As early as October, 1939, the Post Office and the Postal and Telegraph Censorship had discussed plans for an inland telephone censorship, together with the considerable range of systems of monitoring private and commercial calls that would be needed to implement a full-scale security operation for the civilian population of the United Kingdom.
The Unit was a constant headache to run. Calls came through continuously, and if the censor went missing – even to go to the washroom – that circuit had to be covered for her. Our supervisors were constantly on the phone to the Faraday operator checking which circuits were open, which were about to close, which had developed faults, how many staff there were to cover the terminals and generally seeing that all the circuits were working properly.
Ruth Ive’s The Woman who Censored Churchill is a fascinating insight into the work of a woman who ‘spent three and a half years listening to a terrible war being planned, organised and executed, listening in to the voices of Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and the major statesmen and characters of that era’. ‘The Unit’ here refers to the Postal and Telegraph Censorship which included the Transatlantic Radio Line, a top-secret link that was the only means of communication between Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt during the war. Ive’s job was to listen in to these communications, severing the line if anything was uttered that might compromise national security. In this excerpt, Ive writes evocatively of the Unit’s administrative complexities and its vulnerability to human fallibility. There are constant broken circuits and faults on the line; it was not, as Ive puts it with characteristic wry understatement, ‘an altogether satisfactory method of controlling security.’
by Ruth Charnock