Skip to main content

Soviet Spies Rendezvous in Blandford

It was almost two o’ clock in the morning when civil servant Harry Houghton said he turned his Renault Dauphine into Blandford’s Ham car park. In the car’s back seats were two Soviet intelligence agents. They had been put ashore just before midnight from a submarine or trawler at Church Ope Cove on Portland. Also known as Smugglers Cove, it had been chosen because of its seclusion and was out of the sight of coastguards. Harry had in the early hours parked in Blandford at some distance from the only other parked car. This was driven by a Soviet agent, known just as John. He had met John previously in a lay by between Puddletown and Blandford. The second parked car had a square of white paper in its window, a sign that Harry had been told to look out for. It could have been a spy movie scene set in Blandford Forum but Harry Houghton was no James Bond. He was a middle aged, heavy drinking clerical officer in Portland Naval Base having previously been a Royal Navy Senior NCO. However Harry Houghton had expensive lifestyle tastes which he financed by first spying for the Polish Security Services and then the Soviets.

Standing at the cliff top, Harry had guided the two spies ashore with two red lights. To identify himself with the agents, he had been told to ask: ‘Did you get any fish?’ to which they replied ’not at all.’ Harry had to respond, ‘what a pity!’ At the top of the cliff steps the two spies changed from wellingtons into the shoes they had carried around their necks and the Wellingtons were put into the boot of the Renault Dauphine. Harry had been instructed by the Russians not to ask his two car passengers any questions. If he had been questioned about the landings by the authorities, he had been told to say that he was just out for a walk.

In the pre-mobile phone age, Harry had been told to go to the Elm Tree Inn in Langton Herring to await an incoming telephone call confirming that the landing would go ahead. The receipt of certain advertising material through the post was a sign that he needed to go to the public house at a quarter to nine in the evening to await contact. The coded telephone message, ‘Be at Dorchester Station at …..’ would give him the precise time to switch on the two red landing lights. On the first night no one arrived and it was the second night that the two came ashore. When the Renault was leaving Portland with the two agents they were stopped on the causeway by a Police road block. To the occupants’ relief they were soon waived on their way. The Police were looking for a youth who had escaped from Portland Borstal. The men in uniform would never have believed that two of the three occupants were Russian spies who had just been landed from a submarine or trawler.

When the occupants were satisfied they were not being observed in the Blandford car park, the two spies were transferred to the second car. As he was about to drive away, Harry realised that he still had two pairs of wellingtons in his boot. So he took them out and gave them to his former passengers before he returned to Portland.

Harry Houghton says he later took part in a second landing of two more intelligence agents. However, this was at Lulworth and not Portland with the handover taking place at Ringwood rather than at Blandford. Later, he found out why nobody came ashore on the planned first night at Church Ope Cove. This was not only to test out the system but also to check out Harry’s reliability.

In January 1961 soon after the Lulworth landings Harry Houghton, together with his girlfriend ‘Bunty’ Gee, were arrested in London near Waterloo Station. At the Old Bailey they were sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment for spying.

(Source: Operation Portland by Harry Houghton.) 


Popular posts from this blog

Chimney Sweep Tragedy

Crown Hotel, Blandford is reckoned to be one of Dorset’s oldest hostelries. Yet its most tragic day, during a long history, must surely be when a young chimney sweep lost his life. The chimney sweep, who was just a child, suffocated and was burnt to death in a Crown Hotel chimney which had been alight a little while before. ‘His cries were dreadful and no-one could give assistance. Part of the chimney was taken down before he was got out.’ (Salisbury & Winchester Gazette 27th March 1780) The lad had gone up one chimney and attempting to go down another had become stuck. At the time children were used to climb up chimneys to clean out soot deposits. With hands and knees, they would shimmy up narrow dark flue spaces packed thick with soot and debris. After the 1731 Great Fire of Blandford it was realised that it was important to sweep chimneys regularly while many rebuilt houses had narrower ones. Smaller chimneys and complicated flues were a potential death trap for children. The sw

Murder at Gussage St Michael

Gussage St Michael is a quiet North Dorset village with a population of few more than a couple of hundred. Yet for several months in 1913, it made headlines across the world as far away as Australia and New Zealand. William Walter Burton, a rabbit catcher, was found guilty of murdering his lover, 24 year-old Winifred Mitchell and had buried her in a lonely wood. Winifred Mary Mitchell was 5ft 5 ins tall, dark haired and was employed as a cook. She was known as ‘ Winnie ’ and ‘cookie’ . Winnie wore false teeth that had been given to her by a former employer. On the 9 th August 1913, South Australia’s Adelaide Advertiser reported. ‘ In the annals of crime, there have been few murders so carefully planned and so ingeniously carried out and it will be remembered that the judge in passing sentence of death intimated that Burton was beyond human forgiveness.’ William Burton walked alone to the scaffold and was hanged at Dorchester Prison on the morning of Tuesday 24 th June 1913. 

Tarrant Rushton's Nuclear Secret

Tarrant Rushton was a large RAF base used for glider operations during World War II. It was then taken over by Flight Refuelling for the conversion of aircraft for the development of aircraft in-flight refuelling. However, between 1958 & 1965, the Tarrant Rushton airfield had a much more secretive and less publicised role. This was in support of the nation’s nuclear bomber deterrent, as Tarrant Rushton airfield became a QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) dispersal unit.   During 1958, contractors Costain reinforced the main runway and carried out other work to ensure the giant bomber aircraft could be accommodated. At times just a few miles from Blandford, there would have been up to four RAF Vickers Valiant bombers at Tarrant Rushton ready to become airborne in minutes charged with nuclear weapons. The bombers were from 148 Squadron at RAF Marham in Norfolk. As there was no suitable accommodation at the airfield, an old US Air Force Hospital building at Martin was used. At the time, the