Thomas Cadett (7/6/1898 - 31/3/1982)
CLAIM TO FAME
Leading foreign correspondent for The Times and the BBC who covered the German surrender in 1945 and was the first reporter to broadcast from Hitler’s bunker in Berlin
As the Second World War ended in May 1945, millions tuned in to the BBC for the latest news and for reports from Berlin. The man they heard broadcasting from the ruined city was the corporation’s Paris correspondent, Thomas Cadett (2&3 South 1915).
Cadett went to Sandhurst after leaving Cranleigh in 1915 and served in France and Belgium with the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders, being wounded twice. He joined the staff of The Times in 1924 and undertook a number of foreign assignments including the start of the Spanish Civil War. In 1937 he was appointed chief correspondent in Paris, a prestigious role. In 1940 he was in the city as the German’s invaded, remaining at his post until their soldiers arrived in the suburbs. He buried his collection of porcelain figures in the garden of his flat, retrieving them four years later. On returning to England he undertook secret work for the Special Operations Executive before joining the BBC in 1944.
In 1945 he was back in Paris and he travelled to Rheims , which served as the advance headquarters of the supreme commander in Europe, General Dwight D Eisenhower, to watch the signing of the German surrender. He later said the signing was carried out “on a cold and businesslike basis.” After completing the formalities, he said General Gustav Jodl spoke to say the Germans had given themselves up “for better or worse into the victors’ hands”.
From there he flew to Berlin to cover the end of the war from there. He signed off a broadcast minutes after the official end of the war by saying: “Some of us admitted to a certain temptation to pity for the conquered, but each time memories from Warsaw and Buchenwald came crowding in – to bring the realisation that this was justice; that pity was a selfish and sentimental notion.”
His report from Hitler’s bunker helped fuel rumours Hitler may have escaped. “They found the half burned body of a man with a lock of black hair and a little black moustache. The (Russian) doctors came to the conclusion that it was a bad double of Hitler and not Hitler himself. If that is so, then there is no sign of Hitler himself.” In 1946 he covered the trial of Marshal Petin.
He became a highly respected reporter, and his prediction of General De Gaulle’s return to power in 1958 led to the BBC ignoring their rules of retirement until he eventually stepped down in 1963. “His despatches reflected, as well as a well-informed accuracy, an exceptional care for style and language learned in his days as a newspaper correspondent,” a colleague recalled. “Yet the despatches, like the author, could be racy and vigorous rather than grey and circumspect.”
He was made OBE in 1956 and CBE in 1962, he also received the Legion d’Honneur in 1965. He died in 1982 aged 83. In his obituary in The Times, Peter Raleigh wrote: “He possessed courage and gaiety of spirit, an elegant wit and a Rabelaisian sense of humour. He was a mentor and a friend to a long line of apprentice correspondents who received in Paris boundless kindness from him.”