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Eliane Plewman

Eliane Plewman


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Eliane Browne-Bartroli was born in Marseilles in 1917. After spending her childhood in France she was educated in England and Spain.

After finishing college she moved to Leicester where she employed by an importing firm. On the outbreak of the Second World War Eliane went back to mainland Europe to work fir the British Embassy in Madrid and then Lisbon. In 1942 she returned to England to work for the Spanish Section of the Ministry of Information.

During the summer of 1942 Eliane married Tom Plewman, an officer in the British Army. Soon afterwards she joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Given the code name "Gaby", Eliane was parachuted into France on 13th August 1943 where she joined the network led by Charles Skepper. Over the next few months she worked as a courier between Marseilles and Roquebrune and St Raphael.

The network was betrayed and Eliane was arrested in March, 1944. After being interrogated by the Gestapo for three weeks she was transferred to Fresnes Prison.

On 13th May 1944 the Germans transported Elaine and seven other SOE agents, Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment, Odette Sansom, Diana Rowden, Vera Leigh, Andrée Borrel and Sonya Olschanezky to Nazi Germany. Eliane Plewman was executed at Dachau in September, 1944.


On An Overgrown Path

Chance, or probably a more powerful benign force, has triggered some of the most moving and rewarding overgrown paths. But never more so than the current one, which started last year when I travelled to Marseille on the path of that cultural explorer, Sufi adept and libertine Isabelle Eberhardt. During that visit I hunted for the house Isabelle stayed at en route to North Africa, where she was to die aged just twenty-seven. It took several attempts to locate the house where she lived with her brother Augustin at 12 rue Merentie, high in Marseille's Old Town. When I finally found the street I saw that one of the houses had the plaque seen below displayed, and at first assumed it marked Isabelle's residence. But on closer inspection the plaque proved to be next door to number 12, and was dedicated to another remarkable woman. It honours the British secret agent Elaine Plewman and two of her male colleagues who were arrested in the house in 1944, and then afer being tortured at the Gestapo headquarters in Marseille were executed in Germany.

That plaque was both moving and intriguing - I had no knowledge of women working as secret agents in Occcupied France, yet alone of Allied nationals perishing in Dachau concentration camp. But I was in Marseille on the path of Isabelle Eberhardt, so I filed my discovery away for further research. And what a surprise that research provided. Because it transpired that Eliane Plewman was one of four women agents of the Special Operations Executive who were killed by SS guards in Dachau in September 1944, and one of the others was Noor Inayat Khan, daughter of the Indian musician and Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan, and a talented musician in her own right who studied with Nadia Boulanger. This post tells her remarkable and tragic story.

Noor Inayat Khan was born in Moscow in 1914, the grandaughter of an 18th century ruler of Mysore. Her mother was an American from a wealthy family she was born Ora Ray Baker in Albuquerque, New Mexico and was the niece of an American Senator. Ora Baker (later Amina Begum Khan) met her future husband Inayat Khan at the Ramakrishna Ashram in San Francisco when he was on a concert tour of America in 1910. This tour included concerts at Columbia University in New York which predated the "discovery" of world music by Philip Glass, Brian Jones, George Harrison and others by more than half a century. Hazrat Inayat Khan had grown up in a religiously tolerant Muslim family in Baroda, India where he became an acclaimed exponent of the veena – a relative of the sitar - before travelling to the United States to perform with his brother and cousin. In the family group below Inayat Khan is in the centre with Noor on his right.

After two years in America Inayat Khan and his ensemble moved first to London and then Paris, where they benefitted from the fashion for all things all Oriental, and came into contact with Claude Debussy, Sarah Bernhardt, Auguste Rodin and Isadora Duncan. In 1913 Inayat Khan moved to Moscow where his circle included Sergei Tolstoy, son of Leo, with who he collaborated on a pioneering music fusion project. Soon after Noor was born the First World War broke out, and the Khan family moved to London where Inayat met Mahatma Gandhi and the radical Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, and became involved with the Indian independence movement. In 1915 Inayat Khan founded the International Sufi Movement, an order that transcends traditional religious divisions.

At the end of the War the family returned to Paris and eventually settled in a house the Paris suburb of Suresnes bought for them by a wealthy Dutch adept of the Sufi order - there are many connections between the International Sufi Movement and Holland, and the only European temple of the movement is at Katwijk on the Dutch coast. In Suresnes Inayat Khan started the practice of Universal Worship, in which all religions are honoured. His vision of inclusivity was to be a major influence on the decision that led Noor to fight the scourge of fascism, a decision that ultimately cost her life.

Following the death of her father in 1927 and subsequent failure of her mother’s health, much of the responsibility for bringing up her two brothers and a sister fell on Noor’s shoulders. But, despite this, she went on to study at the École Normale de Musique in Paris for six years, where her subjects were piano, solfège and harmony her teachers there included Nadia Boulanger and she studied harp with Henriette Renié. The photos above show Noor with harp and veena. In addition to her music studies Noor completed a degree course in child psychology at the Sorbonne. During her time at the École Normale Noor had a close relationship with a Turkish Jewish piano student although she referred to him as her financée her parents did not approve of the match which continued for several years before ending. Her brother Hidayat became a noted composer of Sufi-linked music for Western forces, while her other brother, Vilayat, eventually succeeded their father as head of the International Sufi Movement after studying at the École Normale with Stravinsky and the cellist Maurice Eisenberg. In 1934 Noor and Vilayat visited Pablo Casals at his home in San Salvador Noor is seen in a photo below taken around this time.

The family escaped from Paris to Bordeaux and fled by boat to England, where Noor and Inayat enlisted to fight with the Allies. After a period nursing she sought more active involvement in the war effort by joining the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force where she trained as a radio operator. At this time she, like her father before her, also became involved in the Indian independence movement as well as appearing on BBC children’s radio programmes as a story-teller. She showed considerable aptitude as a military radio operator, and this together with her fluency in French and English attracted the attention of the Special Operation Executive (SOE), an organisation created to sabotage the German war effort and help the Resistance in occupied countries. Noor is seen below in her military uniform.

Noor was selected for training as a secret agent radio operator operating clandestinely in Occupied France. At the time there was a critical shortage of radio operators for the terrible reason that they were the most vulnerable of agents and had a life expectancy in the field of six weeks. For this reason she was fast-tracked through the training process and assigned to a Resistance cell in Paris, despite some reservations about her suitability for the role. On the night of 16/17 June 1943 Noor was flown into France, becoming the first woman radio operator to work in Occupied France.

Shortly after her arrival the Gestapo arrested almost all the members of the Resistance cell she was sent to work with. Because she was in immediate danger her superiors wanted her to return to France, but she declined and worked as the only Resistance radio operator in Occupied Paris. In this role she helped the escape of a number of agents as the Gestapo closed in, arranged the escape of thirty Allied airmen shotdown over France, organized arms and supply drops, and transmitted information directly to De Gaulle’s Free French headquarters in London. With other agents returned home she became the only British agent in Paris, where she worked alongside French Resistance members and also enlisted the help of her harp teacher Henriette Renié.

With the Gestapo closing in on her, arrangements were made for Noor to escape back to England. But on the eve of her departure she was betrayed, probably by the sister of one of the French Resistance members she worked with. After at least two escape attempts she was sent to Pforzheim prison where she was chained hand and foot with a third chain connecting her hands to her feet, and was kept on lowest rations in solitary confinement. On September 13, 1944 Noor, and three other women agents – one of them Elaine Plewman – were taken to Dachau concentration camp. Her three fellow agents were shot immediately, Noor suffered further torture and abuse by SS guards before being shot through the head, her body was immediately burnt in the camp crematorium. Noor Inayat Khan was thirty years old.

According to General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, the work of SOE agents shortened the war by six months. Noor was posthumously awarded a British George Cross and a French Croix de Guerre with Gold Star. Today (November 8) a memorial to Noor Inayat Khan was unveiled in Gordon Square, London, and it is thought to be the first for an Asian woman in Britain. So the brave young woman who made her life a bridge for others to cross to freedom will be remembered, as we must also remember the three other brave young women who died with her, Elaine Plewman, Madeleine Damerment and Yolande Beekman.

* We are fortunate to have a definitive biography Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan by Shrabani Basu, which this post draws on.

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Scrapbookpages Blog

I would like to believe the story of Noor Inayat Khan, the brave “Spy Princess” from India who became a British SOE agent during World War II and was captured by the Gestapo in Paris. I truly want to believe the story that Noor was tortured all night and beaten into a “bloody mess” by a high ranking SS officer at the Dachau concentration camp before he personally shot her in the head the next morning. I want to believe it as much as the next person. The problem is that there is no evidence whatsoever to support this story. It is pure fiction.

Noor Inayat Khan wearing British WAAF uniform

This quote about the death of Noor Inayat Khan is from Wikipedia:

On 11 September 1944 Noor Inayat Khan and three other SOE agents from Karlsruhe prison, Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman and Madeleine Damerment, were moved to the Dachau Concentration Camp. In the early hours of the morning, 13 September 1944, the four women were executed by a shot to the head. Their bodies were immediately burned in the crematorium. An anonymous Dutch prisoner emerging in 1958 contended that Noor Inayat Khan was cruelly beaten by a high-ranking SS officer named Wilhelm Ruppert before being shot down from behind.[9] Her last word was “Liberté”. She was 30 years old.[10][11]

9. Basu, Shrabani. Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan”, Sutton Publishing, 2006, pg xx-xxi.
10. a b Hamilton, Alan “Exotic British spy who defied Gestapo brutality to the end” in The Times, 13 May 2006, page 26

The Archives at the Dachau Memorial Site has no documentation whatsoever about the alleged execution of Noor Inayat Khan and three other British SOE women at Dachau. Nor is there any record of these women even arriving at Dachau in September 1944. Everyone who entered the Dachau concentration camp had to stop at the gate and check in, but there is no record of any Gestapo men bringing these women into the Dachau camp in the middle of the night.

In spite of the complete lack of proof that any women were executed at Dachau, there is a plaque on the wall in the Dachau crematorium, where the bodies of the Noor Inayat Khan, Yolanda Beekman, Elaine Plewman, and Madeleine Damerment were allegedly burned.

Plaque on wall of crematorium at Dachau

The words on the plaque are:

Here in Dachau on the 12th of September,
1944, four young woman officers of the
British forces attached to Special Operations
Branch were brutally murdered and their bodies
cremated. They died as gallantly as they had
served the Resistance in France during the
common struggle for freedom from tyranny.

Notice the date, September 12, 1944. Other sources, including the British Public Records Office, say that the date of execution was September 13, 1944. The exact date is unknown because there are no records of the execution of these four women at Dachau or anywhere else.

Note the words “brutally murdered.” If the four women were, in fact, executed at Dachau, it was perfectly legal under the Geneva Convention of 1929, which allowed the execution of illegal combatants.

The British SOE was a secret organization that was set up to aid and finance the French Resistance movement. The French had signed an Armistice and promised to stop fighting. They did stop fighting on the battlefield, but continued to fight throughout the war as illegal combatants. That means that the British SOE, which was set up to help illegal combatants, was an illegal operation according to the rules of warfare. That’s why all the records of the SOE were kept secret for over 50 years.

The French resistance guerrilla fighters blew up bridges, derailed trains, directed the British in the bombing of German troop trains, kidnapped and killed German army officers, and ambushed German troops. They took no prisoners, but rather killed any German soldiers who surrendered to them, sometimes mutilating their bodies for good measure. The Nazis referred to them as “terrorists.” American school children are taught that the French resistance fighters, who fought illegally, were heroes.

Altogether, there were 470 agents in the French section of the British SOE, and 39 of them were women or 8% of the total. One third of the women died while in captivity or were executed. The male agents made up 92% of the total 81 male agents, or 18% of the men, died while in prison or were executed. So why were the Nazis so mean to the women? Why did they treat the women much worse than they treated the men? Because that’s just the way Nazis are they’re bad people, for no reason at all.

Twelve of the women SOE agents were allegedly executed secretly, but there were no records of these executions found after the war. All of the information about their deaths is based on hearsay testimony, or the biased testimony of male SOE agents who wanted these women to go down in history as heroines, and/or the confessions of SS men whose depositions, taken by British SOE officer Vera Atkins, were repeated in the courtroom. There is no documentation for these 12 executions whatsoever.

Altogether, there were 39 female British SOE agents who were sent to France and 13 of them never returned. Of the 13 female SOE agents who never returned, there were allegedly 4 that were executed at Natzweiler, 4 at Dachau and 4 at Ravensbrück, the women’s camp. The 13th was Muriel Byck, a Jewish agent, who died of meningitis on 23 May 1944, six weeks after she arrived in France.

The 12 SOE women who were allegedly executed had first been held in the Gestapo prison on Avenue Foch in Paris. Then all except Sonia Olschanezky and Noor Inayat Khan were sent to Fresnes, another Gestapo prison. Noor was sent to Pforzheim prison on November 27, 1943 after she attempted to escape for the second time.

Eight of the women SOE agents were gathered together at Avenue Foch and sent on May 13, 1944 to the civilian prison at Karlsruhe, including Odette Sansom who was later transferred on July 18, 1944 to Ravensbrück, where she survived she was one of the eight SOE agents who were sent to Ravensbrück.

Four of the 8 female SOE agents, who were sent to Ravensbrück, were allegedly executed there, according to eye-witness testimony. Their names are Denise Bloch, Lilian Rolfe, Violette Szabo and Cecily Lefort. Three of the women were allegedly shot, but Lefort was allegedly killed in the gas chamber at Ravensbrück, according to the court testimony of one of the prisoners.

Cover of book entitled “Spy Princess”

Before it became known that Noor Inayat Khan was allegedly executed at Dachau, the staff members of the Natzweiler concentration camp were put on trial by the British and charged with her murder. When it was learned that Noor was allegedly executed at Dachau, the court transcript was changed so that one of the four women who were allegedly executed at Natzweiler was listed as “unknown.” It was not publicly revealed that the transcript had been changed until many years later.

In January 1947, nine months after the file on Noor had been closed, British SOE officer Vera Atkins was given a letter written by Yolande Lagrave, a former French political prisoner at Pforzheim. Lagrave had been sent to Pforzheim prison in early 1944, two months after Noor had arrived she claimed that she was the only woman prisoner to survive Pforzheim. According to Lagrave’s story, all the other women were taken out, raped and then shot their bodies were buried on the prison grounds in a mass grave. For some unknown reason, Lagrave was kept alive and she was released when the Allies liberated the prison on May 1, 1945.

Lagrave began writing letters to Noor’s brother and others, in which she revealed that Noor Inayat Khan had left Pforzheim some time in September 1944, although the exact date was unknown.

Noor had been kept in solitary confinement at Pforzheim, far apart from the other prisoners, but they had managed to communicate with her by scratching messages on the bottom of their mess tins with knitting needles, according to Yolande Lagrave’s story. Each day, the women would look on the bottom of their mess tin at meal time to see if Noor had scratched a message when she had previously used the same mess tin.

In September 1944, Noor had scratched a message, with no date, which said that she was leaving. With this new information provided by Yolande Lagrave, it was then assumed by British SOE officer Vera Atkins that Noor had been taken from Pforzheim to Karlsruhe on September 11, where she joined three other women who were released on that date and sent to an unnamed concentration camp. Note that the Karlsruhe records do not show where the women were sent. They were most likely sent to the women’s camp at Ravensbrück.

On May 19, 2006 a documentary entitled The Princess Spy was shown on the BBC2 Timewatch program. In this documentary, about the life of Noor Inayat Khan, alias Nora Baker, records in the Pforzheim archives were shown with the name Nora Baker, her address in London, her birthplace in London, and the date of her transfer — September 11, 1944. Noor was actually born in Moscow, of an Indian father and an American mother. Were these alleged records faked by the British for their documentary? The mistakes on the records seem to indicate that they were fake.

The records shown in the documentary contradict the statement of Marcel Schubert, a prisoner at Pforzheim who worked as an interpreter. Schubert claimed that “the British woman’s name was never written in the prison register.” This makes sense since Noor had been classified as a Nacht und Nebel prisoner after she attempted to escape twice. The families of Nacht und Nebel prisoners were not told of their whereabouts the purpose of this was to discourage resistance fighting.

Noor had revealed her name, and also two of her addresses, only to the other women prisoners by scratching this information on the bottom of a mess tin, according to Yolande Lagrave, who said that she had written down the addresses and sewn the paper inside the hem of her skirt. After the war, Yolande had attempted to contact Noor, but her letters were returned.

According to Sarah Helm’s book A Life in Secrets, Hans Kieffer, the man who had ordered Noor to be sent to Pforzheim prison, told Vera Atkins that he had no knowledge of her execution. He broke down and cried when he was told that Noor had been executed at Dachau.

Here is a quote from the book entitled Spy Princess by Shrabani Basu:

The Pforzheim prison register shows that Noor was discharged from the prison at 6:15 p.m. on 11 September and driven 20 miles to Karlsruhe. Orders had come directly from Berlin to move Noor. She was now summoned to the office of Josef Gmeiner, head of the Karlsruhe Gestapo.

Just after 2 a.m. in Gmeiner’s office Noor met three other SOE agents, Eliane Plewman, Madeleine Damerment and Yolande Beekman. She had known Yolande from her training days at Wanborough Manor. All four agents were given their orders to leave for Dachau. They were escorted by Gestapo officer Christian Ott and driven to the station in Gmeiner’s car. At Bruchsal Junction they were joined by their second German escort Max Wassmer, and together they caught the express train for Stuttgart. At Stuttgart they had to wait on the platform for about an hour for the train to Munich.

Josef Gmeiner said later that the orders to move Noor and her colleagues had come by teleprinter from Berlin. One was addressed to his office at Karlsruhe and the other to the Commandant of the concentration camp. Gmeiner’s instructions were to transfer the prisoners to the camp at Dachau. The instruction to the Camp Commandant of Dachau ordered the execution itself.

It was midnight when they reached Dachau and they walked up to the concentration camp, where they were locked in separate cells.

The end came in the early hours of the morning. Madeleine, Eliane and Yolande were dragged out of their cells, marched past the barracks and shot near the crematorium.

For Noor it would be a long, tortuous night. According to two letters received by Jean Overton Fuller’s publishers after her book appeared in 1952, Noor was stripped, abused and kicked all night by her German captors. One of the letter writers was a Lieutenant Colonel Wickey, who worked for Canadian intelligence during the war and was Military Governor in Wuppertal in the British zone after the war. Here he met a German officer who had spent time in Dachau. This officer had been told by some camp officials that four women had been brought to Dachau from Karlsruhe. He described the women as French but added that one had a darker complexion and “looked much like a Creole.” The officers told the German officer that she (Noor) was considered to be a very “dangerous person” and to be given the “full treatment.” Wickey then traced the German camp officer who had given the account and was told by him that Noor was tortured and abused in her cell by the Germans. She was stripped, kicked and finally left lying on the floor battered.

Captain A. Nicholson of the War Crimes Group of North West Europe was given the task of obtaining photocopies of the Pforzheim prison register. He reported to Major N.G. Mott at the War Office. From the sworn statement of the prison director, they learnt that Noor was removed from Pforzheim to Dachau in September. Major Mott then reported to Vera Atkins that Noor, along with three other specially employed women were removed to Dachau where they were executed the following morning, 13 September.

Note the date, September 13th. The plaque on the wall of the crematorium at Dachau gives the date of execution as September 12th. It is hard to keep the dates straight when the story is based on hearsay from unnamed informants.

Noor Inayat Khan most likely died at Pforzheim prison. The other three SOE women were most likely sent to Ravensbrück, the women’s camp. Ravensbrück was liberated by the Soviet Union and all the records from the camp were confiscated and never released to the public. There was a typhus epidemic in Germany in the last days of the war, and the SOE women most likely died of typhus.

So why do the British keep promoting this fictional account of Noor Inayat Khan? Well, it makes a great story. Noor Inayat Khan was an exotic beauty with an exotic name. The name Noor means “light of womanhood.” Noor’s father was Hazrat Inayat Khan, a leader of the Sufi movement, and her mother was an American.

Noor was a descendent of Tippu Sultan, a prince who had been an enemy of British rule in India. She has been described as “gentle, shy, musical, dreamy, and poetic,” and she “was noted for her kindness to animals.” Noor attended the Sorbonne and wrote children’s books, including Twenty Jataka Tales, which is still in print.

The story is that this beautiful, gentle Indian “Princess” was brutally beaten by a SS officer, who represents the stereotype of SS men as the epitome of cruelty. This is the age old story of good and evil. The Allies fought the “good war” and defeated the evil Nazis. Noor Inayat Khan was fighting as an illegal combatant, and could have been legally executed, but she is the heroine who was “murdered” by the evil Nazis.

You can read more about the story of Noor Inayat Khan here.

There was an announcement a couple of years ago that a film was being made, based on the book Spy Princess by Shrabani Basu. The film was to be directed by Shyam Benegal. I don’t know if the film has ever been released.


Female British secret agent who parachuted behind enemy lines before being executed in Dachau

The incredible heroism of a British agent who parachuted behind enemy lines into France and who took out 30 German trains during the Second World War will be retold in a new book.

Eliane Plewman, who belonged to Winston Churchill’s elite Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War, was involved in a number of highly successful sabotage missions.

During one daring operation in 1944, the diminutive 5ft agent, together with her brother Albert Browne-Bartroli, evaded German patrols to lay explosives under the Marseille-Toulon railway line.

When they exploded, 30 locomotives were put out of service, hampering the enemy’s attempts to move troops and supplies by rail. The explosion caused so much damage that it took Germany four days to clear the line.

But her cover was blown in 1944 and the special agent was imprisoned and tortured at Fresnes prison in France and then transferred to Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria, Germany, before she was executed at the age of 26 by SS trooper Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert.

Ms Plewman, who was born in Marseille, France, moved to Leicester as a child and had been working in a fabric exporting company at the outbreak of the Second World War.

In 1943, she was accepted to train with the Special Operations Executive as ‘an agent in the field’ and completed gruelling field training, where she learnt hand-to-hand combat and how to handle explosives.

Eliane Plewman, who was born in Marseille, France, was involved in a number of highly successful sabotage missions during her time with Winston Churchill’s elite Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War

The secret agent was imprisoned and tortured at Fresnes prison in France before she was transferred to Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria, Germany. She was executed at the age of 26. Pictured: A plaque at Dachau concentration camp paying tribute to Ms Plewman and the three other female agents who were executed with her

During one operation in 1944, the agent, together with her brother Albert Browne-Bartroli, evaded German patrols to lay explosives under a railway line. The mission caused so much damage that it took Germany four days to clear the tracks

Who was Eliane Plewman?

Eliane Plewman was born in Marseille, France, but moved to Leicester as a child and was working in a fabric exporting company at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Ms Plewman married Tom Plewman, an officer in the Royal Artillery, after a whirlwind romance in 1942.

With a Spanish mother, she used her language skills to work for the Ministry of Information, from where she signed up for the Special Operations Executive.

After completing her gruelling field training, where she learnt hand-to-hand combat and to handle explosives, she was parachuted behind enemy lines into the Jura region of France on August 14, 1943.

Here, she provided communications link between groups of saboteurs and intelligence gathering agents.

During one daring mission, the agent evaded German patrols to lay explosives under a railway line.

When they exploded, 30 locomotives were put out of service, hampering the enemy’s attempts to move troops and supplies by rail.

She was arrested at a safe house in Marseille on or around March 23, 1944, when it was raided by the Gestapo.

She was imprisoned and tortured at Fresnes prison in France and then transferred to Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria, Germany.

She was executed aged 26 on September 13, 1944.

Major General Colin Gubbins recommended Eliane Plewman for an MBE but as the award does not allow posthumous awards she was awarded the Croix de Guerre and Kings Commendation for Brave Conduct instead.

The elite group, who were famously ordered them to ‘set Europe ablaze’ by Sir Winston Churchill, were tasked with outwitting Axis powers with sneaky espionage tactics, operating in every enemy-controlled nation in Europe and south-east Asia.

The primary mission of the SOE was to aid resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Europe by any means possible.

They were made up of a number of independent resistance groups established in France.

In August 1943, the secret agent parachuted out of a Handley Page Halifax bomber aircraft behind enemy line into the Jura region of France from an altitude of just over 1,000 feet.

Upon landing, she found out her support network was not in the region but she still managed to locate a pre-agreed safe house.

Here, she learnt from neighbours that the Gestapo had arrested all the operatives there, so she made her own way to Marseille, more than 300 miles away.

The journey took her two months and once she reached the Mediterranean coast she began working in a secret network know as the ‘MONK circuit’.

During her missions, Ms Plewman carried explosives to all the sabotage operation locations, a perilous task which left her vulnerable to being searched.

She was also a courier delivering messages, documents and wireless equipment to the Resistance network around Marseille, which was swarming with German armed forces.

However in early 1944, her cover was eventually blown when the network was infiltrated and she was captured by the Gestapo.

The SOE agent was arrested at a safe house in Marseille in March 1944, when it was raided by the Gestapo.

She was imprisoned and tortured at Fresnes prison in France and then transferred to Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria, Germany.

On September 1944, Ms Plewman was executed at the age of just 26.

Three other SOE agents – Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment and Noor Inayat Khan – were also executed on the same day.

The female agents were taken from their cell and forced to kneel in pairs before being executed by a single shot to the head by executioner Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert – an SS trooper.

Ms Plewman along with Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment and Noor Inayat Khan was executed by a single shot to the head by executioner Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert (pictured) at Dachau concentration camp in Germany

Ms Plewman parachuted out of a Handley Page Halifax aircraft into the Jura region of France from an altitude of just over 1,000 feet. After landing she found out her support network had been captured by police and then made her own way to Marseille

The special agent was transferred to Dachau concentration camp (exterior of camp pictured) in Bavaria, Germany, before her death

Following the special agent’s a capture by German forces, a report was sent in an effort to find Ms Plewman. Her cover was blown and she was captured by the Gestapo when the secret network she had been working in was infiltrated

After the war, Ruppert was tried for war crimes and convicted and executed by hanging on May 29, 1946.

The derailment of the Toulon train

Eliane Plewman along with fellow saboteurs linked to the Monk network was able to execute a derailment inside the railway tunnel between Cassis and Aubagne on the Marseille-Toulon line.

The agents planted bombs underneath the line and put 30 trains out of service.

They were also able to blow up a repair train that was sent to the region to help to clear the lines.

The mission stopped all traffic on the line for four days.

Speaking of Ms Plewman’s bravery, Major General Colin Gubbins, head of the SOE at the time, said: ‘She was dropped in the Jura and was separated from her circuit for some time.

‘Instead of remaining in hiding she showed outstanding initiative and made several contacts on her own which were later of great value to her circuit.

‘For six months Plewman worked as a courier and her untiring devotion to duty and willingness to undergo any risk largely contributed to the successful establishment of her circuit.

‘She travelled constantly maintaining liaison between the various groups, acting as guide to newly arriving agents and transporting wireless telegraphy equipment and compromising documents.’

The heroism of Ms Plewman and her other SOE female operatives will now be celebrated in historian Kate Vigurs’ new book, Mission France: The True Story of the Women of the SOE.

Of these women, 16 were captured, with 13 of them executed.

Dr Vigurs said she had pored over Ms Plewman’s personnel file in the National Archives and also visited Marseille, where she was operating, several times to learn more about her.

Dr Vigurs said: ‘This book has attempted to tell the true story of all the women agents, those who have become household names and national heroines as well as those who have remained in the shadows.

‘All the women who were infiltrated into France by F Section were extraordinary. Notably Eliane Plewman, whose untiring devotion to duty and willingness to undergo any risk largely contributed to the successful establishment of her network and sabotage on a huge scale.

‘This book has tried to ensure that their stories have been told and that they have been given the recognition they deserve.’

Ms Plewman was awarded the Croix de Guerre and Kings Commendation for Brave Conduct.

After the war, the SOE was officially dissolved on 15 January 1946. A memorial to SOE’s agents was unveiled on the Albert Embankment by Lambeth Palace in London in October 2009.

  • Mission France: The True History of the Women of SOE, by Kate Vigurs, is published by Yale University Press and costs £20.

What was the Special Operations Executive? The resistance group ordered by Winston Churchill to ‘set Europe ablaze’

The Special Operations Executive (SOE), who formed on July 22 1940, were famously ordered by Sir Winston Churchill to ‘set Europe ablaze’

Most of the sneaky espionage tactics used to outwit Britain’s opponents were devised by a division known as the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

F ormed on July 22 1940 by Minister of Economic Warfare Hugh Dalton following cabinet approval, the SOE was largely kept top-secret and was also known as The Baker Street Irregulars, because of the location of its London office, and Churchill’s secret army.

The SOE operated in every nation in Europe and south-east Asia that was under the rule of an Axis power.

The primary mission of the SOE was to aid resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Europe by any means possible.

This would include sabotage, subversion and even assassination behind enemy lines.

They had an influential supporter in Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who famously ordered them to ‘set Europe ablaze’.

The SOE was made up of a number of independent resistance groups established in France.

As well as the quirky inventions it came up with, the unit was also responsible for other key, more conventional items that were commonly used in the war.

O ne of these was a time pencil, which was a timer that allowed troops to detonate a bomb with a controlled delay to allow them to clear the area – timings typically ranged from 10 minutes to 24 hours.

T he SOE commissioned several types of silent pistol, such as the Welrod, which were key for agents trying to keep a low profile.

T hey also produced two submarines, the Welman and Sleeping Beauty, to place charges on U-boats, but neither were successful.

A fter the war, the organisation was officially dissolved on 15 January 1946. A memorial to SOE’s agents was unveiled on the Albert Embankment by Lambeth Palace in London in October 2009.

Also among the SOE female agents who were captured by the German forces was Noor Inayat Khan who was tortured and executed at Dachau concentration camp.

Born in Moscow to an Indian father and an American mother, Ms Noor grew up in London and Paris. Her last word as the firing squad raised their weapons on September 13, 1944, was ‘liberté’.

She studied the harp, gained a degree in child psychology and wrote children’s stories. In 2012 she was honoured with a statue in central London, the first stand-alone memorial to an Asian woman in the UK.

She suffered horrendously at the hands of the Gestapo after she was betrayed and then tortured and eventually executed – after refusing to give up any British secrets.

Madeleine Damerment and Yolande Beekman were also executed at Dachau Concentration camp in September 1944.


Female British secret agent who parachuted behind enemy lines before being executed in Dachau

The incredible heroism of a British agent who parachuted behind enemy lines into France and who took out 30 German trains during the Second World War will be retold in a new book.

Eliane Plewman, who belonged to Winston Churchill’s elite Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War, was involved in a number of highly successful sabotage missions.

During one daring operation in 1944, the diminutive 5ft agent, together with her brother Albert Browne-Bartroli, evaded German patrols to lay explosives under a railway line.

When they exploded, 30 locomotives were put out of service, hampering the enemy’s attempts to move troops and supplies by rail. The explosion caused so much damage that it took Germany four days to clear the line.

But her cover was blown in 1944 and the special agent was imprisoned and tortured at Fresnes prison in France and then transferred to Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria, Germany, before she was executed at the age of 26 by SS trooper Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert.

Ms Plewman, who was born in Marseille, France, moved to Leicester as a child and had been working in a fabric exporting company at the outbreak of the Second World War.

In 1943, she was accepted to train with the Special Operations Executive as ‘an agent in the field’ and completed gruelling field training, where she learnt hand-to-hand combat and how to handle explosives.

Eliane Plewman, who was born in Marseille, France, was involved in a number of highly successful sabotage missions during her time with Winston Churchill’s elite Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War

The secret agent was imprisoned and tortured at Fresnes prison in France before she was transferred to Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria, Germany. She was executed at the age of 26. Pictured: A plaque at Dachau concentration camp paying tribute to Ms Plewman and the three other female agents who were executed with her

During one operation in 1944, the agent, together with her brother Albert Browne-Bartroli, evaded German patrols to lay explosives under a railway line. The mission caused so much damage that it took Germany four days to clear the tracks

The elite group, who were famously ordered them to ‘set Europe ablaze’ by Sir Winston Churchill, were tasked with outwitting Axis powers with sneaky espionage tactics, operating in every enemy-controlled nation in Europe and south-east Asia.

The primary mission of the SOE was to aid resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Europe by any means possible.

In August 1943, the secret agent parachuted out of a Handley Page Halifax bomber aircraft behind enemy line into the Jura region of France from an altitude of just over 1,000 feet.

Upon landing, she found out her support network was not in the region but she still managed to locate a pre-agreed safe house.

Here, she learnt from neighbours that the Gestapo had arrested all the operatives there, so she made her own way to Marseille, more than 300 miles away.

The journey took her two months and once she reached the Mediterranean coast she began working in a secret network know as the ‘MONK circuit’.

During her missions, Ms Plewman carried explosives to all the sabotage operation locations, a perilous task which left her vulnerable to being searched.

She was also a courier delivering messages, documents and wireless equipment to the Resistance network around Marseille, which was swarming with German armed forces.

Ms Plewman along with Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment and Noor Inayat Khan was executed by a single shot to the head by executioner Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert (pictured) at Dachau concentration camp in Germany

Ms Plewman parachuted out of a Handley Page Halifax aircraft into the Jura region of France from an altitude of just over 1,000 feet. After landing she found out her support network had been captured by police and then made her own way to Marseille

The special agent was transferred to Dachau concentration camp (exterior of camp pictured) in Bavaria, Germany, before her death

Following the special agent’s a capture by German forces, a report was sent in an effort to find Ms Plewman. Her cover was blown and she was captured by the Gestapo when the secret network she had been working in was infiltrated

Who was Eliane Plewman?

Eliane Plewman was born in Marseille, France, but moved to Leicester as a child and was working in a fabric exporting company at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Ms Plewman married Tom Plewman, an officer in the Royal Artillery, after a whirlwind romance in 1942.

With a Spanish mother, she used her language skills to work for the Ministry of Information, from where she signed up for the Special Operations Executive.

After completing her gruelling field training, where she learnt hand-to-hand combat and to handle explosives, she was parachuted behind enemy lines into the Jura region of France on August 14, 1943.

Here, she provided communications link between groups of saboteurs and intelligence gathering agents.

During one daring mission, the agent evaded German patrols to lay explosives under a railway line.

When they exploded, 30 locomotives were put out of service, hampering the enemy’s attempts to move troops and supplies by rail.

She was arrested at a safe house in Marseille on or around March 23, 1944, when it was raided by the Gestapo.

She was imprisoned and tortured at Fresnes prison in France and then transferred to Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria, Germany.

She was executed aged 26 on September 13, 1944.

Major General Colin Gubbins recommended Eliane Plewman for an MBE but as the award does not allow posthumous awards she was awarded the Croix de Guerre and Kings Commendation for Brave Conduct instead.

However in early 1944, her cover was eventually blown when the network was infiltrated and she was captured by the Gestapo.

The SOE agent was arrested at a safe house in Marseille in March 1944, when it was raided by the Gestapo.

She was imprisoned and tortured at Fresnes prison in France and then transferred to Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria, Germany.

On September 1944, Ms Plewman was executed at the age of just 26.

Three other SOE agents – Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment and Noor Inayat Khan – were also executed on the same day.

The female agents were taken from their cell and forced to kneel in pairs before being executed by a single shot to the head by executioner Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert – an SS trooper.

After the war, Ruppert was tried for war crimes and convicted and executed by hanging on May 29, 1946.

Speaking of Ms Plewman’s bravery, Major General Colin Gubbins, head of the SOE at the time, said: ‘She was dropped in the Jura and was separated from her circuit for some time.

‘Instead of remaining in hiding she showed outstanding initiative and made several contacts on her own which were later of great value to her circuit.

‘For six months Plewman worked as a courier and her untiring devotion to duty and willingness to undergo any risk largely contributed to the successful establishment of her circuit.

‘She travelled constantly maintaining liaison between the various groups, acting as guide to newly arriving agents and transporting wireless telegraphy equipment and compromising documents.’

The heroism of Ms Plewman and her other SOE female operatives will now be celebrated in historian Kate Vigurs’ new book, Mission France: The True Story of the Women of the SOE.

Of these women, 16 were captured, with 13 of them executed.

Dr Vigurs said she had pored over Ms Plewman’s personnel file in the National Archives and also visited Marseille, where she was operating, several times to learn more about her.

Dr Vigurs said: ‘This book has attempted to tell the true story of all the women agents, those who have become household names and national heroines as well as those who have remained in the shadows.

‘All the women who were infiltrated into France by F Section were extraordinary. Notably Eliane Plewman, whose untiring devotion to duty and willingness to undergo any risk largely contributed to the successful establishment of her network and sabotage on a huge scale.

‘This book has tried to ensure that their stories have been told and that they have been given the recognition they deserve.’

Ms Plewman was awarded the Croix de Guerre and Kings Commendation for Brave Conduct.

After the war, the SOE was officially dissolved on 15 January 1946. A memorial to SOE’s agents was unveiled on the Albert Embankment by Lambeth Palace in London in October 2009.

  • Mission France: The True History of the Women of SOE, by Kate Vigurs, is published by Yale University Press and costs £20.

What was the Special Operations Executive? The resistance group ordered by Winston Churchill to ‘set Europe ablaze’

The Special Operations Executive (SOE), who formed on July 22 1940, were famously ordered by Sir Winston Churchill to ‘set Europe ablaze’

Most of the sneaky espionage tactics used to outwit Britain’s opponents were devised by a division known as the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

F ormed on July 22 1940 by Minister of Economic Warfare Hugh Dalton following cabinet approval, the SOE was largely kept top-secret and was also known as The Baker Street Irregulars, because of the location of its London office, and Churchill’s secret army.

The SOE operated in every nation in Europe and south-east Asia that was under the rule of an Axis power.

The primary mission of the SOE was to aid resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Europe by any means possible.

This would include sabotage, subversion and even assassination behind enemy lines.

They had an influential supporter in Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who famously ordered them to ‘set Europe ablaze’.

The SOE was made up of a number of independent resistance groups established in France.

As well as the quirky inventions it came up with, the unit was also responsible for other key, more conventional items that were commonly used in the war.

O ne of these was a time pencil, which was a timer that allowed troops to detonate a bomb with a controlled delay to allow them to clear the area – timings typically ranged from 10 minutes to 24 hours.

T he SOE commissioned several types of silent pistol, such as the Welrod, which were key for agents trying to keep a low profile.

T hey also produced two submarines, the Welman and Sleeping Beauty, to place charges on U-boats, but neither were successful.

A fter the war, the organisation was officially dissolved on 15 January 1946. A memorial to SOE’s agents was unveiled on the Albert Embankment by Lambeth Palace in London in October 2009.

Also among the SOE female agents who were captured by the German forces was Noor Inayat Khan who was tortured and executed at Dachau concentration camp.

Born in Moscow to an Indian father and an American mother, Ms Noor grew up in London and Paris. Her last word as the firing squad raised their weapons on September 13, 1944, was ‘liberté’.

She studied the harp, gained a degree in child psychology and wrote children’s stories. In 2012 she was honoured with a statue in central London, the first stand-alone memorial to an Asian woman in the UK.

She suffered horrendously at the hands of the Gestapo after she was betrayed and then tortured and eventually executed – after refusing to give up any British secrets.

Madeleine Damerment and Yolande Beekman were also executed at Dachau Concentration camp in September 1944.


Scrapbookpages Blog

I was searching the blogs yesterday for anything about Dachau and came across this blog, which has an article about Noor Inayat Khan with the title “A Remarkable True Story for Women’s History Month.” Noor Inayat Khan was a British SOE spy who was allegedly executed at Dachau.

Whenever you see the word “allegedly” on my blog, it means that there is no proof whatsoever for whatever else is in that sentence.

Here is a quote from the “True Story” which I copied from the blog:

“In September 1944, Noor and three other female agents – Madeleine Damerment, Eliane Plewman and Yolande Beekman – were taken to the concentration camp at Dachau, just outside Munich.

“The three other agents were shot by the Germans on the day they arrived, but Noor was singled out to be beaten, tortured and possibly raped for hours before she was finally shot by an SS officer.

“As he placed the gun to her head and despite her tortured, weakened state, at least one source states that she summoned up the energy and courage to call out one final word before she died: ‘libertié‘.”

After reading the information above, I did a new search on Noor Inayat Khan and found numerous blogs about her, all with essentially the same story about how Noor was beaten before she was executed at Dachau.

“It was a crisp Munich morning on September 13, 1944 when the four shackled women were led to the execution grounds. All were made to kneel. Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert, the SS trooper in charge of executions, gave the orders to shoot. By eyewitness account, one by one the troopers shot Madeleine Damerment, Eliane Plewman, and Yolande Beekman.

“Come the turn of the fourth prisoner, Wilhelm stopped the executioners. He stepped forward and hit the fourth prisoner with his gun butt. When she fell to the ground, he kicked her till she was reduced to a bloody mess. She was raised to her knees forcibly. Wilhelm then shot her in the back of her head thus bringing to an abrupt end the short life of Princess, spy, heroine, martyr Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, a great great granddaughter of Tipu Sultan, the last Muslim sovereign of South India. One died fighting British imperialism. The other died for Britain fighting Nazi imperialism. Her last word was “Liberté”. She was 30 years old.”

Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert is the man standing on the right

Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert is shown in the photo above he is the man with a card around his neck with the number 2 on it. The photo was taken during an American Military Tribunal proceeding at Dachau at which Ruppert was accused of participating in a “common plan” to commit war crimes by virtue of his job as the officer in charge of executions at Dachau.

Ruppert was specifically charged with supervising the execution of 90 Soviet Prisoners of War who had been condemned to death by an order from Adolf Hitler. If he had refused to carry out an order given by Hitler, Ruppert would have been executed himself, but “superior orders” was not an acceptable defense, according to the American Military Tribunal Ruppert was convicted and hanged.

Ruppert was not charged with beating Noor Inayat Khan and then personally shooting her. Why? Because nothing about this alleged execution was known at that time. There is no record of any British SOE women being brought to Dachau for execution nor for any other reason. There is no record of an order for the execution of any British SOE women being sent by the Berlin office of the Gestapo to Dachau. There is no documentation or records of any kind that would prove that any British SOE women were ever executed at Dachau.

One of the witnesses against Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert at the American Military Tribunal was Rudolf Wolf, a 35-year-old German engraver from Frieberg, who was a prisoner at Dachau from September 1942 until the camp was liberated on April 29, 1945. Wolf testified that he had often seen Ruppert personally beat the prisoners. Wolf said that he had seen Ruppert kick the prisoners and also beat them with a whip so hard that the men became unconscious. According to Wolf’s testimony, Ruppert was a man who could beat people without changing expression he was like a blacksmith striking cold iron. Rudolf Wolf was a paid prosecution witness, whose testimony was not corroborated.

Ruppert’s sadistic nature was established by this dubious testimony at his trial which might have prompted an anonymous former Dutch prisoner at Dachau to contact author Jean Overton Fuller after reading her biography of British SOE agent Noor Inayat Khan. This anonymous prisoner, known only by his initials A.F., claimed to have witnessed the execution of Noor Inayat Khan on September 12, 1944 at Dachau. According to his story, A.F. had seen Wilhelm Ruppert undress Noor Inayat Khan and then beat her all over her body until she was a “bloody mess” before personally shooting her in the back of the head.

Execution spot where condemned prisoners were shot at Dachau

Condemned prisoners were executed with a shot in the neck at close range (Genickschuss). The execution place was located north of the crematorium it was surrounded by thick shrubbery and trees. There was no bleacher section where the other prisoners could watch the whole area was completely separate from the prison enclosure at Dachau.

The fact that the alleged witness said that Noor was “shot in the back of the head,” instead of being killed by a Genickschuss, shows that he knew nothing about the executions at Dachau, and had not seen anything.

Wilhelm Ruppert was an SS officer it was not his job to personally execute prisoners at Dachau he was the administrator in charge of the executions. If he had personally beaten anyone, Ruppert would have received a visit from Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen, the SS judge in charge of prosecuting SS men who committed crimes in the concentration camps. For example, Amon Göth, the Commandant who allegedly shot prisoners from his balcony at the Plaszow camp in the Schindler’s List story, was arrested by Dr. Morgen and was awaiting trial when World War II ended. He had been arrested on a charge of stealing from the camp warehouses, but not for shooting prisoners from his balcony because that never happened.

Noor Inayat Khan has been heavily promoted as a great heroine by the British in order to cover up what really happened. Noor was chosen to be sent to France as a wireless operator because she was the least qualified woman in the SOE the British wanted an SOE agent to be caught so that the Germans could acquire a British radio. The British wanted to send messages that would be intercepted. The messages would consist of incorrect information which the British wanted to give the Germans about the invasion of Sicily.

Noor was chosen for the job because she “was not overly burdened with brains,” in the words of her instructor. Sure enough, when Noor was captured, the Germans found a notebook in which she had written down all of the codes that they would need in order to use her radio. The Germans used Noor’s radio to send messages to the British and the British answered by sending misinformation about the invasion of Sicily.

According to Sarah Helm’s book A Life in Secrets, Hans Kieffer, the man who ordered Noor to be sent to Pforzheim prison after she made several escape attempts, said that he had no knowledge of her execution.

Sarah Helm wrote that the SOE was not above fabricating stories about Noor Inayat Khan in order to make her into more of a heroine than she actually was. In the citation for Noor to receive the George Medal, an award given to civilians for gallantry, it was noted that Noor “has also been instrumental in facilitating the escape of 30 Allied airmen shot down in France.” Such an escape never happened, according to Sarah Helm.


CAPITAL PENALTY

There is a large plaque at 8 Rue Merentié in the 5th arrondissement thanking 3 members of SOE’s Buckmaster Network (F section). One of them was an ebullient young English woman, born and bred in Marseille, ELIANE PLEWMAN née Browne, who returned from England to Marseille in August 1943 as courier to the MONK network, led by Charles Skepper Arthur Steele was the radio operator. (Download an English version of the account of Eliane Plewman, a translation of a an article by Jean Contrucci, journalist, writer and Marseille historian.)

The network was betrayed and they were arrested in March 1944. After 3 weeks of interrogation by the Gestapo at 425 Rue Paradis, they were imprisoned near Paris. On 13 May Eliane was transferred with seven other SOE female agents, including Odette, to Dachau where she was executed in September. Skepper and Steele died in Buchenwald.

BERTHIE ALBRECHT née Wild was born in Marseille in a protestant bourgeois family. Educated in Marseille and Lausanne, she was a nurse in WWI before marrying a Dutch banker. In 1933, mother to Frédéric and Mireille, she started a feminist review, Le problème sexuel, campaigning for contraception and abortion rights. Meanwhile she became a social worker in a factory and sheltered at Sainte-Maxime refugees from Nazi persecution and Spanish republicans. A friend of Frenay despite their political divergences, they edited clandestine newssheets and then founded Combat together. An active resister in Lyon, she was arrested twice in 1942 by the Vichy police, and arrested again by the Gestapo in March 1943. Tortured in Lyon, she hung herself the night she arrived at Fresnes prison rather than risk speaking.

Out of the 1038 Compagnons de la Libération, she is one of the 6 women thus honoured by de Gaulle, and one of the 16 resistance fighters buried at the Mont-Valérien memorial site.


Índice

Eliane nasceu em Marselha, em 1917 com o nome de Eliane Sophie Browne-Bartroli. Seu pai era um importante e bem-sucedido industrial inglês na França, Eugene Henry Browne-Bartroli. Sua mãe era espanhola, chamada Elisa Francesca Bartroli. Eliane cresceu e frequentou escolas tanto na Inglaterra quanto na Espanha, onde frequentou o Colégio Britânico, em Madri [ 3 ] [ 4 ] .

Assim que se formou na faculdade, Eliane se mudou para Leicester para trabalhar em uma companhia de importação e exportação de tecidos na Rua Albion, onde suas habilidades com o inglês, francês, espanhol e um pouco de português foram essenciais para o trabalho [ 3 ] .

Com a eclosão da Segunda Guerra em 1939, Eliane começou a trabalhar para o setor de imprensa da embaixada britânica em Madri e em Lisboa, até 1941. Em 1942, ela retornou à Grã-Bretanha, trabalhando para a imprensa espanhola junto ao Ministério da Informação [ 2 ] [ 5 ] . Em 28 de julho de 1942, ela se casou com Thomas Langford Plewman, de Lutterworth, que tinha sido recentemente comissionado como oficial da Artilharia Real [ 6 ] .

Special Operations Executive Editar

Por volta de fevereiro de 1943, ela ingressou no Special Operations Executive (SOE) em 25 de fevereiro entrou no treinamento para ser agente de campo. Assinou o acordo de confidencialidade em 29 de março e começou a treinar para a função em Wanborough Manor em maio [ 7 ] . Apesar de ter baixa estatura e uma compleição frágil, Eliane teve o mesmo treinamento que os homens tinham, perto de Inverness, mostrando determinação e perseverança que impressionaram os instrutores [ 6 ] . Ela aprendeu manejo de armas, combate corpo a corpo, técnicas de sabotagem, sobrevivência, segurança, orientação e comunicação via rádio. Sabia matar um inimigo com ou sem arma de fogo, como lidar com explosivos e detonadores, como sabotar linhas de trem e composições, como forjar uma nova identidade, como improvisar respostas para qualquer pergunta, como inventar um passado e uma história de fachada, incluindo um trabalho condizente com o falso perfil sem dar informações sobre si mesma ou cair em contradição [ 6 ] . Seus testes psicológicos foram excelentes e ela surpreendeu seus oficiais superiores e colegas por sua determinação e resiliência [ 4 ] [ 6 ] .

Após duas tentativas fracassadas devido ao mau tempo, Eliane pulou de paraquedas, abaixo do radar alemão, em território francês na madrugada de 13 para 14 de agosto de 1943. Sua nova identidade era "Eliane Jacqueline Prunier" e seus pseudônimos eram "Gaby" e "Dean", às vezes "Madame Dupont" [ 6 ] .

Eliane trabalhou com o capitão Charles Milne Skepper, identidade falsa "Henri Truchot", chefe da rede de informações que abrangia as áreas de Marselha, Roquebrune e Saint-Raphaël, que fornecia dados e linhas de comunicação para grupos de inteligência e de sabotadores [ 5 ] [ 6 ] . Seu irmão mais velho, Albert John Browne-Bartroli, também trabalhava como agente para o SOE em alguma parte da França e sobreviveu à guerra [ 5 ] .

A rede de informações da qual Eliane fazia parte foi traída em março de 1944, onde ela foi presa. Por quatro semanas, foi interrogada e torturada pela Gestapo e depois transferida para várias prisões, até chegar à prisão de Karlsruhe [ 8 ] . Na noite de 11 de setembro de 1944, a Gestapo levou Eliane Plewman, Yolande Beekman e Madeleine Damerment para a estação de trem de Karlsruhe para pegarem o trem para Munique. De lá, pegaram um trem local para Dachau, chegando ao campo de concentração por volta da meia-noite. Entre as 8 e 11 horas da manhã de 13 de setembro, Eliane, junto de outras agentes do SOE (Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment e Noor Inayat Khan) foram tiradas de suas celas e forçadas a se ajoelhar no lado de fora do prédio, onde foram executadas com tiros na cabeça pelo carrasco do campo, Wilhelm Ruppert [ 4 ] [ 5 ] .

O traidor era um francês, de cerca de 36 anos, nascido em Marselha, chamado Emmanuel Bousquet, que possuía ficha criminal por receptação e trabalhava no mercado negro durante a guerra. Foi recrutado pela Gestapo para ser agente duplo, denunciar judeus e fornecer informações vitais sobre a rede de sabotadores que operava na França [ 4 ] [ 6 ] . Depois da execução, os soldados retiraram as joias e qualquer coisa de valor que as vítimas possuíam. Os corpos foram cremados e as cinzas espalhadas em uma vala comum no campo de Dachau [ 6 ] [ 8 ] .


Eliane Plewman (1917-1944)

After the outbreak of WWII, Eliane worked for the British Embassies in Madrid and Lisbon. In 1942 she went to Britain to work for the Spanish section of the Ministry of Information. That same summer she married British army officer Tom Plewman. Later she joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and was given a code name "Gaby."

On 13󈝺 Aug 1943 Eliane parachuted into France and joined the Monk resistance network of Charles Skepper. She worked as a courier in the area of Marseilles, Roquebrune and St. Raphael.

When the network was betrayed in March 1944, Plewman was also arrested. The Gestapo interrogated her for three weeks and then transferred her to Fresnes Prison. On 13 May 1944 the Germans transferred her and three other SOE agents (Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment and Noor Inayat Khan) to prison at Karlsruhe. On 10 Sep they were transferred to the Dachau concentration camp where she, Beekman, Damermant and Inayat Khan were forced to kneel in pairs and were executed by a single shot to the head on 13 Sep 1944.


Churchill's heroines: How Britain's female secret agents changed the course of WWII

They were the women agents of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and their task in the words of wartime leader Winston Churchill was "to set Europe ablaze".

Dropped behind enemy lines by parachute or fishing boat they helped to forge the "secret army" of resistance fighters that would prepare the way for the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

Women agents could do what men could not: blend in. They were not combatants. Nor were the Nazis rounding up women for forced labour. Women could travel on trains or trams or ride bicycles with explosives hidden under their groceries without arousing as much suspicion as men.

From 1941 SOE began recruiting women with language skills into the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) or the Auxiliary Transport Service (ATS) before sending them for specialist training. Details mattered as the women had to pass as locals. One agent was uncovered because she looked right instead of left when crossing the road.

For 39 agents their destination was occupied France to work with the Maquis or Resistance. At least 15 were executed, two were liberated from camps, one escaped and two died of natural causes. The rest made it home.

Some of them such as Odette Sansom or Violette Szabo were celebrated in books and films. For most, however, their heroic bravery remains recorded only in dusty files or specialist tomes. But a new book has gathered all their stories together. Here we introduce three of the lesser–known secret heroines .

ANDRÉE BORREL, code name Denise

The tomboy daughter of workingclass parents from the Paris suburbs, Andrée had fought in the Spanish Civil War. After France capitulated she trained as a nurse's aide and joined a Resistance network helping Jews, SOE agents and Allied airmen escape over the Spanish border until in 1941 her group was uncovered and she had to escape herself, reaching England via Portugal. There she volunteered for SOE and nine months later on September 24, 1942 she became one of the first female agents to be parachuted into occupied France.

Her mission was to travel to northern France delivering messages, organising and training Resistance members in the use of weapons and explosives. Tough and intensely committed she always volunteered for the most dangerous tasks. It was said that she enjoyed nothing better than a good sabotage operation. Her fellow trainees recalled her telling them that stabbing through the ear with a pencil was a good way of killing a German while he slept.

She was so effective that in March 1943 her network leader Francis Suttill made her second–in–command. The following month their group carried out 63 acts of sabotage, derailing trains, killing 43 Germans, wounding 110 and set up 33 drop zones where supplies could be safely delivered.

She was probably betrayed as on June 23, 1943 Andrée was arrested by the Gestapo, interrogated and imprisoned first in Karlsruhe, Germany and then in the Natzeiler–Struthof concentration camp in the Vosges mountains. Andrée managed to smuggle messages written on cigarette papers out of prison to her relatives.

The end came about a month after D–Day. Along with three other female SOE agents she was injected with carbolic acid and after being pronounced dead her body was stripped ready for throwing into the crematorium. But she regained consciousness and fought back, scratching the face of the guard before she was thrown alive into the furnace. She was 25.

CAPTURED: Andrée Borrel was burnt alive

CECILE PEARL WITHERINGTON, code name Marie or Pauline

Born in 1914 in Paris to British parents and always known as Pearl she was 29 when she was dropped into France on September 3, 1943. Before the war she had been the air attaché's secretary at the British embassy. She would end it as the only woman military commander in SOE.

The fall of France in 1940 left her with a fierce hatred of the Germans. As she was not a diplomat she was not evacuated but after making her way to Britain with the help of the Resistance she joined the WAAF and volunteered for the SOE. The head of SOE's French operation Maurice Buckmaster had doubts about taking on the pallid, worn–out woman he had interviewed but a few months into her training he found her transformed. Pearl was also known to be a crack shot but refused to carry a gun, declaring: "I don't think it's a woman's role to kill."

Strong winds had caused her to be dropped 10 miles off course southeast of the city of Tours but she got straight to work, teaching the Resistance how to use explosives. For three months Pearl slept on freezing trains at night as she travelled widely delivering messages, money and explosives, posing as a saleswoman for beauty products.

She sabotaged the Michelin factory in Clermont–Ferrand, destroying 40,000 tyres destined for the German military and charmed a truculent French colonel into accepting orders from Allied HQ rather than acting independently. When her superior was arrested Pearl took over as leader of 2,700 guerillas to whom she was known as "Lieutenant Pauline" or simply "Mother".

Her network wreaked havoc on the Germans in the locality, cutting the Paris–Toulon railway line more than 800 times in 1944, thus delaying German reinforcements heading to Normandy after D–Day.

Her closest shave came on June 11, 1944 when German soldiers stormed the house where she was holed up with a stash of hand grenades and ammunition. She escaped into nearby woods and with 150 men held off 2,500 enemy troops for 14 hours before escaping again through a cornfield, moving only when the wind made the corn sway. By the time the Americans liberated the Loire region there were 20,000 German troops in the area to surrender to them.

In October 1944 she married her French fiancé Henri Cornioley, who had escaped from German captivity and joined the Resistance. In 1945 she was awarded the civilian MBE but returned it, saying: "I spent a year in the field and had I been caught I would have been shot or worse still sent to a concentration camp. I consider it most unjust to be given a civilian decoration."

However she did accept the Croix de Guerre, the Croix Légion d'Honneur and the Resistance medal from the French and the CBE from Britain. Then came another honour that she had long coveted. As she had completed four instead of the required five practice jumps during training, she had been refused the paratrooper's insignia. But in 2006, aged 93, Pearl Witheringon Cornioley, SOE agent and war heroine , finally received her wings. She died in February 2008.

ELIANE PLEWMAN, code name Gaby

Born in 1917 to a British father and Spanish–French mother she spoke four languages and was recruited in 1942 soon after she married Tom Plewman, a British Army officer. She was parachuted into France on August 14, 1943 only to find that the contacts she had been given had all been arrested. She joined a Resistance network operating in the Marseilles area and set about crippling rail transport. In one operation she derailed the Toulon train in a tunnel and stopped all traffic on the line for four days.

In one harrowing encounter a German officer on a train asked her for a light. Eliane had two boxes of matches in her bag – one of which contained a message from a network member but she could not tell which one. She handed a box over to the soldier who promptly pocketed it after he had lit his cigarette. Discovery would have meant arrest, torture and execution. But she was in luck. She had not handed over the wrong box of matches.

She was arrested on March 23, 1944 after being inadvertently betrayed by a black–market contact who shared a mistress with a Gestapo collaborator. During questioning she hinted she would talk if her interrogator would buy her dinner. They duly went out, she dined well and then said that she had changed her mind.

She was moved to the notorious Fresnes prison in Paris and for three weeks suffered beatings and was endlessly tortured with electric shocks between her eyes.

On May 13, 1944 Eliane was transferred to Karlsruhe and then three months later to Dachau concentration camp with her fellow SOE agents Yolande Beekman and Madeleine Damerment. Within hours of arriving at Dachau they were taken out, made to kneel in front of the crematorium and shot in the head.

Special forces behind the lines in France

D-Day Girls spotlights the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), the world’s first large fighting force trained and organized to operate behind enemy lines. And its operations were truly large:

  • “Some 429 agents went behind the lines, suffering 104 casualties together with de Gaulle’s RF Section, they armed the whole of occupied France,” Rose writes. “In total, Allied-backed resistance forces were counted as worth fifteen divisions in France, or about 200,000 troops.”
  • And just “between December 1942 and January 1943, some 282 German officers were killed by partisan activity [in France], 14 trains were wrecked, 94 locomotives and 436 coaches were destroyed, 4 bridges went down, 26 trucks were destroyed, there were 12 major strategic fires, and 1,000 tons of food stores and fuel were destroyed.” All these operations were going on as Hitler’s forces fought for their lives in Stalingrad. It’s clear to me that Allied efforts behind the lines in France must have tied up large numbers of German soldiers who might otherwise have turned the tide a continent away in Russia. And keep in mind that the Russian victory in the Battle of Stalingrad is widely agreed to have been the turning point in the European war.

The women in the world’s first special forces

Author Sarah Rose pays special attention in D-Day Girls to a handful of women in the French Section (F Section) of the SOE. But throughout she puts their experiences in the larger context. “Women made up some two thousand of the approximately thirteen thousand employees of the Special Operations Executive . . . They were translators, radio operators, secretaries, drivers, and honeypots. Only eight were deployed as special agents in Autumn 1942, when SOE’s first class of female trainees was seconded to France.”


Watch the video: World War Two. The Ultimate female SOE Agent list (June 2022).


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