Brian Stonehouse

Brian Stonehouse

Brian Stonehouse was born in Torquay, on 8th August 1918. When he was a child the family moved to France and he did not return to England until 1932. After leaving school Stonehouse became an art student.

In 1939 Stonehouse became a member of the Territorial Army and after the outbreak of the Second Word War he joined the British Army. He later served as an interpreter for French troops who had been evacuated from Norway.

As a result of his knowledge of France Stonehouse was recruited by the French Section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). On 1st July 1942, he was parachuted into occupied France. Based in Lyons as a wireless operator but was captured by the Vichy police on 24th October.

After being interrogated by the Gestapo Stonehouse was sent to Fresnes Prison in Paris. In October 1943, Stonehouse was deported to Nazi Germany where he spent time in various concentration camps including Dachau. Stonehouse was freed by American troops on 29th April 1945.

Awarded the MBE for his wartime services, Stonehouse moved to the United States in 1946 where he worked as a fashion artist for Vogue.

In 1979 Stonehouse returned to England where he worked as a portrait painter. This included paintings of members of the royal family. Brian Stonehouse died in December 1998.

Primary Sources

(1) M. R. D. Foot, wrote about Brian Stonehouse in his book, SOE in France (1966)

The container his set was carried in hung up in a tree, and it was a week before he could get it into his hands-he lived in the woods for his first five nights, hoping each day to get it down. Then, having met Gauthier and been rudely directed to Lyons, he had a lot of technical trouble before he could make contact with England; then his set broke down altogether and he caught dysentery. It was not till late August that he got into proper working touch with home station;soon afterwards he was joined by a courier, Blanche Charlet. She landed by felucca at the beginning of September, and at once made herself useful finding safe houses he could transmit from, as well as carrying messages round SOE's principal figures in the south.

Unluckily for them both, direction-finders picked out Stonehouse when he was engaged in a prolonged transmission, at a chateau just south of Lyons, on 24 October; and she was arrested when she arrived there, bearing written messages for him, a few minutes after he had been captured at his set. She remained in various French prisons, from one of which she managed to escape eleven months later, getting back to England in the end. He had more rigorous treatment, at German hands; obstinately refused to say anything of much importance to his captors, whatever they did to him; and had the fortitude and fortune to survive Mauthausen, Natzweiler, and Dachau.

(2) Blanche Charlet was Brian Stonehouse's courier in France. She was interviewed by Russell Miller for his book, Behind the Lines (2002)

Celestin (Brian Stonehouse's code name) was either receiving or broadcasting and I was encoding an urgent message when the light went out. Celestin said that this meant danger. In fact, Jourdan, who was in the garden and had seen the police arrive, had cut the current. Celestin knew of a good hiding place in the cellar. As there was no time to burn the papers on which we had been working, we packed them all in the set and took it downstairs by way of a back staircase and buried the set in the sand behind a lift shaft.

By this time, the house had been surrounded and we could hear men talking above us. We decided to go out and sit as innocently as possible in the garden, Celestin in his dressing gown. We sat outside on the steps talking. After a while, we saw a German coming towards us, he shouted and said something to us, pointed a gun at us and pushed us towards the front of the house.

Meanwhile, the Germans were searching the house and found the set. I think that in our hurry we had probably not buried it properly. In the meantime, I had managed to give Mme Jourdan my personal address and my keys, and asked her to go and burn some compromising papers which I had hidden there. I was put into a car with a German and a French police inspector. I had in my bag a small notebook containing all the compromising names which I had managed to hide underneath a pot in the garden while the house was being searched; I slipped it underneath the cushions of the car during the drive to the police station.

When we arrived at the police station, Celestin and I were left alone long enough to arrange what we would say. Celestin was interrogated first, and when I came into the room after his interrogation, I was asked for my address. I answered that I could not give it for sentimental reasons, explaining that I was the mistress of a married man, and that his wife was probably back by now, and I did not want to compromise the married life of my friend. Also, I said that as I had been arrested with Celestin, I did not want my lover to think that I was his girlfriend. At that time I did not know whether Mme Jourdan had been arrested or not and it was therefore imperative for me not to give away my personal address. Obviously, the fact that I had failed to disclose this gave the police grounds for suspicion. When they asked me whether I knew that Celestin was a W/T operator, I replied that I did not even know what a W/T operator was.

(3) Brian Stonehouse was at the concentration camp at Natzweiler when Diana Rowden, Vera Leigh, Andrée Borrel and Sonya Olschanezky arrived on 6th April 1944. He described the women in a statement he made to a military court in 1946.

There was one tall girl (Andrée Borrel) with very fair heavy hair. I could see that it was not its natural colour as the roots of her hair were dark. She was wearing a black coat, French wooden-soled shoes and was carrying a fur coat on her arm. Another girl (Sonya Olschanezky) had very black oily hair, and wore stockings, aged about twenty to twenty-five years, was short and was wearing a tweed coat and skirt. A third girl (Diana Rowden) was middle height, rather stocky, with shortish fair hair tied with a multi-coloured ribbon, aged about twenty-eight. She was wearing a grey flannel short 'finger tip' length swagger coat with a grey skirt which I remember thinking looked very English. The fourth woman (Vera Leigh) of the party was wearing a brownish tweed coat and skirt. She was more petite than the blonde in grey and older, having shortish brown hair. None of the four women were wearing make-up and all were looking pale and tired.

(4) Brian Stonehouse was interviewed about his experiences at Dachau by Rita Kramer when she was writing her book, Flames in the Field (1995)

You had to remain a human being. That was how you won. They wanted to make us into beasts. Behaving like men, not letting them destroy the human being in us, was how we won. The thing I've been trying to do is make

sure none of this is forgotten before we all disappear. We did it for the future. It would have been night and fog for everyone.