Denise Gilman SOE Agent In France.

Due to lack of records which adds to the difficulty of researching SOE there is little information about the war service of Denise Gilman (Gilman, Denise, Irene, Marguerite) and I have to thank Christine Quintlé for filling in many of the gaps as well as providing the only known photograph of her.  Gilman was born on 30 June 1921 in Waziers (North), a commune in the Nord department in northern France, 4 km northwest of Douai and 25 km south of Lille, and at the time of her resistance activities she was 22-years-old.

Gilman fits the description of a woman driving a charcoal burning van which broke down in front of German soldiers near their barracks who insisted on pushing her vehicle to their workshop for repairs.  Whilst working on the vehicle the woman thought to be Denise Gilman flirted with the soldiers to draw attention away from her cargo. Fortunately, they did not open the rear doors and see it was loaded to the ceiling with explosives and weapons. After repairing her vehicle, she warmly thanked the soldiers and continued her journey. It is known Gilman worked as the courier for SOE agent Michael Trotobas (mentioned in another post) and both were part of the Farmer network (also known as the Sylvestre Farmer Network) which operated in Lille; it is also known Denise Gilman and Michael Trotobas had been wanted by the Gestapo since August 1943. Gilman travelled extensively whilst liaising with members of the Resistance and SOE agents in Lille, Arras, Amboise and Paris and on the evening of 26 November 1943 after arriving from Paris she Stayed at a safe house at 20 boulevard de Belfort Lille with Trotobas and were due to move to another safe house.

Although complicated and beyond the scope of this post, essentially, a captured agent gave their safehouse address to the Gestapo.

At 6 am the safehouse was surrounded by German Field Police and although greatly outnumbered Gilman and Trotobas refused to be taken alive and engaged the Germans in a firefight during which both were fatally wounded. Several days after their deaths members of the resistance searched the flat and found a traumatised black cat hiding under a bed and the cat became the symbol for local resistance by the Farmer circuit.

 There is much we don’t know about Denise Gilman but her heroic stand with Michael Trotobas is well documented.

SOE agent Harry Peulevé DSO, MC (a brief overview of a very active agent)

Peulevé undertook three missions to France and eventually formed a clandestine circuit called Author where he armed and trained more than 4000 members of the resistance. He was aware of being on the Gestapo wanted list but turned down an opportunity to be extracted from France by the RAF Special Duties Squadron. 

Peulevé and several members of the local resistance were later arrested at a safehouse and eventually taken to the Gestapo headquarters in Paris where they were separated before being interrogated.

Peulevé was tortured for several days but refused to answer their questions and was transferred to a solitary confinement cell at Fresnes Prison. During an escape attempt he was shot in the leg and after being refused medical treatment was forced to remove the bullet by digging it out with a dirty prison spoon whilst hoping the wound would not become infected. He was later deported to a concentration camp and after eleven agents were executed and knowing he could be next he swapped his identity with a French prisoner named Marcel Seigneur who had died from Typhus. In early 1945 Peulevé, now known to the SS guards as Marcel Seigneur, was transferred to a labour detail where he was forced to dig anti-tank ditches near the River Elbe and after advancing American forces reached Magdenburg he managed to escape.

Several hours later he was stopped by two SS soldiers but managed to convince them he was a French collaborator trying to avoid the advancing Americans and then warned them to remove their tunics and insignias because the Americans were shooting members of the SS. As they began to undress Peulevé grabbed one of their pistols and later handed them over to soldiers of the 83rd US Infantry Division. After being debriefed he returned to England and landed at Croydon Airport on 18 April 1945.

Canadian SOE Agents Frank Pickersgill and Ken Macalister

(An overview)

Frank Pickertsgill and Ken Macalister

Canadian SOE agents Frank Pickersgill and Ken Macalister parachuted into France on the night of 20 June 1943 with instructions to form a clandestine network called Archdeacon. As described in the previous post they were picked up by SOE agents Yvonne Rudellat and Pierre Culioli and their vehicle was stopped at a roadblock during which the Canadians cover were blown and were arrested, and the two other agents were captured after a shoot-out with German troops who recovered the Canadians wireless and codes hidden in a Red Cross parcel on the rear seat of the vehicle and this allowed a German operator to play-back the wireless to London using the correct codes.

Whilst a German operator was sending favourable reports to London about the newly formed Archdeacon Circuit there was no reason to doubt they were receiving signals from Macalister and as requested sent weapons, finance and other agents by parachute to assist Archdeacon which, unbeknown to London, was in German hands and only after the war did the full story become known. After their capture Macalister and Pickersgill were repeatedly tortured for information but refused to assist the Gestapo and on 27 August they were transported to Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

On 14 September 1944, John Macalister, Frank Pickersgill along with several other agents were executed by slow strangulation with piano wire suspended from hooks in the crematorium at Buchenwald camp.

SOE Agent Yvonne Rudellat

Yvonne Rudellat was an SOE Courier who was involved in a number of operations and the following is an overview. On 20 July 1942 after crossing from Gibraltar by felucca under the cover of darkness she arrived by rowing boat on a deserted beach a few miles from Cannes. She used the cover name Jacqueline Gautier but used other identities whilst working for various networks. She took a train from Cannes to Lyon and from there took a train to Paris where she hid in the tender of the locomotive to cross the demarcation line. From Paris she went to Tours and worked for the Monkeypuzzle circuit where she organised agents and supplies to be dropped by parachute and also travelled by bicycle to liaise with scattered members of the resistance. After Monkeypuzzle was infiltrated by German agents she teamed up with SOE agent Pierre Culioli and took the cover of a married couple with the surname Leclaire and continued organising parachute drops.

Working as a married couple they picked up two Canadian SOE agents, John Macalister and Frank Pickersgill who arrived in France by Parachute a few hours previously. Culioli was driving the car, Yvonne was sitting next to him and the two Canadians were sitting in the back when they reached a roadblock in Dhuizon. The reason why the Canadians were ordered out of the car and why their covers were blown is beyond the scope of this post. After German soldiers ordered Rudellat and Culioli out of the car Culioli put the car in gear and accelerated away and soldiers started firing at them. They were quickly pursued by a vehicle full of German soldiers who were shooting at them and Yvonne was seen leaning out of the car window returning fire before slumping back on her seat after being shot in the head, shortly afterwards Culioli was shot in the leg and the car crashed into a wall. Yvonne was taken unconscious to Blois Hospital where doctors found the bullet had not entered her brain and decided it was too dangerous to remove the bullet. When she gained consciousness she was confused, did not know her name or understand why she was in France.

On 2 March she arrived at Bergen-Belson concentration camp during a typhus epidemic during which an estimated 20,000 prisoners died. Rudellat never recovered her memory and eight days after the camp was liberated Yvonne Rudellat died of typhus and dysentery and was buried in a mass grave along with 5000 other bodies.

Wanborough Manor :A widely forgotten historic building connected with SOE during WW2

This 16th century manor house located near the Hogs Back in Guilford, Surrey is now private property which has been divided into several expensive apartments. Located in the small village of Wanborough from which it took its name, before being converted after the war Wanborough Manor was one large property in several acres of its own private grounds with a medieval barn and a small chapel.

In 1940 this large, isolated property along with its grounds were commandeered for war service and become the preliminary training school for the French Section of the Special Operations Executive and was officially referred to as STS 5, Ironically the manor is not far from a village called Normandy, and the first ‘students’ arrived in February 1941.

Apart from fitness training and being taught basic military skills Wanborough was used to weed-out those considered unsuitable to become agents and students the training staff believed would be unable to pass the advance training in Scotland and the finishing school at Beaulieu in the New Forrest. Wanborough was used until March 1943 when the Students Assessment Board (SAB) was established at Winterfold House near Cranleigh in Surrey.

SOE agent Harry Peulevé DSO, MC (a brief overview of a very active agent)

Harry Peulevé undertook three missions to France and eventually formed a clandestine circuit called Author where he armed and trained more than 4000 members of the resistance. He was aware of being on the Gestapo wanted list but turned down an opportunity to be extracted from France by the RAF Special Duties Squadron.  Peulevé and several members of the local resistance were later arrested at a safehouse and eventually taken to the Gestapo headquarters in Paris where they were separated before being interrogated.

Peulevé was tortured for several days but refused to answer their questions and was transferred to a solitary confinement cell at Fresnes Prison. During an escape attempt he was shot in the leg and after being refused medical treatment was forced to remove the bullet by digging it out with a dirty prison spoon whilst hoping the wound would not become infected. He was later deported to a concentration camp and after eleven agents were executed and knowing he could be next he swapped his identity with a French prisoner named Marcel Seigneur who had died from Typhus. In early 1945 Peulevé, now known to the SS guards as Marcel Seigneur, was transferred to a labour detail where he was forced to dig anti-tank ditches near the River Elbe and after advancing American forces reached Magdenburg he managed to escape.

Several hours later he was stopped by two SS soldiers but managed to convince them he was a French collaborator trying to avoid the advancing Americans and then warned them to remove their tunics and insignias because the Americans were shooting members of the SS. As they began to undress Peulevé grabbed one of their pistols and later handed them over to soldiers of the 83rd US Infantry Division. After being debriefed he returned to England and landed at Croydon Airport on 18 April 1945.

SOE Memorial in Valençay, France.

The Special Operations Executive (SOE) Memorial in Valençay, France in the department of Indre was erected close to the area where the first SOE agent, George Bégue (aka George Noble) infiltrated France by parachute and made the first radio transmission to London and arranged the first weapons to be dropped by parachute to members of the French Resistance.

The role of honour lists the names of the 91 men and 13 women members of SOE who did not return from France and the monument symbolises the clandestine nature of SOE.

Dark columns evoke the clandestine side of night flights during moon periods when agents were sent to France, weapons and sabotage stores arrived by parachute to members of the resistance.

It’s clear column evokes the courage and the final victory of resistance.

Between the columns, a disk evokes the accomplice moon for the favourable full moon periods for clandestine air operations (parachute, landing and pickups

Three bright blocks evoke the markup L prepared on the ground by those receiving the agents to assist guiding the planes

The memorial was dedicated by the Minister of Veterans Affairs for France and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother on 6 May1991 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of F Section’s first agent to arrive in France. The monument is called the ‘Spirt of Partnership’.

Sonya Butt: SOE Agent with the French Section

On this day 28 May, in 1944 Sonya Butt was 20 years-old and only recently completed her training when she infiltrated France by parachute to work for SOE’s underground circuit called ‘Headmaster’ which was preparing to support the Normandy Landings. Butt travelled great distances mainly by train and bicycle throughout France delivering messages and liaising with other parts of the clandestine network during which she was regularly stopped and questioned by German troops, but her cover story and forged documents passed scrutiny. After their weapons instructor was killed as well as continuing her essential work as a courier to ensure Headmaster was ready to sabotage prearranged targets, ambushing German forces and work in conjunction with other circuits supporting the landings, Butt also became the circuit’s weapons instructor and began teaching members of the resistance how to use a variety of weapons and basic field craft.  Sonya was born in Eastchurch, Kent England and after the war married Canadian SOE agent Guy D’Artois and moved to Canada, she died in Montreal on 21 December 2014 at the age of 80. 

French Resistance during the Battle of Vercors

A good video documentary on the Battle of Vercors from an American presenter. My only criticism is there was no mention of SOE who had been operating in the area for sometime and the OSS units he mentioned were not always required by the Maquis.