Scrapbookpages Blog

March 5, 2010

Women in the British SOE – what really happened to them?

This morning I got an e-mail from a woman who wrote that she is a cousin of Diana Rowden, a British SOE  agent in World War II, whom she says was murdered at the Natzweiler concentration camp.

This brought back memories of my trip to France and my visit to the Natzweiler Memorial Site a couple of years ago.  I had a hellavuh time getting to the place.  The former Natzweiler camp is located on a steep, winding mountain road, 5 miles from the nearest train station and there is no bus service. I had to hire a taxi driver to drive me there from the nearest town.

While I was in the crematorium building at Natzweiler, I noticed a small plaque on the wall in honor of four women SOE agents who were executed there; their bodies were burned in the one oven of the crematorium.  I remembered that I had seen a similar sign, honoring four other women SOE agents on the wall of the crematorium at Dachau.  I couldn’t help wondering why four women would be brought such a long way,  to a place as isolated as Natzweiler, for execution.  They were brought from a Gestapo prison in Germany to Natzweiler, a camp in Alsace, which is now in France. Why weren’t all eight of the women taken to Dachau for execution, I wondered.

After I got back from my trip, I started doing some research on Natzweiler and I learned that there were several male SOE agents who had been prisoners at Natzweiler and when this camp had to be closed, they were transferred to Dachau.  The SOE men had arrived at Dachau just a week before the SOE women were brought in for execution.  Curiously, the four SOE women had been executed at Natzweiler shortly before the men were transferred.  This struck me as being more than a coincidence.

Did the Gestapo deliberately arrange for several male SOE agents to be at Natzweiler, and then at Dachau, so there would be witnesses to the execution of the SOE women?  And why weren’t the men executed?  Not only were the SOE men not executed, they were privileged prisoners who were treated very well.

One of the SOE men, Albert Guérisse, claimed to be an eye-witness to the arrival of the four SOE women at Natzweiler. Guérisse said that the Commandant of the camp had driven his car down to the railroad station to pick up the women and he drove a couple of laps around the camp, as if he were giving them a tour.  All the prisoners inside the camp were able to  see these women who had been brought to Natzweiler for a secret execution.

Another SOE man, Brian Stonehouse, claimed that he was working near the gate and saw the women arrive on foot; he just happened to be an artist and a fashion expert, so he was able to sketch the women and describe their outfits in detail, right down to the hair ribbons they wore.

The cousin of Diana Rowden, who e-mailed me, wrote that she had met one of the former prisoners at Natzweiler when she visited the Memorial Site. This man told her that he had seen the women SOE agents as they  arrived at night. So we have three different eye-witness versions of the arrival of the women SOE agents at Natzweiler.

I believe that what may have happened is that all three of these witnesses saw the wives and girlfriends of the SS officers at Natzweiler arriving for a party that was going on in honor of an SS man who was leaving because he was being transferred to another camp.

Then I found out that there were four more British SOE women who were executed at Ravensbrück, the women’s concentration camp.  This makes no sense at all.  Why not take all 12 women to the women’s camp for execution?  Both Dachau and Natzweiler were camps for men.

There was one British SOE woman at Ravensbrück, Odette Sansom, who was not executed; she survived because she was having an affair with the Commandant, Fritz Hartjenstein. Odette claimed that all her toenails were pulled out by the Gestapo men who were trying to make her talk.

I spent a great deal of time researching the British SOE and read several books pertaining to the SOE women. On my web site http://www.scrapbookpages.com, I wrote about what I found out here and here.

Here is a quote from this page of my web site:

Of the four British SOE agents allegedly executed at Dachau, Noor Inayat Khan has become the most famous. Noor has gone down in history as a great heroine because she defied her captors to the end, never cooperating with the Germans in any way.

Noor Inayat Khan was the first woman to be sent to France to work as a wireless operator, even though there were other women in the SOE who would have been better suited for this job. Her trainer thought that Noor was too emotional and when she was given a mock interrogation to see how she would hold up under an interrogation by the Gestapo, she failed miserably. Physically tiny and fearful of guns, she was also “not overly burdened with brains,” according to her instructor. Moreover, her exotic beauty might draw attention to her, causing her to be more vulnerable to arrest by the Gestapo.

Noor Inayat Khan was sent to France, even before she had finished her training, on an RAF Lysander plane on the night of June 16, 1943 to become a wireless operator for the Cinema sub circuit of the Prosper line; her organizer was Emile Garry. Noor was captured around October 1, 1943 after she was allegedly betrayed by the sister of Emile Garry.

According to the book “A Life in Secrets,” by Sarah Helm, Noor was denounced by Renée Garry who told the Gestapo where to find her. Renée was in love with another SOE agent named France Antelme, but when Nora arrived, Antelme gave his affection to her.

Renée Garry allegedly sold Noor to the Gestapo for money and revenge, but what was the real motive for Noor’s betrayal? Did the British deliberately select their least qualified female agent to send to France because they wanted her to be caught? Was this a deliberate plan to allow the Germans to capture a British radio?

In her book “Flames in the Field,” Rita Kramer wrote that Henri Déricourt, who was a double agent in the Prosper line, said that the British had deliberately sacrificed women SOE agents as part of a scheme to distract from the invasion of Sicily. These women were “decoys” who were meant to be captured after the British learned that the Germans had infiltrated the Prosper Network. The purpose was to plant disinformation about the invasion of Sicily.

You can read more about the women who were allegedly executed at Dachau here and about the women who were allegedly executed at Natzweiler here.

There are no records whatsoever that would prove that these 12 SOE women were executed.

So what really happened to the women SOE agents?  My theory is that all 12 were sent to Ravensbrück and they died in the typhus epidemic there, or they were transferred from Ravensbrück to Bergen-Belsen where they died in the typhus epidemic.  The records from Ravensbrück were confiscated by the Soviet liberators and have never been made public.

The British deliberately sacrificed these women SOE agents by arranging for them to get caught, and now the women are being widely promoted as heroines in order to cover up the truth.  I have explained this in another blog post.

12 Comments

  1. I would be interested in talking to you as I am writing a book on Diana Rowden. I am a war historian and author and have been to Natzweiler Camp. If you’re interested in talking to me you can get me on gng.rothwell@vodafone.co.nz.

    Comment by Gabrielle Rothwell — August 23, 2013 @ 1:02 am

    • It has been several years since I studied the case of Diana Rowden and the other SOE women. I have no more information about Diana Rowden. I wrote extensively about them on my website scrapbookpages.com. You can start with this page on my website: http://www.scrapbookpages.com/Natzweiler/SOEagents3.html

      On that page of my website, I wrote in great detail about how stupid it was to execute the women, who had done virtually nothing, compared to the SOE men who were allowed to live and give false evidence. I also wrote about the stupidity of the trial of the war criminals who allegedly executed Diana Rowden and three other women: http://www.scrapbookpages.com/Natzweiler/SOEagents5.html

      As you can probably deduce from reading my website, I don’t believe that the SOE women were executed. They have been promoted as heroes, although they did virtually nothing to help the illegal SOE, and there is no evidence whatsoever to prove that they were legally executed.

      Comment by furtherglory — August 23, 2013 @ 8:31 am

      • Your views are something I had not considered. I’ll have to look into this. Also you mention you had got in touch with Diana Rowden’s cousin? niece? Is it possible to give me an address?

        Comment by Gabrielle Rothwell — August 24, 2013 @ 1:14 am

        • Sorry, but I no longer have the e-mail address of Diana’s cousin.

          I began to form my opinion about the case of the SOE women after I saw the plaque on the wall of the crematorium at Natzweiler; I knew that there was a similar plaque at Dachau. I thought that it was very unusual that SOE women had been taken to Natzweiler and Dachau, two camps for men, to be executed, instead of being executed at the place where they were imprisoned. The only thing that connected these two camps was the presence of Albert Guerisse in both camps at the time of the execution. I blogged about this at https://furtherglory.wordpress.com/2010/09/06/albert-guerisse-and-noor-inayat-khan/ Before I began studying the case intensively, I thought that Albert Guerisse might somehow have been responsible for the murder of the women. I also studied the case of General Delestraint; I believe that he was murdered by the British SOE men at Dachau.

          Comment by furtherglory — August 24, 2013 @ 7:13 am

        • The British SOE women were most likely sent to Ravensbrueck, if they were sent to any camp. I wrote about the SOE women at Ravensbrueck at https://furtherglory.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/the-ravensbruck-gas-chamber-and-the-lachout-document/

          The important point about the SOE women is that they were sent to France for the purpose of getting caught, so that the British could get a radio into the hands of the Germans. Then the British could send false information to the Germans. These women were betrayed by the British, and now the British are trying to make up for this by glorifying the role of the SOE women, and at the same time, demonizing the Germans by claiming that they executed these women. However, if you try to write a book about this, you will have a hard time getting it published, and the book won’t sell. No one today wants to hear anything about the SOE except that the SOE men and women were heroes and the Germans were monsters.

          Comment by furtherglory — August 24, 2013 @ 10:07 am

  2. I have just come back from a visit to Dachau. In the Crematorium there is a Plaque to 4 SOE Agents who were executed and burnt there. They were, Madeleine Damerment,
    Eliane Plewman, Yolande Beekman and Noor Inayay Khan.
    They were tortured then forced to knee before being shot through the back of the head.
    Their bodies were then burnt.

    Comment by John Clarke — August 22, 2013 @ 7:07 am

  3. […] You can read about the fate of Andrée Borrel, one of the SOE women here.  You can read a previous post about the SOE women here. […]

    Pingback by Sculpture of Noor Inayat Khan unveiled by the British « Scrapbookpages Blog — November 9, 2012 @ 5:30 am

  4. I wouldn’t believe one word Dericourt said and after he had finished the Germans had English radios coming out of their ears from his treason and that was before Madelaine arrived.
    However anything is possible but I tend to give credibility to Atkins, Fuller et al.
    If you want a cause celebre to solve then why not examine the sheer incompetency of London in not discovering thei netsworks were all blown? Incompetency bordering upon criminality.

    Comment by halliburton — January 7, 2012 @ 8:20 am

  5. What would be the advantage in sacrificing expensively trained agents?

    You say a diversion for the invasion of Scilly?

    What a load of internet conspiracy theory crap you talk, you clearly deserve your place within the pantheon of internet conspiracy theory nut-cases.

    A little advice, leave the analysis of history, to the academics and real historians,which your certainly not.

    Comment by kickass — May 2, 2011 @ 10:23 pm

  6. princess noor did a great job, sacrificied her life very bravely,

    a very brave girl of that period

    mehmood hussain,

    mehmoodfaiz@yahoo.com

    Comment by MEHMOOD HUSSAIN — April 19, 2010 @ 2:39 am


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