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The Crossword Puzzle That Nearly Ruined D-Day

Written by Rick Archer
June 2014


Rick Archer’s Note:  Here is a tale about D-Day that is certain to make you shake your head in amazement.

This is the 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.  Do you know the code names for the five beaches where the Allies landed on D-Day?

Well, you 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.

As for the British and the Canadians, they landed at Normandy beaches code-named Sword, Juno, and Gold.

Now let’s pretend you 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.

Well, that’s 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.

The crossword 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 5th. 

The date of the invasion was a major secretOr 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:

, Gold, UTAH and Sword were not only the secret codenames for the beaches assigned to the British, none of these four words are common crossword puzzle clues. 

Since not everyone who reads this story is an avid Crossword Puzzle solver, 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 soon learned there are certain words that appear with great frequency. 

A simple example would be “AARE”, a Swiss River that is a tributary of the mighty Rhine River.  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 Crossword Vocabulary

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.

On the other hand, clues like Juno, Gold, UTAH and Sword 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 unsettling.

Any person 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 Juno, Gold, and Sword in the London newspaper drew a lot of attention in the Intelligence community.

However, when UTAH appeared as one of the answers in the London Daily Telegraph crossword puzzle for May 3, 1944, people really began to get worried.

UTAH, of course, was the codename for the D-Day beach assigned to the 4th US Assault Division. 

One might think the presence of the four-letter word UTAH was innocent enough.  A coincidence, surely?

However, given that three of the other beach code names had already appeared, the appearance of the word UTAH carried an unusual significance. 

What was 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 Juno, Gold and Sword

Besides UTAH,  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” or “Provo”, 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. 

That said, given the context of three preceding codenames, UTAH was the word that really put the covert ops people on edge.  

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 attention!”  

Using this logic, Four became the time to panic.

Great Britain’s 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 it all.

Was 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 eerie

Not surprisingly, every morning practically every member of MI5 began to turn immediately to the morning London Daily Telegraph crossword puzzle!

Omaha Beach

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.

The solution?   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.

To the 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 consternation. 

The straw 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. 

That 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 strange problem and SHAEF replied, “You better look into this.”

Agents were immediately assigned to get to the bottom of the mystery.



Have you 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 Puzzle mystery.

DIEPPE was the place where a disastrous British raid involving 6,000 men took place on 19 August 1942. 

The raid 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. 

The 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. 

The raid had the added objective to boost morale and demonstrate the firm commitment of the United Kingdom to eventually open a western front in Europe.

All very noble ideas.  Only one problem - none of these objectives were met.  The raid failed miserably.

Allied 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 the Germans.  There were over 3,000 casualties. 

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 long time.

Understandably, in Great Britain the word DIEPPE became synonymous with failure.  It was a sensitive word indeed.

So 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, 1942?

Ordinarily 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 raid. 

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 impending attack.

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 their doorstep. 

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 puzzles.   

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 word. 

I 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 launched.  Lord 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...

Later Tweedsmuir commented:

"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. 


Fluke?  Coincidence?  Uncanny precognition?  Or German spy?   What could possibly be the explanation? 

Given 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

What if 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.


Leonard Dawe, Crossword Editor

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 puzzles.

So who 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 in 1925. 

MI5 quickly learned that crossword puzzles were not Dawe's means of support but rather his past time.  Leonard 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.

Two agents from MI5 called on Dawe at his school in 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 war.

Thanks to 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 enemy.

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 issue.


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.  

A kindly old man in his 50s who was head of a posh, gentile English private school, Dawe was hardly a likely suspect.  However, given the seriousness of the situation, no doubt the interrogation was rigorous.

During an 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 quite clearly.

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 instructors. 

So naturally all the boys watched with paid close attention as the headmaster was unceremoniously placed into a car by those very serious-looking men and whisked away.

“An official car turned up in our drivewayI 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, we were appalled.  We were astonished at the thought that Mr. Dawe 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

Dawe 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 shut. 

Fortunately for Dawe, almost immediately D-Day took place successfullyNow 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 about the strange visit of the two men. 

Trust me, Leonard Dawe never forgot about it.

Years later, 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

Indeed, thank 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 rareFor 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 unlikely. 

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. 

In 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.

Ronald French

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. 

Ronald French contacted the Telegraph with an astounding confession.  

French said he was the source of the leaks!!

French explained 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.

According to 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.  The students were being asked to create an answer sheet for a crossword puzzle 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. 


Rick’s 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.  

So I 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 time consuming.

Surely it 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 "Although".

Those boys at the Strand School didn't have computers to use.  Nor did they have 20 years of crossword experience like me.

So I would imagine this proved to be a very tough exercise for the boys, especially given their limited vocabularies.

The Mystery Begins to Unfold, Part One

What 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!

Unbeknownst to 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!! 

For whatever 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.

So where did the eight code names come from?

The Mystery Begins to Unfold, Part Two

Ronald French explained that he was responsible for inserting the code names into the crossword puzzles himself.  Now the reporter asked French how he knew the codenames.

French 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.

It was 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 home.

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 did.

"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 Overlord.”

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. 

Ronald 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”, and Overlord”.  To him, they were simply useful words to help him complete Mr. Dawe's crossword assignments.

French was 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

One afternoon shortly after D-Day, Headmaster Dawe called for Ronald French to come to his office.  Here 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.  Then he 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 (1984).”

Once Mr. Dawe told the young Ronald French to keep quiet, he did just thatFrench 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 truth in 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 story.

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.

Dawe knew the only way to save his neck was to get to the bottom of the mystery himself. 

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 intolerable.  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.

However, one riddle remains.

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 question.

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.


Rick Archer's Story on D-Day and Omaha Beach


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