Lilian Rolfe

Lilian Rolfe

Lilian Rolfe, the daughter of George Rolfe, a chartered accountant, was born in Paris, France, on 26th April, 1914. The family moved to Brazil in 1930.

On the outbreak of the Second World War Lilian was working for the British Embassy in Rio de Janeiro. Lilian was asked to monitor German shipping movements in the harbour and this got her involved in espionage work.

In 1943 Lilian moved to England and joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) as a wireless operator. Lilian's ability to speak French fluently brought her to the attention of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). After being interviewed in November 1943, she agreed to become a British special agent.

Given the code name "Nadine", Lilian was flown to France on 5th April 1944 where she joined the Historian network led by George Wilkinson. Over the next three months she sent 67 messages to the SOE in London.

Wilkinson was captured near Orleans at the end of June. The following month, on 31st July, Lilian was arrested while staying in a house in Nangis. After being interrogated by the Gestapo she was sent to Fresnes Prison. In August 1944 she was deported to Nazi Germany and was executed at the Ravensbruck concentration camp in January 1945.

Primary Sources

(1) 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!