Unveiled: The secret base at the heart of MI5

The RAF marching through the High Street of Leighton Buzzard on Sunday April 4, 1943 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the formation of the RAF in 1918
The RAF marching through the High Street of Leighton Buzzard on Sunday April 4, 1943 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the formation of the RAF in 1918
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A top secret military communications centre based on Leighton’s doorstep was instrumental in bringing forward the end of the Second War Two, a new book has claimed.

Close to seven decades after the end of the conflict, members of the Leighton Buzzard and District Archaeological and Historical Society have pieced together the previously unknown past of Q Central, an MI5 and MI6 nerve centre that had a key role in the most significant campaigns of the conflict.

The largest telephone exchange in the world in 1942 was at Q Central, the RAF station in Leighton Buzzard the centre of the clandestine war effort and communications for the whole of Britain Europe and the Commonwealth.

The largest telephone exchange in the world in 1942 was at Q Central, the RAF station in Leighton Buzzard the centre of the clandestine war effort and communications for the whole of Britain Europe and the Commonwealth.

The Stanbridge Road communications base, which was renamed RAF Stanbridge after the war, burgeoned after its establishment as more agencies set up their operations– taking advantage of the world’s largest telephone and telegraph exchange which was staffed by more than 600 servicemen.

RAF Group 60, the headquarters of radar, moved in and ran the dozens of stations which had a fundamental role in the Battle of Britain, guided the D-Day landings and took the bombing war to Germany.

At its height Q Central also housed MI8, which was tasked with tracking down enemy agents by monitoring their radio signals.

Due to Leighton Buzzard’s supposed insignificance to the enemy and distance from the coast the town became an ideal location for the setup, which attracted a dozen other operations engaging in defence and intelligence.

The base was protected by a sophisticated camouflage that could not be detected from the air, but as a failsafe a dummy station was erected nearby by Second City Films.

Q Central was also defended by anti-aircraft guns, with servicemen told to never to fire unless a direct assault occurred because it would alert the Germans to the fact there was something worth defending.

The guns were never fired.

For the first time the internal details of the communications centre have been unveiled by the Leighton Buzzard and District Archaeological and Historical Society, which compiled the findings in a book named The Secrets Q Central, How Leighton Buzzard Shortened the Second World War.

The information came to light as researchers, with the help of the Imperial War Museum and English Heritage, investigated whether the remains of Q Central should be preserved.

However English Heritage has noted that the base was altered out of recognition when it turned into the now disused RAF Stanbridge.

All that now remains since the base’s closure in 2012 are a group of modern buildings surrounded by four metre high razor wire.

One of the books editors, journalist Paul Brown, told the LBO he was ‘astonished’ by the findings of Q Central’s past.

He said: “We set out to tell what we thought was a purely local story about the people of Leighton Buzzard and Linslade that served in the Second World War... then we discovered that it was a national story, that the town was the communications centre for secret operations – radar, spies, agents of all kinds.

“What surprised us in interviewing the oldest members of our society who were teenagers during the Second World War is that nobody knew what was happening here.”

Mr Brown added: “An enormous number of local people have contributed to this book, collecting evidence and piecing together the story which we believe demonstrates that the activities in Leighton Buzzard really did shorten the war. As well as that there is enormous detail about the families from the town who served in the war, their deeds of valour and those who died in the fighting.”

The book will be on sale for the first time at the Leighton Buzzard and District Archaeology and History Society meeting tomorrow at the Linslade Community Centre. There will be a talk about Q Central and the role of Elsie Knocker. The meeting starts at 8pm, non-member £3.