CAB 301, Cabinet Office: Cabinet Secretary's Miscellaneous Papers, 1936–1952

This series consists of miscellaneous unregistered papers originating in the Private Office of the Cabinet Secretary. They were gathered together for the personal use of the Cabinet Secretary in the exercise of his duties. In many cases, they represent his copy of departmental or committee papers on an issue either of Whitehall-wide interest, or of particular concern to the Cabinet Secretary in his central coordinating role. On important subjects, members of the Cabinet Secretariat would augment the correspondence with related papers for ease of consultation by the Cabinet Secretary.

This previously unsorted archive was collected piecemeal by successive Cabinet Secretaries. It begins with papers brought from HM Treasury to the Cabinet Office by Sir Edward Bridges, Cabinet Secretary from 1938 to 1946, when he took office. He then added to this nucleus, using the archive as a repository for papers that required restricted circulation and safekeeping. His successor as Cabinet Secretary, Sir Norman Brook, maintained this tradition. Because it was a confidential and unregistered collection, the records were never transferred to the central Cabinet Office registry. However, Lord Wilson, when Cabinet Secretary, set in train the process of sorting the archive and reviewing it for possible transfer to The National Archives, and it has continued under his successors.

The collection covers a wide range of subjects. The earlier papers in this series, relating principally to the Second World War, are concerned primarily with intelligence-related matters, particularly in relation to the use of the Secret Vote to fund wartime intelligence activities. Some issues in the collection were time-sensitive, with government ministers requiring confidentiality in advance of an important decision or development. One such example is a file relating to the Abdication of HM King Edward VIII. The file contains newspaper clippings reporting that Wallis Simpson had received death threats. Correspondence in the file deals with security precautions put in place to protect Mrs. Simpson. Later and more sensitive correspondence includes an instruction from Sir Horace Wilson, Neville Chamberlain's confidential adviser, to arrange interceptions of telephone communications between Buckingham Palace and Fort Belvedere, the country home of King Edward VIII, which became the scene of his 1936 abdication. The file also contains an instruction to the Postmaster General to detain and present for inspection two telegrams dated December 6 "both of which contain statements that the King has abdicated."[1] The abdication instrument was signed on December 10, 1936.

The war-time files in the collection relate to the organization and funding of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6); the Security Service (MI5), including the provision of secret funds for British diplomatic missions, the interrogation of prisoners, and the bribery of German supply vessels. One file (CAB 301/51) contains an influential report written by John Hanbury-Williams and Edward Playfair on the improvements or alterations required to enable the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to fully carry out the duties required under its charter.[2] The report conceded that SOE had built up something of a bad name, but considered that it was already improving and that its successes "amply justify the continuation of the organisation on its present lines."[3] Further files on SOE in this collection relate to special operations in Poland, activities in Africa, and the financing of secret weapons.

The series also contains a number of important files relating to signals intelligence and code-breaking. Examples include the construction of a new building at Bletchley Park and the development of a radio station, codenamed Hydra, located in a special training facility in Canada. Another file (CAB 301/77) discusses the role of the Radio Security Service (RSS) during the Second World War. The file includes an urgent request from Field Marshall Sir Archibald Wavell, the Commander-in-Chief of Indian forces, to establish an intercept station in India, and financial details of Aspidistra, a British relay station used for blank propaganda and deception purposes.

The post-war files in this collection are concerned primarily with the role and responsibilities of the intelligence agencies following the defeat of Germany and Japan. One of the most influential of these is the Report of Enquiry into the Secret Intelligence and Security Services, written by the Secretary to the Cabinet, Sir Norman Brook, in 1951. The enquiry was established due to the personal intervention of the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, following the arrest of the atomic spy Klaus Fuchs and the perceived weaknesses that this revealed in national security. The report noted that in the past the relations between the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service were far from satisfactory, with rivalry, jealousies, and mutual trespassing common. Brook was pleased to report that there was now a marked improvement, with relations between the two services closer and more cordial than ever before. The security of atomic energy raised concerns with the Director of Scientific Intelligence, who complained that it was "illogical and inconvenient"[4] that atomic energy should be the only branch of scientific activity that was excluded from his jurisdiction. To address this concern, Brook concluded that the JIC should ensure that adequate resources were applied to the collation of intelligence on atomic energy. The remainder of the files in this series deal with propaganda, Commonwealth defense, and the security of British missions overseas.


Dr. Stephen Twigge, Head of Modern Collections, The National Archives, UK

[1] CAB 301/101, Security matters relating to the Abdication of King Edward VIII; Secretary of State to the Postmaster General, December 6, 1936.

[2] John Hanbury-Williams was the Managing Director of Courtaulds and Director of the Bank of England; Edward Playfair was a senior official in HM Treasury.

[3] CAB 301/51, Hanbury Williams report on the Special Operations Executive (SOE), June 18, 1942.

[4] CAB 301/17, Report of Enquiry by Sir Norman Brook into the Secret Intelligence and Security Services, March 1951.

Cookies Notification

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Find out more.