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 Battle of Vercors 1944.

Vercors 1944

In July 1944 the Maquis (French Resistance) held a plateau known as the Massive du Vercors consisting of rugged mountains when they were faced by overwhelming German forces including an airborne attack by glider troops. During the battle an estimated 639 members of the Maquis were killed. Those who were wounded were executed on the spot, 201 civilians were killed, and 500 houses burned. It has been estimated German casualties were 83 killed and missing. 

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.