BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) in World War II

  • “The BBC assumed an immense new importance as the essential organ for both informing and entertaining the English people and their restless allies in occupied Europe.”  It was know for its “clever Morse code signal, V — for Victory.” During World War II, for instance, Allied forces used it to signal a victorious moment, as its rhythm—short, short, short, long—matched that of the letter V in Morse Code,  the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth SymphonyThe American Heritage Picture History of World War II by C.L. Sulzberger, American Heritage/Bonanza Books, New York,  1966, pg. 9 and 452.  (For a recording of the Fifth Symphony, click here.)


  • “The BBC had its own special war effort, broadcasting messages of hope and providing news for clandestine publications.  Apparently meaningless sentences heard on overseas programmes, such as ‘the cow will jump over the moon tonight’, were in fact prearranged signals to herald the arrival of a new agent from London or to convince a sympathetic foreign banker of the bona fides  of an agent in need of money.” History of World War II, editor AJP Taylor, compiled by SL Mayer, Octopus Books, 1974, pg. 174.


  • “To uninitiated Frenchmen the second half of a verse by Verlaine transmitted by the BBC at 2115 on Monday 5th June 1944 meant nothing.  But to the resistance, ‘Blessent mon coeur d’une languer monotone concealed a message they had longed to hear: more than three and a half million Allied troops were poised to invade and liberate France in one of the greatest amphibious operations in history.”  Taylor, op. cit., pg. 195.  See also “This is the poem the Allies used to signal the beginning of D-Day”.


  • “The BBC Foreign Service … first began broadcasting in Arabic, followed by a Latin American Service, both in 1938.  By September 1939, the European Service was broadcasting twelve hours a day in sixteen languages.  After the fall of Western Europe, several Allied governments-in-exile in London requested transmitting time from the BBC.  The first of these services, Radio Oranje, began on July 28, 1940, with Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands giving the opening message.”  The Library of Congress World War II Companion, edited and with an introduction by David M. Kennedy, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007, pg. 820.


  • “Weidner nevertheless told him to listen for the phrase “The flower is on the table” on the BBC the following Tuesday.  Aan de Stegge said he certainly would not risk arrest for such a frivolous reason.  With that, Weidner decided the priest was exactly the sort of overly careful man they needed.”  The Escape Line, How the Ordinary Heroes of Dutch-Paris Resisted the Nazi Occupation of Western Europe, by Megan Koreman, Oxford University Press, 2018, pg. 127.

See also:

References to the BBC Appearing in the AFEES Newsletter:

  • Obituary of Raymond Sherk: Ray returned to operations with the RCAF Squadron 401 in February 1944. On March 15, 1944, Ray’s Spitfire engine failed during a bomber escort mission over Northern France. He parachuted onto the Hawthorn Ridge, adjacent to the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial. With the help of nearby farmers, Ray was hidden in a haystack to evade German capture. He was sheltered by the French Resistance for 3 weeks, primarily in the village of Hébuterne, and then guided south by train. He was arrested in Amiens, but managed to slip away to catch a departing train. Ray walked the last 100 miles to the Spanish border, and found another guide to lead him over the Pyrenees. Once back in England, Ray sent a BBC radio message to his helpers: ‘The Sky is Blue’ signaling his safe return.”  “The Sky Is Blue”, Winter/November 2017, pg. 24-25.


  • WWII Memoirs: Mission 13: A Downed Pilot’s Escape from Occupied France, “The local Resistance took advantage of this situation and became the operators of the POW camp for the Germans and secretly used it to hide spies, saboteurs, and Frenchmen who were being conscripted to work in Germany. While there they would listen to the BBC. It was broadcast first in French then in English. Non-sensical messages were being sent to various resistance groups for example: ‘Susan likes blood pudding.,’ Messages about blood pudding referred to Schroeder.”  Pg. 3, listed under “Memoirs from WWII“.