Denis Barret: SOE Wireless operator in France

Flight Lieutenant Denis Barret

According to records Barrett was born on 23 January 1916 in Paris to British parents and was a tailor before joining the RAF. After being recruited by SOE he completed training and selection on 23 April 1943 and was given the code names Honoré, Innkeeper and Charles Meunier.

It is thought to have been November 1943 (dates vary) when Barrett parachuted into the Aube department in north-east France to work as the wireless operator for a circuit in the Troyes area and seven months later, he was seriously compromised and extracted by Lysander aircraft from 161 Special Duty Squadron RAF.  After additional training he returned to France by parachute in early March 1944 and worked as the wireless operator for a new circuit called Minister that was located in the Seine-et-Marne department around 34 miles from Paris.

Pierre Pulsant, the organiser of Minister circuit described Barrett as:

“A grand Officer. The ideal W/T operator. Technically perfect. Security first class. Willing to undergo any hardship for the safety of his mission. Unselfish, courageous, outstandingly efficient. A very honest and reliable man with imagination and guts. One of the best men we ever put in the field.”

Barrett had two wireless sets, one he kept in Troyes the other was hidden in the countryside around 14 miles from the town. After Abwehr wireless intelligence detected signals coming from Troyes the agent was arrested whilst transmitting to London, Barret then stopped using his set in the town and to make it difficult for the Abwehr to pinpoint his location began using his set in the countryside and never transmitted from the same location.

For over a month Barrett cycled the 14 miles to Derry-Saint-Pierre where his set was hidden whilst avoiding German patrols on the main road and sometimes cycled past stationary direction-finding vans listening out for signals, but despite ensuring he took the necessary security precautions he was eventually captured whilst in contact with London.

Typical of the confusion surrounding SOE clandestine operations, historian MRD Foot wrote that Barrett was captured whilst being part of a group that was extracting an SAS party that had got into difficulty in the forest of Fontainebleau, but this was not the case.

After the war Barrett’s name was found on the wall at Gestapo HQ at Avenue Foch in Paris. He was later moved to Frésnes Prison outside Paris and then to Buchenwald Concentration Camp. According to Foot, Barrett was among the first fifteen or thirty-one agents to be hanged at Buchenwald during the first week of September 1944. However, this does not correspond with the details in his personal file and the research conducted by the Commonwealth War Graves: Barret was one of a second group of eleven agents removed from Block 17 at Buchenwald on 4 October 1944 and killed through the course of the night. It was also discovered Barrett was shot.

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

Lilian Rolfe SOE wireless operator in France

Lilian Rolfe (left) standing outside a safe house in France with the daughter of the family working for the resistance. (IWM)

After completing her training and being accepted as an agent by the French Section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) on the night of 5/6 April 1944 Lilian Rolfe was dropped by parachute onto remote farmland near Orléans in north-central France to be the wireless operator for the Historian network supporting the Maquis (French Resistance). Apart from reporting German troop movements, arranging and organising arms and supplies to be dropped by parachute she also worked alongside the Maquis and is known to have been involved in a firefight in the town of Olivet south of Orleans.

George Wilkinson head of the Historian Network (common source)

Shortly after D-day her circuit leader, George Wilkinson, was captured by German troops and Rolfe continued sending messages to London to support the Maquis but was later captured by the Gestapo whilst transmitting from a safe house in Nargis. Although she was repeatedly tortured for information her wireless was not ‘played back’ to London by a German operator which means she refused to reveal her codes and in August 1944 Rolfe was deported to Ravensbrück Concentration camp in northern Germany. During an investigation after the war it was discovered Rolfe was so ill she was unable to walk (later reports state this was due to leg injuries sustained during torture) and on 5 February 1945, 30-year-old Lilian Rolfe was executed and her body disposed of in the camp crematorium.

The Night Pilot Who Helped the French Resistance.

No. 161 Special Duties Squadron

Hugh Verity was a night fighter pilot until 1942 when he volunteered for RAF special duties and became involved in one of the most extraordinary and effective operations of the secret war – flying from England’s Sussex coast in a single-engine Lysander aircraft and landing in German occupied France delivering and collecting SOE, SIS agents and members of the French Resistance. This Timeline production examines these moonlight missions between 1941 to 1944.


Britain’s Political Warfare Executive during WW2 run by Sefton Delmar

This film provides an insight into the work of the Political Warfare Executive run by Sefton Delmer but is more suited for entertainment than serious study but is still informative.

WWII veteran Bill Moore RAF Special Duties Squadron describes a mission to supply the French Resistance

This was later re-enacted in the public information film ‘Now the Truth Can be Told: School for Danger’ with a cast of former SOE agents.

Modern Day Minutemen and Women: or how to save the 2020 election Kindle Edition

Another informative publication the contents of which are important anytime but especially now! By Paul Cobaugh

In the wake of foreign interference in the 2016 election, America’s 2020 election is still under assault by foreign enemies. This book, a first of its kind walks readers through Russian Narrative Warfare, why it worked and why we must mobilize true patriots in order to protect our birthright of free and fair 2020 elections. Influence operations are one of the single most effective weapons against the US and one in which we are grossly unprepared.

The Grey Zone: Hybrid Warfare

CSIS explores Russian, Chinese, and other countries’ use of disinformation, election meddling, and social media accounts to spread propaganda and sow division through gray zone tactics. 

Gray Zone Tools: Economic Coercion CSIS explores Chinese, Russia, and other countries’ use of economic power to coerce others into positions of disadvantage. Gray zone techniques discussed include cyber espionage, forced technology transfers, and debt-dependency.

Gen. Joe Dunford on: “Gray zone” warfare, below the threshold of armed conflict