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Colonel Britton and the "V-for-Victory" Campaign

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Article taken from 'Army Talks' magazine, vol. IV, No. 18, 16 September 1945.

V for Victory - Army Talks magazine

The "V-for-Victory" campaign began three years to the day before another famous invasion of Europe was launched. On 6 June 1941—Friday, 23:15 BST,—the first shot was fired in the "V-for-Victory" series, which continued for a year, and unquestionably aided during a very critical period in bolstering the morale of enslaved peoples in a score of occupied countries.

The originator of the idea—and also the voice at the mike—was Douglas Ritchie, later director of European broadcasting for the BBC. Not until after VE-Day was the secret of his identity revealed. For the purpose of his program he became Colonel Britton, the resonant, calm, assuring voice of Britain itself, talking to the tens of millions who were largely numb and dumb, sweating it out under the German heel.

The broadcast was identified with the Morse signal for the letter V, and the appropriate bar from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Each of Col. Britton's talks was concluded with the Morse V sounded on a tom-tom. It was not long before the sign was widely visualized. Either as the letter V, or with the dash and three dots, it was scrawled on the billboards and walls of Occupied Europe. It became a subtle form of sabotage, much to the annoyance of the Germans, who tried to laugh it off at first, but later made the marking or giving of the V sign a serious offense. Police officers and even serious Gestapo agents wasted time and energy chasing French, Dutch, Norwegian and other children who chalked V signs in prominent and ingenious places, or made the sign with their fingers.

Two Spread Fingers

Spreading the second and third fingers made a recognizable V sign, and this greeting threatened to rival the Heil Hitler. Winston Churchill took a Puckish delight in making the sign, and was frequently photographed with fingers appropriately spread.

The V broadcasts were evolved to serve a military and psychological purpose. They began during one of the darker hours of Europe's history, when it was felt that something not only dramatic but substantial must be done to show the peoples of Occupied Europe that they might legitimately have hope. Col. Britton addressed his secret audience as "the V Army." The campaign had three original objectives:

1. Britain, although alone except for the Empire, is still very much in the war. The war, in spite of what the Germans say, is still going on. It is planned to mobilize other Allies: you, the V army.

2. We can't be defeated—we and you—and working together we can win.

3. Directions will be given you of the V army, telling what you can do to join in the battle.

The strategic significance of the plan and its scope were pointed out: "You, our only Allies, number 200,000,000."

In addition to emphasis on vast numbers, it was stressed that no act, no "little" person, was too insignificant to be useful.

Col. Britton realized that many of his audience would be listening under difficult and dangerous conditions. The talks were brief— usually four to eight minutes— and all excess wordage was stripped out. They were specific, each message having a definite purpose that would not only provide summaries for his news-starved listeners, but also would include information which was intended to lead to action.

Prestige Appeal

At intervals the prestige of authority was invoked. "Big names" appeared on the program as guest speakers. Amongst those introduced by Col. Britton were Tsouderos, Prime Minister of the Greek Government-in-Exile; Edouard Belies, President of Czechoslovakia; Averell Harriman, later American ambassador to the USSR; Sir Stafford Cripps, member of British War Cabinet, and former British ambassador to the USSR; and Col. Llewellyn, British Minister of Aircraft Production.

One of the more effective and colorful variations of the broadcasts was the series which went under the name of the "Rat Campaign." The first of half a dozen "Rat Weeks" was inaugurated on 2 January 1942. Col. Britton quoted Churchill's statement:

"Particular punishment must be reserved for the quislings and the traitors. They will be handed over to the judgment of their fellow countrymen."

On this first broadcast to his V army for the new year, Col. Britton announced that he was going to name some of the "rats" which infested Europe:

"We know the leaders," he said, "we know Quisling, Mussert, Darlan, Degrelle, Pavelitch, Moravetz, Filov and the others. We must know the smaller traitors, those who do dishonor to the name of rat. They are playing a dangerous game, these people. More dangerous than some of them think."

The first name brought to the attention of the V army was that of the French turncoat who was featured on the Radio Stuttgart program:

"Mr. Ferdonnet, traitor of Stuttgart, are you listening? Do you think you're not known now that you've changed your name to Mouton? Do you think we were not watching, you when you drank a toast to 'Chancellor Hitler' at that dinner in Paris?"

A Belgian captain who had offered to "help" RAF officers escape, but had betrayed them to the Germans for 2,000 francs, was denounced.

A Rat takes a Tip

Another traitor, who had disclosed the hiding place of two British sailors, was introduced with the words, "And here's another rat for you." "His name is De Cuypere—d-e C-U-Y-P-E-R-E, and his address is Villa Vroegezonne, Avenue du Littoral, Le Zoete. De Cuypere will regret that he betrayed the sailors. I would like to remind him that twice in a week British forces have visited the coast of Norway in order to wipe out a German garrison.

"When they came away last Saturday, they brought back to Britain nine little quislings. Nine little rats like you, Mr. de Cuypere, who also live on the Coast. You'd better think about this. We've long arms as well as sharp eyes..."

This particular Belgian took the warning seriously. He left his comfortable villa on the Coast and moved inland.

A feeling of eerie discomfort must have resulted in many places as the "Rat Campaign" developed. In a later broadcast Col. Britton began:

"I'm going to give you the names of some more traitors and I'd suggest that you take a paper and pencil and make a note of them.

"I was going to ask you to put on your blacklists the name of Paringaux, chef du cabinet to the French Minister of the Interior, Mr. Pucheu. But, Paringaux has already learned that treachery is not so profitable as he thought it was, and his master, Pucheu, is very frightened. As you know, Paringaux was found a few days ago on a railway line, dead.

"Mr. Pucheu, you are right to feel nervous.- Quite right, Your name is high up on the list!"

On no occasion did Col. Britton say flatly that such an "un-British" act as assassination should be contemplated. He exercised the well-known British trait of understatement, and used effectively the art of suggestion. This implied no lack of vigor.

On occasions, Col. Britton devoted some of his attention to German commanders in occupied areas. Listeners were told facts about their "masters" which would show the folly of collaboration.

On 23 January 1942, the first part of the weekly talk concerned Alexander von Falkenhausen, German military commander in Belgium and the North of France as far as the Somme. Col. Britton said:

"This man plays a part. He pretends to be the nice and considerate general of 'the old school'. He. . . likes to spread the belief that, if only he and other 'nice' generals were in control, everything would be all right. I know that he has even made uncomplimentary remarks about Hitler when Belgians were present.

"Don't be deceived by this. Falkenhausen is only an agent provocateur. . . His amiability is a mask. It doesn't stop him from putting his signature under scores of death warrants. . . This man betrayed the German conservatives to the Nazis. He betrayed his fellow generals. He betrayed Chiang Kai-shek, who trusted him as a friend and adviser. Don't let him betray you!"

German officials in Denmark, Norway and Czechoslovakia, were similarly shown up in their true light by Col. Britton.

The Führer's Birthday

V for Victory - Army Talks magazine

On several occasions he quoted Churchill. Early in 1942 he gave a summary of the Prime Minister's three-point program for victory:

1. The first phase—consolidation and preparation.

2. The second phase—liberation of your countries.

3. The third phase—the assault on Germany.

Col. Britton frankly admitted that they were yet—January 1942— in the first phase. In this period he was content to poke bitter fun at the enemy, and to encourage only passive sabotage. When German soldiers were freezing to death in the USSR that Winter it was suggested that Hitler might get along better if he had "less intuition and more blankets.'' Another night listeners were told that Germans instead of getting Lebensraum were going to find Todesraum: not places where they could expand to live, but places of death.

Special instructions were given for the celebration of Hitler's 53rd birthday. The V army was told to do its best to make this birthday a holiday all over Europe, and specifically to do three things:

1. Stay away from work on Monday.

2. Write as many letters as you can and post them on Monday.

3. Make as many telephone calls as possible on Monday, and make a point of telephoning at exactly 5 o'clock in the evening.

"Do the little things that waste time and materials." That was the burden of message after message. The V army was told not to indulge in active sabotage—yet.


V for Victory publicised in a single issue of the Daily Sketch newspaper

In way of illustration of how the "V for Victory" symbol was publicised in wartime Britain, the above
four items appeared in a single edition of the Daily Sketch newspaper of 30 July 1941.
(Newspaper kindly supplied by the Historic Newspapers Archive)



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