The date is late June or early July 1944, somewhere in the French countryside. The Germans are falling back under heavy fire from the R.A.F and artillery of XXX Corps. One of the ‘Y' sections (whose tasks included studying the external features of enciphered enemy wireless signals, known as Traffic Analysis, and deciphering low-grade codes) was seeking a new location for intercept and Direction Finding, which had to be as near the front line as possible to help locate the German positions. They came across a large Chateau high on a hillside, which had been left in a rush by the Germans who had been in residence for many months.
Due to their close proximity to the front line, and the fact that they frequently moved into recently vacated enemy positions, members of ‘Y' Service suffered quite significant casualties, especially in the Western Desert, where Rommel's troops either realised or had been told that all high ground vacated by German troops was likely to be used by British Electronic Warfare units. This ground was subsequently frequently mined. They also fell foul of a variety of more and more sophisticated booby traps.
After checking that the chateau was actually clear of Germans, and safe they set up their equipment and got into their shift routine. The operators not actually on shift then began to explore the upper rooms of their new home to find the best places to sleep.
The chateau had evidently been occupied and hastily abandoned by a German General and his staff or a very senior officer as the wardrobes of the master bedroom were full of dress and working dress uniforms, hats and boots, the signallers and RASC drivers rooted through the abandoned trappings of Nazi splendour for a nice souvenir for the ‘folks back home'.
Sometime during this treasure hunt, one of the group called out to the others to come and see what the ‘heck' he had found. As the others joined him in the officer's bedroom he was just dragging a strongbox out of the bottom of the wardrobe onto the bed. As he opened the strongbox everyone gasped. It was full of still banded wads of US dollar bills, all brand new. As they picked up wads of the bills everyone was talking at once about how they would be rich after the soon-to-be-over war and how he would spend his share!
The commotion brought the unwelcome attention of the young section officer to see what was going on. At first he too looked at the thousands of dollars and must have thought his boat had come in. However, as he examined one of the notes a look of disappointment spread across his face: “What's wrong, Sir?" asked one of the operators.
“You know what this is?” said the young Lieutenant. Thinking that he was considering the legal position, the laws on ‘looting' and their ‘duty' to hand the money to the Allied authorities, the group pleaded that after all they had been through – who would know, so why not…..
“No”, said the knowledgeable young officer “don't you see, this is the stuff we have been told about, “the Germans have made millions of pounds worth of counterfeit notes. British and foreign which were to be used to flood the Allied economy, or for use in financing fifth columnists behind our lines. It's fake – counterfeit!”
Sadly and reluctantly the lads dejectedly threw their bundles of money, back into the strongbox. But the rest of the evening was spent clowning with the money, just like in the movies; they lit the fire with about one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, lit cigarettes, made paper aeroplanes and even just threw it in the air.
In the early hours of the following morning the orders came to move forward so as to keep the enemy units in range of their receiving equipment. As one of the lads packed up his kit to move, he thought that it would be interesting to take some examples of the notes, for a keepsake.
That was the end of the story for over forty years. Then in the early eighty's the lad who had picked up souvenirs of the counterfeit notes met a friend who was a collector of bank notes. He then told him the story of the German counterfeit money and his friend told him that he should have kept some, as it was now very collectable.
“I did,do you really think it could be worth something? His friend asked him to ‘dig' out the notes out and he would take them to a big dealer he regularly visited and trusted and have them valued. A week or so later his friend met him again to tell him the news.
‘Well?” “He asked are they worth anything” Yes, said his friend taking out the notes; he placed the five dollar note on the table, this one, for instance, is worth five dollars. He took out a ten, and this one is worth ten dollars. He took out the twenty this one is worth twenty dollars!
Suddenly the penny dropped. “You mean to tell me…” “Yes,” said his friend “They are all genuine!”
He thinks that there must have been hundreds of thousands of dollars in the strong box, if not millions….
Maybe the soldiers who next occupied the chateau didn't have such a “knowledgeable” officer with them and are presently living in luxury somewhere in the world…. He often wondered what might have been, but lived a long and happy life as a ‘poor man' he said that he was just happy to have survived the war when so many on all sides didn't. He could live the rest of his life without being rich!