SOE Wireless Operator/Courier Odette Wilen (nee Star)

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.

Alan Malcher

Author: Alan Malcher

Military historian and defence commentator

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