Muriel Byck: SOE Wireless Operator

Muriel Byck was born to Jewish French parents on 4 June 1918 in Ealing, London. From the few records available it is known that from 1923 to 1924 she lived with her parents in Wiesbaden Germany and the family moved to France in 1926 before returning to London in 1930 where she continued her education at a French school in Kensington, London.
From 1936 to 1938 she worked as a secretary and then became an assistant stage manager at the Gate Theatre. At the outbreak of war she undertook voluntary work with the Red Cross and also the WVS (Women’s Voluntary Service) and in 1941 she moved to Torquay and worked as an Air Raid Precaution Warden.

In December 1942 she joined the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) as a general duties clerk and was recruited by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in September 1943.

After passing the Student Assessment Board at Winterfold House in Cranleigh Surrey, it was claimed she attended the unconventional warfare course in Scotland, but this is unlikely because agent trained wireless operators were specialists with a high degree of technical competence who were difficult to replace and were forbidden from engaging in aggressive operations. Documents also show she completed her wireless and security training at Thame Park in Oxfordshire and then passed the compulsory and academically challenging trade craft course at Beaulieu.

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On the night of 8-9 April 1944 Muriel Byck along with three other agents infiltrated France by parachute and after going their separate ways Byck joined the Ventriloquist circuit organised by SOE agent Philippe de Vomécourt to work as his wireless operator.
Using the cover name of Violette Michéle and pretending to be the niece of Philippe de Vomécourt, who used several cover names but was generally known as Antoine, she chose several safe houses to use her wireless to receive orders and make arrangements for weapons, explosives and other equipment to be dropped by parachute; she was always on the move to avoid being located by German wireless direction finders and ensured her wireless traffic was sent in under twenty minutes to lower the chances of her location being discovered.
One of her safe houses was in the town of Salaries in central France which was owned by a member of the resistance called Antoine Vincent and she used her wireless from a shed behind a garage in Limoges until she noticed it was under surveillance and immediately changed her location, name and cover story.

She then moved into the home of a blacksmith and transmitted from several properties. Sometime in May 1944 (dates vary according to sources) Philippe de Vomécourt arrived at the blacksmith’s house to find Muriel Byck collapsed on the floor unconscious and called a doctor who worked for the resistance who diagnosed an advance stage of meningitis requiring immediate hospital treatment. The doctor warned de Vomécourt he had no contacts at the hospital he could trust and the Germans were always notified of new admissions and both were concerned her false identity papers would not pass close examination but an hospital was her only chance of survival.

After placing her on the rear seat of a car de Vomécourt drove her to the nearest hospital and after obtaining assistance from a nurse he disappeared before questions could be asked.
On 23 May 1944, at the age of 25, Muriel Byck died in hospital from Meningitis. She was buried in Romorantin, a commune and town in the Loir-et-Cher department and for many years her grave was tended by local people who also commemorated the anniversary of her death as a heroine of the resistance and her body was later moved to the Pornic War Cemetery.
After the war it was alleged, but never substantiated, that her mother insisted her daughter’s medals be destroyed.

Author: Alan Malcher

Military historian and defence commentator

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