Friday, July 15, 2011

THE CROSSWORD PANIC OF 1944

The place: St Andrew’s Auditorium, Bandra, Mumbai.

The Date: 1 May, 2011.

The event: The Landmark Quiz.

The question: What is common to WW II, Utah, Mulberry, Omaha, Leonard Dawe, Neptune and Overlord?

The auditorium being small, no spectators/audience was welcome: entry to the event was reserved exclusively for the participating teams numbering well over 100, consisting mostly of youngsters. We (my wife and I) got over the technical hitch by registering ourselves as a team and sneaked in. To give the credit where it is due, the idea was not ours: knowing our interest in the area, our son Gautam, who was a part of the corporate team, got us registered as a team. ‘If you do not get past the elimination round, you can sit back and enjoy the event,’ he said, his eyes twinkling.

The elimination was a through a written round. As the volunteers distributed the answer sheets, the quizmaster Dr Naveen Jayakumar said: Do not write an essay. All I am looking for is an operative word. If that word is present in your answer, you get credit; if not, you get zilch. Like, if the question is ‘What is the chemical in the blue diamond-shaped pills with the word of the manufacturer engraved on one side and the dose of that pill in milligrams on the other?’ I am looking for the word ‘Sildenafil Citrate’. Answers like ‘Viagra’ or ‘Pfizer’ or the condition it addresses are not valid.

The question ‘What is common to WW II, Utah, Mulberry, Omaha, Leonard Dawe, Neptune and Overlord?’ was part of that round. I quickly jotted down the answer. ‘How do you know?’ my wife whispered? I said, ‘Hush! Thereby hangs a tale.’

I had heard this interesting story in my schooldays but the minutiae had been swept away from my memory by the efflux of Time. The question brought it all back.

This happened during the days of the II World War. Though the newspapers consisted of only a few pages, they were at very popular because people were eager to know what was happening in other parts of the world.

But it wasn’t just the news that was people looked for in the daily newspapers; there were other matters of interest. Nearly all newspapers had crossword puzzles in them and they were very popular as they helped fill in the hours spent in constant fear of attacks or waiting for buses and trains.

The Daily Telegraph was one of the popular newspapers of the time. So was its crossword puzzle.

In January 1943, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin D Roosevelt met and agreed that the future of the war must include an invasion of northwest Europe or a ‘return to the Continent’. Churchill himself christened the assault: Operation Overlord it would be. After extensive research, it was decided that the sheltered Normandy coastline with its wide sandy beaches presented the best option for the surprise attack that was to be the D-Day landings. Planning for the invasion started almost immediately.

The US General Dwight D Eisenhower was made overall commander of Operation Overlord in December 1943, with the British hero General Bernard Law Montgomery assuming control of ground troops. It was in early May 1944 that Eisenhower decided that D-Day would fall on 5th June 1944.

A huge security blanket had been thrown over all aspects of the operation, including the place and exact date of the landings, in order to maximise the element of surprise and minimise casualties. One US major-general was even demoted and sent home for simply speculating at a cocktail party on the date of the invasion.

Some members of MI5, Britain’s counter-espionage service were whiling away their spare moments in May 1944 doing the Telegraph Crossword. They noticed that a clue was ‘One of the USA’ and the answer turned out to be Utah. The answer to another clue was Omaha. Two other answers that appeared in the series were Mulberry and Neptune. There was a clue about a ‘Big-Wig’ too.

What about it? Nothing, except that Utah and Omaha were the code-names given by the Allies to the beaches in Normandy where the American Forces were to land on D-Day. And Mulberry was the name of the floating harbour that was to be towed across the Channel to accommodate the supply ships of the invasion force. Neptune was the code-name for the naval support for the operation. And to cap it all, the answer to the clue that involved the word ‘Big-Wig’ was Overlord, the code-name given for the entire operation!

Imagine their consternation! The vital code-names that had been adopted to hide the mightiest sea-borne assault of all time had appeared in the crossword! Alarm bells rang throughout MI5. Was the crossword being used to tip off the enemy?

The needle of suspicion naturally pointed to the compiler of the crossword. It was a 54-year old teacher named Leonard Dawe. Two officers were sent immediately to Leatherhead in Surrey where he lived. Mr Dawe was known to be a disciplinarian and a man of extremely high principle. None could imagine that a person like him would be involved in such activity. But the officers could not leave anything to chance. Why, the officers demanded to know, had he chosen theses five words within his crossword solutions?

‘Why not?’ was Mr Dawe’s indignant reply. Was there a law against choosing whatever words he liked?

MI5 would have none of it. Mr Dawe had to go to extreme lengths to convince them that he had no knowledge of the coming D-Day invasion. The secret police eventually were convinced of Dawe’s honesty. His crossword solutions, it appeared, were perhaps just another of life’s astonishing coincidences!

Some fascinating facts were later revealed which indicate that the solutions were perhaps, after all, not simply astonishing coincidences! Mr Dawe had for some time been the Headmaster of Strand School. He used to compile crossword puzzles for the Daily Telegraph. It was often his practice to call in his students and pick their brains for words for inclusion in the puzzle. At that time the US Forces were liberally strewn through Surrey, particularly in the Epsom area. The boys heard these code-words being bandied about by the GIs and had innocently passed them on to their teacher.

So, now you know the answer to the quiz question.

3 comments:

anilkurup said...

Puzzling and interesting. Thanks for sharing the puzzle

Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri said...

Did that take you beyond the elimination round? It should have.

wannabewodehouse said...

No Santanu, we were nowhere in the reckoning. We discovered that the NextGen is much smarter (than we think we are!) However, the saving grace was the fact that we knew the answers to some of the questions in the finals. That we knew the answer to a tie-breaker was a feel-good factor!