Since 1989 the Gerry Holdsworth Trust has contributed to a variety of important research and commemorative projects relating to the history and heritage of the wartime Special Operations Executive (SOE) and special forces. This support ranges from financial assistance with research for books, theses and articles, to the funding of commemorative plaques and memorials.
The Trust seeks particularly to preserve and promote the history and commemoration of special units and ‘private armies’ that (a) are no longer operational and (b) have no charitable regimental association able to provide adequate funds for serious commemorative and heritage projects. Other examples of such units, aside from SOE, include the following: the RAF Special Duty squadrons; the Long-Range Desert Group; Popski’s Private Army; the Raiding Support Regiment; the ‘Phantom’ Signal Squadron; and the Greek Sacred Squadron.
The Trust also seeks to promote the history and spirit of wartime cooperation between British special forces and the armed services, intelligence organisations andresistance and liberation movementsof other wartime nations and governments. These include those of the United States and the Commonwealth (especially Australia and New Zealand) and of governments-in-exile in London.
The following are examples of projects that have received Trust support.
The permanent ‘Secret War’ gallery in London’s Imperial War Museum, dedicated to the history of SOE, SIS, GCHQ, MI5, the SAS, the SBS and other British special forces, was financed by a grant from Sir Paul Getty. Opened in 1995, it received a comprehensive refurbishment, funded by the Gerry HoldsworthTrust, in 2012-14.
Additional grants from the Trust have permitted the Imperial War Museum to collect and preserve the personal papers and memorabilia of dozens of former members of SOE and wartime special forces, as well as gather hundreds of hours of oral history testimonies.
Cataloguing projects funded by the Trust have allowed these collections to be made more easily available for public study. Important collections catalogued recently with Trust funding include the extensive papers of Brigadier Orde Wingate, Brigadier Mike Calvert, Vera Atkins and Jean Overton Fuller.
Several smaller museums have received assistance from the Trust. One recent grant supported the work of the Scalloway Museum in commemorating the famous wartime ‘Shetland Bus’ link between the Shetland Isles and Norway.
May 2014 sees the publication of Dr Roderick Bailey’s Target: Italy – The Secret War against Mussolini (Faber & Faber). Commissioned by the UK Cabinet Office, this is the official history of the war waged by Britain’s Special Operations Executive against Mussolini’s Fascist Italy. Support from the Trust assisted Dr Bailey with research in Italy and the United States.
Funding from the Trust also supported the preparation of Professor David Stafford’s official history of SOE operations in German-occupied Italy, Mission Accomplished: SOE and Italy 1943-45 (The Bodley Head, 2011).
A series of official histories of SOE have reached publication since 1966. Professor M.R.D. Foot’s seminal SOE in France was the first. Other volumes have examined SOE’s work in the Far East, Scandinavia and the Low Countries.
The Trust provided financial support for the publication of Professor W.J.M. Mackenzie’s Cabinet Office history of SOE. Written originally in 1946, it was finally published in 2000.
The formal and responsible commemoration of SOE’s casualties is one of the Trust’sprincipal functions. It has funded, fully or in part, several major memorials. These include the French Section Memorial at Valençay in France and plaques at the sites of the former concentration camps of Buchenwald, Ravensbrück, Flossenbürg, Sachsenhausen, Gross-Rosen and Natzweiler.
The Trust also supports the commemoration of buildings and similar sites that have links to the history of wartime special forces. Recent grants have included support for plaques at former SOE training schools in Hertfordshire and the memorial plaque commemorating SOE’s wartime headquarters at 64 Baker Street, London.