University of Oxford
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The Unglamorous Side of SOE - Leonard Marks

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posted on 2024-06-05, 19:00 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

Len joined the Wiltshire regiment in 1940 but a couple of years later he was taken ill, spent some weeks in hospital in England and by the time he was fit to rejoin his regiment it had moved overseas. The story is that someone noticed his name, Leonard Marks, and suggested sending him to SOE where Leo Marks was the renowned coder. He spent the rest of the war, until VE Day, stationed at Beaulieu but unfortunately, he never matched his namesake in coding ability. He must have been involved because a part of the process was to create a piece of text e.g. a poem, which could not be guessed by anyone trying to solve the code. Leo Marks' poem "The Life that I Have" which appears in many anthologies, had its origins at SOE at Beaulieu. As a small child, my father taught me another poem, with the same origins, which I just assumed was another nursery rhyme - I was an adult before I learned what it really was.

"The pyramids are big tombs / With lots of little rooms / Where Pharoah or some other guy / Used to hide sarcophagi". As far as I know, that one never made it into an anthology.

One of Len's duties at SOE was to source the right clothing and other items for agents being dropped in Europe - if someone was to pass as say, French, then every item of clothes, right down to underwear, had to be of the right availability, age, etc. (as in the film Operation Mincemeat where the corpse has to be dressed convincingly down to the last detail).

There was a custom at Beaulieu that before agents were dispatched, on their last night they would be given a meal corresponding as closely as possible to their home cuisine - must have been difficult with rationing but they did their best. In one case a group of Yugoslavs were expected for their final briefing and Len was told to set out a glass of milk for each of them, a week before they arrived. The next day another glass each was added, and so on until the day of their arrival, by which time the first set was just the way they liked to drink it.


Person the story/items relate to

Leonard Marks

Person who shared the story/items

Jo Livingston

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

He was my father

Type of submission

Shared online via the Their Finest Hour project website.

Record ID