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.

George Begue: SOE’s first Agent/Wireless operator in France

George Bague whilst serving in the French Army prior to Dunkirk and joining SOE

On the night of 5/6 May 1941 George Begue (aka George Noble) was listed as the first SOE agent and wireless operator to arrive in wartime France after parachuting ‘blind’, that is, with no friendly contacts on the ground and several days later he transmitted the first wireless messages to SOE in London.

 Suitcase Morse transceiver of the type popularly used by SOE in France.

As increasing numbers of non-wireless trained agents arrived in France his wireless traffic also increased, and he used several safe-houses scattered over a wide area to avoid his signal being detected and his position located. He was aware the full resources of the German wireless detection section were attempting to find him but due to a backlog of messages waiting to be sent to London he decided to regularly transmit longer than the recommended twenty-minutes and was aware this made it easier for the Germans to track him down.  

George Begue. Thought to have been taking whilst convalescing with his wife and children in England after Dunkirk.

It was George Beque who arranged the first weapons, explosives and finance to be dropped to the resistance by parachute, he also arranged the first agent pickup by Lysander Aircraft from No. 161 Special Duties Squadron RAF which landed on remote farmland, and to maintain regular contact with London Begue frequently took calculated risks.  It was also George Beque who developed wireless security procedures through a dangerous process of trial and error.

Although wireless detection teams failed to find him, on the 24 October 1942 Begue was arrested at a safe house in Marseilles by the Milice; it is believed the property had been blown and was under surveillance and this is supported by the fact several agents and local French resisters were also arrested after visiting the same property.   

On the night of 16 July 1942 George Begue along with other agents and members of the resistance escaped from a prison camp in Mauzac. For several days they lived off the land deep inside a forest before travelling separately to meet guides working for an escape line and all eventually crossed the Pyrenees into neutral Spain. 

After returning to London Beque became the Signals Officer for the French Section based at their headquarters at Norgeby House in Baker Street London where he was widely known as George Noble and he held this position until the end of the war.  The majority of agents who escaped Mauzac later returned to France but most did not survive.  

Robert Benoist, SOE (Special Operations Executive)

 

Robert Benoist was a French Grand Prix racing driver who escaped to England when France was occupied in 1940. Whilst in England he successfully passed selection and training for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and returned to France to establish clandestine networks. He was also responsible for the reception of arms and explosives dropped by parachute and setup arms dumps in the Rambouillet Forest. Sometime in June 1943 he was arrested by the Gestapo and whilst being driven to Gestapo Headquarters he threw himself from the moving vehicle and escaped and was eventually extracted and returned to England. Several months later he returned to France to continue his resistance work and was later recalled to England for a briefing and additional training. In February 1944 he undertook his third mission to France and arrived with orders to prepare clandestine circuits in the Nantes region and ensure they were ready to support the Allies during D-Day by attacking prearranged targets to slowdown the German advance to Normandy.   

On 18 June 1944 Robert Benoist was again captured by the Gestapo and sent to Buchenwald Concentration camp where, along with fifteen other SOE prisoners was executed by slow strangulation after being hung with piano wire from hooks on the wall in the crematorium. Captain Robert Benoist is recorded on the Brookwood Memorial in Surrey and also on the SOE memorial in Valençay.   

Execution hooks on the wall of the crematorium at Buchenwald

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.

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