Press Pack - October 2003

The Truth Behind Foyle's War

The stories in Foyle's War are all inspired by historical truth. Big events, often from a unique and startling angle, are presented side by side with little-known and more surprising facts of life on the home front. Series Two begins in the autumn of 1940.

Fifty Ships is set in September 1940 and explores America's crucial co-operation with Britain and the beginning of Lend-Lease. It also encompasses the widespread problem of looting; and the landing of poorly equipped, ill-prepared German agents on the English Coast.

Throughout the spring and early summer of 1940, Germany had threatened to conquer all of Europe. Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and France had fallen, and the German Luftwaffe and Navy stepped up their attacks on Britain.

The Royal Navy was not equal to the task and Winston Churchill, desperate for destroyers, turned to the United States for aid. Following months of heated negotiations the US government eventually agreed to give Britain 50 ships in return for the right to lease land in various parts of the British Empire so that the US could build military bases. The agreement was officially completed with Britain on September 3, 1940.

Although these ancient ships were of little intrinsic value, what they symbolised was immense. The 50 rusting destroyers paved the way for America to aid Britain and other allied countries in their battle against the Nazis. Congress officially passed the Lend-Lease Act in 1941 and America ultimately provided $50 billion dollars in Lend-Lease during the war to many countries including the USSR, France and China.

As Fifty Ships shows, debate raged both sides of the Atlantic over whether or not America should come to Allied aid in this way. Finally, America was persuaded that it was in their own best interests - as well as those of democracy. Without this crucial American aid, it is unlikely that the Allies would have won the war.

The story that Sam tells Foyle about the bombed woman who regains consciousness only to find a policeman trying to steal her rings is a true one. At a time when many Britons were bravely laying down their lives for their country, such petty crime seems particularly disgraceful. A Coventry woman, for example, resisted tears when bombed out until she discovered that her small son's toys had been looted. 'I could hate the Germans,' she later remarked 'but I did not want to hate my own countrymen'.

Also in Fifty Ships, the discovery of the German spy, Hans Maier, is based on true accounts of German spies in Britain ill-prepared for the job ahead.

Among The Few explores the spread of organised crime, like fuel racketeering, which grew up as a result of the specific wartime situation, and touches on issues of sexual morality.

War Games explores the training of the Home Guard; the morally dubious 'neutrality' of the many large industrial conglomerates who continued to trade with the Nazis throughout the war, and the use of German exiles as spies by British Military intelligence, as well as the collection of salvage.

Set in October 1940, The Funk Hole explores the phenomenon of 'funk holes' or hotels that catered for long-term 'guests' in wartime - cowards who were essentially hiding from the war. It also looks at the London Blitz, army deserters and illegal food distribution including the black market trade in pet food.

The central story in this episode - the bombed school - is based on a true story. By mid October London was in the full grip of the Blitz. There are countless stories of Londoners' heroic efforts to carry on regardless of the bombs. In bombed streets, for example, postmen could still be seen conscientiously trying to deliver the mail at one heap of ruins after another. Large stores, such as John Lewis, also defied the bombs and stayed open.

But there were also countless tragedies and administrative failings that occurred in London. There was a public outcry, for example, over conditions in the largest public shelters, which were often without sanitation and even lighting. This eventually cost the Home Secretary, Sir John Anderson, his job.

Philip Ziegler in his book, London at War, describes how civil administration almost ceased to exist. The most notorious example was West Ham, where "hideous mistakes were made".

Says Ziegler: "The worst came when over a thousand homeless were crowded into a disused school. Blankets and a minimal amount of food were provided but the coaches intended to evacuate the fugitives were misdirected and never arrived. For two days they awaited rescue; the second night the school was hit and more than 450 were killed. Many of the councillors, meanwhile, had evacuated themselves..."

In the First World War the term 'Funk Hole' was used to denote a 'safe' bunker within the trenches - somewhere a man could 'hole up' if he was 'in a funk' or afraid. In the Second World War, however, the term also came to refer to the practice of richer citizens moving to hotels in safer areas of Britain for the duration of the war.

Although the government in 1939 had encouraged everyone to leave the cities if they could, within a few weeks criticism was being voiced against 'rich refugees'. At a time when young men were being called up there was certainly something distasteful about announcements in The Times headed 'ARP', which offered a farmhouse in Suffolk or a furnished cottage in the Chilterns.

As late as September 1940 the same paper still listed 'Sanctuary Hotels recommended by Ashley Courtenay…Torquay. You can sleep at the Grand Hotel for the drone of an aero engine is rare and sirens even more infrequent…. Queen's Hotel, Penzance…for a sense of security cannot be beaten'. In its editorial comments, however, The Times was much more scathing. In January 1941 it complained that 'the hotels are filled with well-to-do refugees who too often have fled from nothing. They sit and read and knit and eat and drink and get no nearer the war than the news they read in the papers.'

The speech that Jane Harrington delivers to Foyle when it is discovered that she has been buying 'under the counter' pet food for her dog, Charlie, is all based on truth. Cashing in on the legendary British love of their pets, some enterprising firms offered safe accommodation on farms for 'animal evacuees' - charging about ten shillings a week for a normal sized dog down to a penny a week for a budgerigar.

As food rationing was introduced, queues of dog-owners could regularly be seen outside pet-food shops, often with their pets standing patiently in line behind them. To make matters even worse for dog owners, much of the horsemeat intended for animals often ended up on the black-market. Though meat not intended for human consumption was supposed to be sprayed with a bright green dye, which both looked and smelled repellent, this was sometimes deliberately ignored and the meat ended up as prime restaurant steaks.

Tinned cat and dog food was even scarcer than fresh meat and dog biscuits too were hard to come by, encouraging many people to devise their own homemade dog biscuit recipes. Given the scarcity of proper food for them, many cats and dogs turned to 'petty crime' and there are tales from many families during the war who emerged from their air-raid shelters only to find that, in their absence, Rover had happily scoffed the Sunday roast!