The man who covered the end of the war

The German surrender in 1945 (Thomas Cadett)
The German surrender in 1945 was broadcast on the BBC by Thomas Cadett

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 joined the staff of the Times in 1924, eventually being sent to Paris in 1937. 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 did some 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.”  (click here to hear the broadcast)  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. 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.”