Sunday, January 06, 2013

The Cumberland 'Map & Compass Pencil' of WW2

















Photographs (top to bottom):
1. Cumberland Pencil Museum and wartime factory site

2. Charles Fraser-Smith, the WW2 'gadget inventor'.
[The real 'Q' of  the wartime British Secret Service]

3. WW2 'Escape maps' used by the secret services 
(With diagram of how they were hidden inside a pencil) 
[Similar to those used to help escaping POWs]

4. Part of the 'Secret WW2 Pencil' exhibition
[Cumberland Pencil Museum, Keswick] 
For additional information click on 'Comments' below. 

9 Comments:

Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

The Cumberland 'Map & Compass Pencil'

One day in 1942 a 'Man from the Ministry' turned up at the Cumberland Pencil factory at Keswick, Cumberland (seen in Photograph No 1 above). He introduced himself to the factory's management. He told them his name was Charles Fraser-Smith (Photograph No 2 above). Officially he was from the "Ministry of Supply Clothing & Textile Department". In reality, Charles Fraser-Smith was "Q" (the inventor of gadgets for the wartime British secret service). He was the real person behind much of the special equipment used by M.I.6, M.I.9 and the S.O.E. during the war.

What then was the purpose of Charles Fraser-Smith's visit to Keswick in northern Lakeland, which was then the home of the Cumberland pencil? It was part of his plan to assist Allied airmen shot down over enemy territory or escaping POWs to find their way out of Occupied Europe. The ordinary pencil was a standard piece of navigation equipment for aircrew. This was surely the ideal place to hide a map and compass. The secret pencil would not easily be detected if it fell into enemy hands.

Since 1999, the Cumberland Pencil Museum at Keswick, Cumberland (now Cumbria) has allocated some space to telling the story behind its parent company's wartime espionage role. Having been established in 1832 the Cumberland Pencil Co. was Britain's oldest pencil manufacturing company in 1942. Where better, then, for Charles Fraser-Smith to visit for his quest. The task was to make a pencil that would hold a tightly rolled-up map covering part of Occupied Europe and a small compass. The secret pencil would also need to look exactly like an ordinary pencil so that it would not be easily . In addition, the secret pencil would have to be designed and manufactured secretly.

At Keswick, heading the small team to work on this top secret task was the factory's technical manager, Fred Tee. To ensure the secrecy of the project, Fred Tee and the technical team at Keswick decided it would be better for the map and compass to be introduced into an already completed pencil. They also carried out the work outside of the normal factory opening hours - in the evenings and at weekends.

The team involved on this secret project started with a box of ordinary pencils. A short length of pencil lead was left at the writing end of the pencil. Then, a hole was carefully drilled along the length of the pencil into which the rolled up map was placed. Next, a metal ferrule was placed over this end and slip in a small brass compass. The final step was to glue the rubber eraser back on the top. From the outside, the pencil looked exactly as how it had started out.
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Sunday, 06 January, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

The Cumberland 'Map & Compass Pencil'

One day in 1942 a 'Man from the Ministry' turned up at the Cumberland Pencil factory at Keswick, Cumberland (seen in Photograph No 1 above). He introduced himself to the factory's management. He told them his name was Charles Fraser-Smith (Photograph No 2 above). Officially he was from the "Ministry of Supply Clothing & Textile Department". In reality, Charles Fraser-Smith was "Q" (the inventor of gadgets for the wartime British secret service). He was the real person behind much of the special equipment used by M.I.6, M.I.9 and the S.O.E. during the war.

What then was the purpose of Charles Fraser-Smith's visit to Keswick in northern Lakeland, which was then the home of the Cumberland pencil? It was part of his plan to assist Allied airmen shot down over enemy territory or escaping POWs to find their way out of Occupied Europe. The ordinary pencil was a standard piece of navigation equipment for aircrew. This was surely the ideal place to hide a map and compass. The secret pencil would not easily be detected if it fell into enemy hands.

Since 1999, the Cumberland Pencil Museum at Keswick, Cumberland (now Cumbria) has allocated some space to telling the story behind its parent company's wartime espionage role. Having been established in 1832 the Cumberland Pencil Co. was Britain's oldest pencil manufacturing company in 1942. Where better, then, for Charles Fraser-Smith to visit for his quest. The task was to make a pencil that would hold a tightly rolled-up map covering part of Occupied Europe and a small compass. The secret pencil would also need to look exactly like an ordinary pencil so that it would not be easily . In addition, the secret pencil would have to be designed and manufactured secretly.

At Keswick, heading the small team to work on this top secret task was the factory's technical manager, Fred Tee. To ensure the secrecy of the project, Fred Tee and the technical team at Keswick decided it would be better for the map and compass to be introduced into an already completed pencil. They also carried out the work outside of the normal factory opening hours - in the evenings and at weekends.

The team involved on this secret project started with a box of ordinary pencils. A short length of pencil lead was left at the writing end of the pencil. Then, a hole was carefully drilled along the length of the pencil into which the rolled up map was placed. Next, a metal ferrule was placed over this end and slip in a small brass compass. The final step was to glue the rubber eraser back on the top. From the outside, the pencil looked exactly as how it had started out.
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Sunday, 06 January, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The maps and compasses

There were four different maps used which meant that four differently numbered pencils were made so they could be correctly identified by those in the know. Pencil No 101 contained a general map of Germany, while pencils numbered 102, 103 and 104 contained maps showing more detailed escape routes to the west or south of Germany, such as into Switzerland. Three examples of these maps are shown above (Photograph No 3).

Due to strict wartime rationing of materials pencils were made and sold without being painted. However, the 'secret pencils' that were issued to Bomber Command aircrew or sent to prisoners held in German POW camps were painted green.

One of the initial problems was finding a suitable material to print the maps on that could be rolled up sufficiently tightly to be inserted inside a pencil. After some trials it was found that the maps to go inside the Cumberland pencils should be printed on a very fine, non-rustling paper. This allowed the map to be tightly rolled round a soft wire, folded over at the tip and fixed on with three cotton ties. It meant the diameter of the rolled up map was no more than 3 mm in diameter and therefore could be inserted into the cavity drilled inside the pencil.

The miniature compasses were designed and manufactured in Clerkenwell, London, again after being approached by Charles Fraser-Smith. Once manufactured, the compasses were secretly delivered to the pencil factory at Keswick.

According to the Pencil Museum, it is believed only a very small number of the Cumberland 'Map and Compass Pencil' sets still exist. They know only of 10 sets still in existence, including the one that has been on display at the museum since it first opened in 1982. In 1999, the Cumberland Pencil Co decided to try and re-create a new set of the the WW2 pencils.

Because of the wartime secrecy there was no written production process to work from. At the end of the war, any complete pencils still at the factory were sent off to the British Government, along with all written instructions and remaining components. Most, if not all of these, may have been destroyed.

Nor was it possible to ask the assistance of any of the team who had been involved in the design and manufacture of the 'secret pencil'. They had all since passed away. With their passing, the knowledge of how to make the secret pencils was also lost. So, a new generation of pencil makers began at exactly the same stage as their predecessors had in 1942.

After a number of failed attempts, eventually this team managed to re-create pencils similar to those that had been made for the wartime secret service. An explanation of this work by Clive Farrer, Technical Manager of the factory at the time, can be seen at the Pencil Museum. Part of the special display at the museum about the story of the secret 'Map and Compass Pencil' can be seen above (Photograph No 4).
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Sunday, 06 January, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Charles Fraser-Smith (1904 - 1992)

Charles Fraser-Smith is believed by many to be the inspiration for the character "Q" in Ian Fleming's James Bond stories. The wartime story of Charles Fraser-Smith in his own words can also be found at the Cumberland Pencil Museum.

"My piece of the war had been, I suppose, more unorthodox than that of almost anyone alive. I supplied equipment and gadgets to secret agents in the field or to prisoners of war trying to escape. Because I worked completely underground using as a cover the 'Ministry of Supply Clothing & Textile Department', my methods were certainly individual.

In most cases I was forced to go well outside the normal channels to get anything done. Knowing when something of mine went well - a gadget really worked and out-foxed the enemy, perhaps helping to save a valuable life - was all that I needed by way of inspiration.

When war broke out I was thirty-six years old, I was assigned to work, and for the first three weeks - no doubt while my records and personal history were being minutely checked by security - I only handled matters to do with clothing and textiles. Then, with no explanation given, I was sent for and requested to sign the Official Secrets Act. It imposed on me thirty years of total silence regarding my work from that time on.

The way I received my instructions was ingenious. People I never knew other than by their code names - would ring me on my telephone. With my P.A. listening in on an extension, I would pick up and listen. A voice would ask: "C.T.6?" When I applied in the affirmative, the voice would identify itself by a code name and in as few words as were necessary, give me their requirements.

I used over 300 firms to produce my secret gadgets and special equipment. Some knew they were being employed in a "Q factor" campaign, others did not. I know the debt we owe to the many fine firms who answered my call on their time and skill to perfect the secret and cunningly devised gadgets I was ordered to make.

I tracked down a couple of back-alley brothers: Baker was their name, working in a factory at Clerkenwell in London. They had a contract to make large compasses for the Royal Navy and were amused when I said that I wanted them to make a minute compass, one smaller than they had ever seen or heard of before. The maximum diameter I told them must not be more than one quarter of an inch.

For maps hidden inside gadgets - we had to think of something else. A pure silk fabric and a non-rustling rag tissue of the finest paper imaginable were obviously suitable materials. The latter, especially made for the job, was magnificent. Nylon came along in the latter stages of the war, with the entry of the Americans. Then all we needed to do was to secrete these flimsy, beautifully printed little miniature works of art inside the minute space where the graphite lead should be".

Quotation from:
"The Secret War of Charles Fraser-Smith,
The 'Q' gadget wizard of World War II".
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Sunday, 06 January, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Acknowledgement

The Cumberland Pencil Museum,
Southey Works,
KESWICK, Cumbria. CA12 5NG

For further information about the Cumberland Pencil Museum, Keswick, click on the following link:
Pencil Museum, Keswick
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Further reading

Fraser-Smith, Charles (1981), "The Secret War of Charles Fraser-Smith,
The 'Q' gadget wizard of World War II".,
Paternoster Press, Exeter.
ISBN 0-85364-409-8
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Sunday, 06 January, 2013  
Anonymous Cumberland said...

Thanks for such a nice post

Tuesday, 22 January, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On holiday in Keswick visited the pencil museum. This brought back fond memories of childhood, as to receive a tin box of Lakeland pencils for Christmas was like receiving a gold mine! I treasured my set for years and only wish I had kept some. Loved the video on the WWII pencils with maps inside. Are any of these still for sale?? Would love to own one, an insight into the brains and skill of our ancestors whose ability to overcome the hardest of problems is magnificent.

Jackie (West Sussex)

Tuesday, 25 June, 2013  
Anonymous Stu Gibson said...

Hi Jackie,
I've just been searching the net and have Emailed the museum because I have an escape pencil with the map inside and the compass under the rubber!
I've been trying to find out what it's worth. It just sit's in a box in a drawer right now!

Stu

Wednesday, 17 July, 2013  
Anonymous Stu Gibson said...

Oh, and my email is stuart.gibson@hotmail.co.uk, in case you want to get in touch.


Stu

Wednesday, 17 July, 2013  

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