Against the Wind (1948) – poster
At work on Thursday a couple of colleagues and myself were discussing this splendid blog post discussing the training and “prop design” of the Special Operations Executive (“Britain’s secret warfare organisation during the Second World War”).
Coincidentally on Friday Hazel and I watched the 1948 Ealing film “Against The Wind” and the amount of cross-over between the film and the blog post was quite a surprise.
Here are some observations…
In the blog:
Camouflage wasn’t just for people – it was also for ‘props’. Walter ‘Wally’ Bull [...] helped SOE develop explosive fake coal for sabotage [...] other camouflaged curiosities made by the section included fake animal droppings, for placing on roads and bursting the tyres of enemy vehicles, and explosive stuffed rats for damaging enemy facilities.
In Against the Wind: Scotty, a sabotage expert shows off, explosive coal, explosive animal droppings and explosive rats!
Scotty: Everything here blows up, this is explosive coal it’s filled with plastic and is set off by a detonator
Scotty shows Michelle a table full of exploding rats
Scotty: These rats, they’re filled with explosive and thrown into the boiler room in a German explosive works, a chap sees one lying about, picks it up, throws it in the furnace and…
Scotty: Aye, aye just like that. Of course Jerry’s got wise to the dodge now, but he spends an amount of time studying dead rats. Real ones as well as ours
… and some exploding horse poo
Scotty: Lumps of… mud.
Michelle: Looks to me like horse manure.
Scotty: Well, yes, it is actually. Put down in the road to wreck cars.
In the blog:
Camouflaged items [...] were displayed in the Demonstration Room at the Natural History Museum, for the benefit of SOE personnel
In the Against the Wind: Father Elliot goes to the Natural History Museum for his initial recruitment into the SOE.
In the blog:
There was also a make-up team, which could make delicate (or radical) changes to a person’s face, allowing agents who were known to the enemy to re-enter occupied territory and continue their work in disguise.
In Against the Wind: Emile Meyer has his face altered in preparation for an assignment, to the point where his wife doesn’t recognise him
I was quite surprised that a film made so soon after the conflict was so open in discussing the methods used, I’d guess that the film-makers had a copy of the Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies.
Funnily enough a contemporary review of “Against the Wind” from the NY Times suggests that it…
has the aspect of contrived melodrama and a minimum of the truth behind the sabotage of World War II
… and describes it as “unconvincing fare”. The National Archives’ blog post clearly suggests otherwise!
Here’s a blog post that includes exploding rats along with nine other exploding animals!