Derwent Secret Pencil Kits
We have all at some point watched the James Bond spy movies with the thrills of the Aston Martin car chases and the intriguing spy gadgets supplied to Bond by Q. In 1942 there was a real ‘Q’ who is widely recognised as the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond quartermaster Q and his name was Charles Fraser Smith who worked for the Ministry of Supply, fabricating equipment for SEO (Special Operations Executives) operating in occupied Europe.
Ian Fleming encountered Charles Fraser Smith in his capacity at the Ministry of Supply when he worked for Naval Intelligence and for more information on this may I recommend David Porter’s book ‘The Man Who Was Q’.
The Cumberland Pencil Company (also known as Derwent) was one such company to assist Charles Fraser Smith in helping the war effort of World War II with Smith coming up with the ingenious idea of concealing a silk map of Germany within a pencil, and not only this but a compass too and thus the secret pencil kits was created.
Humble Pencil or Secret Pencil Kits
For most of us today the humble pencil is just that, something we use every day with little or no thought. But for Royal Air Force pilots in World War II and SEO operating in occupied Europe, certain secret pencil kits from the Cumberland Pencil Company could mean the difference between life and death.
Secret Pencil Kits where manufactured, in total secret and after normal working hours by the management of the pencil company. These secret pencil kits where supplied to the RAF pilots of WWII, when opened, snapped in half, they contained a miniature compass and silk maps of Germany. When you think about how innocuous a pencil actually is it makes great sense for it to contain secret information.
In 1942, Fred Tee, a manager at the Cumberland Pencil Company was contacted by British government official Charles Fraser-Smith to make special secret pencil kits for RAF pilots in case the pilots were shot down over enemy territory.
It was so top secret that only the managers were allowed to assemble the secret pencil kits at night after the factory had closed. It is only now with the passing of time and the Official Secrets Act that we now have access to this interesting information.
Each of the secret pencil kits was labelled with a series number to indicate the different area map hidden inside. Pencil 101 was the whole of Germany, and pencils 102 to 104 were for closer areas of occupied territory. The maps were made of silk so that they would not make a noise when opened.
Old Pencil Or Secret Pencil Kits ?
The kits were modelled on an old set of pencils to look as unsuspicious as possible. The four secret pencil sets were painted green and were the only war-time pencil to have paint on them, as paint itself was commandeered for the war effort.
Escape routes and safe houses were marked on the maps inside the secret pencil kits sent to British prisoners of war. These kits were smuggled to the POWs through the Red Cross, a neutral organization, which distributed the kits without ever knowing what they concealed. Because of the extreme secrecy dictated by the war effort, how many kits were made between 1942 and 1945 remains a mystery and no one knows how valuable these maybe today.
Should you find an old Derwent pencil in green, check before you use it as it could be a very rare wartime piece of memorabilia and very collectable.
No official records exist of the exact number of kits that were made or who made them—or that they were even made at all.
There is still to this day a controversy as to how the original workers at the Derwent factory managed to place the silk map inside the pencils, although it is believed they wrapped the silk map around a piece of wire and pushed this down the hollow centre of the pencil before putting the rubber mount on the atop of the pencil with the miniature compass.
Should you wish to see better quality photographs of the Derwent Pencil Museum and the secret pencil kits walk please visit Secret Pencil Kits on our Lake District Walks Flickr account.
For more information on the secret pencil kits visit the Derwent Pencil Museum which is detailed on the map below.
View Derwent Pencil Museum in a larger map
Should you wish to find out more about the secret pencil kits there is a fascinating display at the Derwent Pencil Museum in Keswick.