Selected agents

Selected agents

Noor Inayat KHAN (1914-44)

(HS 9/836/5)

Noor Inayat Khan was born in Russia on 1 January 1914, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Tipu Sultan, the eighteenth-century Muslim ruler who died in the struggle against the British. Shortly after her birth in Moscow the family moved to England and later settled in France.

After studying music and medicine Khan became a writer. Her children's stories were published in Figaro and a collection of traditional Indian stories, Twenty Jataka Tales, appeared in 1939. On the outbreak of the War she trained as a nurse with the Red Cross. In May 1940 France was invaded by Germany, and just before the French government surrendered she escaped to England with her mother and sister.

In England Khan joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force and trained as a wireless operator. While working at a RAF bomber station, her ability to speak French fluently brought her to the attention of the SOE and she agreed to become a British special agent. Her SOE finishing report, before being sent on her mission, describes her as "not over-burdened with brains" and "unstable and temperamental and unsuited to work in her field".

Given the codename "Madeleine", she was flown to Le Mans with Diana Rowden and Cecily Lefort on 16 June 1943 and was the first woman to be infiltrated into enemy occupied France. She travelled to Paris where she joined the Prosper Network led by Francis Suttill (see below, HS 9/1430/6). Soon after arriving, a large number of members of the resistance group associated with Prosper were arrested by the Gestapo. Fearing that the group had been infiltrated by a German spy, she was instructed to return home. However, she declined, arguing that she was the only wireless operator left in the group.

Khan continued to keep the SOE in London informed by wireless about developments. She attempted to rebuild the Prosper Network and facilitated the escape of 30 airmen shot down in France. However, the Gestapo already knew of her existence and were following her in an attempt to capture other members of the French Resistance.

Khan was arrested in October and taken to Gestapo Headquarters. She was interrogated and although she remained silent they discovered a book in her possession where she had recorded the messages she had been sending and receiving. The Gestapo broke her code and were able to send false information to SOE in London, which enabled them to capture three more secret agents landed in France.

Khan was taken to Germany and imprisoned at Karlsruhe. Later, with three other SOE agents (Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman and Madeleine Damerment), she was moved to Dachau. The four women were murdered in September 1944. In 1949 Noor Inayat Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross.

The file contains pictures of Khan and a report describing her personality and motivations for joining SOE and also her mission while in France. An extract from a deposition given by the Gestapo describes Khan's attempts to escape from German captivity and information about her betrayal by a French woman. In a letter to her mother, Khan warns about the dangers of war crimes trials being carried out in Germany and the risk of publicity for her family. She offers to try to suppress her name from reports.

The file details how Khan eventually met her death and contains letters sent by the SOE to her family informing them of her passing.

Vera ATKINS (1908-2000)

(HS 9/59/2)

Vera Atkins was born in Bucharest, Romania, on 16 June 1908. The family moved to Britain in 1933 but after a couple of years returned to mainland Europe. Atkins returned to England when France was invaded in May 1940. She joined the French section of SOE in February 1941, and served as intelligence and security assistant to Maurice Buckmaster, the head of the French Section.

Her work at the SOE included interviewing recruits, organising their training and planning the reception in France. One of her major tasks was to create cover stories for all the special agents who were about to be sent into enemy occupied territory. During the War she sent 470 agents, including 39 women, into France.

After the collapse of Nazi Germany, she was commissioned as squadron leader in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), and was sent into Germany to investigate the fate of the more than 100 F section agents who had gone missing behind enemy lines. Through exhaustive investigation and countless interviews, with both officials and unofficial witnesses, she uncovered the stories of all but one of the missing agents. Her reports appear in many of the SOE F section agents' files. Atkins was demobilised in 1947.

The file includes numerous duplicate photographs of Atkins, recommendations for awards, general personnel correspondence, and copies of the interrogation and investigation reports filed by Atkins after her work looking into the fate of lost SOE F section agents.

Yolande BEEKMAN (1911-44)

(HS 9/114/2)

Yolande Unternahrer was born in Paris in 1911. Her father, Jacob Unternahrer, later moved the family to London and Yolande was educated at Hampstead Heath. She also spent time in Switzerland, and by the time she finished her education could speak English, French and German fluently.

On the outbreak of the War she joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) where she trained as a wireless operator. She worked at several RAF fighter command stations, before joining SOE in February 1943. She married Jaap Beekman, a Dutch army sergeant, in August that year. The following month, she was landed in Tours and went to work as a radio operator for Gustave Bieler, the head of the Musician Network at St. Quentin.

In January 1944, Beekman and Bieler were arrested while together at a café. Bieler was shot soon after by the SS at Fossenburg. Beekman was interrogated by the Gestapo before being transferred to Fresnes Prison. In May 1944 the Germans transported Beekman and seven other SOE agents, (Eliane Plewman, Madeleine Damerment, Odette Hallowes (see below, HS 9/648/4), Diana Rowden, Vera Leigh, Andrée Borrel (files already released, HS 9/183) and Sonya Olschanezky) from Fresnes to Germany. Beekman was executed at Dachau in September, 1944.

Beekman's file contains one photograph, plus negatives, of her in uniform. There are reports of her activities and arrest, including the report on her death by Vera Atkins. The file includes a note of an interview conducted with her mother after Beekman's arrest, where the mother asserts that Beekman was pregnant when she was sent into France.

Odette HALLOWES

(HS 9/648/4)

Odette Hallowes (also known as Sansom) was the radio operator for Peter Churchill's Spindle network.

Hallowes and Churchill (file already released, HS 9/314-315) were arrested together in April 1943 when the network was infiltrated by spies. Under interrogation they claimed to be married and related to Prime Minister Winston Churchill and this may have been a factor in their survival.

Though both were tortured and sent to concentration camps, they survived the war and were subsequently married in 1947. (They divorced in 1955).

The file details Hallowes' service record, including reports on her behaviour and treatment in prison and a complete breakdown of her activities while in action. Hallowes spent two years in prison and was tortured regularly. She refused to give any information on her superior officers, and as such was credited with their survival. While in prison, she was condemned to death twice. After the War, she was granted an OBE for her self-sacrifice.

Julius HANAU (1885-1943)

(HS 9/653/2)

Hanau was born in South Africa in April 1885, and served in British intelligence in the Balkans between the two World Wars. He was part of SOE from its foundation, and for the first 18 months of the War organised resistance movements in the Balkans, particularly Yugoslavia. He was withdrawn from the Balkans to London prior to the German invasion of Yugoslavia, when it became known that the Germans had identified him as a British agent to be assassinated.

In London, Hanau was put in charge of SOE's West African mission, where he was responsible for operation 'Postmaster', the cutting out of ships from Santa Isabel in Fernando Po, and the acquisition of the ship 'Gascon' and its cargo, both notable coups at a time when SOE was not enjoying much success. Hanau was instrumental in the establishment of the South African mission and was crucial in planning the occupation of Madagascar and overcoming elements of Vichy French resistance there.

In October 1942 Hanau was sent (after a period of sick leave having contracted malaria in West Africa) to Cairo to plan actions in the Balkans, but he died of a heart attack in May 1943.

The file contains general personnel material and reports of Hanau's work, both for SOE and prior to its formation. The file also holds one photograph of Hanau.

Clement Marc JUMEAU

(HS 9/815/4)

Jumeau was born in the Seychelles in September 1914. He volunteered in 1939, and fought with the British Expeditionary force in Belgium before joining SOE. He was sent into Vichy France as an organiser in October 1941, and while making contacts was arrested and confined in Perigueux prison for six months. He escaped and was able to make his way back to Britain through Spain by the end of 1942.

Jumeau volunteered to return to France on a second mission in April 1943, but his plane was shot down as it crossed the French coast. He and his fellow SOE agent, Captain Lee-Graham, survived the crash, but were subsequently arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned at a civilian jail in Frankfurt. Jumeau contracted TB while in the prison, but was still forced to march to the military prison at Torgau in March 1944. Denied adequate medical attention, he was not able to survive these hardships, and died on 26 March in the military prison-hospital at Berlin-Buch.

The file contains the usual personnel forms and details, a report by Jumeau of events during his first mission, and correspondence relating to efforts to establish the fate of Jumeau and Lee-Graham. There is also one small photograph of Jumeau.

John MacALISTER (1914-44)

(HS 9/954/2)

John MacAlister was born in Ontario, Canada in July 1914. He joined SOE from the regular Army, and after training was parachuted into France in June 1943, to act as wireless operator for the Archdeacon Circuit in the Ardennes area of north-eastern France.

His training reports, which are on file, indicate that he was viewed as an officer of high potential, but his career in the field was nevertheless cut very short. He was arrested only days after his arrival in France, and imprisoned at Fresnes, where despite brutal interrogation he refused to reveal his security checks to the Germans who were in possession of his codes and wireless transmission plan and were eager to play false messages back to SOE in London. The messages sent were recognised as false. He was sent to Buchenwald in August 1944, and was hanged there the following month.

The file includes training reports and personnel details for MacAlister, and numerous photographs of him in uniform.

Amedee MAINGARD

(HS 9/976/9)

Amedee Maingard was born in Mauritius in 1918, and was one of a number of Mauritians who served with SOE (see for example HS 9/42-44, the personal files of France Anthelme, recently released). He joined SOE in June 1942, and was sent to France in April 1943 as the wireless operator for the Stationer circuit run by Squadron Leader Southgate.

Maingard's work as a wireless operator was exemplary, and Southgate wished to have him promoted to work as his assistant, but this was delayed as no replacement wireless operator was available. Southgate was arrested just before D-Day, and Maingard took over the running of the circuit and expanded its size and scope of operations, and was especially active in the sabotage that took place on and after D-Day. The circuit was wound up after being over-run by the allied advance, and Maingard volunteered to join a Jedburgh team in India, but did not in fact see any further active service. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre in 1944 and the DSO in June 1945.

The file contains reports on Maingard's activities and performance and his service records, along with recommendations for honours, and passport-style photographs.

Gilbert NORMAN

(HS 9/1110/5)

Gilbert Norman worked as wireless operator for Francis Suttill's Prosper network in Paris, and was arrested on the same day as Suttill and Andrée Borrel in 1942. He was executed by the Germans in 1944.

The file includes pictures of Norman and a detailed appraisal of his period in action. There is also correspondence between Norman's father and the British Government about compensation for Norman's service and subsequent death. There are suggestions that Norman may have been a double agent and have acted in a "traitorous fashion".

Francis SUTTILL (1910-45)

(HS 9/1430/6)

Francis Suttill was born in Lille in 1910. His father was British and his mother French. He worked as a barrister at Lincoln's Inn and on the outbreak of the War joined the Army, from which he was recruited by SOE.

Suttill was chosen to establish a new network in and around Paris, called Prosper. In September, 1942, Andrée Borrel was parachuted into France to prepare the way for Suttill who arrived on 1 October. A wireless operator, Gilbert Norman arrived in November and a second operator, Jack Agazarian, arrived the following month. Transport for the Prosper network was mainly provided by Henri Déricourt.

Suttill and Jack Agazarian became increasing concerned about the loyalty of Déricourt. In May 1943, Suttill returned to London and he passed on his fears to Nicholas Bodington and Maurice Buckmaster. However, they were unconvinced and refused to recall Déricourt to Britain.

Suttill returned to France in June 1943, and was arrested on 23 June. Borrel and Norman were arrested on the same day. When Noor Inayat Khan, who had just arrived as a wireless operator for Prosper, discovered that Suttill had been arrested, she reported back the disaster to the SOE in London.

Suttill was taken to the Gestapo headquarters in Paris where he was tortured. Conflicting reports state that either he or Norman passed information on Prosper to the Germans. He was executed on 21 March 1945.

Suttill's file contains: photographs of the agent; reports of his activities in France; general personnel correspondence; the report by Vera Atkins investigating Suttill's fate; and correspondence between Maurice Buckmaster and the British Council providing a reference for Suttill's wife, Dr Joan Suttill, who was applying to work in the British Council Medical Department.