I recently gave a talk – on Secret Agents – young men and women – sent into Nazi-occupied France during WW-2
It’s a fascinating story, with some extraordinary characters – see thumbnail sketches below the link.
With Nahlah Ayed (former foreign correspondent and host of CBC’s IDEAS) and Norm Christie (historian, battlefield guide, publisher, founder of the King & Empire Foundation – dedicated to promoting the study of Canadian history), I recently spoke at the Empire Club of Canada about the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a British World War Two outfit set up by Winston Churchill’s government in July 1940 – a month after France surrendered to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy – and which sent secret agents into Nazi and Fascist occupied territory to link up with resistance groups, and organize them, and supply them with weapons, explosives for sabotage, training, money, supplies, communications – via radio and courier – with London – and strategic and tactical direction.
In France, SOE gave hope to the population, was vital in creating the Resistance, was essential in establishing General Charles de Gaulle’s leadership of the Resistance, in laying the basis for the post-war renaissance of France, and in confusing, dispersing, and demoralizing German forces in France.
When D-Day came, SOE and the Resistance were extremely important in delaying and disorganizing the German response to the Allied invasion. SOE and the Resistance cut telephone and telegraph lines, sabotaged railways, blew up bridges and supply and ammunition depots, destroyed supplies, ambushed German forces, and provided information that allowed Allied bombers to target key German assets, including depots for V-1 rockets.
SOE recruited some fine women and many Serbo-Croats, Italians, Hungarians, Chinese Cantonese-speaking Canadians, and a beautiful half-Indian mystic – her father was a famous Sufi mystic – she and her brother both fought for the Allies in the war – Noor Inayat Khan, who for some reason was born in the Kremlin in Moscow. She wrote poetry children’s stories for Radio France, and, alas, like many others, was shot in the back of the neck in a German camp, but not before she had valiantly broadcast – she was a clandestine radio operator – much useful information from occupied France back to London. All around her, the great Prosper Network was collapsing. She kept broadcasting, changing her appearance, changing her location. She knew she was the only surviving radio operator in the Paris region, the only link with London. More and more groups came to depend on her for communications. She was betrayed, it seems, by a jealous woman. London, knowing the network around her was collapsing, asked her, twice, to come back to London. They would send a plane to get her out, or a courier to take her across the Pyrenees. She refused; she was needed, she said, and she was. But they should have insisted. NOOR INAYAT KHAN CLICK ON “THE EMPIRE CLUB EVENT” to watch the talk.