Just some of the many S.O.E. Agents flown
from (or to) Tempsford Airfield during W.W.2.
Winston Churchill - 1940
ANDREE BORREL - Croix de Guerre
On the night of 24th September 1942, Andrée Borrel (codename "DENISE") and fellow SOE agent Lise De Baissac (codename "ODILE"), were the first female agents to be dropped by parachute into occupied France by the "Moon Squadrons", in the village of Boisrenard near the town of Mer in the Loire region. On landing, Andrée and Lise were picked up by members of a local resistance team. After a couple of days, Lise de Baissac went off to Poitiers to start a new network, but because of her intimate knowledge of the city, Andrée Borrel was sent to Paris to work, as a courier for the new "Prosper" network. In the Spring of 1943 she was made second in command of the Paris network under Francis Suttill, who reported back to London that she "has a perfect understanding of security and an imperturbable calmness." He added: "Thank you very much for having sent her to me.".
In June of 1943 several members of the "Prosper" network were arrested by the Gestapo, including Andrée Borrel. She was interrogated in the Gestapo's Parisian headquarters and then held in Fresnes prison. She remained there until May 1944 when, together with three other captured female SOE agents, Vera Leigh, Sonya Olschanezky and Diana Rowden, Andrée Borrel was shipped to the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp in the Vosges Mountains of Alsace.
On July 6, 1944, 24-year-old Andrée Borrel and her three compatriots were injected with phenol and incinerated in the camp's crematorium. Andrée was posthumously awarded the Croix De Guerre.
LISE DE BAISSAC - Légion d'honneur, Croix de Guerre avec Palme, MBE
After escaping from France in 1940, both Lise de Biassac and her brother Claude were recruited by the SOE. Claude had already returned to France as a resistance leader, before Lise was parachuted in with Andrée Borrel, on the night of 24th September 1942. Based in Poitiers, Lise took on the disguise of an amateur archaeologist, apparently looking for rock samples, when in fact she was mapping out drop zones for 138 and 161 Squadron supply drops ! When it was clear that the Germans had started to suspect her, both Lise and her brother were flown out one night, but they returned to northern France in advance of the D-Day landings to help coordinate the resistance forces. In doing this, her cover was so good that for a time she lived in the same house as the local German commander, yet still managed to continue her work and was never caught. Lise lived to enjoy the freedom she had fought for and died in her nineties in March 2004
VIOLETTE SZABO G.C.|
Immortalised in the film "Carve her Name with Pride", Violette was recruited by the SOE and was dropped into occupied France (twice!). She possibly flew out on her first (of 2) missions from RAF Tempsford, the last being flown from RAF Harrington on the evening of 6 June 1944, but just 4 days later on 10 June 1944, she was ambushed near Limoges by the S.S. Cornered, wounded and alone, she fought off elements of the "Das Reich" division with her machine gun, until her ammunition was exhausted. Despite brutal torture and interrogration, she revealed nothing. Sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp, she was eventually shot on 25 January 1945
....She was 23 years old.
Lt. ARTHUR STAGGS|
An SOE Type 3 radio fitted within a small suitcase, and was used by agents in occupied Europe, taken with them as they flew out from Tempsford, Arthur Staggs (Codename"GUY"), was flown out from Tempsford and was dropped into occupied France on the night of 17th November 1942, part of the FARMER curcuit, which specialised in railway sabotage , working in the region around Lille under the nom de guerre of Albert Foulon. Arthur's radio wouldn't work, so when she was dropped later, Violette Szabo brought the necessary replacement part with her !
After numerous close calls, Arthur was arrested by the Gestapo in December 1943. But being fluent in French (even the local patois) and having a good cover story, Arthur was released in February 1944. As a lovely anecdote, on his release Arthur asked the Gestapo officer for the reason for his arrest and captivity. The reply was delivered with a laugh "We thought that you were a British parachutist !!"
(Arthur would've loved to have found that officer after the war to tell him he was right!)
Lt. Arthur Staggs
Yolande, (Codename "MARIETTE") who had only got married a month before, was flown out from RAF Tempsford on 18 September 1943, to be a wireless operator for Gustave Bieler, the head of the Musician Network in the St. Quentin district of Belgium. After numerous "close escapes", Yolande and Gustave Bieler were finally captured by the Germans on 12th January 1944. Bieler was shot soon after capture by the S.S. at Flossenberg. Yolande however, was brutally tortured during Gestapo interrogation, during which she revealed nothing. Yolande was executed at Dachau Concentration Camp on 12 September 1944, aged 32.
W/COMMANDER F.F.E. YEO-THOMAS G.C. Croix de Guerre|
At Tempsford Airfield, there is a tree dedicated simply to "The White Rabbit"
This was one of the many code names of Wing Commander F.F.E. Yeo-Thomas who was flown and parachuted into occupied France three times. After his second return,(courtesy of a 161 squadron Lysander), he was summoned straight down to London for a 5 minute talk with Winston Churchill at 10, Downing Street - it went on for nearly an hour !!
After many close escapes, he was eventually captured by the Gestapo in 1944 (on a Metro station in Paris), Yeo-Thomas was brutally tortured, but revealed nothing. Whilst on a train to a concentration camp, an air raid occurred. In the confusion, a women prisoner from the next carriage crawled through to bring water to Yeo-Thomas and others...her name (he later found out) was Violette Szabo !
"Tommie" survived and in 1946 was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the George Cross. Here is the fake identity card he used on his first mission.
Nancy was an Australian who had married a French businessman in 1939 and was in France when the Germans invaded in 1940. Immediately working for the French Resistance thereafter, she had to flee when the Gestapo found out.
Once in England, she joined the S.O.E. With no moon on 28th April 1944, her flight back into occupied France from Tempsford had to be postponed until the next night, giving her a whole day to dash into Cambridge for some shopping ! The next night was less cloudy and Nancy parachuted into the Auverne District of France to help the French rise up on D-Day. A French Resistance leader later said of her:- "She is the most feminine woman I know, until the fighting starts: then she is like five men !"
On the night of 15/16th November 1943, Wing Commander Hodges of 161 Squadron, landed his Hudson in a French field near Angers (after the locals had chased some cows off the field !), where one of the 8 "pick-ups" was a man codenamed "MORLAND", who although quite young-looking, was the head of the Commissariat au Reclassement des Prisonniers de Guerre (an organisation used by the resistance to assist escaping prisoners of war).
As soon as "MORLAND" touched down at Tempsford, he was rushed to London for a meeting with the head of the Free French forces, General Charles deGaulle. MORLAND" was flown back to France in February 1944 and was himself, later to become President of France, but by then of course, using his real name, Francois Mitterand.
Some of the RAF aircrew, shot down over occupied territory, evaded capture, and with the assistance of the
resistance, were flown back to Tempsford during these night time operations, often bringing back with them,
some "liberated" bottles of French cognac and champagne !|
A number of films have been made on this subject, including (left) "Carve Her Name With Pride", starring Virginia McKenna and Paul Schofield (1958) about Violette Szabo, and "The Heroes of Telemark" (1965), starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris (right).
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