Puzzle That Nearly Ruined D-Day
Written by Rick Archer
Archer’s Note: Here is a
tale about D-Day that is certain to make you
shake your head in amazement.
true story of how a crossword puzzle scared the
absolute wits out of the Allied Supreme Command
shortly before D-Day. This is
definitely one of those “Ripley Believe it or
Not” kind of stories. You
will be astonished at the explanation.
Let's start with a question.
know the code names for the five beaches where the
Allies landed on D-Day?
may know about Omaha
Beach, scene of the
heaviest fighting that day. This was the battle
site featured in Saving Private Ryan. And
you may recall Utah
Beach, the other
beach where the Americans landed that day.
the British and the Canadians, they landed at
Normandy beaches code-named
are one of those people who has been
entrusted with the task of protecting the secret of the Normandy
Landing. You are determined to keep
the choice of Normandy a surprise lest the Nazis triple
their defenses at the last moment.
How do you
suppose you would react if you started to see the
code names of those beaches
appear in the daily crossword puzzle just days before the
launch? You would probably go nuts.
exactly what happened in 1944. And
people did go nuts.
The people in British Intelligence
flipped their wigs when the code names for the D-Day Landing
Beaches began to show up in the London daily crossword just
2 months before the fateful day was to take place.
craziness started in April 1944, a month
and a half before D-Day took place.
On different days in April 1944, the solution words
Juno, Gold and
Sword had appeared in the London Daily Telegraph
crossword puzzle. And then at the start
of May, UTAH joined the parade.
Keep in mind that
D-Day took place on June 6, 1944. However, no one was
supposed to know this date. In fact, the actual date wasn’t
even chosen until late at night on June
of the invasion was a major secret.
Or was it? The location of the invasion
was a major secret.
Or was it?
The appearance of these code names was
so suspicious that some very important people became
extremely nervous about the nature of their origin.
The Special Vocabulary
of Crossword Puzzles
Ordinarily no one
would have paid a bit of attention except for one thing:
were not only the
secret codenames for the beaches assigned to
the British, none
of these four
words are common crossword puzzle clues.
everyone who reads this story is an avid Crossword Puzzle
I think this part of the story would make more sense
if I explained that the odds of these four particular words
appearing in a puzzle are very slim.
I have been an avid Crossword
Puzzle fan for over 20 years. Back when I started, I
there are certain words that appear with great
example would be “AARE”,
Swiss River that is a tributary of the mighty Rhine
The AARE appears
frequently. I see the AARE used at
least once every couple weeks or so.
The AARE is a member of
a group of 1,000 words that show up all the time. I call
these unusual recurring words the Special
Take a look at how obscure
those words are. Although they are not common
words in regular usage, they show up in Crossword
Puzzles all the time.
other hand, clues like
Juno, Gold, UTAH and
are not part of the
Special Crossword Vocabulary.
I might see each word perhaps one time a year.
Given the rarity of their appearance, the odds of
FOUR appearing so close together would be
who knew something about
D-Day codenames would
definitely pay attention,
especially given that they began to appear out of nowhere
mere days before the
suggested launch date.
Rick's Note: Here is a partial example of the list I keep
that I have named the "Special Crossword Vocabulary".
As one can see, these are not well-known words.
That said, I see these strange 4 and 5 letter words
very frequently. Their
purpose is to help to connect the larger words that
serve as the theme to the daily puzzle.
Take note of AGEE and AGAR. You will see them join
AARE in the crossword puzzle below.
Sure enough, the
April appearance of
in the London newspaper drew
a lot of attention in the
when UTAH appeared as
one of the answers in the
London Daily Telegraph crossword puzzle for May 3,
1944, people really began to get
of course, was the codename for the D-Day beach
assigned to the 4th US Assault Division.
think the presence of the
four-letter word UTAH was innocent enough. A
given that three of the other beach code names had
already appeared, the appearance
of the word UTAH carried an
this ultra-secret code name doing in the paper just
one month before the June 6th invasion?
As one MI5 Intelligence
officer explained it, the British spy agency was
following the progress of the daily crossword
puzzles keenly. They had more or less made up
their mind that three code names was accidentally
showing up was
suspicious, but acceptable. They could live
with these three codenames.
But seeing UTAH,
the code name for the fourth out of the five
Normandy beaches, took everyone's
fear to a new level. UTAH was more than
their sense of disbelief could handle.
Oddly enough, of the four codenames, I
actually do see UTAH from time to time. Based on my Crossword experience,
I can attest that
UTAH is not quite a rare as
the word “Ute”,
an indigenous Indian tribe that gave the state of Utah its
name, is part of the Special Crossword
Vocabulary. And once in a while I will see “Orem”
two towns in Utah. And “Alta”,
a ski resort in Utah, occasionally shows up as well. In
other words, any reference to UTAH is not out of the
ordinary as crossword puzzles go.
given the context of three preceding codenames,
UTAH was the word that really put the covert ops people
So why was
everyone especially worried now??
There is an old
saying: “One is an incident. Two is a
coincidence. Three is a pattern and time to pay
Using this logic,
Four became the time to
MI5 was made famous by Ian Fleming in his James Bond books.
MI5 is the British counterpart to our own CIA spy agency.
This institution was in charge of protecting the Normandy secret. Not
surprisingly, there were many men and women in MI5 who were
also avid crossword puzzle fans. And the buzz in the agency
over the mysterious appearance of these words was growing.
The word "consternation" was probably the most appropriate
description for their growing apprehension. It seemed
ridiculous that a daily crossword puzzle was being used to
communicate top-secret information, but with the odds of the
words appearing so astronomical, some very keen minds were
at a loss to find a logical explanation for the weirdness of
this just a silly coincidence? Or
was this the work
of a German spy sending covert messages to the homeland? It
seemed improbable, but on the other hand, it sure was
Not surprisingly, every morning
practically every member
of MI5 began to turn immediately
to the morning London Daily Telegraph crossword puzzle!
The moment they opened the paper
on May 22, 1944, the spy people
lost their breakfast.
They stared grim-faced at the newest
crossword puzzle. There it was,
OMAHA, the word they had been looking for.
The question was
"Red Indian on the Missouri River", 5 letters.
Omaha – codename for the D-Day beach scheduled to be taken
by the 1st US Assault Division in just a matter of days.
This was the fifth and final codename of the
five beaches to be listed
in the London daily crossword.
What was going on here?
But it didn't stop with the beaches! In fact, the
problem kept getting worse.
Five days later on Saturday, May
27, it was Overlord that appeared. The agents stared in amazement.
OVERLORD was the
codename for the entire D-Day operation!
It was the sixth top-secret word to appear.
consternation of the agents,
three days later on May 30, another word
appeared. This time it was “MULBERRY”.
MULBERRY was the codename for the
pre-fabricated floating harbors used in the
D-Day landings. This marked the 7th
appearance of an ultra-secret code name in the daily
crossword puzzle. People just
shook their heads in
that broke the camel’s back came two days later. On
June 1, the solution to 15 Down was
Neptune - codeword for the naval assault phase of D-Day.
marked the 8th D-Day clue that had no
business appearing in a public forum. No one knew
for sure when D-Day was coming, but everyone knew it
was imminent and that these crossword puzzle clues
were hitting much too close for comfort.
Someone at MI5
decided that enough was enough. MI5 informed SHAEF, Supreme
Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force, about the
and SHAEF replied, “You better look into this.”
immediately assigned to get to the
bottom of the mystery.
ever heard of DIEPPE? Unless
you are French, Belgian or
a military buff, probably not.
As you will see, "Dieppe"
played a major role in the great D-Day Crossword
was the place where a disastrous British raid
involving 6,000 men took place on 19 August 1942.
was meant to be an exploratory attack,
a kind of
fact-finding mission. The objectives included
seizing and holding a major port for a short
period. The strategists wanted to gather
intelligence about German
defenses. They also wanted to prove that it was
possible to assault a place like this successfully.
British and Canadians had
no plans to stick around; they just wanted to do a
little damage and get out of there. Upon retreat,
the Allies intended to destroy coastal defenses,
port structures and any strategic buildings.
had the added objective to boost morale and
demonstrate the firm commitment of the United
Kingdom to eventually open a western front in
ideas. Only one
problem - none of these objectives were
met. The raid failed
fire support was grossly inadequate and the raiding
force was largely trapped on the beach by obstacles
and German fire.
After less than 10 hours since the
first landings, the last Allied troops had all been
killed, evacuated, or left behind to be captured by
There were over 3,000
Given that more than
half the men were dead,
the bloody fiasco was
depressing as hell. It told the world that
the Allies could not hope to invade France for a
Understandably, in Great Britain
the word DIEPPE became synonymous with
failure. It was a sensitive word
imagine how MI5 felt when someone pointed out that
"DIEPPE" had appeared a
couple days earlier in a
London Daily Telegraph crossword
puzzle on August 17th,
no one would give a word like
DIEPPE a second thought.
Except for one
thing… the clue had appeared in the
newspaper just two
days before the disastrous
August 17: Crossword using 'DIEPPE' is published.
August 18: 'DIEPPE' appears in the Answer Section for
the previous day's crossword.
August 19: Raid on Dieppe fails
miserably, many lives are lost.
To someone with a suspicious mind, it
sure looked like a Nazi spy who was based in London had found an
ingenious way to tip off the Germans of the location of an
Given the fact that the Germans seemed to be
laying in wait strongly reinforced that suspicion.
Indeed, the Germans seemed to
have been practically waiting at the
shoreline for the British to arrive on
Had the crossword clue tipped them off?
Personally, when I read about the
DIEPPE angle, I realized I had no idea where Dieppe
was. I felt like I vaguely had heard the name, but I
wasn't sure. I immediately wondered how often an
obscure name like DIEPPE appears in crossword
So I decided to
research my personal Crossword
Puzzle Clue List.
I have two lists. One list is
the 1,000 word 'Special Crossword Vocabulary'.
The other list is more general. Every day for about 15
years, I would add one or two words that had stumped me in
the most recent crossword. The idea was to create a
reference to help solve future puzzles. Beside each
new entry, I added a note to remind me of the meaning of the
have compiled this list myself
over a 20 year period. Whenever I run
across a crossword clue that stumps me, I add the clue to my
list along with a note telling me what it is.
My list is 1,346 pages long and
contains 282,174 words.
To my surprise, DIEPPE was in
there. Out of
280,000 words, DIEPPE appeared once. My note said it
was a French port.
Rick's Note: Here is a section of my general
list. DIEPPE has only been referenced once. Meanwhile
other French cities such as AMIENS, CANNES, NANTES, and RENNES have
been used several times. I can tell this because I add a new
piece of information each time I reference a clue.
The fact that there was only a single
entry suggested I
had probably seen this clue
once in my 20-plus years of solving crossword puzzle clues.
This confirmed my suspicion that
DIEPPE is an unusually obscure clue.
What do you think
about that? Now the
appearance of DIEPPE doesn’t seem quite so
harmless anymore. A one in a million clue had appeared in
the London paper two days
before the attack.
At the time, an investigation was
Tweedsmuir (son of the novelist John Buchan) was called in
to ask questions about the
appearance of DIEPPE as a Telegraph crossword clue
answer on August 17. At that time Tweedsmuir was a senior
intelligence officer attached to the Canadian Army, which
made up the main assault force for the disastrous DIEPPE
venture. Tweedsmuir knew several of
the men who had died in the raid.
Tweedsmuir was very upset at
the thought that
a spy might have given away their mission to the enemy.
So he took his job seriously.
But he found nothing...
"We noticed the crossword contained
the word DIEPPE. There was an immediate and
exhaustive inquiry which also involved MI5.
In the end
it was concluded that it was just a remarkable coincidence -
a complete fluke."
Fluke or no
fluke, two years later, the appearance of 8 different secret
code names during the run-up to D-Day was too much for
anyone to tolerate without a probe.
Uncanny precognition? Or German spy? What
could possibly be the explanation?
the context of the strange DIEPPE incident two years earlier,
it sure seemed like someone was indicating the invasion was
headed to a place codenamed Juno, Gold,
Sword, Utah, and Omaha.
the Germans had previously learned the
significance of those five words?
If so, they had just been warned exactly
where the Allies were headed on D-Day. To the
worrywarts at MI5, it sure looked like the invasion was
headed into another Dieppe-style fiasco. If so, the
results would be horrifying beyond imagination.
There could be no coincidence. The
odds of 8 different ultra-secret clues appearing in the
London Daily Telegraph
crossword were too remote to be dismissed as a "fluke".
There had to be a significant connection of some sort.
It was time to get to the bottom of
this puzzle within a puzzle.
The June 1st publication of
the NEPTUNE clue... codename for the
amphibious assault phase... was the call to action.
Alarm bells rang at MI5.
At this point eight different
codenames had appeared in the London Daily Telegraph
within a 45-day stretch. Those in the know
realized that D-Day was imminent. Was someone
tipping off the Germans just like the DIEPPE
situation? Were the Allies headed straight
into a trap?
Given the context of the
DIEPPE suspicions, the order came from MI5 to
interrogate the man who created the Telegraph
was the suspect? His name was
Leonard Dawe. Mr. Dawe was the Telegraph
crossword compiler and creator of the puzzles in
question. Dawe was an
unlikely suspect given that he had been
setting the newspaper crossword since its inception
MI5 quickly learned that crossword
puzzles were not Dawe's means of support but rather
his past time.
Dawe was headmaster of Strand School, a boys'
grammar school in London. In
other words, Mr. Dawe was a highly respected man.
Still one never knows what a
person's private political sympathies are.
Perhaps Dawe was a secret admirer of Hitler. Since Dawe
supplied the content that the Telegraph published,
Dawe was in a position to use an improbable yet highly devious way
to pass on tips to the enemy.
agents from MI5 called on
Dawe at his
Effingham, a suburb of
London located southwest of the city.
The Strand School was a very
proper private school located in the center of
London. However the school wasn’t
located in London during
the constant German
bombing of London, the Strand School
had been evacuated for safety purposes from Tulse
Hill in south London to Effingham in Surrey.
Effingham was a countryside village that lay just 30
miles north of Brighton on the southernmost coast of England.
Two agents entered Dawe's
office. What they said absolutely terrified
Leonard Dawe. He was
suspected of leaking sensitive information to the
The MI5 officers confronted
Dawe and demanded to know why he had hidden these
telling words within his crossword solutions.
The agents were not happy to
find that Dawe was totally unable to supply a reasonable answer
on the spot. In fact, Dawe denied any
knowledge whatsoever. That wasn't what the
agents wanted to hear.
So with D-Day just four days
away, Dawe was arrested. He was
unceremoniously bundled up and shoved into a waiting
car to be whisked to MI5 headquarters. All the
boys of the school lined up to watch in horror.
As a precaution, the daily
crossword puzzle in the Telegraph was suspended just
in case "DDAY" was set to appear in the next
Leonard Dawe was in serious trouble.
He would be held in custody for several days.
Oh, to be a fly
on that wall!
We will never
know, but one has to wonder just how far they went to “break
him”. After all, nothing could be
left to chance. If war secrets were being passed
along, especially with so many lives at stake, Dawe's code
words could spell absolute doom for the invasion.
kindly old man in his 50s who was head of a posh, gentile
school, Dawe was hardly a likely suspect. However,
given the seriousness of the situation, no doubt the
interrogation was rigorous.
interview many years later, Tom Weston, the former head boy
at the Strand School in 1944, was asked about the day MI5
arrived. Weston nodded and said he remembered the incident
Tom Weston had
heard that Mr. Dawe had been setting the
London newspaper crossword
since its inception in 1925. Now that Dawe was
well into his
50s, he was still doing the crossword. However, to
Tom Weston, Mr. Dawe was not just
some teacher who dabbled in puzzles. Mr. Dawe was the
headmaster of his prestigious private school!
When the news that two very
angry-appearing men were in Mr. Dawe's office first broke,
the whispers spread through the school like wildfire.
It wasn't just the boys who were alarmed; so were the
all the boys
watched with paid
as the headmaster was unceremoniously placed
into a car by those very serious-looking men
and whisked away.
car turned up in our driveway.
I was very
interested, especially after two very large men got
out. So I kept watching. After a time, I saw Mr. Dawe
go off in the car with whoever it was. They each had
one of his arms.
Afterwards the rumors started to fly.
When the boys
heard what the scandal might be about,
appalled. We were astonished at the thought that
was a traitor. He was our headmaster. He was a member
of the local golf club. Whatever
was going on, it was a complete mystery to
all of us.”
- - Tom Weston
was allowed to return to the
school a few days later. Upon his return, Dawe
said nothing. He did little
to dispel the mystery surrounding him. He refused to
give any sort of explanation.
It was likely that MI5 had ordered him to keep his mouth
Fortunately for Dawe, almost
immediately D-Day took place successfully.
Now Leonard Dawe
was allowed to resume setting the
crosswords. So the boys
assumed nothing was wrong after all.
Now things began to return to
normal at the school. At this point, the school boys turned
their attention back to the dramatic events of war
and promptly forgot
strange visit of the two men.
Trust me, Leonard
Dawe never forgot about it.
during a BBC television interview in 1958, Dawe referred to
the incident, saying:
"They turned me inside out. Then
they went to Bury St. Edmunds where my senior colleague
Melville Jones (the Telegraph's other crossword compiler)
was living. They put him through the grill as well.
But in the end they eventually decided
not to shoot us after all.
Had D-Day failed, I
suppose they might have
changed their minds."
- - Leonard Dawe
goodness the invasion went well or Dawe and
Melville Jones might have
come under further scrutiny on suspicion of leaking
sensitive information to the enemy.
Hey, if even the
slightest bit of evidence had popped up, I would have
volunteered to pull one of the triggers. The appearance of
8 different code names is ridiculous, especially in such a
short period of time and at such a critical time.
All of those clues are outrageously rare.
For that matter, once I remembered the DIEPPE
story, I would have been twice as suspicious given the
context of D-Day coming just around the corner.
Personally, I can’t believe the agents
led Leonard Dawe and Melville Jones off the hook. If I had
been the investigator, I would not have
released Dawe and Melville until AFTER I learned the results
of D-Day. In addition, I would have kept digging. Based on
my knowledge of crossword puzzles, I calculate the odds of a
mere coincidence being the cause as astronomically
Something was wrong here, very wrong.
The appearance of those words could NOT BE AN ACCIDENT!
So is this end of the story?
Rick's Note: As it turned out,
in 1984 there was a fascinating development
in this mystery.
Let’s see here.
1944. 1984. That’s right, it
took 40 years for the remarkable
explanation to finally emerge. You won’t believe it.
fact, if I failed to tell you, I imagine
you are so full of curiosity at this
point that you would head straight to the Internet to
look up the answer for
yourself. And then you would kick me in the shin for not
finishing the story.
Well, I don’t
want to get kicked in the shin, so here’s what happened.
In 1984, the
Daily Telegraph decided to celebrate the 40th
anniversary of D-Day by re-telling
the strange story of the 8 code names that appeared in their
crossword puzzles in the fateful period shortly before
D-Day. To this point, no explanation had ever surfaced.
One of the
readers was Ronald French, 54, a property manager in
Wolverhampton located about 150 miles northwest of London.
contacted the Telegraph with an astounding confession.
French said he was the source of the leaks!!
that he was 14 years old when he attended the Strand School
in 1944. Leonard Dawe was one of his teachers. Ronald
French knew that Mr. Dawe did crossword for the London Daily
Telegraph. French added that Mr. Dawe loved trying to get
his students interested in crosswords.
In fact, French noted, Mr. Dawe had a
special technique he used to stir up interest in crosswords.
French, Dawe would occasionally invite pupils into his
study. During these times, as a mental discipline, Dawe
would encourage the students to help fill in blank crossword
patterns. There were no riddles involved.
students were being asked to create an answer sheet for a
without having to worry about setting the clues. All
they had to do was create the answer sheet.
In other words,
students like Ronald French could put in any sort of answer that fit their
fancy in the long spaces, then agonize
over ways to find words that could connect the longer
clues and fill out the entire grid.
Note: I had never given much
thought to how crossword puzzles are created. It had
never occurred to me that you start with a blank grid and
simply fill in the blanks.
gave it a try. It took me just a couple minutes to put
that much together, but I have little doubt to put an entire
puzzle together correctly would take well over an hour and
probably several hours. It could turn out to be quite
would be tricky to find the right words to
weave all the
different answers together. These
days we have computers, so someone can use them to
do search functions to find
connecting words more easily. For
example, I used my 'search function' to come up with GIOTTO
after I had the first three letters GIO. And I used
the search function to confirm that ETSI is Latin for
boys at the Strand School didn't have computers to use.
Nor did they have 20 years of crossword experience like me.
I would imagine this
proved to be a very tough exercise
for the boys, especially given their
The Mystery Begins to Unfold, Part One
Ronald French and the other
teenagers didn’t know was that Leonard
Dawe was using their
hard work and creativity to create
the puzzles he was being paid to create himself!
the boys, Dawe would take the best answer sheets and create the
questions after the fact. In other words, the kids created
the grid... the difficult part...
and Dawe wrote the questions as an afterthought. Then he
would secretly publish their work!!
reason, be it laziness or simply because ‘what difference
did it make?’, Dawe was letting the kids do the hard part of
puzzle-creation for him.
To me, this
practice seems unethical. I can only wonder how
Dawe was able to keep his job in
1944 once the trustees found out… I am guessing that Dawe
never told them the whole story once he was released by MI5.
Okay, so that’s
one part of the explanation for the bizarre code name
mystery. There’s more.
did the eight code names come
The Mystery Begins to
Unfold, Part Two
explained that he
was responsible for inserting
the code names into the crossword
puzzles himself. Now
reporter asked French how he knew the
replied that during the
weeks shortly before D-Day, he had learned of the
codewords from Canadian and American soldiers camped
close by the school. These, of course, were men
stationed nearby to await
their part in the invasion.
“The soldiers were obviously
lonely,” recalled French.
“Many of the men had children of their own, and they
more or less adopted us. We’d sit and chat and
they’d give us chocolate. We
would ask them a million questions.”
during conversations like these that Ronald French
heard the codewords. Security
was remarkably lax, and he had struck up close
friendships with the soldiers.
French, 14, became a real
favorite of the men. French
was trusted with the task to take the
colonel’s dog for regular walks. On one occasion, the soldiers even let
him drive a tank by himself for fun.
French said the men took him under
their wing and showered
him with attention. He absolutely loved it!
This was a very understandable match... French and
the other boys at the nearby Strand School were the perfect age for
hero worship. In turn, the lonely men loved the chance to befriend
their young admirers during these anxious days far from
Ronald French was
adamant that the secret codewords were well known by all the
boys, but that this knowledge was
harmless without the identity of 'when' and 'where' the invasion
would strike. French pointed
out that he had no idea what the significance of those
codenames was. Everyone plus the dog and
the cat knew the
big landing was going to take place soon. This was no
secret. French repeated that the codewords were
meaningless without a ‘when’ or a ‘where’. In that sense,
the boys really didn’t know anything more than the Germans
"I was totally obsessed about the
whole thing. I would play truant from school to visit the
camp. I used to spend evenings with them and even whole
weekends there, dressed in my Army cadet uniform. I became a
sort of errand boy who walked the dog about the place and
did small chores like fetch cigarettes and stuff like that.
Everyone knew the outline invasion
plan and they knew the codewords. Omaha and Utah
were the beaches, and these men knew the names but not the
locations. We all knew the nickname for the operation was
The soldiers talked freely in front of
me because I was quite obviously
not a German spy. I wasn’t the only one. Hundreds of kids
must have known what I knew."
- - Ronald French
Without a doubt,
the terrible war and the proximity of the Allied soldiers
was exciting for the schoolboys. Ronald French, for
example, said he kept notebooks of
the information he
gleaned. With the war at its height, the excitable teenager
was obsessed by the vocabulary of the era. Any time he
heard an interesting word, French wrote it down.
In additoin, French had another reason to
write down words.
Headmaster Leonard Dawe was
probably indirectly responsible for French's
fascination with his
vocabulary notebook. Crossword puzzles
demand an extensive vocabulary, especially at the difficult
"creation process". It is hard to imagine a
14-year old boy with a vocabulary extensive enough to fill
the blanks for an entire crossword puzzle.
Ronald French likely began writing
down words to help him with his difficult
crossword puzzle task.
French inserted all sorts of
war-time words into his notebook
such as “RAF” (Royal Air Force),
“warden”, “Poland”, “aircraft”, “ammo”
and “disarm” in addition to the code names.
French had no idea the sensitive nature of the words
he added such as “Juno”, “Omaha”,
To him, they were simply useful words to
help him complete Mr. Dawe's crossword assignments.
totally naïve about what he was doing. In fact, when asked
by the newspaper 40 years later, French said he did not
remember actually inserting the codenames into the puzzle
grids. To him, they were just words.
Since he had no idea what their significance was, he
added those words without
a second thought.
Leonard Dawe Learns a Terrible Secret
shortly after D-Day, Headmaster Dawe called for
Ronald French to come to his
is what French had to say about the encounter:
"Soon after D-Day, Dawe sent for me
and asked me point blank where I
had gotten those words from. I told him all I knew.
asked to see my notebooks.
When he opened them,
Dawe was horrified. Dawe
screamed at me and said
that the books must be burnt at once.
I have never seen anyone so angry in
my life. I was really scared.
Mr. Dawe gave me a stern lecture about
national security and made me swear that I would tell no one
about the matter. He was very insistent on total secrecy.
He made me swear on the Bible I would
tell no one about it. I have kept to that oath until now
Once Mr. Dawe told the young Ronald
French to keep quiet, he
did just that.
French didn't tell his friends or parents
a thing. French kept the
secret to himself for 40 years. It
was very sad because Leonard Dawe had made French believe
that he had nearly caused England to lose the war.
French could still recall the terrible words... "You nearly
cost countless lives with your foolishness!"
In the end, Dawe was
extremely lucky. It
was the silence of French that saved Dawe’s job. Dawe realized he had unwittingly been publishing
extremely sensitive information. Dawe
knew full well how much
trouble he would be in if this boy’s secret ever got out to
the school officials or to the
Daily Telegraph. Dawe
had no business asking his schoolboys to do his crossword
puzzle work for him and Dawe knew it. If someone ever
found out the truth, Dawe would have surely been sacked.
French's silence saved his job.
By forcing the boy to stay silent,
Dawe was protecting his
own job. In order to intimidate the
boy into complete silence, Dawe blamed the entire problem on
French when in reality it was his own mistake that nearly
jeopardized the invasion, not young Ronald French.
Ronald French went on to say that
back in 1944, Mr. Dawe never fully explained to the 14-year
old boy what he had done wrong. French had no idea that
Dawe was using his answer sheets for his own purposes.
French had no idea that his codewords were even appearing in
a newspaper. All he knew was that he had done something
wrong, but he didn’t know what it was and he had better
not tell his parents or his
friends or something very bad would happen to him.
Therefore, once he finally learned the
1984, French was
incredibly relieved to finally understand what the
original problem was. For him, the 1984 Daily Telegraph
story had put the entire strange affair into perspective.
One has to wonder
how Leonard Dawe kept his job. To begin
with, his total ignorance of the origin of those codewords
helped him survive the interrogation. It seems
likely that during the interrogation, Dawe somehow managed to avoid telling MI5 about
his practice of having the school boys fill out his
crossword puzzle answer sheet for him. How he managed
to do that would make for an interesting footnote to this
Given that Dawe had not supplied a
satisfactory answer to the origin of the code words, one
would think that no intelligence officer in his right mind
should have released Dawe until after the successful
conclusion of D-Day.
On the day when Ronald French was
called into his office, Dawe was trying to get to the bottom
of the mystery himself.
knew the only way to save his neck
was to get to the bottom of the
Another unanswered question is how
Dawe avoided getting sacked by the school's Board of
Directors. One can only surmise Dawe was careful to
never explain how those codewords ended up in his
crosswords. "Just a weird coincidence..."
Leonard Dawe should have been ashamed
of himself. To lose his temper at Ronald French was
French had done nothing wrong, certainly nothing to deserve
being screamed at and made to feel guilty. The boy was
guilty of nothing more than trying to do what Mr. Dawe had
asked him to do. He was simply writing down meaningless words into his notebook and
reciting them to complete Dawe's crossword exercise.
And yet Dawe took out his anger on the helpless 14-year old
boy, forcing French to live in shame for 40 years with the
thought that he had done something terrible.
Too bad Dawe didn't lose both of his
jobs, both crossword editor and headmaster. He
certainly deserved it. Instead he went on the BBC in
1958 and played the misunderstood victim. Too bad he
didn't have the guts to tell the truth.
As an interesting
footnote, after his 1984 ‘confession’, Ronald French
regained his youthful enthusiasm for
crossword puzzles. Once
the guilt was released, from this point on
French began to complete the
Telegraph’s crossword every day.
Nearly two years
before the D-Day affair, on 17 August 1942, “DIEPPE”
was part of the paper’s crossword
puzzle. Two days later, a
disastrous raid took place on the port, with 3,623 of the
6,086 men who made it ashore killed, wounded or captured.
At the time, a
War Office investigation concluded that the incident was “a
remarkable coincidence, a fluke”.
Given what we now
know about the later episode, this judgment seems open to
More than likely,
Dawe was the source for this event as well.
Whether the clue actually tipped the
Germans off, we will never know. But the Germans were
definitely there waiting, so one has to wonder. Did
Leonard Dawe cost British lives?
British propaganda posters had warned for years that the
enemy lurked within, but the security service had never
dreamt that the crossword puzzle page of the Telegraph could
be a haven for subversives. Loose lips sink ships, loose
clues lead to D-Day blues.