John Norman Aldington

John Aldington [© National Portrait Gallery, London ]

Germany’s defeat in the Second World War left it vulnerable to foreign forces who took the opportunity to absorb the country’s intellectual assets.  The Soviet Union and the powers in the West were eager to secure research and technological innovations that they believed would give them the upper hand in what would become the Cold War. To deny this knowledge to the Soviet Union, the USA, and the United Kingdom sought to retrieve scientists, researchers, and the intelligence they possessed.

John Norman Aldington, an engineer from Lancashire who was an expert in fluorescent lamps, was used by the British Intelligence Objectives Sub-Committee (B.I.O.S) to gather German industrial intelligence within months of the war ending.

Aldington and team [IET Archive SC MSS 135]

In trip number 1531, fellow engineers Doctor L. Levy, S.A. Matthews, J.T. Anderson, and A.L. Randall, and Aldington were tasked with investigating the manufacture of fluorescent lamps and phosphor chemical in Germany. They visited factories and researchers to investigate the methods employed in German industries in the manufacture of fluorescent powders and luminescent chemicals, and pinpoint the factories were producing them. Aldington’s team also examined the reparation value of the manufacturing plants and the associated equipment, and if chemical elements such as Krypton and Xenon could be made available to the UK. Aldington’s investigation was ultimately successful although many of the targets were either destroyed by Allied bombing or had been claimed by the Soviet Union.

Ageing frames [IET Archive SC MSS 135 F51]

As part of the B.I.O.S Trip 1531, Aldington and his team took photographs of the factories they visited, the destruction of German towns they encountered, and the devastating reality of war.

Photographs showing the destruction of German towns [IET Archive SC MSS 135 F56]

Photographs showing the Belsen Concentration camp [IET Archive SC MSS 135 F56]

Aldington’s papers also give insight into the life of investigators in Germany. Like most British investigators in Berlin, Aldington stayed at the Hotel Savoy which was commandeered by the British as their headquarters as it was one of the few buildings in Berlin that remained intact.

The information sheet that was given to each guest at the Hotel Savoy outlined the bespoke service it provided where ‘Secret Documents, dispatch cases, and articles of value’ could be deposited in the Hotel’s safe, but ‘arms and ammunition’ were the sole responsibility of the guests.

Another reminder that the hotel was operating in the shadow of war was its stipulation that, due to rationing, the entertainment of visitors’ friends was restricted, and any profits made at the hotel were given back to regenerate the city in the form of Area Welfare funds.

Instructions for guests staying at the Hotel Savoy [IET Archive]

After the B.I.O.S trip, Aldington returned to Preston, England to resume his role as Assistant Works Manager at the Siemens Lamp Factory. His career flourished and in May 1948 he was promoted to Director of Research and Deputy Works Manager, Director of Company at Siemens Electric Lamps and Supplies Ltd. where he was responsible for all technical matters of the Company including research and control at Preston and technical matters at other Companies premises. Aldington also had a prominent civic role in Preston acting as Justice of the Peace.