The War Years for Agnes Bernelle
Agnes’ role in ‘Black Propaganda‘ Radio
When her father, who had fled to London in 1938, was asked if he knew of someone fluent in German who could broadcast for the American OSS (a forerunner of the CIA) at a ‘Black Propaganda‘ radio station he suggested his daughter. Agnes was 15 at the time.
She broadcast as ‘Vicky‘ and became the German Vera Lynn, her signature tune ‘A Smooth One’ familiar to thousands of German listeners.
The radio broadcasts were bounced over to Germany (perporting to be local to Germany, where foreign stations were illegal) and the main aim was to spread confusion and reduce morale among the German army, specifically targeting those aboard U-boats. The broadcasts also contained code messages, disguised as record labels and catalogue numbers, for resistance fighters.
Her biggest success was telling a U-boat captain his wife had given birth to twins; he had been without leave for 2 years and surrendered his boat to be with his wife. On another occasion she caused chaos in the German postal system by announcing that Hitler required all good citizens to send urine samples to the German Ministry of Health. The information broadcast was based on a huge file of gossip and personal details that had been collected from intercepted Prisoner of War correspondence, allowing her to display an intimate aquaintance with her ‘dear boys in blue’. Reportedly, Agnes excelled, her voice was so full of treacle no-one suspected her of duplicity, nor realised she had lost half her family to Nazi gas chambers.
“And now,” said Vicky at her most dulcet, “by special request of the comrade blockade-runners who are getting awfully bored down there in the Gironde Estuary while they await orders to sail, I am going to play a little selection of music from our brave allies in the East, a little foretaste for our comrades of many an Olarenschmaus (Ear feast) to come!”
This was followed by the most cacophonous jumble of Japanese and Chinese records to be found in the archives of His Master’s Voice. - Extract from Sefton Delmer’s book ‘Tail of a Tale”
Ironically, despite her wartime success, when she later applied for a job with the B.B.C. German Service she was told her voice was unsuitable for German audiences.