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.”



Agents of Influence: Britain’s Secret Intelligence War Against the IRA

Another very informative read from my good friend Aaron Edwards who also wrote ‘UVF: Under the Mask’.

Agents of Influence: Britain’s Secret Intelligence War Against the IRA – the explosive new book by Aaron Edwards

Why Did Germany Keep Fighting World War Two in 1944 – 1945?

Dutch historian explains: Why Germany fought till the end in 1945, why didn’t Germany surrender earlier in WW2; why wasn’t there a rebellion against the German leadership and why did WW2 end in 1945? This historian also discusses the July Plot (Operation Valkyrie) by the German resistance led by Claus von Stauffenberg; the harsh measures of a total war policy, like the German strongholds strategy and Germany’s last army, the Volkssturm. (A History Hustle Presentation)

How Did Germans React to the Outbreak of World War II? (1939)

Dutch historian explains: Why was there no euphoria when WWII started? What was the German perspective on the outbreak of the Second World War that started with the German invasion of Poland. The Polish Campaign (1939) resulted in a declaration of war from the British and the French to the Germans. How did the ordinary German react to this? Why was there no enthusiasm when WW2 started? Learn more about the German perspective of World War II. History Hustle presents: How Did Germans React to the Outbreak of World War II? (1939).

161 Special Duties Squadron RAF: Supporting Resistance in France During WW2

Contributors, Group Captain Hugh Verity (OC A Flight)

Squadron Leader Frank ‘Bunny’ Rymills

Air Chief Marshall Bob Hodges (OC B Flight and later CO No.161 Squadron)

Barbara Bertram (SOE safehouse hostess near RAF Tangmere)

Flight Lieutenant Richard ‘Dickie’ Lee DFC, DSO (RAF)

Hurricane Pilot during Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain.

‘Dickie Lee’ (source unknown)

Whilst serving with 85 Squadron RAF during Dunkirk, on 21 November he destroyed a Heinkel III over Boulogne and after being shot down he evaded capture and return to his squadron. On 10 May 1940 Lee destroyed a HS 126 and shared in the destruction of a Junker 86 and during the same action was credited for damaging a Junker 88. The following day, after shooting down two enemy aircraft he was shot down over the sea by flak and was rescued after being in the sea for over an hour.

‘Dickie’ Lee after being awarded the DFC and DFO

On 18 August 1940 during the Battle of Britain, Squadron Leader Townsend and Flying Officer Arthur Newman were flying ten-miles north-east of Foulness and were short on fuel when they saw ‘Dickie’ chasing a Messerschmitt bf 109 out to sea. Townsend shouted over his radio several times “Dickie come back!” but he continued to chase the Messerschmitt across the channel. Later that day Richard ‘Dickie’ Lee was reported missing presumed dead and neither his body or the wreckage of his Hurricane has been discovered.

At the time of his death ‘Dickie’ Lee was 23-years-old and is believed to have destroyed nine enemy aircraft.

Sergeant Ellis, Battle of Britain Pilot killed in action on 1 September 1940, body found and buried with military honours in 1993

Sergeant John ‘Hugh’ Ellis with Peggy Owen (Colour by DB original source unknown)

Sergeant John Hugh Ellis (known in his squadron as Hugh or the cockney sparrow) was a 21-year-old Hurricane pilot with No. 85 Squadron during the Battle of Britain. On 29 August Ellis was engaged in aerial combat over the channel during which his Hurricane was hit by enemy fire and flames were seen coming from the engine compartment.  Ellis managed to fly his crippled aircraft over land before bailing out and his aircraft crashed on farmland in Ashburnham in Sussex with his lucky mascot, a small boomerang his aunt had sent him from Australia.

‘High Ellis (DB Colour original source unknown)

On 1 September 1940 his parents and fiancé were informed John Ellis was missing presumed dead but due to the confusion during the Battle of Britain it was thought he was shot down over the English Channel.

After lengthy research conducted by historian Andy Sanders; Martin Gibb, a Coroner’s Officer with the Metropolitan Police and Peter Mortimer the cousin of John Hugh Ellis, in 1992 they discovered the crash site and also pieced together the chain of events.

Based on eye witness accounts a group of Hurricanes were engaging enemy aircraft over Court Road, Orpington when a Hurricane suddenly started diving towards the ground at high speed with its pilot slumped over his controls before crashing in a field located in Chesterfield south of Orpington in Kent.

A few days later a foot inside a flying boot was found and was buried in a grave marked as an ‘Unknown Airman’ at Star Road Cemetery, St Mary’s Cray. Several weeks later people looking for scrap metal found small body parts which they handed to the police and were later buried in another grave marked as an “Unknown Airman”.  Consequently, for over 50-years ‘Hugh’ Ellis had two different unknown graves in the same cemetery.

During an archaeological dig in 1992 the cowling of a Hurricane was found, and larger pieces of human remains were discovered inside the aircraft which were later identified as John Hugh Ellis. Among the personal effects which survived the crash and being buried for 52-years were two photographs: his fiancé Peggy Owen and his aunt who sent him the boomerang.

Sergeant John Hugh Ellis was later buried with full military honours at Brookwood Military Cemetery.

Additional reading https://sussexhistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=16417.0