Special Operations Executive

When Henri-Philippe Petain signed an armistice with Nazi Germany on 22nd June, 1940, the British government began to consider what it could do to help those French people who wanted to continue fighting. A meeting was held at the Foreign Office on 1st July and the following day Hugh Dalton, Minister of Economic Warfare, wrote to Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, suggesting "a new organization to co-ordinate, inspire, control and assist the nationals of the oppressed countries who must themselves be the direct participants."

Lord Halifax passed the letter onto Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill and after much discussion it was decided to ask Hugh Dalton to implement the project. Churchill directive to Dalton was "now set Europe ablaze." The new organization became known as Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the staff were given an office at 64 Baker Street in London.

Colonel Colin Gubbins was Director of Operations and Training at SOE. Those recruited usually had considerable experience of the country they were to be sent to help the local resistance. Recruits were sent for initial training to Wanborough Manor near Guildford. Later they would be toughened up for the field by attending a commando course in the Scottish highlands. They were taught how to use guns and explosives, sabotage, wireless telegraphy, and how to live secretly in occupied territories. They also needed to master the techniques of unarmed combat and silent killing.

Some members of the armed forces were unhappy about this type of warfare. Air Chief Marshal Charles Portal, the chief of the air staff, wrote to a fellow officer: "I think that the dropping of men dressed in civilian clothes for the purpose of attempting to kill members of the opposing forces is not an operation with which the Royal Air Force should be associated. I think you will agree that there is a vast difference, in ethics, between the time honoured operation of the dropping of a spy from the air and this entirely new scheme for dropping what one can only call assassins."

In 1940 Colin Gubbins made contact with the commandant of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry and arranged for her to provide personnel for the SOE. At first the women were used to produce passports, ration cards, and other forged documents for use in occupied Europe. They were also employed to transmit, encode and decode messages to and from the field.

SOE agents were sent to any country under the occupation of Nazi Germany including France, Belgium, Netherlands, Poland, Denmark and Yugoslavia. The SOE was extremely active in helping the French Resistance. The French Section of the SOE was led by Maurice Buckmaster. His deputy was Major Nicholas Bodington and Vera Atkins was put in charge of preparing the agents for the field.

In April 1942, Winston Churchill gave his approval for women in the SOE to be sent into Europe. It was argued that women would less conspicuous than men. In countries such as France women were expected to be out and around whereas the Gestapo were suspicious of men on the streets. Women were used as couriers and wireless operators. Women were never sent to Europe as circuit leaders although Pearl Witherington became leader of the Wrestler Network after the arrest of Maurice Southgate in May 1944. She organized over 1,500 members of the Maquis and they played an important role fighting the German Army during the D-Day landings.

During the Second World War the SOE sent 470 agents into France including 39 women. This included Jack Agazarian, Claude de Baissac, Lise de Baissac, Gustave Bieler, Yolande Beekman, Andrée Borrel, Francis Cammaerts, Peter Churchill,, Henri Dericourt, Victor Gerson, Christine Granville, Virginia Hall, Noor Inayat Khan, Andrezej Kowerski, Cecily Lefort, Vera Leigh, Gilbert Norman, Sonya Olschanezky, Harry Peulevé, Eliane Plewman, Harry Rée, Lilian Rolfe, Diana Rowden, Odette Sansom, George Starr, Brian Stonehouse, Francis Suttill, Violette Szabo, Michael Trotobas, Edward Yeo-Thomas, Nancy Wake, Pearl Witherington and Yvonne Rudelatt.

SOE wireless operators took with them a short-wave morse transceiver that could send and receive messages. It weighed 30 pounds and fitted into a two foot long suitcase. Its frequency range was 3.5 to 16 megacycles a second. The main problem for the operator was that the transceiver needed seventy feet of aerial to function properly.

It was estimated that in towns it would take the Germans around 30 minutes to discover where the transceiver was being used. Where possible, operators worked in isolated areas. They were also under strict instructions to transmit briefly, at irregular intervals, at various wavelengths and from various places.

Each wireless operators was instructed to always spell certain words incorrectly. The reason for this was that if the Germans captured the operator and code books and tried to use the transceiver to trap other agents, the SOE in London would be able to discover what had happened and would warn all its agents in the field.

SOE agents were taught that once captured they must try to stay silent when interrogated by the Gestapo for 48 hours. During that time all the people who had been in contact with the arrested agent were supposed to move house and cover their tracks.

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 Network 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 Nicholas Bodington and Maurice Buckmaster. However, they were unconvinced and refused to recall Déricourt to Britain.

Two members of the SOE (c. 1944)
Two members of the SOE (c. 1944)

On 23rd June, 1943, three key members of the network, Andrée Borrel, Francis Suttill and Gilbert Norman, were arrested by the Gestapo. When Noor Inayat Khan discovered what happened she reported back the disaster to the Special Operations Executive in London.

The three agents were taken to the Gestapo headquarters at 84 Avenue Foch. Francis Suttill was tortured for several days and according to Ernest Vogt he eventually did a deal with the Germans. This included Suttill giving the Germans details of ammunition dumps in exchange for the promise that the people guarding them would not be killed. However, according to another German agent, Joseph Kieffer, it was Gilbert Norman who gave the Gestapo this information.

In July, 1943, Nicholas Bodington 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 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. Over the next few months Gilbert Norman, Francis Suttill, Andrée Borrel, Jack Agazarian and Noor Inayat Khan, were all executed.

A more successful circuit was the Jockey Network led by Francis Cammaerts. By the autumn of 1943, Cammaerts had established a network of small independent groups up and down the left bank of the Rhone Valley. He developed a secure system where although he knew how to get in touch with members of the group, they had no idea where he was living and could only leave messages for him in letter boxes (somebody with whom one could leave a message to be collected later by another person giving the right password).

Cammaerts's two main lieutenants sent by the SOE were Cecily Lefort and Pierre Reynaud. In September 1943 Lefort was arrested while visiting the house of a corn-merchant at Montélimar. She was tortured by the Gestapo but the system Cammaerts had set up enabled the Jockey Network to survive. On 6th July 1944 Lefort was replaced by another woman agent from Britain, Christine Granville.

By the time of the D-Day landings Cammaerts had built up an army of 10,000 men and women. His area of operations went from Lyons to the Mediterranean coast and to the Italian and Swiss frontiers.

It is estimated that around 200 agents lost their lives. Most of these were executed on instructions from Adolf Hitler in September 1944 and March 1945. Those who did not return included Jack Agazarian, Gustave Bieler, Yolande Beekman, Andrée Borrel, Noor Inayat Khan, Cecily Lefort, Vera Leigh, Gilbert Norman, Sonya Olschanezky, Eliane Plewman, Lilian Rolfe, Diana Rowden, Odette Sansom, Francis Suttill, Violette Szabo, Michael Trotobas and Yvonne Rudelatt.

Primary Sources

(1) Hugh Dalton, letter to Lord Halifax (2nd July, 1940)

We have got to organize movements in enemy-occupied territory comparable to the Sinn Fein movement in Ireland, to the Chinese Guerillas now operating against Japan, to the Spanish Irregulars who played a notable part in Wellington's campaign or - one might as well admit it - to the organizations which the Nazis themselves have developed so remarkably in almost every country in the world. This "democratic international" must use many different methods, including industrial and military sabotage, labour agitation and strikes, continuous propaganda, terrorist acts against traitors and German leaders, boycotts and riots.

It is quite clear to me that an organization on this scale and of this character is not something which can be handled by the ordinary departmental machinery of either the British Civil Service or the British military machine. What is needed is a new organization to co-ordinate, inspire, control and assist the nationals of the oppressed countries who must themselves be the direct participants. We need absolute secrecy, a certain fanatical enthusiasm, willingness to work with people of different nationalities, complete political reliability. Some of these qualities are certainly to be found in some military officers and, if such men are available, they should undoubtedly be used. But the organization should, in my view, be entirely independent of the War Office machine.

(2) In his book Specially Employed (1952), Maurice Buckmaster, the head of Special Operations Executive, explained why he needed to British agents to occupied France.

We quickly learned that the courage, endurance and pugnacity of the patriots living in occupied territory were in direct proportion to the brutality of the occupying force's repressive measures. No occupying power can break the spirit and blunt the retaliatory power of a patriotic and proud people. Conversely, no occupied country can take really effective action against an occupying power without aid from outside. Coordination of effort was essential, for uncoordinated sabotage contributes but little to the destruction of the occupying power's potential. It merely invites reprisals, which in turn provoke further retaliation by the patriots. But if the occupied people feels that it is being neglected or left in the lurch by its allies, if it begins to listen and, by the force of repetition, to accept as truth the enemy's propaganda, the reaction becomes more and more feeble, until it finally peters out.

(3) Patrick Howarth worked for the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War and afterwards wrote about Francis Cammaerts in his book, Undercover (1980)

He set off for St Jorioz near Annecy, where he was disturbed by the evident lack of security within the organization which he had been instructed to join. His suspicions were proved right when it was learnt that the St Jorioz group had been effectively penetrated by Hugo Bleicher of the Abwehr, the professional and therefore pro-Nazi German counter-espionage organization.

From such false starts as these, and indeed from another one in Cannes, where again he found the security alarmingly lax, Cammaerts, whose original cover-story was that of a schoolmaster recuperating after jaundice, gradually built up an organization. He did so by adhering strictly to the lessons he had been taught during his SOE training. Over a period of fifteen months he never spent more than three or four nights in the same house. He insisted that all those with whom he worked must at all times have a satisfactory explanation of their actions which they could produce if they were suddenly arrested. He made sure that whereas he could contact a large number of resistance workers very few knew how to reach him.

(4) Maurice Buckmaster, They Fought Alone (1959)

Often I would go down together with others from headquarters and would cross-question recruits, taking on the roles of Gestapo men, in order to try and break their cover-stories. By this means the story itself would become ingrained in their minds and they themselves would gain some small idea of the rigours of interrogation. If they survived without cracking, their confidence would be greatly increased and they could face the thought of genuine German interrogation in the knowledge that they had already withstood a similar grilling successfully. These rehearsals were grim affairs and we spared the recruits nothing. They were stripped and made to stand for hours in the light of bright lamps and though, of course, we never used any physical violence on them, they certainly knew what it was to go through it by the time we had finished.

If they cracked badly under the strain, it was tolerably sure that we would not send them, for it was clear that a man who caved in when questioned by H.Q. staff, in however realistic conditions, would be only too likely to wilt in the face of the Boches. A minor slip would not be held against a man, but too general a collapse most certainly would; we derived no pleasure, I need hardly say, from those occasions when our cruel jibes, our reiterated and shouted questions and our implacable persistence broke a man's spirit, but we could console ourselves with the fact that his cracking at a rehearsal might well have saved his life - and others - by preventing the possibility of his doing the same thing with the enemy. We were not playing a game.

(5) Air Chief Marshal Charles Portal, letter to George Jebb (1st February, 1941)

I think that the dropping of men dressed in civilian clothes for the purpose of attempting to kill members of the opposing forces is not an operation with which the Royal Air Force should be associated. I think you will agree that there is a vast difference, in ethics, between the time honoured operation of the dropping of a spy from the air and this entirely new scheme for dropping what one can only call assassins.

(6) Maurice Buckmaster, Specially Employed (1952)

In all, during the period March 1941 to July 1944, we recruited over 460 male and 40 female officers for work in the field. It has always seemed to me surprising that there were so many British or Dominion subjects, whose French was faultless, willing and anxious to undertake such supremely dangerous work. They were in no way conspicuous; the last thing we wanted in them was eccentricity. We denied them glamour, in their own interests; we made them look as homely and unremarkable as we could. In the words of one of them, they were 'just ordinary people, not particularly brave'.

(7) Major William Fairbairn, was the commander of the Special Operations Executive training school in Oshawa, Canada. He produced a pamphlet explaining how secret agents should kill the enemy.

The Queensberry rules enumerate, under the heading of "fouls", some good targets which the boxer is not trained to defend. This, however, is war, not sport. Your aim is to kill your opponent as quickly as possible. So forget the Queensberry rules; forget the term 'foul methods'. This may sound cruel, but it is still more cruel to take longer than necessary to kill your opponent.

The knife is a silent and deadly weapon that is easily concealed and against which, in the hands of an expert, there is no sure defence, except firearms or running like hell.

(8) Maurice Buckmaster, They Fought Alone (1959)

As the number of our agents increased from a meagre seven in 1941 to fifty by the middle of 1942 and one hundred and twenty by June, 1943, so we in Baker Street were able to plan more and more ambitious and destructive raids against the German supply machine. By February of 1944, at the stage of some of our most important work, we had two hundred agents in the field - many of them veterans of more than one tour of duty - all either in liaison with large sections of Marquisards or acting as wireless operators. On D-day itself, there were two hundred and twenty agents putting into effect the plans which we relayed to them from Headquarters in Baker Street. In all, four hundred and eighty active agents were employed by the French section of S.O.E. From uncertainty even as to its purpose, the section grew to be a confident and deadly fighting force.

By the beginning of 1943 we had managed to organize ourselves in a manner which was to set the pattern for the duration of the war. We had our headquarters in Baker Street where all operations were planned and where intelligence was collated and filed and where new reports from agents in the field were received. We held our briefing sessions at a flat in Orchard Court, not far away. Here men who were about to be dropped into France were given the latest details about conditions, both generally and as they affected their own particular districts. It might be that a certain operator was suspected of working with the Germans. We would warn the outgoing agent and tell him in what circumstances he should take appropriate action to silence the man.

(9) Special Operations Executive training pamphlet produced during the Second World War about the Gestapo.

If you are arrested by the Gestapo, do not assume that all is lost; the Gestapo's reputation has been built up on ruthlessness and terrorism, not intelligence. They will always pretend to know more tan they do and may even make a good guess, but remember that it is a guess; otherwise they would not be interrogating you.

(10) Captain Selwyn Jepson was SOE's senior recruiting officer. He was interviewed by the Imperial War Museum for its Sound Archive.

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!

(11) Jack Agazarian, was interviewed by Liane Jones for her book A Quiet Courage (1990).

Although in the same network, my husband and I were not working together; as a radio operator he worked alone and transmitted from different locations every day. I was only responsible to Prosper (Francis Suttill) whom we all called Francois. He liked to use me for special errands because, France being my native land, I could get away from difficulties easily enough, particularly when dealing with officialdom.

Francois was an outstanding leader, clear-headed, precise, confident. I liked working on his instructions, and I enjoyed the small challenges he was placing in front of me. For instance calling at town halls in various districts of Paris to exchange the network's expired ration cards (manufactured in London) for genuine new ones. Mainly I was delivering his messages to his helpers: in Paris, in villages, or isolated houses in the countryside. From time to time I was also delivering demolition material received from England. And once, with hand-grenades in my shopping bag, I travelled in a train so full that I had to stand against a German NCO. This odd situation was not new to me. I had already experienced it for the first time on the day of my arrival on French soil, when I had to travel by train from Poitiers to Paris. A very full train also. I sat on my small suitcase in the corridor, a uniformed German standing close against me. But, that first time, tied to my waist, under my clothes, was a wide black cloth belt containing bank-notes for Prosper, a number of blank identity cards and a number of ration cards; while tucked into the sleeves of my coat were crystals for Prosper's radio transmitters; the crystals had been skilfully secured to my sleeves by Vera Atkins herself, before my departure from Orchard Court. My .32 revolver and ammunition were in my suitcase. The ludicrousness of the situation somehow eliminated any thoughts of danger.

In any case, I believe none of us in the field ever gave one thought to danger. Germans were everywhere, especially in Paris; one absorbed the sight of them and went on with the job of living as ordinarily as possible and applying oneself to one's work.

Because I worked alone, the times I liked best were when we could be together, Prosper (Francis Suttill), Denise (Andrée Borrel), Archambaud (Gilbert Norman), Marcel (Jack Agazarin) and I, sitting round a table, while I was decoding radio messages from London; we were always hoping to read the exciting warning to stand by, which would have meant that the liberating invasion from England was imminent.

(12) Rules issued to members of the circuit run by Victor Gerson who ran a SOE circuit in Lyons during the Second World War.

Members were only known and referred to by their pseudonyms.

Domiciles of the regular staff of the Circuit always remained secret.

New members of the Organization had to drop all previous clandestine activities.

All regular members had to sever contact with their families, and (move house from) where they had lived before being in the Circuit.

It was strictly forbidden to carry any papers or notes giving names of contacts, or addresses.

Verbal messages between Informant and Organizer through couriers were always given in veiled language which couriers could not understand.

When messages could not be put in veiled language or could not be remembered by the courier, it would be written on thin tissue paper, inserted into a cigarette, or carried in such a way that it could easily be eaten or dropped.

Passwords had to be given, word perfect, otherwise they would not be accepted.

Bodies in safe houses were not allowed to go out at any time under any circumstance (except of course when it was time to move on).

Members were never to call on any safe house without first checking the security of the house by telephone.

(13) Maurice Buckmaster, Specially Employed (1952)

As the war progressed and supplies improved, we were able to send out by parachute to our operators a fair quantity of radio transmitters, cunningly camouflaged, and they were bidden to jettison or abandon sets whose use might seem to them particularly dangerous. The care with which our agents treated their sets was demonstrated to me in no uncertain manner after the war, when, in my travels round the areas where our people had been working, I was handed the jealously guarded suitcases containing transmitters - 'still in perfect working order', I was assured.

It was evidently essential to relieve, as much as we could, the burden of traffic over the 'clandestine air'. We quickly realized the possibility of using the BBC French Service for sending out previously arranged conventional messages. This system eliminated the need for the intricate coding and decoding which was necessary in sending our Morse messages. For there were many occasions on which a prearranged signal, totally meaningless to the enemy, gave an agent the clue for which he was waiting.

The simplest example was the use of a harmless-sounding phrase on the French programme of the BBC, to confirm, as arranged with the agent, that a parachute operation was scheduled for that night. It was possible to send over the air from Bush House studios at 7.30 p.m. a message. 'Nanette porte un pyjama vert', or some other such nonsense, which meant to the initiated reception committee approximately this: 'The aircraft which you asked for, parachuting stores as arranged on such and such a ground, is scheduled for tonight. If there is no setback in the weather, if the pilot finds the field you should see the containers floating down to you in x hours from now.' A further message on the 9.15 programme confirmed the operation again (or, by the absence of such message, intimated to the listeners that for some reason or other the operation had been 'scrubbed'). In winter, when aircraft frequently left their bases before 9 p.m., the message at 9.15 literally meant that the load was on its way, and constituted an imperative order to the reception committee to get out to the chosen field with all haste.

When it came to choosing conventional messages for subsequent use on the BBC, the boys and girls were surprisingly enterprising. Quotations from the classics alternated with jests, sometimes in dubious taste - so dubious that we feared to propose them to the austere authorities of Bush House.

(14) SOE document on the importance of the production of rumours in France (9th March 1942)

The following notes are based on rather more than a year' s experience of the machinery for producing rumours which has been set up in England, and are intended as a rough guide for those who may be asked to undertake this work elsewhere. They are therefore very general in form, and do not attempt to enter into details which could only be applicable to individual territories.

The first essential of a rumour is that it should serve a definite purpose. It may seem childish to emphasize this point at the beginning, but experience has shown that there is always a great tendency in composing rumours to select or accept stories simply because they are brilliant improvisations as stories. The attitude of "wouldn't it be a good idea to spread such and such a rumour?" is a dangerous one and the inventors of rumours should discipline themselves to decide first what effect they wish to produce, and then begin working out rumours which will produce it.

Rumours for general consumption (and this paper does not deal with rumours intended to deceive the enemy intelligence service) may be intended either to produce definite action by the general populace, or a modification in its mental outlook which will produce appropriate action at some later moment.

The type of individual action which can be effected by rumour is almost entirely economic. Rumour, for instance, plays an enormous part in producing inflation, hoarding, black-market transactions, etc. We have clear evidence that in one country a rumour transmitted through us caused a three-day run on the banks .

In preparing the populace for action, rumour can do much to improve or destroy morale; in fact, the greater the present distrust of official information which is spreading over the world becomes, the greater the effect of rumours will be. In general such rumours should suggest the essential strength of one' s own side, and the weakness of the enemy.

(15) Wing Commander H. B. Verity wrote a paper for pilots of Lysanders and Hudsons who were dropping SOE agents into France.

Landmarks: Having established exactly where your target is, have a look at the half million map and select a really good landmark nearby. This may be a river from which you approach the target. Check with the flak map that you will not be interfered with. Then you must work out a route, hopping from landmark to landmark, which will follow clear avenues on the flak map. Try to arrange for a really good landmark at each turning point, for example a coast or a big river. Finally, get your route approved by the Flight Commander.

Loading of aircraft: Three passengers are normally the maximum carried, but four have been carried without incident in the past. As you may well imagine, that means a squash. With either three or four, it is thought impracticable for them to put on parachutes or bale out. If four passengers are carried, one goes on the floor, two on the seat, and one on the shelf. This is not recommended with heavy people.

(16) On 13th May 1944, Odette Sansom was moved by the Gestapo from France to Germany with Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman, Diana Rowden, Vera Leigh, Andrée Borrel and Sonya Olschanezky. She was interviewed about these experiences by Rita Kramer for her book Flames in the Field.

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 coffe 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.

(17) Francis Cammaerts was interviewed by Darlow Smithson for the BBC2 television series, Secret Agent.

I didn't really find it a strain maintaining a false identity. Of course, you had to have a cover story covered by suitable papers that were able to explain why you were travelling in the way you were, so that if you were travelling in a car at night you had to be a doctor or an engineer or something like that.

You had to be certain that the people you were working with had the same understanding of security as you had yourself. You had to work through trusted leaders, that is to say every cell had to have someone whom you knew was loved and trusted by the people he was working with and you had to work through him or her and they had to accept your basic principles of security, which meant a whole lot of things including not using the telephone, not going into black cafes and eating huge black-market meals and that kind of thing. You had to make quite sure that the people you were working with understood those things which were dangerous to do.

I don't remember the pressure being something that I felt acutely except just occasionally when you were doing something which you knew you oughtn't to be doing, such as travelling by car with weapons and explosives in the back of the car. I had a close shave transferring some weapons and explosives from Avignon to the north of Marseilles, to a group who had got some work prescribed to do and they had no equipment and nothing to do it with. We were stopped at Senas, which was about halfway on the trip, by some SS troops. This worried us a lot because usually you were stopped and checked by the German version of the military police. Obviously there was a scare on. Pierre and myself were told to get out of the car and then they started to cut the seat material in the back of the car. Pierre, who spoke very good German, said, "What on earth are you doing?" They said an American bomber had been shot down and they were looking for the crew. Pierre said, "You don't think we've sewn them into the back seat, do you?" at which the Germans laughed. They didn't open the boot which was not locked and which was full of weapons. They just told us to get in the car and drive away.

Another way out of a problem was to spit blood and pretend you had TB. The Germans were very frightened of TB, and if you spat blood they tended to tell you to go on your way. Once, I got out of a train at Avignon station and there was a rather heavy control and they were spending a lot of time looking at my papers and I coughed and spluttered, bit my lip and spat blood on the platform, where it could be seen on the hard surface. My papers were returned very quickly and I was sent on my way.

(18) Maurice Buckmaster, head of the French Section of the Special Operations Executive wrote about "Roger" (Francis Cammaerts) in his book Specially Employed (1952).

The wide area in which Roger had to carry our his duties involved him in much travelling. Many were the hairbreadth escapes, the lucky chances of that period, for travelling was the most unhealthy of pastimes. Only Roger's wide circle of friends saved him from certain arrest. Striding across the uplands, his tall figure caused the shepherds to call to each other, "voila Ie grand diable d'anglais", for among the simple, honest people of the region Roger's nationality could not be hidden. Not a man among them would not have fought to save Roger; not a woman who would not have hidden him from pursuit at the risk other life; not a child who would not have undergone any form of torture rather than betray I'ami anglais.

(19) Francis Cammaerts wrote a foreword for Madeleine Masson's book on the life of Christine Granville, Christine (1975)

Living and struggling from day to day within a community where total interdependence was the essence of everyday life, the singling out of individuals cannot give a picture of reality. Individual agents either in France or in Poland were dependent for every meal and every night's rest on people whose small children, aged parents, property and livelihood were continually put at risk by our presence. Their contribution involved a much greater sacrifice than ours.

(20) In July 1944, Roger Landis, a SOE agent, discovered that André Grandclément, the former leader of the Scientist Network, was a German spy. He was interviewed about this by Russell Miller for his book, Behind the Lines (2002)

We knew that Grandclément was a traitor - he had admitted as much to me in September the previous year when he tried to persuade me that communism was our real enemy, not Germany. I wish I had shot him then and I would have done so had there not been two women in the room at the time. He was turned by the Germans after being arrested earlier. They convinced him that France's best interests lay in siding with Germany to present a united front against communism and from that moment on he abandoned the Allied cause. We managed to capture him in July 1944 by persuading him that an aircraft was being sent to take him back to England. He really believed he would be able to talk his way out of trouble.

When I heard that he was being held by a group in Bordeaux, along with his wife and a bodyguard, I made arrangements to go straight there. We had a Citroen car, the kind the Gestapo used. We removed the permit and changed the registration number and set off for Bordeaux to the house where the group were keeping them. Some of my friends wanted to shoot the three of them at once, they had been responsible for the deaths of so many, but I insisted that we should have some semblance of a trial because I didn't want us to be accused of murdering three people out of hand after the war ended.

I interrogated them for about six or seven hours. Grandclément admitted he had worked for the Germans, but said he had only done so to save the life of his wife, who had also been arrested earlier by the Gestapo. But he said he hadn't told them everything he knew and only gave them snippets of information, trying to put the blame on others. I didn't believe him. When we had finished the interrogation we discussed what to do with them. Everyone agreed they should be executed immediately. What could we do with them? We had no prison to keep them. Grandclément still believed they were going to be sent to London. I remember he said to me, "Can you give me your word of honour that I am going to London?" I didn't want to tell a lie, so I said "I give you my word that you are leaving this house." I told him that as the aircraft was on its way he would have to be separated from his wife and travel on different routes for their own safety.

We drove in two cars to the Le Muret area, where a Maquis was based. Killing Grandclément and the bodyguard was not a problem, but nobody wanted to kill the wife. I said I would do it; I was in charge and didn't feel I could order anyone else to kill a woman. We couldn't let her go, you see, because if we did the whole of our group would probably have been arrested. I was responsible for the lives of my men, it was my duty to protect them, and unfortunately in a war sometimes innocent people get killed.

I said that when I heard the shot that killed Grandclément - we had separated them by then - I would kill her. The moment I heard the shot I lifted my Colt .45 and shot her in the back of the head. The bullet went through her head and a jet of blood a yard long shot out. The members of the Maquis then buried them. She did not know she was going to be killed. It was my duty to kill her. I was the commanding officer. No one wanted to kill a woman, of course, so I had to do it. I didn't sleep for a week after that.

(21) Francis Cammaerts was interviewed by Rita Kramer for her book Flames in the Field.

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.

(22) Jean Overton Fuller, open letter to the makers of Churchill's Secret Army, broadcast in January/February 2000.

Ernest Vogt, through whom Kieffer (unable to speak either English or French) had conducted the interrogation of Prosper, had told me he was brought in shortly after midnight 24 June 1943; Kieffer had said what was important to him was to get in the dumps of arms and munitions before they were used to kill German soldiers; If Prosper would disclose the locations of all the dumps, neither he nor any of the agents guarding them would be executed; they would be held in prisons until the end of the war. Prosper asked what authority Kieffer had to promise that; Kieffer sent to the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, Berlin, and the authority arrived by breakfast time. Archambaud was then brought in and acquainted with the pact that had been made. Prosper wrote a note to Darling telling him to hand over the arms "to bearer", but when he had done so he was arrested.

Prosper now disappeared from the scene (Vogt did not know where he was taken to) and Archambaud left to explain the pact to further prisoners as they were brought in and to advise them to fall in with its terms, and some supposed him to be the author of it. So long as the Germans remained in Paris, the prisoners were kept in Fresnes or other prisons round about, but after the Allied landings, the Germans, in their retreat, did not leave them to the liberated by the Allies - they would have given away the radio game still being played by the Germans in their retreat. Probably because, as in their retreat they were constantly moving from one town to another which would have made in inconvenient to take a large number of prisoners, Kieffer must have been looking for some place where he could deposit them, and thereby lost the control of them, and (this he learned only from his Allied captors after the war) they got deposited in concentration camps, Buchenwald and others, where the guarantee that had been given of their being kept alive and well treated was ignored, or perhaps even not known about, and in the last stages of the war they were all murdered.

(23) M. R. D. Foot, SOE in France (1966)

It is said to be widely believed in France that Suttill's circuit was deliberately betrayed by the British to the Germans; even 'directly by wireless to the Avenue Foch'. An assertion as absurd as this last one calls to mind the Duke of Wellington's reply to the man who called him Captain Jones: 'Sir, if you can believe that, you can believe anything'. The Avenue Foch could only be reached by wireless by someone who knew the frequencies it used; it was the task of one of the British intelligence departments to hunt for these frequencies and, having found them, to watch the traffic on them. It is not seriously conceivable that any transmission could have been made to the Gestapo direct from any British-held set without giving rise to widespread and elaborate inquiries involving several different secret services: how on earth could they all be hushed up ? Such a conspiracy to betray Prosper, whether per impossible by wireless or by any other means, appears in any case quite pointless. What object useful to British strategy could have been served by it ?

(24) General Dwight D. Eisenhower, letter to Colin Gubbins of the SOE (31st May, 1945)

Since I assumed the Supreme Command in January 1944, until the present day, its work has been marked by patient and far-sighted planning, flexible adaptation to the operational requirements of Supreme Headquarters, and efficient executive action during operations.

In no previous war, and in no other theatre during this war, have resistance forces been so closely harnessed to the main military effort. While no final assessment of the operational value of resistance action has yet been completed, I consider that the disruption of enemy rail communications, the harassing of German road moves and the continual and increasing strain placed on the German war economy and internal security services throughout occupied Europe by the organized forces of resistance, played a very considerable part in our complete and final victory.

The combination of certain sections of your two organizations, first established as Special Force Headquarters under the joint command of Brigadier Mockler-Ferryman and Colonel Haskell, was the means by which these resistance forces were so ably organized, supplied and directed. Particular credit must be due to those responsible for communications with occupied territory. I am also aware of the care with which each individual country was studied and organized, and of the excellent work carried out in training, documenting", briefing and dispatching agents. The supply to agents and resistance groups in the field, moreover, could only have reached such proportions during the summer of 1944 through outstanding efficiency on the part of the supply and air liaison staffs. Finally, I must express my great admiration for the brave and often spectacular exploits of the agents and special groups under control of Special Force Headquarters.

(25) The Times (8th May 1948)

Some of the bravest figures of the war are commemorated among the names of 52 women to whose memory a modest tablet was unveiled yesterday by Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, Commandant-in-Chief of the Women's Transport Service, at St Paul's Church, Knightsbridge.

The 52 are those members of the WTS (which began in 1907 as the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) who fell in different theatres of the war. Of these women and girls 13 met death in German prison camps, after having been parachuted into enemy-occupied territory as secret agents to serve the allies by aiding the resistance movements. There is no formula by which to calculate how much of cold courage was embodied in these 13 women, or what they endured in dying for their countries.