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Yolande Unternahrer was born in Paris, France, in 1911. Her father, Jacob Unternahrer, was a businessman, moved the family to London and Yolande was educated at Hampstead Heath. She also spent time in Switzerland, and by the time she finished her education could speak English, French and German fluently.
On the outbreak of the Second World War she joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) where she trained as a wireless operator. She worked at several Royal Air Force fighter command stations, before joining the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in February 1943.
In August 1943 she married Jaap Beekman, a sergeant in the Dutch Army. The following month, on 18th September, she was landed in Tours and went to work as a radio operator for Gustave Bieler, the head of the Musician Network at St. Quentin.
In January 1944, Yolande and Bieler were arrested while together at the Café Moulin Brulé. Bieler was shot soon after by the Schutz Staffeinel (SS) at Fossenburg. Yolande was interrogated by the Gestapo before being transferred to Fresnes Prison.
On 13th May 1944 the Germans transported Yolande and seven other SOE agents, Eliane Plewman, Madeleine Damerment, Odette Sansom, Diana Rowden, Vera Leigh, Andrée Borrel and Sonya Olschanezky to Nazi Germany. Yolande Beekman was executed at Dachau in September, 1944.
I was responsible for recruiting women for the work, in the face of a good deal of opposition, I may say, from the powers that be. In my view, women were very much better than men for the work. Women, as you must know, have a far greater capacity for cool and lonely courage than men. Men usually want a mate with them. Men don't work alone, their lives tend to be always in company with other men. There was opposition from most quarters until it went up to Churchill, whom I had met before the war. He growled at me, "What are you doing?" I told him and he said, "I see you are using women to do this," and I said, "Yes, don't you think it is a very sensible thing to do?" and he said, "Yes, good luck to you'" That was my authority!
Gustave Bieler asked for a tough assignment, and he was right, for by reason of his size alone, he would have been conspicuous in, say, Toulouse or Paris, and the tough areas were in the north and east of France. We settled on St. Quentin, for we knew of a group of patriots there who were anxious for liaison
with London, and St. Quentin seemed likely to develop into a key town for German railway and canal communications.
The next thing to decide was the composition of the team. Bieler had such an outstanding personality that it was difficult to find a suitable partner for him. After a good deal of thought, we decided on Yolande, a girl of Swiss extraction sent to us by the W.A.A.F. Her French was perfect - the touch of Swiss accent was a positive advantage, as it diverted attention from her rather typically English appearance. She was very quiet and homely - she had gained immense popularity at the wireless school by taking over unofficially the duties of darner of socks for the men-and her unruffled cheerfulness and good humour were a great asset. She quickly developed an easy camaraderie with Bieler which promised well for their future work.
Bieler had towards all the women engaged in our work a kind of amused tolerance which some might have faintly resented. But Yolande took his attitude without offence, and her very unaffectedness and simplicity evoked his esteem and admiration.
We travelled from Paris to Germany together. We did not know each other before. We all did our training at different times, we all went to France at different times. I had never seen the others at Fresnes, although I heard the voice of one of them once. They were not in a solitary cell like mine and they were able to communicate a little with people outside through the top of their windows. We met for the first time in
the Avenue Foch.
It was a lovely hot day, a beautiful day. And the Avenue Foch is beautiful, and the house where we were was a beautiful house. I remember little things. One of the girls had a lipstick and we all used it, passed it around and put it on. It was quite a treat. We were young women, after all. And we talked and talked and talked, of course. We talked about when we were captured, and what this one thought about it, what that other one had to say about it. I remember what one of them said because I had the same feelings. She and I, we had a feeling that something had been wrong. The others thought they had been captured because of the work they were doing or the people they were with. She had the feeling, because she had been arrested as soon as she arrived in France, that there was an informant. And I did too.
We were all young, we were all different, but we all had the feeling in the beginning that we were going to be - helpful. That was why we went into it. And to have impressed the people around them as they did is almost enough. They impressed everyone - the Germans, their guards. They behaved extremely well, those women.
Everybody tried to be a little braver than they felt. All of us had a moment of weakness, we did all cry together at one moment, there were a few tears, but after all it was a lovely spring day in Paris. Riding in the van from the Avenue Foch to the station we could get a glimpse of what was going on in Paris, people sitting on the terraces of cafes drinking their ersatz coffee or whatever. I was looking forward to the trip. I had spent a year alone in my cell and I thought. Now I am going to be with these other women.
On the train we were handcuffed, each one of us handcuffed to somebody else, so we were not free to move around or anything, but we did not look absolutely miserable. No, we made the best of it. I remember one of them even asked a guard for a cigarette, and he gave her one.
We were frightened deep down, all of us. We were wondering what was the next thing, a normal thing to ask yourself in those circumstances. Were we going straight to our death, were we going to a camp, were we going to a prison, were we going to - what? We couldn't not think of those things. Our only hope was maybe to be together somewhere.
Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story
I am pretty sure most of the readers have never heard of this story and this remarkable woman. Just by random, I stumbled over this most interesting WWII drama, which is also new to me.
Noor Inayat Khan was the daughter of a spiritual teacher from India, Hazrat Inayat Khan, and his American wife, Ora Ray Baker. After Noor’s birth in Moscow in 1914, the family moved first to England and then to Paris, where she was raised.
In 1940, the Nazis invaded France, and twenty-five-year-old Noor fled with her family to England. There she joined Britain’s Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and trained as a wireless operator. In early 1943, she began her assignment as a covert agent, joining Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive (SOE). The SOE worked with the French resistance fighters to sabotage industry and railroads in preparation for the D-Day invasions, after which they would co-ordinate attacks on the German army behind enemy lines, tying down troops and diverting the Germans from the invading Allied forces. From Paris, Noor Inayat Khan secretly transmitted critical information back to Britain.
In the next four months, she was often the only link between the U.K. and the French Resistance. She was pursued by the Gestapo and finally betrayed by French collaborators. The Nazis arrested her and imprisoned her in Paris, where she fought back against her captors and escaped twice.
On 11 September 1944, Inayat Khan and three other SOE agents from Karlsruhe prison, Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman, and Madeleine Damerment, were moved to the Dachau Concentration Camp. In the early morning hours of 13 September 1944, the four women were executed by a shot to the back of the head. Their bodies were immediately burned in the crematorium. An anonymous Dutch prisoner, who emerged in 1958, contended that Inayat Khan was cruelly beaten by a high-ranking SS officer named Wilhelm Ruppert before being shot from behind the beating may have been the actual cause of her death. She may also have been sexually assaulted while in custody. Her last word has been recorded as, “Liberté.” The British and French subsequently awarded her their highest civilian honors. There are books and a movie about her life.
Enemy of the Reich: A Muslim Woman Defies the Nazis In WW II Paris
(© 2013–2015 Unity Productions Foundation)
Who was Eliane Plewman?
Eliane Plewman was born in Marseille, France, but moved to Leicester as a child and was working in a fabric exporting company at the outbreak of the Second World War.
Ms Plewman married Tom Plewman, an officer in the Royal Artillery, after a whirlwind romance in 1942.
With a Spanish mother, she used her language skills to work for the Ministry of Information, from where she signed up for the Special Operations Executive.
After completing her gruelling field training, where she learnt hand-to-hand combat and to handle explosives, she was parachuted behind enemy lines into the Jura region of France on August 14, 1943.
Here, she provided communications link between groups of saboteurs and intelligence gathering agents.
During one daring mission, the agent evaded German patrols to lay explosives under a railway line.
When they exploded, 30 locomotives were put out of service, hampering the enemy's attempts to move troops and supplies by rail.
She was arrested at a safe house in Marseille on or around March 23, 1944, when it was raided by the Gestapo.
She was imprisoned and tortured at Fresnes prison in France and then transferred to Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria, Germany.
She was executed aged 26 on September 13, 1944.
Major General Colin Gubbins recommended Eliane Plewman for an MBE but as the award does not allow posthumous awards she was awarded the Croix de Guerre and Kings Commendation for Brave Conduct instead.
The elite group, who were famously ordered them to 'set Europe ablaze' by Sir Winston Churchill, were tasked with using sneaky espionage tactics in order to operate in every enemy-controlled nation in Europe and south-east Asia.
The primary mission of the SOE was to aid resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Europe by any means possible.
They were made up of a number of independent resistance groups established in France.
In August 1943, the secret agent parachuted out of a Handley Page Halifax bomber aircraft behind enemy line into the Jura region of France from an altitude of just over 1,000 feet.
Upon landing, she found out her support network was not in the region but she still managed to locate a pre-agreed safe house.
Here, she learnt from neighbours that the Gestapo had arrested all the operatives there, so she made her own way to Marseille, more than 300 miles away.
The journey took her two months and once she reached the Mediterranean coast she began working in a secret network know as the 'MONK circuit'.
During her missions, Ms Plewman carried explosives to all the sabotage operation locations, a perilous task which left her vulnerable to being searched.
She was also a courier delivering messages, documents and wireless equipment to the Resistance network around Marseille, which was swarming with German armed forces.
However in early 1944, her cover was eventually blown when the network was infiltrated and she was captured by the Gestapo.
The SOE agent was arrested at a safe house in Marseille in March 1944, when it was raided by the Gestapo.
She was imprisoned and tortured at Fresnes prison in France and then transferred to Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria, Germany.
On September 1944, Ms Plewman was executed at the age of just 26.
Three other SOE agents - Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment and Noor Inayat Khan - were also executed on the same day.
The female agents were taken from their cell and forced to kneel in pairs before being executed by a single shot to the head by executioner Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert - an SS trooper.
Ms Plewman along with Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment and Noor Inayat Khan was executed by a single shot to the head by executioner Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert (pictured) at Dachau concentration camp in Germany
Ms Plewman parachuted out of a Handley Page Halifax aircraft into the Jura region of France from an altitude of just over 1,000 feet. After landing she found out her support network had been captured by police and then made her own way to Marseille
The special agent was transferred to Dachau concentration camp (exterior of camp pictured) in Bavaria, Germany, before her death
Following the special agent's a capture by German forces, a report was sent in an effort to find Ms Plewman. Her cover was blown and she was captured by the Gestapo when the secret network she had been working in was infiltrated
After the war, Ruppert was tried for war crimes and convicted and executed by hanging on May 29, 1946.
The derailment of the Toulon train
Eliane Plewman along with fellow saboteurs linked to the Monk network was able to execute a derailment inside the railway tunnel between Cassis and Aubagne on the Marseille-Toulon line.
The agents planted bombs underneath the line and put 30 trains out of service.
They were also able to blow up a repair train that was sent to the region to help to clear the lines.
The mission hampered the enemy's attempts to move troops and supplies by rail.
It also stopped all traffic on the line for four days.
Speaking of Ms Plewman's bravery, Major General Colin Gubbins, head of the SOE at the time, said: 'She was dropped in the Jura and was separated from her circuit for some time.
'Instead of remaining in hiding she showed outstanding initiative and made several contacts on her own which were later of great value to her circuit.
'For six months Plewman worked as a courier and her untiring devotion to duty and willingness to undergo any risk largely contributed to the successful establishment of her circuit.
'She travelled constantly maintaining liaison between the various groups, acting as guide to newly arriving agents and transporting wireless telegraphy equipment and compromising documents.'
The heroism of Ms Plewman and her other SOE female operatives will now be celebrated in historian Kate Vigurs' new book, Mission France: The True Story of the Women of the SOE.
Of these women, 16 were captured, with 13 of them executed.
Dr Vigurs said she had pored over Ms Plewman's personnel file in the National Archives and also visited Marseille, where she was operating, several times to learn more about her.
Dr Vigurs said: 'This book has attempted to tell the true story of all the women agents, those who have become household names and national heroines as well as those who have remained in the shadows.
'All the women who were infiltrated into France by F Section were extraordinary. Notably Eliane Plewman, whose untiring devotion to duty and willingness to undergo any risk largely contributed to the successful establishment of her network and sabotage on a huge scale.
'This book has tried to ensure that their stories have been told and that they have been given the recognition they deserve.'
Ms Plewman was awarded the Croix de Guerre and Kings Commendation for Brave Conduct.
After the war, the SOE was officially dissolved on 15 January 1946. A memorial to SOE's agents was unveiled on the Albert Embankment by Lambeth Palace in London in October 2009.
- Mission France: The True History of the Women of SOE, by Kate Vigurs, is published by Yale University Press and costs £20.
What was the Special Operations Executive? The resistance group ordered by Winston Churchill to 'set Europe ablaze'
The Special Operations Executive (SOE), who formed on July 22 1940, were famously ordered by Sir Winston Churchill to 'set Europe ablaze'
Most of the sneaky espionage tactics used to outwit Britain's opponents were devised by a division known as the Special Operations Executive (SOE).
F ormed on July 22 1940 by Minister of Economic Warfare Hugh Dalton following cabinet approval, the SOE was largely kept top-secret and was also known as The Baker Street Irregulars, because of the location of its London office, and Churchill's secret army.
The SOE operated in every nation in Europe and south-east Asia that was under the rule of an Axis power.
The primary mission of the SOE was to aid resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Europe by any means possible.
This would include sabotage, subversion and even assassination behind enemy lines.
They had an influential supporter in Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who famously ordered them to 'set Europe ablaze'.
The SOE was made up of a number of independent resistance groups established in France.
As well as the quirky inventions it came up with, the unit was also responsible for other key, more conventional items that were commonly used in the war.
O ne of these was a time pencil, which was a timer that allowed troops to detonate a bomb with a controlled delay to allow them to clear the area - timings typically ranged from 10 minutes to 24 hours.
T he SOE commissioned several types of silent pistol, such as the Welrod, which were key for agents trying to keep a low profile.
T hey also produced two submarines, the Welman and Sleeping Beauty, to place charges on U-boats, but neither were successful.
A fter the war, the organisation was officially dissolved on 15 January 1946. A memorial to SOE's agents was unveiled on the Albert Embankment by Lambeth Palace in London in October 2009.
Also among the SOE female agents who were captured by the German forces was Noor Inayat Khan who was tortured and executed at Dachau concentration camp.
World War II Database
ww2dbase Yolande Elsa Maria Unternahrer was born in Paris, France into a Swiss family. Her family moved to London, England, United Kingdom when she was young, thus allowing her to learn English fluently, adding to her repertoire of French and German. She joined the British Women's Auxiliary Air Force when WW2 began and was trained as a wireless operator, which, combined with her language skills, made her a good candidate for infiltration into German-occupied France. Unternahrer joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Feb 1943. Later in that year, she married Sergeant Jaap Beekman of the Dutch Army and changed her surname to that of her husband's. She was sent into France during the night of 17 to 18 Sep 1943 via a Lysander aircraft of No. 161 (Special Duties) Squadron of the British Royal Air Force. She joined the "Musician" network at Saint-Quentin, France under the command of Gustave Biéler, operating under the codename of "Mariette" and the alias of "Yvonne". In addition to operating the radio, she also helped with the distribution of materials dropped by Allied aircraft. She was arrested by German Gestapo agents at a cafe called Café Moulin Brulé in Jan 1944. She was subsequently transferred to the Fresnes prison in Paris, a prison in Karlsruhe in Germany, and finally the Dachau Concentration Camp in southern Germany. She was tortured for information in each of the places of imprisonment, but according to survivors who had met her, Beekman never gave in. She was executed by gunfire through the back of the head in a courtyard at Dachau on 13 Sep 1944. Her body was cremated and the ashes scattered. She was awarded the French Croix de Guerre posthumously.
ww2dbase Source: Wikipedia
Last Major Revision: Jun 2015
Yolande Beekman Interactive Map
Yolande Beekman Timeline
|7 Nov 1911||Yolande Unternahrer was born in Paris, France.|
|15 Feb 1943||Yolande Unternahrer joined the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).|
|17 Sep 1943||Yolande Beekman departed Britain in a Lysander aircraft.|
|18 Sep 1943||Yolande Beekman was delivered into German-occupied France via a Lysander aircraft before dawn.|
|13 Jan 1944||Yolande Beekman was captured by German Gestapo agents in France.|
|12 Sep 1944||Yolande Beekman was transferred out of her prison in Karlsruhe, Germany.|
|12 Sep 1944||Yolande Beekman arrived at Dauchau Concentration Camp in southern Germany.|
|13 Sep 1944||Yolande Beekman was executed at Dachau Concentration Camp in southern Germany.|
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Female Agents of SOE – Occupied France 1940-1944
Important Preface – Although this article is dated July 2019 this is the date it first appeared on this blog and was written several years previously. Since this article was written over five-years of research has been completed for my forthcoming book ‘SOE in France’ which is due for publication in September 2021. Some of the original research by MRD Foot mentioned below and other authors including R.J. Minney who wrote ‘Carve her Name with Pride’ (the life of Violette Szabo) have been challenged by new findings.
The Special Operations Executive was engaged in clandestine warfare throughout the world but more is known about their French Section than any other section within this highly secretive organisation.
Although disbanded in 1946, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) remains one of the most difficult wartime organisations for historians to research. Professor M.R.D. Foot, who can be considered as the SOE’s official historian, says that many of their records remain secret and are kept by the Foreign Office whilst others were deliberately destroyed. As Foot says, in his extensive ‘official’ research into SOE’s F Section (French Section) “It has long been British government policy that the archives of SOE, the wartime Special Operations Executive, must remain secret like the archives of any other secret service.”
Much of which continues to be published about the SOE is based on the records made available to Professor Foot and his book, ‘History of the Second World War: SOE in France” which was first published by HMSO in 1966.
Vera Atkins Intelligence Officer SOE French Section
When it comes to understanding the fate of the 118 agents who failed to return from occupied France we must turn to the many years of investigation work conducted by Vera Atkins who has been described as the most powerful and influential women to have served with SOE.
Although F Section was commanded by Major (later Colonel) Maurice Buckmaster, known to his agents and the Gestapo as ‘Buck’, Vera Atkins has been described as his formidable and brilliant assistant. Vera was involved in every aspect of F Section – interviewing potential recruits, organising and planning training and planning the agent’s reception in France. She was also noted for her intelligence and capability of cracking complex ciphers.
Vera was also known for her deep humanity and sense of responsibility to those she was sending to possible death inside occupied France. She saw every agent off to their operation, she kept in contact with their next of kin and organised coded messaged on the BBC so they could be kept informed about people they had left behind. It also becomes clear that her genuine affection for her agents were reciprocated.
After the war Vera became a member of the British War Crimes Commission gathering evidence for the prosecution of war criminals and set about tracing the fate of the 118 agents who failed to return from their operations. After spending many years visiting concentration camps and interrogating German guards she established how and when missing agents had perished.
She displayed formidable skills as an interrogator. Hugo Bleicher, an Abwehr (German Military Intelligence) officer who worked against the French Resistance judged her interrogation the most skilful to which he had been subjected to by his captors. In March 1946 she interrogated Rudolf Hoess, the notorious commandant of Auschwitz. After deliberately questioning his effectiveness as a camp commandant and asking whether he had caused the deaths of 1.5m Jews, he indignantly protested that the figure was 2,345,000. Vera Atkins was determined that war criminals would pay for their crimes.
Selection and Training
Everything about SOE was unorthodox and the organisation was like a club –membership by invitation only. Although there was a rank structure SOE was run on self-discipline, there were no social barriers and gender equality was seen as paramount. Irrespective of gender all agents underwent the same selection and training. “SOE was interested in women-power as well as man-man power, both on the staff and in the field…” (Foot p46) The bulk of the cypher operators were young girls in their late teens, most of the drivers, telephonists and many of the base operators, wireless operators and those working at safe houses and holding schools were women.
During their advanced interview potential field agents were told if they were captured they were liable to be tortured and then executed and were given the opportunity to reject ‘special employment’. In fact, an agent could leave at any time with no questions asked. Not only did all SOE agents know the dangers, during their initiation and training they were also informed they would be expected to conduct activities “Outside the boundaries of conduct of international law for normal times and normal war…” (Foot) Their role would be to use bribery, subversion, sabotage, assassination – there were no rules!
According to Foot, agents who passed the selection and training were also informed “The chances of a safe return from occupied France were no better than evens, that is, the staff expected to lose half their agents…” Consequently, prior to committing themselves to hazardous operation all agents were given another opportunity to consider the dangers.
F Section used three secret training establishments, country houses which had been requisitioned by the War Office, each of which provided separate specialist skills and selection process.
Stage 1. Potential field agents were sent to Wanborough Manor, an Elizabethan house located on the Hogs Back near Guildford Surrey. This training area was referred to as STS5, and on arrival candidates were further vetted. The staff were looking for individuals who could easily communicate and build rapport with people they don’t know, stick to their legends (cover stories which were given to them prior to attending) and not to reveal their true identity or other personal information. Candidates were also encourage to drink alcohol to see if this made them indiscrete.
Those who were considered not suitable for hazardous covert operations were sent to the ‘cooler’ where they were persuaded to forget what little they had learned and return home.
After this initial stage of selection candidates received basic firearms training, elementary Morse code, basic sabotage techniques, explosives and unarmed combat. If considered necessary candidates were given lessons to improve their French and to learn more about the current situation in France. This part of the training lasted 4 weeks and every day candidates were assessed and could be sent to the ‘cooler’ at any times.
Successful candidates were then sent to STS21, Arisaig House, in Inverness Scotland. This isolated area with unpredictable weather was ideal for extensive military training. Potential agents received firearms training, learned infantry tactics, escape and evasion, navigating across rough terrain, relentless physical training, the use of explosives, raiding techniques and sabotage. During this four week course all candidates experienced cold, hunger, psychical and mental exhaustion and were still expected to complete their required tasks to a high standard.
At Arisaig they were also taught unarmed combat (Gutter fighting) and silent killing by the legendary William Fairbairn and Eric Anthony Sykes who designed the FS fighting knife. Unique to the SOE, candidates also mastered the ‘gunfighter technique’ for rapid and accurate use of handguns and became efficient with an assortment of British and German weapons.
Several SOE agents recall a time they were physically and mentally exhausted and violently woken up in the early hours of the morning by men dressed in German uniforms- they were expected to immediately reply in French and during the mock interrogation to maintain their cover story (legend), role play and when necessary improvise. Again, those who failed were sent to the cooler.
After successfully completing the unconventional warfare course successful candidates were then sent to the Finishing School, STS1 on the Beaulieu Estate in Hampshire. Here they learned a variety of specialist skills such as lock-picking and safe cracking.
This part of their training also consisted of ‘schemes’ (tests) lasting 48 or 72 hours. These schemes included making contact with an intermediary referred to as a ‘cut-out’ trailing someone in a city losing someone who is following them, a variety of counter-surveillance drills, and making contact with a supposed resistance member. To makes these schemes more difficult a concerned ‘member of the public’ would phone the police telling them there was someone acting suspiciously and they may be a spy.
If arrested trainees had the telephone number of an SOE officer to get them out of trouble. However, candidates were expected to talk their way out of being arrested, better still, talk their way out of a police station.
Successful candidates were now sent to RAF Ringway (now Manchester Airport) where they received the same parachute training as the Airborne Forces and upon completion were awarded the same parachute wings.
Agents who had shown an aptitude for Morse code, after being reminded of the risks, were given the opportunity to be trained as a wireless operators at STS51, the Thames Park Wireless School.
Those who passed all courses were eligible to join SOE’s F Section, commonly referred to as the ‘Firm’ whose headquarters were at 64 Bakers Street London and members of this exclusive club quickly got to know Maurice Buckmaster “Buck” and Vera Atkins.
By 1940, according to Foot, Maurice Buckmaster and Vera Atkins had set up almost a hundred circuits (networks) of subversive agents on French soil and these needed to be coordinated, armed and advised by SOE agents.
F Section Clandestine Circuits in France
As can be seen by the F Section Circuit activities, each circuit had a unique code name and was responsible for a specific geographical area and conditions within these circuits could suddenly change without warning. For instance, in 1943 the ‘CORSICAN’ circuit is listed as escaping, which meant the circuit had been compromised and its members were avoiding capture part of ‘AUTOGIRO’ was collapsing, this could mean the circuit had been infiltrated or was suffering from bad leadership. In 1944 ‘DONKEYMAN’ was listed as fragmented ‘WIZARD’ had collapsed. Other lists shown circuits being ‘decimated’ which meant all, or nearly all its members were killed or captured.
Apart from coordinating all the circuits in occupied France, SOE agents were also responsible for rebuilding circuits which had been compromised or had bad leadership and to form new circuits to replace those which had been decimated. This would often require agents to travel many miles visiting circuits throughout France and not knowing whether the circuit they were visiting had been infiltrated or its members were under Gestapo surveillance. Apart from the Germany army and the Gestapo, there were collaborators and the German authorities was paying many thousands of francs for information. Much of this dangerous work was done by women: not only were they less likely to raise suspicions when routinely stopped by German soldiers, men could be taken off the street and forced to work in factories supporting the German war effort.
Apart from all circuits having code names, every SOE agent had several code names. One or more aliases for work in the field, a name based on a trade and a cover name for all wireless transmissions.
Most agents entered France by parachute or ‘ferried’ in unarmed Lysander aircraft with the pilot relying on torch lights from members of the resistance to mark the remote landing strip. Lysander aircraft become such a regular feature of SOE operations they were nicknamed the SOE Taxi.
Recruited: June 1943 (F Section courier)
On 22 September 1943 Pearl Witherington parachuted at night from a converted RAF Halifax bomber to a drop zone near Chateauroux in southern Loire and joined ‘STATIONER’ circuit as a courier.
On her arrival at one of the safe houses she was told to deliver an important message from London to a neighbouring circuit. After cycling 50 miles she came across a bridge which was heavily guarded by German soldiers. Under the cover of darkness, with her bicycle across her shoulders, she swum across the freezing river, continued her journey and safely delivered the message.
In May 1944 the leader of ‘STATIONER’, Maurice Southgate, (code name Hector), was sent to Montlucon to meet a member of the resistance. Failing to see the secret signal to indicate danger, he was arrested by the Gestapo who were waiting for him. Although he survived the war, whilst at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp 16 members of his circuit were hanged.
After his arrest Pearl Witherington took command of ‘STATIONER’ which consisted of 2,000 men, this later increased to 3,000 under her command. Under her leadership her circuit destroyed railways lines, electricity pylons, and engaged in hit-and-run tactics against Germany troops. This circuit was so successful the Gestapo put 1 million francs on her head.
When interviewed after the war Pearl Witherington said, “I don’t consider myself a heroine, not at all. I’m just an ordinary person who did a job during the war…” (Telegraph 3 September 2015) Based on similar interviews of other former members of SOE there is no doubt that extreme modesty and humility was a common trait among SOE agents and may be one of the traits the staff looked for at Wanborough Manor.
Interestingly, Witherington was not interested in medals or recognition (another common trait) and her prized possession was her para wings which she had not been given after qualifying at RAF Ringway. Sixty years after qualifying and being parachuted into occupied France she was finally awarded her wings and remarked, “I was tickled pink because I was somewhat muffed that no one thought to give me them all those years ago..”(Telegraph 3 September 2015)
Pearl Witherington wearing her wings 60 years after qualifying
Recruited: May 1943 (F Section Wireless Operator)
Code names: Cover Micheline Rabatel. Wireless transmissions: Ambroise and Crinoline.
(Within the circuits she was commonly known as ‘Line’ or Danielle)
Circuits: DETECTIVE, CLERGYMAN and WHEELWRIGHT.
Denise Bloch, the only daughter of Parisian Jews, Jacques and Suzanne Block who had taken an active part in the early Resistance movement. Through her parents activities she had already gained extensive experience working with various Resistance circuits before making her way to England where she was subsequently trained as an SOE agent. During her training she showed a natural talent for receiving and sending Morse code and became one of F Sections wireless operators.
As the Germans were using large numbers of wireless detection vans with skilled technicians the life of an SOE wireless operator was estimated to be six weeks. Although trained to keep their transmissions as brief as possible in order to make detection more difficult, many went over the recommended time limit to ensure London received vital information. However, a high proportion of operators who maintain strict wireless security were also detected.
The little information we have on Denise Bloch was obtained by Vera Atkins during her extensive investigation into missing agents.
On the night of 2/3 March she was flown by Lysander from a secret airbase, RAF Tempsford in Bedfordshire which was the home of 138 and 161 Special Duties Squadron. She had been assigned to ‘CLERGYMAN’ where she would organise resistance across the city of Nantes.
After spending several hours in Paris she travelled to Nantes where she transmitted her first message to London. During her time with ‘CLEGYMAN’ she transmitted a further 30 messages and received 52.
Although the 1944 circuit activity shows ‘CLERGYMAN’ listed as fragmented, unbeknown to London and Denise Block prior to her arrival, ‘CLERGYMAN’ had been seriously compromised. Several weeks after her arrival the Gestapo made a large number of arrests and within a few days Denise Block was also arrested and joined other members of her circuit at the Gestapo Headquarters in Paris.
It is clear the Gestapo were aware she was a wireless operator and consequently she was tortured to reveal her ‘poem code’ and wireless set. On a number of occasions the Gestapo had managed to extract this information from captured wireless operators and once they had the code and the wireless set they managed to deceive London. This resulted in a handful of agents being dropped into German hands or the Lysander being surround by German troops. Consequently, wireless operators could expect the worse form of torture to extract information.
Denise Bloch was eventually taken to Ravensbruck Concentration camp, along with Violet Szabo (mentioned later) and Lilian Rolf, who was the wireless operator for ‘HISTORIAN’ Circuit.
Sometime in 1944, as Allied forces were fighting their way through France as part of Operation Overlord, Denise Bloch and Violet Szabo were taken to the crematorium yard where an SS guard shot them through the back of their necks and their bodies were cremated.
Block received a posthumous Kings Commendation for Bravery, the Croix de Guerre Avec Palme, Legion d’honneur and the Medaille de la Resistance.
Noor Inayat Khan (George Cross)
Recruited November 1942 (F Section wireless operator)
Codenames: Madeleine, wireless transmissions Nurse
After joining the RAF as a wireless operator she came to the attention of the SOE talent spotters and was asked to attend an informal interview at a hotel near Trafalgar Square London, where she was asked whether she would be interested in becoming ‘specially employed’. Although no indication was given as to what the job entailed, Noor wanted to do something more interesting and accepted the position.
After completing her compulsory military training she was sent to the SOE Wireless School at Thames Park and them to the finishing school at Beaulieu.
On the night of 16/17 June she boarded a Lysander at RAF Tangmere in Sussex, bound for a landing field near Angers in north-western France. With her was Diane Rowden, Cecily Lefort and Charles Skeeper. These SOE agents were later captured by the Gestapo, tortured and executed. Another ominous twist to this flight is that among the members of the French Resistance who were illuminating the landing strip with torches was Henry Dericourt – a double agent working for the Gestapo. Through Dericourt the Gestapo were able to follow the movements of all the agents on this flight.
After making her way to Paris Noor met the leader of the ‘CINEMA’ Circuit and within a few days she was introduced to his wireless operator, Gilbert Norman and the leader of the ‘BRICKWORK’ Circuit.
Over a period of two months Noor sent 20 messages to London and maintained wireless security- keeping all transmissions times to a minimum and regularly changing her location.
On 24 June the leader of the neighbouring ‘PROSPER’ Circuit was arrested along with other members of his team. As further arrests continued London believed the circuit had been infiltrated. During this period the F Section Circuits Activity map for ‘PROSPER’ is Det (detected) and this may have been updated to ‘run’ (on the run). Although no documents are available, it is known that all the resistance fighters from this circuit were scattering across France in the hope of receiving protection from other circuits.
After the Gestapo continued to arrest hundreds of resistance members and their families, and SOE agents made their way to safer houses, Noor became the only F Section Wireless Operator in the Paris area.
As the situation was becoming more confused every day and further arrests may have resulted in other circuits being compromised, as Noor was the only wireless operator in Paris she rejected Buckmaster’s plan for an emergency extraction by Lysander.
After Noor reported the confused situation back to London Maurice Buckmaster sent another wireless operator to assist her. After this operator parachuted into the hands of German forces it became clear the Germans had managed to recovery an SOE wireless and codes. The only secure transmissions from the Paris area were from Noor and she was the now the only person London could trust.
Due to the increasing number of radio detection vans Noor was continuously on the move – sending updates to London and then moving to other locations before continuing her transmissions. She was also working blind- she had no support, did not know which safe houses were now under surveillance or who she could trust.
As we now live in a period of microelectronics and mobile phones, it’s important to remember that Noor and other wireless operators were using wireless equipment which were so large they were built into a family size suitcase and weighed 30lbs (14kg)
Noor started to use the escape and evasion skills she had been taught at finishing school – change your hairstyle, dye your hair, walk differently, alter your mannerism, alter your accent, talk with a lisp, change your style of clothing- be an entirely different person!
Due to hundreds of soldiers on the street, and people being arrested by the lorry load, Noor concluded that all the safe houses must be considered compromised and she had no option but to seek refuge with pre-war family friends and made her way to friends of her parents. They were pleased to help and said she could stay in one of their spare rooms.
Although Noor skilfully avoided capture for four months and during this period kept London advised of the constantly changing situation she was finally betrayed by a collaborator who was given 100,000 francs for the address in which she was staying. Noor and her family friends were arrested.
After her capture an SOE agent sent a diverted telegram to Buckmaster saying, “Madeline had a serious accident and she was now in hospital”, meaning, she had been captured and taken to Gestapos Headquarters at Avenue Foch. After this, any wireless communications containing her code poem or wireless code name would be regarded as a German deception. The fact that no further transmissions were received from ‘Nurse’ and her poem code was never used by the Germans suggests she resisted torture and never gave up her codes.
During Vera Atkins relentless investigation to discover what had happened to her agents who she considered ‘family’, she interviewed an SOE agents who had been incarcerated in a neighbouring cell to Noor. She was told, Noor distracted herself by writing children’s stories in her cell, and she could often be heard sobbing throughout the night. But when the morning came she buried her emotions and remained defiant. After a failed attempt to escape Noor was sent to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp.
Vera Atkins, as we now know, was not a person to mess with, she was determined to know what had happened to ‘her’ agents and demanded that anyone responsible for war crimes should pay with their life. Through her interrogation of SS officers, soldiers and prison guards we know the fate of Noor Khan.
Due to Noor’s dark complexion, she was considered inferior by the Third Reich, and was singled out for special treatment: she was kept in solitary confinement, chained hand and foot, regularly punched and kicked unconscious by the guards, but for eight months she still refused to talk. On 11 September Noor, along with SOE agents Yoland Beekman, Elaine Plewman and Madeline Damerment were transported to Dachau Concentration Camp and that night Beekman, Plewman and Damerment were shoot in the head. Noor, because of her ‘inferior dark complexion’ which made her a ‘dangerous prisoner’ was almost beaten to death by SS officer Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert, before she was finally shot in the head with her own SOE issue pistol the following day. Through Vera Atkins relentless pursuit for Justice she ensured the treatment and murder of Noor was added to his war crimes, Fredric Wilhelm Ruppert was tried, convicted and executed for war crimes in 1946.
Noor Inayat Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross.
Recruited: February 1943 (F Section Wireless Operator)
Code name: Yvonne de Chauvigny, Mariette, Wireless transmission Kilt
On 17 September 1943 Yolande was on a Lysander aircraft travelling to a remote airstrip outside Angers in western France. After landing, with the help the local Resistance, she made her way north to join the MUSIAN circuit who were operating in the strategically important town of St Quentin.
We know that she moved to various safe houses and transmitted using pre-arranged skeds (schedules) on specific frequencies three times per week, but we don’t know why she always transmitted from the same location.
While her circuit concentrated on recruitment the neighbouring circuit, code named FARMER, concentrated on sabotage and killing German forces.
On 28 November the leader of FARMER and their wireless operators were killed during a firefight with German forces and Yolande passed this information onto London. As FARMER had no leadership or wireless operator Yolande was ordered to keep London informed of the developments and problems associated with both circuits: this resulted in a large increase in wireless traffic and increased possibilities of detection.
After destroying ten locomotives in November and a further eleven in December London told both circuits to prepared themselves to attack local rail networks at 25 points German communications across the region and to cut telephone lines to Paris. This further increased her workload and she was now constantly on the move to avoid detection. Due to the increase of SOE and resistance activities the Germans also increased the number of detection vans in the region.
To coordinate the combined resources of both circuits she arranged a meeting with a representative of the FARMER circuit at a ‘safe’ café. Shortly after her arrival Yolande and the representative were arrested and within a few hours some 50 members of the resistance were in the hands of the Gestapo.
Eye witnesses of the Gestapo raid on the café recall a woman fitting Yolande Beekman’s description being dragged away by men in civilian clothes. They also say her face was severely swollen as if she had be repeatedly punched.
It is known she was taken to Fresnes prison, and on or around 12 May, Yolande along with SOE agents Odette Sanson/Churchill, Sonia Olschaneky, Madeline Damermont, and Andree Borrel were taken by train to Karlsrushe Prison just inside the German border.
As far as we can gather, on 12 September Yolande, Plewman and Damerment joined Noor Inayat Khan on a train to Dachau Concentration camp. It was also reported that Yolande was handled ‘roughly’ before being shot in the back of the neck.
Odette Sanson/Churchill/Hallowes (George Cross)
Recruited: July 1942 (Courier F Section)
Code name: Lise, Madam Odette Metaye
When Odette joined SOE she was married to Roy Sanson, after his death she married SOE agent Peter Churchill, and after their divorce in 1955? She married former SOE agent Geoffrey Hallowes. Although Odette held three ‘married’ names, undoubtedly, the name Churchill saved her life at Ranensbruck Concentration Camp.
When Odette was recruited and agreed to work for SOE she had three Children, Francoise aged 11 Lillie aged 8 and Marianne aged 6, and during her training and hazardous work in occupied France they stayed at a convent school in rural England. Her children and the convent believed their mother was working in Scotland and Vera Atkins, using pre-written letters from Odette, continued the pretence.
Her operational brief was to contact a resistance group on the French Riviera before moving north to Auxerre to establish a safe house for other agents passing through the area.
The original plan was for her to be parachuted into France but the aircraft assigned for her operation had mechanical problems. Instead, she was taken by ship to Gibraltar and from there she boarded an SOE narrow sailing boat which took her to a secluded beach near Cassis. She arrived on the night 2/3 November 1942.
After successfully making contact with Peter Churchill (Raoul) who ran the SPINDLE Circuit (who she married after the war), he gave her the address of a contact who was vital for her operation. When she arrived at the address the contact refused to assist her and without his help it was impossible to establish the safe houses. After reporting the situation to Buckmaster Odette’s operation was cancelled and he gave permission for her to work with Peter Churchill, she was now a member of SPINDLE.
By January 1943 the SPINDLE Circuit had been infiltrated by a double agent and the Gestapo knew the names of its members, passive supporters, the locations of their safe houses and mass arrests followed. Churchill decided to close SPINDLE and to move the surviving member of his team to Saint-Jorioz, a village close to the Swiss and Italian borders.
After Odette and Churchill narrowly missed an ambush during an attempt to reach a Lysander which had been sent to extract them, Churchill decided they would stay at the last remaining safe house, the Hotel de la Posts, and sent his wireless operator, Rabinovitch (‘Armaud’) to Faverges, a village some ten miles away from the Hotel.
Four days Later Churchill was flown out by Lysander to report the situation directly to Buckmaster Odette and Armaud remained to monitor the situation.
After Odette identified a suitable drop zone and the information had been sent to London, On 15 September Peter Churchill was parachuted into a remote area where Odette and Armaud were waiting for him. It was decided Armaud would to return to Faverges, Odette and Churchill would go back to the Hotel.
During the early hours of the morning the Gestapo raided the Hotel, Odette and Churchill were arrested and taken to Fresnes Prison. Two weeks later both were moved to Gestapo Headquarters at 84 Avenue Foch in Paris.
When it became clear ‘soft’ interrogation techniques would not work the Gestapo resorted to torture in order to extract information- red-hot pokers were used to burn her back and every time she passed out from the pain buckets of cold water were used to revive her so the torture could continue, Odette refused to talk. When this did not work all her toe nails were pulled out- she still refused to talk. (See George Cross Citation)
After failing to make her talk Odette was transferred to a number of prisons. At each prison she deliberately spread the rumour that she was married to Peter Churchill who was a close relative of the British Prime Minister and these rumours quickly spread among the guards and officers.
There is the possibility these rumours may have been heard in high places in Berlin: within a few months the decision was made to move there ‘very important prisoner’, Peter Churchill, to Berlin but as Odette was under sentence of death she was moved to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp.
On her arrival at Ravensbruck, on 26 July, the Camp Commandant, Fritz Suhren, had already heard and believed Odette was connected to the British Prime Minister by marriage.
She was immediately sent to a cell in the basement without windows and Suhren ordered she must remain in darkness and put on a starvation diet. After the SS were informed by a double agent that Odette had sent plans of the German navy base at Marseille to London, all food was withdrawn and the heating to her cell was turned up.
After finding Odette collapsed in her cell due to heat exhaustion and lack of food she was examined by a camp doctor who concluded that if she continued living under these conditions she would be dead within two weeks. She was returned to her dark, hot cell and still deprived of food and water. Some two days later, without warning Odette was moved to a normal cell with a window and given food and water. From this cell, Odette later recalled she heard the shots which killed Violet Szabo, Denise Block and Lilian Rolf.
Four months after being moved to her new cell the rapid Allied advance resulted in many of the guards and SS officers fleeing the camp to avoid capture. During the chaos an SS officer entered her cell and told her to come with him, Odette assumed she was going to be shot.
She was taken to a black Mercedes and told to sit next to the Camp Commandant, Fritz Suhren, on the rear seat. As the car left the camp Suhren told her he was going to deliver her to the American lines where she would be safe. It became clear to Odette that Suhren believed he would receive a lesser prison sentence by protecting a relative of Winston Churchill.
When she reached the American lines she identified herself as a British agent, personally accepted Suhren’s surrender and his pistol and asked the American solider to arrest him for war crimes. She gave evidence against him at the Nuremburg Trials and Suhren was convicted and hung for his crimes.
On here return to England Odette required over one year of intensive medical treatment for her injuries due to torture and neglect.
Odette Sanson was awarded the George Cross, MBE, Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur, 1939-45 Star, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939-45, Queen’s Coronation Medal, Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal.
Violette Szabo (George Cross)
Recruited: July 1943 (Courier F Section)
Circuit: SALESMAN 1 SALESMAN 2
Codename: Louise, Viki Tailor
Her file refer to her as Petite, just under five-feet five tall, but her character was far more robust than her looks suggest. She was also noted for her cockney accent and wild sense of humour.
Leaving school at the age of 14, Violette worked as a shop assistant at Woolworths in Brixton London.
In 1940 she Married Etienne Szabo who was an officer in the Foreign Legion and in June 1942 she gave birth to a daughter, Tanya, but four months later Etienne was killed at the Battle of El Alamein.
During her military training she impressed her instructors she was one of the best shot they had seen, she was also physically and mentally tough.
Whilst undergoing training Violette was living with her parents at 18 Burley Road Stockwell London. Her father, who had served in France with the British Army during the First World War married a French women and they moved to London after the War. As children, Violette and her four brothers were encouraged to learn French and at an early age they were fluent in the language.
For cover purposes all SOE agents who had not served with a military unit wore military uniform, Violette wore the uniform of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY). When she was away for several weeks at a time this allowed her to tell inquisitive people she had been driving senior officers around the country. Her father did not approve, he felt strongly that she should be at home looking after her daughter and this led to several heated argument.
During her last parachute decent at RAF Ringway she made a bad landing and twisted her ankle and was temporarily taken off the active list to allow her to recover at home. One evening, after her father asked how she had injured herself, Violette replied she had twisted her ankle after jumping out of a lorry. This led to a continuation of the previous argument. Annoyed with her father, Violette grab her handbag, stumbled and the contents of her bag was scattered across the floor. After scooping up her possessions she stormed out of the room and went to her bedroom. In her rush, Violette had not checked whether she had picked up everything- as the door closed her father saw her parachute wings on the floor- everything now made sense.
After telling his wife he went to Violette’s room where he apologised and told her he was proud of her. Neither mentioned the subject again.
After her recovery she was put back on the active list and completed her course at Beaulieu.
On returning home to London, after completing Beaulieu and now officially a member of the SOE, within a few weeks Buckmaster asked to see her at Bakers Street.
Buckmaster had received disturbing information that some of his key agents were on the Gestapo wanted list and wanted posters with rewards for any information were being displayed thought-out Paris. He asked Violet whether she would go to Paris to assess the situation and Violet agreed.
As this was her first trip to France Buckmaster felt secure in the knowledge she would not be known to the Gestapo, but she would have to work alone.
After the Lysander landed she quickly gathered what information she could from the small number of Resistance fighters who had illuminated the landing strip, she then made her way to Rouen to meet Claud Malraux, the second in command of SALESMAN circuit, and one of the men wanted by the Gestapo. After being briefed on what he knew of the situation, which was very little, she travelled to Paris under the identity of a secretary named Corinne Leroy.
Violette spent three weeks in Paris and the surrounding area to assess the problems and discovered that SALESMAN Circuit had completely collapsed: hundreds of its members had been arrested whilst others were seeking refuge with other circuits throughout France. On every main street in Paris there were wanted posters for Claud Malraux and other members of his circuit. During her say in Paris she was arrested twice by the Gestapo but on both occasions managed to talk her way out of the Gestapo Headquarters at 18 Avenue Voch. After reporting her findings to the head of a neighbouring circuit and arranging for their wireless operator to transmit her findings to London several days later Buckmaster sent a message saying the Circuit could not be saved and provided the coordinates for a Lysander extraction for her and Claud. They left France on 30 April.
In early June Buckmaster decided SALEMAN circuit would be rebuilt around the Limoges area of west-central France. Resistance fighter would need to be recruited and armed. It was also essential to setup lines of communications with neighbouring circuits in order to be support the planned Allied invasion. Violette volunteered for the operation.
On the night of the 7/8 June Violette and Claud Malraux, who was to command the new SALESMAN circuit, arrived in France by Parachute.
After assessing the situation Claud decided he would require the assistance of the DIGGER circuit which was operating south of Limoges and sent Violent and one of his new resistance members, Jacques Dufour, by car to ask for assistance.
In his book “Carve her name with Pride” by RJ Minney and the film which was based on this book, it is claimed Violette Szabo and Claud Malraux, were involved in a firefight with German troops after reaching a road block. This is not the case.
According to the official Medal citations for the award of the George Cross, “Madame Szabo volunteered to undertake a particularly dangerous mission in France. She was parachuted into France in April 1944, and undertook the task with enthusiasm. In her execution of the delicate researches entailed she showed great presence of mind and astuteness. She was twice arrested by the German security authorities, but each time managed to get away. Eventually, however, with other members of her group, she was surrounded by the Gestapo in a house in the south-west of France. Resistance appeared hopeless, but Madame Szabo, Seizing a Sten gun and as much ammunition as she could carry, barricaded herself in part of the house, and, exchanging shot for shot with the enemy, killed or wounded several of them. By constant movement she avoided being cornered and fought until she dropped exhausted. She was arrested and had to undergo solitary confinement. She was then continuously and atrociously tortured, but she never by word or deed gave away any of her acquaintances, or told the enemy anything of value. She was ultimately executed. Madam Szabo gave a magnificent example of courage and steadfastness. “ (The London Gazette, Friday 12 June 1946, HMSO)
Violette Szabo’s Medals
Eileen Neame (known as Diddi)
Recruited: Unknown (Wireless operator F Section)
Code name: Unknown, Wireless name unknown.
Recruited: Unknown (Wireless Operator F Section)
In 2010 the police were called to a small house in Torque and found the body of an 89-year-old female who had been dead for several days. After speaking to neighbours the police were informed no one knew anything about her, no one knew her name she was a recluse she had no friends and spent her time feeding stray cats.
After searching her home for clues as to her identity and next of kin, one of the officer found a photograph of two women dressed in British army uniforms which appeared to have been taken during the war. As the search continued they found a French medal, a Croix de Guerre, other medals and more photographs taken during the War.
After several weeks of investigation the police identified the body and the identity of the other women in the photograph. They were sisters, Eileen and Jacqueline Neame. The body was Eileen, the older sister.
Although research is still incomplete and I understand someone is currently writing a book on the sisters, it has been established that at the age of 21 Eileen, known as ‘Didi’, was an F Section Wireless Operator working near Paris.
Whilst Didi was sending an urgent message to London she heard German soldiers outside her safe house but continued sending the message. Minutes before the Gestapo broke down the door she had burned her messages and codes.
When they found her wireless set she denied all knowledge and improvised: she played the role of an innocent French girl – she did not know anything about the wireless set, the Resistance or SOE. Didi was then handcuffed and taken to Gestapo Headquarters.
Like most captured Wireless Operators she was tortured for many hours but continue to role play- constantly telling her interrogators she was an innocent French girl who must has been setup. It is known she was repeatedly half drowned in a bath full of water but continued to maintain her innocence. Unable to break her and not being sure whether she was an SOE agent she was sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp where she became friends with Violette Szabo.
Although the details are still not clear, Didi was one of the few people to escape from Ravensbruck and to survive the hostile countryside patrolled by German forces including the SS.
Although Jaqueline died of cancer in 1982, more is known about her than her sister.
On 25 January 1943? Jacqueline was parachuted into France and joined the ‘SATIONARY’ Circuit based in central France and maintain contacts with the neighbouring circuit called ‘HEADMASTER’, she also made several trips to Paris as a courier. Jaqueline spent 15 months in occupied France and returned to England by Lysander in April 1944.
In 1946, Jaqueline and other former members of ‘STATIONARY’ Circuit played themselves in a public information film (available at the Imperial War Museum) depicting some of their work in occupied France. This government information film, “Now the Truth Can be Told” basically looks at some of the unclassified work they were involved in during their time with the SOE.
Doing her bit in Churchill’s Secret Army. A video interview of Noreen Rios former SOE agent.
Other F Section women executed
Andree Borrell (Denise) PHYSICIAN Executed Natzweiler July 1944
Madeleine (Solange) BRICKLAYER Executed Dachau December 1944
Cecily Lefort (Alice) JOCKEY Executed Ravensbruck early 1945
Vera Leigh (Simone) INVESTOR Executed Natzweiler July 1944
Sonia Olschanezky (Unknown) Executed Natzweiler July 1944
Lilian Rolfe (Paulette) HISTORIAN Executed Ravensbruck January 1945
Diana Rowden (Paulette) ACROBAT, STOCKBROKER Executed Natzweiler July 1944
Yvonne Rudellat PHYSICIAN Died Belsen April 1945 following ill treatment.
Next British Fifty-Pound Note Could Feature The Incredible Resistance Fighter Noor Inayat Khan
The Bank of England has announced that it will be issuing a new polymer-based fifty-pound note at some point in the early 2020s.
This announcement has led to a flurry of speculation as to who may feature as a face on the new note. It has also sparked a race by petitioners to gain support for their choice.
While former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is a popular choice, there is a strong groundswell of support for the war hero Noor Inayat Khan who posthumously received the George Cross for her work behind the lines in occupied Paris during WWII.Noor Inayat-Khan lay starving on the floor of her filthy cell, her hands and feet shackled in chains for 24 hours a day.
If chosen for the new fifty-pound note, she will be the first person of any ethnic minority to feature on a Bank of England note.
Her story is extraordinary, and many people feel dismayed that it is not widely known.
Khan was born in Moscow on New Year’s Day, 1914 to an Indian father and American mother. A direct descendant of Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore in the 18 th Century, she was raised in London and Paris and earned a degree in child psychology.
In November 1940, after escaping to London after the fall of France to the Nazis, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as Norah Baker. She was trained as a wireless operator before moving to a bomber training school where she applied for a commission.
Kofferset 3 MK II portable radio transceiver. Photo: Hanedoes / CC BY-SA 3.0
In 1943 she was selected by the Special Operations Executive as the first woman to be sent to Nazi-occupied France. On the night of June 16 th , she was flown in a Lysander to a rendezvous point north of Paris.
At the time, the life expectancy for a wireless operator in the field was just six weeks.
Under the code-name of Madeleine, she helped downed airmen to escape to Britain as well as sending and receiving messages and instructions from London.
She faced an almost certain death after months of torture, yet Noor remained calm – drawing strength from memories of her father, Sufi preacher and musician Inayat Khan.
She spoke fluent French as she had lived in Paris from the age of six, so despite her limited training in espionage, Khan was ideal for undercover work of this type.
The radio devices were cumbersome but had to be moved quickly from place to place because if they were active for more than twenty minutes at a time, it was possible for the radio signal to be intercepted by the Gestapo’s mobile detection vans.
Most transmitters were hidden in suitcases or bundles made up to look like firewood. Antennae would be strung like washing lines to avoid discovery.
Maquisards (Resistance fighters) in the Haute-Savoie département in August 1944. Third and fourth from the left are two SOE officers
If an operator was caught, there wasn’t a cover story that could help them. The game was up.
On the 13 th October 1943, Khan was arrested by the Sicherheitsdeinst, the counterintelligence branch of the German SS, following betrayal by either Henri Dericourt or Renee Garry, both of whom were suspected of being double agents.
On the 25 th November, she attempted an escape with fellow inmates John Renshaw Starr and Leon Faye, but the attempt was thwarted by an air raid, which meant that their absence was quickly discovered.
Despite repeated interrogations, Khan never gave up any information or betrayed any other agent.
It was confirmed after the War that the SS counterintelligence teams carried on using her radio transmitter. Masquerading as “Madeleine,” they managed to intercept three agents as they were parachuted behind enemy lines.
After a second escape attempt, Khan was designated a high-risk prisoner and was transferred to a German prison where she spent ten months in shackles in solitary confinement.
Inayat Khan’s inscription at the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, England. Photo: WyrdLight.com / CC BY-SA 3.0
She was listed as missing by the British until her story was uncovered in 1946 during the interrogation of former Gestapo officer Christian Ott.
In September 1944, Noor Inayat Khan found herself in a prisoner transport with fellow agents Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment, and Eliane Plewman. They were being transferred to Dachau concentration camp.
On the morning of the 13th September, all four of them were executed by means of a bullet to the back of the head. In 1949, Noor Inayat Khan was awarded the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre.
Noor was defiant until the end, revealing nothing to her captors – not even her real name – and shouting “Liberte” before a bullet went into the back of her head on September 13, 1944.
In 2012, the Princess Royal unveiled a bronze bust in Gordon Square Gardens, London and in 2014, the Royal Mail commemorated her on a stamp issued to celebrate “Remarkable Lives.”
I was searching the blogs yesterday for anything about Dachau and came across this blog, which has an article about Noor Inayat Khan with the title “A Remarkable True Story for Women’s History Month.” Noor Inayat Khan was a British SOE spy who was allegedly executed at Dachau.
Whenever you see the word “allegedly” on my blog, it means that there is no proof whatsoever for whatever else is in that sentence.
Here is a quote from the “True Story” which I copied from the blog:
“In September 1944, Noor and three other female agents – Madeleine Damerment, Eliane Plewman and Yolande Beekman – were taken to the concentration camp at Dachau, just outside Munich.
“The three other agents were shot by the Germans on the day they arrived, but Noor was singled out to be beaten, tortured and possibly raped for hours before she was finally shot by an SS officer.
“As he placed the gun to her head and despite her tortured, weakened state, at least one source states that she summoned up the energy and courage to call out one final word before she died: ‘libertié‘.”
After reading the information above, I did a new search on Noor Inayat Khan and found numerous blogs about her, all with essentially the same story about how Noor was beaten before she was executed at Dachau.
“It was a crisp Munich morning on September 13, 1944 when the four shackled women were led to the execution grounds. All were made to kneel. Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert, the SS trooper in charge of executions, gave the orders to shoot. By eyewitness account, one by one the troopers shot Madeleine Damerment, Eliane Plewman, and Yolande Beekman.
“Come the turn of the fourth prisoner, Wilhelm stopped the executioners. He stepped forward and hit the fourth prisoner with his gun butt. When she fell to the ground, he kicked her till she was reduced to a bloody mess. She was raised to her knees forcibly. Wilhelm then shot her in the back of her head thus bringing to an abrupt end the short life of Princess, spy, heroine, martyr Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, a great great granddaughter of Tipu Sultan, the last Muslim sovereign of South India. One died fighting British imperialism. The other died for Britain fighting Nazi imperialism. Her last word was “Liberté”. She was 30 years old.”
Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert is the man standing on the right
Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert is shown in the photo above he is the man with a card around his neck with the number 2 on it. The photo was taken during an American Military Tribunal proceeding at Dachau at which Ruppert was accused of participating in a “common plan” to commit war crimes by virtue of his job as the officer in charge of executions at Dachau.
Ruppert was specifically charged with supervising the execution of 90 Soviet Prisoners of War who had been condemned to death by an order from Adolf Hitler. If he had refused to carry out an order given by Hitler, Ruppert would have been executed himself, but “superior orders” was not an acceptable defense, according to the American Military Tribunal Ruppert was convicted and hanged.
Ruppert was not charged with beating Noor Inayat Khan and then personally shooting her. Why? Because nothing about this alleged execution was known at that time. There is no record of any British SOE women being brought to Dachau for execution nor for any other reason. There is no record of an order for the execution of any British SOE women being sent by the Berlin office of the Gestapo to Dachau. There is no documentation or records of any kind that would prove that any British SOE women were ever executed at Dachau.
One of the witnesses against Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert at the American Military Tribunal was Rudolf Wolf, a 35-year-old German engraver from Frieberg, who was a prisoner at Dachau from September 1942 until the camp was liberated on April 29, 1945. Wolf testified that he had often seen Ruppert personally beat the prisoners. Wolf said that he had seen Ruppert kick the prisoners and also beat them with a whip so hard that the men became unconscious. According to Wolf’s testimony, Ruppert was a man who could beat people without changing expression he was like a blacksmith striking cold iron. Rudolf Wolf was a paid prosecution witness, whose testimony was not corroborated.
Ruppert’s sadistic nature was established by this dubious testimony at his trial which might have prompted an anonymous former Dutch prisoner at Dachau to contact author Jean Overton Fuller after reading her biography of British SOE agent Noor Inayat Khan. This anonymous prisoner, known only by his initials A.F., claimed to have witnessed the execution of Noor Inayat Khan on September 12, 1944 at Dachau. According to his story, A.F. had seen Wilhelm Ruppert undress Noor Inayat Khan and then beat her all over her body until she was a “bloody mess” before personally shooting her in the back of the head.
Execution spot where condemned prisoners were shot at Dachau
Condemned prisoners were executed with a shot in the neck at close range (Genickschuss). The execution place was located north of the crematorium it was surrounded by thick shrubbery and trees. There was no bleacher section where the other prisoners could watch the whole area was completely separate from the prison enclosure at Dachau.
The fact that the alleged witness said that Noor was “shot in the back of the head,” instead of being killed by a Genickschuss, shows that he knew nothing about the executions at Dachau, and had not seen anything.
Wilhelm Ruppert was an SS officer it was not his job to personally execute prisoners at Dachau he was the administrator in charge of the executions. If he had personally beaten anyone, Ruppert would have received a visit from Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen, the SS judge in charge of prosecuting SS men who committed crimes in the concentration camps. For example, Amon Göth, the Commandant who allegedly shot prisoners from his balcony at the Plaszow camp in the Schindler’s List story, was arrested by Dr. Morgen and was awaiting trial when World War II ended. He had been arrested on a charge of stealing from the camp warehouses, but not for shooting prisoners from his balcony because that never happened.
Noor Inayat Khan has been heavily promoted as a great heroine by the British in order to cover up what really happened. Noor was chosen to be sent to France as a wireless operator because she was the least qualified woman in the SOE the British wanted an SOE agent to be caught so that the Germans could acquire a British radio. The British wanted to send messages that would be intercepted. The messages would consist of incorrect information which the British wanted to give the Germans about the invasion of Sicily.
Noor was chosen for the job because she “was not overly burdened with brains,” in the words of her instructor. Sure enough, when Noor was captured, the Germans found a notebook in which she had written down all of the codes that they would need in order to use her radio. The Germans used Noor’s radio to send messages to the British and the British answered by sending misinformation about the invasion of Sicily.
According to Sarah Helm’s book A Life in Secrets, Hans Kieffer, the man who ordered Noor to be sent to Pforzheim prison after she made several escape attempts, said that he had no knowledge of her execution.
Sarah Helm wrote that the SOE was not above fabricating stories about Noor Inayat Khan in order to make her into more of a heroine than she actually was. In the citation for Noor to receive the George Medal, an award given to civilians for gallantry, it was noted that Noor “has also been instrumental in facilitating the escape of 30 Allied airmen shot down in France.” Such an escape never happened, according to Sarah Helm.
"British Heroine Honored, Aided French Resistance Despite Gestapo Tortures," in The New York Times. August 21, 1946.
Fraser, Antonia, ed. Heroes and Heroines. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1980.
Gleeson, James Joseph. They Feared No Evil: The Women Agents of Britain's Secret Armies, 1939–45. London: R. Hale, 1976.
Grove, Valerie. "Life wisdom learnt in the darkness of a torture cell Odette Hallowes, GC.," in London Sunday Times. October 14, 1990.
"The Last Days of Auschwitz, 50 Years Later: Untold Stories From the Death Camp," in Newsweek. January 16, 1995, pp. 46–59.
Mahoney, M.H. Women in Espionage. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1993. Perles, Alfred, ed. Great True Spy Adventures. London: Arco, 1957.
Tickell, Jerrard. Odette: The Story of a British Agent. London: Chapman & Hall, 1949.
Stafford, David. Britain and European Resistance, 1940–45: A survey of the Special Operations Executive with Documents, 1980.
"Tortured French Woman Decorated by George VI," in The New York Times. November 20, 1946.
Jacob (Jaap) Beekman (Zwolle, 21 december 1919 - aldaar, 15 november 2010) zie: Overlijdensbericht in De Stentor was een |verzetsstrijder tijdens de Tweede Wereldoorlog.
Beekman nam in 1938 dienst bij het derde regiment rode huzaren en werd kort voor de oorlog overgeplaatst naar het eerste eskadron pantserwagens in Kamp Vught|Vught. Hij had de mulo gevolgd en wilde graag beroepsmilitair worden. Bij het uitbreken van de oorlog was hij werkzaam bij de bewaking van het vliegveld Ypenburg, maar dat werd overrompeld en ingenomen door de Duitsers. Beekman en de andere Nederlandse soldaten werden ontwapend en vrijgelaten.
Beekman besloot, net als velen van zijn collega's, in het verzet te gaan. Hij slaagde er in om naar Engeland te vluchten. Via een barre tocht naar Spanje, de boot naar Curao, door naar Venezuela, en toen naar Verenigde Staten|Amerika en Canada lukte dat. In Canada meldde hij zich aan bij de Prinses Irene Brigade en werd met de Koningin Elisabeth (schip)|Queen Elisabeth doorgestuurd naar Wolverhampton in Engeland. Hij ging een opleiding volgen als organisator en wapeninstructeur om uitgezonden te kunnen worden naar bezet gebied. Ook volgde hij een cursus radiografie op de radioschool in Thame, en ontmoette daar Yolande Unternäher, een Frankrijk|Franise uit Zwitserland|Zwitserse ouders. In augustus 1943 trouwden ze, maar drie weken later moest Yolande Beekman reeds naar haar eigen opdracht toe in Frankrijk. Zij zou de oorlog niet overleven, want ze werd na arrestatie en transport doodgeschoten in Kamp Dachau (concentratiekamp)|Dachau in 1944. Jaap Beekman werd per parachute gedropt in Beerzerveld, waar hij tot het eind van de oorlog in het verzet zat. Later zou hij ook nog de Engelse Kathleen Mary Pickering huwen. Hij overleed uiteindelijk op bijna 91-jarige leeftijd.
Præmier og hædersbevisninger
Beekmans handlinger blev anerkendt af den franske regering med den postume tildeling af Croix de Guerre . Derudover er hun optaget på Runnymede Memorial i Surrey , England, og som en af de SOE-agenter, der døde for befrielsen af Frankrig, er hun opført på "Roll of Honor" på Valençay SOE Memorial i byen Valençay, i Frankrigs Indre departement. Et senere mindesmærke, SOE Agents Memorial i Lambeth Palace Road (Westminster, London), er dedikeret til alle SOE-agenter.