Denise Gilman SOE Agent In France.

Due to lack of records which adds to the difficulty of researching SOE there is little information about the war service of Denise Gilman (Gilman, Denise, Irene, Magurite) and I have to thank Christine Quintlé for filling in many of the gaps as well as providing the only known photograph of her.  Gilman was born on 30 June 1921 in Waziers (North), a commune in the Nord department in northern France, 4 km northwest of Douai and 25 km south of Lille, and at the time of her resistance activities she was 22-years-old.

Gilman fits the description of a woman driving a charcoal burning van which broke down in front of German soldiers near their barracks who insisted on pushing her vehicle to their workshop for repairs.  Whilst working on the vehicle the woman thought to be Denise Gilman flirted with the soldiers to draw attention away from her cargo. Fortunately, they did not open the rear doors and see it was loaded to the ceiling with explosives and weapons. After repairing her vehicle, she warmly thanked the soldiers and continued her journey. It is known Gilman worked as the courier for SOE agent Michael Trotobas (mentioned in another post) and both were part of the Farmer network (also known as the Sylvestre Farmer Network) which operated in Lille; it is also known Denise Gilman and Michael Trotobas had been wanted by the Gestapo since August 1943. Gilman travelled extensively whilst liaising with members of the Resistance and SOE agents in Lille, Arras, Amboise and Paris and on the evening of 26 November 1943 after arriving from Paris she Stayed at a safe house at 20 boulevard de Belfort Lille with Trotobas and were due to move to another safe house.

Although complicated and beyond the scope of this post, essentially, a captured agent gave their safehouse address to the Gestapo.

At 6 am the safehouse was surrounded by German Field Police and although greatly outnumbered Gilman and Trotobas refused to be taken alive and engaged the Germans in a firefight during which both were fatally wounded. Several days after their deaths members of the resistance searched the flat and found a traumatised black cat hiding under a bed and the cat became the symbol for local resistance by the Farmer circuit.

 There is much we don’t know about Denise Gilman but her heroic stand with Michael Trotobas is well documented.

SOE Agents Henry and Alfred Newton (the twins)

At SOE headquarters in London brothers Henry and Alfred Newton were affectionally referred to as the twins although there was a large age difference. Before joining SOE their parents, wives and children boarded a liner to take them and other refugees to the safety of England but during the passage the ship was sunk by a German U-boat and there were no survivors and after the loss of their entire family the brothers had a deep hatred of the Germans.

    The twins were sent to France to train members of the resistance in the use of weapons and explosives, but the Gestapo eventually tracked down their safehouse in Lyon.  Due to their reputation the Gestapo were accustomed to people cowering before them, and the 15 Gestapo officers who burst into their safe house were shocked when the twins immediately began attacking them with improvised weapons including wine bottles and chair legs being used as truncheons. By the time the twins were overpowered and severely beaten the Gestapo officers were bruised and bloodied and one had his front teeth knocked out.  

After being taken to Gestapo Headquarters at Hotel Terminus in Lyon, for several days they were tortured by Klaus Barbie (the butcher of Lyon) and his equally psychopathic assistant Larsen but the twins refused to provide information. Barbie then put the twins before a mock firing squad where they showed no emotions and it was clear they were prepared to die. After failing to break the twins they were sent to a concentration camp where they survived by changing their prison numbers on their uniforms with prisoners who had died from typhoid and other diseases and this continued until they were eventually liberated. Although they survived the war the twins never got over their injuries and mental scars.      

SOE agent Harry Peulevé DSO, MC (a brief overview of a very active agent)

Peulevé undertook three missions to France and eventually formed a clandestine circuit called Author where he armed and trained more than 4000 members of the resistance. He was aware of being on the Gestapo wanted list but turned down an opportunity to be extracted from France by the RAF Special Duties Squadron. 

Peulevé and several members of the local resistance were later arrested at a safehouse and eventually taken to the Gestapo headquarters in Paris where they were separated before being interrogated.

Peulevé was tortured for several days but refused to answer their questions and was transferred to a solitary confinement cell at Fresnes Prison. During an escape attempt he was shot in the leg and after being refused medical treatment was forced to remove the bullet by digging it out with a dirty prison spoon whilst hoping the wound would not become infected. He was later deported to a concentration camp and after eleven agents were executed and knowing he could be next he swapped his identity with a French prisoner named Marcel Seigneur who had died from Typhus. In early 1945 Peulevé, now known to the SS guards as Marcel Seigneur, was transferred to a labour detail where he was forced to dig anti-tank ditches near the River Elbe and after advancing American forces reached Magdenburg he managed to escape.

Several hours later he was stopped by two SS soldiers but managed to convince them he was a French collaborator trying to avoid the advancing Americans and then warned them to remove their tunics and insignias because the Americans were shooting members of the SS. As they began to undress Peulevé grabbed one of their pistols and later handed them over to soldiers of the 83rd US Infantry Division. After being debriefed he returned to England and landed at Croydon Airport on 18 April 1945.

SOE Agent Anne-Marie Walters

In December 1943, twenty-year-old Anne-Marie Walters was minutes away from parachuting into France when her mission was aborted due to heavy fog over the drop zone and the aircraft returned to England. The bomber was diverted to another airfield not normally used by the RAF Special Duties Squadron where no questions were asked about female passengers. During the landing the aircraft hit pine trees and crashed short of the runway and caught fire. Walters and another agent named Jean-Claude escaped through a hole in the fuselage. Walters later recalled: “As ground crews ran to the burning aircraft one shouted what the hell is this woman doing in this mess? We decided to say we were journalists, but it was doubtful whether anyone would believe us; our jump suits and arms and scattered containers would give us away… The rest of the crew apart from the dispatcher were killed.”

 On the night of 3-4 June 1944 Walters and Jean-Claude successfully infiltrated France by parachute and Walters joined the Wheelwright Network as their courier.  Her cover story was that she was a student from Paris recovering from pneumonia who was visiting friends who had a farm. Walters travelled throughout SW France. After 15 members of the French Resistance escaped from prison she organised their escape across the Pyrenees, she helped deliver several suitcases of explosives to Toulouse to blow up a power station. After one journey Walters said, “My family might not have recognized me had they seen me sitting in a third-class carriage with a beret tipped low over my forehead, wearing an old raincoat and generally looking half-witted while eating a chunk of bread and sausages”.
Whilst fighting 2000 German troops during which 19 members of the resistance were killed, under heavy enemy fire Walters distributed hand grenades and ammunition to members of the Maquis before their position was overrun.
Later during her life Anne-Marie Walters suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and died in France in 1998 at the age of 75.

Canadian SOE Agents Frank Pickersgill and Ken Macalister

(An overview)

Frank Pickertsgill and Ken Macalister

Canadian SOE agents Frank Pickersgill and Ken Macalister parachuted into France on the night of 20 June 1943 with instructions to form a clandestine network called Archdeacon. As described in the previous post they were picked up by SOE agents Yvonne Rudellat and Pierre Culioli and their vehicle was stopped at a roadblock during which the Canadians cover were blown and were arrested, and the two other agents were captured after a shoot-out with German troops who recovered the Canadians wireless and codes hidden in a Red Cross parcel on the rear seat of the vehicle and this allowed a German operator to play-back the wireless to London using the correct codes.

Whilst a German operator was sending favourable reports to London about the newly formed Archdeacon Circuit there was no reason to doubt they were receiving signals from Macalister and as requested sent weapons, finance and other agents by parachute to assist Archdeacon which, unbeknown to London, was in German hands and only after the war did the full story become known. After their capture Macalister and Pickersgill were repeatedly tortured for information but refused to assist the Gestapo and on 27 August they were transported to Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

On 14 September 1944, John Macalister, Frank Pickersgill along with several other agents were executed by slow strangulation with piano wire suspended from hooks in the crematorium at Buchenwald camp.

SOE Agent Yvonne Rudellat

Yvonne Rudellat was an SOE Courier who was involved in a number of operations and the following is an overview. On 20 July 1942 after crossing from Gibraltar by felucca under the cover of darkness she arrived by rowing boat on a deserted beach a few miles from Cannes. She used the cover name Jacqueline Gautier but used other identities whilst working for various networks. She took a train from Cannes to Lyon and from there took a train to Paris where she hid in the tender of the locomotive to cross the demarcation line. From Paris she went to Tours and worked for the Monkeypuzzle circuit where she organised agents and supplies to be dropped by parachute and also travelled by bicycle to liaise with scattered members of the resistance. After Monkeypuzzle was infiltrated by German agents she teamed up with SOE agent Pierre Culioli and took the cover of a married couple with the surname Leclaire and continued organising parachute drops.

Working as a married couple they picked up two Canadian SOE agents, John Macalister and Frank Pickersgill who arrived in France by Parachute a few hours previously. Culioli was driving the car, Yvonne was sitting next to him and the two Canadians were sitting in the back when they reached a roadblock in Dhuizon. The reason why the Canadians were ordered out of the car and why their covers were blown is beyond the scope of this post. After German soldiers ordered Rudellat and Culioli out of the car Culioli put the car in gear and accelerated away and soldiers started firing at them. They were quickly pursued by a vehicle full of German soldiers who were shooting at them and Yvonne was seen leaning out of the car window returning fire before slumping back on her seat after being shot in the head, shortly afterwards Culioli was shot in the leg and the car crashed into a wall. Yvonne was taken unconscious to Blois Hospital where doctors found the bullet had not entered her brain and decided it was too dangerous to remove the bullet. When she gained consciousness she was confused, did not know her name or understand why she was in France.

On 2 March she arrived at Bergen-Belson concentration camp during a typhus epidemic during which an estimated 20,000 prisoners died. Rudellat never recovered her memory and eight days after the camp was liberated Yvonne Rudellat died of typhus and dysentery and was buried in a mass grave along with 5000 other bodies.

SOE Resistance Organiser Michael Trotobas

Trotobas with legs astride in prison

Michael Trotobas was known as a lively character with well-developed leadership skills. During his training in Scotland he got drunk and went Salmon fishing with explosives and whilst serving in France he was noted for going out in the middle of the night by himself and firing a burst from his Sten Gun to unnerved German troops. Trotobas volunteered for three missions to France, several months after arriving on his first mission he was arrested and was part of a mass prison breakout by SOE agents and members of the Resistance. (photo Trotobas with legs astride in prison) and during his second mission he distinguish himself as a resistance organiser and leader.  In November 1943 he created the Farmer network with more than 800 resisters based in Lillie and led many sabotage operations and respectfully became known as ‘Capitaine Michel’. In February 1943 he organised the derailment of 40 trains and closed the railway for two days and over the following months Farmer attacked around 20 trains per week which created delays in supplying German forces in the Lillie region. On the night of 27/ 28 June 1943 with forged Gestapo identification papers Trotobas lead 20 men from the resistance dressed as gendarmes and talked his way into the Locomotives sheds in Lillie, as well as damaging locomotives they destroyed four million litres of oil and damaged 22 transformers. 

Instead of keeping a low profile Trotobas insisted on taking the same risks as those under his command and personally led many sabotage operations but was eventually denounced by a member of his network.

After his safehouse in Lillie was surrounded by German soldiers it was clear to Trotobas and his assistant, 23-year-old Denise Gilman, they were outnumbered, out gunned and there was no escape, but they decided to make a last stand against overwhelming odds. After a lengthy gun battle inside the flat Trotobas and Gilman were shot and a witnessed later described their bodies being thrown into the street as a deterrent to members of the resistance. Immediately after the death of ‘Capitaine Michel’ Farmer destroyed 11 locomotives at Tourcoing and continued sabotaging high value targets.

By the time France was liberated out of the 800 members of Farmer Circuit more than 300 had been killed in action, executed or disappeared after being transported to concentration camps.

Andree de Jongh: MI9 and the Comet Escape Line in Belgium

Andree de Jongh

Andree de Jongh grew up in a suburb of Brussels and after the emergency evacuation of Dunkirk she became aware British soldiers were being hidden by Belgium families and a man named Arnold Deppe was planning to escort them across France to neutral Spain and Andree decided she wanted to help.  Neither were aware their early success would develop into the Comet Escape Line financed and supported by MI9 in London.  

At the age of 24 Andree escorted her first escapers: a young British woman and 10 Belgians wanted by the Gestapo but when they reached the River Somme, it was discovered six of the Belgians could not swim so Andree made seven trips across the river swimming with only her legs and pushing the escapers on a rubber tyre. After returning to Brussels she was told Arnold Deppe had been arrested by the Gestapo and she was now in command.

Throughout the war Comet rescued down aircrews, political prisoners and British agents and although it was part of MI9 it was a network of families and friends. Its escape routes consisted of hundreds of Belgium citizens among which were the de Greef family who provided black market supplies and forged papers; 19-year-old Nadine Dumont, a Comet guide who survived ten-weeks of interrogations and two concentration camps and Andree’s father, Frédéric who was arrested at a Paris train station after being betrayed and later executed by firing squad. Around one thousand people worked in some capacity for the Comet Line and roughly 155 were killed and many others deported to concentration camps.

Andree de Jongh personally escorted 118 escapers across the Spanish border which took over 33 trips. In 1943 part of the line was infiltrated by the Germans and Andree de Jongh was captured at a French safe-house. After being interrogated multiple times she was transported to Ravensbrück and then Mathausen concentration camp where she was liberated in April 1945.

After the war she was awarded the George Medal, the Belgian Croix de Guerre/Oorlogskruis and the US Medal of Freedom and was made a Chevalier in both the Order of Leopold and the Legion d’honneur, she also fulfilled her childhood dream of working as a nurse in Third World Countries.  Andree de Jongh died in 2007 at the age of 90

SOE Agents Henry and Albert Newton (the twins)

A brief overview of their war service in France during WW2

At SOE headquarters in London brothers Henry and Alfred Newton were affectionally referred to as the twins although there was a large age difference. Before joining SOE their parents, wives and children boarded a liner to take them and other refugees to the safety of England but during the passage the ship was sunk by a German U-boat and there were no survivors and after the loss of their entire family the brothers had a deep hatred of the Germans.

The twins were sent to France to train members of the resistance in the use of weapons and explosives, but the Gestapo eventually tracked down their safehouse in Lyon.  Due to their reputation the Gestapo were accustomed to people cowering before them, and the 15 Gestapo officers who burst into their safe house were shocked when the twins immediately began attacking them with improvised weapons including wine bottles and chair legs being used as truncheons. By the time the twins were overpowered and severely beaten the Gestapo officers were bruised and bloodied and one had his front teeth knocked out.  

Klaus Barbie – the Butcher of Lyon

After being taken to Gestapo Headquarters at Hotel Terminus in Lyon, for several days they were tortured by Klaus Barbie (the butcher of Lyon) and his equally psychopathic assistant Larsen but the twins refused to provide information. Barbie then put the twins before a mock firing squad where they showed no emotions and it was clear they were prepared to die. After failing to break the twins they were sent to a concentration camp where they survived by changing their prison numbers on their uniforms with prisoners who had died from typhoid and other diseases and this continued until they were eventually liberated. Although they survived the war the twins never got over their injuries and mental scars.      

The twins. Photograph taken after the war (source unknown)