History of Trent Park During WWII
Trent Park is no ordinary park and Trent Park mansion is no ordinary stately home. In the 1920s, as the home of Sir Philip Sassoon, it was a socialite’s paradise – regular guests included Charlie Chaplin, Lawrence of Arabia, George Bernard Shaw and Edward VIII – as well as Winston Churchill who painted several paintings at the estate. The painted murals of the famous artist Rex Whistler still adorn the rooms and renaissance sculptures dignify the landscape.
But the highly secretive, yet fascinating role this mansion played in WWII is what really sets it apart. Its role was so secret in WWII that the official files have only been released in the last few years. Trent Park was requisitioned by the War Office (and run by MI19, a branch of MI6) to be used as a very special prisoner of war camp for some of the most senior captured German officers – including 59 German Generals. It’s widely believed that Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess was held there for a short time.
Highly sophisticated room-bugging, eavesdropping and passive manipulation techniques were used for the very first time to gain vital intelligence to assist the war effort. The results of this clandestine operation were highly successful and intelligence gained included valuable information on German U-boat tactics, bombing raid radar system technology and some of the first evidence of war crimes and atrocities, including the mass killing of Jews. Intelligence discovered for the first time changed the course of the war when the German generals discussed amongst themselves Hitler’s “secret weapons” programme – the V1, V2 rocket, and his atomic bomb programme. Little did they know that the secret listeners were recording their conversations.
Much of the historical significance of Trent Park has only recently come to light with the declassification of documents in 2004 – the importance of this site is only going to grow over time as the nation realises its significance for winning the war alongside Bletchley Park.
Before Berkeley redevelops the site, this is the last chance to establish a proper full national museum in the historic mansion – rather than seeing it carved up into private and non-accessible residences. That would be tragic for our nation, for local people, and for those WWII heroes whose work was so secret that they never received recognition.