Pearl Witherington SOE Reports 5

6.10.1943. As ‘Marie’, Pearl’s handwritten report to the SOE. In her report Pearl mentioned possible sabotage attacks against submarine parts, the Michelin factory and locomotive engines. When asked how the Marquis train, Pearl’s contact said, “They learn from their mistakes.” Pearl added an exclamation mark to that comment and her exclamation marks throughout her report reveal her sense of humour. She concluded that the Marquis were in need of more training and better organisation to avoid ‘chaos’ after D-Day.

7.11.1943. As ‘Marie’ Pearl sends her second report to the SOE. Despite the seriousness of the situation, this report is comical because independent of one another both the SOE and the local Resistance plan to sabotage the Michelin factory. At this stage, communication and cooperation were not the Allies strong points.

A letter from Pearl’s mother to Vera Atkins at the SOE informing her of a mental breakdown. Pearl’s mother had been under a lot of strain for many years, first through her marriage to an alcoholic, widowhood, the Nazi occupation of France and having to flee France, then Pearl leaving to serve overseas. Pearl had been the family’s rock during these turbulent times and her absence coupled with the sense of danger tipped Mrs Witherington over the edge. Despite her distress, Mrs Witherington insisted that the SOE should not inform Pearl of her condition. Officially, Pearl was in ‘North Africa’, but Mrs Witherington knew her daughter well and I wonder if she suspected that she was in France.

11.3.1944. The sabotage of the Michelin factory did not go well. Pearl, writing as Marie, reported that the management were not very cooperative and that they were ‘playing for time’. Reluctantly, she concluded that the RAF should bomb the Michelin factory.

A postscript dated 5.4.1944 recorded that the RAF successfully bombed the Michelin factory. The attack resulted in twenty people killed and sixteen injured. The management’s intransigence led to this loss of life.

This incident reminds us that while some Frenchmen were reluctant collaborators with the Nazis others were willing participants. The scars carved into the body of French society would take a long time to heal.

On 21.3.1944, as Marie, Pearl reported on the infiltration of a network resulting in 600 arrests. She requested financial assistance for the wife of a Resistance fighter whom the Nazis had captured and sent to work in one of their factories (many Frenchmen were sent to work in German factories, this is why it was relatively easier for SOE women to blend into French society; able bodied men were more conspicuous). The SOE agreed the payment of 50,000 francs, while the Resistance fighter promised to spy on behalf of the Allies.

15.6.1944. The Nazis have arrested Pearl’s organiser. She is now officially in command of her network.