Sunday, 17 July 2016

Hush Hush Houses (Night's Black Agents, Dracula Dossier)

During the Second World War, the Special Operations Executive, or SOE, took over a number of English country houses to use as training bases. Called Hush Hush Houses by some - the need for secrecy was so great that not even the owners were told to what use their homes would be put - these country bases were used to train agents in every aspect of espionage, from wireless and demolition to small scale raiding.

Ring would have been such a house once upon a time, and Dracula Dossier Directors will know that Ring may, or may not, be active today. However I want to talk about a different use for the Hush Hush Houses, and tangentially about Eric Sykes and William Fairburn, who I've mentioned before.

Briefly: Sykes and Fairburn had both been in the Shanghai Municipal Police before the war, where they tangled with professional kidnappers and violent, gun-happy criminals. Their experiences inspired the 'shoot to live' policy which they passed on to their policemen, and later the SOE recruits. Among their training techniques was the Mystery House, which has been described as:

'... fitted out to look like the interior of a Chinese lodging house occupied by armed criminals. A trainee trod on floorboards which gave way under him as he entered a dimly lit room occupied by apparently harmless people who varied from mere lodgers to dope-fiends or stool pigeons. He had to take in the situation in a flash. Firecrackers, confetti, sticks and other physical objects were thrown at him. Anything like deliberate aim is a sheer impossibility.'

The SAS adopted this technique in its Kill Houses, which follow roughly the same pattern. Military training all over the world uses similar techniques, the biggest difference between modern and Sykes & Fairburn's Mystery Houses being the use of video screens rather than actual targets, which probably helps to cut down on accidents.

Their training influenced the construction of other ranges, like the one near Inverlair, in Scotland. Scottish hunting lodges and stately homes were often requisitioned by the SOE because of their remote, secluded locations; the neighbors never knew what was going on. The Inverlair range was like this:

'...the students were shown an elaborate little village, which lay at the foot of a steep bluff. At the top of a cliff a soldier stood beside a set of levers which looked somewhat like those in a railway safety box. The village we were informed was full of Germans. It was our business to kill them all. We were given two Colt .45 automatics already loaded, and two spare clips of ammunition apiece. Then one by one we were sent to attack each house in turn. The door of the first house sprang open in response to a brisk kick, and the signalman went into action. The houses were fully furnished and fully occupied. No sooner had a dummy, impelled by wires, leaped out of bed to tackle the intruder and been shot for his pains, than a trapdoor opened, men emerged from beneath tables, bottles and chairs came hurtling disconcertingly at the Gunman's head. Pistols blazing, one dispatched, as one hoped, all the occupants of the first house, and dashed to the second, where a fresh set of hazards presented itself.'

What does this mean for Edom agents, and E Squadron?

Well, Edom's bound to have at least one Kill House site for CQB training. There's bound to be a degree of role play involved too; the agents have to be able to deal with unusual situations involving SBAs or their minions. If Edom has a captive and compliant SBA on its roster it might use that SBA in training exercises; otherwise a human asset with superlative Shrink and Interrogation pools could substitute. As one SOE agent recalled, post-mission, the most frightening moment was 'The mock interrogation at Beaulieu'; what would Edom, with all the Grand Guignol special effects at its disposal, not do to assess the operational quality of its agents?

With that in mind I present two possible Kill Houses, one dating to the War, another to the 1970s.

Glen Eagles is the code name for Pitfour House, a hunting lodge in the Grampians. Built in the Scottish Baronial style, this property was requisitioned by the SOE early in the war, and has remained in Government hands ever since. The property is remote and inaccessible; the best way in is by air, via helicopter. In its day it was a training ground first for Polish commandos and bag and burn experts, until Edom acquired it in 1940. There's plenty of evidence of the former occupants, from graffiti on the walls to the marks of hobnail boots on the floors, as well as the old explosive ordinance testing grounds.

Cool: While still on Edom's books officially, nobody's paid attention to Glen Eagles since the 1970s. This quietly crumbling edifice is home to bats, birds and rats now, keeping lonely watch over a forgotten part of Edom's history. Potential clues to the 1940 mission or a series of 1970s interrogations can be found here, but any important files have long since been transferred elsewhere. The fake French street built adjacent to Glen Eagles, with its wonky wire-operated targets, are all that's left of the Kill House. Some old remnants of Edom weapons tech circa 1940 are rotting away here, possibly even a live round or two for those who like playing with out-of-date potentially lethal explosives. Poachers sometimes come here, but are put off by the poor quality of the game; it's almost as if something's blighted the land.

Warm: The old sweats of E Squadron remember Glen Eagles fondly. It might look a relic but it's been carefully looked after over the years, like a well-oiled rifle. You don't get assignment to Proserpine without going through the Glen Eagles Hell Course first, a grueling shootout and CQB combat zone in which unmodified recruits go up against Jacked assailants as well as remote-control targets. You have to be able to tell the civilians apart from the targets; slip up, and it's back to your unit. To outsiders and Google this appears to be a privately owned outward bound hotel resort, but it's always booked up. Poachers are most definitely not encouraged, and the groundskeepers are very enthusiastic about keeping unwanted people off the property.

Brinkley is a 1970s urban brutalist build on the outskirts of Manchester. It's always been government owned but has housed a variety of government offices and schemes; currently its main tenant is MoneyForce, an organization whose purpose is to help armed forces members with money management. Anyone with Architectural or Military Science knowledge will wonder about those preternaturally thick walls and peculiar sightlines; its almost as if an iceberg settled in a suburban district, its deepest secrets hidden deep below the earth.

Cool: Edom last made use of Brinkley back in the 1980s, and didn't remove traces of its CQB or interrogation chambers. The grey bureaucrats who work here never bother about the peculiar smells that keep floating up from the depths of the building, beyond occasionally complaining to the facilities management team. Clues involving the 1970s mole hunt can be found here, possibly even a bolt hole kept by one of the 1970s people, looking for a place to store emergency supplies or evidence where nobody will bother to look for it. A Sealed Coffin (minor item only) or Cryptic Lockbox (probably minor, but you never know) may be found here.

Warm: MoneyForce may be the name on the lease, but it's a cover for Edom's state of the art Kill House, also known as Piccadilly for its eerily accurate reproduction of a city street, all underground. Just above Piccadilly are the interrogation chambers, where recruits in training get a first-hand taste of what might happen to them if they ever get caught by the opposition. E Squadron recruits getting their first taste of Serum always start with a run at Piccadilly, with live ammunition. There's also a laser bullet range for non-military Edom assets; E Squadron calls it the Kiddie Pool. Any non-Edom personnel found on site wins a one-way ticket to Proserpine; Edom had one very nasty scare in the 1990s, and since then has become paranoid about Piccadilly's operational security. If Edom has a compliant SBA on its asset roster, this SBA can often be found here engaging in one-on-one training; known as Hades, this involves a Piccadilly run with the SBA as the opponent.

That's it for now! Enjoy.

Note on sources: much of this material is based on information obtained from an Annual Soane Lecture publication, Country Houses and Secret Agents, by Marcus Binney.

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