Churchill's secret army lived on

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Files released this autumn at the National Archives in Kew include one dossier showing how the Special Operations Executive - Churchill's "secret army" - was not disbanded at the end of the Second World War, as is commonly thought.

Instead, nearly 300 agents were brought into the Secret Intelligence Service - later MI6.

Officially SOE, the organisation set up to run resistance in occupied countries, was "liquidated" in January 1946.

SOE operatives were trained in all aspects of clandestine operations. They organised sabotage, guerrilla actions, black propaganda operations and financial warfare. They were active in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

SOE researchers had perfected secret communications and even developed weapons such as exploding rats.

Training schools, like the one at Beaulieu in Hampshire, taught agents all manner of spy techniques, including how to kill an opponent with their bare hands.

When peace came, some in Churchill's government argued that SOE could have a valuable role. Lord Selborne, the minister responsible, suggested it could be used to run clandestine operations in communist Europe and elsewhere. But the incoming Labour Government was less enthusiastic. It was Clement Attlee who oversaw its demise.

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