The “Wild Irish girl who went around France with a wireless tucked in her bag” (SOE in France)

Claudia Pulver was a Viennese jew who escaped to England and was working as a seamstress in London when she was recruited by SOE to work at their continental clothing section based in Titchfield Street London which was responsible for producing continental style clothing and issuing agents with authentic looking clothing and accessories.

Pulver also measured and fitted out agents at their nearby secret showroom in Margaret Street and although she did not know their names after the war she got to know their true identities. Pulver recalled a French countess who crossed the channel in a rowing boat and would be returning to France as an agent and explained:

” She was an elegant lady and we had to make her elegant clothes… There was {also} a Jewish girl who was supposed to be dropped in the south of France in some chateau occupied partly by German officers. Because she was supposed to be a relation we had to make her riding clothes, but she did not make it for long. She managed to get a few Germans before they killed her. We could never understand how they could be so brave as they were. They were incredibly contained and distant. Somehow you felt there was something very special about them.

Clothes were designed to support their cover story including the social status the agent needed to project and people like wireless operators were dressed quite ordinary and we had to be careful to be in character.

We had an Irish girl who was quite wild and went around France with a wireless tucked in her bag. She was dressed quite ordinary. When the German’s stopped her and asked her what she had in her bag she said, ‘it’s a wireless, or course, but she got away with it. She survived the war but others didn’t…”

Although Ireland was neutral many Irish citizens enlisted and the Irish girl which Claudia Pulver described as quite wild was 23-year-old Maureen ‘Paddy’ O’Sullivan who preferred to be called Paddy because of her Irish heritage.

Paddy was born in Dublin on 3 January 1918 and was raised at a convent in Dublin and at the age of 7 was sent to live with her aunt in Belgium where she attended another convent school and from the scant information available it appears she never experienced a stable family life.

When war was declared Paddy was training to be a nurse at Highgate Hospital but decided to enlist into the WAAF’s and on 7 July 1941 her language skills came to the attention of SOE and she was recruited as a potential agent.

During phase one of her training and selection at Wanborough Manor near Guildford she displayed the required skills to become as a field wireless operator and after being warned the life expectancy of a wireless operator was judged to be around six weeks, Paddy volunteered and attended the wireless and security school and after completing the course she successfully passed the difficult ‘trade craft’ course at Beaulieu before being taught to parachute.

Although it is widely believed Paddy O’Sullivan completed two missions to France due to lack of official documents this cannot be confirmed.

On the night of 23/24 March 1944, which was possibly the start of her second mission, Paddy O’Sullivan boarded a converted bomber of 138 Special Duties Squadron at RAF Tempsford in Buckinghamshire to parachute onto a remote field near Limoges in south-west central France but after reaching the DZ (drop zone) the entire area was covered in fog, the ground could not be seen from the air and the pilot suggested the mission be aborted and they return to Tempsford but Paddy insisted on being dropped. After exiting the aircraft at 600 feet during her descent she could not see the ground or the tree as she crashed through its branches before making a heavy landing. After the war she made the casual remark of being saved from serious injury by the 2 million francs in bank notes strapped to her back.

With forged papers identifying her as Micheline Simonet, a nurse from Paris Paddy became the wireless operator for a clandestine circuit called Fisherman and for several months she was constantly on the move and working from different safe houses to keep one step ahead of the German Intelligence wireless detection finders whilst maintaining contact with London and organising weapons, sabotage stores and other agents to be dropped by parachute.

It has been said O’Sullivan continued this dangerous work until France was liberated but a short note in her personal file which simply says, “Simonet, overrun now Madam Alvey” supports the belief her cover had been blown, the Gestapo and Abwehr knew her identity and Paddy had changed her cover name to Madam Alvey to evade capture.

It is also believed Paddy only disposed of her wireless and went on the run after informing London of her situation and arrangements had been made for a Lysander from 161 Special Duties Squadron to extract her from isolated farmland.

After the war Paddy O’Sullivan was awarded the French Croix de Guerre and the British MBE and she summarised her war service as being “terribly frightening at times but there was a wonderful spirit of sharing danger with men of the highest order of courage which made it a privilege to work with them.”

Author: Alan Malcher

Military historian and defence commentator

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