SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
One of the first acts by the British government after declaring war on Hitler was to create wide-ranging powers of censorship on virtually all aspects of civilian life. Press censorship and postal censorship, in particular, were directed to prevent contact with the enemy and to present the war in a favourable and patriotic light.
”During World War II the main protagonists, both Allies and Axis all instituted postal censorship of civil mails. The largest organisations were those of United Kingdom and the United States who each employed about 10,000 censor staff.
British censorship was mainly based in Aintree (near Liverpool) with nearly 20 other censor stations around the country. Additionally the British censored colonial and dominion mail in censor stations in the following places:
Dominions: Australia, Canada, Newfoundland, New Zealand, Southern Rhodesia (not a dominion but supervised by the Dominion office) and Union of South Africa
Colonies: Aden, Antigua, Ascension Island, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Ceylon, Cyprus, Dominica, Egypt, Falkland Islands, Fiji, Gambia, Gibraltar, Gilbert and Ellice Islands, Gold Coast, Gibraltar, Granada, British Guiana, British Honduras, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaya, Malta, Mauritius, Montserrat, New Hebrides, Nigeria, North Borneo, Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, Palestine, Penang, St. Helena, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent, Sarawak, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, British Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sudan, Tanganyika, Trinidad, Tonga, Uganda, Virgin Islands and Zanzibar.”
For the duration of World War II, no postal chess play was allowed between civilians and servicemen in Britain, as well as in the United States and Canada. Soldiers overseas were not allowed to play postal chess due to censorship restrictions. Even cross word puzzles were extracted lest they conceal some secret information within.
Yesterday on one of my favourite chess blogs in the world , Streatham & Brixton, there appeared the following entry that had appeared in the Daily Telegraph on October 6th, and reminds us all just how very real censorship was, and of the fine sense of British humour:
Ofcourse, regardless of how scary it may be to allow censorship be imposed with such zeal and fanaticism, one must admit that the notation used for the game of chess is very code-like in appearance. Even us experienced chess players often get confused when recording moves…
”During World War II intercepted communiqués called the Venona files were used to find a pattern of espionage and betrayal in the United States. One of the agents who was later arrested in 1944 was a chess player who’s cover name was Chess Knight. He was a KGB officer in Mexico City. VENONA first revealed the existence of Soviet espionage at Los Alamos…
After the war, Cold War spies in Germany sent postcards back to MI5 containing coded messages written in cryptic text base around a series of postal chess games. Gordon Thomas, historian for MI5 and MI6, said that chess moves were a common way of communicating during the Cold War. He also said the Russians in particular favored using chess as a method of communicating. It was their great national pastime and information would often be disguised as chess moves.
In a KGB handbook, a section described how to use chess moves when communicating. For example, one move could ascertain what was happening and another could give instructions. Agents would be trained to understand chess moves”