The D-Day Crossword Mystery

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WW2: Were coded messages sent to the enemy via crossword puzzles?

In the spring of 1944, Allied forces were preparing for the largest ever seaborne invasion in history. This top secret mission, which we now know as D-Day, was vital to the war.  It took months of planning and secrecy was vital.

As with all military operations, code words were used for the locations, various equipment and the operation itself.

As preparations continued one man, a British military intelligence officer, was taking a break and doing his favourite crossword puzzle in the Daily Telegraph. As he was filling in the puzzle he noticed that one clue had a curiously familiar answer. The clue was:

One of the U.S. (4).

Now our man knew that there were three states in the U.S. with four letters, Iowa, Ohio and Utah and only one fit with his existing crossword answers. Utah. “What a coincidence” he thought because Utah was the code name for one of the secret locations where the Allied landings would take place. Sure enough, he checked the paper the following day when they published the solution and his answer had been correct. A few days later, he was doing the crossword again. This time, he saw:

Red Indian on the Missouri (5)

Being good at cryptic clues, he decided that the answer was Omaha. Sure enough, it fitted and sure enough, that too was the code name for a beach which would shortly be invaded by the Allies. Was this really a coincidence? It was certainly bizarre. All his colleagues and superiors were so busy with preparations – should he bother them with something as trivial as crossword answers? He waited until the following day and yes, his answer was correct again. In a later crossword he saw this clue:

…but some bigwig like this has stolen some of it at times (8)

He was shocked. His suspicions were being confirmed. Surely the answer was ‘overlord’? And overlord was the code name for the entire operation. He waited for the solution to the puzzle to be published in the paper the next day and he had been right – the answer to that question had indeed been’overlord’. Now it was time to bring this to the attention of his team.

Was someone passing this information to the Germans through the medium of a newspaper puzzle?

Two days later, the following clue was to be seen:

This bush is the centre of nursery revolutions (8)

Mulberry harbour

Mulberry harbours

The answer, which was confirmed the following day,  was ‘mulberry’.  Mulberry was the name given to the temporary harbours that had been developed by the Allies especially for the forthcoming military operation. It now seemed certain that these answers were no coincidence.

Where were these coming from? Was it the person who complied the crossword? Was it someone on the staff of the Telegraph? With the invasion less than a week away, this needed urgent investigation. But just a few days before the invasion date, the Telegraph crossword contained this clue:

Britannia and he hold the same thing (7)

The answer was Neptune. And the seaborne division of Operation Overlord was code named Operation Neptune. MI5 now turned its attention to a small school for boys in the quiet countryside of Surrey. It was the headmaster there, Leonard Dawe, who compiled the crossword for the newspaper. He was immediately arrested. He was extensively interrogated and authorities determined that he was innocent.

But it couldn’t be a coincidence, surely?

Dawe returned to his school and his teaching job. But he had a puzzle of his own. He knew he was innocent so how had this happened? He soon realised. When he was compiling the puzzles, he had printed sheets of crossword blanks. He would leave them around in the school and boys would add words and he would later compile the clues – it was a time saver. But where had the boys got these words?

The school had originally  been located in London but when the heavy bombing of the city started, it was evacuated to Surrey. Nearby was a large airbase used by American and Canadian troops. The school allowed the boys to fraternise with the soldiers. It was something that kept them occupied in the quiet countryside which seemed so boring after London.

Dawe questioned some of the boys and discovered that they had heard all these codewords from the soldiers. They had then come back to the school and written them in Dawe’s crossword blanks, not realising their significance. Dawe swore them to secrecy although he did tell the story publicly in a BBC interview in 1958.

Is there more to this than meets the eye?

In the eighties, on the fortieth anniversary of D-Day, the Telegraph wrote about this story. This prompted a man to write to the paper saying that he was one of the boys and confirming the story. Dawes had died in 1973.

But is this a coincidence?

Less than two years previously, on 19 August 1942,  there had been a huge Allied invasion of a French port, Dieppe. This had been largely unsuccessful. Why? Well, Wikipedia explains thus: “The German forces at Dieppe were on high alert having been warned by French double agents.”

The previous day ‘Dieppe’ had been the answer to a clue in the Telegraph crossword.





Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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