Documentary: Nancy Wake: Gestapo’s most wanted (Timeline productions)

Based on my understanding of Nancy Wake this is the best documentary I have seen on her life with the Pat O’Leary escape line, her escape from France and her service with SOE.

Some of her wartime work in France is not covered and there are the following technical inaccuracies during the re-enactment:

During her parachute infiltration she is seen wearing the wrong type of helmet and parachute

The type of wireless shown is not correct

The Gestapo agent Nancy Wake said she would shoot if the Marquis refused to do so was a woman not a male as shown in the film and it was not as straight forward as depicted here.

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Operation Jericho (aka Jail Breakers) February 1944

At the request of the French Resistance on 18 February 1944 British and Canadian Mosquito fighter -bombers with Typhoon fighter escorts were tasked with destroying SS barracks and machine gun positions whilst breaching the wall of Amiens prison to help facilitate the escape of 832 members of the resistance and other political prisoners due to be shot by the SS.

Shortly after the raid the following newsreel called Jail Breakers was shown in cinemas throughout Britain.

Now it can be told: School for Danger (public information film)

The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was an ultra-secret branch of the British military and this public information film released in 1947, one-year after the executive was disbanded, is one of the first public acknowledgements of SOE’s existence during the war.

Every member of the cast were former members of SOE’s French Section, hence the poor acting, and each scene was based on actual events during the war.

Those familiar with this Section will recognise the two main characters: Harry Ree and Jaqueline Nearne whose sister Eileen also served with SOE and escaped from Ravensbruck Concentration camp.

The Mutin- SOE clandestine sea transport.

After being acquired by SOE the ‘Mutin’ (Mutineer) was based in the Helford Estuary in Cornwall. Its paintwork was aged and was disguised as a French tuner fishing vessel and the all British crew dressed as Breton fishermen. Part of her refit was a more powerful diesel engine and a wireless using RAF frequencies to support the illusion that transmissions were not from an ocean vessel and its long aerial was built into the rigging. There is an account from a Quartermaster in the Royal Navy who volunteered for clandestine operations without being told what these operations were. This new volunteer later said, on his arrival at the quay he saw Mutin which had just returned from Brittany after dropping off agents: “I saw heaps of sail on the deck covered in blood. Shipwrights were digging shrapnel from bow to stern and I thought, God what have I let myself in for”?… “I was later told, after dropping off agents Mutin was spotted by a German aircraft and raked by cannon fire during which the engineer was killed.

More details in my forthcoming book SOE in France

Nancy Wake – Special Operations Executive (in this documentary Nancy Wake lives up to her reputation of being straight talking!)

Film documentary telling the story of the Australian who, after engineering the escape of hundreds of allied servicemen from occupied France during the Second World War – and following her own escape and subsequent training as an S.O.E. agent returned to France by parachute to support the resistance.  (Six-part documentary)

SOE – Canadian agents working in occupied France

SOE agents arrive home in December 1944: (front, from left) Lieut. J.E. Fournier, Lieut. P.E. Thibeault, Capt. H.A. Benoit; (rear) Major P.E. Labelle, Capt. L.J. Taschereau, Capt. Guy Artois, Capt. J.P. Archambault.

Documentary about Canadian agents working for SOE in occupied France.

Apart from Canadian’s being trained in England SOE also had a training and selection establishment in Canada and the newly formed American OSS received their initial training at this SOE training camp in Ontario.

A short film by CBC where former agents describe their time at Camp X

Andrée Peel (nee Virot) Heroine of the French Resistance

In March 2010 Andrée Peel died of pneumonia at a British nursing home at the age of 105 and was buried at All Saints Church in Long Ashton near Bristol. 

A casual observer seeing the honour guard from the Royal British Legion with their banners marching ahead of the funeral procession would be aware she had connections with the British military but it is unusual for the deceased to be honoured by two nations: her coffin was covered with both the French and British flags.

Andée Virot was born on 3 February 1905 in Brest and when Germany occupied France in 1940, she was running a beauty salon in Brest and immediately started to resist the German occupation  by distributing clandestine newspapers calling for patriots to resist the German forces.

After coming to the attention of the Gaullist Free French based in Dorset Square London, Andree was given command of the Breton clandestine circuit and used the field name ‘Rose’.

Her resistance activities quickly expanded and included gathering intelligence on  the German navy  and their submarine pens, German troop movements and the effects of allied bombing and her reports were sent to London by wireless.

She also organised weapons, sabotage stores and agents from the Special Operations Executive (SOE) as well as the Free French Section (RF) to be dropped by parachute onto remote farmland  but she always said her greatest achievement was helping 102 allied aircrews shot down over France to evade capture and return to England and later said this was the contribution she was most proud off.

By May 1944 Andrée Virot was high on the Gestapo wanted list and after obtaining forged identity papers she left Brittany and travelled to Paris where she was less well known by the Gestapo and the Abwehr (German military intelligence).   

On 9 June, three days after D-day she was arrested and sent to Buchenwald Concentration Camp and later transported to the equally notorious Ravensbrück camp in Germany. The day she was due to be executed by the SS the camp was liberated by American forces.


Andrée kept the infamous blue-and-white striped pyjama suit issued to her at Buchenwald.

After the war Andree ran a restaurant in Paris where she met an Englishman named John Peel who she later married, and the couple moved to Long Ashton near Bristol and in 1999 she published her memoirs, Miracles do Happen.  After the death of her husband in 2003 Andrée moved into the care home where she later died peacefully in her sleep.

Her work with the resistance and the rescue of 102 British and American aircrews was honoured by several decorations including the King’s Commendation for Bravery presented to her by George VI, the US Medal of Freedom, the French Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honour which in 2004 was upgraded to Chevalier of the Legion.  She also received a personal letter from Winston Churchill thanking her for saving the lives of British aircrews.