Elaine Madden Special Operations Executive T Section (Belgium)

Elaine Madden

This section became operational in December 1940 as an independent offshoot of the French Section and was commanded by Grenadier Guards officer Claude Knight and later by Hardy Amies. When it comes to agent fatalities as a result of wireless deception by the Abwehr (German military intelligence) the methods used in Belgium have many similarities to those experienced by SOE’s N section (Netherland).

Belgium under occupation and the Special Operations Executive

Emile Tromme, thought to be the first T Section agent to arrive in Belgium.

Emile Tromme is widely said to be the first agent to arrive by parachute: some writers claim in May 1941 he landed inside a prisoner of war camp and it took him four months to escape and after escaping he continued his resistance work; It has also been claimed on 13 May 1941 he arrived safely by parachute north of Vielsalm and formed a group of saboteurs around Verviers. The only reliable record confirms he was executed by the Germans sometime in February 1942.

According to former T Section agent Jacques Doneux who arrived in Belgium by parachute in 1943, in October 1942 his headquarters in London were unaware out of the 45 agents and 18 wireless operators sent to Belgium only 13 had not been captured, most of their wirelesses and codes were in German hands and being ‘played back’ to London. This deception is sometimes referred to as the ‘wireless war’ which was also being successfully employed in the Netherlands and both sections found themselves dropping agents and weapons to the Germans, but for various reasons this ploy was less successful in France.   

  Due to the politics of the period not least the political rivalries between various groups of Belgium resisters, apart from published war memoirs of a non-political nature written by former T Section agents such as ‘They Arrived by Moonlight’, by Captain Jacques Doneux, and Elaine Madden’s ‘I heard my country Calling’, reliable information and official accounts on SOE operations in Belgium are difficult to find.

Elaine Madden

Elaine Madden was only 16 (some claim she was 17) when Belgium, France and the Netherland was invaded by Germany and Elaine and her aunt Simone Duponselle were making their way to the coast in the hope of avoiding the German advance and were later found by British troops hiding in a barn, another source said the soldiers passed them in a car and offered them a lift, Irrespective of which version is correct, the soldiers said they would attempt to get them on a boat leaving Dunkirk for England.    

When they arrived in Dunkirk British troops gave Elaine and her aunt greatcoats, helmets and gas masks to disguise them as soldiers and whilst climbing a rope ladder onto a trawler the captain noticed the two women but decided to turn a blind eye to his two stowaways.  After reaching England they were questioned by MI5 before being allowed to stay with an aunt living in Streatham London.    

On 7 May 1944 Elaine was twenty and apart from being of recruitment age MI5 had already marked her file as a potential agent and this information had been passed to SOE.   Elaine was discretely approach by an SOE recruiter and asked whether she was willing to volunteer for hazardous missions in Belgium and after being warned of the great risks she would face Elaine volunteered.

  Madden successfully passed the Students’ Assessment Board (SAB) in Cranleigh, Surrey before passing the comprehensive course on subversive warfare in Scotland and the mandatory trade craft at the Beaulieu finishing school on the edge of the New Forrest in Hampshire. She was then formally a member of SOE and given the cover name Elaine Meeus and provided with forged identity papers. She also had to remember back stories to support her fictitious life.

Sometime in 1944 she arrived in Belgium by parachute with instructions to act as a courier for circuit leader André Wendelen who was running a group of saboteurs and their wireless operator Jacques Van de Spiegel. As a courier Elaine Madden was responsible for the difficult and dangerous task of liaising and passing orders to scattered members of the resistance to ensure their activities supported the allied strategy: some targets such as bridges, railways and communications had to be destroyed whilst others were only disrupted and could easily be repaired and used by the allies.   

During her resistance work Madden was given a lift in a vehicle by a German officer whilst carrying a wireless transmitter in her suitcase and on several occasions was forced to use various counter-surveillance drills to lose members of the Abwehr and Gestapo she noticed following her.  

After the war Madden worked for an organisation responsible for tracing missing T Section agents and political prisoners during which she conducted investigations at Buchenwald, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen and Flossenberg Concentration Camps and after a long investigation she only found two survivors the remainder had been executed.

Although Madden was almost captured several times she always said, “I wasn’t a heroine… Just young and excited…  but I can still look in the mirror and feel proud.”

        

      

Author: Alan Malcher

Military historian and defence commentator

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