Nicholas Bodington worked for the Daily Express in the 1930s. When he was working in Paris it is believed he worked for MI5. It was while he was in Paris he met Henri Déricourt and secret agents working for Nazi Germany.
In 1942 the SOE decided to establish a new network in and around Paris. Called Prosper it was to be led by Francis Suttill. On 24th September, 1942, Andrée Borrel was parachuted into France to prepare the way for Suttill who arrived on 1st October. A wireless operator, Gilbert Norman arrived in November and a second operator, Jack Agazarian, arrived the following month.
On 22nd January 1943, Henri Déricourt, a former pilot in the French Air Force, arrived back in France. His main task was to find suitable landing grounds and organize receptions for agents brought by air. He worked mainly for the Prosper and over the next few months he arranged the transport by plane of over 67 agents.
Jack Agazarian became increasing concerned about the loyalty of Henri Déricourt and after being taken out of France on 16th June, he passed on these fears to Bodington and Maurice Buckmaster. However, they were unconvinced and refused to recall Déricourt to Britain.
On 23rd June, 1943, three key members of the Prosper Network, Andrée Borrel, Francis Suttill and Gilbert Norman, were arrested by the Gestapo. Noor Inayat Khan reported back to the Special Operations Executive that she had lost contact with the rest of the group and feared they were in the hands of the Germans.
Gilbert Norman continued to send messages to London. Leo Marks, head of codes and ciphers at Special Operations Executive (SOE), was convinced that Norman was under the control of the Gestapo. Bodington disagreed and persuaded Maurice Buckmaster to let him go to France to find out what had happened. Jack Agazarian was recalled from leave and the two men were taken to France.
Messages from the wireless owned by Gilbert Norman were still being sent to the Special Operations Executive in London. Instructions were passed on to Bodington by the SOE to arrange a meeting with Norman at the address he had sent them. Bodington later claimed that he and Jack Agazarian tossed to decide who should visit the address. Agazarian, who was convinced it was a trap, lost, and when he arrived at the address he was immediately arrested. Agazarian was tortured by the Gestapo for six months at Fresnes Prison before being sent to Flossenburg where he was kept in solitary confinement.
Shortly after Bodington arrived back in London he was accused of being a double agent. He lost his post at the SOE and was sent to lecture on French politics to Alloed troops.
In the last few months of the war, Gilbert Norman, Francis Suttill, Andrée Borrel, Jack Agazarian and Noor Inayat Khan, were all executed. After the Second World War the interrogation of German officials provided evidence that Henri Déricourt was guilty of providing information to Abwehr and the Gestapo that led to the arrest and execution of several SOE agents including those in the Prosper Network.
In November 1946, Henri Déricourt was arrested by the French authorities but did not appear in court until June 1948. At the trial Bodington testified that he had been in charge of all Déricourt's work in the field. He admitted that he was aware that Déricourt was in contact with the Germans but that no important information had been revealed.
During the trial the defence council argued that although the prosecution could bring plenty of suspicious indirect evidence against Henri Déricourt, they could not actually pin any definite act of treachery on him. Largely on the evidence provided by Bodington, Déricourt was acquitted.
Nicholas Bodington died in Plymouth on 3rd July, 1974.
I knew that Henri Déricourt was in contact with the Germans. He told me about it a few hours after I arrived at the landing ground at Cande on 15 July. I told him not to break off his contacts with the Germans.
Francis Cammaerts dismisses as 'a fantasy' the theory put forward by those like his one-time deputy Pierre Raynaud and the BBC's Robert Marshall that Dericourt was run by MI6. He thinks men like Bodington and Dericourt became double agents because 'they had a freak sense of adventure and thought it was a clever way to play it.'
One of the F Section agents recruited in the field, Jacques Bureau - Prosper's radio technician - also is convinced that the Prosper agents were used to deceive the Germans about the time and place of the invasion, but he sees it as an indispensable, a justifiable strategy for defeating the Nazis and saving countless lives. His attitude is one more of sorrow than of anger, an acknowledgment of the tragic ironies of the situation rather than an indictment of the British.
He believes that Suttill and Norman behaved honourably, following orders that were designed, although neither they nor the French Section staff were aware of the fact, to set up the radio games that, along with
Dericourt's passing of the mail, would keep the German forces in the north-west of France in a constant state of expectation of invasion there between the spring and the autumn of 1943, when they might have been used against the Allies on other fronts. Although they were unaware of it, as he sees it the weapons he and the other Prosper agents wielded were the lies that successfully protected the real invasion plans.
The Germans expected Bodington to walk into a trap arranged over the German controlled radio-Archambaud. This he must not do. Yet if nobody walked into it, they would know he had warned Nick and they would both have been arrested. So Nick set Agazarian. It was an unhappy thing to have had to do. (Vogt had told me that Agazarian, when he was brought in as a prisoner, he expressed himself furious with Bodington who, he said, had sent him to the dangerous rendezvous being too fearful to go himself.) Spooner, however, when I had told him this, had said that if one or the other had to be caught it was "militarily" much better that it should be Agazarian who had little knowledge he could betray, than Bodington who knew the composition of every network in France. The could have mopped the lot up and this would have been the end of F Section.
Dr. Goetz, who had been detailed to act for Boemelburg (Kieffer's chief) to act as 'Gilbert's' direct contact, when in 1985 he accepted an invitation from me to come to England and spend a week-end at my house, told me that after the wrong man walked into the ambush, considerable pressure was put on Déricourt to tell them of some other place at which they could arrest Bodington and he kept telling them of places "where he was not." It became obvious he did not want them to have Bodington. It was he to whom "Gilbert" gave the time and place of British aircraft expected arrival. On receiving the details he, Goetz would then ring up the German anti-aircraft batteries and say, "British aircraft, such and such type, approaching from such and such making for such and such location: do not fire at it." So the aircraft had a protected flight.
Though it did look to me at a very early stage of my researches that both might be guilty, it now seems to me that the discrepancy between what Bodington wrote in his report on his return to London and what he later said at Déricourt's trial in Paris can be sufficiently explained by his understandable reluctance to say he had sent Agazarian to his death and why - which would have involved explaining all that lay behind it - without looking for anything more sinister. If Bodington had been a German agent the Germans would not have been trying to arrest him.
The evidence Bodington gave at Déricourt's trial was not so very false. He merely represented as having been explicit expressed in words what had been tacit but implicit. It should be remembered that the charge against Déricourt was expressly that he had betrayed Agazarian to the Germans. Déricourt would have had to reply 'not me Bodington' had not Bodington come and given evidence that would get them both off.
I owe no special consideration for Bodington as he never gave me an interview. But Déricourt gave me every cooperation, long hours of his time, during which he never took amiss the hard things I said to his face about what he had done and now that he is dead and unable to present his defence, I feel it a kind of loyalty to do that for him, as best I can - to hold the fort for him.