Alexander Vass was born in Limburg, Germany, he spoke fluent Hungarian and was a child when his family moved to Canada and became naturalised Canadians.
In early 1943 Vass enlisted into the Royal Canadian Medical Corp and several months later he came to the attention of SOE’s Hungarian Section who were looking for agents who could speak fluent Hungarian and after passing selection and training in England he went on to pass the wireless and security course at Thames House in Oxfordshire.
Vass and three other agents boarded a converted Halifax bomber of 148 Special Duty Squadron RAF to be dropped by parachute north of Lake Balaton in western Hungary and after the aircraft failed to return it was assumed all had been killed.
Several months after the war it was discovered the Halifax had been intercepted by German night fighters and Luftwaffe documents stated the aircraft exploded after hitting the ground and all the crew were killed. After three SOE agents were liberated from a German prisoner of war camp Alexander Vass was not among them and the three surviving agents later described what happened.
They were not aware the aircraft had been lost because the agents had been dropped before its interception. One agent named Broughay said they had been dropped at the wrong location and landed in a forest and he found himself about 30 feet up a tree and there was no way of concealing their presence. After splitting up into two groups he and Vass avoided enemy forces for over 24 hours but were eventually captured, stripped searched and interrogated. They were then taken down a hill where the other two agents were in custody and were told they would be shot. The three agents were then taken to a Secret Police Headquarters were the interrogation continued and the following morning were put into the back of a lorry and were greatly relieved after finding themselves at a German Prisoner of War Camp controlled by the Luftwaffe.
During an allied air raid sometime in December 1944 a bomb hit the camp and Alexander Vass was killed.
Two brothers, Lieutenant’s Philippe Rousseau (left) and Joseph. Photograph taken at a transit camp near Down Ampney, England on 13 February 1944 and both served with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.
Philippe was killed in action on 7 June 1944 in France and Joseph was killed on 20 September 1944 also in France. Both are buried next to each other at the Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery at Ranville, Calvados France. (Colour by Piece of Cake)
After Germany occupied Poland on 1 September 1939 underground movements began their protracted war of resistance against the occupying forces and their administration. Resistance was often symbolised by culturally coded signs and symbols in the form of graffiti, shrines and other public displays like Kotwica (anchor) which carried ethnic and religious meaning while other symbols like the image of a turtle had the practical purpose of organising work go slows and resistance also promoted Polish culture and nationalism against the occupying forces of the Third Reich.
Resistance was also symbolised by the creation of small shrines where Nazi executions and other atrocities had taken place.
The White Eagle Resistance movement, a symbol of the Polish nation, had a large following and one of their early acts of aggressive resistance was the attack on a German police station in German occupied Bochnia, a town on the river Raba in southern Poland. Two of the members who took part in the attack, Jaroslav Zrzyszowskiand Fryderyk Piatkowski were arrested by German forces and publicly hanged from lampposts.
Otto Wachter SS
Four days later a German reprisal for the attack, said to have been managed by Major Albrecht and supervised by Governor Otto Wachter, resulted in 50 men thought to have no connections with the resistance being picked at random and forced to walk along Casimir Street to Uzbornia Hill whilst Jews were forced to dig a ditch to be used as a mass grave.
After reaching the site of the execution the men were shot by a twelve-man German firing squad after which each man was shot again through the head by a German officer to ensure they were dead. Kazyzhowski and Piatkowski were then cut down from the lampposts where their bodies had been on public display as a deterrent for four days and thrown into the mass grave before Jews were forced to bury the dead.
After the war Otto Wachter escaped from the allies with the assistance of pro-Nazi, Bishop Alois Hudal and died in 1949 from a kidney related illness.
Photograph: Odette Wilen and her fiancée Marcel Leccia
Wilen had a French mother and Czech father, and they became British citizens in 1931 after which her father joined the RAF. In June 1940 she married Dennis Wilen a Czech pilot serving with the RAF who was killed in a flying accident two years later. In April 1943 Odette was serving with the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) when she was recruited as an SOE conducting officer and in February 1944 she requested to be trained as an agent and later successfully passed selection and the advanced training course.
After completing wireless and security training she was posted to SOE’s F (French) Section and on the night of 11-12 April 1944 was dropped by parachute onto remote farmland near Auvergne, southwest France to join the Stationary clandestine circuit as their wireless operator. After operational difficulties she began working as a courier for the Labourer circuit where she met Marcel Leccia who was also an SOE agent, and they eventually became engaged.
Several months later Marcel Leccia and two other members of his circuit were betrayed to the Gestapo and after being tortured for 52 hours Leccia was transported to Buchenwald concentration camp where he was hung.
Marcel Leccia’s sister, Mimi, rushed to the house being used by Wilen and told her Marcel had been arrested, the Gestapo knew her identity and Mimi moved her to a secure property minutes before the Gestapo and German troops surrounded the blown safe house.
After joining an escape line several guides took her across the Pyrenees to the safety of neutral Spain and she returned to England in August 1944. One of her guides was a Spaniard named Santiago who she married after the war and several years later they moved to Argentina and raised two children.
On 9 August 2005 the British Ambassador to Argentina presented Wilen with the parachute wings she should have received 63 years previously.
Her husband died in 1997 and Odette Wilen died in 2015 at the age of 96.