William Rose was one of the most versatile intelligence officers who brought his skills as a translator and his knowledge of psychoanalysis to Bletchley Park and the London Cage. As a scholar, editor, translator and a vigorous proponent of a new approach to German studies, Rose believed that the connection between literature and life should never be forgotten and so he pioneered the introduction of the psychoanalytical approach to the study of German literature.
The nature of Rose’s work as an intelligence officer was secret until many years after the war. According to official historians of British Intelligence, the intelligence produced at Bletchley shortened the war by two to four years, and without it, the outcome of the war would have been uncertain. In Helen Fry's book, The Walls have Ears, which explores intelligence operations that allowed the Allies to gain access to some of Hitler’s most closely guarded secrets; Fry reveals that William Rose was part of the clandestine unit at the Tower of London, performing secret bugging operations, and other more controversial activities, from its very inception in 1939.
Apart from this security service contribution to shortening the war, Rose was also actively involved in the Dunkirk evacuation. The letter from the Austrian Bohemian novelist Franz Werfel (1890–1945) refers to his heroism during the Miracle of Dunkirk.
This letter is exemplary for the warmth of the general correspondence between Rose and authors whose works he translated. Here, Werfel thanks Rose for his kind letter and refers to Rose’s part of the Dunkirk Evacuation which he considers as more heroic than his and Alma Mahler’s escape from the Nazis on foot over the Pyrenees "our experiences in the same time were less heroically but dangerous enough”. Werfel then goes on to ask Rose to translate his forthcoming novel and is (on verso) apologetic about his English language skills “Excuse please my terrible [e]nglish writing!”. His amazement over the tremendous success of the “The Song of Bernadette” despite its clumsy and stiff translation is palpable, as is the strength of his belief in Rose’s outstanding talent as a translator.