Originally scheduled for release in November 2019 and then postponed again in February 2020, the 25th James Bond film ‘No Time To Die’ is finally going to be in cinemas here in the UK from next Thursday 30th September 2021, when Daniel Craig plays 007 for the fifth and final time.
We therefore thought it fitting to put a 007 spin on an assortment of WWII SOE Weaponry that is currently on display at the St. Ermin’s Hotel and is the only publicly accessible place in London closely associated with the history of espionage, particularly the British intelligence services through WWII and afterwards during the Cold War.
It all started back in July 1940, when Winston Churchill ordered an amalgam of two existing clandestine units known as SOE, which was the Special Operations Executive, to “set Europe ablaze” through the use of sabotage and subversion, most notably in western Europe.
Initially, SOE was based on the fourth floor of the St Ermin’s Hotel, which today gives the hotel an intriguing and rather glamorous history of espionage, double agents and WWII sabotage, and where you can now see a display of some of the actual original SOE equipment from the 1940s, which are on loan from the London Clandestine Warfare Collection.
The current display houses hidden weaponry, escape and evasion aids, ordnance and communications, from concealed radios to carrier pigeons. There is even an original FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) uniform, which was an all-female organisation originally formed in 1907 and active in both nursing and intelligence in the two world wars, and were involved as coders, trainers, forgers and of course agents in SOE. By the end of WWII over 3,000 FANYs had served in SOE.
Also on display at the hotel is an FP-45 Liberator Pistol, which was a cheap mass produced pistol, manufactured in the US as a single shot, close quarter gun supplied to resistance fighters in occupied territories. There were five extra rounds stored in the grip, and after it had been used, the idea was that the pistol was to be thrown away.
The Pilot’s Covert Brush is an ordinary looking cloths brush which conceals a small saw and compass underneath the handle. For the ladies, there was the Hairbrush Dagger, which was an innocent-looking hairbrush which concealed a lethal blade in the long handle.
Unlike today, a shirt and tie were everyday wear for men in the 1940s, and in the display, you can see a detachable collar which has a compass hidden in the stud button.
Chess sets were sent to POW camps throughout Word War II by MI9 and government department CT6, which housed a hidden map and compass to help prisoners escape their German captors.
For the purpose of our photo shoot, we chose a new Aston Martin Vantage Roadster and selected some of the other equipment that was also used during World War II. For example, the silver compact camera is very similar to the one used by Sean Connery in some of the early James Bond films. We have also seen a number of films in which Bond’s shaving kit contained something a little more lethal than a razor, and then there is of course a lighter that conceals a mini compass.
During the Cold War, the hotel’s Caxton Bar is where the renowned British ‘Cambridge Five’ double agents Burgess and MacLean regularly met their Russian counterparts. And during the Second World War it is where MI5, SIS and Naval Intelligence Division officers, including James Bond author Ian Fleming himself met their agents. It is also where Winston Churchill asked a group of brave individuals that were to become the SOE, to “set Europe ablaze” through counter insurgency against the Nazis.
Families staying at the St. Ermin’s can even immerse themselves in some of the hotel’s espionage links and history with the ‘Budding Bonds’ package, where children can test their own code breaking and observational skills in and around the hotel. They will even be rewarded with their very own shaken not stirred, non-alcoholic cocktail at the infamous Caxton Bar at the end of their endeavours.
Each child will receive their own Top Secret briefing pack at check-in, which contains confidential information on the hotel’s links to the intelligence community. A book of codes and tips will help them develop some spy skills, whilst a series of searching will test their observational and investigative skills. This will keep the kids occupied so that the parents can enjoy some “me time” together.
For more information on the St. Ermin’s Hotel, please visit: www.sterminshotel.co.uk and if you would like a taster of ‘No Time To Die’ then you can watch the trailer below where an array of Aston Martin’s past, present and future are featured, including the iconic DB5, which debuted in the 1964 film Goldfinger, and then subsequently appeared in Thunderball, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, Casino Royale, Skyfall and Spectre. Daniel Craig also drives the V8 Saloon which was first seen in the 1987 film The Living Daylights at the hands of Timothy Dalton. The new 00 agent Nomi, played by Lashana Lynch, drives Aston Martin’s flagship DBS Superleggera. And finally, Aston Martin’s revolutionary mid-engined sportscar the Valhalla, also makes a special appearance in the new film.
Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man On The Ground, a member of The British Guild of Travel Writers and professional photographer.
Photographs by Simon Burrell