In July 1942 Francis Cammaerts was recruited by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Given the code name "Roger" by the SOE, in March 1943 he was flown to occupied France at Compiegne. He was originally a member of the Donkeyman Network but after discovering that the circuit had been penetrated by Hugo Bleicher of Abwehr he moved to St Jorioz in the mountains of Savoy and set up a new organization known as Jockey.
By the autumn of 1943, Francis 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 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.
Three days later the Allies began landing in the south of France. Fearing that the men would be shot before the arrival of British soldiers, Christine Granville went to see Albert Schenck, the liaison officer between the French prefecture and the Gestapo. She told Schenck that the Maquis knew about the arrests and would arrange for him to be killed unless he released the men. Schenck knew that it was only a matter of days before the Germans would be overrun by the Allies. However, he did not have the power to release them but he contacted Max Waem and after the payment of two million francs the men were given their freedom.
It was one of the most interesting talks of its kind I have ever had. This was a man of the highest principle working on the land. Put there by the Conscientious Objectors' Board. We discussed at length the principle of warfare and the principles of Hitlerism. Cammaerts' motives were absolutely pure and, therefore, he was one of the most successful agents we ever sent into the field
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.
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.
Christine Granville who had for her own volition risked the death penalty, the responsibility must have been almost beyond endurance. For apart from the consideration of personal courage, she had also to decide whether from the SOE point of view her action was wholly permissible. As an individual she would not have hesitated to barter her life for the lives of three others. As an agent, however, she was obliged to assess the value of those lives against hers; and if hers proved to be worth more, it was her duty to keep it.
In the assessment she made it was Francis Cammaerts's life that weighed the scales in favour of the decision. Had not Francis Cammaerts been arrested with us, Christine would have been perfectly justified in taking no action if action meant jeopardizing herself. Indirectly, then, I owe my life to him as much as I do, directly, to her.
When Christine heard of the arrest she set off for Digne prison immediately. An elderly and kindly gendarme, whom she had approached with a request that she might be allowed to bring some necessities to her husband in prison, put her in touch with an Alsatian named Albert Schenck, who served as a kind of liaison officer between the French prefecture and the German Sicherheitsdienst. To Schenck Christine announced that she was not only a British agent but Cammaert's wife and, for good measure. General Montgomery's niece. The lesson she had learnt from her relationship with Admiral Horthy had not been forgotten. She also made the point that as Allied forces had now landed in southern France it would be very much in Schenck's interests to secure the release of Cammaerts and his fellow prisoners. Schenck told Christine that he himself could do nothing but that there was a Belgian named Max Waem who had more authority and might be willing to help. He did not think that Waem would be interested in any transaction which brought him less than two million francs.
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.
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.