SOE memorial London

What was the SOE? We investigate one very special spy school…

Who or what was the SOE? What was the SOE’s mission and where was the SOE based? All these and other mysteries will be solved by this blog. You’re entering a murky world of ‘ungentlemanly warfare’ and spying, so only read on if you dare…

What was the SOE?

SOE stands for Special Operations Executive. It was Winston Churchill’s ‘underground army’ created to wage a secret war against Hitler during World War Two. It was all about sabotage and subversion behind enemy lines.

When was the SOE formed?

On the 16th July 1940, Churchill gave the go-ahead for the Special Operations Executive to be formed. By November 1940, the SOE was recruiting men and women using two flats on Baker Street in London as its incongruous headquarters.

SOE women

The SOE featured as many women agents as men – and all to create chaos in occupied territories!

Who became SOE agents?

People from all walks of life were recruited to be SOE members, with equal numbers of men and women. If you were going to be carrying underhand missions behind enemy lines, you had to fit in. So, for example, those recruited to SOE (F) Section had to speak fluent French, as they’d be on missions in occupied France.

What skills did you need to have as an SOE spy?

New recruits went to SOE training centres that were set up in requisitioned properties around the country to learn the vital skills to be an efficient SOE operative. Churchill’s renegades needed to be masters of disguise, adept at sabotage and subterfuge and be skilled at manipulating propaganda too.

So what sort of things would the SOE do?

Blowing up railway bridges with pencil charges hidden in rats. Get out of handcuffs using wire and a diary pencil. Secretly deflate vehicle tyres. Kill someone with bare hands. Surreptitiously derail a train. These were all the sorts of tactics the SOE learnt to carry out Churchill’s command to ’set Europe ablaze’.

SOE kit list

What was the essential kit list for an SOE agent?

Did the SOE agents have James Bond-style secret weapons?

Yes! In fact there was a whole department dedicated to inventing and producing gadgets for SOE agents. Everything from suitcase radios, to keys with hidden compartments to put tiny microfiches in were used. No SOE agent would head out into the field without their sleeve dagger, hat pin weapon or their silent Welrod pistol.

Where was the SOE based?

In classic spy style, the SOE was everywhere and anywhere. From the Highlands to the southern coast, the SOE commandeered residences to become training centres and section headquarters for the SOE. As the war continued, operations expanded beyond occupied Europe to south east Asia.

Do we know who any of the SOE actually were?

Although at the time the general public knew very little about the SOE, we now know a lot about the 13,000 or so recruits who worked for the SOE. Stories like that of Violette Szabo who was captured and executed on her second mission and was posthumously awarded the George Cross. Or Forest Yeo-Thomas, who used his fluency in French and English to become a master of disguise and despite being captured several times, survived the war. And incidentally, Ian Fleming was fascinating by Yeo-Thomas’s exploits and it’s widely thought he was the inspiration for Fleming’s James Bond.

Life expectancy out on the field was just six weeks and many of the operatives were captured, tortured or killed during their missions. There’s a memorial to the Special Operations Executive on Albert Embankment in London to remember the courage of the SOE during WW2.

Is the SOE still going?

Churchill’s Special Operations Executive was disbanded in January 1946. However, there is a quiet corner of Swansea were the SOE is still very much alive and well…

The SOE spy school carries out re-enactments and offers SOE experiences too. Get your story straight, a new identity with some false ID and a codename and become part of this daring brigade of men and women, as you relive life as an SOE operative in occupied France in WW2.

SOE spy school

Become an SOE agent in occupied France for the day when you enrol at SOE spy school in Swansea

fine weather fishing

What’s the best weather for fishing? Rain or shine, windy or overcast?

You’re itching to get out to your fave spot on the banks of the river, but what’s the best weather for fishing? It seems our scaly friends are highly attuned to changes in the weather, so whether you go angling in the rain or in the heat of the midday sun can affect your likelihood of bringing home the fish for supper. Here’s our quick guide to the best weather for fishing in.

Fishing when raining:

You might not be up for sitting in waterproofs on a soggy river bank, but during and just after the rain there are lots of flies flying around the surface of the water and this attracts the fish. Rain on the water can also literally stir things up, so fish move nearer to the surface to make the most of any organic matter that has run into the water during the rain.

Fishing when it’s hot:

Fish get hot and bothered just like the rest of us in the midday heat. When the sun is beating down on your favourite beat, the fish are more than likely retreating to lower depths to be in the cooler waters. Of course, it’s lovely weather for anglers to be out in, so see if you can find a peg that’s under the shade of an overhanging tree, as this is the best place for fishing in bright sunlight.

catching fish

Are you more likely to land a beauty like this if you fish when it’s hot or when it’s cold?

Fishing when it’s cold

One thing’s for certain; the cold winter months keep most anglers away, as conditions can be rather uncomfortable out there to say the least. If you’re hardy and determined with the right equipment, your efforts can be well-rewarded by fishing in winter – but it’s not easy. The fish are generally lazier when it comes to feeding and you’ll need to pick your spot and time of day carefully. The best time of day to go is between 10am and 4pm when the water is warming a little.

Fishing when it’s full moon:

Some anglers swear by fishing at full moon, other say catches are lessened during a full moon. Could it be that the brighter moonlight at full moon makes fish more active as it’s light like in daytime? Other fish (such as eels) that don’t like light will be even harder to fish at a full moon as they retreat even deeper. Of course, in many places fishing isn’t allowed at night anyway, so the question becomes hypothetical!

fish in dark water

Will fishing at full moon send the fish to hide in the depths or will you get a bite?

Fishing when overcast

Conversely to fishing on a sunny day, an overcast one can be ideal for anglers keen to reel in a few Bass, for example. They love gloomier conditions and so will come to the surface and swim further when it’s a cloudy day than when it’s bright sunshine.

Fishing when windy

Wind from the east, fish bite least
Wind from the west, fish bite best
Wind from the north, few sailors set forth
Wind from the south blows bait in their mouth

Is the old ‘Wind from the east, fish bite least’ fishing proverb true? Well, it’s not the wind itself that makes the fish bite or not, but more about the effect of the wind on the water. If it’s a cold biting wind from the east fish might be less active in cold, windblown waters. But let’s face it, whichever the direction the wind is coming from, it’s not the most agreeable of weather to go out fishing in is it?

So what IS the best weather to fish in?

Sun, cloud, rain and wind apart, fish are very sensitive to changes in pressure. The best advice for anglers wanting to know the best weather to fish in is to keep and eye on your barometer. The best time for fishing is just before a cold front/storm moves in – fish are very active in the period of low pressure that precedes such a weather front. Conversely they are very lethargic after!

But you can still go fishing in all sorts of weather. You just need to know what bait to use and where to fish. Whether you’re a beginner or an accomplished fisherman or woman, you can always learn from the experience of an expert angler. That’s why we’ve got fly fishing and sea fishing lessons and experiences at waters around the country to help you improve your chances of a good catch, whatever the weather.


The 10 quirkiest questions people ask Google about beer

The 15th June 2018 is Beer Day Britain, so to toast this hop-tastic of days, we’ve come up with a list of the 10 quirkiest questions people ask Google about beer. And yes, hard as it is to believe, these are actual popular searches that actual people have actually tapped into Google. Who’d have thought it. Sit back, crack open a nice cool beer and marvel at how peoples’ brains work…

1. Will beer explode in checked luggage?

Taking beer on a plane is never going to be a great idea, especially when it’s in glass bottles. Of course, security rules mean it’s tricky to take beer with you on the plane in the cabin. As for putting beers in your checked in suitcase, it can be done and normally they won’t explode, as the hold is pressurised (but not usually heated), but we wouldn’t recommend it. And you’ll have to wrap them up well to avoid them being broken!

2. Will beer kills plants?

Some say yes, beer does kill plants as the yeast in it encourages fungi to grow. Other say no, pouring a bit of flat beer into your plant pot will actually help plants grow, as it kills pests and fungi. We can only say you’ll have to try it and see for yourself, but we’re not convinced either way.

beer pong

Is there any student in the world who hasn’t played Beer Pong? Google still doesn’t really know who invented it though!

3. Who invented beer pong?

The college and university students’ game of choice in halls and residences around the world. We have no idea who invented beer pong and neither does anyone else (even Google!). One thing we know is that, as long as beer exists, the tradition of drinking games will probably never go away.

4. Will beer help constipation?

Yes, in theory! Beer is made from things like barley, which is a source of fibre and it’s fibre that…erm…gets things moving in your digestive tract. In it’s soluble form, the fibre in beer might only be 0,75g per bottle, so you’re still better off drinking prune juice for your bowel movements. Sorry if you’re having your tea whilst reading this.

5. Can beer get you drunk?

Surely this is obvious? The more beer you drink, the more wobbly you’ll feel and that means you are drunk. It’s really not rocket science is it? Why would anyone need to Google if beer gets you drunk? Or are we missing something?

6. Why beer belly

‘Why beer belly’ what? What’s the thinking here? Typing this into Google sounds like the cry of frustrated guys with ‘Dad bods’ wanting to find magical solutions to the fact that the six-pack of their youth has tuned into the paunch of middle age. Unfortunately there isn’t one!

beer can

You asked Google if beer cans are lined with plastic…they are and here’s why.

7. Are beer cans lined with plastic?

Now this is a actually a very valid question. When we looked into whether beer cans were lined with plastic, it seems they are. Using tins rather than bottles better protects the beer from sunlight and being smashed, as well as being lighter. Problem is, a polymer coating called Bisphenol A (BPA) is used to line the cans in order to avoid a ’tinny’ taste to the beer. And many believe this material is pretty toxic, despite assurances by both the UK and European Food Standards agencies.

8. Why beer is better than wine

When it comes to deciding if beer is better than wine, it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other, as our Mum would say. Are you talking about taste, price, tipsiness or hangover? So many variables, so let’s just live and let live with both wine and beer!

9. How beer goggles work

This one made us laugh out loud. It’s pretty easy to get your very own pair of beer goggles and contrary to popular belief there are both men’s and women’s models available. Simply consume excess beer and suddenly they’ll appear. At this moment it’s best to hop in a taxi (or your Shandy Scooter) and make your way home before there’s trouble.

10. Why beer is better than men

Cue lots of quips about it being a whole lot easier to find a good beer than a good man, the fact that beer doesn’t leave the toilet seat up or snore and you get the idea of what Google thinks about this question!

So there you have it. The 10 quirkiest questions Google has been asked about beer. We think it’s time to stop typing odd stuff about beer into your search engine and learn something useful about beer instead. How about a visit to a brewery? We’re sure they won’t mind if you ask whether plants like their beer…

beer questions on a brewery visit

Book yourself in for a brewery visit and you can ask an expert brewer all your beer questions!