The Firs, Whitchurch


When he was elected Prime Minister, Winston Churchill knew of the massive amount of red tape at the War Office and so to bypass this he appointed himself Minister of Defence and created department MD1 at The Firs in Whitchurch near Aylesbury.

The Firs was a country house, fortunately the second home of a patriotic Major and located 12 miles from Chequers. Churchill ensured MD1 remained under his direct control via Viscount Cherwell. As First Lord of the Treasury as well, Churchill could provide the necessary funds. Churchill, Cherwell and General Ismay (Churchill’s chief scientific and military advisors respectively) would protect MD1 from the Ministry of Supply and the Ordnance Board who were very suspicious and whose areas they encroached on.

MD1 was formed in 1939 under Lt-Col Joe Holland RE who brought in Millis Jefferis, an explosives expert, to develop weapons for irregular warfare. Jefferis brought in Stuart Macrae as his deputy. Most of the staff came from the London area and billeted in Whitchurch village. They produced the limpet mine that could be stuck to the underside of a ship.

During the phoney war, they also developed the floating mine for Operation Royal Marine which aimed to disrupt German shipping in their inland waterways. A total of 1,700 were eventually deployed destroying bridges and ships.

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