train for Toronto. Any Allied national from Europe must have been thrilled to see those long lines of loaded freight cars, lying in sidings, awaiting the day to pour their weaponry into the hundreds of ships that Germany’s ever-increasing hordes of submarines could never defeat.”